Thursday 10 July 2008

In bed as things get blown up

14st 1lb; 4.8 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,305; Helmand.

I was woken around 7.30 by the distinctive crump of live bombs or shells landing on the Otterburn military ranges. Even though these are some 10 - 15 miles away, the explosions are still powerful enough to shake the house slightly. What with that and the frequent low level RAF training flights overhead (just) it’s sometimes a bit like living in a war zone. These days you’d think they might get enough opportunities to practise in Afghanistan.

It can’t be a lot of fun out there in khaki in the pissing rain, even if there are live munitions to play with. I don’t know how much water has come down in the last 24 hours, but I do know that I ended up prudently reversing back up the slope when I tried to take a shortcut through the ford on my way to the village shop to buy the papers, including the weekly Northumberland Gazette. Even this proves to have gone Wife in the North crazy, with a feature which includes a paean of praise from some berk at Northumberland Tourism about how she is going to introduce loads of southerners to the delights of the county. By hating its peculiarly Godforsaken qualities. Of course! I should have know that was where I was going so wrong. Using the same logic, I understand that Liverpool Tourism are about to sign up Boris Johnson are their chief spokesman on the delights of Merseyside.

Having a very early start in prospect tomorrow, I went to bed uncharacteristically early. At 10.30p.m., the windows were still rattling faintly as the shells continued to rain down on the moors of upper Coquetdale. I reflected on the irony that here, as on Salisbury Plain, the military have done a brilliant job of preserving the natural flora and fauna by periodically drenching them with high explosives. This proves to have done far less damage than our peaceable civilian farmers have achieved in comparable areas, even though they have had nothing more threatening than ploughs, pesticides and Government grants at their disposal.

Then I thought that perhaps the Tourism people were barking up the wrong tree trying to market the place to Wifey’s twittering female fans in Islington and Barnes. Surely they should be targeting plane spotters, spies and people who are used to this sort of thing. How about direct marketing campaigns in Helmand and the Gaza Strip? “Come to Northumberland: it’s a real home from home.”

But chiefly I thought that I would really like to get some sleep. And, after a while, I did. I think the soldiers probably knocked off for a nice cup of tea around 11, once the officers knew that the chaps had definitely missed last orders in the pub.

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