Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dhole in Thailand

I was birding in Thailand in the Khao Yai National Park. One day I went of the main track to see what birds I could find, on this occasion I was watching a woodpecker which is my favourite birds. I was there quite a while tapping a stick on a tree trying to bring the woody I was watching closer to me as it was quite deep in the forest.

The time came to move on and as I turned I was confronted with a Dhole who was walking up the track towards me, he was completely unaware of my presence until he was within five meters of me, at which point he was startled by seeing me there, he growled and then preceded to walk around me and carry on up the track.

I felt that because I was so relaxed and in peripheral vision that when I too was startled by the Dhole's presence that my energy changed and that's when he became aware of my presence. It was an amazing experience to be so close to a wild dog.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Going for a dump in the woods. What a Boar...

Having a dump (crap, No. 2 or shit) in the woods can be a dangerous thing. Many years ago I was on a training exercise with my unit in Germany; to be exact it was Bergen-Hohne training area a NATO military training area in the southern part of the L√ľneburg Heath, in the state of Lower Saxony in northern Germany.

This area was home to many a wild boar, one that I encountered once was so big, it’s head was level with the base of my driver’s window on my Series 2 short wheel based FFR (fitted for radios) Landover. Wild Boar needless to say often commanded respect from soldiers; they were not the kind of animal you would want to mess with.

One summers evening just as it was getting dark of the guys decided he needed to pay nature a call, his nickname was Snake, so called for his amazing ability to wiggle his way out of a large group men trying to beat the living daylights of him, while out on the lash one night down town.

So, off Snake went for a shovel recce with his VIP (very important paper and I do not mean a copy of the sun newspaper either), he found the place he was looking for and having dug a hole in which he would bury the evidence after her was done, he proceeded to deliver his deposit .

Bob, one of our other friends decided he would play a practical joke on Snake, by sneaking up behind him and squealing a like a wild boar. Bob was extremely good at impersonating a Boar. But what Bob had failed to take into account was Snakes innate fear of Wild Pigs and the fact that he went everywhere with his machete firmly attached to his belt.

As snake was in the position of returning to nature that which he had taken out earlier from the slop jockeys (army chefs) feast. Bob had let out a load squeal and in an instant Snake had drawn his machete and swung it around and behind him in the dark, fearing he was about to be set upon by a pig. His machete was buried into the tree and according to Bob it was only inches above his head; he claimed he could feel the air from the blade as it passed above his head. Pulling the blade from the tree, snake was up, trousers tightened and heading straight for Bob, quicker than you could shout PIG. 

Bob by this time was on his toes and legging it across the sticks at a rate of knots with snake in close pursuit, waving the machete and screaming to bob that he was about the die. The fear on bobs face was a picture to behold; we watched and laughed our heads off as they traversed the undergrowth for about ten minutes before both collapsed knackered.

When Bob had first disappeared we all thought he was going to pull the standard prank that is often played on soldiers when they are taking a dump in the woods. Image if you will, your squatting there and someone without you knowing sneaks up behind you and reaches in with a shovel their arm out stretched. They then catch your deposit on said shovel and retreat quietly away.

You are now finished and having done your duty, you stand up, pull up your pants and as you do your belt up, you turn to check on it, (doesn’t everyone do that). You see that it is not there, laying on the ground looking back up at you, your worse fear is that you dropped it into your pants instead of in the hole that you just dug. You immediately undo your belt and pull down your pants and frantically check to see if it is in your pants. In the meantime everyone is laughing and you are presented with your No. 2 on the shovel.

You do not know if you should be angry, relieved or to laugh along with everyone else. One thing is for sure you can be very creative with a few choice words in which to describe you’re friends with. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Burrowing Owl and Batus - My personal experiences of nature.

While serving with the British Army in Canada I had the pleasure of doing several tours of BATUS near Medicine Hat in Alberta. Double pleasure as I have family in Calgary. Prior to going on to the prairie we are given a briefing by the Canadian authority’s, part of which is about conservation.

During this particular briefing we were shown slides of Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) and informed that if we saw any of these birds we had to report it straight away to the authorities’ who said that they would stop the exercise and move us to another part of the prairie in order to protect this bird.

One night I was returning to my battery when I spotted six Burrowing Owls near to our gun position, I made a note of the grid and on arrival went to the command post and informed the officer in charge of my observation and asked him to report this location to the authorities.

His words to me were "you are joking aren’t you" to which I replied "do I look like I am joking sir" please send the message, which he did once he understood he was required by the authorities to do so.

Needless to say the Canadians were true to their word, the exercise was stopped and it took nearly three days to relocate the Battle Group to another part of the range.

The outcome of all this was: 1). The lads thought for once birdwatchers are not so bad after all. 2). I am sure the officers were not best pleased, perhaps due to the loss of training time or with me. 3). I got some extra unexpected birding in, this is what I call "In the Bag".

P.S. My Battery Sergeant Major expressed during his dine out speech that in all his years in the army he had never experienced such a thing, as he pointed in my direction and politely called me a twitchier.

Concentric Rings – Kuwait 1991

3RRF and 127 (Dragon) Battery ended up staying in Kuwait after the Gulf war was over for reasons I won't go into. During this time I was tasked to send some of my men back into Iraq to pick up ammunition that we had ground dumped. On the day in question my guys had their trucks lined up by the highway waiting to deploy, at the same time the highway was busy with convoys redeploying back to Saudi Arabia to prepare for the return trip home.

As I was watching my men I could see that their morale was very low, indeed as was mine, because I suspect like them I did not want to stay any longer than I had too, all I wanted to do was go home and see my wife and kids. I started to think to myself how can I pick up their morale? I could not give them any money and say here go down the pub, there were none or why not head of to town for a while, again there were none to be found.

Something extreme was called for.

So on an impulse I stepped out from my camouflage net and I shouted over to them "what’s wrong with you bunch of miserable looking f***ers". They looked at me startled, I guess wondering what the hell I was on about. So I shouted again look you lot, "do you know what, not one of you is big enough to take me on" again they looked startled. Then little Robo stepped forward and said he would take me on, I replied "is that it, you send out the smallest guy you can find, you bunch off w***ers".

At that moment they looked around at each other and collectively they said "let's get him" as they ran towards me I ran into my truck and looked myself in laughing at them calling them names, the truck rocked from side to side as they tried to open the doors, some climbed onto the cab roof and tried to rip open the canvas covering the commanders hatch.

Eventually they succeeded in dragging me out of the cab, throwing me to the desert floor they jumped on me and proceeded to kick the crap out of me, in playful way but enough to let me know they were willing to go there with me. In fact some stuck the boot in quite hard perhaps that was payback for something, who knows and I did not really care, as I gave them permission to do it anyway.

After it was all over, we all had a good laugh about the situation and then they set off on their task, which I might add was not a pleasant one. One of the things they encountered out there was they saw eagles and other birds of prey on their migratory route, stopping to pick up limbs etc as a source of food.

So what’s my point here? Well about a week to two later I was heading into Saudi with my driver and a mate of mine was coming the other way, he flagged us down and as we pulled up alongside to each other, he had a BIG smile on his face and he said "I hear your guys kicked the shit out you, you knob etc, etc" and off he drove laughing in the way that squaddies do. I looked at my driver smiling and said, "isn't that amazing, that the fight is still having a positive effect on people you where not even there weeks later".

This is clearly a case of extreme man management but now I believe it had real time therapeutic value. Would I have done that in peace time? Of course not, the extreme situation required an extreme answer, it could have gone badly wrong who knows, all I cared about was the welfare of my men and that's all I had available to me at the time and I would do it again or at least something similar.

I have shared this story with civilian managers who had real trouble understanding it, but still, why should they understand, there is no need for them to understand.

The Germans were none too happy

When I was serving in Germany, I was given the task of setting up an ambush for a leadership course with my men. We set out for the location we were given and told to ambush the patrol that will come down the track at five in the morning.

We arrived at 3am having recced the location prior to setting up the ambush I knew where I wanted things to be set up. I got some of the boys to work setting out trip wires to the flares that would light up the woodlands for us, while the rest of the patrol set about settling into the hillside looking directly into the killing zone, so to speak.

Five o'clock arrived and no patrol, so I figured they got delayed, I decided to wait a while longer, six o'clock and still no patrol, that's when I realised they were not coming (I found out later because they had got themselves well and truly lost), it was at this point when I was about to give the order to pack up that some Germans arrived in the field below us.

Out of curiosity I watched them for a while and quickly realised that they were hunters preparing to do a shoot. They sent out their beaters to drive the wildlife in their direction while they sat on their little stools waiting to take the animals out as and when they appeared.

My men and I looked at each other, we smiled and I said to them, "you know what lads, no point in wasting our time, so let’s use all our ammunition". I gave the order to make ready and they all cocked their weapons, I then ordered them to Fire and we all opened up with our guns and threw thunder flashes which make very load bangs to simulate explosives.

Needless to say the pigeons, rabbits and any other wildlife in the vicinity disappeared in all directions and of course the Germans were very unhappy with us, they were still shaking their fists and shouting at us as we set off down the track back to our vehicles to go back to base.

All in all I think it was a good days hunting.

Lose a penny, find three…

When I was in junior school I struggled, I had a lisp and I stammered, believe it or not I was also shy (my friends today will not believe it for sure), back then the head master from All Saint’s Junior school took the reading class.

One Penny

When it was my turn, I was made to stand in front of the class and everytime I could not read a word out loud he would slap me hard on the back of the head. I remember being reduced to tears in front of everyone.

Then came the time for me to move onto secondary school, I was identified as someone who needed extra reading lessons and so I had to go to school earlier than the other kids for these lessons, I am now aged 11 and the year was 1968.

One morning I set off for my usual lesson, my mum had given me a penny for my lunch, which I had lost on my way to school. I was sitting in the classroom waiting for my teacher to turn up. As he entered the classroom he saw me and said, “What are you doing here McMullan” I replied I have come for my lesson sir. He said you can read now, so clear off, or words to that effect.

At the end of the school day I was so excited about telling my mum that I could now read, so I ran all the way home. On the way I fell over while running down a big hill. I was sprawled on the pavement and as I started to pick myself up I found threepence next to my right hand. I decided not to go home first, but to go via the sweet shop. It’s amazing what you could buy back then for three penny’s. I was so happy.

The British three pence (3d) coin, usually simply known as a threepence or threepenny bit.

Dublin, have I been here before? An Awareness of a different kind...

I believe I discovered a part of myself that I never knew existed... I would ask that you keep an open mind as what I am about to tell you is my truth and may not be your truth.

Janine my daughter was working for Lufthansa in Dublin and I had gone over to see her on Easter weekend, I had not really given the time of year much thought and it was now my second visit to this fair city. Once I had settled in, Janine gave me as a gift an enlarged photo of me serving as a soldier in my home town Belfast. I was aware of some feelings stirring inside of me, feelings that I had not experienced before and that I had no reference to, what do I mean by that?
Left to Right - Me and Ian (Snake) Duff
For example, if I said these feelings felt like butterflies in my stomach the vast majority of people would know what I was experiencing, and these feelings that I had no reference to left me confused as to what they meant.

Anyway, we decided to take a walk up the hill from where the post office is located, a parade was taking place there and I felt it would be good for Janine to have that experience, by the same token I encouraged her to visit Belfast to experience my culture as well, no right and no wrong here just an attempt at getting her to experience a part of Irish history if you will.

Jerry Adams was giving a speech that day outside the post office and we had planned to go and listen to it, I have to say I felt a resistance to do that, but none the less felt it would be good for Janine to experience that also. We were up the hill and a crowd had gathered a few speeches were made and the Proclamation of the Republic, also known as the 1916 Proclamation or Easter Proclamation was read out. At the end the crowed were joined by a small what I can only term as an honour guard of drums and flutes. They started their march down towards the post office with a drum roll which has to be said sounded amazingly like a sub machine gun being fired.

Soon after this I had to leave to catch my plane which meant there was no time left to go to the post office for Jerry Adams speech and so I left to go home.

I spent some time exploring these feelings I was having, still with no reference as to what they were, when it came to me, perhaps these feelings were from a past life experience which I believe to be true, in that I was one of the artillerymen on the streets that day. It is worth noting that in this life I served in the British Army as an Artilleryman. Since that realisation I have not had them feelings again, could it be that I was meant to return to Dublin for some kind of healing or resolution to take place?

Who knows?