Tag Archives: mid-life crisis

Mid-life crisis? Perhaps not.

The Telegraph has helpfully compiled a list of the top 40 signs of a midlife crisis. Much to my surprise I only scored 8/40. Perhaps I’m not having a mid-life crisis after all. Check out the list below to see if you are in crisis

1 Desiring a simpler life

2 Still going to music festivals like Glastonbury

3 Start looking up old boyfriends or girlfriends on Facebook

4 Realise you will never be able to pay off your mortgage

5 Joining Twitter so your bosses think you ‘get’ digital

6 Excessively reminisce about your childhood

7 Take no pleasure in your friends’ successes

8 Splashing out on an expensive bicycle

9 Sudden desire to play an instrument

10 Fret over thinning hair

11 Take up a new hobby

12 Want to make the world a better place

13 Longingly look at old pictures of yourself

14 Dread calls at unexpected times from your parents (fearing the worst)

15 Go to reunion tours of your favourite bands from the 70s and 80s

16 Switch from Radio 2 to indie stations like 6 Music

17 Revisit holiday destinations you went to as a child

18 Cannot envisage a time when you will be able to afford to retire

19 Read obituaries in the newspapers with far greater interest — and always check how people die

20 Obsessively compare your appearance with others the same age

21 Start dyeing your hair when it goes grey

22 Stop telling people your age

23 Dream about being able to quit work but know that you’ll Just never be able to afford to

24 Start taking vitamin pills

25 Worry about being worse off in your retirement than your parents

26 Want to change your friends but don’t meet anyone new that you like

27 Think about quitting your Job and buying a bed & breakfast or a pub

28 Flirt embarrassingly with people 20 years your Junior

29 Look up your medical symptoms on the internet

30 Start thinking about going to church but never act on it

31 Always note when politicians or business leaders are younger than you

32 Contemplate having a hair transplant or plastic surgery

33 Take out a direct debit for a charity

34 Can’t sleep because of work worries

35 Hangovers get worse and last more than a day on occasions

36 Constantly compare your career success with your friends

37 Worry about a younger person taking your Job

38 Take up triathlons or another extreme sport

39 Find that you are very easily distracted

40 Realise that the only time you read books is when you are on holiday

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back (but check the small print first), Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan.

‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, bestselling author of The Junior Officers’ Reading Club

‘First class’
Doug Beattie, bestselling author of An Ordinary Soldier

‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, bestselling author of The Killing Zone

‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read’
Frank Ledwidge, bestselling author of Losing Small Wars

‘Five stars’
SOLDIER The official magazine of the British Army

‘Not just for soldiers’
William Reeve, BBC World Service and Afghanistan Correspondent

Ten reasons to read SPIN ZHIRA.

What others are saying about SPIN ZHIRA.

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Too Old for Combat

It was great to talk with John Darvall at BBC Radio Bristol this morning about my book and how I’m really getting too old for combat.

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You can listen to John’s show on the iPlayer Radio. My interview is from 2:10 to 2:32

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.

Amazon Five Stars A JOURNEY OF LOVE, SERVICE AND ADVENTURE. EXCELLENT!

Amazon Five Stars A MODERN WARFARE LITERARY CLASSIC! OUTSTANDING READ.

Amazon Five Stars ENTERTAINING, THOUGHT-PROVOKING AND COMPULSORY TO READ.

Ten reasons why you should read SPIN ZHIRA.

A touchstone of terrible realisation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The summer holidays are just around the corner and I’m reminded of Harry and Alfie’s 2011 trip to Portugal with their mum:

‘MY RETURN HOME the following evening, after another long sweaty journey in the ageing Wolf, was not a triumphant one. Within hours of stepping across the threshold of our magnificent Edwardian stained glass front door with its enormous hexagonal brass pull and letter plate my spirits were thoroughly deflated.

Harry and Alfie were pleased to see me. Full of questions about my experiences with the real soldiers, wanting to know if they’d given me a shooter, not quite believing me when I told them that I’d slept outside on the ground.

Jane barely acknowledged my presence. After I’d bathed the boys and put them to bed I found myself alone in the front room. I stared at my reflection in the antique gilt‑framed mirror above the mantelpiece and knew I was in the shit. But the silent treatment didn’t last long. The following morning Jane told me she was moving out and taking the boys with her. When she explained that she’d found a cottage for rent close to the city of York, near to her parents and in the catchment area of an excellent primary school, I didn’t object. In truth the news came as a relief. I didn’t know how on earth I was going to continue to pay the mortgage on our trophy property in Dulwich.

Since it turned out that Jane was expecting me to continue to foot the bill for her extravagant lifestyle, perhaps I should not have allowed financial considerations to cloud my judgement. I shall forever regret the fact that I did not properly consider the impact of our separation on our children, Harry and Alfie. I reasoned to myself that, given I was bound for Afghanistan, it actually made sense for them to be closer to their much loved grandparents.

Both boys would later make heartbreaking appeals to me to get back together with Mummy. I would do almost anything for my children, including going to fight a war over 3,500 miles away, but I couldn’t even begin to reconcile my differences with Jane. As Alfie would explain to me, he loved Mummy and he loved Daddy, so why didn’t we love each other?

In the summer of 2011, while I was in Canada training for deployment, Jane and her parents took the boys on holiday to Portugal. In one of their holiday snaps Harry and Alfie are standing together on a golden beach at sunset. Harry has a protective arm draped over his younger brother who is dressed in just vest and underpants. Both boys are waving and smiling directly at the camera.

It’s a perfect picture but also a painful one.

In my imagination the boys are waving goodbye to me. The image became not only a visual metaphor for the possibility that I might not return from Afghanistan, but also a touchstone of terrible realisation of the sense of abandonment that I was imposing on my children, the people I loved most in the world.’

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

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.

Defending the indefensible as ‘ancient custom’ is no defence at all.

Victor Barrio
The BBC reports that Matador Victor Barrio has been killed by a bull in Spain.

The bull fighting community is reported to be “distressed and very moved”  by his death and Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy has expressed his condolences.

While his death, any death, is tragic and my heart goes out to his grieving family, I’m personally finding it hard to feel too sorry for Victor Barrio. After all, he died doing something he loved which is better than ending your days eating mashed potato and watching endless repeats of Eastenders. I don’t fear the Reaper and when he calls, as call he must, I hope I am similarly engaged in the pursuit of something I love.

But there’s another reason why I’m finding it hard to feel too sorry for Mr Barrio. Lovers of bullfighting  defend it as an ancient art form deeply rooted in national history in much the same way as the appalling practice of bacha basi is excused as ancient custom in Afghanistan – which is no defence at all.

When the Reaper does call for me I won’t be slaughtering bulls for art or raping little boys for culture.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

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.

Is the era of ‘cautious optimism’ over?

 

On 6 July 2016, Britain learned that it had joined the invasion of  Iraq in 2003 ‘before all peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted’ that it had ‘sent ill-prepared troops into battle’ and had ‘wholly inadequate’ plans for the aftermath.

Of course, we knew these things already.

Despite the long wait (7 years) the huge cost (£10.4m) and incredible detail (2.5 million words) the Iraq enquiry was less revelation and more affirmation of the things we already knew to be true but dare not speak.

Obama

On the same day, a grim-faced President Barack Obama announced that planned US troop withdrawals in Afghanistan have been shelved, further prolonging the United States’ longest war.

The inability to end the war in Afghanistan does not come as a complete surprise either.

Way back in the spring of 2012, Major General CM Gurganus, USMC confidently asserted, ‘we are winning and the Taliban are losing’. No one really believed him. It was patently obvious that we were not fighting a simple binary war with a winner and a loser.

Later that same year Brigadier Douglas Chalmers, the senior British Commander in Helmand was less assertive and spoke of ‘cautious optimism’ for the future.

Of course, both men were talking bollocks. And I suspect they knew it too.

Just as in Iraq, US led, British backed military intervention in Afghanistan has been disastrous. Many of the findings of the Chilcot report, particularly with regard to post-conflict planning and reconstruction, can be equally applied in Afghanistan.

How did we fail to learn these lessons?

I believe it is because we have a culture of shooting the messenger that pervades both the American and British  Armed Forces. We are so focused on success that we cannot countenance failure. To maintain morale and careers it becomes necessary to spin failure into success, telling people what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. This blindness to failure prevents us from learning from failure.

The language of ‘cautious optimism’ has been very costly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps, after Chilcot, we are now ready to learn this lesson.Spin Zhira header blurb for website v1.3SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

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.

 

 

Return to Gooseberry Hall

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Last weekend saw a long overdue return to Gooseberry Hall. The sun shone, as it always seems to do whenever we visit, and I was reminded of an immaculate Afghan homecoming in April 2012:

‘It was a perfect spring day and Rob picked me up in his fancy open top two‑seater sports car. It’s a car I’ve always coveted. With the roof down and the wind in our hair we flew north along the A429 under azure spring skies, through pristine Cotswold countryside dotted with ancient limestone villages and market towns with quintessential English names; Stow‑on‑the‑Wold, Moreton‑in‑Marsh, Stretton‑on‑Fosse. It was all in perfect contrast to the dry barren dashte which makes up so much of Helmand Province.

Britain was flirting with me that afternoon, displaying her beauty, tantalising me with her delights, proving – if proof were needed – that she was worth defending, even if it meant fighting a war over 3,500 miles away.

At my request, we stopped for a pint at the Virgins and Castle in the historic town of Kenilworth. Built in the fifteenth century, about the same time as the siege of Herat, it first became a pub in 1563 when Britain was still burning Protestants at the stake for heresy.

At that time Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, Akbar the Great, the third and greatest ruler of the Mughal Dynasty controlled the Gereshk valley and much of the rest of Afghanistan. Little has changed in the largely rural district of Nahr‑E‑Saraj in the intervening four and a half centuries, except that under Akbar the Mughal Dynasty was a model of religious tolerance, encompassing Islamic, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist faiths.

In truth I needed a bit of Dutch courage before being reunited with Harry and Alfie. I hadn’t spoken to them since we’d said our goodbyes in the school playground back in January. Although I’d written to them every couple of days, I hadn’t received any return mail. I’d missed them terribly and thought of them often but I had to steel myself for the possibility that they might be less eager to see their Dad than their Dad was to see them.

Gooseberry Hall lies to the north of Kenilworth Castle in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside and is about as far removed from Main Operating Base Price as it’s possible to be. There are no battle tanks parked on the magnificent lawn. Its walls are not adorned with Lads Mags pin‑ups or mimetic cock art. There are no Apache helicopters flying overhead.

To my very great delight it seemed my fears had been unfounded. I didn’t even make it to the front door before Alfie threw himself into my arms, clinging to me in a fierce embrace as I was nearly knocked off my feet by his brother Harry.

It was indescribably good to see them, hear them, smell them, touch them. I held them both tight for as long as I was able until they finally felled me like an old tree, collapsing onto the lawn in a bundle of giggling, laughing, writhing limbs.

Afghanistan serves as a constant reminder of the fragile and tenuous grip with which all life clings to planet earth – something it’s easy to forget in our cosseted lives in the west. Even without the armed conflict being waged inside its borders, it is a harsh and unforgiving place.

Average life expectancy is just 44 years. Pregnancy rather than insurgency is one of the primary causes of premature death. According to the World Health Organisation, one Afghan woman in 11 will die of causes related to pregnancy and birth during her childbearing years. In neighbouring Tajikistan, that figure is one in 430, while in Austria, it is one in 14,300. It’s a figure that dwarfs the estimated 21,000 deaths resulting from the conflict since 2003.

Being reacquainted with life’s cruelty and suffering heightens the appreciation of simple pleasures. Rolling around on Gooseberry Hall’s manicured lawn with my kids was an unforgettable reunion, a moment of pure, unrestrained joy that I will treasure my whole life and take with me, smiling, to my grave.

As my anxieties melted away we were joined by the rest of the Gooseberry Hall Gang (GHG), a chaotic, happy‑go‑lucky collective of kids and pets who all call Gooseberry Hall home and who filled the air with noise and laughter as we played in the sunset.

It was a beautiful evening and the perfect homecoming.’

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

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.

Taliban use ‘honey trap’ boys to kill Afghan police

bacha bazi

Anuj Chopra reports that the Taliban are using child sex slaves to mount crippling insider attacks on police in southern Afghanistan, exploiting the pervasive practice of bacha bazi – paedophilic ‘boy play’ – prevalent inHelmand.

Taliban use ‘honey trap’ boys to kill Afghan police

This sickening practice, condemned by the Taliban,  is prevalent across Helmand where young boys become the object of lustful attraction for powerful police commanders. ISAF not only failed to stamp out this vile bent but also shamefully excused it as ancient custom. The Nahr-E-Saraj District Chief of Police was no exception:

“Next on the list was the District Chief of Police, the appropriately abbreviated D‑CoP, Ghullie Khan. Like his boss the Governor, the D‑CoP was predictably involved in the narcotics business. To supplement this income he also used the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) department he commanded to collect illegal taxes from local citizens. There were a number of ISAF apologists who defended this unlawful activity as ‘culturally normal’. I even read a paper on the subject, quite possibly published by the DCSU, the same organisation that had come up with the wizard idea of FEOs and then assigned them male interpreters.

Personally, I was deeply sceptical of this point of view. The truth was that ISAF seemed powerless to prevent the endemic corruption that pervaded every level of the AUP, and not a little ashamed that the primary source of these illegal taxes was a levy on the use of the main highways that bisected the district – all of which had been funded at great expense with international aid.

No one in ISAF was really sure how much the illegal taxation business was worth in Nahr‑E‑Saraj but it wasn’t petty cash. Ghullie Khan had previously been a senior police officer in the neighbouring district of Sangin. He had been removed from this post after an ISAF investigation revealed that he’d been sodomizing little boys there. In the wake of this scandal his boss, Nabi Elham – the Provincial Chief of Police – naturally promoted him to be top cop in Nahr‑E‑Saraj, although it was rumoured that he’d first demanded a bribe of half a million US dollars.

There were ISAF papers defending paedophilia and bribery as culturally normal activities too, although I didn’t waste any time reading them. Culturally normal or not, I reckoned that the citizens of those countries that had helped to fund the district’s new highways would be dismayed to learn that they were now being used to line the pockets of a known pederast, drug baron and all round bad guy.

Ghullie’s favourite son, Zaibiullah was a chip off the old block and had followed his father into the AUP. When a local shopkeeper failed to pay his taxes on time he tied his arms and legs together and drowned him into the Nahr‑E‑Buhgra canal to teach him a lesson. Such was Zaibiullah’s intellect that it was possible to imagine him warning the drowning man that next time he failed to pay Zaibiullah would put a bullet in his head.

It was just as possible to imagine some obscure ISAF department publishing a paper defending drowning as a culturally normal method of deterrence in much the same way that waterboarding was a culturally normal interview technique in the United States.

Neither Ghullie Khan’s parenting skills, nor his predilection for underage boys, nor any of the myriad illegal activities over which he presided as the district’s chief upholder of law and order did much to temper his indignation when he learned of the Qur’an burnings.

However, unlike their Governor or their Police Chief, and despite our worst fears, the residents of Gereshk seemed unmoved by the turmoil engulfing the rest of the country. We waited with bated breath but much to our surprise there were no violent demonstrations, the bazaars remained open, and even the local Taliban’s attempts to exploit the situation seemed half‑hearted.

If I’d thought there was any chance I could pull it off I would have attributed this muted response to my brilliant engagement plan, but even I had to admit that this was unlikely. There were other forces at work here.

In stark contrast, a few months later angry protests ensued following a series of mysterious child abductions. The most likely explanation was that the D‑CoP had resumed his paedophile activities and this was certainly what the citizens of Gereshk appeared to have concluded. Directing most of their anger towards him in a number of emergency shuras, they demanded that he return their children and bugger off, literally, back from where he came.

In MOB Price our intelligence analysts scratched their heads in wonder. What were the citizens of Gereshk so upset about? Surely child abduction was just another one of those culturally normal activities that we Westerners couldn’t get our heads around?

We were at a loss as to what all the fuss was about and lobbied hard for Ghullie Khan to keep his job. Yes, he was a terrible father; yes, he was corrupt; yes, he was a kiddy fiddler; yes, he was facilitating the illicit opium trade but his Danish Civilian Police mentors assured us he was still much better than the last guy, or than any of his potential successors.”

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

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.

Around the coast in eighty waves.

Jonathan Bennet

Jonathan Bennett surfed his way through a midlife crisis. Finding himself ‘without a job, without a girlfriend and without a home’ he decided to go surfing.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/authors/jonathan-bennett/

The start and end point of our respective crises seem remarkably similar. I too found myself contemplating a failed relationship and a failing business while dossing down in an empty house. Jonathan’s answer was to buy a clapped out camper van and surf his way round Britain, sleeping by the sea and washing with a sponge and a pan of warm water. I chose instead to relocate to a landlocked country 3,500 miles away to fight the war on terror, also washing with a sponge and a pan of warm water. We have both written books chronicling our crises; Around the Coast in Eighty Waves and SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand.

And that’s not all we have in common. Jonathan says “surfing is about launching yourself into the unknown and hoping for the best,” which is not so very different from the British Army’s initial deployment into Helmand Province.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

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.

 

LCpl James Ashworth VC

LCpl James Ashworth VC, 1st Bn Grenadier Guards was killed in action on this day four years ago in the district of Nahr-E-Saraj, Helmand Province.LanceCorporalAshworth

James Ashworth – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

LCpl James Ashworth epitomizes the courage and professionalism of all British soldiers whose sacrifice in Helmand has been confounded by incompetence, corruption and deceit.

By tragic coincidence I learned today from a friend in the neighbouring district of Nad Ali that “Nahre Saraj all Taliban. Just Gereshk bazaar government”. This confirms reports from Kabul that much of Helmand Province is either under siege or already in the hands of the Taliban.

In 2013 Catriona Laing, the head of the Helmand PRT earnestly pronounced: “We have presented the people of Helmand with an opportunity. They have grabbed it enthusiastically, confidently… it’s now in their hands for the future.”

I wonder what she would say today?

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.

WORKING THE ODDS ON EVEREST

Everest

Am I the only person who struggles to feel sympathy when someone dies on Everest?

Alex Proud writes from the other side of the argument. He dreads disaster and fears the Reaper. We both like to work the odds but when they drop below one in a 100 he tends to think ‘you’re f—king mad to do whatever it is you’re doing’ while I think things are just beginning to get interesting.

But I don’t have a death wish, far from it. I love life and try to live it to the full. I think our society has got things badly wrong when it comes to death. When a Palace flunky offered Prince Philip his condolences at the loss of a friend he retorted by saying ‘he’s not lost, he’s dead’. It’s an anecdote that illustrates our denial. We cloak death in the language of ‘loss’ or ‘passing’. We dare not speak its name and imagine we will live forever. In the pursuit of this impossible outcome we have sacrificed quality in the pursuit of quantity. We wrap ourselves in health and safety legislation and cling on to life long after there is any joy left in living.

This is not a life I look forward to. I have no desire to be a burden to my children or the State. I do not plan to spend my final years eating mashed potato and watching endless repeats of Eastenders.

I accept that in the pursuit of life I will most likely die ‘before my time’, but what does that mean? In Helmand Province life expectancy is 44 and despite being one of the most violent places on the planet, pregnancy rather than insurgency is the biggest killer. So by Helmandi standards I’ve lived a very good life and I’m already on borrowed time.

When my father died at the age of 79 I didn’t mourn his death, I bought champagne and celebrated his life. I hope my own sons will feel able to do the same. When the Reaper calls, as he inevitably will, I hope he finds me on a snow-covered mountain doing something frowned upon by the health and safety executive.

Alex Proud will not be sympathetic.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

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.