Some of you more avid readers out there may have noticed my absence from this forum for a wee while. For this I can only apologise and attribute it largely to the less than inspiring surroundings I find myself in out here. Not one to be defeated however, I have endeavoured to find the comic value in this post apocalyptic expanse of emptiness in which we reside. And there certainly is some, although if you take anything away from this episode it should probably be a warning against ever being tempted to visit the prairie lands of Canada- unless you like grass and mosquitoes, in which case you would bloody love this place.
As I have previously hinted towards, we couldn’t be more in the middle of the middle of nowhere if we tried. Our nearest ‘civilisation’ is a 40-minute drive away, and even that is a ‘town’ called Medicine Hat- so called because many many years ago, some Indian chap (native Indian, not a member of the sub continent), who happened to be a medicine man, lost his hat. And found it here. Pure genius. They must have toiled for days to come up with such a well thought out name for the town. If you are inclined, as I initially was, not to accept this as the truth- trust me when I say that such an incident would be by far the most exciting event to have ever taken place in this bustling metropolis, consisting of a couple of cowboys, an elderly Indian gentleman (arguably the medicine man himself, although he wasn’t wearing a hat when I saw him so it is difficult to say) and a handful of bemused looking livestock. It is not confirmed, but my guess is that everyone else either died of boredom or has been bred out through some chronic inbreeding over the last few generations.
So we go about our business without much to do with the locals, in our very own section of this enormous field they call the prairies, lent to us by the Canadians to practice charging about in tanks-n-stuff, blowing up an awful lot of nothing. Which would be a lot more fun if we weren’t in the most inhospitable place on earth (give or take). My theory is that being on the prairie is a bit like being lost at sea- the enormous, flat, unattainable horizon; the never ending lack of shade to seek refuge from the blistering sun and the complete absence of any other human life for miles around. There is even water, water everywhere (owing to the massive rain storms that leave enormous puddles/lakes of stagnant water) but alas, not a drop to drink. The only noticeable difference is that the sea has sharks as its main predator, whereas we have mosquitoes. And millions of them too.
Believe me when I say, you have never seen anything like them. These monsters, some the size of swallows (small swallows, but swallows none the less), fly about in large black clouds of death, searching for fresh meat to feed on, descending on our vehicles whenever we stop, in blood thirsty anticipation of what lies within. From inside the relative security of our vehicles we nervously sit and watch what can only be described as the scene from a (very niche) zombie apocalypse film unfolds around us, as the vampiric beasts slam into our windows in their thousands, salivating and groaning dementedly (NB- due to the actual size of an average mosquito the salivating and groaning is an assumption, but I am sure that under microscopic investigation this would almost certainly be proven to be the case). To exit the truck without lashings of 100% deet (which melts plastic so God knows what it does to your skin) and a mozi head net would be suicide. Even with all of the necessary precautions, on leaving the truck you find yourself the unwilling protagonist in a brutal reconstruction of the final scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’, with people around you fleeing in all directions for cover from the relentless dive-bombing and harassment by these genetically enhanced brutes. On one occasion my driver was sprinting his way back to the truck, with the usual look of sheer terror in his eyes, when he let out a blood-curdling yelp before slamming the door shut behind him. “Everything alright?” I asked with deep concern, mainly for the amount of beasts he would have just let in rather than his well being. “Fookin’ hell boss, that were a big one! I thought that last one were fookin’ Dumbo comin’ for me!” I fear he may have exaggerated slightly on the size of his aggressor but it helps to put the point across. They also don’t conform to the strict moral guidelines used by other mosquitoes around the rest of the world- no biting the face and no biting through clothes. These guys go straight for the face before setting to work through trousers and shirts to ensure they get their fill. One poor soldier who had either run out of repellent or (more likely) wanted off the exercise, got so badly bitten all over his body in one day that he blew up like Mr Blobby and had to be ambulanced back to camp before being sent home, unable to continue. They did consider sending him to Medicine Hat hospital but I believe the medicine man was out at the time, probably looking for his hat.
I am happy to report however that this menace miraculously disappeared when we returned from some time off a few weeks back (lack of rain and presumably lack of soldiers to feed on for three weeks meant they all died- which we have recorded as a resounding military victory) and so now the prairie has found a new way of keeping us entertained- in the form of wildfires. It’s a simple equation really: no rain, plus high temperatures, plus large amounts of flying bullets and explosions multiplied by miles and miles of open grassland = wildfires that would make Lucifer himself consider relocating. So for 2 weeks we spent an average of 4 hours a day ‘fighting’ these fires with the British Army’s latest fire fighting equipment. Trust me, nothing embodies futility quite like 20-30 men doing everything in their seemingly feeble power to stop the advance of a 2km wide fire, in 30kph winds, equipped with no more than an A4 sized rubber mat nailed to the end of a broom stick and a stiff upper lip. In true British fashion we held the line every time, despite the obvious solution being that if we just let it crack on, the fire would hit the Atlantic Ocean within a week which would hold its advance far more effectively than our frantic flailing about with Fireman Sam’s rather labour intensive backup utensil. Fortunately we have stopped playing with real bullets for the time being so the fires have subsided and we get to chalk up yet another great military victory against nature.
So here we find ourselves, not entirely alone, in the back end of beyond, watching troops do battle with electronic targets and each other while we do battle with nature and attempt to escape whenever we get the opportunity. Whilst time off is not in abundance, it has been a lot of fun when it has come along. I will send a detailed report in the next episode on what one gets up to when on leave in North America but for now we are settling in for the arriving winter and, more importantly, looking forward to returning home in just over a month- dust off the dancing shoes, I feel a welcome home party coming on…
By Rich Glover