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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!

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

A Dark Concept…

23 August, 2010 Leave a comment

Things have gotten away from me since the last entry… It’s been three weeks since we got here and I don’t think my feet have touched the floor since we did. Well, having said that there are more than enough occasions where you come down to Earth with a bang.

I cannot fathom how much pain and suffering is being dealt out here in the name of whatever we’re meant to be fighting for. The constant stream of flights coming in past the PHF and on into the heart of camp defy belief. An incessant flow of amputees, gun shot wounds, IED victims and the various other injuries and conditions which result in the launch of what has, unfortunately, become a perfectly coordinated process involving the men on the ground, pilots, nurses, surgeons, firemen and God only knows how may others.

On a positive note it seems that, over the last week or so at least, most of those efforts have not been in vain and the number of those who have passed away is significantly lower than those who have been flown in. Small blessing, I assume, for those who must live with their injuries.

It’s overhe this tableau that I’m currently trying to form lyrical concepts for what will be part of the next Morpheus Rising album. Needless to say that, at this point, much of the flow is dark and introverted with the prose concentrating on those thoughts I dare not air in decent company…

Pete and I had discussed at length what we might get out of this process, especially when you consider that many of our original songs were the result of a previous trip over here, or at least the aftermath of that period and we feel that there is plenty of opportunity for us to produce a unique product from this experience.  As the next few months go by you’ll find more information becoming available on the band’s site and the blog… In the meantime I’ll try to keep to my word and (from now on at least) update this one weekly. Until next time, here’s a taste of the dark side:

Buzzsaws and night lights force unwanted into dreams
Cause Nightingales to sing no more of distant lands of green
As dust storms clear and sirens sing to herald the return
Of Kings unsung, though not alone, to start their journey home

Needless to say it’s going to be a journey into the realms of epic gothic prog metal concepts the likes of which you’ve never seen, or heard, before :o)

Bursting Into Life…

21 June, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m away from home just now. I have been for a few weeks and will be for another week or so. Before that I was home for a short while, but I’ve been away off and on, if I’m honest, for the best part of 13 years. Over that time there have been many songs which have grabbed my attention, not all rock as you may expect, sometimes very simple songs.

One such song would be Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. The last time I was on tour I had an acoustic guitar with me which I played (or tried to) as often as possible. With the song having such a simple guitar part it was a sure bet for me to learn with my limited talents.

There are things that happen while you’re away which don’t hit you until you get home. One of these is your perception. I mean everything, your senses adapt to your surroundings, the sights, sounds and smells which seem so alien to you on arrival soon become ‘the norm’ and all memory of colour is washed away.

This was my situation when I landed in Brize Norton at the end of my tour. I’d spent six months in Helmand Province being blinded by the drab tan landscape, bombarded with alternating smells of shit and baked earth and listening to armoured vehicles, Chinooks and whingeing Staff Officers, I was knackered. As I pulled out of Brize in the hire car I dialled in Radio 1 and it was Jo Whiley with her Live Lounge, she introduced the show’s performer for that day and I nearly switched over, Natasha Bedingfield? Surely she was just another digitally tuned pop starlet who couldn’t really perform? How wrong could I be!

As the song began I was filled with a sense of colour as I drove through the Oxfordshire countryside, have you ever noticed how true the words ‘green and pleasant land’ really are? The fields and trees seemed to glow with a fluorescence which was hard to comprehend, add to that the smell of moisture in the air and my combined senses lifted me to a place of heightened awareness, and then she sang:

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden
That’s bursting into life

It’s strange how some things, no matter how simple, stay with you forever as freshly as the day they happened. I can still close my eyes and visualise the view and, if I hear the song (especially her version), everything’s pulled so sharply into focus I can actually smell the moisture in the air.

It’s the little things that matter.

Are you sitting comfortably?

19 June, 2010 Leave a comment

Then we’ll begin…

The point is, I’m not sure where to start? Should I labour the point about the original lyrics? Should I take you back to where (when) this all began? I think not. Going back the last few months should suffice, to the point where the preparations for this year’s crusade were started.

Before I take you back to the start of 2010 I would like, if I may, to reveal to you the goings on of the last few weeks and then, perhaps, the reason for this ‘blog will become a little clearer.

I am currently on a course, not a journey unfortunately, an educational course which is a prerequisite for the role I am to fulfil in Afghanistan. Now, bearing in mind the fact that on returning from Helmand Province the last time I began my studies toward an IT degree which has now been successfully completed, I would like you to put yourself in my shoes (Converse, if you must know) when confronted with the following introduction to a lesson:

The lights on the front panel of the laptop indicate the following:

  1. Solid Green – The battery is fully charged and power is being supplied
  2. Amber – The battery is charging and power is being supplied
  3. Red – 9% or less of the battery remain

Needless to say my mind has wandered for much of the intervening two and a half weeks and will, more than likely, wander for the remaining week or so.

One benefit of the level at which the course is targeted has been the amount of time I’ve had available for reading, and writing. I started the course having read a couple of chapters of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, a book I can heartily recommend to anyone who has a predilection for horror, vampires, history or simply a well written story. Needless to say the book has not lasted long, it has however rekindled my interest in all things historical. In fact I have spent much of my time in the evenings studying 15th century Balkan history which led to Ottoman history, hence to the Byzantine period and finally, for now, Eastern and Western Roman Empirical history.

In addition to the historical interests it has sparked a bout of lyric writing the likes of which I’ve not experienced since the first five or six songs appeared in as many days. I have found myself writing complete lyrics in a little over two hours, something which in the past has resulted in (to my mind at least) some of the best, most cohesive, lyrical content I have written.

So far I have scribbled on such topics as Drakulya, the futility of history as a teacher, I’ve even managed to revisit previously incomplete songs relating to Dorian Gray and childhood fear of the dark and I am now veering off in the direction of Roman Legions and Holy Crusades.

And that is where we are for now.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey.