The time I spent in Hereford was hell on my body, even though it was almost healed from my ordeal on the hills. I had no toenails left, and the blister scars on my feet were still visible and hurt a little bit, especially when I put them in my new jungle boots to break them in. I was, however, excited and looking forward to starting the jungle phase of the course. Of course I had heard all the stories of complete and utter hardship and suffering. But they always came from people who had failed the course. So in my own mind, what was the point in listening to someone who had never completed the course or who had been binned? Of course they were hoping to make it sound hard or they could not justify their own failure. No. “Sod them,” I thought. I’m going out with an open mind, a mind that is going to learn lots of new things. Soldiering in the jungle is pure: It’s boots, rifle, and belt kit. You either stick into it and survive, or you get spat out.
We sat in the quadrangle on our kit while the DS checked that we were all complete with the right stuff. It was not the normal green army-type kit inspection where you hold every last item up, and every time someone forgot something really important, they got shouted at. This was a simple head check and a chance to make sure everyone was ready. If you had forgotten something on this course, well then it was probably better you went back to wherever you came from. You should be past the stage in your career where you need such low-level supervision.
Once everyone was happy, our kit went onto a low loader in a container to be taken ahead of us out to the trees. We would be travelling with just our belt kit and weapon until we got there. We had a final night off and were to parade early the following morning, ready to be taken to the airframe—an RAF TriStar carrying around 40 hopefuls. The flight would be a long one, refuelling at Doha before continuing on to Brunei. There were all the staff minus the advance party—the students and the odd person going out there on post—so the flight wasn’t full and there was enough room to stretch out a bit.
I went into Hereford and had a couple of pints of the black stuff before going back to camp early to get a good sleep before the next 48-odd hours of travelling. All too soon the alarm was going off and I was out of bed—shit, shower, shave—ready to get the coach to Brize Norton. It was still dark in the car park and I wished I wasn’t so awake, as it was a couple of hours to Brize and I could have slept some more. Sleeping helps with the boredom massively while travelling, but it’s important to sleep at the right times, or else you can’t get to sleep when you really need to.
It was going to be a long time in the sky and a good sleep while up there would seriously lighten the travel time. I never used to read much other than the red-top newspapers, lads’ magazines, and the odd porno—all of which were for the value of the pictures and not the engrossing read. I wished I was one of those who could read a book for eight hours and let the time pass by, but I had the attention span of a goldfish. We boarded the plane in soldier fashion, filling up from the front, and as soon as the wheels were up it was a “race for a space.” I found two seats at the back and stretched out as much as I could. Before I knew it I was asleep.
My ears started popping and I knew we must be on our way down. The PA system crackled to life and a posh pilot-type voice let us know we were 20 minutes away from landing at Doha, where we would spend around two hours waiting. I had never been to the Middle East before, so this was an adventure on its own. The second the steward cracked the door, the hot air raced in and immediately cancelled out the air conditioning. Two guys in hideous Third World-type uniforms boarded the plane and messed about with paperwork. The same posh voice came over the speaker again and let us know that we could get off, but we would be taken to the military holding area.
Several of the DS never got off. I was soon to find out why. The military holding area was a dusty old unpainted room on the side of a large hangar. There was an aim-and-drop-style toilet in the room behind a curtain in the corner and a broken vending machine with nothing in it. No air conditioning and fuck-all loo roll. The RAF steward came over and dumped a crate of water on the floor. “The flight’s been delayed,” he said. “We will be here for about five hours.” Awesome, I thought as I sat there on the floor in my jungle fatigues. The room was sweltering and we were going nowhere. We actually ended up there for around six hours before being herded up and loaded back on the plane.
As the plane sped down the runway, forcing me back into my seat, I was now ready to go. Another eight or so hours and we would be there. Bring on the trees, I thought to myself. Anywhere in the world must have been better than that transit room back in Doha. I managed to get some sleep and we also received a horror box of food each, which contained the usual drink, crisps, floppy sandwich, chocolate biscuit, and a soldier’s mouth organ better known as a sausage roll. I felt the plane bank. I looked out the window and could see the tops of trees. We were not far from landing, now. The 20-minute warning sounded via the posh guy and we returned to our seats, ready to land. The next six weeks were going to be hard beyond belief, but for that moment, I couldn’t wait to just to get off the plane and get going.