Well I have spent the whole of this weekend trying to figure out how to write this next blog post but for some strange reason the beam of linguistic enlightenment has decided to give me a miss. So now it is Monday evening and I have about 40 minutes before I need to get ready to go back to base. I figure I just need to start writing because otherwise nothing will get written.
So what has happened in the last two weeks? A lot. Way more than I will be able to write about in this short space of time. Basically, the fortnight kicked off with me sat in a bathroom stall with my head in my hands and the waves of anxiety flowing through me once again. To fill you in on why, we had a three day camping trip coming up in the forest that week, one that if we missed we would have to lose our weekend to redo. The thing is my family were due to fly out that weekend (this weekend that has just gone) and I was borderline bedridden. I had no idea if I was well enough to go. On the bus ride back to base the night before I had started to feel a bit of illness coming on and by the time morning rolled round I felt dead on my feet.
Thankfully though the forest trip came round the next day and I had gone from feeling “awful” to “fairly bad”; that was all I needed. I really came face to face with the concept of soldiering on as we marched out a few kilometres from base to set up these ridiculous 14 man tents. Worst of all I had to sacrifice all my free time in the evening to help set up another tent for myself and the superior officers to sleep in because my tent was full. This was then followed by boiling hot night of little to no sleep interrupted by my hour-long 2am night watch shift. Basically rinse and repeat for day two but with hotter weather, a cavalcade of training exercises and two nosebleeds. Day three wasn’t much better either and by the time we got back to our room on base my whole platoon was just about ready to quit the army for civil service. One guy even did it.
So that is how the two weeks started. Fortunately, it did get easier from there. We had a couple of days shooting before undergoing the fabled chemical weapons training. I can now proudly say that I have walked through napalm and that I have been teargassed. We had the option of going through the teargas room without a gasmask so how could I resist? Turns out that it is actually really fun. You get such a big adrenaline rush from it and it is effectively a free pass to yell and swear as much as you want for a couple of minutes between fits of coughing and moments of wondering why your tears burn so much. I have to say though I probably wouldn’t be best pleased if someone teargassed me without my permission.
From then on we mostly repeated the explosives training ready for our soldier’s test which is coming up this week with a bit of physical exercise tacked on. Much to my surprise this exercise included beach volleyball which we went out to play on one windy afternoon. It was a bit of a surreal sport to play when you are surrounded by army transport vehicles doing manoeuvre training. The scene became much manlier however when we moved on to hand to hand combat training just as the rain hit. If you have ever played Metal Gear Solid Peacewalker the opening tutorial of that game is a pretty accurate representation of what we were doing. A group of soldiers in the pouring rain on some sand practising throwing punches with an angry officer barking commands at them. Tick another item off the bucket list.
So then came the week’s training ready for the vala (the passing out parade). This was our chance to swear elegance to the Motherland, stand proudly in front of our closest friends and family, and experience a palpable atmosphere of patriotism mixed with an overwhelming sense of determination. In reality, it involved me standing as still as possible for a long time with a heavy assault rifle on my shoulder trying not to literally pass out as several guys did. The most interesting part of the parade was the occasional distant thud that would come as another guy’s blood pressure dropped too low. Fortunately though, I was left standing by the end.
Which brings me up to the weekend I just had. My parents and sisters flew out from London to see me and spending the weekend with them has been a very surreal reminder of who I really am. It’s funny how quickly you revert back to your normal self when your family are around. That’s not to say that I think I have changed very much from being here. It’s more like I have had a big part of my personality tucked away in a box that I opened up especially for this weekend. All of the walls and defences that I have had up for the last month have come down and I have surprised myself by feeling like David Hubbard from Harrow again.
That is what has made this blog post so hard to write. I guess it’s probably some of the reason why I have been putting off writing it this weekend. By not writing this I was basking in the fact that I had time left to spend with my family. I was enjoying the luxury of being able to say that I’ll write it later. Now though there is no “later”. Now I have to pack my bag up again and get in the car to head back to base. It’s kind of hard to go back again now that I have had a taste of home. The months ahead of me now suddenly feel very daunting and I am realising how much of the mountain is still in front of me. It’s fine though. The view from the top of the mountain will make it all worth it.