Happy Birthday to Me, Happy Birthday to Me, Happy BIRTH-DAaaah what’s the use!?
Twenty five years on planet earth today. That’s nine thousand one hundred and thirty one days chasing cars around this tiny green and blue spec in the universe. Like a fat, hairy bluebottle that’s had one of its wings mercilessly ripped clean off, caught in a cruel unending spin. Year after year, spin after spin, one circle comes round to completion before attacking the next tour without a moment’s reflection. When WILL it end?
More importantly, WHERE will it end? A lot of the time, that which sees me through the tougher moments of life in the Legion are the dreams and plans I’ve meticulously laid out before me. In the pipeline of my mind’s eye for the time being, these grandiose psycho blueprints nevertheless predict nothing short of unrivalled progress, financial prosperity, explosive romance and other wonderful life-enriching attributes and experiences scheduled to leap in to action the very moment I step outside the gates of Aubagne on 17th August 2013. Plans are wonderful, marvellous things, aren‘t they? They offer hope, motivation, drive and direction. They’re also about as reliable as Fr. Dougal Maguire standing guard over a jar of home-made jam.
Eleven years ago to the day, I found myself in sunny Scotland. Perched on the edge of the long, hard, well varnished bench reaching around the entire perimeter of the small, square dressing room, twenty two skinny, greasy, nerve-wracked teens waited for the kit man to pass. As each new shirt was introduced to its new owner, a curious ritual unfolded. The skinny, greasy, nerve-wracked teen would immediately unfold the shirt to inspect his squad number. Then, slowly he’d start to caress the material between his thumb and index finger, exploring his way along the nooks and crannies of the fabric the same way he would drag his studs through the freshly-mown grass in a few minutes time, investigating his very own patch of territory on the field of battle. Back then, Ireland were using the ill-conceived "towel" jerseys. Hardly ideal for physical exertion but certainly fascinatingly luxurious to a skinny, greasy, nerve-wracked fourteen year old boy about to step out on to a football pitch in his country’s colours for the very first time.
Professional footballer. That was a plan-and-a-half indeed. I’d promised my mum a Porsche, that the mortgage would be paid off on the house, and that Samantha Mumba would be my girlfriend by my 18th birthday. Wonderful, marvellous things, plans.
Skip forward two years, to Balbriggan Community College (or "The Tec") as it was more familiarly known at the time. My footballing dreams retired to the shallow annals of my brief history, I now stood before a different kind of audience. The green jersey had been swapped for a black leather motorcycle jacket. The scrawny, knobbly knees now profited from a single tear in my skin-tight denims where once they were allowed to breath freely beneath skimpy white shorts. Behind me stood not ten fellow athletes ready to throw themselves in to tackles and rise shoulder-to-shoulder attempting to put a head on the end of a flying leather sphere. No, behind me now stood three fellow cock-and-balls rockers ready to throw themselves in to ever more complicated, funkalicious riffs and beats, three-part harmonies and endless encores. Flanked by the marauding silken-haired windmills-on-speed that were the guitarist and bass player, with a well-groomed yet savage drum-bashing machine at the rear, I quivered before the battered microphone, running the length of cable through my sweaty fingers in much the same way I had fumbled with the green jersey only twenty four months previously.
Once again I found my birthday unwittingly coinciding with the launch of a brand new dream thread. Rockstar. Oh we played gigs, made demo CDs (some of which people even bought), were interviewed for magazines, were invited to perform at fundraisers. The future was bright. So too were the vocal chords, glowing red from a total of five years screaming in to microphones in various nice (and not-so-nice) Dublin bars and clubs. Inevitably, the end of secondary school followed by the slow dissolution in to college life spelled the embarking of the various members on their various personal paths, leaving nothing but fond memories, a few decent recordings, and some truly hideous pairs of jeans.
The big twenty one (way back in 2007) was spent, perhaps somewhat prophetically, dining in Ireland’s finest restaurant (owned and operated, of course, by a Frenchman). Little did I know as I sipped champagne and downed my oysters that in a year’s time I would have quit my job in preparation for my adventurous pilgrimage to the fabled gates of Fort du Nogent. I tease myself with the idea that my 21st birthday meal was a pre-eminent strike against any future opinions and impressions I may acquire on France and French society. After all, if one’s first taste of la France arrives in the form of a slap upside the head and a spit-showered scream to drop and do push-ups until your arms seize up and your nose smashes into the ground, well, it makes things a little harder when eventually trying to appreciate all the positive aspects of the French people and their culture (and of course, their cuisine!).
And so finally, we reach the present day. 10th May 2011. A quarter of a century of dreams and plans has brought me to this point. Less than a week remains in what has been an interesting, somewhat turbulent, occasionally tedious but never uneventful six month tour of Afghanistan with the French Foreign Legion. THE FUCKING FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION!!! Who saw that one coming?? By the time the dust settles on this mini-chapter, there will remain two measly years to serve on my five-year contract. The screw has already begun to tighten from on-high. Sign on, sign on. Make a career for yourself. Win yourself this qualification, that qualification, earn lots of money on many more overseas missions. The current global economy never tires as a potential lure to the undecided. But then, I’m not exactly undecided.
For me, it has always been and always will be "just" the five years. My time spent serving in the Legion will undeniably leave its imprint on my life map until the very end of my days. However, whereas five years may render themselves a defining part of ones life, I fear that any longer may render itself my entire life, full stop. That, I simply can not tolerate. It leaves absolutely no room whatsoever for any more plans and dreams.
How on earth could I survive without that kind of reliability?