Over the years we have become used to journalists being on the scene of the battle within hours of the kickoff. And I bet you've never wondered how on Earth they get there. Only the RAF flies direct from Britain to Iraq and the only planes they can use, the only ones that are fitted with missile counter-measures, are three 35-year-old Tristars. These things predate video recorders.
Nevertheless, Adrian and I were due to board one of them on a Sunday at oh-my-God o'clock. "Why," I wailed, "does it have to be so early? Why don't you forces people ever set off anywhere at tea time?" A silly question, as it turns out. They have to leave in the dark in Britain so disaffected youths from Bradford can't pass the departure time to their mates in Iraq; and they have to land in the dark as well.
It didn't matter, though, because it turned out all the Tristars were broken and the trip was in grave danger of being called off. This was horrible. When I'd first been asked to go to Iraq, my response was: "Ooh yes." Mr Bush had made it plain that the war was over and that the whole country was returning to normality. Mr Blair always makes it sound like Bourton-on-the-Water over there. But do you know what? He's lying. At present, 350 roadside bombs and 20 car bombs go off every week in Iraq. And in Baghdad alone, there are 25 attacks of one sort or another every day. So far, around 2,000 Americans have been killed in action, and that's rising at the rate of one every eight hours. Once every four hours, one of them has a limb blown off.
My insurance company reckoned I had a one-in-a-hundred chance of being killed, and charged a premium exactly twice what I'd been offered to write the story. These figures caused some concern on the home front. Adrian's girlfriend made him write a will. My wife, having discovered the insurance would only pay up if I were killed, not if I died of a heart attack, called Adrian with some very specific instructions.
"If he starts to go a bit blue, shoot him," she said. And me? I was worried about the very real possibility of being beheaded, live on the internet. I didn't think I'd be able to go with much of my dignity intact, frankly.
So what's it like to be shot at? Well, the first time, on our helicopter flight back to Baghdad airport, it was only a rocket-propelled grenade and, frankly, using one of these to bring down a fast-moving helicopter is like using a dart to bring down a hummingbird. So it was no big deal. But the second time was different. This time we were in a Lynx, sitting sideways by an open door over the ruined city of Basra, when someone fired a surface-to-air heat-seeking missile at us. The pilot, known to his men as Lord Flasheart, was chatting away when sensors on the helicopter detected a missile launch and jettisoned a fanned array of flares to provide an even hotter target than the engine's exhaust. It didn't work. The missile was still coming...
AA Gill had something similar to say in his article:
On the other hand, I don't care a jot for any of that. It's boring and bogus. The world isn't spun by cogs, it's turned by people. I make my judgment by sizing up the pilot, the driver, the guide. If you decide to trust him, then keep up and shut up. I'd have followed the Lynx's captain any way they fancied. The chap in charge of helicopters was a marvellously urbane floppy blond Sloane from the army air corps.
A bod who was a drawling master of the military mixed metaphor "When the wheels come off you need a big punch." The soldiers called him Flasheart after the character in Blackadder. We're off to deliver a parcel to the lifeguards based in Basra.
clarkson is brillaint isnt he... sounds like he got a good look around. Was also impressed with the fact they put so much effort into getting details right, Rank names, abbreviations, vehicles etc etc .... as opposed to the reporting from some of our favourite papers using words like 'elite regiment the RLC ...etc etc'
Clarkson actually seems to pitch himself at the lowest level and it comes across as if he has a lot of respect for the boys, he understands the pressures that our lads face these days yet he also admires the optimism and humour of the lads doing the tough jobs! He seems to have been humbled quiet a bit by the whole thing.... but he's still bloody funny!
I must say I found the whole article hilarious. The pair of them are most amusing and show a real concern for the blokes. The bit about Blair lying was wonderful.
will we get to see a TV programme or will it be on top gear?