Fragments from a War Diary, Part #160
I want to tell you about my body. No, this isn’t some strange or perverted or weird thing or some fantasy of mine; rather it is an entry in my diaries that I have been wanting to convey for a while but I just didn’t quite know how. The point is this: when you live in a war zone and you travel all the time and you live an active life and you barely spend any time for yourself and you are not sitting at a desk and each day you are engaged in some new and exciting and blitzing activity, then your body starts to change its whole metabolic process to fit in with your new way of life. And this change is something you don’t realise quickly or with any certainty but it takes place over days, weeks and months and you don’t see what is going on but something is going on and you are changing. And it is quite a mysterious and dumbfounding process as you see what is happening to you.
Let’s face it, I am fat. At least so I always thought. I was fat when I was a student in my 20’s and I became more fat as I got older. I just became a gross and indulgent overweight man. But I always thought I could reverse these themes; they were just a product of genetics and culinary indulgence and my perennial love of beer. So I didn’t worry about these things too much. I thought they would take care of themselves. And then occasionally I would see doctors and other such people in uniforms and they would tell me that I need to take greater care of my health and they would prescribe me this and that sort of medication to reduce my blood pressure which they periodically pronounced to be morbidly obese. And on it went.
But this is all a lot of nonsense. The fact is that at this stage of my life I am as fit and as healthy as I ever have been. Living in a war zone and living on the front line of life has a curious effect upon one’s health and physical welfare. I would like to imagine that I have lost weight since I arrived in Ukraine at some point long forgotten between the end of August and early September 2023 but really I doubt it. What instead has happened to my body is that my muscles have grown underneath the fat and gristle that formerly adorned and continues now to adorn my body. My arms have grown huge great muscles from picking up and carrying around great bags of potatoes. My shoulders have become towers of imperial Soviet strength, perfect for Stakhanovite exercises in balancing 50+ kilogram sacks of potatoes or other vegetables on the roof of my back to carry them in some innately senseless fashion from one place to the other in a military kitchen. My legs have become pillars of seamless muscle in taking the load of all these various heavy objects that it is my duty to carry around to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And so on and so forth.
For those of you who do not know, I am 48 years of age. I am I suppose a man in his elder middle age; but I feel like a man of 25. Everyone tells me that I look far younger than my age; and I appreciate those compliments whosoever they might come from. I feel energetic and I am full of spirit, and I pride myself upon that. Nevertheless this war has made me feel and look younger. The excess fat and lard has dripped down off my face. My muscles ripple beneath my t-shirts. I am not sure that I could now run a Marathon or two, as I used to do when I was 20 years younger; I still have a belly that comports with the fact that I drink too much beer. But there is something on the front line that we know as “front line belly”. The fact is that when you work on the front line of a war zone, you never know where your next meal is coming from. And, like a camel storing nutrition in its humps, this changes the way you eat and drink.
With the shells and missiles raining down, and the bombs and the guns and all the other horrors of front line warfare, you take the precaution of eating whenever you can because you never known where or when the next meal might come. Soldiers and their assistants - and I fall very much in the latter category - are not necessarily, and indeed seldom are, figures of gymnastic expertise. Rather they are survivors in the theatre of war, who carry around with them such bulk from their arbitrary and periodic meals and calorific intakes that they figure they may need to sustain them in the uncertainties of whatever comes next. Hence I have a “front line belly”, in common with the greater majority of all soldiers serving in the trenches. I am stocking and sustaining in case I go a day or two or three or four without food. This is understood and accepted and it is the way that everyone on the front line thinks.
I want to tell you something. I am now a brick shit house. I ripple with muscles, and my legs and arms and stomach and buttocks and pectoral muscles are all firm and hard as you ever might see. But I could not now run a Marathon. Instead what I could do is march 30 kilometres down a muddy archway amidst the trenches of the front line in Ukraine in ragged boots and torn uniform. I am as hard as hell and I am quite unflappable. This is not an athletic sort of fitness but it is a military level of bodily endurance and these things are quite different. I am used to slogging through towns and villages and concrete and cement and paved roads and gravel tracks with multiple bags and rucksacks slung across my front and my back and my sides. I have been trained and built for endurance and survival if not necessarily for superior performance. This is what makes a good solider and I suppose what makes for a good civilian supporter of the military’s activities as well.
I wonder casually, in my thoughts and my dreams, what my family, my elderly parents and my young children, will make of me in this pseudo-paramilitary state when I drift off back home this Christmas to see them and to love them and to kiss them and to regale them with all my crazy stories. Most probably they will cast their eyes upon me as a military nutter. But they love me with all their hearts, just as I love them, and I know that they admire me for the efforts I have been employing to support the Ukrainian people and to uphold the European polity of democratic and peaceful co-existent nations. Slava Ukraini.