Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Conrad One Seven

rat
I sat quiet in a war machine when Conrad died. War FM was squawking contact reports out of the radio, so I scribbled down some words before hauling myself out of the armour I lived in to squint down a gun-sight that I aimed at nothing.

Soldiers in yellow suits swarmed busy as nine bodies grew cold. Sweat and fear stung life into tired eyes, so I stared hard into the desert. Blinking into the sand abyss, heart beating like a fucked clock. Cold steel clacked a percussive backdrop as a round was chambered. And still the enemy hid.
Blue-on-blue and hearts broken wide open. We’d killed our own. A pilot’s mistake smearing teenage flesh into the grave. I bit into my lip, dry and trembling. Still alive. A10s circled and I wanted to go home while smoke curled skyward above our slain.
Conrad Cole was seventeen years old when he died. Too young to drink, too young to vote, but old enough to fill a body bag. I didn’t know him, we just shared the same rat badge on our arms. We few, we happy few. Twenty three years gone by now, and still I think of our dead lying still and silent in the sand. Rest easy bro...

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Lest We Forget

November comes, dragging with it pastel grey skies and a wind that bites deep. Old men heave jackets up to shield from the cold, flimsy cloth ramparts that battle Jack Frost. Medals sit proud upon chests as plastic is rattled, 'Poppy for the fallen Sir?' they ask.

Teeth flash white in laughter as war stories fill the bar. Old and young huddled up close as we talk of enemies past and the absent friends who never came home - a toast to them with a Port coated sigh - Lest we forget. Drummers drum and the piper's lament hurts my ears and my heart, it is Remembrance Day once more.

World War Two collides with the Helmand as veterans drink alongside our fighting boys. Faces so young that your heart aches for their youth listen intent to faces creased with a thousand nightmares of blitzkrieg and mayhem. We few, we happy few and another beer for the fallen men.

Last post is played and last orders are drunk as the Nation's defenders stand tall. At the setting of the sun and the rising of the sun we will remember them, and for a day the kids who lie silent beneath white crosses live again - and we miss them...

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Conrad One Seven

I sat quiet in a war machine when Conrad died. War FM was squawking contact reports out of the radio, so I scribbled down some words before hauling myself out of the armour I lived in to squint down a gun-sight that I aimed at nothing.

Soldiers in yellow suits swarmed busy as nine bodies grew cold. Sweat and fear stung life into tired eyes, so I stared hard into the desert. Blinking into the sand abyss, heart beating like a fucked clock. Cold steel clacked a percussive backdrop as a round was chambered. And still the enemy hid.

Blue-on-blue and hearts broken wide open. We'd killed our own. A pilot's mistake smearing teenage flesh into the grave. I bit into my lip, dry and trembling. Still alive. A10s circled and I wanted to go home while smoke curled skyward above our slain.

Conrad Cole was seventeen years old when he died. Too young to drink, too young to vote, but old enough to fill a body bag. I didn't know him, we just shared the same rat badge on our arms. We few, we happy few. Remembrance comes once more and I think of dead boys in the sand. Rest easy bro...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Say Cheese ..

When I was 19 I took a picture of a lad I didn’t know giving a cigarette to another lad I didn’t know. Nothing weird about that right? Facebook is littered with such images of grinning teenagers ignoring the health aspects of smoking and capturing happy snaps as they do. However … the boy my colleague was offering the cigarette to was dead. He’d been killed in an air-strike carried out during the last moments of Operation Granby and his corrupt lips could neither see, feel nor taste the cigarette my grinning new found friend was offering him.

I focussed on the lunacy at hand and snapped down a finger, capturing a moment that was to forever change my life. Every day that has passed since I took the photograph of a dead soldier being mocked, has begun and ended with his battle smashed face etched into my mind. His bloated mouth and the flies that feasted upon it play out in a technicolour high-def scream that echoes through the last 21 years in glorious 3D.

The Pentagon in America is currently condemning the inhuman conduct of some of its troops who have also snatched an image of war onto a digital eye. They will launch an investigation, and tut angry lips that sip fine wines far from the front lines they order young men to fight and die in. Examples will be made and lives ruined as court rooms express their horror with lengthy sentences and mutterings of ‘This isn’t what we do.’

The thing is though, it’s exactly what they do. Their bombs shred flesh and their bullets end dreams as they pat themselves on the back and toast the valiant. War destroys the men who fight in it, stripping away the humanity and exposing the monsters that live in us all. I took my picture in my war because I was scared. There are few things more abhorrent and chilling to a soldier than the rotting body of another soldier. It scrapes away at compassion and lacquers the soul with fear and hate … I know this. The soldiers who took the photographs aren’t monsters, the men who sent them into a world where casual death steals innocence are.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Contact

Flash to bang, an eternal tick tock. There are no longer seconds being played out on an unhappy clock face - there is only life and perhaps a last gasp at it.

Superheated air and a crushed pair of lungs hanging out together on a first date, and the nerves are there too. Scraping at the soul. Impact.

Mother earth shudders beneath the guns of her children and I am still alive. Lip bust and full of it as I grin at the men now dead. 'Fuck you.'

More rounds crack above and the smile falters for a moment, dry lips and panic. Please mum stop the war.

Hot lead and copper and a flag for the boys. Tick tock - tick tock.

Ghosts

The fighting child was a ghost to me now, just another memory painted over by the war. It felt like I was talking about a childhood that wasn’t mine and that the recollection of love and a heroic stand were a crap happy ending in someone else’s life story. I wanted to go home and swim around the bottom of a bottle of whiskey for a while, but Doctor Gaul wanted to hear more about the little boy lost and his war dreams, so he dug deeper.

‘What did your mum and dad think about you wanting to join the army?’

‘They were ok with it I suppose. Mum fussed a bit and dad did his whole serious but really quite pleased routine. I got told to fuck off the first time I tried’

‘By your parents?’

‘No Doc ... by the fucking army’

‘The army told you to fuck off? Why?’

I waved off the question for a moment as I sat swallowing giggles. I hadn’t known what to expect when I was referred to a head shrink. Some old school mad scientist perhaps, an ancient duffer sat pert and curious beneath a cluster of fizzed white hair and a lab coat, with a clipped foreign voice that demanded I told him about my mother. I hadn’t expected Doctor Gaul.

He had a Newcastle accent, thick laced with a high dose of Geordie and he wasn’t that old either, late forties maybe – like my dad. There was no white jacket or maniacal laughter there was a pastel shade suit and a round face that spent a lot of its time smiling, and he swore. Like a fucking trooper. Fuck this. Fuck that. Fuck everything.

I knew it was for my benefit, that the words spoken weren’t being laid out to patronise or belittle me, but to get me on side, angle in a little trust and it was working. Every time the man in the suit cursed I smiled. It was like finding out your school teacher smoked or that your Sergeant had once spent some time as an actual human being and wasn’t born a total bastard. I was beginning to like Doctor Gaul, even if I didn’t like his questions very much.

I calmed myself and let the laughter dry up before speaking again. Doctor Gaul waited for me, casual and happy as he held back the fucks.

‘I was keen you know, maybe too keen. I wanted in.’

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Memories

Narrow walls prop up an unremarkable room. The room itself is powdered with the fallout of the everyday moments lived within its bricks. Crooked picture frames wait to be straightened as the photographed faces they cling to peer outward at neatly stacked bills and hand scrawled reminders, while clock led’s splash green pools of light onto crayoned stick people and their wonky house, keeping the time as they illuminate a child’s vision of a home and family that is tacked onto a fridge with love and tape.

A box sits alone and isolated in the room, draped in a veil of cobwebs and memories it squats above the comings and goings of the lives that flit past its cupboard top hiding place. Its carved wood is faded now and close to collapse, like the corrupt skin of a dying man stretched taught across brittle bone. Its time bleached patterns that have relinquished their colour to countless days gone by still hold firm to the history within its walls, and it waits silently to be opened once more.

I know the box is there. It was my hands that pushed it on top of the cupboard where it now lives out of sight but not mind, as conversations and laughter swirl unheard through the kitchen below it, a silent spectator of life that glares into my soul. It seems out of place now and not quite right, like a well read word written down and studied until it distorts into a random collection of letters that make no sense.

My son’s curiosity led his questions toward it. I smiled at him as I pushed it further away, feeling its contents burning inside me. I told the boy it was nothing and he shrugged his tiny shoulders and ran away to hide, dropping giggles and laughter in his wake as I turned my back on my youth and went in search of him.

Smoke hangs heavy in the late night air, a grey mist settling across the past and present as it seeps into memories shared. The glowing tip of a cigarette momentarily pierces the darkness as I trace a finger along harsh ridges, pausing for a moment as I begin to lift a lid. No emotions spill from my eyes as I remember, there is only hollow sadness now as I look into the box and think of the world we both hold deep within.