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North of Nowhere

24 September, 2010 Leave a comment

I wrote in the previous entry of my recent trip and the Danes that I met there. I talked of the traits I saw in them. One I didn’t mention was their renowned fierceness as warriors. History has proven the Danes to be great warriors and their involvement in this current conflict is doing nothing to harm that reputation.

I also mentioned an ‘interesting’ flight home after my visit and said I would write of it in this entry…

Once my work was done it was time for me to return to the safe confines of our desert bastion. On arriving at the departure point I was met by the normal rag-tag individuals heading onwards to their journey home and people going back to their base after a visit for whatever reason. There was also, on this occasion, a group of Danes with enough kit between them to finish the war!*

The LPC advised that these modern vikings were to board first with the rest of following on, we’d then be ferried ‘home’ before they were forwarded to their final destination.

All that changed as soon as the ride landed and the LPC spoke to the loadie, we were bustled on first, including the working dog on his way home for a medal, ann were followed on closely by the squad of tooled up Scandinavians all grunting, back slapping and showing each other the Devil‘s Horns (a la Ronnie James Dio \m/). The lights went out, the rotors changes tone and we lifted into the moonlit night…

I don’t know where we went, I do know it was vaguely North, and after an indeterminate length of time (it’s best to snooze on these journeys) we touched down, and waited…

The rotors surged again and we were once again lifted into the moonwashed skies and heading North(ish). This leg was slightly longer and I tried, once again to doze, to no avail… Even behind closed lids the brightness of the defensive flares are blindingly bright. Given the fact they have to divert attention await from the heat of the turbine engines keeping this thing in the air I can understand it, but it was a bloody rude awakening! After watching through the domes perspex window as the pale grey landscape rushed by not too far below I drifted of into slumberland once more. I was rudely awakened by the sound of weapons, more grunts and back slapping and shouts of ‘two minutes!’ as these guys readied themselves to disembark God only knows where… I must admit to being a tad concerned when one turned to my mate and, with two fingers held in a Churchill manner, shouted ‘two minutes!; at him and looked at the two of us! (Not bloody likely was both our initial responses.)

By this time we could feel the bird dropping fairly quickly and I glanced out the window again to see… nothing. There was a huge vista of  pale grey with light and dark patches here and there but no light, no activity, and more importantly to my defensive mind, no cover.

As we pulled a hand-brake turn (I don’t know how else to describe it) and  touched down they launched themselves into the great unknown (although I’m sure they knew where they were!) and dispersed themselves into defensive positions. We them lifted off and headed back from whence we came. This leg of the journey was far less eventful with little or no chaff or flares and a far greater height being reached. Having embarked on a 15 minute ride on a Chinook I arrived back safely over 80 minutes later.

I mentioned last night that this flight had spawned some lyrical musings. Here’s the bare bones…

Day’s over, the job’s all done
High time now to hightail it home
Light of day in dark of night
Full moon’s overhead

We’re not alone, there’s more to come
For some work’s just begun
Light’s out, head down
All Hell’s gonna let loose soon

Dark of night, flares so bright
We’re headed North of Nowhere
All tooled up, let’s stir it up
We’re headed North of Nowhere

Moon rides high, light’s up the sky
Washing sand and village white
Signs of life show down below
Dropping down, it’s time to go

Dark of night, flares so bright
We’re headed North of Nowhere
All tooled up, let’s stir it up
We’re headed North of Nowhere

* I know we’re not at war, but I hope you’ll allow a little poetic license!

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Lords of the North (The Vikings are here!)

23 September, 2010 1 comment

Three years ago I found myself the guest of the Danish Battalion (DanBat) deployed to Afghanistan. Having moved forward from Kandahar before it was actually achievable we found ourselves without any of the life support necessary to accommodate a Squadron Headquarters and, to their credit, the Danes went out of their way to put us up the best they could. We had a roof over our heads and beds to lie on and that was about it. There was no aircon or other comforts and that continued until we managed to wedge ourselves into the camp of a British infantry battlegroup.

My memory of the Danes from that period is of a group of very tall, very calm and very likeable individuals. Nothing seemed to ruffle them, they were industrious, determined and, in our case, very welcoming. They seemed to epitomise my vision of the Scandinavians and only strengthened my opinion that the people of Northern Europe are how we should all hope one day to be, polite, focussed and proud.

Fast forward three years and I’ve walked into a well established rear location which allows a Squadron Headquarters to function in what many out here would consider luxurious conditions. Air conditioning, a ‘real’ office environment for work, and salubrious accommodation for sleeping in.

From this gilded tower I flew (slightly) North a day or so ago to touch base with one of our detachments. And once again I was to find myself a guest of the Danes.  The last 24 hours have been one hell of an education for me.

The DanBat are responsible for an expansive and important swathe of land in this area and yet, in the safe confines of my everyday environment, despite knowing the equipment I had deployed and the work our guys were having to do to maintain the existing infrastructure and their efforts to accommodate the plans for expansion I had no idea just how dependant they were on our assistance. It’s nice to know that, in some small way, I am able to repay their benevolence of three years ago. Promises of effort, and little advances in their aspirations, resulted in genuine platitudes which initially seemed slightly overdone until it was explained just how dependant on these they actually were.

This visit has done nothing but cement my opinion of three years ago, but it has also added a new dimension to it. As well as the traits they showed before I now know how much they deserve the respect they so rightly have earned. Despite their equipment shortcomings, and their dependence on our help they as forging on, punching above their weight, in a fashion reminiscent of the Danes we came to know as Vikings. And their countenance does nothing but reinforce that image. Tall, blonde, muscular and square featured describes more than a majority of these proud warriors (and more than a few had the obligatory beard!). Towering men, statuesque women, who carry themselves in a manner which portrays strength and pride.

Three Nations mourn... Flags at half mast in Afghanistan

A mark of respect.

The day I arrived the Danes had lost one of their soldiers and the flags in camp were flying at half mast when I arrived, they were still flying at half mast as I left.

I’m glad they’re on our side.

I’m now safe at ‘home’ despite an interesting flight back*, I think I’ve found inspiration for the next new lyric, but in the meantime one of the lyrics from Morpheus Rising‘s back catalogue seems more than fitting. To the ‘Lords of the North’:

Born of these Northern lands,
Tracing the line back to the time when the Gods of old still roamed
They’ve come here before, they’ll come here again
With an iron hand

Destined to rule these lands
The blood in my veins is the blood of kings
I’ve come here before, I’ll come here again
With an iron hand

Out of the mist they came,
Sailing across the sea from the land where the Gods of old still roamed
They’ve come here before, they’ll come here again
With an iron hand

Leaving the land in flames
Riding across the plains to the place that I call home
They’ve come here before, they’ll come here again
With an iron hand

I am a Lord of the North
I am a Lord of the North

This land will always belong to me
This land will always be free
It will always be free

This land will always belong to me
This land will always be free
It will always be free

I am a Lord of the North
I am a Lord of the North

I am a Lord of the North
I am a Lord of the North

Lord of the North
with an iron hand, Lord of the North
Lord of the North
I’ve been here before, Lord of the North

Written & Arranged by Harwood/Tennick  © 2008

* I’ll write about the flight ‘home’ the next time, just now I need to get some notes down for the lyric…

A Little Inflammatory Rhetoric

22 September, 2010 Leave a comment

As far as I’m aware Jesus and Mohammed were great advocates of peace. As were most prophets through the ages.

Not the peace we forge in these days of Government funded conflicts in the name of global stability and world peace. Peace in the true sense of the word, ‘love thy neighbour’ and all those sayings which are paid lip service the world over in quaint old buildings in villages and suburbs as people search for meaning to their existence.

Peace of the kind promoted by the very Gods that armies wage war in the name of.

The World Peace monument in a pond next to a s...

Image via Wikipedia

This is not a new occurrence by any means. All through history nations and alliances have waged war in order to prove their Faith is the one true religion. And they have done so with the impunity only secured by the knowledge that their belief is justification in itself for their actions.

Okay, enough already!‘ I hear you cry!

Yes, I know it’s all a bit heavy but, as I’ve stated before, it’s the whole premise behind this blog’s title. (Look closely…)

Despite the premise that this is a ‘War on Terror‘ everywhere you look there are religious icons to be seen. Crosses made of wood or brass shell casings, Stars of David, Crescents, you name it and you’ll find it here. Each of the sides have their religious elders along for the ride and they hold religious services to glorify the sacrifices made, on both sides.

This, in my Devil’s Advocate of a psyche, raises the question: Are we on a crusade? It was this question that raised its ugly head late last night while I struggled to get to sleep. It was this question that rattled around the empty space that I had been trying to fill with some words to put to the latest track I’d received from Pete. And it was this question which grew to form the lyric I have been searching for, for weeks.

This is not the peaceful, introverted or reflective lyric I’ve produced of late. To be honest I’m a little surprised by its anger, but I’m also pleased with it, as I am with everything produced so far…

Down through the ages they’ve answered the call, they’ll answer again
In history’s pages the worthy stood tall, will they stand there again?

The soldiers of freedom with faith as their guide, they’ll answer the call
Taking lands from the heathen regardless of right, their armies will fall

Holy Wars, fought in whose name?
Holy Wars, always in vain
Holy  Wars, who counts the cost?
Holy Wars, humanity’s lost
In the name of the Cross
This is the Last Crusade
Is this the Last Crusade?

Facing down evil at every turn
This is the reason you answered the call
Seeking redemption through others demise
Can’t you see reason? It’s all just a lie!

As hordes stand against them they’ll fight to the end, no matter the cost
When the world stands against them it’s time for the end, we can’t pay the cost

Holy Wars, fought in whose name?
Holy Wars, always in vain
Holy  Wars, who counts the cost?
Holy Wars, humanity’s lost
In the name of the Cross
This is the Last Crusade
Is this the Last Crusade?
This is the Last Crusade
Is this the Last Crusade?

Answers on a postcard…

A Female God* and Falling Angels

20 September, 2010 Leave a comment

Having meandered from the true path of music, in all its forms, in the last post I’m about to return with a vengeance to the reason this blog was created but…

Before I do I’d like to discuss one more song which smacks me straight in the face every time I hear it.

Now, before I go any further I must emphasise that, despite being a ‘modern man’, I am not really that into ‘chick flicks’ as they are called, but every now and then something comes along which really has an impact. Most recently it was ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife‘ and others would be ‘Meet Joe Black‘ or even ‘The Champ’ (but that’s going back a way… But of these, none comes close to the sheer splendour of a film about an Angel choosing to fall from grace in order to feel love.

City of Angels‘ has something special about it, a quality I can’t describe or quantify, and it doesn’t diminish no matter how often I revisit the film.

Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because it is such a powerful song in its own right, I have developed a great feeling for the song performed by Alanis Morrissette for the soundtrack.

Uninvited‘ is a haunting track using the passion created by strings to great effect over a simple keyboard and percussion setting. Perhaps better known now as the dance version released by Bailey Tzuke (I can appreciate both versions), the original is something quite special. Even before I took the time to listen to the awkwardly phrased lyrics (part of its charm?) I felt the pain and anguish it portrayed. Having taken the time to listen to the lyrics I can’t believe how accurately they reflect the emotion of the film’s primary characters

Like any uncharted territory I must seem greatly intriguing
You speak of my love like you have experienced love like mine before
But this is not allowed
You’re uninvited

I’ve often tried to express emotions like these in song and, as far as I’m aware, I’ve never succeeded. Songwriting comes in many forms, as my (soon to be teenage) youngest daughter, herself an avid singer/songwriter already, explained to me recently; there are moment songs, feeling songs and story songs. I think I have cracked the latter, and I’m sure I’ve dabbled in the first (I’ll need to check with her first I think!), but the middle one always seems to elude me, because of this I think I respect those who can achieve it so eloquently all the more. And Alanis Morrissette has done it here with such eloquence I’m speechless… well, not quite ;o)

* I do not consider Alanis Morrissette a deity before anyone starts a pogrom, I’m merely nodding to her cameo role in Dogma, a film I’m usually far more willing to admit to liking!

Somebody stole my chocolate!

13 September, 2010 Leave a comment
Green & Black's

Image via Wikipedia

Now, it’s not often that I get upset by the little things, but this is different! 

I know the work regime on Ops is always slightly frantic and you’re expected to do that ‘little bit more’ than usual but, of late, I seem to be spending more time awake than I can recall doing so since I made a ridiculous promise in Kosovo in 1999! 

40 hour shifts, 5 hours of sleep followed by another 38 hours are taking their toll and the saving grace was knowing that, on my return to base camp, there was a lovely bar of Green & Blacks chocolate waiting for me… 

Or was there? 

Imagine my surprise when, on Saturday afternoon, after a few hours kip to recharge my flagging UPS I headed down to the CP, into the admin tent and opened the fridge. My eyes drifted towards the top shelf expecting to see that confectionery waiting patiently only to be met by a dozen bottles of nicely chilled water and… NO CHOCOLATE! 

I have one thing to say: 

“Woe betide the man who stole my sweets! I’ll find you, I’ll gouge your eyes out with a spoon all the while laughing maniacally as a man deprived of his desires is wont to do, and then I’ll get another bar sent over and eat it in the comfortable knowledge that everyone’s treats will be safe henceforth. And a pox on your family!” 

Birdsong

11 September, 2010 2 comments

I wrote a recent blog concerning the Vigil’s held here each week for the fallen and, unfortunately, it has been every week since my arrival and on most occasions for several individuals.

In my usual location we are isolated by several miles of desert in all directions and, as such, see very little of any kind of animal or plant life (unless of course you count the swarms of Starship Trooper-esque ants which are everywhere in this country)! This week however I have travelled to the capital of Helmand Province to carry out some work on an ailing system and it’s a somewhat different experience. I’ve already written of the bemusing experience of seeing greenery, trees, flowers and a gazebo during my previous visit, but this time I noticed something else…

We paraded in front of six flags; the Union flag, the Stars and Stripes, the national flags of Denmark, Estonia and Afghanistan as well as the Black Rat of 4th Mechanized Brigade who are currently the British war fighting brigade out here.

 

A view of Sangin Valley in Helmand province - ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

The service was in memory of two British soldiers who had died in combat during the previous week, both young men who made a mark on those who they worked with. As the Last Post faded and Flowers of the Forest made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end I noticed something I didn’t even realise I’d missed.  As the sun set and the Muezzin sang the call to prayer behind the stirring sound of the bagpipe’s lament I heard a bird sing. I don’t know my ornithology so I couldn’t even tell you what it was, other than inspiring, rejuvenating, refreshing.

One of my favourite novels is Sebastian FaulksBirdsong, a book I first read between my previous tours of Iraq and Afghanistan and several times since.  A story in three parts (although written as two) it details a man’s life before and after his life in the trenches as a tunnel rat during World War I.  I do not think I have read something either quite so thought provoking or emotionally exhausting in all my years of enjoying literature. I am in awe of the ability of Faulks to write of that period as if he was there, the detail, the depth of perception is, quite simply, staggering. I also find the juxtaposition of the wartime element with the romance of the ‘pre-story’ and the emotion of the closing pages part of its charm.

Despite my love of this book I had never fully grasped the reason for the title. Yes, I am aware of tales of there being no birds over many of the sites of major battles in more than just World War I, and I am aware of the joy birdsong is meant to provide, lifting the heart and healing the soul, but until this day I had never truly understood.

I do now.

It seems strange that the sight of a feathered creature flying erratically over flags flying at half mast, singing their song, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding below them could lift the spirit, but it does, and emphatically so.

It’s moments like these which provide the inspiration for lyrics which mean something, not only to the author, but to the reader or listener as well. Later on that night I found thoughts rattling around my head which needed a release. I’m concerned that much of what I write just now may seem self-obsessed or overly dramatic/melancholy, but I suppose it’s the nature of the beast. At times like these you find yourself questioning your values, your morals and your sensibilities.

Those thoughts found an escape, it’s only a beginning, but here is what may well become Birdsong:

Don’t sing songs in our memory
You can’t know the words
Don’t regale us with stories
The truth needs to be heard

Listen instead for the life we preserved
The sounds you ignore as you walk through your day
Heed what we say as we give you our word
They’re the reason we came here and were willing to stay

When the bird breaks its silence, listen close to the song
It was there in our haven, it followed us on
When the bird breaks its silence, don’t ignore what it sings
It was there as we struggled, as young men became Kings
When the bird breaks its silence, listen through to the end
It was there as they fought, those lions of men
If the bird breaks its silence, you’ll all get to see
The reasons you live in the land of the free

War Songs, Pt. 3: Watching…

9 September, 2010 Leave a comment
Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge in Barcelona 3-6-08

Image via Wikipedia

I was going to wait until the weekend until I posted this, however, as I heard the new single ‘Isolation‘ today, pre-ordered ABIII and ordered tickets for the Birmingham show in October (Yes! I’ll actually be home for a gig!) I thought I might as well make it Alter Bridge day!

Some songs embed themselves in your psyche. Not those songs that hook themselves into your consciousness for a day, but those which you hear and they immediately mean something to you. It doesn’t even necessarily have to coincide with the sentiment of the song. It’s personal, and it’s special.

One such song for me is ‘Watch Over You‘ by Alter Bridge. The reincarnation of Creed, a band whose lyrics I always found insightful perhaps due to my faith or perhaps just due to their skillful creation, were something of an unknown to me when the first album was released.  One Day Remains was very much ‘Creed with a new vocalist’  however Blackbird, their 2007 follow-up, was something entirely different. Myles Kennedy stamped his authority on this one, and then some. His vocal style and breadth of range never cease to amaze me and he is one of a handful of lyricists whose work I wish I could call my own. Tracks such as ‘Blackbird‘, ‘One By One’ and ‘Before Tomorrow Comes‘ are as fresh now, 3 years on, as they were when I first heard them. Thoughts such as

Will I be defined by things which could’ve been, I guess time can only tell

are with us all, and yet they are so hard to write. But of the songs on both albums ‘Watch Over Me‘, in both its original form and as a duet with Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, means far more to me than the simple lyric can.

Leaves are on the ground, Fall hs come
Blue skies turning grey, like my love
I try to carry you, and make you whole
But it was never enough I must go

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
When I’m gone

You say you care for me but hide it well
How can you love someone not yourself

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
When I’m gone

And when I’m gone who will break your fall
Who will you blame
I can’t go on, let you lose it all
More than I can take
Who’ll ease your pain, ease your pain

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
And who will give you strength when you’re not strong
Who’ll watch over you when I’ve gone away

Snow is on the ground, Winter’s come
You long to hear my voice, but I’m long gone

At this time in particular I want to ask these questions of my wife. She has so much going on while I’m away, I need to know she will be safe, and protected from everything and yet I’m powerless to do so. I can only gain strength from the knowledge she has family and friends to lean on in my absence.

I think, of all the songs I’ve sung to myself over the years, this is the one I’d most like to cover. Perhaps not in its original form, but maybe as either the acoustic version seen on the live DVD or, if I could convince someone to play the role, as a duet. A bonus track next year? You never know…