It’s midday on Saturday as I write this one. We got up late as we tend to do on weekends and shambled around the house, feeling groggy and attempting to do all the little tasks that you do at home. Bathroom, put phys gear on as I intend to get a workout in later, let the dog out into the garden and feed him and the cat whilst he’s out there. Our 11-year-old cat sits there screaming at me, even though I’m clearly putting his food into his bowl. As far as the kitty’s concerned, he deigns to allow us to stay in his residence and has a love/hate relationship towards his human slaves. Let the dog back in and ignore his accusing eyes as I wipe and dry his paws with a dog towel. He hates this being done and of course at this time of year it’s being done throughout the day. He sniffs at his food and then buggers off into the bay window to continue his constant guarding against the other dogs and cats in the road. There are a few cats who saunter around the little strip of grass by our car or sit on the bonnet and basically do everything possible to wind him up.
Kettle on, coffee into mugs (decaf for the boy and normal for us), supplements and vitamins portioned out. We eat a pretty balanced range of food, but I’ve tried various supplements over the years and some definitely help. A glance at a load of washing up sat next to and in the sink. Usually, I do it before bed but couldn’t be bothered last night and my wife is doing sausage sandwiches soon so I may as well wait for that before tackling it. Go and get the laundry baskets from ours and the boy’s room and start off the first load for today. My wife dyed her hair yesterday, so the towels used and tea towels need to go in by themselves, creating added noise throughout the day. I do washing mid-week as well but by the time Saturday rolls around there’s work and school uniforms to get clean and our washer, which is in the kitchen, sounds like it’s taking off at points during its cycle. Our rented place is a 70’s, maybe 80’s build and the quality is shit, so pretty much everything happening in the house can be heard in any other room. This is another reason to have podcasts or music playing most of the time.
I have my sausage sandwich, go out for a smoke and then prop up my phone where I can see it and do the washing up while watching old weapons and the history around them being discussed on a channel I follow. I grew up on a smallholding and was under 5 when I first shot an airgun. Shotguns came at about 9 and then rifles from about 13/14. I can’t remember how much pocket money my parents used to give me as a kid but I’d go shoot pigeons mostly with my Grandad and with another couple of adults who were family friends, I’d go rabbiting with a .22LR rifle or ferrets and nets. The local butchers would pay 50p for a cleaned and dressed pigeon and £1 for rabbits. Whatever your views on humans eating meat, I knew where it came from and it helped the farmers keep damage to their crops down. I’ve never seen killing as a sport but I also have no problems with doing it when the meat is being used. I find it highly ironic that animals like pigeons and rabbits command high prices in gourmet restaurants when in a rural setting they’re generally seen as pests.
Shooting is something I miss. I don’t miss shooting animals but I do miss target shooting. The skill that goes into making a good shot, whether with airguns or heavy weapons, is incredibly satisfying and for me, a lot of fun. As a kid, taking my air rifles and air pistols out into the woods and practising target shooting for hours was something that I could pore my mental rubbish into and you get into a zone that can be meditative, where it’s just you and a tool and it’s up to you to hit the target. That feeling continued into joining the TA later on and I always scored well on my rifle tests and was a top student on the machine gun cadre where I learnt to operate the GPMG in the sustained fire role. The first time you fire an automatic weapon puts a massive grin on your face that dissipates slightly (ok, a lot) when you then have to lug all the kit and clean the bloody things.
For anyone who hasn’t gotten to play in the green kit before, there’s a reason why soldiers tend to have buggered knees and backs. You’re often carrying half your own body weight and more is common, especially when on operations. Body armour, weapon, ammunition, grenades, water, food, radios, spare batteries, ancillaries and more all start adding up. The only reason that the military makes the kit lighter is so that soldiers can carry more of it. An old joke with a lot of truth in it. Certainly when on patrol, a very basic set of kit would be at least 25-30kg and that was just weapon, armour, ammo and what you’re carrying in your belt kit or chest rig.
We were lucky to have operated with a quad towing a small trailer, so the other kit that we’d usually carry in a daysack or Bergen went into the trailer. Having said that, being a patrol signaller, I got the joys of a bowman radio set which was a decent chunk of extra weight. I remember most that the bowman carrier wasn’t designed with body armour in mind and the shoulder straps weren’t long or wide enough. The thick ceramic armour stood out from the body a good way and the Bergan would sit out uncomfortably from the body with the thin strap ends digging in painfully under the arm and front of the shoulder. Always makes me laugh when I see civilian products described as mil-spec, as your kit is almost always made by the lowest bidder and often leaves a lot to be desired.
Bit of a tangent there but hey, this is how my mind works. Third load of washing on and it’s well into the afternoon. Earphones in, listening to a Mexican guy who teaches non-permissive environment courses to talk about his experiences with another Veteran podcaster. He spent 9 years operating against the cartels in Baja and originally joined thinking that he would be doing community liaison. He survived the violence and the corruption (the physical side anyway) and ended up a dual citizen in the States, teaching government organisations and civilians how to survive when in dangerous places. He’d never heard of PTSD until he became friends with US servicemen and conducted something along the lines of 2700 raids against the cartels, which is just nuts. Fascinating guy to listen to, and a wealth of information about a country where there’s essentially corruption everywhere and a horrendous death rate from the violence.
I’ve just taken a look at the workout I’m doing today. Intervals with various exercises but I’m looking at the side lunges and mentally groaning. I struggled to get up and down from a seating position the other week after doing them. It’s at moments like this that I ponder on how far my strength and fitness has fallen. When I came back from Iraq, it was into the recession economy and it took me about 6 months to find work on the Isle of Wight where I lived at the time. My wife was working as a cleaner and I’d get her to drop me off at a footpath somewhere on the way with my webbing and a daysack and do a route that I’d marked out on a map the day before. I usually did about 20 miles with 20kg, using all the steepest routes of the downs that I could, slogging up the inclines and then letting the weight take me and trusting my feet on the declines. There was an evil route that I used to really enjoy. It went up the side of St Martin’s down at the back of Shanklin, over St. Boniface and then up and over Appuldurcombe down towards Niton. A friend was also in the same TA coy and we’d practise our 8 miler times together using that route over St Boniface, with a fag break at the halfway point and usually a pint at the end.
Whilst I’m probably not going back to that sort of phys, I do miss being fit and strong, hence the workouts. Yeah it hurts and some weeks I struggle to make myself do it, but it takes at least 3 weeks to form habits so you’ve just got to push through the initial shock and tweak the intensity if you need to. At the moment it’s not helping me feel better mentally, but I know from experience that it will do eventually. I find that I need to do high-intensity exercise to trigger that but I need to ramp up slowly at the moment to avoid injury. It’ll get there, but like everything else concerning mental and physical health, it takes time and patience and there aren’t any magic pills. The things that work (for me anyway) are things that I do consistently and long term. Eating well and working out are two things that anyone can do at home and there’s a wealth of information out there on the internet about both. If something’s not working you can try something else but at least give it a go.
On that note, the last of the washing is ready to hang up and then it’s time for my phys session where my wife gets to laugh at me for a change, whilst I roll around on the floor trying to maintain a proper form. Bit of a long read this week and a meander through my random thoughts. Stay safe everyone and remember to look after yourself. There’s help out there if you can ask for it but there’s plenty of self-care that you can learn about on the sofa and then put into action.
Just another blogger