A romantic tryst….or…

Moonlight, the light touch of hands, a gentle breeze….All the ingredients for romance….or so you might think.

It was in the early hours of the morning. We were standing in line, waiting to board a helicopter bound for Camp Bastion. Leanne, our media operations escort was in front of me, Cath was bringing up the rear.

In came the Merlin and as the ground crewman wafted his fluorescent stick, we dutifully marched in our tidy little queue up to the rear ramp and made our way to the deafening sound of the rotor blades into the belly of the aircraft.

During the hours of darkness, no doubt in order to avoid passengers inadvertently looking for a seat in the cockpit or doing a face-plant into the pile of mail bags, the RAF do allow some light inside the helicopter. Blink and you’ll miss it though; it’s switched on for just long enough to put your bags down on one side, turn round and register which empty canvass seat you need to make your way to. At that point you are once again plunged into darkness.

Leanne, Cath and I had got to this point in the proceedings. Bags down, seat clocked then scramble over to them before the lights went out.

Following a rather undignified bump of bottoms, we settled into our seats then started ferreting about for the seatbelts. And it would be the aircraft with the most complicated Formula 1- type harnesses wouldn’t it? Not for us the straightforward lap belt. Oh no.

I located three of the four straps but couldn’t for the life of me find the fourth. At this point in the moonlight I spotted a very self-satisfied-looking Cath putting the last tightening touches to her straps and casually gazing out of the aircraft at the world below.

Leanne and I meanwhile fumbled away and finally found not our seat belts, but each other. We are both happily married to our respective husbands so the moment passed without so much as a sigh. After an awkward moment of holding hands, we untangled the mess of straps and at about 2000 feet, eventually got ourselves secured in place.

Thankfully, only the moon was witness to our embarrassing moment of not-very-warry-helicopter-passenger-ineptitude, so we both adopted the nonchalant frequent flyer’s distant gaze and settled in for the ride back to Bastion.

A yodelling beaver…

Yes, you heard right. Earlier this morning, one of our radio presenters out here, Rachel, was having a stand-off with the studio’s technology and came out looking a little down and not very happy with her show. I decided to give her a quick blast of my newly-acquired yodelling beaver. It worked, cheered her up a treat and she’s back to her usual smiling self now.

I now should explain myself so as to avoid misunderstandings or indeed a P45 making its way through the BFPO system to my dwellings in Camp Bastion.

On my return from a very successful trip to Kabul (notwithstanding my encounter with Jamie Oliver on the 14th below) – the stories from which you can follow on British Forces News and across the airwaves – there was a parcel waiting for me from home. Very exciting.

It was from my twin brother and his partner. I was editing all day and put it to one side to open in the evening as a treat. Very excited all day at the prospect. Very excited indeed. (you have to understand these small joys in the context of our existence on tour).

So after a long day of going through our soon-to-be-award-winning footage gathered in the capital, I snuggled up in my bed last night and tore my way through the parcel tape and opened my box of goodies….

In amongst packets of beef jerky, Japanese rice crackers (perfect antidotes to Jamie Oliver’s televised cordon bleu cooking), jelly beans and some of my most favourite toiletries was….wait for it…..a yodelling beaver.

He’s about 20cm tall, he’s sporting lederhosen and a natty hat with an edelweiss motif. He’s from Austria you see.

And the piece de resistance….he’s a rather accomplished accordion player. Oh yes, he has an accordion. And with one deft press of his left foot, he breaks into a traditional Tyrolean tune on the instrument.

It seems my brother smuggled the castaway through customs from one of his recent business trips to Austria and decided a short spell in Afghanistan would do him good. See the world and all that.

My furry friend now has pride of place in the office and his left toe gets a press every time morale takes a dip.

So it’s chuckles all round and a big thank you to my guardian angels back home and their fantastically thoughtful parcels!

Beef jerky and a Kit-Kat

There’s nothing quite like watching Jamie Oliver cooking up a storm in rural France when you’re banished to a big white tent in Afghanistan for five hours in the middle of the night….

Picture the scene….I’ve just polished off a packet of beef jerky and a tepid cup of grey tea and, having not had dinner, am feeling somewhat peckish. It is nearly midnight so I should by rights be heading off to bed and looking forward to breakfast (not that my life revolves around food you understand).

I am, however, sitting in the departures ‘lounge’ (read tent) in Camp Bastion, with another 3 hours’ (of five) to wait before my first class (read Hercules) flight to Kabul for my city break (read foot patrol and aid distribution).

I should be keeping my mind off my rumbling stomach with the third series of ‘Spooks’ which is sitting waiting to be watched on my laptop. I have cunningly kept my laptop with me. But, not so cunningly, my headphones are uselessly languishing in my bag on a wooden pallet covered in netting waiting to be loaded onto the Hercules. As my lack of cunning dawned on me earlier, I decided I was too embarrassed to go back through ‘security’ (read x-ray machine in other tent surrounded by bollards) to ask to take them out.

So I am now reduced to whatever happens to be showing on the communal BFBS TV in the aforementioned ‘departure lounge’ (again, read tent). Cue Jamie Oliver on one of his culinary extravaganzas around Europe. Today it seems he’s made his way to somewhere in the South of France.

…He’s now cooking duck on an open fire and has been making deliciously fluffy (or so he tells me) rustic bread. To be honest, I was a drooling mess as soon as the sizzle of olive oil hit the pan. I’ve tried to look away but it’s no good, I am mesmerized.

He’s just stopped at a quaint little café for a few chunks of local cheese, some ‘charcuterie’ and a chilled beer, I have to take myself away or I will start licking the screen. Cue a trip outside the ‘departure lounge’ (still. a tent) in the dark to the aromatic portaloo while being deafened by a combination of helicopters, land rovers and a C17 (why can’t I have a green boarding pass?). This should bring me back down to earth.

Back inside now and have banished all thoughts of dinky little cafés in rural France….nice wine and fantastically smelly cheese.

Or so I thought….

Jamie’s now adding the finishing touch to the ‘succulent chargrilled steak’ – a ‘crunchy fresh salad drizzled with vinaigrette’……

It’s no good.

I am now licking the screen.

Next time I’ll remember my headphones.

Lorna

P.S – Five hours, beef jerky, a kitkat and screen-licking public humiliation…only to be told the aircraft has gone ‘US’ (unserviceable to you and me) and we’ll not be flying tonight. Fabulous. Just fabulous.

RV (rendez-vous to you and me) same tent, same screen, tomorrow night then.

An interesting piece of luggage…

Picture the scene – on board a Royal Navy Sea King, the relentlessly beige Afghan desert zipping by below the aircraft. The ground so close you feel like if you lean out the door you might touch it with your fingertips. It’s so hot inside the metal hulk, your face, legs and arms (and in Cath’s case, her bottom) are on fire and even your knee-caps are sweating. Suddenly it lurches one way then the next and in a flash of light and with a loud pop, the counter-measures are deployed. Are we being shot at? Not yet, but you can never be too careful. The cargo net at the centre of the Sea King strains against the bulk of piled-up bergans, a generator and boxes of vital supplies for the troops on the ground. A small flash of red drifts into my field of vision, then a soupcon of silver. Bobbing around precariously alongside the warry desert-patterned kit is….a fan. A large 70s red and silver office fan. A fan worthy of a good sale on EBay.

A fan which with a lick of paint, would not look out of place in the vintage kitsch department of the Conran shop on Bond street in London.

For now though it’s destined for a campaign-crucial life in a small camp in Nad e Ali. The attentive Quartermaster apparently requisitioned the fashionable office item and had it transported from Camp Bastion all the way out to a remote Patrol Base for his very grateful Commanding Officer. It cramped the style of the Royal Navy pilots and their aircrewmen on the Seaking, and left a proud infantry officer less than impressed at being armed to the teeth… with office supplies – which to add insult to injury provoked jibes from, gasp, RAF officers.

With temperatures tipping 55 degrees in the Patrol Base, we can all rest easy that one Commanding Officer will go into battle with a cool head. And his troops should be feeling the benefit too soon – a further consignment of fans has been ordered so look out for them on your next flight around theatre.

The trials of spray-paint…

 

There is a reason why military equipment is a greeny browny beige colour and not a sunny yellow colour. One bright-eyed Lieutenant (you know who you are) obviously thought this oh-so-dull camouflage needed bringing into the Gok Wan era of tints and some brightening up. While meticulously cleaning weapons in one of the storage containers on camp, the young trailblazer opted for a can of spray-paint to lever open a sticky catch. One pull, just a little bit harder, one last tug should do it….cue a pretty sunflower sheen…from the barrel-tip to trigger of his pristinely cleaned weapon, across all four ISO container walls, in and around most of the Quartermaster stores….A condor moment for the hapless young Lieutenant if ever there was one you might think. But he was left staring back at a row of yellow faces, hands and soiled uniforms.

Those splattered SNCOs retired to the ablutions leaving the yellow-faced gent to clear up his mess. Reports are filtering back to us from his Commanding Officer that he may still be confined to said-ISO container…..

Today’s thought is about the weather – how very British – we were told by our eminent leader here yesterday that we could expect showers…of the meteorological variety (we do, you’ll be happy to hear, have access to the ablution variety). Cue disproportionate excitement at the thought of running around in a warm tropical-ish downpour.

So I now sit thoroughly disappointed – not a cloud in the sky (well, apart from the large billowing dust swirlers) – and less sign still of a drop of moisture….

I am told though that the camp turns into a quagmire when such downpours do occur and that there’ll be plenty of them in the autumn and winter months when I will still be here…. and no doubt by then doing a sun-dance out by our fantastically huge satellite dish.

“The wind of 120 days”

‘Heat Stress alert state RED’ – that’s another very very very hot day to you and me.

I’m reliably informed that Southern Afghanistan has the privilege of a “wind of 120 days”, which blows from June to September. It apparently usually comes with sand storms, dust, whirlwinds and intense heat. The winds can reach 177km per hour, with dust to go with them.
So now at least when we wander around chewing on grit, we know why. And as far as facial exfoliation goes, you won’t get much better and at such a cheap price!

The end of a long week and a difficult time for the troops.

Temperature’s up at its highest and sand is blowing up, leaving us chewing on grit for most of the day. Morale boost for us from the boys from MT though, who came round to BFBS for a cup of tea and some banter. They helped us through our in-theatre driving tests not so long ago so they’re welcome for tea anytime!