We're making the most of a rather dodgy opportunity to access the net (via privileged ranks abusing the system) to send this rare e-mail home. Bear in mind this is from Conn's address, so any replies will go to him and may not be picked up for some time.
We are a "detached troop minus" (i.e., about 14 people), as follows, along with the names of our better halves in case you want to get in touch with each other and share gossip about our annoying personal habits:
Tp L/R: Lieutenant Conn MacEvilly (Dr MacEvil) - Gaby Cpl Brook Bowater (Colonel) - too many to mention Tpr Martin Hill (Rocket Scientist, Gollum, Soft Pawn, Prof, etc.) - his right hand Sn L/R: Sgt Adam Topol (the warry barsteward) - Alex Tpr Ed Bowen (Wine Man, Head Chef) - Samantha Tpr Janet Hairsine (Woooooman, Hairpin, etc.) - too coy to let us know BT*: Tpr Anthony (Tony) Williams - too young for that sort of thing L/Cpl Darren (Daz) Henry - Julia BT*: Cpl Jay (Jay) Madden - Suzanne Tpr Dan (Dan) Kelly the acrobat - Alejandra FBT**: Pte Phil (Robbo) Robinson - Anne L/Cpl Kevin (Taffy) Belcher - Baa'bara the blow-up sheep FBT**: Cpl Martin (Shaggy) Radforth - Claudia Pte Tristan (Trish, Smudge) Smith - his television * Big Truck ** Extra (ahem) Big Truck
So whats's it like out here? Funnily enough, hot and dusty. We've endured heat, rainstorms, duststorms (see "The Mummy"), freezing cold nights, and Adam Topol.
Living in close quarters and lack of intellectual stimulus or British weather means our most elevated conversation of the day tends to be about the size, texture, consistency, colour, shape, smell, etc., of the daily poo, especially when somebody's fallen in it.
So on that subject, although we are far enough away from the front line that the biggest danger is being hit by runaway buses, we are still close enough to have to get Xtremely Dressed to go to the loo. Body armour, helmet, webbing, rifle, gas mask and daysack make it difficult to balance over the hole, and it is distressing to reach for the bog roll to find that you have forgotten it. To avoid enduring this palaver so often, we are using empty water bottles instead of the urinals, so anyone who shares a loo with us will be pleased to hear our aim has improved. We have to be careful about which bottles have rehydrated apple juice in them and which have ... Yes, well.
The troop Land Rover was "borrowed" the other night for a patrol by irresponsible seniors who used it as a boat in the local canal. Someone ought to tell people (for example, say, can't think why, Adam and Shaggy) that Land Rovers don't float. Our pet officer had all of his Gucci (read expensive) kit left floating at dashboard level in muddy water and industrial poo. So now he is out of facial moisturiser, hair cream, nail polish, etc. Note that when anyone else takes out Adam's car, it comes back dry, cleanish and not at all broken.
The crews are now like married couples, continually bickering and arguing mightily over important matters such as how many wet wipes it takes to go to the loo, who ate the last boiled sweet, whether the sun cream is better placed in the first or second ammo box, and which idiot used Army coffee granules instead of Alta Rica.
After all the hype about lack of bog roll, we have brought so much that we are using it to make papier mache models of Saddam Hussein's moustache.
Ed was planning a posh dinner for us all (like the ones he has every day for his crew) with table cloth, napkins, condiments, after-dinner mints, and the odd cigar. Adam, the warry barsteward, cannot cope with this transplanted civilisation. Ed's plan went awry when we were hit that afternoon by our second biblical duststorm. We are trying again this evening for Brooke's birthday. The horizon looks cloudy ...
We could all do with a return-to-civilisation training session when we get back. Swear words are being automatically censored by this PC, but we are going to need to be weaned off them. Bodily functions no longer even rate an "excuse me" unless particularly antisocial. We fear that on our return, we will by reflex get up in the morning half-asleep at 3 a.m., stuff the quilt into the pillowcase, swear at our partners because they're not up yet, take a couple of random pills, pee into a teacup by the bed, poo into a shoebox, set light to any rubbish we find on the floor, and start disassembling the bedside lamp to clean it. Please allow us some leeway on return and provide a fresh shoebox every morning.
As this war is being self-funded by the British soldier, we are now bartering what we have for what we actually need; a bag of Skittles (sweets) were swapped for a desert shirt, cap badges for boots (from the Americans - "this badge was worn by the Duke of Milton Keynes in 1623, you know"), ration packs for haircuts. Even so, we are awash with food, water, some ammo (woo hoo) and bog roll.
We have been issued special leaping Velcro camouflage nets to cover our vehicles with. They jump out and stick to everything that comes within a few feet, which means we have to back up (swearing), spend a few minutes untangling the mess (cursing foully), take a few steps forward, and repeat. Poor Dan caught the bottom of his boot on the stuff and earned his wings on a great flying leap from the top of his truck. Fortunately, he landed on his head: no harm done.
No real conflicts yet with the local wildlife. The promised leaping camel spiders (with webbing, machine guns, tactical nukes and a nasty attitude) have all slunk off to gnaw rocks and be nasty to cute furry things. We do have flies (by the thousand) and mosquitoes and little bitey things that leave us spotty (although that could also be the diet).
Our digging skills have improved greatly, especially after having had Scuds fired at us; but, wives, bear in mind that this will only be useful in the garden if you are planting 100-year-old oak trees with deep roots.
On the work front, we are busy most of the time. We have a daily regime to look after ourselves and our equipment, which involves a frantic two-hour scramble to scrape the sand off everything until it blows back onto it a couple of minutes later. Other jobs include shepherding road movement (you've got to watch roads moving - they have no sense of direction) and vehicle escort, as well as being on standby to carry out our main role (washing cars) at any time. We also make lists. Often. In duplicate.
We are all in high morale (it's the morphine). Our regular colleagues in the squadron to which we have been attached look after our interests extremely well - their hierarchy is much more involved, interested and competent than the REMFs (look it up) we left behind when we Crossed the Berm. We are all OK, so there is no need to worry. We look out for each other all the tikme. So says Adam, anyway, so it must be true.
We have seen a few of the local people and in some cases handed out sweets and goodies to ease their circumstances. Which is of ourse on of our reasons for being here. They smile and wave as we drive by; none have tried to shoot us. Yet.
The landscape in Iraq is a bit more interesting than further south - we have even seen some grass. But how this place gave birth to agriculture none of us can understand. Typical scenery is sand, sand and gravel, sand, sand dunes, sand berms and sand-coloured vehicles. The air is laden with rich local aromas of burning oil, burning rubbish, Jay Hairsine's freshly-perfumed scent, and hastily-washed bodies. Our ears thrum to the sound of generators, engines, helicopters, the barking of wild dogs or Paras, artillery thumps, shouts (which have us cowering under Land Rovers only to find that someone was demanding wet wipes from the bog), controlled detonations of mines and, of course, constant bickering. Our taste buds are delighted by coffee (horrible and non-Army), boilies (instant rations - all the same) and sand (that lovely feeling of grit in the teeth).
We've been here so long that people are having birthdays (no comments from the stats boffins, please). Jay Madden was overcome with awe at our generous birthday presents to him - surrogate wine, mints, biscuits brown and a beautiful hand-drawn birthday card. Brooke is 38 today and so is our offical old fogey, although most of us are close behind.
Big disappointments include Jay Hairsine's noxious feet, missing a BBC film crew by five minutes, not getting hold of any Saddam murals (all already nicked) and not winning the war a week ago.
We have just had a huge delivery of mail that had been held up somewhere while the coalition of the willing got on with the job. We are all extremely grateful. Those who get more than they need are sharing out the extras, which is great. Especially as force wasn't required.
We still don't have access to any kind of TV or newspapers, so we only have official Army intel, stuff Dr Evil makes up, and (to give us the Iraqi propaganda view of the war) the BBC World Service to keep us informed - and each other to keep us amused. Mail is a great booster. The Army still hasn't supplied us with a shop, nor does it let us use the local shops (they're for local people). So please, please send us things like magazines no matter what their content (Esquire, GQ, Heat, Marie Claire, Home & Garden, Dentist Monthly, Plastics & Rubber Weekly, etc.), biscuits, tinned stuff such as sardines/peppered mackerel, noodles, decent coffee, small packs of wet wipes, *fly strips and spray*, cigarettes for the smokers, and especially general news (no matter how boring it may seem to you). No bog roll, thanks - we're trying to give it up.
Hoping to see you all soon. Thanks for your love and support.
Us (as in "me and me", not as in American)