I may be getting on a bit, but the truth is we all do it to feel good, only with slightly more discretion than Haringey Council (and Captain Tom Gardner):
‘TWO HOURS LATER our vehicle stopped and a Danish face appeared at the little window mouthing that it was now safe to open the door.
We emerged into the sunlight relieved and delighted to be released from the confines of our metal coffin. It had been an unpleasant and nauseous experience but this was quickly forgotten in the obvious pleasure of having arrived without incident.
Nonetheless, Stumpy, who was to be the headquarters’ J4 (Logistics) staff officer and whose responsibilities would include managing our transport requirements, vowed this would be the first and last time British troops would hitch a ride on the Danish death trap.
He was true to his word and I never saw the hideous contraption again. Nine months later, as we were planning our extraction back to the UK, I overheard him politely but firmly informing Colonel James that none of the Grenadiers would be travelling in that mobile fucking shower unit. It was a statement of intent that even the Commanding Officer would have been unwise to challenge.
We had arrived safely at Main Operating Base Price.
I clambered unsteadily down the steel cable ladder and stepped off the last rung into a fine powder of desert dust that enveloped my boots to the ankle. This dust was to be a constant feature of our lives for the next nine months. Fine as talcum powder it penetrated everything from electronics equipment to weapon systems, and quickly turned into a viscous brown slime in contact with liquids.
In the frequent sandstorms we endured in the early months of our tour the dust blocked out the sun for days at a time and we inhabited a surreal red‑brown world. Nothing escaped its pervasiveness. Men would literally cry brown tears whenever their eyes were exposed for any length of time. Captain Tom Gardner even complained that it put him off his stroke when masturbating, an activity in which we all presumably engaged, only with more discretion and possibly less frequency than Tom himself.
It didn’t take me long to get to know my way around our new home. About 30 minutes to be precise. MOB Price had been built in the desert south‑west of the strategically important city of Gereshk in the Nahr‑E‑Saraj district of Helmand Province. It was the main operating base for about 600 soldiers whose primary task was to provide security for the city and the immediate surrounding area.
Despite the large numbers living there, the base was surprisingly compact. One of the good things about MOB Price, unlike Camp Bastion, was that nothing was ever more than a short walk away.
Gereshk, or Girishk, is the district capital of Nahr‑E‑Saraj. Bounded to the south by the mighty Helmand River it lies some 120km north‑west of Kandahar and is the centre of a rich agricultural region made fertile by a complex irrigation system fed by the Kajakai Dam 100 klicks upriver.
The British are no strangers to Gereshk. In 1839, during the first Anglo‑Afghan war, the city was occupied by soldiers of the British East India Company before being abandoned in 1842 following the massacre of Major General Lord Elphinstone’s army, one of the worst disasters in British military history. Reoccupied in 1878 during the second Anglo‑Afghan war, it was held until 1880 and the signing of the Gandamak Treaty. This restored Afghan sovereignty over internal affairs but ceded foreign relations and some frontier regions to British control.
Gereshk has a population of about 50,000, many of whom still hold a grudge against the British for occupying their city 130 years previously. A good few of them hold an additional grudge against the British for the more recent Russian occupation of the 1980s, on the basis that all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart. In truth the good people of Gereshk had an innate dislike and distrust of all outsiders. In this respect it was not unlike any market town of similar size in Great Britain.
According to many of the intelligence reports I read, foreign fighters were especially unpopular. It didn’t matter which side of the conflict they were fighting on. British, Danish, American, Russian, Pakistani or Iranian, all were equally unwelcome. Even Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers from the northern Dari speaking provinces of Afghanistan were considered by many to fall into this category.’
My thanks to Brian McAuslan for bringing this to our attention.
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.
A JOURNEY OF LOVE, SERVICE AND ADVENTURE. EXCELLENT!
A MODERN WARFARE LITERARY CLASSIC! OUTSTANDING READ.
ENTERTAINING, THOUGHT-PROVOKING AND COMPULSORY TO READ.