From Helmand to Heywood

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A top class British dark humour read where the interplay between colleagues and opposite sex gives lots of laughs. Starting with David Cameron in Camp Bastion in Helmand it winds through Lanzarote & Magaluf to the Lower Pennines where ex-soldier Fred has become a Superstore Security Manager and ideas man to BASSTARDS (British Association of Store Security Trade And Retail Distribution Staff) before his breakdown from Closed Memory Syndrome. Joined by former squaddie Sid, a lifelong blagger and ladies' man, who wins £5m. on the National Lottery but loses his libido from being pursued by avaricious women after his cash. Both enter Rehab to refocus their lives & goals and Fred becomes an indispensable Adult Education Instructor (pursued by Daphne, the Cooking for One & Sculpture Made Easy teacher) who unwittingly creates the UK No. 1 Dogging spot with Sid using his Lottery win to start KETCHOUPP (Keep England The Charity Home Of Undeserving Poor People) to retain England's premier blagging & begging skills from fierce foreign competition using IT. With interventions from Chardonnay & Jeremy Kyle, it ends in the Canaries with BREEXIT (British Real Estate Excites In Tenerife)

Humor / Other
Age Rating:

Chapter 1 From Helmand to Heywood

’It’s just coming up to 8.46 a.m. at Media City here in Salford and that was the Swinging Blue Jeans with Good Golly Miss Molly from nineteeeeen bubbly bubbly, just give us a call if you know the year and tell us your story.’

‘Today, we’re talking about unfortunate funny incidents caused by absent mindedness, yeh, that’s right, unfortunate funny incidents caused by absent mindedness on the show, just ring us now,’ said the broadcaster, ‘with your answer, if you know it, and story, let’s see who we’ve got on the line.’

‘Mike? Mike, it’s Alan, Alan from Droylsden, I think it’s 1964, Mike. Am I right?.’

‘Correct, spot on, Alan, you’re through to the Mike Sweeney Show on BBC Radio Manchester, what’s your story then?’

‘Mike, I got talking to the wife about brightening up and decorating the rear of the house last year. She agreed, decided to leave me to it and go off shopping for the day to get out of the way. So I got the ladders up, brushed off the loose paint on the windows and doors, climbed up and was just about to reach and hang the tin of paint on a tread when the handle broke off, the white emulsion poured out over my head and splattered all down me.’

‘I stripped off, tried the back door to get in to wash the paint off me and my clothes but she’s locked me out, so there I am, standing bollock naked in the back yard, bright sunshine beaming on me and the paint starts to dry!. In the meantime, I’m walking around looking like Michelin Man!’


‘It took me about 4 weeks to get it all off.’

‘Hahahaha, great story there Alan, we’re all creased here in the studio, let’s see who’s next on the line.’

Besharat smiled to himself and thought about how much his life had changed in the past six months since he had left Helmand to live in North West England. Life had been extremely difficult for him initially when he arrived. The abrupt cultural differences between his old life in Helmand and his new one in Heywood jarred with him. He got very depressed and felt suicidal. With no one else locally from Afghanistan to confide in and share his dark thoughts and troubles, he rang the Samaritans, not the local Manchester branch, but the Kabul Samaritans. Speaking in his native Pashto, he was able to talk freely in confidence and unburden himself of his worries and depression. They were really interested and excited about his suicidal thoughts and asked him if he could drive a truck. He managed to work his way through it all, a daily routine developed, and life in his new homeland started to move upward.

He had just finished another batch of food in the Afghan kitchen he had constructed using his Army Interpreter Resettlement Grant in the back yard of Nick’s house for his pop up delicatessen stall in the local market.

It was his old Army patrol friend Sid who had blagged a lot of the building materials ‘off the back of a lorry’ or from local new build developers’ estates just down the road at Hopwood Mews, along with Fred. Fred had volunteered as a plasterer on a local Veterans’ Project to provide homes for ex-servicemen loosely based on the BBC Nick Knowles Veterans’ Village Project in East Manchester. Through working there, he had got a load of offcuts, tiles and other useful stuff for a mobile small build in a back yard.

Returning ex-servicemen had problems getting accommodation and the local veterans project where Fred had been working on was one of a number which had sprung up to address the shortage problem. With being an ardent trend spotter, Nick had found an opportunity in his hometown to provide temporary accommodation for ex-services personnel. House sitting and guardians had been a popular method in the Greater London area for many years and was starting to spread outward to other metropolitan areas in the North. It was a fairly simple, straightforward means of providing safeguards to property owners holding empty buildings awaiting development for which planning permission was usually long and tortuous. Installing tenants on short term licences to avoid vandalism, squatters and security costs, it was a win win situation for both owner and tenant. The tenant got good quality accommodation at a reduced rate, the owner avoided any repossession problems which could happen with tenancies when redevelopment was about to start.

As a property guardian, ex-service personnel ticked all the boxes required by owners and developers holding empty buildings and Nick had sourced one in his hometown which was ideal for his plans.

In the cobbled rear yard Nick had built a micro-brewery for his craft beers alongside Besharat’s kitchen and had come up with the snappy trade name and strap line for their joint food and drink business.


From Camp Bastion Nick had kept up to date on the internet with Food & Drink with Foodie blogs Custard, Zomato, The Mancunion, Mrs. Petticoat, Bottoms Up and others on the emerging eating and drinking trends in Greater Manchester. He quickly realized that with the plethora of tapas, existing Italian and curry joints along with drinking spots popping up all over the place, you needed to differentiate into niche markets to pull in the discerning punters and profits.

It was the rise of Localism and the new craft food and drink markets which particularly interested him. People had tired of the current offerings from big retail food chains with their globalised burgers and gassy American lagers and local ethnic communities’ same menu curry products. CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale) had started the kickback on beer many years previously and the local Greater Manchester craft brewing industry had moved from garden shed eccentricity to mainstream acceptance.

He envisaged his new venture as combining craft brewing with accepted ethnic food but differentiated slightly from it, combining Localism with acceptable niche Globalism. His hometown of Heywood (slang name Monkeytown) was a perfect launch spot for his and Besharat’s joint venture. Straight off the M60 and M62 with low rents, only 6 miles from the City Centre, it already had the two best kept secret Tapas and Greek restaurants in Greater Manchester, a dismal High Street of samey curry and fried chicken takeaways and had formerly been in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most pubs in a linear mile in England, it was ripe for a new craft beer boozer and upmarket niche Eastern cuisine establishment. He already had in mind his first two brews, Monkeytown Malt and in deference to Heywood’s larger close neighbouring town, Middleton Moonraker .(Slang for Middletonian)

With the Single Regeneration Bid already having been long in operation and established in place as ‘Heart of Heywood’ and other initiatives offering the prospect of grants for new business, he started to fine tune the figures. Both their business plan and eye catching slogan were already in place.

TALIBAN TORA BORA Take A Look In Besharat And Nick’s …Taste Our Real Abgoosht …Booze On Real Ale.

Elsewhere in the house life had started to stir with BBC Radio Manchester belting out from a back room. Apart from himself and Nick, Fred and Sid were also staying there. Besharat took a drag on his cigarette, had a quick sip of his hot Nescafe and looked up at the Pennines.

There was still a light covering of snow on the peaks and shaded small valleys but Spring was definitely on the way. It was a crisp early morning with a light wind slowly turning the wind turbines up on Scout Moor. In a strange way the mountain view reminded him off his old home in Kabul, the mountains of Tora Bora and his job as interpreter for the patrol in Helmand. The view invariably led his mind to drift back to his last days there when the message came through that the British Army was withdrawing.

As he blew some smoke rings into the morning air and sipped his coffee his mind drifted back to Afghanistan.

Besharat stood with his back to the sun just behind the patrol who were clearing the way ahead looking for landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). He knew them all well and had been their interpreter for over 6 months. They worked well together. His job as interpreter for the British Army had not been what he had in mind when he had completed his Hotel and Catering Studies with Diploma in English Course at the Bakhtar Institute of Higher Education in Kabul but that now seemed such a long time ago. He had intended to work in the External Economic Affairs Ministry (EEAM) but for that to happen you needed contacts, influence and more importantly plenty of cash for bribing your way in. To get into the EEAM with the prospect of an overseas posting to an international hotel group was a fiercely contested opportunity, a glittering prize which was currently beyond him. It would all take time with no certainty of a successful conclusion was the advice from his University tutors who had kept their heads down, worked through and survived the various regimes who had held power in Afghanistan.

‘There are more crashed planes in the sea than there aresubmarines in the sky,’ said his personal Tutor, summing up the difficulties and hurdles in negotiating the political minefields.

His teachers at Bakhtar had been mainly Indian and Pakistani nationals who had been trained through British Council courses and opportunities. All of them faithfully kept abreast of world affairs and what was actually happening in Afghanistan through the BBC World Service on clandestine radios. It was his personal Tutor who had pointed him in the direction of acting as an interpreter for the British rather than the US Army.

‘Sometime soon this war will start to wind down and the British will be the first to leave. They’ve never wanted to be here in the first place, memories of heavy British casualties in the two Anglo Afghan wars in the 19th century still influence policy. Then there was a purpose to protect British interests in India. Now there is none, they have simply been pressganged into an impossible mission by the Americans.’

‘There’s already a scheme for interpreters to be resettled elsewhere in Afghanistan with a large cash grant or relocate to the UK. The Americans will be staying behind for several years because they will never learn from the British experience,’ he said.

It was the best decision Besharat had ever made.

The lives of both Besharat and the patrol changed forever one day during the daily inspection of both the surface and culverts on foot and in Mastiff and Jackal armoured vehicles for improvised explosive devices along Route 601 to Lashkar Gah. That was when the Army Careers of Fred and the other patrol members came to an end. Not immediately but phased over a few months when they had finished their current tour of duty.

Fred was guarding the Royal Engineers putting in the roadside irrigation systems from the outward patrol base. It had similarities and reminded him of allotments back home in England with wide swathes on each side of the highway now producing crops of vegetables for the local farmers in an initiative to try and reduce their dependence on producing poppies for the opium trade.

It was then that the text came through.

‘Following the Defence Forces’ Review of manpower requirements your unit is being reduced in size and merged. As a result of this you will be made redundant in three months on your return to the United Kingdom.’ Not totally unexpected but it still came as a shock.

An Army career which had brought him to Northern Ireland, Belize, Germany and Cyprus was coming to an end in the dust and chaos of Helmand. Back at Camp Bastion he confided his worries about the future to Wily Sid who was a mixture of Private Walker from Dad’s Army and Fletcher from Porridge.

‘They’ll probably reduce the Camp Bastion numbers through natural wastage by the Taliban or use our Allies,’ he cheerfully told a startled Fred, pointing to the joke warning sign in the Mess.

His good natured spiv character and ladies’ man rolled into a cheerful wide boy who always seemed to be able to source supplies, official and unofficial with much appreciated tubes of Robert Mugabe mints to counter the Bastion dust (RM backwards is Yorkshire slang ‘E Ba Gum, Trebor!) as well as solving colleagues’ marital problems in their correspondence with wives and partners back in the UK. He was the cheerful guy who always kept morale going and spirits up.

The PM’s Christmas visit to Bastion and his rousing speech over the turkey and chipolatas to the troops helped to sustain and unleash Sid’s humour.

As the Prime Minister posed with carving knife in hand over the giant Bernard Matthew’s bird for the obligatory Downing Street photograph Sid remarked loudly to his colleagues on his table, ‘Did you know that Bernard Matthews has the largest cock in Norfolk?’

‘What we do for ourselves dies with us,’ said the PM, ‘What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. It is the Soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.’

A rousing Hear! Hear! and table banging from the squaddies reverberated around the Mess.

‘The PM has fired us all up tonight. I think we’d all kill for the Nobel Peace Prize for him after that speech,’ Sid radioed to his unit under heavy fire in Kandahar.

After the formalities the PM worked the floor, his easy social manner made conversation and contact with the squaddies relaxed.

‘Call me Dave,’ he announced, shaking hands all around. He was highly approachable and even took a turn on the turntables as DJ.

‘Any music requests, any favoured tracks?,’ he shouted into the mike.

’Can we have the Bee Gees Staying Alive?,’ retorted Sid. They all laughed at the black humour. He followed it up by dragging a large box in Christmas wrapping to the top table,

‘Finally got the landmine that I’d ordered on eBay. Bloody expensive phew! Cost me an arm and a leg.’

It brought the house down.

Sid’s blagging skills and innate ability to get a copy of the Sun and pass it around the base and produce quality cigars for celebrations, at a price of course, made him popular all over Bastion. His knowledge about women had largely been cultivated from Deidre’s Photo Casebook in the Sun. From this Sid deduced the following about women:

Women spent a lot of time in their underwear.

Women spent a lot of time on the phone.

Women cheated on their partners.

Women cheated with their friends’ partners as well.

It was this philosophy which underpinned his attitudes towards women and cemented his reputation as a womaniser. He was the oracle on relationship problems within Bastion with the right word or phrase for a letter, text or phone call home.

Fred’s relationship with his partner Chardonnay was a bit like ships passing in the night. On his last leave they had a short unsuccessful break in Benidorm. Army married life was always difficult to maintain with frequent absences through postings, specialist training and separations preventing a settled routine. By its very nature orders gave very little time for family life planning with women expected to fall in line with Army requirements, their needs and careers etc. were rarely considered. They were expected to pack up their family lives and follow their menfolk often at very short notice.

Fred had met Chardonnay at a local function. He had just joined the Army, she was a door to door sales and party organiser for Avon Calling. Courtship was rapid. The wedding soon followed. Inevitably Wily Sid was his best man with a speech based on the Essence of Man Avon products.

The wedding dinner was at Fing’s All You Can Eat Chinese Buffet House with a short honeymoon in York then it was straight into cramped married quarters at Catterick. Chardonnay never really settled at Catterick, she was an urban dweller by instinct and by calling. Door to door selling and organising a sales team to do it needs a high density population to make it work. Living in isolated rural North Yorkshire with its thinly peopled areas was not suitable for it. She was used to being her own boss with her own part time team but the only areas where such opportunities and they were few in number existed at all were related to farming and farm equipment about which she knew nothing and had no desire to explore either. Going back to being an employee did not appeal either with the area’s total lack of suitable jobs or things to do. This deeply bored her and sent her down into a cycle of depression.

The Army does not cater for Army wives, only soldiers. Army wives are simply the camp followers of their partners who are expected to pack up their lives at short notice when new postings come through. For the bulk of her day, television rather than Fred was her constant companion. They stated to drift apart before they even got together properly like ships passing in the night. He wondered what would happen when he returned to the UK at the end of his tour of duty.

That was in the future.

Helping guard the engineers restoring the water and drainage facilities along Route 601 was the immediate task in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. An area of about 500 metres wide running along each side of the route was now well served with irrigation and producing healthy crops helping to bring about a less hostile local farming population who could also see the foundations of schools and health centres starting to be built in the area as well.

Aside from his normal duties Fred had also started to think about his future outside of the Army. Security and personal bodyguard work were both obvious possibilities, so was being a mercenary. There was always a demand for troops hardened by recent combat experience for similar conflict situations worldwide. Watching the engineers working on the drainage systems in Helmand had also brought back memories of his old trade in plastering working with his father who was a small general builder before he’d decided to join the Army.

He smiled to himself at the memories, Fred the Spread.

The final remaining days flew past. Suddenly, it was time to say goodbye to Helmand and his fellow squaddies at Bastion who were a closer family to him than he’d ever known in real life. Back in the UK at Catterick there was no Chardonnay to meet him on the tarmac. She’d texted him to say she was at Bingo Bingo and couldn’t make it.

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