Op Minimise

All quiet on the Western Front. Hagar’s epistles are sparse and in-frequent.

Hagar writes:

“Just a quick note to say if it ever goes quiet from my end, it is usually because we have to minimise (ie stop) any e-mails or phone calls from here as a result of a death. As you will have seen on the news today a UK serviceman was unfortunately killed so all comms are stopped to allow the next of kin to find out first! Anyway, please don’t worry is my point.

All is well, morale is high and looking forward to any mail coming my way! It takes around a week or so to arrive out here, depends on flights.

Anyway, happy to hear all is well in UK, apart from the rain, but hopefully the sun will come out for the whole of August!”

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, I am running around like a blue arsed fly. (I love that expression – what does it mean? Flies fly not run – anyhoo.) Thankfully, it is the school holidays so I don’t have to muster The Grenade. I am working full time on a freelance contract, actually in an office (I normally work from home) until the end of July so I am up and out before the house stirs. My aunty is staying with me to help out with the kids while I work. It’s such a luxury. I am so very lucky. She had the audacity to pop home for a few days last week and I literally thought my right arm had been removed. I even had to look after my own children!!!

There is no rest for the wicked whilst Hagar is away. The workload doubles. I am looking at the rain with horror and watching the grass grow and grow. I was wondering if I should put a notice up in the pub – to see if anyone fancied doing their bit for the war effort by coming over to mow my lawn! And ‘no’ that is not a euphemism for trim my beaver, or come around and give me a good seeing too – I ACTUALLY want someone to cut the grass!

On the whole, I don’t know how to stop. I have to keep living at 100 mph, which invariably involves consuming vast quantities of alcohol and staying up until the early hours, then digging in the next day, washing down tonnes of ibruprofen and taking the kids swimming. I have joined a club with a pool so that we can swim whenever we want. It has an outdoor pool and we can go everyday. This is my holiday. The pool is so warm that the pool temperature is often warmer than the air temperature. The kids are hardier than me they can stay for hours and hours while my lips turn blue.

Then I still have my business to run and deals to wheel. I am in the process setting up the next quarter. It is full hope and excitement with some great contracts being finalised. I can’t tell you because I would have to kill you. All will become clear in time.

All of this is played out with the backdrop of News International-gate which I am still utterly gripped by. I see people dropping off the story now but my hunger for it hasn’t changed. It is so significant – it will change the face of the next election. Will Cameron survive? Today, was a big day – the first mysterious death. The saga unravels like a Jeffrey Archer novel. I can’t wait for the film. This is as big as Nixon and Watergate, for sure.

Did I mention that my kids don’t sleep – they are never asleep before 10.30pm. Every night, even when you get them up early. It’s a constant source of endurance that you have to experience to believe. I am an insomniac too and don’t need much sleep but I am older and I need more than them. They are young versions of me sent to test me. Onwards and upwards. Sleep when you are dead. That’s what I say.

War Is A Risky Business

In three years, my direct contact with death, through war, now tolls at three.

Dong:

A young JTAC (Joint Terminal Air Controller – ie. Please drop that bomb here) I was introduced to by Hagar in the pub one night. We chatted a bit. I knew what a JTAC did because I had written about it in Immediate Response. He deployed to Afghanistan. Not long after he was killed. I was shocked by the news of his death. The instant extinguishing of life. Here today and then gone just like that.

Dong:

The journalist Rupert Hamer, from The Mirror. I had been speaking to him quite regularly up until he was embedded in Afghanistan. We were both interested in whether a peaceful resolution could be achieved. Again, his death hit me hard. I barely knew him but he struck me as journalist who was looking for more than just a story that would sell papers. He had integrity. Maybe this is hard for many in the military to fathom but I was introduced to him by a serviceman because he trusted him. I was deeply saddened by his death.

Dong:

Tim Hetherington. His death, a week today, and I still can’t quite get my head around it. I can’t imagine how his closest friends, loved ones and family are reconciling it. I feel like we have been robbed of a someone incredible. I know it was his time. It’s just that no-one was ready for him to go. War is a risky business and the business of war creates attrition. It can happen to you. We must never forget that. Everyone who knew him will mourn the loss and the gap that now exists in their lives. Death is a wound that heals but it leaves scars. His death has wounded many. For some it cuts deep and others it’s just a scratch. I will seize the creative freedom to which he aspired. We can but keep putting one foot in front of the other, and some must decide, once again, if they can walk in the Valley of Death. Unfortunately, there will always be wars for the intrepid to venture into.

Scanned from Newsweek

My last email with Tim was three weeks ago. I knew that he was going to Libya. Deep down, I knew that he wouldn’t come back. I had stopped looking. He threw himself mind, body and soul into the promotion of Restrepo. We called it Planet Restrepo – he was like a dog with a bone. I watched the short film, Diary that he made and saw a man at a crossroads. I think he should have taken a holiday after Restrepo didn’t win the Oscar and the rollercoaster had drawn to a halt. He needed a break to transition into the next phase. When I learned that he had opted to go to Libya I knew he was a war chaser. It was his crack cocaine. I stopped looking. Just like when Hagar goes to war. I can’t look. Hagar deploys again soon. I hate war. I hate guns, weapons, bombs and destruction. But men need war. Rest in peace Tim. Be vigilant Hagar. To all of you war chasers, in the war business, regardless of how I personally feel, your work is valued and you are loved. Tread lightly.

But onwards and upwards. I can’t hide anymore. Life goes on and we must keep pushing forward while we still breathe.

I am in France opening up our French House – we still have weeks available if you fancy a holiday in France this summer:

Le Petit Pre

Plus I have been invited back to be a Toys R Us Toyologist so more toy reviews, competitions and giveaways coming this summer.

Welcome to Review-land, a new place on the blog where I shall be reviewing all the products that PRs send me. Look out for the latest reviews on the right side of the blog – I have just uploaded some film reviews for your delectation.

Point Break

The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. It’s tough one – there is a definitely a culture of ‘don’t air your dirty linen in public’ or even ‘keep calm and carry on!’

As a nation we Brits are a stoical bunch and it’s very uncouth to complain but really I have to say it……

“LIBYA – WTF!!!?”

“CAMERON & FOX – NO!!” (Read in the style of that Harry Enfield character – you know the one. See pic below for all my overseas readers.)

Let’s strip the military to it’s bare minimum. Let’s completely under resource the guys and gals and then let’s push them to the limit on the International stage. The Military is all about the TASK. The Government asks of it’s commanders, “can we achieve the task?”

The commanders say, ‘yes, we can achieve the task!’

The Government says, ‘then let the battle commence!”

And off we go, pushing the guys and gals to the edge of their limits and beyond.
But nobody asks, ‘what is the cost to those people who deliver the task?’

The Military and the Government care about the task but who cares about the people?

(Me – I do!!)

I have been embedded inside the Military war machine for 13 years now. I have watched boys to turn to men. I have watched good people make a Faustian pact with promotion and sell their mates down the river. There are a few good men left but they are rare as rocking horse shit. Those that push hardest get ahead. Those men are focused purely on the task and not the people.

It’s all about the task but I ask you, what of the people they are breaking?

Everyone is twitchy. Should I jump or should I wait for the push? When is it a good time to go? The flood gates are already starting to open and it’s only going to get worse. Watch this space.

Those that stay are starved of resources, stripped of assets and pushed to breaking point……stress, stress, stress, stress, stress, stress…..

Either freeze the cuts, stop the redundancies, invest in the military, or carry on with the cuts and don’t break what we have got by sending them on missions that ultimately will shatter them. Those people are someone’s sons and daughters, who trust in the Government to protect their interests so that they can serve our Nation’s best interests. In my opinion, the Military and the Government are not serving the people of the military’s best interests. They are too busy being focused on the task.

It is POINT BREAK!

(Skulks off to Anderson shelter to hide from barrage of abuse from various individuals.)

Medal of Honor and A Royal Wedding

16th November 2010 was a big day for history in the western world. I do like a bit of history LIVE! A where were you when moment……so two significant moments were heralded.

The first occurred in Washington DC where Specialist Salvatore Giunta was awarded by President Barack Obama, Commander-in-Chief of the US Military, the medal of honor, the HIGHEST decoration for bravery, for his courageous actions in Operation Rock Avalanche in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan 2007.

To watch the award being presented – click here

This is the first time the Medal of Honor has been awarded to a US soldier, who is still alive from either the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, in decades.

Cornered in an L shape ambush by the insurgents, Giunta saw two of the enemy carrying the injured body of his best friend. They wanted a trophy. His friend was to be that trophy – a trophy that would have displayed, destroyed and disrespected in a medieval manner amongst their own community. (I am not going to write of insurgent attrocities – but if you want to know an example of what the insurgency does to it’s captured troops – click here)

Enraged and full of adrenaline, Giunta ran forward firing, killed one of the insurgents and injured the other. They were able to rescue the body of his best friend Sgt Brennan and bring him back to his brethren. Tragically, Brennan died. But he did not die alone and he was not a mascot of insurgent success.

Talking to Tim Hetherington, he said, ‘this is bullshit’

(See interview on http://www.restrepothemovie.com)

(For Tim Hetherington’s Vanity Fair interview – click here)

Talking to CBS, he said, ‘this is not what I want.’

(For the CBS interview click here)

(NB: The interviewers fake British accent is very off putting – it’s almost as bad as Dick van Dyke’s in Mary Poppins – sorry to be glib on this very solemn subject. The link is only half the interview so you won’t have to go through the aural adjustment that I did. It’s a British thing – we use accents to identify origins so we can then judge people.)

I want to know what does Giunta want? I can’t bear to watch anymore interviews where he is welling up with emotion. Poor guy – to re-live this trauma live on the centre stage. I want to know what does he want? He has a voice now – maybe he can speak for soldiers and we can learn if the mission is worth it through their eyes? Would Giunta go back to the Korengal Valley? Do the troops want another shot at it? Is that what they want? Or do they want us to withdraw and come home? Maybe Giunta could get his job back at Subway – is that what he wants? Brendan O’Byrne told me that he had the best and worst times of his life in the Korengal Valley, but part of him wants to go back. The worst year of his life was the next year, when he came back and he was home; alone, without his brothers-in-arms.

Operation Rock Avalanche is documented in Restrepo.

The second momentous occasion was the engagement of William, aka Wills, and Catherine, aka Kate. David Cameron was delighted. I bet, he bloody was!! Ireland is on the brink of economic collapse, everyone is skint – it’s cuts, cuts, cuts. It’s going to be the decade of discontent. This is just what the nation needs, a Royal Wedding to keep everyone thinking about dresses and drinking. Keeping their eye off the fact that we are paupers. Perfect distraction to keep the masses happy. William couldn’t have timed it better! We love a Royal Wedding. We can all have a little rally. It will bring lots of tourists in – target Australia (they are not in recession) and Asia, they aren’t as skint as us – drag some of that capital over here and we roll out the carriages for you! Let’s face it – we don’t have to hire them, as we already funding them with the taxpayers purse. How’s that for a good ROI (return-on-investment)? I do like it when the royal family give back. They are actually doing their bit for the recession.

To be honest, I am pro Royal family, especially when they sing for their supper at times like these. But he’s given her Diana’s ring.

“Beware the ides of March!!” The soothsayer within me shrieks.

I feel very uncomfortable about the ring. No good will come of that ring. It represents a loveless union. The ring is not a good omen at all. My mother died tragically when I was two. I have her single diamond engagement ring. She had tiny fingers and it has been re-sized to fit on my sausages in comparison to her chipolatas. I have worn it a few times but nothing good has ever come whenever I have worn it. I love the ring. I love owning it. I cherish it but I know I can’t wear it. Too much tragedy surrounds it, and it brings me no luck, I am afraid to say.

AND she wore a blue dress. But hey ho – we’ll see. Not that it matters anyway. I was gripped by it and I will join the nation in watching the wedding, and reading about it’s preparation – I can’t help it. I will be sucked in – it’s the oestregon in my blood. It’s not my fault – it makes me like this.

Kate and William are classic rags to riches Cinderella tale. (Today, is not the day to talk about how I feel about Cinder’fucking’rella!) As it happens, it’s not dissimilar to what’s going on with Prince Arthur and Guinevere over on BBC 1 Merlin.

I love Merlin – I have made no secret of my love for Bradley James – click here (who in my sleep deprived addled brain I keep mixing up with Bradley Walsh – big mistake – huge!!)

I can confirm that Steve, from Bloggertropolis – see his Morgasma post here and me are down on the list to visit the Merlin set, when they start filming next year. I am so excited. I get to meet my one true love (apart from Hagar, of course, oh and now, Tim Hetherington and also, while we here, Matt Damon!). What I really want to know is – does he wax his chest?

Sebastian Junger Talking To Hollywood

Today, was definitely the highlight of my blogging life. In fact, maybe my literary life. I got to hang out for 40 minutes in my cupboard, with Sebastian Junger. It was brilliant. I am still buzzing. He’s such a top bloke. He wasn’t actually in my cupboard, I managed to hook him up on Skype, and we did a live video interview. The sound quality and picture quality is a hardly HD but what the hell, I got to chat with him in person.

In the build up, I had been digging pretty deep into his bio. I had watched lots of interviews. He was a fairly steely faced guy and he didn’t really relax much. Now, I am not a political journalist, who is cutting her teeth in Fleet St. I am a military wife (ahem – military spice is what I accidentally referred to myself in one of the segments instead of spouse – but actually I have no problem being a military spice – I like to think of myself as nutmeg and cloves with a dash of chilli) who is writing about what it’s like being betrothed to the military, therefore all of my Restrepo interviews have really focused on the soldiers and not the geo-politics of Afghanistan. This interview was no exception. I basically bungle through it. Look, I don’t think The One Show will be calling me anytime soon. There are a few toe curling moments but what can I say he does release a fair amount pheremone, even over VOIP!!

In part 4 – I manage to nail an exclusive – Sebastian is in discussions over the film rights to War. He is fairly confident it will happen.

I knew from the minute that I saw the documentary that Hollywood would get their hands on it and then it would really catapult into the conscience of the world.

On the 18th October 2010 I wrote:

In The Times, on 3rd October, the Afghanistan correspondent, Tom Coghlan wrote an article on the film, and in The Sunday Times, journalist doyen, Christina Lamb interviewed the legend that is Sebastian Junger, whilst The Observer, celebrated the artistic perspective of the British born director, Tim Hetherington. Meanwhile, in the backwater of the British military swamp of rural Hampshire, blogger and wife of Chinook pilot, A Modern Military Mother aka Clare Macnaughton, interviewed from her cupboard for an office in her military quarter, one of the real stars of the film Major Dan Kearney.

Restrepo, is to some extent pre-hype and once the ball starts rolling and it wins the predicted Oscar, Hetherington and Junger will be heralded as journalistic literati greats by those who themselves hanker for the same legendary status and notoriety.

Eventually, Restrepo will be made into an Hollywood blockbuster, just like The Perfect Storm and soon over paid actors will immortalise the underpaid soldiers that appeared in the documentary. Undoubtedly, the actors will be applauded and awarded for their execution of realism.

Junger and Hetherington have created a brave and iconic piece of filmic history and they absolutely should be celebrated but whilst they flew in and out of the outpost, in the heart of bandit country, in the most dangerous part of Afghanistan, Maj Dan Kearney was there for the whole 18 months, isolated by his rank and battling an aggressive brutal enemy, trying to achieve a nigh on impossible task. He and the men of Restrepo are the true stalwarts of the film and whilst the literati celebrate the work of their own, it is these men who are the ones that had their feelings stripped from their souls, who continue to work in their underpaid roles and continue their normal lives.

Yes, folks you heard it here first. War is going to be turned into a Hollywood movie!!

Here’s my dream cast so far:

Maj Dan Kearney – Matt Damon
Sgt Brendan O’Byrne – Jason Statham
Sebastian Junger – George Clooney
Tim Hetherington – Daniel Craig

Just as an aside – Sebastian Junger is hot but in my humble opinion Tim Hetherington is hotter but maybe I just don’t go for that older guy.

All of you Restrepo fans – what’s your dream cast?

(Also I just wanted to say thank you to my new BFF Licky who made this interview happen. That hottie Tim Hetherington was rubbish and didn’t set me up as he promised, plus he didn’t give me any insider questions. Fortunately, I was able to lure Brendan O’Byrne into my lair and after some ferocious tugging on his little back hair tuft he sang like a canary. Proving it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Thanks guys, and also to Lord Junger, himself, it was an honour and a privilege. I am still flushed!)

The Restrepo Trilogy – the ultimate gift for him this Christmas. Boys and men will love it. It’s not a girl film really but you do get to see fit blokes pumping iron and men being men in a male way, which is not unpleasant. AND it raises awareness of a conflict that should no longer be ignored.

DVD – released 29th November

War by Sebastian Junger

Infidel by Tim Hetherington

Bonfire Night Is Bonkers

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

Guy Fawkes & the Gunpowder Plot
Words of “Remember Remember” refer to Guy Fawkes with origins in 17th century English history. On the 5th November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was subsequently tried as a traitor with his co-conspirators for plotting against the government. He was tried by Judge Popham who came to London specifically for the trial from his country manor Littlecote House in Hungerford, Gloucestershire. Fawkes was sentenced to death and the form of the execution was one of the most horrendous ever practised (hung ,drawn and quartered) which reflected the serious nature of the crime of treason.

The Tradition begins…
The following year in 1606 it became an annual custom for the King and Parliament to commission a sermon to commemorate the event. Lancelot Andrewes delivered the first of many Gunpowder Plot Sermons. This practice, together with the nursery rhyme, ensured that this crime would never be forgotten! Hence the words ” Remember , remember the 5th of November” The poem is sometimes referred to as ‘Please to remember the fifth of November’. It serves as a warning to each new generation that treason will never be forgotten.

In England the 5th of November is still commemorated each year with fireworks and bonfires culminating with the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes (the guy). The ‘guys’ are made by children by filling old clothes with crumpled newspapers to look like a man.

Tradition allows British children to display their ‘guys’ to passers-by and asking for ” A penny for the guy”.

http://www.rhymes.org.uk/remember_remember_the_5th_november.htm

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On Saturday, I stood in car park in Farnham with my kids and friends as part of a torchlight procession that walked slowly up the hill to Farnham park and watched a large effigy of a man be burnt on a huge bonfire. I couldn’t help thinking that Bonfire Night is bonkers and should we really in 2010 be burning effigies of a man who failed to blow up parliament over 400 years ago on large wood filled pyres. It all felt a bit wrong.

I hail originally from the motherland of Yorkshire. It is still prevalent there for the kids to make guys from tights stuffed, with newspaper for heads and old rotting clothes. 36 years ago we would wheel our effigy around Tennent Road, in a wheel barrow chanting ‘penny for a guy’. The pennies were mainly used to buy sweets from Micheal (R.I.P) at the newsagents on the corner.

A few years ago, my oldest friend’s (who still resides in York) six year old son, with his older cousins, lovingly constructed all day, a marvellous guy, duly wheeled him around Tennent Road, chanting ‘penny for a guy’. The same night, his grandpa, who I used to call Uncle Festa (on account of his similarity to the original Adam’s family character), built a bonfire in the garden, loaded it up with potatoes wrapped in tin foil, and neatly arranged the fireworks ready for igniting. The night fell and the stars twinkled and they all cheered as he lit the fire. The cousins ran to get the guy to cast him into the flames, when my friend clocked the face of her mortified six year old. This guy that they had lovingly created and heralded all day was to be cast into the flames and burnt in front of them. Quite frankly, he was inconsolable and in the end they had to take him home.

As I stood watching for another year as another guy went up in flames, I wondered should we really be burning effigies of men still, 400 years on, in 2010?

Big Society

Two weeks ago, I met a large Irish man, in clothes too trendy for his age and his tummy, who was the think tank impresario behind David Cameron’s new Conservative Coalition Government initiative called ‘Big Society’.

‘Big Society’, he told the room, within which I was sitting, has no strategy. There is no plan. It is an evolving, dynamic idea. My interpretation of ‘Big Society’ is that it is about empowering the people to manage their own lives, to take charge of their lives and to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions. ‘Big Society’ is about integration and connection. It is essentially about community.

Within the community at RAF Odiham, there is a road that divides the dwellings of the ranks. To some extent we could take this principle of ‘Big Society’ and apply it to our very own station. The partners of those who serve are connected to the military, but we are not actually serving. We are part of the wider military family, but we are dependents to whom, which the service is obliged due to the transigent nature of the job. At least, once a week I say the words, ‘I am not in the military’. I don’t want to be in the military. The institution is far to rigid, draconian, structured and celebratory of traditions that don’t appeal to me. Hagar loves it. He fits into it like a hand into a glove. Initially, I was fascinated by it, and I love the insider look that I have been privileged to see across many of it’s elements. At any opportunity, I scrutinise the textures, the elements, the choices and the displays of livery that the war machine adorns behind the wire. But now, I am kinda over it, the novelty has worn off, and have stopped dancing within it. Maybe, I am just getting old and growing up.

I may have entered into these nuptials naive and judgemental but that has changed. I was welcomed into the community and I have been propped up at my darkest moments by this extended family that sits outside the service and enables them to deliver their jobs. This road that divides RAF Odiham needs to be crossed. As a community it would be nice to unite the families, but before that can happen the community must want to be united. How do we do this? I welcome any suggestions. I was thinking maybe we could have Girls Night Out at the Families Club. But how do we draw people out of the safety and comfort of their homes into something new that has not been done before. This little challenge that we have at RAF Odiham to cross the road, I think the Coalition Government are going to have on a more national scale to create a ‘Big Society’ amongst little pockets of inward looking cells.

The root of the challenge of English-ness is brilliantly explained by Kate Fox in Watching the English

While you are all thinking about it – I’ll go and have a little read and see what I can unearth.