Posts Tagged ‘observation’

When working in this industry in a hostile country there is only so much for a man of my trade to do in his spare time. Once the tasks are complete, the meetings done and the reports finished then there really isn’t a lot for us to do. It isn’t like we can just nip out down to our local pub for a pint or pop into the town for a wander and a spot of lunch. Once the work is done we are confined to our 50×50 compound to sit, think and find ways to pass the time.

For me, passing the time consists of various things – working my way through one of the many books that I have on my Kindle or maybe kicking back with the latest releases from the UK cinema’s that have been recorded with a shaky hand on low quality camcorder by someone sat at the back of a flea pit of a picture house somewhere in deepest darkest Europe. If the films and books don’t do it for me then the gym will. There is nothing quite like a sweat inducing, vain popping, muscle pumping session in our ‘prison yard’ gym to take away the stresses of everyday life in a war zone. Unless of course I can find someone to play a game of chess with and then I am more than content to sit there in the sun smoking a cigar with a coffee at hand while trying to outdo my opponent in the age old game of skill trying to look like I actually understand the game and can think more than one move ahead.

One other thing that helps me to pass the time over here and keep my mind away from other things is to read Blogs. Not on any particular subjects, just any that, when I first read them, catch my eye and keep me interested and with any luck entertained.  This is what got me thinking about the subject of this entry into my series of Blogs. There is one particular Blog that I have started following where the writer covers a varied amount of subjects and recently published two to do with films – one was to do with their top few horror films of all time and the other was to do with the worst film that they had ever had to sit through to this date. Reading about the authors top horror films of all time managed to get my mind wandering to how films influence us and effect out lives. For instance, thanks to a couple of horror films that I watched from behind a pillow in my younger days I now have an irrational fear of clowns (or Klowns depending on what film you saw), give sewer grates a wide berth and always keep a wary eye on any hedgehogs that I may see shuffling their way across our garden. And it was a hell of a long time after seeing a particular film before I could take a shower comfortably without having to check the locks on the door to the bathroom were securely pushed across and that the windows were shut and that there was no-one squeezed into the bathroom cabinet just waiting to make a appearance once the water started running.

So we all know that films influence us all in one way or another, whether sub-consciously or consciously, to various different degrees. One film that, while I was thinking about this subject, kept springing into my mind as having a huge influence on my life was the Breakfast Club from 1985 written and directed by John Hughes. This film was and still is as far as I am concerned one of the best movies to come out of the 1980’s. For those of you that haven’t seen it the story follows a group of five high school students in the States who are all given a Saturday detention where they are left by the supervising teacher to sit in the school library for the day and given the task of writing an essay about themselves and who they think they are. Each of the five main characters accurately portrays and different stereotype from our school years: the Jock, the Nerd, the Rebel, the popular girl and the plain weird. During the course of the film you watch as they pour their hearts out to each other, find out that they have more in common with each other than they first thought and in the end, for at least the period of the detention, become friends. It’s a heart-warming, funny, touching film and I am sure that every single person who has had the pleasure of watching it could identify with one of the characters when they were back in school. The ‘Rebel’ – Judd Nelson’s character – was who I identified with on some level and it was as a direct result of seeing that film and watching his character at work that my finale few years at school changed for good.

My first year of life in High School was a stressful period of my life. I found it hard. I didn’t fit in to the chaos that is the predecessor to adult life. I was an outcast from my fellow pupils and didn’t fit into any of the before mentioned groups – I was no good at sports so as a rule gave them a wide berth which kept me out of the Jock category. I wasn’t smart enough to be a nerd so they ignored me as well. I was anything but popular and no-where near ‘cool’ enough to be a rebel. And even the ‘weird’ ones amongst us ignored me. Even to this day I am not sure of the reasons for this, maybe it was because I was quiet or even because I was a little shy. Maybe it was because I wore a mix match of clothes as my uniform – a mixture of the cheapest items or second hand shop clothes – who knows. Children can be funny at times and often act without reason. So for the first year of High School I put up with various in-conveniences like being spat on, being pinned against a wall while some of the ‘popular’ girls slapped me in the face just because they could, being pinned to the floor while one of the ‘tough’ guys bit my arm, suffering various digs and jibes at my expense and even being chastised by a couple of teachers on a regular basis for not living up to what my older brother and sister had achieved during their time in that same school – my sister was and is a very smart woman and my brother excels at sports. I am neither smart or excel at sports. Eventually I think that the stress that this must of caused me and the fact that I kept it to myself eventually made me ill and I was diagnosed with ME which led to me having a extended period of time away from school. It was during this time off that I first saw the ‘Breakfast Club’ one late night while sat in my fathers arm chair after he had gone to bed. The film touched me and appealed to me in a way that I couldn’t comprehend. Judd Nelson’s character seemed to spring out of the screen at me and even though I wasn’t a ‘rebel’ something in the character that he portrayed appealed to me. He was an outsider and no-one in particular liked him but he didn’t care. And he let people know that he didn’t care. It was like his character had built himself a defence mechanism against the world and that defence mechanism was to stick two fingers up at anyone, whether it be a person, group of people or the system who upset him and say loud and proud ‘fuck you, fuck you man. I am who I am and if you don’t like me well here I am. Bring it on’. He stood up for himself. In my eyes he was a hero (don’t laugh) and and way above the ‘rebel’ type characters that I knew from my school. And best of all – he got the girl.

Now, I should point out before I continue that in hindsight his character was not the best that I could of been looking up to – he was the way that he was because he had a lot of issues. He had an abusive home life and was a very angry young individual. His actions were very self destructive and in real life could only lead him on a downward path. However, it is what it is and that is the route that I took. Before long I had grown my hair out, changed the way that I dressed and at times was sporting a leather jacket or from time to time a lumber jack style shirt worn over whatever else I had on. I had taken up smoking and was sporting a pretty impressive Zippo lighter. I went back to school but had fallen so far behind with my time off that I gave up on the idea of being able to catch up and instead concentrated on the being the ‘new me’. I walked around with a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude and when in classes would sit there with my feet up on a table and be disruptive or rude if the teachers talked to me. If they tried to discipline me I just left. People who used to take some kind of pleasure in causing me problems now found me standing my ground and even pre-empting them and throwing a series of wild punches. Nine times out of ten this would end with me laying bloodied on the floor but it had the desired effect – they soon started to learn to lay off. Bullies don’t seem to like it when their intended victim fights back. Outside of school I had started to drinking alcohol ‘acquired’ from my parents supplies to add to the already building image. I found myself with a new group of friends – some that I am still good friends with to this day – and girls were showing an interest in me. So life seemed good to me and that’s how I carried on for almost three years. Thank you Breakfast Club.

Looking back though I wish that I had taken a different route – I didn’t pass any exams, in fact I think that I only turned up for maybe two of them. My reports were bad and only a few days before my finale school day I was finally kicked out. My ticket was even taken away from me for the end of High School boat party that had been laid on for us. However, despite that person not being the real me and leading me to a lot of bad places at times it did help to get through my finale years at school, even if it wasn’t a successful end. And when I finally did make it out in to the big bad grown up world and started mixing with non-school kids I calmed down and started to get back on track…..kind off.

“Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

John Bender, 1985.

“Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”

Brian Johnson, 1985.


People have a pretty vivid picture in their heads of what they would expect a man or woman in my profession to be like in person. A kind of  stereotypical Hollywood version of a hired gun would be my best guess of what would come into the average persons mind if you asked them to describe a mercenary. You probably know the kind I’m talking about: The hard-drinking grizzled looking guy stood at the bar of the toughest drinking house in town with a huge cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth. He is covered in ink, drives a muscle car of some description and has a reputation as a womaniser. His favourite reading material is from the top shelve or maybe a muscle car magazine and he listens to rock music. He drinks Tequila for breakfast, cracks shelled peanuts open with his biceps and probably has some kind of attack dog as a pet that he feeds rare T-bone steaks to whenever he makes it back to his bolt hole after the Tequila has run out and he’s dealt with all of the bad guys.

That is near enough how the movies would have you believe that we all are. And if I am being honest with you there probably are a few knocking about somewhere who are pretty much like that and there are definitely more than a few who wish that they were like that. But I’m not like that and neither are the majority of us. I will admit to having some tattoo’s and liking a drink (although not Tequila as that has a peculiar effect on me) but that is about as far as it goes when it comes to the Hollywood version. I’ll now put you straight and give you a more down to earth version for you to stick away in that mind of yours ready to pull out and dazzle them with should someone ever ask you to describe a mercenary. I should point out that the following will be a few facts based on myself and that any similarities between them and any other contractors life is totally coincidental.

Here we go:

  • I do like a drink and when home do have a favourite pub that I like to go to for a drink. But it is nowhere near being the toughest drinking house in town by a long shot. It’s actually a local family pub that has a good mixture of age groups in it, runs a quiz night once a week and on the odd occasion books in a live band. I do stand at the bar but you wont find me stood there with a huge cigar stuck in the corner of my mouth – it’s against the law to smoke in UK pubs and also I find it hard to talk if my mouth has a huge cigar stuck in it. So it’s pointless. And I have never been referred to as being grizzled.
  • I do have some tattoo’s but I don’t drive a muscle car. I drive a popular family saloon, it’s safe and good on the mileage and gets me from A to B. I’m a dedicated family man with a stunning wife and two beautiful daughters and the only woman who I want to be a ‘womaniser’ with is my wife which probably means that in fact, by definition, I am not a womaniser.
  • I have plenty of reading material but none of the top shelve kind. You’ll more than likely find me curled up with the latest Terry Pratchett novel or maybe something by Stephen King. And when the mood take me I’ll read something to do with military history. I also love comic books, mainly 2000 AD but am just as happy with anything that involves super heroes.
  • I am a huge rock fan but at the same time am just as at home with listening to my classical collection or some power ballads. I also have a secret passion for Abba and The Carpenters.
  • I’ve never started the day with a Tequila although once, when a lot younger, me and some friends all cracked open a can of lager first thing in the morning. We probably thought it made us seem cooler when in fact all I remember it actually did was give me a headache. I much prefer a decent coffee and an orange juice first thing followed by a bowel of muesli and a piece of fruit. Once in a while I like to treat myself to a good old-fashioned British fry-up as a treat with extra mushrooms and bread and butter on the side instead of toast.
  • We have dogs. A Pugalier and a Shih Tzu. They are, as you can probably tell from the names, not attack dogs. The only thing that they are likely to attack you with are their tongues as they go nuts trying to say hello to you. And they probably wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do with a rare T-bone steak even if I ever did throw one at them. More than likely the Shih Tzu would just drag it off to a quiet corner and then sit there and stare at it in a slightly confused way and the Pugalier would probably just jump around it excitedly looking at us with her cute bug eyes for some direction as to what to do. So no, they don’t get steaks. The have for dinner instead a slightly over priced dog food that comes in a small white packet and gets mashed up into their colour coordinated dog bowels which they find much easier to deal with. I do eat steak though – blue not rare.
  • The only time that I have ever tried to crack something open with one of my arm muscles I managed to hurt myself.
  • And when I do head home after a few  pints and a couple of rums it’s not a bolt hole that I head back to. It’s my family home.

I guess I  could also tell you about my fascination with fantasy gaming – like Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer or that I believe in super heroes or even that I wanted a Star Wars themed wedding which my wife, totally unjustly I think, said no too. It would have been awesome. I would have been dressed as Han Solo, my wife as Leia, the daughters as Ewoks, her family as the Dark Side and mine as the Good Side. What could have been better?

So that’s the stereotype blown out of the water.

I guess that if an action movie was to have a ’normal’ person in it as the hero then it just wouldn’t sell. It doesn’t really work if I try to envision Stallone or Arnie driving around in a family saloon singing along to Abba’s greatest hits with a bug-eyed Pugalier waggling it’s tail excitedly in the passenger seat. So I think that from that perspective Hollywood may have got it just right with their version of us.