A walk followed by a pub lunch. My son and the collie. Smashing.
We chose a pub where we’ve eaten several times. Not a fabulous gastropub but a friendly place where you can get a respectable lunch, even slightly later on a Saturday lunchtime. Reliable pub grub.
We ordered our drinks and wandered over to a table, grabbing the menu as we went. Settling ourselves down, I needed to manoeuvre around a young man in a wheelchair with his leg extended on a support. He was sitting with his girlfriend and some friends. I glanced across again and saw that there was another young man at their table, also in a wheelchair.
We made our selection from the menu and I went to the bar to order. Turning round, I realised that there was another man in a wheelchair at another table, also with family. As I sat down at our table, I took in the table to our right. There were four young men sitting there, all in wheelchairs.
Each wheelchair carried the paraphernalia needed for its occupant. The urine bag, the wound drain, the pain relief drip.
The least injured had lost a foot. Most had lost one leg, chiefly above the knee. Some had both legs missing. One young man had a stump remaining for his right leg and, it appeared nothing left at all on the left, including his hip. His wheelchair sported a greater selection of tubes and bags and he had a foam support keeping him upright.
Dark humour all around. They chatted casually about where they had been injured and who had died alongside them. One talked about feeling that he was lying in cold water when his leg had been blown off. He was wounded on the last day of 2009. Throwaway references to places I hear on the news each morning. Camp Bastion. Lashkhar Gah. Helmand. The pain killers and the morphine needed to bring them back on the long flight. “I never expected to come back without a bum”.
Junior Mad and I ate our lunch quietly. When it was time to go, the Warrant Officer accompanying these young men looked across at me and smiled. Did he see the sadness in my look? It seemed feeble to sit there with tears pricking my eyes. What did I have to be sad about? I was sitting there with my son, both legs intact, older than any of those boys.
As we left, they were setting off for their return journey to the West Midlands Rehabiliation Centre. Each one donned wheelchair gloves and they were lining themselves up to wheel themselves back. No ambulances or mini-buses. Just learning to get on with the rest of their lives.
Don’t bother telling me that we have a professional army and these young soldiers signed up for this very job. They chiefly come from the parts of the country where there is no longer a manufacturing base, they have minimal educational qualifications and their only expectation is a life on benefits.
Perhaps Brown or Blair can explain what the hell we're doing there. We've been there since October 7th 2001. Such little progress has been made that they cannot afford to run parliamentary elections.
Have a look at the map. Do you think it's worth it?
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