Remember – as usual all exaggerated, but absolutely true!
I have just spent two weeks in Latvia on Exercise, here is my diary. Since i am unable to talk about the big picture, here is a fat man’s view of two weeks in Latvia.
29 Oct 13
I was up at 0500, and by 0620 I was in the Mounting Support Centre (MSC), or departure lounge to those not in the know. Once there I discovered I had lost my passport and had to rush back to my room and then in to work and then back to my room to double check; I found it where I had left it – in my pocket. Fantastic way to start an Exercise!
After we had sat around until 0930 they MSC staff came through and told us the aeroplane was delayed and to go away until 1330, which we all did. I went back to bed until 1300. Surprisingly all of us were back in the MSC for 1330, and we left at 1415 for the NATO airbase which was only half an hour away.
The bus pulled up next to a knackered looking airbus 320 and I had a feeling of dread in my stomach. From what I could see the original airline name had been painted/whitewashed over, this meant we were either flying Special Forces or sleaze airlines – guess which it was?
The corporate logo on the tail looked like the painter had started off on a high, possibly cocaine, and then had a downer and got pissed off halfway through painting and stormed off. The interior of the cabin matched the expectation of the exterior; the seats were so jammed in that my knees were permanently pressed in to the seat in front.
Due to the lack of space it was impossible to eat the meal they provided with any kind dignity and the only to read my kindle was to turn sideways in the seat; I spent the entire flight praying that the bloke in front wouldn’t recline his seat or I was going to have crushed knees.
Once we reached Riga we were taken to the base by a local whose motto was ‘Speed good, Tailgating good, Brakes bad’ when he wasn’t trying to catch up with whoever was in front he was ramming the brakes on; you know those nodding dogs sad people have on the rear parcel shelf of their cars, well, that was me, just a lot larger.
Although I didn’t realize it, dinner set the tone for the rest of the tour, it was dried out pasta curls with dried out, but tender pieces of beef (?) left over from lunch chopped up in to it. My room was an eight man room with seven of us in there; and other than me, all were Canadians, who are all lovely chaps, but dispel the myth of Cannucks being hard men.
Every night as soon as the lights go out, they close the window because there is a draught; the result was that every morning the room stank of bad breath, farts and smelly feet. During the course of the night I wake up several times feeing like I was in a smelly sauna and have to drink lots of water, which of course at my age meant that a couple of times a night I had to go for a pee. This wasn’t an issue since I got to nod to a number of other old men who clearly had the same problem.
The room is equipped with furniture that looks like it came from the 1950’s and in the bathroom there are no plugs in the sinks. The Cannucks were moaning that last night there was no hot water, I soon discovered why. The water mixers on the showers are reversed, that is to say, when you turn it towards red, it gives you cold water, and when you turn it towards blue, you get hot water – crazy Latvians!
30 Oct 13
Brekkie was cold pizza left over from last night, which was unusual for two reasons. First I’m not a fifteen year old kid who lives off cold pizza for *brekkie and second when I spoke to those who had dinner the previous evening they confirmed that pizza wasn’t on the menu. This means that they had cooked this shit pizza for us especially for breakfast. Another thing on offer was Curd pudding; this is made with sour cream and in appearance resembles a sort of pound cake, but unlike a pound cake is definitely an acquired taste – it was gopping!
There was also a selection of cold, greasy meats and cheese. The bread on offer was pretty good, but this was balanced out by the coffee; I think they grind up tree bark and then mix it with boiling water. I noticed one of the officers making a sandwich; it was cold meats, cheese and then cherry jam. I’m hoping that he mistook the jam for cranberry sauce or something.
Dinner was a large piece of warm gristle, or pork schnitzel as the Latvians laughingly labeled it. It’s my fondest wish that by the end of this detachment I’ll actually get something hot to eat; if necessary, I’ll get a couple of the lads to breath heavily on the food, that at least will raise the temperature.
Today was the first full day of work. No, bollocks to that – I did no work! I spent the entire day trying to get authority to use a USB stick in the computers. Back at Brunssum a couple of weeks ago a number of us completed paperwork to use USB Sticks in the computers over here; when we turned up somebody had made a decision that to protect the system, only six people and four computers would be authorized.
In other words – for nearly four hundred people, we had six people to do all the transferring and they could only do it on one of four computers. I was not one of those people and so stormed around in a huff trying to find the person responsible for our division. I found him, he was in hospital! In other words, thanks to whoever made that decision, my division had nobody to transfer all their hard work across to the Exercise systems.
I found another person in another division and he was very nice (he gave me a cup of fresh coffee to de-stress me), but although he knew he was the POC he had no idea on how to transfer stuff, Great! I had to get him to log on and then sit there with him watching me do it all. In other words, although they had taken the power to do this away from me because of an awesome management decision, I ended doing the actual work anyway.
Half way through the transfer it cancelled what I was doing and deleted all that I had done. I then went and found a Brit within the department for making the decision and he was just as unbelieving as me that this decision had been made. He then accompanied me on a journey in to the heart of bureaucracy that is deployed NATO, to help me get permission to use the USB stick. We then met an American LTC who ran the IT department, and when we explained the problem he was just as incredulous and joined us on our journey.
Think of the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Dorothy on her journey had an easier time than us. The Yank LTC helped us get it sorted out and I finally got the permissions that I should have had at the start. It took twelve and a half hours to sort out this issue. I stayed late to get everything uploaded and once again right near the end the Server crashed and I lost everything I’d done; I had started work at 0750 in the morning and finally finished at 2130 and achieved nothing. Go NATO!!!!
I learned two things from this, or possibly re-learned two things. First NATO’s management, isn’t! And secondly, in NATO it’s necessary to work your bollocks off and do overtime simply to compensate for the inadequacies of the system.
I also discovered why Latvia is covered in trees and the air is so clean and fresh – it bloody well rains all the time; I also discovered that when deploying to a country that is well known for its autumn rains, I really should have brought a waterproof jacket. The tents in which we are working have been put up on an old parade ground that has clearly seen better days. Whoever built the camp used a sledgehammer to smash the steel pegs in to the tarmac and they filled in all the potholes, some of which are quite large, with sand. The problem with sand is that when it rains heavily, it washes away the sand.
Laid on top of the tarmac and the potholes is a walkway which connects all the tents, the walkways are made of plastic and have lots of small holes in them to allow the water to drain away; however, because the potholes underneath have had the sand washed away they are full of water, and when you step on that particular section of the walkway it forces it down in to the water which jets up through the small holes like a dozen or so water pistols. So instead of simply getting wet feet, you can now get your leg right up to your knee wet.
31 Oct 1
Do you have a dry throat, bad breath and feel like you’ve just spent time in a sauna infused with the odour of windy old men, bad breath, smelly feet and socks? Welcome to the Canadian room. Brekkie was rolled greasy pancakes stuffed with either cherry sauce, cheese and ham, apple sauce or something else. I went for the bread, which is very good, and the cheese and cold meats.
I found the café that the Latvian troops use; it sells fresh coffee – Yippee! In the evening the café turns in to a nice little bar, and I was amazed at how much red wine some of them drank, it was in the quantity that I would drink on a Fri night in the expectation that I would be having a lie-in the next day.
We have been told not to use kettles as they keep blowing light bulbs and fuses and we have to remove them from the tented area. This rule has been obeyed by all except a couple of the Generals, no shock there then!
In order to keep the females who have deployed with us safe, they have put them on their own floor, this floor has a Simplex lock on the door to protect them; however, in order not to inconvenience the ladies they have also written the code to the lock in large letters just above it.
01 Nov 13
The day started off as normal, woke up dehydrated to massively warm and stuffy room as the Canadians continue to prove they are not all roughy-toughy mountain men; I’m not sure how I’ll get through this detachment without getting the lurgies. Brekkie was sausages seemingly left over from the previous evening, dried warm fried eggs and what I take to be locally produced cornflakes.
The fried eggs are barely warm and do a good impression of one of those rubber chickens you buy from joke shops; the best thing about them though is trying to take one. The eggs are rubbery and covered in grease and the only way to take one is to use a spoon, this leads to a bottle neck every morning at the CFEP** as people battle to transfer a slippery egg to their plate.
The cornflakes are pale and insipid and look as if three-quarters of the way through their production the bloke in charge of roasting/drying said “Fuck it, I’m off home.” This wonder mix was accompanied by a large bain-marie of what looked like runny pig sperm, but was probably semolina (or something similar, I hope!).
The big boss, who is German, gave his war speech and we all listened and then clapped when he’d finished. As we were leaving one of the French said “As war speeches go I thought Nuremburg in 1937 was better.”
Lunch was a triumph of quantity of over quality, somebody needs to explain to the locals that when you make chips you don’t simply cut them in to chip shaped pieces, boil and then keep them warm in the oven until required. Dinner was large meatballs (or Faggots as the Brit’s call them), some fish dish, some chicken.
Despite the overall quality of the food there are some really good things here for a large man on Exercise. We have access to a Social tent which is open 24hrs and it has an X-Box, a couple of TV’s, English language magazines, also unlimited coffee, tea, biscuits and sweets.
It’s about 50 yards from our work area and it’s somewhere to escape to when you need a break. At tea-breaks they put out trays of almonds, cashews, biscuits, chocolate bars and more sweeties, all there for you to either eat, or take-away; I think that despite my whinging about the food, I’m going to put on weight during this detachment.
We are supported by Brunssum staff for Real Life Support (RLS) and they are brilliant. No matter how whiney the request, they deliver within an hour; we have requested tables, chairs dustbins and the like and shortly afterward they turn up.
Polish (I think) Major – “Sgt Drake, what are Faggots in Gravy”
Smartarse American Major – “It’s British slang for a gay man with Lube”
02 Nov 13
The gristle monster has crossed the species barrier and had sex with the cow that sacrificed itself for my meatballs. I’m going to start arranging the gristle in an attractive pattern on my plate to see if they can pick up on the fact that their food is lacking. Tonight’s pudding was cunning indeed; it lured you in with the promise of puff pastry, but rewarded you with something with the toughness of concrete, but luckily, without the grittiness; in the event of an outbreak of war, they could weaponise it.
Working in the kitchen and dining hall is a large man, approx. my build, who walks around clearing up, he is obviously bit of a sex symbol; he is usually wearing a pair of shorts, a thin white short-sleeved shirt that is tighter than it needs to be and which conceals very little, a pair of flip-flops and a hair net.
In order to keep the camp clean we have a team of cleaning ladies come around and give each tent a quick clean. During the day they are escorted around by a Latvian soldier armed with a G36 Assault Rifle. They also come around later on again in the day and it’s always after the sun goes down. They are still escorted, but this time by an unarmed soldier; it seems that Latvian cleaning ladies are the reverse of vampires, in that they are far less lethal when the sun goes down.
03 Nov 13
The Latvians warmed up the pizza today, but the smoked sausage was cold; what the Latvian god of cuisine gives with one hand, he takes away with the other! The Latvians have changed the comedy fried egg spoon for a pair of tongs, this is lot better.
As the eggs have been cooked thoroughly in order to vulcanise all germs they are quite solid, so no matter how much you squeeze them you won’t pop the yolk; however, unlike the spoon which just caused the egg to simply flop back on to the tray, the tongs if squeezed incorrectly cause the egg to fly out and can go anywhere, so in other words, selecting an egg becomes an adventure.
Last night we went to the Latvian Café and ordered Cappuccinos. Normally not a problem, but this is Latvia. After ordering we went and stood down at the end of the bar where they pass the coffees over, and after a couple of minutes the woman who was making them wandered away. A couple of minutes later, we asked one of the other staff members if there was any chance of the coffees soon.
He went and spoke to the woman who was meant to be making them and she went in to a spasm of words and hand gestures. The bloke came back and told us that she had made them and put them on the counter. The miserable, peroxide bitch had stashed them at the other end of the counter, hidden from our view behind a leaflet dispenser and then walked away knowing we were waiting at the end of the bar for them.
As we sat down, one of the lads explained that she was probably like this because she’d just lost a family member. I then wondered out loud enough for her to hear that if I was related to anybody that bloody miserable, I would top myself as well. Anyway, insult was wasted, she didn’t speak English. There is now a sign up stating that personnel deployed on Exercise are not allowed to purchase alcohol before eight o’clock at night.
All the personnel here have their contact details of their email addresses and on a dedicated webpage called Contact Details; but it was decided that I needed to update our own webpage with these same details as well, so I spent most of the day updating a page that nobody would ever visit; way to go morale!
04 Nov 13
The jam on cheese incident was clearly not an accident, I sat with a Dutchman today for lunch and he did exactly the same thing. I asked him why he did it and he offered me a taste, and I said no; it turns out I do have some standards after all.
We were waiting in the queue for lunch today when an Italian officer came swanning up and tried to push in front of a large number of us, I said out quite loud ‘Sir, what do you think you are doing?”, he replied “I’m queuing for food.” “Not there you’re not……Sir.” He took the message and went to the back of the queue mumbling to himself, arrogant bastard! (Update – Since then I’ve seen him around the camp several times and he keeps giving me an angry stare, and too be honest if he didn’t have a comedy goatee, I’d take him a lot more seriously)
For dinner this evening I decided to forego the gristle experience and elected to try the fish stew. Bastards ambushed me. The first (and only) bit of fish I bit into had four bones in it. There is no way a fish can have that many bones crammed in to one place naturally; therefore this means one of two things, either they fish next to fukushima, or some little git sits in the kitchen with a tray of bones that people have spat out before and left on their plates, and uses a pair of tweezers to force as many bones in to the fish as possible. They probably have a competition to see who can ram the most bones in to a single small lump of fish!
There was no way I was going to eat any more of that shit, and since my jaw didn’t need the exercise of trying to subdue the gristle monster, I elected to fill up on black bread and pickles; suffice to say the rest of the afternoon was pretty windy.
A couple of us sneaked off to the posh café on base and were enjoying a nice cup of real coffee when in walked a French general with his team and ordered beers for all. The staff behind the bar, obeying the sign that was now up, refused to serve him. This didn’t go down well with him and he argued his case but lost to the sophisticated inflexibility that is the Latvian café worker.
05 Nov 13
Usual day; run around after people, skive in the café, eat shit food. Went to bed early, which was a waste of time as most of the Cannucks went out drinking and didn’t roll back in until midnight. It turns out that when you mix Canadians, a lack of light and alcohol, you get the opposite of a ninja. As all the lockers are made of metal and the Canadians lose all hand-eye-coordination when oiled up, I was treated to twenty minutes or so of what seemed to be stock car racing in the room.
A couple of us told everyone we were going for a meeting, walked out of the camp and took the shuttle to the local town of Adazi. Several times a day we have access to a free mini bus that takes us to the shopping centre in the middle of the local town. The town centre is only 3.5 kilometers away and takes five minutes, at the most, to get there. If you want to get away and have a personal half an hour, it’s ideal.
Other than the language, it’s just like any other mall anywhere in the world; the toy shop sell Fisher Price and Lego, the chemist sells all the brands that you would recognize from Boots and the burger shop sells pretty much the same food as MacDonald’s. Latvia is switching to the Euro in January 2014, and already a lot of places have signs up with both prices; when you compare the exchange rate between the LAT and the Euro, these people are going to get buggered over when it happens.
Two of the lads in my division went in to town, one Hungarian and one Yank, who happens to be black. The Hungarian needed some boot polish in order to look smart for tomorrow’s visit, but couldn’t find any in the supermarket. They both walked up to the cashier and he asked her in English if they had any black boot polish. She said ‘No’ and then as they walked away she said in Russian to her mate ‘The other one looks like he’s put it on his face.’
The Hungarian is fluent in Russian and really had to bite his tongue and not respond to the racist cow, and of course he couldn’t say anything to his mate in case he kicked off. The reason I mention this is because Latvia is due to join the EU in January and we now know it’s going to be a success, because when you have casual ignorant racism like this they are clearly going to be comfortable with the rest of the trash we have in Britain and Europe.
I have been here now since the 29th Oct and have been using the Café since the 31th Oct and every day drink cappuccino in there, and today when we went in for our usual, the same waitresses/half-wits behind the counter looked at us and asked in broken English “What is a cappuccino?” It’s when faced with intelligence like this I understand why the Russians pulled out and they are joining the EU.
06 Nov 13
Today is Distinguished Visitor Day or DV Day as it’s known to all. This is the day when we have 3 presidents and many other high-ranking visitors walking around and watching us win the war. The whole thing’s a bit false, I’ve seen the presentations – we already know we’re going to win the war!
Whilst these people are walking around it’s vital that NATO impresses them, and one of the ways it does that is to ban us all from going to the coffee tent or the café; so now I’m desperate for caffeine and full of resentment that these people are between me and my fix.
For dinner tonight we decided not to use the Mess hall and went to the café; there I had Spaghetti Bolognaise and Rick had chicken and chips, both were pretty good and came to 4.50 Lats for both. that’s about four pounds for two meals, we are currently paying about 18 pounds to the caterers for shitty meals and crap coffee. Something is wrong here!
We were in the coffee tent watching the news when it was announced that Yasser Arafat was poisoned with ***Polonium, one of the Spanish guys here turned around and said “Does that mean he died of food poisoning?” “Yes” replied one of the Yanks “Radioactive chicken”, and then he fell over laughing. It turns out that Pollo is chicken in Spanish.
07 Nov 13
Brekkie was the usual overcooked, slightly warmed up pizza, rolled up pancakes or smoked sausage. The scrambled eggs, for the first time, actually looked like real scrambled eggs – tasted okay as well.
Lunch was minced-up pork, smoked sausage and mushroom mince type thing that had been deep fried and looked like a turd lurking on the tray. There were also red peppers stuffed with mince. I went with the turd, it was delicious. Dinner in the evening was identical to lunch, but i decided to be adventurous and i tried the stuffed red pepper thingy. It was shit! The first mouthful was gristle – bastards! I went back and stocked up on the turd things and fresh bread.
One of the complaints people have here that we are all permanently thirsty, I originally put this down to sleeping in a stuffy room, but i have now worked out what it is. A lot of the food they are serving us is things like smoked sausage, liver sausage, and other preserved dead animal matter; these foodstuffs are loaded with nitrates, which in its simplest form is salt. We are all being poisoned with salt by the NATO hating catering staff.
I found out that our four star General took a walk around the barrack blocks the other afternoon and caught several officers curled up in bed and kicked them out and back to work.
On the way to the showers, pushed up against the wall is a long, wide sideboard type thing. Every evening there are one or two people perched upon it phoning/Skyping their loved ones. The other night one of our Turkish Colonels was Skyping his daughters and he had propped his phone up on a ledge above the sideboard so he could see them and they him.
Problem was that in the background there was a parade of semi-naked, mostly overweight, men making their way to the showers wearing only towels, or in the case of the Italians, briefs! His daughters must be traumatised!
08 Nov 13
Slightly burnt, but warm pizza, rubber fried eggs and the usual shit for brekkie. Yesterday I bought a beer token; this is a piece of card with seven squares on it and each square equals either one pint of beer or two soft drinks. When I mentioned it to one of the guys I’m working with, he mocked me and pointed out that were leaving in two days and it was free beer on Friday night and I would never get a chance to buy seven beers.
Last night I went out drinking for the first time since I got here, and the beer token lasted for one round; however, all those I bought a beer for insisted on buying me one back. I stumbled in to bed at about 2330hrs and slept really well, and awoke refreshed at 0630 with no headache or hangover. In other words the beer must be as weak as Gnats piss; this is either an example of the management caring for our wellbeing by serving weak beer, or it’s the NATO hating catering staff trying to get us.
This evening there was an Italian officer perched on the sideboard naked except for a pair of very tight briefs with his legs spread wide while talking to his family/girlfriend, the briefs looked to be straining to contain his meat & two veg, and how it wasn’t painful to have that much stuffed in to such a small space I’ll never know.
Staying with the subject of Italians, this morning there were two Italian officers in the bathroom with hairdryers blow-drying their hair, there are the same blokes who will not wear their headgear around the camp, now I know why.
09 Nov 13
Today we go home. Today due to shit management I start work at 0530 and finish at midday when everyone is on the aeroplane. I received an email yesterday from some child aged 9 years old with my duties for the day of departure. It was a letter with a couple of timings, 0530 & 1000, and eight names, four in red, four in blue, and that was it, really, that was it!
I called the originator of the email for clarification and got his boss instead and explained my confusion. He didn’t really understand my problem. I and the other names on the list had to be with two lorries at 0530, load them up and travel in a minibus to the airport and unload them in to an aeroplane, then return to the camp, and repeat said exercise at 1100, and then re-join the other travellers and come home; silly me, how could I not glean that from the email above.
I then found most of the names on the list and briefed them. The responses ranged from “That’s shit, why are we having to load both flights, but okay I’ll be there.” (German, American, Polish), to “I have not received that email, so I’ll not be there.” (Dutch). Seriously, the ****cloggie fucker never turned up for the first flight because it was too early for him!
What I’m trying to get across here is that despite a large number of non-officer type personnel, the Master Sergeant Major had decide that the same six blokes would be responsible for loading over four hundred bags and boxes on to the trucks and then offloading them on to the aeroplane.
In other words, he was either to incompetent or lazy to work out that he had about two dozen seniors and juniors at his disposal spread out over two flights, and instead went with the easy option of having the same six guys do everything for both flights. As an aside, not only did he not place anybody in charge of the whole endeavour, but he himself couldn’t be arsed to turn up.
Myself and the Pole sorted things at 0530 and made sure there were no problems, or so we thought. Despite constant chanting by all present that “All baggage here for Military Flight only” four Italian observers who were leaving on a civvie flight back to Italy placed their luggage in our truck. As we were leaving at 0600 we got a telephone call from the Italians who were waiting at the civilian terminal asking where their baggage was.
Long story short, we met them at the perimeter of the airport and stood around offering them advice while they went rooting through the back of one of the trucks looking for their luggage. Once we got to the aeroplane we had the pleasure of loading all the baggage on, and whilst there we were supervised by Brunssum Movements staff.
After we had loaded the first aeroplane we decided to see if we could qualify for the Movements Staff qualification. It took all six of us about five minutes to achieve this. It was simple really, all we had to do was walk around with our hands jammed into our pockets and offer pointless advice.
Anyway, back to camp and repeat exercise above. The only advantage was that I managed to get all of us on the final aeroplane after the Generals, but before everybody else. The flight back was uneventful, except the approach in to Geilenkirchen.
The aircraft must have been flown by an ex-military fighter bomber pilot with post-traumatic stress disorder. As we came in to GK he proceeded to undertake a series of twist and turns and banked the aeroplane first one way and then the other. I was comforted by the fact that had we been targeted by a Surface to Air Missile we would have probably confused it and got home safely.
I am going for a Yellow Cappuccino – Mug of beer.
I’m now back in my room with my laundry done, a Domino’s pizza and a large glass of Bourbon catching upon my missed TV shows.
PS: The Latvian God of Cuisine is called ‘Blandus Foodus’ (Latin) or ‘Crapus Cuisinus’ (Latvian).
*I am, but it’s got to be Dominos warmed up in the microwave.
** CFEP – Cold Fried Egg Point
***Polonium – Radioactive material.