Following several weeks of total radio silence, with my being glued more closely than is healthy to the news, I finally had a phone call from Guards Man, still out in the godforsaken reaches of War Zone.
“Blonde! How are you?!” It was such a relief to hear his voice, especially sounding in such chipper spirits. Rather indulgently, we had a twenty minute conversation in which he waxed lyrical about care packages, and the cake club that he and his men have set up in their little corner of the desert, everyone sharing out the goodies that arrive from home.
“I don’t know how I’m ever going to thank you,” he said, suddenly quiet and contemplative. “The blueys and parcels have been so so amazing. They’ve… Well, it’s just good to know people care.”
“Don’t be daft, GM. It’s enough to know they’re getting to you, and being enjoyed. If you really feel indebted, you can take me out for dinner when you get back.”
“That can’t be too long now, surely? You must be approaching seven months?”
“Ah, well,” he said, in that slightly sheepish tone that men have when they know they’re about to say something that’s going to cause chaos. “I’ve been thinking about that, and actually, I think I’m going to ask if I can extend my tour. It’s just… Well, when we’re out and about, it’s pretty good fun. I don’t want to miss out on anything.”
Suddenly, there it was on the end of the line. I could hear it in his voice - that need that Hennessey describes so evocatively in his book: that need to be with your men, the need to be part of the action. The need, I imagine, to feel all the adrenaline your body can handle before you’re back on a damp parade square in rainy, grey Britain.
But, for Military Gal, off to War Zone in a couple of weeks, things seem to be ever so slightly different.
A few days ago, an invitation landed in the inbox to her “pre-sunbathing” drinks.
There are two rules, the postscript said. 1. You will all have fun. 2 There will be no tears. (That second one’s for me. Please slap me if it looks like I’m about to cry.)
The situation is different for her to that of my other military friends. Whilst for them the decision to join the Army was made recently, in full knowledge of the situations around the world, Mil Gal was signed up well before that: the Army put her through university, Mil Gal having committed to it whilst we were still at school. All of which, of course, was pre-2001.
It’s bizarre to think, in the post-9/11 world, that she signed up at a time when the British Army had stopped being blown up on the streets of Northern Ireland but wasn’t yet being blown up in far-flung desert fields. And whilst, because she’s a girl, she won’t be out in the FOBs, enjoying a wrangle with ‘Terry’, she’ll still be halfway across the world, in a place full of dust, sand and combat.
So, once again, the Cupboard of Goodies is laden, and the blueys are waiting to go. The only difference is this time, there are miniatures of leave-in conditioner in there too.