Shat Al Arab Hotel,
20th Jun 2005
From what I hear on the news, your weekends have been blessed with a bit of sunshine. So I imagine all the headlines are filled with stories of buckled railways, drowned beach dwellers, hundred-mile long traffic jams to the south coast, pensioners croaking it in the heat, and record sales of ice creams and windbreakers in Skegness. My brother was telling me on the phone, that he had nearly had to rush to the hospital with heat exhaustion after carrying a bean bag up the stairs to his new flat, and had been forced to employ some burly South Africans to move his heavier cushions up the stairs! God I miss England, the thermometer showed a steady 58 degrees yesterday, and no one batted an eyelid. So I thought it only fitting to tell you a sun-related story…
You should all be familiar with the people in the world who are like Swans, all calm and serene on the surface and paddling like hell underneath the water to achieve anything. I like to think of myself as a duck, not just any old duck but an upside-down duck, feet flapping wildly in the air achieving nothing at all whilst my body lies calmly beneath the surface in a state of complete relaxation.
In fact, I think I have developed the art of looking busy whilst doing nothing so well, that people have stopped asking me to do things as I am clearly too busy (Having four different jobs also helps, as no one knows which one I am doing when). As a result, I am in the fortunate position of being able to do whatever I want and get away with it. I go on patrol when I want, I go out on the boats when I want, I fire my Mortars when I want, I sleep when I want, I eat when I want and I do nothing when I want.
I started to get a little bored the other day and decided I needed something to really sink my teeth into to keep me entertained and my brain ticking over. I toiled with the idea of learning a language or how to play a musical instrument, I thought about teaching myself something I might use when I leave the Army. But in the end, I decided to take on the uplifting and mentally challenging art of Sunbathing. I have managed, through a very kind friend back in civilisation (Thanks Emily, x), to get hold of a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic, Factor f**k all, and am now slowly cooking myself into a native.
But it hasn’t all gone smoothly, last week having finished some prime afternoon sunbathing, I wandered back to my room to discover that it was locked and a note pinned to the door saying, “Oh dear, did I leave my key in the door. I wonder if it’s now at the end of the corridor??” Realising I was the butt of some jokers gag, I set off on the very long treasure hunt laid out around the hotel for me. I went everywhere in the search of post-it notes with the next clue on, finally ending up in the Ops Room, the hub of activity in the Hotel. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this, but on this occasion, I was only wearing a rather fetching pair of running shorts, you know the type that is basically a pair of Y fronts with a loincloth wrapped around. So basically I was as close to being naked as you can get whilst maintaining some level of decency.
I checked down the corridors and legged it into the ops room searching for the next clue, I grabbed the post-it note stuck onto the huge map of Basrah and ran for the door. I was picking up speed as I made it towards the door, when I heard some shouts behind me, as I turned around I was exiting the door and ran full pelt into the Commanding Officer. Try and explain that one!! I think he was more annoyed by the assault on his senses, having six foot two of oily sweaty body all over him, as we fell to the floor is hardly how he would have imagined his day being interrupted. Did I mention that all sunbathing is strictly forbidden, and it was the middle of the day and I was meant to be working? The worst part was I still had half the treasure hunt to do before I could get some clothes on for a proper ticking off, apparently, he didn’t want to talk to me in a loin cloth!
As I seem to get caught all the time doing silly things I have slightly developed the Waterskiing idea, in the second half of my tour after my holiday, I am bringing my waterski back here. I have identified a time when the water is always calm, and the locals are not out fishing too much, and by far the most important thing is that the long trouser wearers will all still be tucked up in bed. So Operation “Waterski in Basrah” is underway, hopefully, I won’t get caught on this little jaunt!!
Missing you all. (Back quite soon, 15th July) Hope alls well.
All my love
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.