West Highland Way in a Day

News, Sport

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Glasgow window cleaner and fitness fanatic, Ryan Kinnaird has completed an epic challenge of cycling the West Highland Way in under a day to raise money for the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity.

Ryan 1

Photo – Iain Smart

Ryan cycled the 96 mile route on Saturday 14th May in under 15 hours, starting at 5am in Fort William and reaching the finishing in Milngavie just before 8pm and raising over £1,600 for a good cause.

Ryan stated “I had been training to do the West Highland Way in a day for 3 months and yesterday I completed the full north to south route in just short of 15 hours fully supported. Having ridden the route several times over 3 and 2 days this was a personal challenge. This was one of the toughest things I have ever done”

 

He continued “The training and prep to do a day like this is crazy. Mentally challenging to say the least. The weather is an important key factor in getting a good time too. Having done several training runs, I had been caught in the wind, rain and snow. It’s not fun being blown about the top of the Devils”
The ride from Fort William to Milngavie was followed by support driver David Grier, who carried supplies and equipment and met Ryan every 2 to 3 hours wherever possible. As Ryan intended to travel light, the support van was essential to the success of the challenge as it carried food, spares and other equipment.

Ryan 4

Photo – Iain Smart

To maintain his energy levels, Ryan consumed gels and sandwiches every 40 mins, he also had to drink 500 ml of fluids every hour to stay hydrated.

Ryan 9

Ryan Kinnaird

Ryan has recorded a blog of his journey

Fort William to Kinlochleven
On the day of the start I got up at 4,40 to set off for 5am. I had to wake my mate up that was sleeping in his camper, he was the support. I was staying in Ossians hostel. Soon after we were a short distance to the new start which is on the high street. As it was still getting light it was cold. I opted to hurry the standard start pics.
5 am start and I was off yeeeeehaaa!!!

This first section I would take in the long climb up the zigzags across from Ben Nevis. I never had anything to eat for breakfast because I knew I would be eating every 40mins. Last time I done this climb on a full belly I nearly died. I flew this section with ease, sun was warming the air but still chilly. I reached the top of the climb and remembered time to eat a sandwich, then the count was on every 40mins after. The descent was awesome as the trails where dry and the bike just rolled so nice. Everything from Fort William to Kinlochleven was effortless. I had been training for months so legs were strong enough to handle anything. The sun was in my face for a good few miles which was annoying. I was aiming for 2 hrs to KLL. If I got to the top of the decent into KLL in under 2hrs I was laughing.

Looked at my speedo exactly 1hr 50 Yaaaas!!!!. Nailed the downhill section. Buzzing for my next stop.

Ryan 6

Kinlochleven to Devils Staircase

I would say one of the toughest mountain bike climbs in Scotland.  I was kind of dreading this climb. 2 weeks ago I had to walk most in the wind, rain and snow. I set off with the mindset let’s not blow up!!! I had still a long way to travel and had some other hefty climbs left over the distance. I was meeting my support at the other side of the Devils . I only opted for a single 500 ml of fluids to take. I stuck to carrying my 2 gels and sandwich in tinfoil. Parts of the Devils staircase I had to walk so I choose to eat my solids at times like this. I smoked the first section up leven rd. If you would have been around you would of heard me screaming with joy at the top of the climb YAAAAS!!!!. If you know the Devils it’s a technical climb I had a very good climb up it only having to walk very little. I smashed a time of 55 mins on strava from bottom of Kinlochlevven to the top of the Devils knocking nearly 20 mins off of my last attempt 2weeks ago. I love the Devils descent and raced to the bottom to meet my support, Dave G who is my best mate. Without him this would never have happened.

Bottom of Devils to Bridge of Orchy.
This section is a long stretch passing the Kings house and up along the side of Glencoe ski centre. In bad weather this can be brutal as it’s so exposed. The weather was amazing, the sun was splitting the sky. It’s a bit of a long drag of a climb past the ski centre. Once you are past this climb it feels like you are descending forever. That’s the rewards of climbing though. I was still sticking to my food routine. I knew after this downhill I had a beast of a climb before the downhill section to bridge of Orchy. The climb is not for the faint hearted. I think any good mountain biker would be challenged on this. Legs feeling strong, I climbed and past some walkers coming in the opposite direction looking at me with discontent. Climb over and another sandwich down 😋 time for another cracking decent. Arrived in bridge of Orchy looking for Dave but forgot I had told him to meet me at the station. Rolled into the station in under 5 hrs. I was buzzing with this time and moving quick. I wasn’t wanting to wait either few hugs replenish food and drinks and I was off again.

Bridge of Orchy to Tyndrum
This section is one of the quickest section for me. I blitz this section in just over 40 mins, being 6th fastest on strava. The terrain varies in intensity with long descents and long gradual climbs. One of the climbs you are walking for a good bit. I remember spotting a few bikers ahead. Me being me I decided to try and pull they bikers in. It wasn’t very hard as they weren’t moving quick. I stopped to chat to the boys. They were good lads and were doing the distance over 3 days, they had left earlier from the Kings house. Chatting for less than a minute with them . The shock on their faces once I told them what I was doing. I set off for the descent to Tyndrum, I wasn’t racing downhill or anything. I could hear a bike behind me, I think one of the guys behind wanted to prove something. Ain’t winning any trophies on fire road descents pal😂😂. I put the boot down rolling into Tyndrum ahead of schedule.

Tyndrum to Inveranan
I was ahead of schedule looking good for my time on the top section. The weather was getting very hot by this point. I was still religiously sticking to my eating and drinking plan. The climbs over and into Crainlarich are very steep through the woods. I pedaled quite slow up the hills that were steep and tried to gain speed on other sections that weren’t as steep. Lots of rolling hills with ups and downs. I even earned a KOM on strava on one of the descents whoop!!! Whoop!!. It’s a bit of a push with loads of uphill on the right side of the A82 of the WHW all the way down to Inveranan. They have loads of works on the trails just now so sign posts could easily direct you the wrong way as I found this out earlier having to detour. Not losing much time I was flying into Inveranan 7hrs 20mins. The descents coming down that side are fast and easily rolled to save energy. I was so happy to see Dave’s face at this point, he was phoning me 10 mins before my arrival thinking I was running late. The next stage was the hardest by far.

Inveranan to Inversnaid hike a bike

This is a very tough section but not as tough as everyone goes on about. It’s a hike a bike. The terrain in places you can ride, even myself been a good techy rider found it hard to gain rhythm. I hiked this section in 1hr 40 on a training route. I biked from drovers to Milngavie 57km with the weather brutal. In the dry I thought I would have smoked it. I was so wrong as the weather was starting to take its toll on me after 100km on the legs. I was tiring but still pushing through. I only had enough supplies for 2hrs worth. I was meeting Dave in Rowardennan and I prob wouldn’t see him for at least 3 hrs. Playing with this in my head was probably slowing me down and I was mentally torturing myself. I came up with a plan to top up my bottles with just water when I arrive at inversnaid. I knew I had An hr to go to meet Dave after inversnaid. I remember arriving at Rob Roy’s cave and thinking amazing I only have a short push and then back pedalling the bike to inversnaid. I was a lot slower this time 2hrs 30mins. Hurrying into the hotel to top my bottles up with water. I was guzzling water down, I needed it. Short phone call to Dave to tell him I’m safe and I would be an hour. Great feeling to be back on the bike. I had one caffeine gel left which was enough. I spread the feeding times out a bit more so that I had enough to get me to next meet at Rowardennan. I absolutely was in agony for that full hour. My wee toes on my feet were throbbing. After hiking, biking and been on the bike for 10hrs would do that. From inversnaid to Rowardennan is a mixture of techy and long climbs that drag for ages. On fresh legs I wouldn’t even think about the climbs. Climbing over and descending into Rowardennan was an amazing feeling. I was very close to finishing. Meeting Dave was good, he was handing me drinks, gels and sandwiches. He was asking me to many questions. I knew by this point I was running on empty but was willing to push through once hydrated and fuelled again. All I could think about was conic hill and the climb. I was just over 11hrs to here. We hadn’t discussed our next meeting point and this was a confusion for me. I took as much as I could fit in my jersey and pockets. I Told Dave to meet me at the beach tree in 3 hrs. This gave me 1hr along the shore, 1hr up conic and 1hr to the beach tree to meet him. Totally doable 👍.

Rowardennan to beach tree via Conic

The Loch Lomond shore is an easy ride with good paths up and downs. Few techy features but nothing to shout home about if you are a mountain biker. I rolled into the car park at Balmaha. Start the climb up the footpath of conic. I haven’t biked this direction before. It’s steep right till you hit the first gate. It’s now bike on shoulders till the top of the first set of steps. I was making fairly good speed up the hill but it was very tough. Couple of guys I got chatting to took my mind off the steepness. They were moving slower than me so I pushed on with the last stretch to the top. That was tough. Descent time was not that fun down. Hands were on the brakes Trying to stay safe rather than going for it like I usually would. I forgot after the descent I had a good few climbs left before I was meeting Dave at the beach tree. I soldiered on still eating like mad and double dropping gels. My pockets were full of gels. Once you are past the top of Drymen you have a load of roads to negotiate. I granny ringed all the road climbs, I was just desperate to finish now. Loads of gates were annoying me along the flattest section of the WHW to the Beach Tree. It’s fast and i covered ground here very quick and arrived on schedule or before. Topped up on last fluids, caffeine shot this time round.

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Photo – Iain Smart

Final stretch to Milngavie

I knew from here I was going to do it in 15hrs. I had 10km left and had the last climb of the day to do. I was gonna slowly spin up the Yeti climb the back of Mugdock park. It’s a climb on a good day but not after 150km. Slowly but surely I made it to the top. In my own head it was complete. I felt with the last climb done it was just a straight finish to the town centre. My energy and spirits had been lifted by a shot of caffeine. I booted the last bit through Mugdock park overtaking a group of riders along the way. I felt I was getting faster and faster. I rolled into the town centre minutes shy of 8pm after setting off in Fort William at 5am. Family and friends waiting and cheering. I was deranged and had to take a minute to realise what I had just done.

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Ryan 2

Photo – Iain Smart

 

I was recording my ride on strava and was gutted to see my phone was dead and out of battery. I only managed to record 120km. It’s done know and sitting in the house tonight I couldn’t be happier. I owe my life to my friends and family for supporting me. Vicky Logan you are my rock and world. David Grier I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks West

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ryan-Kinnaird

Scottish Film Summit at Film City Glasgow

Film, News, Politics

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The latest gathering of the Scottish Film Summit was held at Film City in Glasgow, as part of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. The event attracted a wide range of industry professionals from the world of film and TV in Scotland and it was apt that we should be convening in the old Govan Burgh Hall, on the banks of the River Clyde, an area once world-renowned for shipbuilding and is now making waves to be a global player in the film industry.

The event combined a series of panel sessions and networking with a special focus on training and development in Scotland. The panel sessions covered topics such as; A Film Charter for Scotland, Young People and Talent Development, Insights into Programming, Independent Distribution for Independent Films, The Future of Scottish Screenwriting and Thoughts on Incentives, Co-Productions and Film Finance.

The open format of the panel sessions allowed the audience to ask questions and to spark further discussion and debate. The variety of panelists, from established and experienced film industry figures to up-and-coming filmmakers provided an opportunity for a cross-section of society to have an inclusive and open debate on the state of the industry in Scotland. It was encouraging to hear some of the Scottish success stories, including the major film productions that have recently been produced by companies based at Film City and to learn of new development programmes and incentives such as the Scottish Film Talent Network. However it was also disheartening to realise that major Scottish production companies face the same funding issues as the smaller players, when it comes to getting projects from script to screen. It was also sad to hear that a grassroots organisation like GMAC has had it’s funding cut this year, which beggars belief at a time when the industry should be doing all it can to engage and nurture the next generation of filmmakers in this country.

After the final panel sessions, guests mingled during the networking drinks in the café, mulling over a day they’d spent dissecting and discussing the film industry in Scotland. The general consensus seemed to be that our industry has a wealth of talent, but there is a severe lack of funding and infrastructure to allow it to flourish. The saga over the location of a Scottish Film Studio is a case in point, by stagnating over a decision we have lost out on major productions to our Celtic neighbours and has probably set the industry back several years.

It’s evident that we need a drastic overhaul of the industry in Scotland if we are to develop and nurture homegrown talent and prevent a talent drain to other countries. We need a dedicated film body, backed by substantial government investment in order to fund Scottish projects and to attract major film productions to this country. The funding bodies and government must realise that we have to speculate to accumulate, the longer we dilly-dally on key decisions then the further we fall behind.

It might be auspicious that the Film Summit took place in Govan, as the Govan Burgh Arms motto, which is proudly displayed at the front entrance of Film City states ‘Nihil Sine Labore’ – nothing without work. Scotland has the workforce, the skills and talent, we also have the tenacity to be world-renowned once again, but without the infrastructure we have little chance of success.

The Insecurity of My Creativity

Entertainment, Film, News

Joseph Andrew Mclean

I’ve neglected my blog, or as I like to refer to it, the online diary of a mentalist, for a few months. During this barren spell I’ve missed venting my spleen about things and stuff. I’ve missed having a proper rant about a subject out-with the limited 140 characters that are available on Twitter. So to make up for lost time I’m going to pour my heart and soul out about my experience of living with the insecurity of creativity. I feel as manic as Tom Cruise’s character Jerry Maguire, when he spews out his memo/mission statement and then wakes up in a blind panic thinking “what have I done?” I also don’t need to rush off to a 24/7 printers shop in the pouring rain, I just hit post and it’s out there in cyberspace to be spammed, hopefully read and who knows maybe even inspire someone to learn from a few of my mistakes. As the print shop guy says to Jerry Maguire “That’s how you become great man, hang your balls out there.”

So here I go, balls out there style – Why am I so insecure about creativity? I’m not insecure in a financial sense or in a panic about future job prospects. I wish it was that simple, but it’s more complicated. It may seem trivial to some, but I’ve been crippled by a self-induced insecurity about my creativity. How could I, a boy from Partick have the nerve to call himself a writer or a filmmaker? An admission such as this leaves you wide open to some derisory mocking about getting a ‘real’ job. But I’ve never really had a real job. I’m 34 years old and I feel like I’ve served my apprenticeship, I’ve gained the qualifications to back up my claim, but yet there’s still that niggling doubt hanging over me, like a pin being held millimetres away from a balloon, it’s ready to burst my grand plans in an implosion of self-sabotage.

Since graduating as a mature student from the University of Glasgow with an MA in English Literature and Politics, I’ve managed to set up my own production company and I’m producing work for a variety of clients, including shooting music and corporate videos. I’ve also been involved in ongoing meetings with a TV station about some of my projects and ideas. Yet there is still that niggling doubt of being accepted, but who am I trying to gain acceptance from and why do I crave their validation? I know I’m certainly not a member of the Glasgow media set, I’m as far removed from that as you can possibly get. I’m a BAFTA Scotland member and I attend regular screenings and talks, but I’m not one of them, I’m an outsider and I probably always will be, but should I let this bother me? After all, I’m working and I’m shooting projects on a regular basis and I’m happy, so why let an inconsequential thing like approval (from people who will never fully accept me as one of their own) get to me.

I’ve tried to convince myself that after studying at University, including studying screenwriting at the University of California, that I’ve proved my worth, but the insecurity is still there. If someone asks me what I do, I feel it’s pretentious to say filmmaker. I’ve actually caught myself saying I work for a media company! I sometimes question if this attitude will hold me back and ponder if I’m actually projecting my insecurity outwards towards industry targets, as it’s easier to lay the blame at their door for not getting a break or recognition? Maybe that break will come, as I feel like I’m chipping away at a metaphorical brick wall, armed with a dream, hunger and desire to succeed. To me it’s like grasping a small rock hammer and chisel to tear down a stone obstruction that’s of a Berlin wall scale. But as long as I keep writing, as long as I keep making stuff and getting it out there, then at least I will be ready to capitalise on any breaches of the industries defences. All I need is to see a little chink of light through the great wall and it could be enough to inspire me to work harder and faster to tear the fucking thing to a pile of rubble.

I ultimately know the insecurity of my creativity lies within and I know I’m going to have to work on being confident enough to call myself a filmmaker and not be embarrassed by it, after all, if I’d studied for 4 years to be in any other profession other than a creative one I highly doubt if I’d be embarrassed to say what I did for a living. So, here’s to being creative, making stuff and getting it out there into the ether, here’s to taking abstract ideas and transforming them into tangible and quantifiable end products that can be viewed, dissected and critiqued. Perhaps having enough of these end products will enable me to finally feel comfortable with the label that I’ve attached to myself – Joseph Andrew Mclean, filmmaker.

Stuntman injured during Mountain Dew shoot in LA

News

A stuntman has been hospitalized after   suffering severe burns while filming a Television commercial in Los Angeles.

The 28-year-old, who is said to be in a critical condition, was shooting an ad for the popular soft drink ‘Mountain Dew’ on Friday in Elysian Park, just north of Dodger Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Police sources have said, the stuntman, was suspended in the air 60ft from a crane during filming and the accident was a result of an explosive powder misfire. Authorities also said the device which should have protected the stuntman also malfunctioned.

The Los Angeles Police Department, California Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Los Angeles Fire Department are investigating the accident.

 

Interview: Ex-British Army Sergeant on his experience of war

News, Politics

For my final project I interviewed an ex-Sergeant (referred to as MacGuffin, not his real name) from the British Army, who was in the Parachute Regiment from 2000 to 2011. He served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I focused my interview on trying to get a sense of how it felt to be in the Army and more importantly how it felt to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wanted to try to get as honest and open responses as I could from him, to do this I told him to forget about being related to me and to feel at ease and to be free to speak his mind. I also reassured him of his anonymity, as I would be using a pseudonym for the project. I felt that once he was reassured of this he felt more relaxed about doing the interview, perhaps the fact he was still in Iraq and had recently left the Army made him slightly sceptical about the interview to begin with.

I started off by asking him about joining the army, why he joined the Parachute regiment and also about his training. I wanted to get a sense of how the army prepared soldiers for going into combat. I had a basic knowledge of some of the training they do as I spent a few years with the Army Cadet force in Scotland, with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, but I wanted to learn more about the way in which the British army prepare their infantry mentally, for some of the things they will face in a war zone. The Sergeant explained to me that he joined the army with his brother in 2000. He was playing professional football (soccer) in Scotland since leaving school, he was released from his professional contract and he felt he needed a new challenge in his life. His brother had shown an interest in joining the army and so they both decided to visit an army recruiting office in Glasgow to find out more. This is the furthest stage I got in my army career, I visited the same office to enquire about joining the Kings Troop, a cavalry regiment based in London, as I can ride horses and felt it would be a good career, but the fact I had to commit to a minimum of 4 years put me off. So I admire the actions of those who go the next step and actually join and not just a ceremonial regiment like the one I was contemplating signing up for, but one that would potentially be deployed to a war zone. I wanted to know why he had joined, why he had taken the step I couldn’t and what had attracted him to the regiment. When he explained that the army focused on his fitness and his football skills, telling him that he would get the opportunity to carry on doing this, I felt a sense that maybe he and countless others have been told similar stories. Telling young men they can learn a trade or skill or continue with their favourite sport, but ultimately the army will be preparing you for going to war and I think my cousin quickly realised this, when the football opportunities were soon taken over by army life. I don’t think he was sold just on this basis, but the fact they focused on his fitness levels demonstrates the way recruiters can sign up potential soldiers. After all he would have been training 6 days a week with his Football club, so they must have known that side of army life would have been an attraction to a young man like him.

The Sergeant decided to join the Parachute Regiment, their motto is ” Utrinque Paratus “(Ready For Anything) and so I asked him to tell me about the regiment and about some of the training he received to make him ready for anything.  He explained “the Parachute Regiment are an airborne infantry with a secondary role as light infantry, they were formed in 1942 and since then the regiment has seen service around the world in places such as Africa and the Middle East” (MacGuffin). He also explained the process of becoming a part of the Parachute regiment and on earning his distinctive maroon beret. He said “we had 14 weeks of training, this included things like basic field craft, fitness, drill, first aid, basic weapon handling and of course parachute training” (MacGuffin). I asked him to elaborate on the weapons training and he told me “we started off learning at the shooting range, but we then moved on to what’s called field firing, where it’s a more realistic setting than the range” (MacGuffin).

I wanted to get a sense of how it felt to be in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan and if the training provided by the army made him not only physically equipped but mentally equipped to deal with the potential situations and circumstances he would face. In order to try to understand how it felt I asked him about his training and about his reactions once he was in a war zone. I have to admit I was surprised when he said the training took over, I felt at this point of my interview he was not as open about talking about the things he was ordered to do. I can understand why he felt like this, but I did not want to be morbid and ask “How does it feel to kill a man?” However I did want to get a sense of how it felt in that instant; all the training takes you to that point, but I wanted to see if there is any moment when part of your brain or your very being calls yours actions into question. I wanted to try to get some sense of how that felt and I feel this was the hardest part of my interview, as he was not as open about these types of questions as he was about some others and this relates to the work we have read from Professor Monroe, where we have various accounts of how people reacted and how they felt in times of war and genocide. Each person’s reaction is unique and I wanted to get a sense of how Sergeant MacGuffin felt, I wanted to try to use some of the knowledge learned from our course to gain an insight into his actions, with a focus on ethics and morality.

 

As I was asking him questions it struck me that some of the answers he gave me regarding his actions were all put down to a sense of doing his duty and carrying out orders. I asked him questions about the validity of going to war and being in Iraq and even though he agreed the reasons were perhaps not correct or even valid, he still felt once he was there that he had to carry out his orders and do his job to the best of his ability. This is fascinating to me, as it must be a strange feeling to be somewhere you are not necessarily welcome and yet be able to function based on your sense of duty to the army. For me this would be the hardest aspect to deal with. I would be questioning why we were in Iraq and it might then affect my ability to work, but from what he told me in the interview it sounds like that is blanked off by the soldiers and they get on with the task in hand. This ability to screen things out enables them to do their job. This is also evident in his replies about how the people of Iraq and Afghanistan reacted to the troops on the ground. Even though he could tell some people hated him, he still had a moral obligation to try to do the best thing for them or do what he believed to be the best thing for them. He also talks about winning the “hearts and minds” (MacGuffin) and again this shows to me that those guys on the frontline, facing the abuse and the threat of injury or death are the ones carrying our message of trying to make their country a better place and they are doing that by trying to win over the citizens of these countries.


This aspect of his daily life or routine was one that I felt was closest to some of the situations we have discussed in class, such as the feeling of being able to trust someone and trying to see the good in people. He admits he struggled at first and that he did not trust anyone, but I could sense that he really felt like the army were doing a good thing and I think this feeling helped him throughout his tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. By that I mean I feel he knew his moral obligation and he knew the boundaries of good and bad, as he says so himself, when he references his upbringing. I believe him when he told me that he knows right from wrong and I feel that is something that he has acquired from his family upbringing and he has used his own ethics and morals to carry out his duty within the army. I realise some things he may have been asked to do would make some of us question or doubt the ethics or morality of the situation, but from what he told me in the interview, his sense of knowing right from wrong enabled him to his job without questioning. I also believe the training from the army, not just the physical aspect, but the mental training prepared him for such situations as he would find himself in Iraq and Afghanistan

In conclusion, I feel that my interview allowed me to see another side to my cousin and it gave me an insight into how people deal with being in a war zone and how they are affected by it. In terms of long-term problems, I think he is strong enough in his mind to be able to cope with the trauma of what he witnessed, such as the killing of his friends and seeing some being badly injured. For me it was also significant that he decided to end his military career, when he realised that the risk outweighed the gain and he decided that £1,000 per month was not worth risking life and limb in these hostile environments. I think like many he became disillusioned by the war and he saw an opportunity to make five times his normal monthly salary by working for a private security firm. This demonstrates to me that MacGuffin felt the army no longer offered him security or stability and that he could transfer his skills and hopefully his ethics and morals to the private sector. I would like to think the same sense of knowing right from wrong that he has will be put to use in his new job and that what he says is true, that everything taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan is for the better of the countries and its people.

 Interview with ex-British Army Sergeant 

 

Q 1: The course I am studying at the University of California is called ‘Ethics in an age of Genocide and Terror.’  I would like to ask you questions about your time in the military and about the war zones you were deployed to, would this be ok?

A: Yes, what kind of things do you want to know?

Q 2: I would like to focus on your own thoughts and feelings regarding ethics and morality, mainly concerning being in a war zone. This has been the focus of our study in class, looking at different aspects of how people react in times of conflict, for example during the genocides in Rwanda. I want to try to get a feel of what it was like to be in a war zone, how it affected you and about your experiences and moral lessons, if any, that you drew from it?

A: Ok…but as you know I’m still working and living in Iraq, so I’m not sure I will be able to answer all of your questions, but I will do my best.

Q 3: I understand, I realize some of my questions may be sensitive and deal with sensitive subjects that are still fresh in your mind from your time in the army, but as I said in my initial phone call, I can assure you of your anonymity. I will not use your real name for this project, I will use a pseudonym, so no one will know the information and the answers you give me have come from you. Can you start by telling me your rank and which regiment you served with?

A: Ok…I will try to answer all your questions as best I can. I was a Sergeant in the British Army and I was in the Parachute Regiment.

Q 4: What made you join the army in the first place?

A: There were a few factors for me joining the army, I was nineteen and just got released from my contract at Clyde [Football club], my older brother was looking in to joining the army and we spoke about it…and it appealed to me very much, especially with all the hard physical training. I looked at it as a challenge and something I believed I would love. When I joined there was no talk about going to war, however the chance of it happening was always there, so in my mind it was a great career, plus I got told I could play all the football I wanted.

Q 5: And so both you and your brother signed up together?

A: Yes, we both went to the army recruitment office in Queen Street [Glasgow].

Q 6: Did you get to play all the football you wanted?

A: HaHa…not really, we played a few tournaments, but I spent most of my time training and then focusing on my army career, that soon took over from playing football.

Q 7: Ok…Can you confirm which countries you have served in and for how long you were serving?

A: I was in the army for eleven years and I have served in Iraq and Afghanistan; I have done four tours of Iraq at 6 months each tour, and one tour of Afghanistan which also lasted 6 months.

Q 8: When you joined the army, what were your thoughts on one day going to war? Did you think about it during your training, that one day you could end up in a place like Iraq?

A:  I never actually thought about going to war, as stupid as it sounds when I joined back in 2000 there was no indication about going to a war zone apart from serving in Northern Ireland, which at that point was starting to calm down and British troops were starting to pull out. But of course when you are on the ranges firing your weapons you do think about it and sometimes I thought what it would be like to have someone in your sights and watching someone fall from the squeeze of your trigger.

Q 9: How did that make you feel, that the skills you were acquiring could possibly lead to the death of another human being?

A: It was a very powerful thought…I mean…as I learned new skills such as shooting; it did make me think that one day I might have to use these skills for real.

Q 10: That is a very powerful thought, back then as you trained and shot at targets, did you ever question if you could shoot someone for real? These are the themes of my course, in such circumstances do you have a predetermined idea of how you will react or does the training take over?

A: We done it so many times on various ranges across Scotland and the UK that it became normal, it’s hard to explain…but shooting became part of being in the army, it was as much a part of my daily life as shooting a football at goal when I played for Clyde. It was part and parcel of being in the army. I’m sure the thought must have crossed my mind, but we were being trained to be ready for that very scenario, so I knew I would be as well prepared as I could be for it. Once I was in Iraq or Afghanistan I would say the training does kick in, all the things you learn take over.

Q 11: How did you find out about going to war, can you tell me where you heard the news and how it was relayed to the troops?

A: I knew we would go to war as soon as the Twin Towers got hit, we all knew whatever the Yanks decision was after that day, the UK forces would follow. However it wasn’t till 2003 that we actually left for Kuwait and it wasn’t till a brief by our Platoon Commander that it was confirmed we were going into Iraq.

Q 12: How did that make you feel, knowing you would be posted to a war zone for the first time?

A: It made me excited knowing that all the training we had done was going to get put into practice. The only way I can describe how it felt, is this, imagine playing professional football and training every day for years but never getting to play a game on the Saturday. You would be very frustrated if you did that every week, so I felt I was now going to put my skills to some use. That was my first thought, then of course there was a lot of fear, with a feeling of not knowing what was in front of us…I have to admit I had thoughts about getting hurt or kidnapped…it’s fair to say we did run through the worst case scenarios.

Q 13: That must have been scary; not knowing what was in front of you. As you thought things through, did you ever have any questions or any expectations about how the people in Afghanistan or Iraq would respond to your arrival?

A: To be honest, I always thought the worst…as in the people of Iraq and Afghanistan…thinking that they would not welcome us there and they would be very hostile towards us. However that wasn’t the case for many of the locals, who were happy for us to be there and would chat and would offer us food and tea, on the other side, the other group would say nothing to us. They would just look at you and you could see in their eyes that you were not welcomed, for me, in some cases that was more intimidating than anything else I experienced.


Q 14: You mentioned Northern Ireland earlier…certain parts of the community over there did not welcome the British soldiers. Do you think that was the same for Iraq or Afghanistan?

A: I honestly don’t know, you can never win over everyone. As I said some people welcomed us and some people…well I could tell hated us and everything we represented. I would not like to think that any of our actions would encourage people to hate us, I would rather they thought we made a change…for the better in their country.

Q 15: How did you feel about going to war in Afghanistan? On the wave of feeling after 9/11, many thought it was the right thing to do, to go after Bin Laden. How did that make you feel morally?

A: After what happened on 9/11 I think something had to be done…there were a lot of angry people wanting action taken. When I got told I was going to Afghanistan I was happy that we were finally going there and doing something against the war on terror, as Afghanistan was producing many training camps and “students” if you want to call them that, and pushing them out to do destruction.  Morally…I felt I was doing some good, by going there!

Q 16: Can you tell me how it actually felt to be going there, did you feel like you were protecting our freedom by doing it?

A: Of course I was protecting our freedom…many civilians couldn’t understand this, thinking terrorism will never happen here, it will never happen to me…but as we later found out the UK was targeted and hit, including Glasgow airport. There were many casualties and fatalities in Britain by a very cowardly act, as is always the case. So yes, I felt I was doing my bit for freedom.

Q 17: Once you were in the country, did you ever encounter any situations when you felt your own ethics or moral beliefs were being called into question? By that I mean, do you feel you were asked to do something that compromised your own beliefs or values?

A: No not at all, as I know right from wrong, and if I ever did encounter something that questioned my own beliefs and values I would get a grip of the situation straight away and I would ensure the relevant chain of command was informed.

Q 18: So you never doubted or questioned why you were there or what you were asked to do?

A: No, I was there doing my job, following commands and doing that to the best of my ability. It’s not really my job to question why we were sent there, but it was my job to make sure we done everything to the best of our capabilities.

Q 19:  On my course, we have looked at various periods in history where people have been put in situations that either makes them stand up and be counted or they simply become bystanders, for example during the Holocaust or the genocide in Rwanda. I don’t know how I would react in a war zone or during genocide. Part of me wants to believe that I would not be a bystander. To get a sense of what it’s like, can I touch on what you have just said about your sense of duty…Did you feel it was your duty to be there and to be doing something? Did it take over any other feeling you might have had?

A: When we first arrived in Iraq and the same goes with Afghanistan, you never knew what to expect with everything that happened on 9/11 and the world in general regarding extremists. In the army, you go to these places to do your duty. To give you an idea of how it felt, especially as a young man…I would say the biggest thing for me was trust…I didn’t trust anybody and I would think the worst of everyone, even though I knew I was there to help them. I found myself always thinking the worst of the people as in “Is he a good man or a bad man?” because you’re always thinking of the safety of your friends and yourself. I did feel it was my duty to be there…when you see the smiles on the faces of the people, you know you are bringing security to their towns and their country…they have that bit of freedom that they never had before, freedom to speak their minds on the streets, not thinking about the consequences, which in the past were fatal at times. To me that felt very satisfying.

Q 20: How did you feel, as the war dragged on and still Bin Laden had not been found? Did you ever question why you were there or how long you would be there?

A: The war on terror will always be there, but the more time Bin Laden was free and sending his videos out via the internet encouraging the extremists to carry on there so-called “good work” on the holy war was very frustrating. However we knew it would only be a matter of time before he was caught, we knew we would be there a long time, the country was and is still very unstable and does need the help from the NATO forces. No I never questioned why we went in to Iraq or Afghanistan, Iraq for example had a very strong and powerful leader in Saddam, he ruled with an iron fist, many say it is the only way for the people of Iraq…however his methods were crazy, it was his way or no way and if you were the latter then there was a big chance that you would be killed.

 

Q 21: In the case of the war in Iraq, based on the evidence we have today, how do you feel about the justification of the invasion? By that, I mean based on the premise that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and the dossier of him being able to utilise them in 45mins that turned out to be false. How does that make you feel, does it make you question some of your own actions while in the country?

A: Of course you don’t want to be lied to and with the evidence we have today regarding Saddam having weapons of mass destruction, I feel cheated and let down in a way, many people lost their lives in Iraq, both military and civilian…don’t get me wrong Saddam was a dictator and I believe he had to be removed, however the circumstances in how it happened are very touch and go, but I do believe Iraq is a much better place without him. As for my actions, I was carrying out orders and I don’t feel I could have done it any different based on what I know now, even though the reasons for going were maybe questionable, once there it was still a war zone and we had to carry out our mission.

Q 22: I understand you will have seen sights that most of us will thankfully never witness. But to bring up the justification of the war again, how does it make you feel to have lost friends and colleagues during the war, knowing that maybe you didn’t have to be there in the first place?

A: It does sometimes anger me, there have been a lot of my close friends killed and badly injured and many people would argue against us being there in the first place. I believe the world is a safer and better place without these dictators. The war on terror is a 24-7 operation and these people need to be caught and brought to justice before any other harm is done.

Q 23: So you think the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made the world a safer place?

A: Without a shadow of a doubt the world is a safer place, we know all these cells/groups exist and we know where they work from, so many of these extremists have been brought to justice from us going in to these country’s…which can only be a good thing.

Q 24: Do you ever think about repercussions of your actions, by that I mean do you think about some of the things you have been called on to do having an impact on your later life or the life of people in Iraq or Afghanistan?

A: No I do not…I believe we done everything to the best of our ability and I don’t think about any repercussions.

Q 25: You never think about anything impacting on your life or others, from the actions you took or the army took in Iraq and Afghanistan?

A: No…I couldn’t live my life that way, it’s hard to explain unless you have been there, but I honestly believe we were doing the right thing…morally or ethically or however you want to call it, I believe I can look myself in the mirror, knowing I done the right thing.

Q 26: That sense of doing the right thing, do you feel that was something you knew before joining the army or something you learned?

A: Joseph…you know my family, you know me…I would like to think I was brought up knowing right from wrong and knowing the difference between the both of them.

Q 27: Ok…I understand. Can I ask what your thoughts are on the idea that by using military force and invading the country to try to eradicate terrorism we might actually be doing the opposite? For example in Northern Ireland, when British troops were based there, it was noted that the next generation grew up wanting to take up arms against the British due to what they had seen happen to their families and homes. The presence of troops seemed to divide the country further. Do you think military action in Iraq and Afghanistan could have similar repercussions?

A: Invading another country is obviously a very sensitive issue however the way it has been done (ie) the armies of these countries’ taking the lead on all aspects, with the guidance from the British and Americans is the way forward. I believe as an army and as soldiers, we have advanced and we are now producing a better soldier, a more thinking soldier, which is then pushing the army forward in the correct manner. The way the guys conduct themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan is second to none…hearts and minds is what they push out there, however sometimes you need to fight and it is a very hard thing to go through but the guys do it very well. It is a fine balance between carrying out your mission and trying to win the people over.

Q 28: On TV we get to see the war zones, with mortars going off and short clips of fighting. We never really see what life is like day-to-day. Can you give me an idea of what life is like in a war zone; are people able to go about their daily business?

A: It is very hard to go about normal day-to-day business but we do the best we can and with what the army provide, one day you could be sitting about drinking brews, shooting the shit, then thirty minutes later you could be out on the ground in a major fire fight taking casualties, then coming back in and trying to do normal things again…but you’re in that frame of mind anyway as in you are in a war zone , so you’re always tuned in, it is difficult to describe.

Q 29: Can you tell me when you left the army and why you left?

A: I left the army in March this year, I loved my job however we weren’t getting paid the right money for what the guys do, it is pennies, on my last tour just gone a few of my friends got killed and badly injured and were on just over a thousand pounds a month, so I made the decision that my future lay elsewhere, don’t get me wrong I miss it every day it and it is a very hard job to describe, in fact it is not a job, it is a way of life.

Q 30: How did you feel when you left, did you feel like you had done all you could?

A: I feel like I have done my bit, everything I did in the army I done with a positive mental attitude and with 100% so yes I do feel like I done all I could.

Q 31: In general how do you feel you were treated by the army? Did they help you at all when it came to issues such as feelings about shooting or firing at people? Did they discuss things like morals and ethics?

A: The army is a massive family but that family stops at a certain rank and then it is a lonely place, when it comes to these issues the army gives loads of support and help and always   talks about morals and ethics.

Q 32: You have continued to work in Iraq after leaving the army; can you see a change in the country since you first went there?

A: I can see a massive change in the country from people living their daily lives, to people having opinions and expressing them, the way I look at Iraq and Afghanistan is that these people still live in the middle ages and we are trying to get them in to the 21st century within 10 years or more. It is not going to work as quickly as that, it will take many years and a lot of patience but they will get there.

MEP in Seal Hunt Campaign

News, Politics

Scottish MEP David Martin flew to Ottawa, Canada to campaign against the annual seal hunt that takes place in the country.

Mr Martin, a Labour member of the European Parliament and ex-animal welfare worker has been a long time campaigner against seal hunts. He states on his blog “I first experienced the annual slaughter of baby seals on the Canadian ice flows over 25 years ago. Ever since that day I have been arguing and campaigning for a European Union (EU) ban on seal fur products.”

The MEP has described how he was “disgusted” at the announcement by the Canadian Government that they will allow the slaughter of 468,000 harp, grey and hooded seals this year.  The 2011 quota represents an increase of 80,000 on last years.

Mr Martin believes the Canadian Government are “playing politics with the lives of baby seals.” He argues that “The Harper Government are playing regional politics in the lead up to the Federal Election by giving the regional sealing industry this increase in quota. Harper has been accused of using ‘tax dollars’ to buy votes amongst the commercial seal hunt industry.”

Speaking on Parliament Hill, he told reporters “I have visited abattoirs, I have seen animals being killed in the wild, I have seen many instances of animal treatment and animal cruelty. I say, unequivocally, I have never seen anything as barbarous as the seal cull that takes place on your shores.”

He told the assembled press “Over 100 members of the European Parliament have signed a letter saying that as long as the WTO (World Trade Organization) challenge against the seal ban is underway, we will not support a comprehensive and economic trade agreement with Canada.”

Mr Martin was asked why he opposes the seal hunt, when Scotland is famous for its lamb and meat exports.  He argued the methods used to kill lambs and young seals are very different. “I have seen seals battered over the head, skinned and left still alive,” Martin said of a hunt he witnessed.

The MEP also explained he has been to modern hunts where seals are shot. “If you try and shoot animals that are in water or moving and you hit them and they can escape, you are creating horrendous cruelty,” he said.

Martin was supported in his views by the Leader of the Canadian Green Party, Elizabeth May and Liberal Senator Mac Harb. The politician agreed that Inuit tribes could continue to hunt seals and sell their products, but the Canadian Government should put a stop to the commercial seal hunts that take place.

In 2009, the EU bowed to pressure from animal rights groups and banned seal products from Canada because of the controversies surrounding their annual seal hunt. The ban came into effect last summer. Last month, a European court dismissed a legal challenge by the Inuit to stave off the ban, but Canada has taken its fight to the WTO. Successive rounds of talks failed to solve the issue, but now an arbitration panel has agreed to hear the case and will rule on it next spring.

Jogger saved by hero on horseback

News

A jogger in Newport Beach, California had a lucky escape on Tuesday morning, when he and his two dogs were saved from a coyote attack by a hero on horseback.

Brian Clarkson, 37, was out for his morning jog with his two Yorkshire terriers, on a local nature trail, in the Back Bay area of Newport, when a man on a horse came to his rescue.

The unknown hero spotted a coyote running toward Brian and managed to prevent an attack by shouting at the coyote, doing enough to distract it, according to Clarkson.  However it then continued to stalk them from bushes across the street.

Mr Clarkson described the coyote as looking “hungry and desperate,” he told the local Daily Pilot newspaper.

The horse rider then escorted Clarkson and his dogs to a safer location on the trail, where he reported the incident to park rangers. A relieved Mr Clarkson said “I’ve never been chased by a coyote looking for a kill before.”

The area is the natural habitat for coyote and other large predators, with Valerie Schomburg, the senior animal control officer with the Newport Beach Police Department stating “the city typically sees an increase in coyotes at this time of year due to the fact pups were born in the spring and are now out hunting for food in the area.”

She confirmed that there have been no known attacks on people in Newport Beach, stating “Usually they’re startled just like people are.”  To put local resident’s minds at ease she assured that “Most wild animals are going to flee rather than fight you.”

Shark Attack on Surfer

News

Californian surfer Eric Tarantino, 27, was attacked by a shark off the Monterey County coast on Saturday morning.

The surfer had only been in the water for around 10 minutes, before he was attacked, with the nine-foot shark biting him on the neck and forearm, reports the Associated Press.

Mr Tarantino managed to paddle himself to the shore before he was pulled from the water by fellow surfers. They used beach towels on his wounds in order to stem the flow of blood. He was later air lifted to the San Jose Medical Centre, where he underwent emergency surgery. Surgeons said the shark bit missed his main artery in his neck by a few millimetres

The 19-inch bite mark left on the surfboard suggests the attack was made by a Great White. Monterey District supervising state parks ranger, Sean James told reporters it was not uncommon for sharks to swim near the coastline at this time of year to hunt sea lions.

The last known attack in the area occurred in 2007, when Tarantino’s friend and fellow surfer, Todd Engris, was attacked by a shark at the same beach. Engris told America’s “The Today Show” that the news of the attack on Tarantino “shakes me up.”

Signs were put on the beach at the weekend advising people to stay out of the water.