Thursday, 7 January 2010

In which I get one of the best book recommendations I've ever received...

Recently, my feelings about Guards Man, and thousands of his colleagues, being out in War Zone have taken a turn for the calmer. With casualty figures still rising, this has come as a surprise, but a welcome one.

“You should read this,” said Speckled Lad the last time he came to stay. He’d pulled out of his bag a copy of The Junior Officers' Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey. “The description of Renowned Military Academy is absolutely spot on – and he makes it sound really funny. Not like the impression you get from my whinging.”

I turned the book over in my fingers, reading the blurb.

“But Blonde, you have to promise me...” I looked up at him. “Once you’ve finished the description of RMA, don’t read any more. Please. I really don’t want you to worry.”

“Of course,” I said. “Absolutely.” Obviously I had absolutely no intention of complying, but I wasn’t going to tell him that.

And so, over about a week, I curled up with the fantastically evocative, indisputably military prose, torn between howling with laughter, and bemusement that anyone could choose to put themselves through anything like that. And then I got to the section that the Lad wanted me not to read: the long and detailed accounts of the author’s tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. With slight trepidation, I got stuck in.

Initially, it was fodder for every nightmarish thought that crosses my consciousness in the idle moments. Whilst I’m getting to grips with the Army’s dark humour and nonchalant – some might say blasé – attitude towards the gritty realities of warfare, it was hard to read of young guys dying; less than ideal equipment; and the bizarre notion that when back home on R&R, getting Back Out There is almost the only thing soldiers can think of. But the more I read, the closer the penny came to dropping, and by the time I’d turned the last page, I felt I understood.

I never really will understand, of course – not planning ever to be in the situation – but I can now recognise that these guys have signed up to do a job, and it’s a job that they enjoy. I might get my kicks out of a snuggly blanket, a mug of Earl Grey and the remainder of the Christmas Lindor; but some people need the rush of adrenaline that comes with firing weapons and playing at war. An unpalatable truth, perhaps, but there it is.

It’s a job they’re properly trained and (sometimes) properly equipped to do. There’s travel, excitement, and a sense of comradeship that few of us are ever likely to know. They know they have the love and support of family and friends, and are spoilt rotten due to the (possibly misplaced) intense sympathy that’s engendered by fear and the unknown.

And whilst absolutely none of this means that I’m going to stop sending blueys and packages full of cake at every opportunity, it does mean that I sleep easier at night – and for that, I’m hugely grateful.


Helena Halme said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I recognise that sense of amazement and yet partial understanding of what men at war feel. My Englishman was a submariner during the Fauklands War.

Great post as always,

Helena xx

That's Not My Age said...

Hello Blonde Moments, I've just found your blog! I have to be honest and say I probably won't read the book but I find the whole comradeship thing very interesting, my dad was in the second world war and kept in touch with (by letter) one of his army pals for the rest of his life.
Also, one of the most moving photos I saw last year was of the young soldier at his friend's graveside wearing pink Lycra because they'd made a pact that if one of them got killed the other would wear a dress to the funeral. Had me in tears.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Its a bit like the time I finished Jilly Cooper's Polo, and had an epiphany about the world of rich men and horses.

It's not.

But it's nice when a book helps you to understand a world which you have no experience of, but a vague connection to.

Emily said...

Glad you're sleeping better. And I'm sure they appreciate the blueys and cake.

roseski said...

I meant to ask... What cake did you send? I've been weighing up which is the most postable cake!

Blonde said...

HH: Ah, then you do know it too. It's a bizarre mix, isn't it? And thank you, v sweet!

TNMA: Hello TNMA! The comradeship those guys have is amazing, isn't it? I know the photo you mean - heartrending, and underlines that friendship perfectly.

PDEWYMO: You know, I've not read Polo. I should, shouldn't I?

Emily: Thanks, it's a relief, and the messages would suggest that the cake does go down rather well!

Roseski: I find anything boxed works pretty well. The Tesco finest ones are good: you can squish two into a shoe box so they don't rattle around too much. I don't know whether they're presentable when they get there, but they're definitely edible! (Though I'd steer clear of anything with cream - post's taking about 3 weeks at the moment.)

jman said...

While I understand the camraderie part, this is generally something which going through a shared experience fosters, especially if it involves adversity, I don't understand anyone seeking to put themself in harm's way because of some politician's platitudes. Boys love playing at war but the emphasis is on playing; when the real thing occurs and you lose a leg or arm or eye or worse, you realize this is no movie. The military may seek to paint itself in more benign colours, but ultimately it is about killing and being killed. It may be a job and one may wish to adopt the stiff upper lip attitude, but for the most part vis-a-vis the enlisted man and the junior officer, it is a mug's game.

I am all for supporting the troops, just not generally the causes they are often fighting for.

Brennig said...

Blondie, I'm still excellent mates with about 60% of the guys who were in my Squadron. It goes beyond (civilian) friendship; we endured things that friends would fall out over.

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