Column Part 16 We now find ourselves at the halfway point of our ‘angry camping sojourn’ in the district of Panjwa’i. Life is getting busier as what was once our own little outpost is now co-habited with a variety of others, both Coalition forces and Afghans. Do not confuse this with an uplift in convenience and quality of life, although I do tell all that their tolerance for others will make for a culturally enriched life. Sometimes I mean it.

Our little tent is served by a diesel generator for all our electrical needs. Unfortunately we are prone to frequent power-cuts and there are two schools of thought to the cause: One is that whilst conducting my early morning Swedish exercises that I flex and tense with such authority and purpose that my muscles begin to emit an electro-magnetic pulse which destroys all of the circuitry. (This view is corroborated by extensive scientific research and irrefutable fact I have conducted, and largely invented, in my head). The other lobby seems to think that a faulty, power-hungry kettle is blowing the fuses. This clearly is a flight of over-indulged fancy and can be attributed to the vanity of the other twenty five people in the tent. Either way these shortages come at exactly the time one is on the radio or requiring the satellite phone or need the light &c. &c.

The operation to clear and secure this, an historical Taliban stronghold, is well underway and in these initial weeks has been something of a success. Many of the surrounding towns and villages have been entered without anywhere near the amount of bullet-firing conflict that may have been expected, and the Afghan National Security Forces seem to have an excellent and sizeable hold on the areas that as little as ten days ago were lawless and extremely violent. Doubters may point to the fact that a number of insurgents may have pre-empted the operation and fled the area, or have de-camped further afield for the winter. But that doesn’t alter the fact that much of the district is now much safer for the locals and all concerned. Those same doubters would also do well to realise it will be much easier to hold these areas from counter attack, if it happens, then it would be to sweep aside those same forces had they stayed within the population. Pomegranates are in plentiful supply at the moment and with a few additions to the local economic equipment landscape could prove a useful source of revenue for the region. At the moment only the most perfect-looking, fit for (the anathema of taste and quality) supermarkets are exported and sold in Europe. With the addition of some power and a press, the intent is too juice the slightly unsymmetrical looking fruit (the stuff I buy from the bazaar) and package it and sell this anti-oxidising liquid gold to people who go for colonic irrigation in Lancaster Gate and Notting Hill and are happy to pay a pretty penny for it’s anti-ageing properties. The Juice, that is. As I have stated before, any legitimate means bringing money to this poor society is going to be a force for good in it’s stabilisation.

With news of the leaves turning, and woodlands start to approach their most exquisite, I feel myself getting a tinge, just a tinge, of home-sickness for my favourite time of year. I have had to leave this year’s forage for sloes and their subsequent transformation into that most delish of gin-based-elixirs to others and must await breaking open last year’s until I return. I would ask that those fungal forest foragers of Hampshire leave some mushrooms for me to enjoy at the end of next month. Please.

The troop have befriended a dog, that they have ‘Christened’ (unlikely in this part of the world) ‘Chewy’ after that same character in Lucas’s biting satire and social commentary; Star Wars. He is a Labrador crossed with something that with my limited knowledge of Pan’s Kingdom, I have yet to identify. To say he is an awkward looking thing would be underplaying one’s hand somewhat. He is ugly if affable, and one suspects that each time he catches his reflection in the water, that the more self-conscious of his DNA cells must share a collective groan at the lamentable injustice of it all. That said he seems content with his new lot in life and provides a welcome distraction for the more tactile soldiers. (???).

The other animal news of the week is that we may have discovered a Dinosaur. It is a quadruped nocturnal creature whose stature is somewhere between a giant Porcupine or a smallish Stegosaurus. It lives in the mountain to our north and has some young. There is no further information at this time, but rest assured that your reward for having wasted time reading this utterly, uninspiringly, useless ullage for the last half a year, will be a world exclusive as photographs and proof become available…………