Shat Al Arab Hotel,
22 Aug 2005
I actually walked into work this morning with two pencils up my nose and a pair of pants on my head. This rather pathetic attempt to get sent back to England to see a shrink was just met with a shrug of the shoulders by my Commanding Officer. I am now focusing my efforts on new and ingenious ways of getting out of here, I have tried booking UK based courses to go on, but I keep getting caught. I tried carelessly running up and downstairs with my eyes closed, I even tried sprinkling staircases and corridors with marbles before running down them with my boots undone and laces flapping wildly at my feet. I have deliberately put my fingers in door hinges in the hope someone might slam it (I actually got scared doing that so gave it up.)
I have tried faking serious illness, but the doctor just laughed at me. I’ve even gone to the radical steps of not looking both ways before crossing the road. I may well have to have a terrible accident with a fork at dinner, but of course our forks are plastic so even that is no use. I have tried eating too many donuts, but apparently you have to be very very small for this to have a liver collapsing effect. I suppose the only thing I haven’t tried yet, but am way too scared of doing, is to just ask if I can go home because I don’t want to be here anymore, I am not sure I could face the humiliation of admitting defeat to this damn place.
As you may have gathered I am a little tired of being in such a horrible place. If you have any ideas of how best to pull off a long term sickie, please let me know. Sure we have improved the hotel no end since our arrival, Rats no longer crawl down corridors, the air conditioning works occasionally, the floors are cleaner, the walls are whiter, the lights have bulbs, the doors have handles, fire doors litter every corridor, new fire alarms ring constantly in various places, the stairs even seem to have even been remarbled. The gym has machines that work, the showers have cold water, every office has its own sign, and as I have mentioned we even have one Portakabin full of porcelain loos. But it wasn’t my understanding that I was coming out to witness a hotel refit team at work.
The locals continue to be extraordinary, and now I am starting to come across even stranger aspects to this culture. They have no concept of comfort. We have purchased a new sofa for our TV room, being a “dead posh” outfit no expense was spared and the finest furniture shop in Basrah was asked to provide some of its wares. There is no way on God’s Earth that anyone except someone who lives here could have designed these things. They are awful, not just in colour, texture, and look but they have been fashioned in such a way to make it impossible to sit on and be comfortable. A large wooden pole runs across your back forcing you to sit as though something has been forced up your bottom, the seat is made of the thinnest piece of foam on top of the hardest wood in the Middle East, and the headrest bit is made of solid rock. It is the most remarkably uncomfortable creation on earth.
The mindless killing, the drive-bys, the roadside bombs, and the meaningless deaths seem to make a lot more sense than the inexplicably bad furniture designs. Having just witnessed the festival of Ashura, where it is quite normal to slash yourself with barb wires, chains, or even swords and comparing it to the rather tame Shrove Tuesday I grew up with maybe explains how they can possibly love those sofas!!
I do hope you are all having a slightly more enjoyable time of August than I am, next week I will be able to say “I am coming home next month!” which for me is a massive morale booster.
All my love
P.S. Just managed to slip the hysterical expression “…diving into a hot sweaty snatch…” into an interview with the press without laughing!!! Brilliant!
The letter above is part of a series of letters I sent home from Basrah, Iraq in 2005 republished here for the first time since they got sent exactly 15 years ago (I will try and sync them with the real dates sent)
I suppose this was my very first attempt at blogging, before blogging was ever a thing!
I was a Captain in The British Army at the time and was in the middle of an unremarkable 7 month posting to Basrah surrounded by the remarkable men of the Coldstream Guards, my regiment for 7 years. I loved and adored my time in the Coldstream and look back at all the fun and silliness with incredibly fond memories. I hope these letters go some way to show the amusing side of our tour, they are not designed to be a factual representation of the hard work, pain and suffering that so many endured. They do not talk of the ultimate sacrifice made by too many of our soldiers during that extraordinary year.