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As I write this the post-half-term-back-to-school-blues have been well and truly washed away and we are now fully back in the swing of things. The blues were particularly bad when it came to departing our (incredibly) green and pleasant land after what had been a perfect two weeks. I managed to fit in a huge amount into my 12 day mini break (the RAF steal 2 days off you in order to cart you from A to B then back to A again) even if it did feel like it shot by all too quickly. I drank too much, ate too much, slept more than my body thought possible, spent most of what I had saved over the last four months and came back more in need of a holiday than before I left- two weeks very well spent.

The tone was really set for us on the flight home when the RAF pilot announced that some generous soul had donated a free beer to all those returning from Operations (one each, not one between the whole plane) in appreciation of our efforts. A lovely sentiment until you realise that owing to our late night/early morning take off time it was gone 3am by the time ‘supper’ was served with these free beers. Now, many a moment had been whiled away in kindergarten corner dreaming up the taste of that first sip of glorious beer, however it had been more along the lines of a cool, crisp pint in a beer garden on a lovely British summer’s afternoon, not a tepid can of John Smiths on a crowded plane filled with the  smell of 300 rotten feet at 3 in the morning. I was tempted to decline, to save the momentous occasion for the surroundings that it deserved. Sadly however everyone in front of me was gleefully accepting these charitable beverages and I couldn’t be seen to be ‘that bloke’ who after four and half dry months voluntarily turned down his first beer, and a free one at that. It wasn’t quite the daydream but it was a step in the right direction at least.

Then on to England which was magical. I even managed to sneak in a cricket match which, despite being half an hour late for, owing to an apocalyptic hangover (the kind you get when you don’t drink for four-and-a-half months and then wade in with all the gusto of Amy Winehouse on a hen-do) I still managed to play rather well, although annoyingly that did mean that everybody soon worked out that I do little more than work on perfecting the art of a good out-swinger out here. My defence is that I stand firmly by my theory that cricket is the key to long lasting peace out here, surely the prospect of a few tranquil test matches over some cold bevvies is too much for even the most fanatical of Jihadists to refuse? It’s a working progress anyway.

All good things must come to an end however and before I knew it I was on the plane from B back to A again (that’s not code, it’s just A to B backwards), no free beers this time, we must have drunk them all on the way out. It then wasn’t much longer after landing that we were set to head out and about once more, making the same endless journey to the front gate, less nervous this time just hoping to make it out on the first attempt. And I did, I made it a full 200 yards beyond the front gate before the rearmost vehicle radioed through “We need to stop here, we’ve got gearbox problems.” You can’t make this stuff up, two excursions, two failures to leave camp – 100% fail. We limped the familiar journey back to camp, past the chuckling guards who probably had a wager on the likelihood of us making it out and waited for yet another vehicle to be fixed before we could be re-released. According to my troop, if we were in the Navy and I was the new Captain of their ship I would have been deemed unlucky and shuffled overboard by now.

We did get out eventually and once again all we saw was a lot of sand, a few bemused looking locals and the odd mangy dog who all seemed to enjoy the age old game of chasing our vehicles. We haven’t hit any yet but we are trying our best. And so it was that we returned to camp, with me still awaiting even so much as a sighting of a baddy and prepared for the next outing.

Camp has had its excitements too, whilst looking for a tennis ball under one of the camp beds (a result of the new fad of in-tent cricket) I made the startling discovery of a cat curled up quite happily under the bed. This discovery was strange enough on its own as I wasn’t aware that cats even existed in this country, but stranger still was the added fact that this cat was complete with a newly born kitten which opened up endless questions in my head. How did they get in here? Don’t cats have litters and if so where are all the other little tykes? How did mummy cat get knocked up in the first place and why come to my tent to give birth? Do cats mate for life and was daddy cat about to return from a long days hunting and brutally attack me for being near his family resulting in me becoming known as the guy who got flown home early from Afghanistan due to injuries sustained from a cat?

Clearly something had to be done, the gypsy family needed to be moved on and preferably before angry daddy cat came home. Perhaps somewhat foolishly I posed the question to my troop as a sort of planning exercise for them as to how to move the unwanted visitors on. What followed was a series of suggestions that made me instantly regret asking the question. Not to put too fine a point on it but it turns out that there is indeed more than one way to skin a cat. Soldiers can be very inventive when they want to be. To my, and no doubt cat lovers across the world, great relief, mummy cat and kitten obviously got wind of the murder plot and quietly moved on before anyone could get their hands on them. Needless to say, they haven’t been seen in these parts since.

That’s all I have for this round, please do keep replying, it lets me know that someone is reading my ramblings and dare I say enjoying them. Hopefully next time I will have more daring tales than just cat wrestling and endless vehicles breaking down for you to amuse yourselves with.

By Rich Glover

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