Diary Rooms – Being human on the front line in Afghanistan

Following my recent review of Kajaki, I was hit by an unexpected frenzy of interest from those involved with the film participants in the war in Afghanistan in generally.  One interesting email I received was from Derek Eland, himself a former Paratrooper who had this time visited Afghanistan in the role of an official war artist.  He asked if I would like see a copy of his book and write up a book review for it.  I’m very glad that he did as it is a great read so here is my review below:

Diary Rooms  Being Human on the Front Line in Afghanistan

Diary Rooms
Being Human on the Front Line in Afghanistan

Diary Rooms : Being human on the front line in Afghanistan

Published By The Big Ideas Library   £12.99 in paperback format from online retailers and all good bookshops.

By Derek Eland

‘Dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow’.

The war in Afghanistan is finally coming to an end for us in the West at least. When I say ‘us’ of course like most of us my experience of Afghanistan is little more than watching years of news reports and feeling a mixture of pity, sadness and admiration of the men and women who have been serving there.

Time Out

A soldier takes time out to write out his thoughts on the front line in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Derek Eland)

There is an almost perceptible moment in time when wars shift from being current to being in the past but in living memory and then finally history. WW1 has recently eased into history but it is still perhaps most vivid inn the writings of the men who fought in it. Derek Eland’s unique book allows us to live through the war in Afghanistan in an even more compelling way by providing insights of daily life on the front lives by the men who have spent more than a decade fighting there.

Eland had already seen military service himself when he was invited to the front line in Afghanistan in the role of an official war artist. Like many of the men and women that he came across in the field, you might expect such a position to involving hauling round an easel and paints across Helmand province. If not that then you might expect his work to include a collection of photos of men under fire and beautiful if lonely desert patrols. Whilst there are many superb photos in Diary Rooms to call it a mere photography book would be both a misnomer and a disservice.

Diary Room

Diary Room, Big Brother style in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Derek Eland)

Instead Eland decided to take a unique approach and get a snapshot of what it was going through the minds of men on the front line by setting up a number of Big Brother style diary rooms where they could write brief notes on thee feelings going through their heads that day. Some are staggering, some are as near to being routine as possible in an active war-zone. Interestingly a number of Afghans are also included and time and again they express thanks for the presence of our people and the appreciation of the job being done there as well as a sympathy for our men and women being so far away from their friends and family. Taken together however the results are revelatory.

Private Thoughts

Heartfelt note from Pte. Mayfield of 2 Para. One of many similar in Diary Rooms.

The book itself is well laid out and very easy to enjoy. We get to see the handwritten notes of the soldiers involved as well as a typed reproduction of their words. Such is their poignancy, I often found myself reading the writing on the photos and dwelling on the content for a while before reading the typed text to make sure I took it all in all the while trying to imagine a little more of what the young man who wrote the note must be like or even if he is still alive today.

Time after time, what I saw stopped to make me think. Some of the things that happened must have been absolutely dreadful but in many cases the humour of the lads shine through. What is most striking is that whilst the media at large always highlights those who have been tragically killed in action, little is made of those who survive combat but at a price and that price is the loss of their limbs. It is the main worry of many of the men, that and the lonely and dangerous sentry duty or Stag as they call it.

A note from Big Mike

A handwritten note from Big Mike in Airborne who found his tour life-changing and who misses his girl-friend terribly. (Photo courtesy of Derek Eland)

The book is also full of wonderful photographs of soldiers in their every day life; shaving, writing, on patrol, on stag and simply enjoying their free time in what for six months passed as home. It shows us what 10 years of news reports cannot show and we hear from those who matter the most, the men and women on the front line.

What Diary Rooms really strikes home with is that despite the extraordinary things these men have been tasked with, just how ordinary the men are. Some love their job, some hate it. Simple things like letters and food from home make their day whilst the weather and dust are a perennial bug-bear.

Diary Rooms by Derek Eland

Diary Rooms by Derek Eland brings a fresh perspective to war photography and the Afghan campaign in particular.

Whatever your feelings are over the war in Afghanistan as a whole, the spirit and bravery of those who fought there cannot be questioned. By the end of Diary Rooms the reader is inclined to feel that in a small way they have lived through the war with them and all the little and big annoyances and mini-celebrations that making it through each day brings.

Diary Rooms presents a unique look at what it was like being human on the front line in Afghanistan. For those wanting something different than the typical narrated history or logbook and who want to see what life was really like and to gain an unedited, simple but humbling insight into the minds of the men who served there then Diary Rooms published by the Big Ideas Library and written by Derek Eland is a revelation. One pound from each purchase of Diary Rooms goes towards the charity Combat Stress, just a little way to say thanks for those who fight so that we don’t have to.

Derek is an accomplished artist based in the beautiful Lake District region of Northwest England but his works have been featured in numerous exhibitions and publications across the land and his website can be visited at http://derekeland.com

Out on Patrol in Afghanistan

British soldiers out on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan – Photo courtesy of Derek Eland.

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Facebook is changing so Tsu me

I was one of the last people to take to Facebook.  I was and am too busy to spend time looking at Selfies and when I communicate with friends I prefer to actually meet them or at least write to them properly and not with a TLC… ok Three Letter Acronym.

In fact I really created my profiles there because it was kind of expected of me for my businesses.  Writers and small businesses apparently need Facebook profiles and though it is true that I have sold the odd book through Facebook, I don’t think I have ever even had a serious inquiry for one of my tours which is in sharp contrast to the interest I receive from my blog, tour website and old-fashioned hard-work.

Dear Facebook, it's not you, it's me.  Actually it is you...

Dear Facebook, it’s not you, it’s me. Actually it is you…

However even from a personal stand-point it is hard not to notice how much Facebook has changed even in the year or so that I have been active let alone from when it was first created.  These days it is full of promoted posts that I have little or no interest in and suggested friends or links that I know nothing of and don’t seem to have a promising future with.

It’s clear that for the people behind Facebook, it is all about money and it would be naive to think it was ever anything else. They make Billions from adverts, sponsored posts and promotional campaigns when all we users really want to do is see what our Uncle in Australia is up to or see a friends holiday photo.

Despite my experience with Facebook, it has been an apparent useful and even vital tool for small businesses, people with hobbies that are verging on the edge of becoming a job and those related to crafts such as writing, painting and photography. A well placed update here and a cute photo there can soon lead to fans, friends of friends and people just accidentally stumble across the post providing great publicity.

Recently though Facebook has been curtailing this and such posts are not being naturally publicised as they once were and in January 2015 a new policy is being put in place that will stop these things in favour of paid for advertising posts.    Maybe the long road to this policy had already started before my Facebook début which is why for me it doesn’t seem to be such a big loss.

facebook-reach-graph-update

They don’t want us to reach our friends and audience but would rather show a paid for post of dancing chickens or a celebrity falling over drunk… actually I suppose dancing chickens are quite fun.

However if Facebook does all but ban such people and pages then it will make it all the duller and less interesting place.  Just because I once read an article a friend posted from Time magazine on the war in Ukraine, doesn’t mean I ever want to see any other article by Time myself, especially not the dim-witted posts that pollute my news feed at this time of year.  I do though want to see the updates and news of the people I have an investment in, not monetary as Facebook would want but emotional and physical.  We call them friends and family and those we admire or are interested in for one reason or the other.

Truth About Tsu

Truth About Tsu

Given that I’m not too hot about Facebook and that Facebook doesn’t seem to want offer much for me or want anything from me apart from my money, I’ve decided to branch out and will be starting opt-in mail lists and actively working on the new Tsu (pronounced Sue) social media website.

It looks almost identical to Facebook except it is cleaner and clearer to use and not littered with pesky adverts and suggested readings. Tsu is also fundamentally different than Facebook in a very important way in that it only keeps 10% of the advertising revenue, the rest belongs to us the users or at least us the content creators,  likers and sharers.

Keep it in the family (well your children and grandchildren as Tsu calls them).

Keep it in the family (well your children and grandchildren as Tsu calls them).

Tsu only really started in October but it is a friendly place to be and at the moment you can get in there at the beginning.  Hopefully the ethos behind Tsu will ensure it doesn’t become obsessed with monetising its users and alienating them as Facebook has done.  It really is a cross between Facebook and Twitter with the ability to post updates, photos and use hashtags.  Create Friends and Followers and set-up pages for your hobbies, interests and businesses.

Tsu - Like Facebook but the profit comes to you.

Tsu – Like Facebook but the profit comes to you.

You have to be invited onto Tsu which isn’t really that hard as over 1 million people joined in its first few weeks which is quite a lot less than the 1.32 Billion of Facebook.  You shouldn’t really join Tsu just to make money, as you won’t make a lot but it will be a little and it will come to you, not Facebook and as I mentioned earlier it seems to be much more what I expected Facebook book to be.   You also earn a percentage of what those you invite onto Tsu create, like or share or children and grandchildren as they are known as to those in the know but that’s ok as they will earn from those that they invite onto the network.

Join the new social media Tsunami

Join the new social media Tsunami

Tsu probably isn’t going to change the world just yet but it is a complimentary network just like Twitter, Instagram and many others. Tsu also allows you to share your posts on these other networks so you’re not isolating yourself in any way.

If you fancy spreading your wings, trying something new or just safeguarding your online future against big brother Facebook changes in 2015 then why not check out Tsu.  I think for authors, creative types of all areas and small businesses Tsu could be a great idea.  Really though you just use it just as you do Facebook. You can use click on this link here and use my invite :-)  https://www.tsu.co/StephenLiddell

 

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Shibam – The original high-rise city

Even going into London as frequently as I do it is hard to keep track of all the new skyscrapers going up with their weird names.  The Gherkin, Shard, Walkie-Talkie or as it used to be called The Death Star due to its propensity of reflecting sun into some sort of laser, melting parked cars and singeing people’s heads.  There is also the Can of Ham, the Cheesegrater, The Helta Skelter.  Most people think of New York or Chicago when they imagine original high-rise cities but in fact there is a city that invented skyscrapers centuries if not millennia earlier, the city of Shibam in Yemen.

Shibam

Shibam

Most people equate Yemen with terrorism but it’s not entirely fair and certainly going back into historic times, the area along nearby Oman were centres of civilisation and are still very unique in comparison to neighbouring and slightly monotonous Saudi Arabia.

Shim in Yemen, photo by Jialiang Gao

Shim in Yemen, photo by Jialiang Gao

Shibam is right in the middle of Yemen, well away from the sea and is around 1,700 years old. The entire town of 7,000 residents is a UNESCO monument much like Stonehenge or the Pyramids and this is largely because of its ancient tower blocks that are entirely made out of mud bricks.  There are over 500 of them and many of them tower about 30 metres/100 feet into the sky with rooms up to 11 floors high.

The Manhattan of the Desert - Shibam.  Photo by Aiman Titi

The Manhattan of the Desert – Shibam. Photo by Aiman Titi

As they are made from mud, they have to be regularly maintained as the external walls get worn away by wind and sometimes rain.   The nearby Al-Mindhar mosque has a minaret that is 175 feet/53 metres in height, all made out of wood.

Shibam

Yemen has the most wonderful Souqs. The painting makes me want to go and hire a camel and go off on a long journey.

Yemen didn’t always appear as a remote backwater, it used to play a pivotal role in the trade of exotic materials between Africa and the Middle-East.    I haven’t managed to get Shibam or the Yemeni capital of Sana’a which is even more lively but I hope to one day.  Can you imagine wandering around narrow streets amongst these ancient mud skyscrapers below?

The road less travelled.

The road less travelled.

One day I hope this post won’t be a pining wish but a well documented and throughly enjoyed expedition.

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The Clifton Suspension Bridge celebrates 150 years!

Whilst not on the main tourists routes, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is an incredible sight and this weekend reached its 150th birthday since it was opened in 1864.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Clifton Suspension Bridge (photo by Earlyturtle)

The bridge spans the Avon Gorge near Briston and is a remarkable sight either from on the bridge itself or from the river or road that runs beneath it.  It was the brainchild of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the many Victorian engineers that we owe so much too.  Brunel though was predominantly concerned with transportation.  He built technically difficult tunnels under the Thames and his Great Western Railway involves numerous tunnels, bridges and viaducts and if that wasn’t enough he also designed train stations and steam ships.  The fact that in the 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, he came in second only behind Sir Winston Churchill probably says all that needs to be said about the great man, in this post at least.

Isambard-Kingdom-Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

The original plans to span the Avon gorge originated in 1753 with a stone bridge but decades later it was Brunel who came up with the idea of building a wrought iron suspension bridge with two tall stone towers on each cliff edge from which large iron chains hang with their ends buried a into the hillside whilst the road itself is suspended from 81 rough iron rods.   This technique also allowed even the tallest imaginable sailing ships to pass underneath, a pre-requisite from the Admiralty.

CLIFTON SUSPENSION BRIDGE

The Clifton Suspension Bridge under construction.

The finished bridge was tested by spreading 500 tonnes of stone over its length and to the relief of all, the bridge sagged only 7 inches.   Something that would have pleased Brunel no-end if only the heavy smoking genius hadn’t died before its completion.

The bridge is 245ft (75m) above the water and has a total length of 1,352 ft or 412 metres and each year sees over 4 million cars travel across it.  Aside from travel, it has also seen various historic moments including the Olympic Torch passing over it in 2012 and the final Concorde flight passing under it in 2003.  The very first modern-style Bungee jumps took place from the bridge too.  In fact the bridge is a well known suicide spot and historically around 8 people a year have jumped to their deaths there although this number has now reduced due to high barriers being put in place and the telephone number of the Samaritans displayed prominently.  One of those lucky few who survived was Sarah Ann Henley who have been jilted by her beau in 1885 and at the young age of 22 jumped from the bridge.  She was found injured but alive in deep mud.  I often tell people on my tours of London how ladies would be saved from their suicide jumps from Tower Bridge by their long dresses billowing out much like a parachute and this is what saved Sarah’s life.  Happily she made a full recovery and lived until she was 85.

The bridge is a well known landmark and a new visitors centre is opening up as now only are the views stunning but the bridge itself is incredible to behold.

The 150th anniversary was celebrated tens of thousands of people (some estimates 100,000) who saw a firework display which lit up the bridge and the gorge.  The celebrations were foreshadowed by a minutes silence for Charlotte Bevan and her 4 day old daughter Zaani Tiana who were found dead on the gorge cliffs a few days earlier.  A collection was held at the 150th anniversary with the proceeds going to the family of the deceased.

IMG_2835.JPG

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Red Letter Day

Have you ever heard of the phrase that Today is a Red Letter Day?   It used to be quite common but now is just one of those sayings we vaguely remember from school.  It may well be for you and you’d don’t even know it.

The origins of this saying go right back to the Roman Republic which lasted for almost 500 years before it evolved into the Roman Empire over 2,000 years ago.  It was their habit to mark important days in their year by marking them in Red on their calendar.  It’s something we still do today either to mark national holidays, religious festivals or simply the weekend for those of us at work spending all week waiting for a few days of freedom.  In the U.K. some state officials such as Judges or University academics wear special gowns on these days.

Today, weekends are often highlighted in red print.

Today, weekends are often highlighted in red print.

What really made the term Red Letter Day come to prominence was in the Medieval period before the printing press was invented.  For centuries everything had to be written out painstakingly by hand, frequently by monks or other religious people who were amongst the few who could read and write at this time.

It would take the monks years or even over a decade to write a book, perhaps 20 years to make a copy of The Bible.  This was partly due to having to do it all by hand with no mistakes but also due to the love they imbued on their work and on God.  They would treat their work as a glorious piece or art.

With all this going on it is no wonder it took them days to write out a paragraph, page or chapter.  It must have been monotonous for them and partly for their own satisfaction as well as making it easier for the reader for find the beginning of each piece of text, the monks would write the first letter in red.  It was something unusual, a cause for celebration as this sort of thing didn’t happen every day.  In fact it became a Red Letter Day.

I don’t know what the modern equivalent of this might be?  A special treat for reaching a keystone on a diet?  Or for us writers perhaps a cup of tea or our favourite snack after we reach the next 10,000 words or complete a key plot-point or chapter.

Why would this weekend be your Red Letter Day?  Mine is because today is the day I start my next writing project.  We may no longer mark the beginning of our texts with ornate artwork and red print but as every writer knows, there are a number of special moments in writing a book that must give us something like the feeling that the old monks had when it was time to break out the red ink.

The original Red Letter Days

The original Red Letter Days

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Kajaki: A True Story – Movie Review

Until a few weeks ago I thought 2014 was turning out to be pretty weak for films but recently having watched the excellent movies The Imitation Game and Mr Turner I became intrigued by a trailer I had seen detailing a true story from the war in Afghanistan.

The events depicted in Kajaki are based on fact and I vaguely remember hearing the reports of the events here soon after they happened.  Of course for those of us not directly involved it is hard to keep track of the hundreds of lives lost in Afghanistan and indeed of the brave men and women who were wounded until one notices them occasionally often wearing artificial limbs due to the injuries they received from IEDs or mines.

Kajaki

Kajaki – An incredible true-life story well told.

The trailer for Kajaki is quite low-key and that is what attracted me to watching the film in the first place and I can only say that everyone should go and see this film as it won’t let you down.

Kajaki tells the story of a small detachment of British troops from 3 Para in Afghanistan tasked with manning posts on a high ridge overlooking the Kajaki Dam.  The Taliban have been fought off and don’t generally come near the fortified positions though they are active in some of the valleys, particularly at night-time.  The Kajaki Dam is a strategic asset to the Allies as it can provide vital electricity and irrigation to an otherwise bleak area.  The insurgents are desperate to stop the dam from getting into full operation as they realise that if the locals can see the benefits of power and water then they’ll be more supportive of the Allied efforts.

Keeping Watch

The men of 3 Para keep watch from their string of small fortifications high on the ridge.

The soldiers are quite bored on their posting with not much to do but tolerate the heat, think of home and make fun of each other mercilessly.  Sometimes they go out on routine patrols and on one such occasion a patrol goes off into the valleys and one of the men accidentally steps onto a mine.  It comes as a complete and violent shock and for a moment we wonder how anyone could survive until the dust clears and we see a soldier with most of his legs blown off.

Due to the steep rocky mountains, the communications are flakey and unable to easily make contact with their local HQ or call for helicopter support to have the injured man winched to safety.  This causes his desperate colleagues to come to his aid, all the whilst keeping an eye out for the insurgents who are thought to have heard the explosion and would find the immobile patrol easy pickings.

Unfortunately whilst tending to their injured friend, a number of other soldiers set off mines.  It becomes clear they have accidentally found themselves in the middle of a Russian minefield and with inadequate medical supplies for the number of life-threatening injuries sustained.

Above the Kajaki Dam

Above the Kajaki Dam

Air-support takes hours to arrive and despite asking for a helicopter with a winch to arrive, a massive Chinook helicopter with no winch lands nearby but there is no way to get to the injured men or the equally trapped survivors.  The Chinook takes off and the huge downdraft of the helicopter blades moves some of the small stones and rocks that litter the valley floor and mountainsides which in turn sets off further mines and injuring more men.

The soldiers can only rely on their mates, bravery and humour and it is a miracle any of them survive the 3 or 4 hours until they are rescued but for their commander who keeps his squad morale and discipline up, help comes tragically too late.

I must admit that I am a fan of war films.  Not all of them, I don’t care for the Hollywood over the top style actions, patriotism, and caricatured characters.  Actors hired because they have unrealistically large muscles but largely unable to act and who don’t look like any soldiers I’ve ever met or seen from any country.  There is none of that in Kajaki, there isn’t even any pounding music and the story doesn’t need it anyway.  Some of this may be due its smaller budget but it is no way a cheap film to look at, it looks like a Hollywood blockbuster but it has the characters and tense feeling of an independent film which to me at least seem so much more real and I feel much more comfortable with the portrayal of the soldiers too.

Kajaki Events

Graphic copyright of Daily Mail summarising the events that took place at Kajaki.

The film starts off quite slowly and we get to see the pretty horrid conditions of the soldiers stuck around their ridge overlook the lake.  The film looks beautiful, the scenery is amazing and early night shots make me wish I was back in the desert myself, though not at Kajaki.

The writing of this film is very sharp and without exception I loved all of the actors in it, most of which I haven’t seen before.  The humour of the film is spot on and made me laugh out loud several times (I loved the comment about the bomber pilot not being able to finish his dinner) as I just know that is what a group of lads would be like.  They aren’t super hero soldiers, they’re just ordinary men who are making the best of their situation.  Fiercely brave and with the best camaraderie imaginable.  I wish I could print some of the humour here but I can’t.

I really like how normal the soldiers are in this film, having recently been watching two army training documentary series, one of which is for the Paras which are featured in the film, the people behind Kajaki have got it spot on.  The attitude of the lads, the feeling of them totally trusting each other and most of all the incredible suffering and bravery they go through when things go wrong.

The individual scenes where the soldiers accidentally tread on the mines are all shocking and each one is no less shocking than the one before.  Some of film is quite difficult to watch with awful injuries depicted very graphically but without unnecessary gore.  I wasn’t the only one who found myself moving my leg around in the cinema in discomfort.

Minefield

Individuals found themselves scattered amongst the mines. Getting to them was a slow and dangerous task.

Much of the film is extremely tense and the lady near me was shouting with anxiety as much when things didn’t happen as when they did.  I was totally absorbed and in awe of the men.  The film made it seem like I was really there and all the actors played their parts so well.  It would have been easy to mess this up having so many roles to fill but each of them were perfect and were clearly identifiable even in the chaos of the minefield with great performances from people like David Elliot, Andy Gibbons, Liam Ainsworth, Jon-Paul Bell, John Doughty and many others.  I had my hands clenched and my eyes almost in tears at their almost hopeless situation.

I particularly liked how the men coped with the situation and how they kept each others moral up and through their on-site treatment which was terribly painful and they were shouting and swearing, they still thanked their comrades for treating them and insulted each other.

I can’t single out individual actors as I think this film is a real group effort but a certain part of the film had me even further on the edge of my seat than usual.  That is when the medical supplies of morphine and tourniquets have run out but there is a possibility of them being in a rucksack half way across the minefield.  The bravery of going out to get it and then the doctor throwing the sack 6 feet in front of him and jumping on top of it, each time potentially to his death whilst knowing even if he makes it, he may get killed going back.

The actual soldier Paul Tug Hartley described that moment in a recent interview

“You have mixed emotions. They’re your family at the end of the day…your brothers. I lived on top of that hill with them guys and we fought together and survived together. There was a part when I crossed the minefield and I paused for a split second and it felt like an eternity. It was my son’s birthday the next day and I just thought ‘What am I doing here? In this stupidity? It’s Sod’s Law, if I go forward I’ll probably get hit by one (a mine), if I go back I’ll get hit’. But looking at the guys that were injured, I knew it was my job.”

Tug

Mark Stanley as Tug at first can’t think as explosions rattle all around and men are literally blown apart. Later though her performs some of the bravest actions you can possible imagine.

This isn’t a war film about shooting baddies, cool-catchphrases and huge set-piece action battles but the timeless qualities of bravery and heroism and team-spirit and I loved every moment of it, even the hyper-realistic makeup.

It’s probably my favourite war film since Black Hawk Down and likely the best British war film since the 1960’s and films like the Great Escape, Where Eagles Dare and my favourite Zulu.  In this anniversary year of WW1, I’m sure that whatever else has changed, the heroics of professional soldiery hasn’t changed.

Kajaki makes no comment on the morals of the Afghan or indeed Iraqi campaigns, if anything can be taken from the film aside from the bravery of the men it is the traditional lack of equipment where it is needed.  Out of all of the medals awarded to British soldiers in Afghanistan, around 80% of them were awarded to soldiers who bravely made the most of situations like this where things went wrong or support was found lacking rather than in planned actions themselves.

Long before the end of the film I had lost the ability to differentiate between the actors on-screen and the real life heroes which they portrayed and the film concludes with photos and captions of the actors and the real-life counterparts some of whom served several tours in Afghanistan, (indeed one because the first man to return to active duty in Afghanistan with an artificial limb) whilst others like Corporal Mark Wright did not survive.

It’s a film that I will remember for a long time, my only very small complaint is that I felt the final few minutes before the final rescue seemed slightly drawn out but then maybe I had just seen enough of the suffering and like those involved were waiting for it all to end and make sure everyone survived.

I give this film a definite 10/10!

As an interesting aside, I watched this at 10am on Monday morning which gave me a select audience of a 20-somethings, a middle-aged woman and an elderly lady who was well into her 80’s if not older.  She was on the edge of her seat and perhaps unused to modern war films found some of the scenes tough to watch and yet to my surprise she laughed at nearly as many of the funny male-jokes as I did.

After the film I hurried over to chat to her and a few others came over as well.  We had all really enjoyed it though felt a little traumatised ourselves.  I thought the old lady maybe had lost a Grandson in Afghanistan but incredibly she hadn’t.  Made redundant from her work in 1976, she spent all her money going to visit Afghanistan where she stayed for several months until the Soviet invasion.  She wanted to see the film because of how much she loved Afghanistan and the people there and she really hopes that the recent war there will get the country out of extremism.  It’s fair to say that if we both liked it then you might too.

I haven’t been to Afghanistan yet though I always wanted to visit.  I have been to Jordan though where Kajaki was filmed and can vouch for the feel desert like mountains in the film.  Kajaki was crowd-funded and is currently only on release in Vue Cinemas but it will surely be given wider exposure very soon.  In the mean-time the self-sacrifices in this film and the most profound I have ever seen and if I ever do get to visit Afghanistan then it will be in no small part thanks to the men of 3 Para and the many other men and women who served and often died like them.

Like many others involved in the events in Kajaki on 6th September 2006, Corporal Mark Wright was awarded the George Cross.  His citation reads:

 “Despite this horrific situation and the serious injuries he had himself sustained, Cpl Wright continued to command and control the incident. He remained conscious for the majority of the time, continually shouting encouragement to those around, maintaining morale and calm amongst the many wounded men.”

When survivors of that day gave later evidence to the inquest, they were told by Andrew Walker, the deputy Oxford coroner: “You are courageous and utterly fearless. I have nothing but admiration for you and your fellow soldiers.”

Written by Tom Williams and directed by Paul Katis, Kajaki is an awesome film with amazing actors portraying ordinary soldiers who heroic actions deserve to become legendary and is supporting Help For Heroes. Many times this summer I read in WW1 how the soldiers in trenches didn’t fight for their King, country or even family back home but for their friends standing right beside them and you can see just what they meant here.  I am totally in awe of them and Kajaki may just be the best war film ever.  If any of the actors or soldiers involved here ever read this, do let me know.

Corporal Mark Wright

Corporal Mark Wright who died from his injuries sustained at the Kajaki minefield.

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Doors open and opportunities knock thanks to blogging.

The more enthusiastic of my valuable readers may have noticed that I had one of those very rare occurrences this Saturday when I didn’t make a posting.  It’s all been down to a very busy month or so which I thought might be of interest.

I know there are lots of people who wonder about the value of blogging, aside from the fun of it all and the good practice of writing itself which are all that really needs to be said.

Blogging though for a very few people can also open a few doors and in the last month this has become the case for me or at least is in danger of happening to me.

It all started a few weeks ago when I received a message from a journalist who had seen my blog which had led him to my e-book ‘How To Get Rich Using Airbnb‘.  He wanted to do a feature on Airbnb and how it is taking away visitors from hotels.  The journalist was from Bloomberg TV and before I knew it, he was round a few days later and did a 15 minute interview with me, filmed around the house which gave me the chance to do those filler shots that you see on news reports that give viewers something to watch whilst a voice-over can be heard.  Happily he not only filmed my book but will reference it on the news feature on TV and the website when it airs in January.

How To Get Rich Using Airbnb

How To Get Rich Using Airbnb – new and improved Second Edition

It was a very exciting morning and it led me to seriously overhauling, adding to and improving my kindle book in anticipation of a bit of a sales surge next year.   I can even include the subtitle “as seen on TV” on the book cover!Considering there are over 32,000 Airbnb listings just in London and the journalist was happy to come out of London to find me says a little of what he thought of my blog and book.

Then somehow I became involved with writing a TV short story treatment.  The only conditions being that it be inexpensive to film and with just one or two actors and only one location.  Having written a few speculative TV scripts before, I knew how to go about it but what to write?  Oh yes, a story based on my blog post of a few weeks earlier.

Whilst waiting to hear back from the producers, I was contacted by my blogging friend Ekaterina who informed me of a short story competition which was looking for spooky Christmassy related tales.  We both thought that my TV story could be adapted with a few tweaks and enhancements to make it suitable for the competition.

Two weeks ago as I was busy beavering away I was contacted by the BBC.  Their researcher had found my post on “Falling Out Of Love With Football” that I wrote over a year ago and they wanted me to feature on a radio panel discussing various weighty subjects connected to football including racism, FIFA corruption, IRA chanting and the situation of a well-known British footballer who had just been released from prison after serving a sentence for Rape.

BBC Ulster - Live from Belfast cover all of Northern Ireland

BBC Ulster – Live from Belfast and covering all of Northern Ireland

I had been on the radio a few months ago but nothing like this and whats more the debate would be open to members of the public who take issue with the panelists. As it happened, after an initial stumble I did rather well and was told I came over as much as a natural as the professional journalists and football manager who I was on air with.  I was a little worried I might say something wrong especially as I was on BBC Ulster (Northern Ireland) where obviously anything to do with religion and the IRA are very heated topics.

Last weekend our home was taken over by students who had seen me online.  They spent 2.5 days making a short film adaptation of the classic children’s story “Not Now Bernard” which is about a little boy who finds a monster in his garden but his parents are far too busy to listen to him and in the end the monster eats him!   Our house was turned upside down but it was all good if tiring fun to see how a film is made close-up with the lights, cameras, microphones and actors.  I even got one of my books featured as a prop!

A few days ago I was called in to an informal meeting in London with the TV production company.  This isn’t the time to say very much about it at all but it seems my story treatment caught their eye and has been earmarked to be turned into a TV short, possibly on a network TV channel.  I was over the moon as I always wanted to write for television and we’re going to look at locations in December.  I’ve been told that they like it so much I have to write some more for them next year which is superb.

November also saw me write article for 2 magazines which found me through my blog on entirely different subjects.  Blogging can be such a useful tool above and beyond blogging for blogging’s sake.

Finally despite it now being winter, I spent the weekend giving guided tours for my company Ye Olde England Tours.  A lovely couple from Georgia, USA wanted trips to Portsmouth Historic Dockyards to see ships including HMS Victory and then a day out to Wiltshire to visit the largest stone circle in Europe, Avebury and the beautiful old village of Lacock and its Abbey/house.  It was the most stunning sunny day and they were such lovely people and I had the chance to introduce them to one of my favourite winter meals, a Steak and Ale Pie in the George Inn at Lacock.  I’m getting increasing number of inquiries and tours from people finding me through my blog.

Lacock Abbey

Lacock Abbey

Of course when I hear any progress with anything I mention above I will surely mention it again here.   Maybe because of this, I had my best ever sales month, especially for my 2 new WW1 related books and my blog reached its highest ever monthly total of readers in November, nearly 11,000 so thank-you everyone.

Things might quiet down for a bit so I won’t miss any more blogging and to make up for it there will be a bonus and entirely none narcissistic post very soon.

So that’s my good news for November (bad news glossed over of course), how have things been for you?  Have you found that blogging has made a difference to your life in some way?

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