Monday, June 30, 2003

So as I mentioned on the message board, I watched the documentary Iraq: The Cameraman's Story on BBC4 last night.

Half of the film was made by Fred Scott, with whom I travelled into Northern Iraq and spent a month in Arbil just before the start of the war. The interminable bus journey from Turkey, the Arbil Tower Hotel....all the experiences I described in the early days of the blog are in the documentary.

The film focuses on the "friendly fire" incident in which Fred, John Simpson and the rest of the team got caught up and in which their translator was killed. I hadn't seen much of the footage and it really upset me. By the end I was crying on the sofa.

Not only did it bring back all the memories of my accident -- the confusion, the face down in the dirt, the frantic shouts in Kurdish -- but it also reminded me of when I heard that Fred and his team had been hit.

It was the morning after I got back to the UK.

I was still groggy after the anaesthetic I'd had the day before when I went down to the operating theatre so that the surgeon could take a look at my injuries (and decide that my foot couldn't be salvaged.) I switched on the TV and the first thing I saw on News 24 was a "Breaking News" strapline and a scrolling headline reporting what had happened to them.

I felt my guts sink through the floor. My ears felt like they were ringing. I couldn't concentrate. I just couldn't believe what I was reading. Another accident in Northern Iraq, just days after mine? What were the chances of that happening? I was convinced the whole team had been wiped out. I immediately got on the phone and tried to find out what had happened. Before long, John was broadcasting live, describing what he called "a scene from hell."

One of my bosses has since told me that after that week, in which ITN's Gaby Rado died and the two BBC teams in Northern Iraq were hit, he was afraid to answer the phone. Every time it rang it seemed to be news of more journalists killed and injured.

It was a terrible week for journalism.

And with Jamie spending the weekend here in London, on her way to Baghdad, much of the talk has been of why we do what we do. Why do we go to these god-forsaken places, putting ourselves in danger -- and more to the point, why do we do it willingly? Is it sheer egotism? A misplaced sense of invulnerability? A death-wish?

Why do journalists leave their husbands and wives, their partners and young children and get on planes time and time again, not knowing what lies ahead and whether they'll get back safely?

I don't fully subscribe to this notion that it's all about bearing witness to the truth. There are untold stories all around, not just in hostile environments. So why do we do it, why?

We do it because we mistakenly believe, as Kaveh said, that "war is great." We kid ourselves that it is only in dangerous places that we can feel truly alive.

Except that war isn't great. It's shit and our friends get killed.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Sunday, June 29, 2003

It's Aussie weekend on the blog!

Not only does Jamie swing by from Sydney but there's a great new self-amputation story....from Down Under. Spooky coincidence, eh?

Sydney Morning Herald: Arm trapped, and fearing fire, tough miner knew what to do

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
As you'd expect, I have a steady stream of celebrities beating a path to my door. So I thought....why not make them do some damn work so I don't have to.

To this end I've introduced a brand new occasional feature.

I proudly present my very first Guest Writer...Jamie Tarabay of the Associated Press who's staying for the weekend en route to Baghdad:

Take it away Jamie...

Sunday, June 29, 2003.
Greetings. I confess I'm rather nervous, I've never been a guest writer before, so your kind forbearance is appreciated.

Stuart is well. It is good to see him again. The last time we were together was at a seedy bar in Jerusalem. It was my farewell before I went off to a posting in Sydney and it ended rather messily, as all good farewells do.

The last bit of contact I had with Stu before his accident in Iraq was a couple of email exchanges. I'd asked him to be careful as things seemed to be hotting up. He replied: I've got a full tank of petrol and clean underwear on, so it all looks good. He assures me that he was indeed wearing clean undies when the U.S. Special Forces ripped them off him after he was hit and he was being evacuated. I found a strange sort of comfort in this.

I'm apprehensive about going to Iraq, as I usually am before I head off somewhere messy and the different aspects of my stay there that I'm not sure about - my reception, my work, the conditions, the people. It looks like I won't be going around anywhere without my flak jacket, and in stifling heat at the hottest time of the year, it's not a prospect I'm currently relishing.

Being back in Sydney I've had to field questions from my friends and overdramatic acquaintances of my already anxious parents about why I would possibly want to go to Baghdad, especially when I confess that I'm actually excited about my trip.

Everyone has different motivations for doing what we do, but I really think that it is all about bearing witness. This is history in the making and if we're not there to report it, out of fear of danger, then no one will know. No one will be accountable. And at the end of the day, we are talking about ordinary people whose lives have been extraordinarily affected, in ways some of us could never imagine, nor would we want to.

I just have to stay safe while doing it.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Saturday, June 28, 2003

By some strange alignment of the stars, no fewer than four members of the Jerusalem Press Corps, past and present, are in town at the same time.

It's just like old times.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Friday, June 27, 2003

Here at the Beyond Northern Iraq weblog I try to maintain the highest journalistic standards of accuracy and impartiality. However, sometimes I can't help succumbing to a bit of good old fashioned bribery.

I had considered nominating Chris Moon as an Amputee of the Week because his story is remarkable. But Chris is a landmine victim and so am I and I thought it was just a bit too obvious.

However, when I received an e-mail from a reader offering to donate £100 to Phil's triathlon fund if I chose could I refuse?

Chris is a former army officer who worked for a charity specialising in clearing landmines and the debris of war in Asia and Africa. He's one of the few westerners to have survived kidnap in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.

In Mozambique he was blown up walking in a supposedly cleared area resulting in the loss of his lower right arm and leg.

Less than a year after leaving hospital he completed the London Marathon and subsequently many of the toughest ultra-marathons in the world to support charities assisting the "disabled."

He is the first amputee to finish the Great Sahara Run and the Badwater 135 mile Death Valley Ultra (5 marathons back to back), which takes place in temperatures close to those recommended for slow cooking chicken.

Chris says of his accident: "In no way do I consider myself to be a victim, because I chose to be there.

"We all have to be responsible for our decisions in life. I have absolutely no regrets.

"I wanted something challenging in a totally different culture and environment. I was doing something that I felt made a difference, that was basically a humanitarian service and definitely worthwhile."

Bribery aside, Chris Moon is this week's inspirational Amputee of the Week.

Chris Moon's website

Needless to say I'm quite happy to advertise any other goods and services in return for payment of a very reasonable fee.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
After the publication of the article in Californian newspaper the Press Democrat a few days ago about Dr Greg Hamon -- the surgeon who treated me in Northern Iraq -- the paper has now done a follow up.

Press Democrat: Their next encounter will go even better

I'm hoping to give Dr Hamon a call next week.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Collecting my BBC News Award last night from World Affairs Correspondent
Fergal Keane.

The awards are given to people who have innovated, pioneered and inspired within BBC News....and to stupid arses who have stepped on landmines.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Thursday, June 26, 2003


The UN wants to enshrine the rights of the "disabled"....but guess which country doesn't want to sign?
AP: Delegates move a step closer to convention on disability rights

Exhibit A, your artificial leg:
Ananova: Three years for one-legged robber

Woof Woof! Bang! Landmine-clearing dogs:
Naples Daily News: A canine solution for a safer world

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
This week's BBC News Online diary has been published here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
The doctor is in. Next patient please.

Shirin Sagedhi e-mails after reading the article about Dr Hamon asking why, if it was only my heel that was damaged in the landmine blast, I had to undergo an amputation below the knee.

Why not simply fit a prosthetic heel, she asks.

Why, indeed.

I asked my surgeon the same question at the time, except in my case I think it went something like “why the fuck are you cutting half my leg off? There’s nothing with my leg. It’s my heel that’s been blown off, can’t you see, my heel!!!”

However, once I’d calmed down it was explained to me that there are several reasons for a BK amputation.

For a prosthetic heel to be successful it would need to be covered in skin which has feeling and sensation. Without it I wouldn't know if the area became damaged or infected, leading to possible nasty complications. However, the skin covering my heel, the “heel pad,” had been blown away, making bone grafts or plates impossible.

So why not simply amputate the foot rather than part of the leg as well? Well…

There were a couple of reasons why I didn’t have a through-ankle or "Symes" amputation.

The main reason was that the skin used to cover over the amputated foot area is the heel pad. This, as I’ve already explained, was no longer there. However, even if it had been there, some surgeons think a below-knee amputation is preferable because the Symes prostheses tend to be less satisfactory.

At least that’s what I was told when I was told….and anyway, it’s a bit bloody late to start arguing about it now, don’t you think?

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

In case you haven’t seen Doug’s entry on the message board, Scott Rogers has completed his trek along the Laurel Highlands Trail.

Congratulations Scott…here’s hoping the hike hasn’t dampened your enthusiasm for taking on the whole Appalachian Trail!

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
I'm forever grateful to fellow blogger Paul Boutin for posting up this article. I'd never have seen it otherwise. For me, it's hugely significant.

The article is about Greg Hamon, chief of surgery for the Special Forces medical team that treated me in Northern Iraq.

The article says: "The worst casualties he treated in Iraq were members of an Iranian opposition force who had sought refuge in Iraq but were attacked by Iranian mercenaries who came across the border, and a British journalist, Stuart Hughes, whose heel was blown off by a land mine."

That'll be me, then.

I was so drugged up on morphine that much of my time in the care of the Special Forces is a blur.

They took great care of me, though -- and now I know who "they" are. The 932nd Forward Surgical Team, based in Fort Ben Harrison, Indiana.

I'm going to try and thank Greg personally.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

“Solid.” “Accurate.” Downing Street’s assessment of a dossier on Iraq. 7th February 2003. (Source: BBC News Online)

“An embarrassment.” “A complete Horlicks.” Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s assessment of the dossier. 24th June 2003. Source: BBC News Online)

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
My brother, Steve, found this amazing story...although the journalist who wrote the gob-smackingly cliche-ridden sentence "plucky teen turns tragedy to triumph" would be sacked on the spot in my newsroom:

The Record: 'I didn't give up'

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
Credit where it's due.

Blogger have launched a new version and it seems to be a vast improvement on what it was.

Two thumbs up.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Scott Rogers makes it into the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Go Scott!

Pittsburgh Live: Bionic leg helps amputee through Laurel Highlands

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Monday, June 23, 2003

Further to Doug's update on the message board about above-the-knee amputee Scott Rogers' progress along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, Doug has also sent across the contour map of the route to give some idea of the terrain Scott's facing with his now powered-down computerised prosthesis.

Doug adds that since he wrote the update Scott has made it to the highest point on the Trail. It's between miles 26 and 27, at an altitude of 2950 feet.

Keep going, Scott, and good luck with the new battery charger!

Contour Map 1
Contour Map 2
Contour Map 3
Contour Map 4
Contour Map 5

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
Just been flicking through the blog archives, reminiscing.

I came across a photo taken on April 6th, the day before the amputation. It's of me smiling in a wheelchair with my leg in bandages and my foot still in place, albeit held together with Meccano.

I wasn't prepared for it. Just seeing the picture knocked the wind right out of me. It must be similar to the way someone whose loved one has died feels when they unexpectedly see a picture of that person -- a sudden rush of sadness and loss.

I felt a sudden, desperate desire to turn back the clock. Would that I could.

I was also struck by the fact that the time I've been blogging post-accident is now longer than the period I spent in Iraq. Time for a name change perhaps?

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Meet my friend, Phil Holmes.

You see him here sitting on his arse. However, this is not a pastime he indugles in regularly.

Phil is currently training for the London Triathlon in August. This punishing event that involves a 1.5km swim, followed by a 40km cycle and then a 10km run.


Good question, but the answer's simple. Phil is putting himself through physical torment so that little children don't step on landmines and die. He's doing the Triathlon to raise lots of lovely money for MAG.....well, that and because he likes wearing tight lycra shorts in public.

Phil is suffering so we don't have to. However, just sitting on your flabby arse eating Doritos isn't an option. Ooooh no.

Download Phil's sponsorship form below. It explains the many ways you can support his efforts and help stop little kiddies from stepping on landmines and blowing their legs off, because that's what's happening every day around the world.

Have I made my point?

Phil's Triathlon Sponsorship Form

Alternatively, if you fancy following in Phil's footsteps you can get involved in MAG's challenges in Namibia and Cambodia. Full details are on the form below:

MAG Challenges (PDF format, 478Kb)

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I couldn't let the weekend go by without passing comment on the torrent of media diarrhoea that's accompanied the launch of the new Harry Potter book.

I've got nothing against J.K. Rowling.

What I object to is the way a carefully choreographed publicity campaign has been dressed up as "news." The "news" that Harry Potter is going to be the best/fastest-selling/most popular children's book of all time simply hikes up the hysteria another notch and thus helps sell more copies. Even my friends at BBC News Online seem to have been carried away by the Harry Potter "phenomenon." Hell, even blind kids aren't immune from the onslaught.

My nephews and niece love Harry Potter and watch the DVDs incessantly so maybe it's me that's missing something. Maybe we are seeing a genuine cultural phenomenon -- and if it encourages kids to pick up a book and read then great.

Responding to Jeremy Paxman's question about the secrecy surrounding the book launch, Rowling said that "one could be cynical, and I'm sure you would be disposed to be so and say it was a marketing ploy, but I don't want the kids to know what's coming." (Source: BBC News Online)

Nope, sorry. It's a marketing ploy.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Spent the weekend looking after nephew Daniel.

How can something so small require the undivided attention of two grown adults and still not be satisfied?

Would you leave me in charge of your infant?

Picture: Daniel's Bathtime
Picture: Daniel's Feed

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Call the literary police.

Could Poet Laureate Andrew Motion's "poem" to celebrate the 21st birthday of That Posh Bloke be just about the worst piece of verse ever put to paper?

I think it just might.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Friday, June 20, 2003

This week sees the very first Amputee of the Week from the 19th century (Cap'n Ahab doesn't count because he's a fictional character.)

John Wesley Powell was born in Mt. Morris, New York on March 24, 1834. His father -- an itinerant Methodist preacher -- wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps, but instead Powell studied natural history in college.

During the Civil War he enlisted in the Union army in the 20th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. On April 6th 1862, at the Battle of Shiloh, Powell's right arm was struck by a half-spent minie ball. It was amputated two days later. Nevertheless, he continued to serve in the army for the remainder of the war.

In 1869, Powell and nine adventure-seeking companions completed the first exploration of the dangerous and almost uncharted canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers, through the present-day states of Utah and Arizona. In addition to these steep and dangerous river canyons, Powell and his companions faced the relentless and inhospitable conditions of the Great Basin Desert as they travelled from the northeast to the southwest corners of the Colorado Plateau.

Powell and his expedition surprised even the local Native Americans, who considered navigating the Grand Canyon River Gorge an impossible task. In fact, only 6 of the original 9 completed the expedition with Powell. Three of the original members, fearing for their lives on the dangerous rapids of the Colorado River, attempted to climb out of the canyon and were slain by Indians.

By this remarkable journey, Powell opened up the last unknown area of the continental United States and brought to an end the era of western exploration. Today, Lake Powell bears his does the roll-call of one-legged and one-armed heroes to be named Amputee of the Week.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

The BBC's book on the War in Iraq is out now, available at all good book shops for £7.99 (or £6.39 if you buy it from Amazon.)

I got a copy yesterday when I popped into Television Centre for the first time since I left for Iraq four months ago. It's sitting on my desk, waiting to be tackled.

Far be it from me to plug the book but knowing the correspondents who've contributed to it (including Jim Muir, who has written a piece on the Northern Front), it should be a good read. Plus at 224 pages it's a damn sight shorter than the new Harry Potter tome.

Oh, and thanks for the mention in the foreward!

I should be on commission.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Thursday, June 19, 2003

This week's BBC News Online diary has been published here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

An update on the investigation into the killing of cameraman James Miller in Gaza last month:

James Miller Latest

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I've just found two collections of photos by Kaveh's widow, Hengameh Golestan, who I'm hoping to meet soon.

I was particularly taken by the photos of a group of Iranian women paragliders. "In addition to all that has already been said about women's lives in Tehran, add the summer heat," one of the paragliders says. "The hejab gets really annoying - Tehran is hot and polluted, and we feel boxed in. Any spare time I find, I come to the mountain and I feel free, away from the ordinary weight of being a woman in Iranian society. Flying through the air reduces my frustrations."

Hengameh Golestan: Heaven and Hell
Hengameh Golestan: The Place To Go

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Doug Lowry e-mails with news of Scott Rogers, the bloke pictured above. He's an above the knee amputee living in Tennessee.

Scott has just set out on a 70 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. 70 miles -- not much you may say. Scott's real goal, though, is to walk the entire length of the trail, some 2,200 miles. He reckons that's a whopping 4,646,400 prosthetically-aided foot steps.

As well as all his hiking gear, Scott's taken with him a solar powered charger for the computerised artificial leg he uses. As he says -- "I just didn't think a 2200 mile long extension cord was practical."

I'll be keeping across Scott's progress but you can find out more about him at his personal website.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"


You made the mess -- now you can clear it up. The UN discusses a law to make both sides in a conflict clear up the explosive remnants of war:
BBC News: UN debates war zone clear-up law

Meanwhile, children in Iraq continue to die from landmines and UXO:
Reuters AlertNet: Iraq's children bear brunt of unexploded munitions

...and Jim's been in Baghdad, from where he analysed the reasons for the continued attacks on coalition troops:
Jim Muir: US forces threatened in power vacuum

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Tuesday, June 17, 2003


"We are bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous....We are helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools for the people." President Bush, 1st May (Source: BBC News Online)

"This is the single most chaotic organisation I have ever worked for....The operation is chronically under-resourced and suffers from an almost complete absence of strategic direction. We are facing an almost complete inability to engage with what needs to be done and to bring to bear sufficient resources to make a difference." Senior British official in Baghdad on the American-led reconstruction effort in Iraq. Quoted in the Daily Telegraph, June 17th.

From The Economist, a report on the quarrel between the Kurds and the UN over unspent oil revenue. The reference in the article to the Kurds accusing the UN of inefficiency is priceless. Talk about pots and black kettles. I've put this report into a .txt file because it's available by subscription only:

The Economist: What's Happened To Our Cash?

...and a 72-year old Floridian amputee shows none of the self-pity demonstrated by yours truly. "Don't you realize there are so many people worse off than me? Look at these automobile accidents and what happens to so many people,'' the plucky pensioner says. "The only thing is, how many people have their arm torn off by an alligator?'' Er......I dunno. Probably not many.

Boston Herald: Gator didn't get her spirit

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"


Disaster struck this morning when I tried to put on my favourite Crag Hopper trousers (the ones with the legs you can unzip to make shorts), only to find I can't get them past my unbending "ankle". Those trousers have been around the world with me, dammit, and now I can't get them on. It's just as well my other pair were cut off by the American Special Forces surgeons.

It's bell bottoms from now on.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Monday, June 16, 2003


Journalist Saira Shah calls for an independent investigation into the death of James Miller, the cameraman killed in the Gaza Strip last month:
Media Guardian: Call for inquiry into Miller death

Signs of unity between the PUK and KDP in Iraqi Kurdistan:
Charlotte Observer: Kurds end clash over north's rule

...and broadcasting executives admit they have a lot more to achieve in the employment and representation of "disabled" people:
Media Guardian: Broadcasters vow to offer more jobs to disabled

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Bought a copy of Esquire to read Don McCullin's Iraq War Diary.

Don is scathing of the whole experience. He says the war was "a waste of two months of my life. It was good in just one respect: throughout my time here, I never saw a single dead or badly injured human being." Just as well he didn't spend more time around us, then.

McCullin -- who was staying in the same hotel as us in Sulaymaniyah -- recounts the day of the accident. I've scanned an excerpt below:

Esquire: Don McCullin's Iraq War Diary

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Sunday, June 15, 2003

I found myself saying the three words today that I've tried hard to avoid: It's Not Fair.

Self-pity isn't an admirable trait, but at times it's inescapable.

I've been allowed to take my leg home for the weekend, with strict instructions to wear it for no more than 3 hours a day. Instead of being a right, walking has become a privilege to be carefully rationed. Do I blow the full 3 hour quota in the morning, or stretch it out over the course of the day? Do I ignore the advice and gorge myself with non-stop walking, regardless of the consequences?

Actually, gorging myself isn't an option. I'm reliant on a pair of walking sticks because I can't yet put my full weight through the injured leg. The best I can manage is hobbling around like an arthritic pensioner.

Although the leg's a definite improvement on the wheelchair I can't help myself from thinking pessimistically that my glass is half empty rather than half full. Being able to walk a little seems to highlight the long way I've still got to go rather than the progress I've made so far. Getting around is so slow, uncomfortable and tiring at the moment that I can't imagine ever being able to stroll casually down the street. The prosthesis rubs and pulls on my leg, blistering the skin. After walking more than a few hundred yards I can't wait to take it off. Walking to the shops and back to buy a newspaper is about my limit.

Today I found myself thinking "this is it", this is the way it's going to be forever. While I was in the wheelchair or on crutches I could look forward to the imaginary day when I'd be given the artificial leg. In my mind I imagined leaping up and immediately running a marathon. Now I've got the leg, though, I realise that I'm faced with a whole new series of obstacles to overcome. It's as if I've completed that imaginary marathon and someone's told me I have to go back to the starting line and do it all over again.

I've realised for the first time just how much emotional energy I'm using up just getting through the rehab. Still, on a brighter note it is fantastic to see two shoes poking out of my trouser legs again.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Took the new leg out for a test run over lunch at The Ivy, because my prosthesis demands the finer things in life.

The Sunday roast was first class but the restaurant was a disappointingly celeb-free zone. Not even a soap actress to boost the star quota.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"
Don McCullin, the war photographer with whom I spent some time with in Northern Iraq, has published his Iraq diary in this month's Esquire magazine.

The mag's website has the following extract:
"An absence of 12 years, I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to cover another war. But when the opportunity presented itself, I had to make a snap decision. The journey and process of getting here was hell. After many false starts, the Turkish authorities allowed us into Iraq on one condition: we would never be allowed to enter Turkey again if we failed to return after attending the conference being held by the Iraqi National congress (INC) in Salahuddin. Needless to say, I had no intention of complying. After two days on a coach amid a lot of neurotic chain-smoking hacks, I reached Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish Empire in Northern Iraq.

"The hotel is a dump, the food is disgusting and within a few days I’ve managed to get myself a dose of the trots and a cold, plus the zip of my trousers has fallen apart. It’s amazing how quickly you can physically deteriorate when morale is low."

Ahhhh...all those memories of the Arbil Tower Hotel are just flooding back. Disgusting food, the trots, broken seems like only yesterday. It looks like this month's Esquire is a must read.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Finally got around to watching Bowling for Columbine this evening on pay per view.

It's not particularly subtle but is nonetheless a thought provoking and well crafted doc. It's certainly held my attention for longer than Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men which -- though well intentioned -- felt like being trapped in a lift with a Guardian reading pub bore. I read it back-to-back with PJ O'Rourke's The CEO of the Sofa which was in an altogether different class. Proof, it were needed, that the devil has all the best tunes.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

At last! The perfect home for some of my insurance pay-out money. A carved ivory scene of a fisherman with an amputated leg from the Meiji period. Current bid is $450. An absolute steal. Don't all go bidding at once'll push up the price!

EBAY: Fine Japanese Carved Ivory Amputee Fisherman

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Friday, June 13, 2003

Seen the film Men of which Cuba Gooding Jr plays the US Navy's first black Master Diver? Well, the man who inspired the movie is also the inspiration for this week's Amputee of the Week.

Carl Brashear was born in 1931 to a sharecropper family in Sonora, Kentucky. He joined the Navy at the age of 17. He found himself confined to the galley, like all blacks and Filipinos of the era. But once he observed the specialty of deep-sea diving, Brashear committed himself to making that his profession, which was unheard of for a black sailor at the time.

Once admitted to the Navy Dive School in Bayonne, New Jersey, Brashear had to overcome the limits of a seventh grade education. He persevered until his ability and skill earned him equal standing.

In 1966, while retrieving a sunken hydrogen bomb from the Mediterranean, he was struck by a metal pipe.

Following two months of fighting infection and gangrene, Brashear told his doctors he could not spend three years in the hospital while his left leg healed. He made a decision to have the doctors amputate. After four operations, where more of his leg was cut off each time, he was left with a stump below the knee.

Despite the amputation, Brashear convinced doubtful Navy officers that he was capable of performing in active duty. He not only continued to dive, but he also earned master diver certification. In 1998, he became one of only seven enlisted men in history to be enshrined in naval archives, with a 164-page volume transcribing an oral history of his life and career.

Brashear recalls his return to fitness following his operation:
"Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump. I wouldn’t go to sick bay.....If I had gone to sick bay, they would have written me up....I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it - an old remedy. Then I’d get up in the morning and run."

For silencing my doubts over whether I'll ever be able to scuba dive again, Carl Brashear is this week's Amputee of the Week.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"


She may only have one leg, but she plays a mean round of golf:

Hancock woman, amputee hits hole-in-one

News of one of the fastest man on two stumps:

ESPN: Showers the "World's Fastest Amputee"

I was particularly taken by Reggie Showers' quote "I cannot succumb to my disability...I cannot let my disability run my life. I am only disabled if I think I am.'' It ties in very nicely to the debate we were having recently about the "d" word and expresses my views far more eloquently than I could have put it.

...and a follow up to the story I posted a few days about de-miners in Eritrea:

ERITREA: Government has capacity to clear mines itself - information ministry

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

More self-amputation fun, this time from Regina, Sasketchewan:

CBC News: Trapped farmer escapes by slicing off fingers

What is it with Canada and amputees? Two Canuck Amputee of the Weeks and now a self-amputating farmer. I'd say it was something to do with the cold and frostbite, but it's June for christ's sake!

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Thursday, June 12, 2003

As promised, here's my introductory comments to students studying for a Masters Degree in International Journalism at Cardiff University. It's a personal overview of the system of embedding journalists with military units during the War In Iraq.

Both files are MP3 and are about 6 minutes each. As usual, they're quite heavily compressed to keep the file sizes down.

I might delete them after a while to free up server space, so catch 'em while you can!

Cardiff Journalism School Lecture Pt 1 (1.5 Mb)
Cardiff Journalism School Lecture Pt 2 (1.3 Mb)

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

The latest BBC News Online diary has been published here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

AP reports that Guillaume Depardieu has had his right leg amputated after contracting a bacterial infection:

AP: Depardieu's Leg Amputated

...and a new report says most TV viewers think there should be more people with the "D" word on screen:

BBC News: Call for more disabled people on TV

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

....talking to students at Cardiff University. The audioblog will follow ASAP.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Apologies for the lack of postings for the last day or so. For some reason the site wasn't updating, even though I was uploading posts.

Fingers crossed, it seems to be fixed now.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I'm giving a lecture this evening to postgraduate students at Cardiff School of Journalism.

I'm hoping to record the talk and aim to post it up after I get back to London tomorrow.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

News of a novel use for an artificial leg arrives in this clipping from the Colorado paper, Creative Loafing:

"A one-legged man entered a restaurant in Colorado Springs, CO, by removing his prosthetic leg and using it to break the restaurant window. Police said Michael Richards, 54, took money from the register but because he wasn't wearing his artificial leg he was unable to exit the business before officers arrived."

The moral: When carrying out a robbery, always replace your prosthetic limb before making a run for it.

Ananova, meanwhile, reports that drug traffickers are finding ever more ingenious places to hide their stash.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Lynn Garrett, who's a loyal supporter of this website, has been exploring the outer reaches of the internet and has returned from her travels with some real gems.

Foremost among them is the Disability Films website. Yikes -- it's the "D" word again. I'm not saying anything because I'll surely get flamed again. Anyway, the site's a must if you're trying to track down those hard to find classics about AIDS, polio and dwarfism.

Sure enough there's a section on amputees on film, helpfully grouped into Major Films -- or "those which generally focus on amputees" and Minor Films -- or "those in which amputees play only a minor role or are used for comedy, thriller, horror purposes" (anyone else remember the appalling Boxing Helena?)

Even Luke Skywalker's prosthetic hand in "The Empire Strikes Back" gets a mention.....and I betcha didn't know (or care) that one of the first cinematic depictions of an amputee was by Lon Chaney in the 1927 silent movie The Unknown, in which Chaney played Alonzo the Armless Wonder. I didn't (know or care.)

I'm intrigued and appalled in equal measure by the little-known amputee kung-fu flick The Crippled Masters, which I must get on DVD. The Bad Movies website has a fine selection of pictures and sounds from this ampu-tastic classic.

Lynn also has details of a touching amputee lost and found story from Florida, the moral of which appears to be "Be Careful Your Prosthetic Leg Doesn't Fall Off While Jet Skiing."

Wise advice.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Monday, June 09, 2003

There it is, in all its glory. My new leg. Actually, the picture shows it in its au naturel state. When I wear it for real the bit between the shin and the ankle will be covered over. It's left uncovered at the moment so that it can be fine tuned.

I arrived at the hospital in a state of excitement, eager to see it for the first time and get walking.

I went into the fitting room and – after a few minor adjustments from prosthetist Ian – was shown how to put the leg on, “donning” in amputee-speak.

Layer followed layer, like an exquisitely wrapped gift. A cotton sock over Mr S was covered by a thick foam sleeve, which I then squeezed into a rigid fibreglass socket. The whole thing was held tight by an elastic knee support stocking.

I carefully stepped up from my wheelchair and gripped onto the parallel bars.

Jo, my physio, steadied me as I made my first steps, explaining ways of improving my walk.

It felt like wearing a bucket, a fat, heavy lump of metal and plastic. Even though I was walking more freely than I had done in two months I felt my heart slowly sinking as it dawned on me, not for the first time, that every single step, every day for the rest of my life will depend on an artificial leg. It looked and felt so clumsy, so unwieldy, so…..artificial.

Then I put long trousers on over my shorts.

The change in my mood was instantaneous. The bulky socket became invisible beneath my clothes. For the first time since the accident there were two trainers poking out of the leg holes instead of one.

“You can’t see it. You honestly can’t see it,” Jo laughed.

She was right. You couldn’t.

Everything seemed to come together.

I could imagine walking into a room and no one noticing I was wearing a prosthetic leg. I imagined meeting people for the first time and them not knowing I was amputee until I told them -- if indeed I felt the need to tell them at all.

It’s still a long way off. But it’ll happen.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

An e-mail arrives from the charity Handicap International, which -- amongst other things -- provides prosthetic limbs for landmine victims in war-torn countries.

I don't know much about the organisation but it looks to me like fantastic work's being done in Iraq and elsewhere.

Check them out.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Seeing as an increasing number of people have been accessing this blog through the URL I've finally done the decent thing and paid to get rid of those annoying banner ads.

So now you've got a nice, easy to remember address. Don't say I never do anything for ya!

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Tomorrow, I try out my new leg for the first time.

Today feels like the night before Christmas, full of anticipation at what's to come.

I can only guess what it'll feel like when I get up and walk for the first time with an artificial limb; unfamiliar and uncomfortable I'd imagine.

I've been asked to take a pair of shoes with me to the hospital. A pair of shoes. It's been a while since I've needed that. For the last two months just the one shoe has sufficed. All my left shoes are scuffed and worn but the right ones are as good as new!

I'm trying to remind myself that the prosthetic isn't a replacement for my missing foot. No piece of engineering, however sophisticated, can replace skin and bone. Rather it's an alternative to the real thing.

Over the last few days I've been thinking about all the things I won't be able to do with the limb; flex my ankle, wiggle my toes, point my foot left and right. It's hard to imagine that a limb made of carbon fibre and plastic will ever feel like part of me, but in time I'm sure it will. Maybe one day I reach the stage where it feels more "real" to me than the foot it replaced.

So tomorrow really is the first day of the rest of my life -- my new life with an artificial limb.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Thanks to the BBC's Crippled Monkey Weblog for linking to this site, although points are automatically deducted for using the "D" word. It's not embarrassment or snobbery but the "D" word is totally verboeten in these quarters.

Still, the Crippled Monkey redeems himself (or herself, who can say?) by recommending that readers "add his page to your favourites and visit regularly."

Damned fine advice, monkey features.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Disappointing news from Eritrea, where deminers from the Halo Trust have been asked to leave the country.

ERITREA: Decision to send deminers away causes concern.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

An audioblog for the first time in ages.

I'm making the most of my broadband connection at home in London by uploading the interview I did a few weeks ago with Radio Five Live's Matthew Bannister.

I've split the interview into 4 MP3 files to make it easier to download. The interview is quite heavily compressed to keep the file sizes down but it's perfectly listenable.

Bannister Interview Part 1 (638Kb)
Bannister Interview Part 2 (768Kb)
Bannister Interview Part 3 (756 Kb)
Bannister Interview Part 4 (363Kb)

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Friday, June 06, 2003

Is it Friday already? Well in that case I'd better nominate the new Amputee of the Week.

What is it with one-legged Canadians? A couple of weeks ago it was Quebecker and flesh-eating bug victim Lucien Bouchard who hopped his way into the hall of fame and this week it's the Canadian uniped who just wouldn't stop running -- Terry Fox.

Terry Fox was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. In 1977, at the age of 18, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and forced to have his right leg amputated six inches above the knee.

In 1980, after more than a year of training, Fox began his "Marathon of Hope" -- a run across Canada to raise funds for cancer research.

Averaging 26 miles per day, he ran for 143 days. On September 1st 1980, Fox felt sharp pains in his chest. The cancer he he thought he had conquered had spread to his lungs. He returned to Vancouver for treatment but died June 28th 1981, one day before his 23rd birthday.

Although he did not complete his marathon, Fox raised more than CAN$24 million for cancer research. To date, almost $300 million has been raised for cancer research in his name.

For refusing to listen to people who said he deserved a nice quiet sit down....Terry Fox is this week's Amputee of the Week.

The Terry Fox Humanitarian Award Program
The Terry Fox Foundation

Nominations for a future AOTW are most welcome...

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

And the winners of the 2003 S.A. Brains Media Pub Quiz are....the BBC!

Our team saw off the challenge from The Western Mail, South Wales Echo, Golley Slater PR and The South Wales Argus.

Our secret weapon? My Palm Tungsten PDA, with Bluetooth internet access! It's not cheating -- I was just harnessing new technology.

And I discovered another use for our trophy.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Thursday, June 05, 2003

A packet of photos arrives from Jim, including this one of the spot in Afjeh where Kaveh is buried. The gravestone reads "Kaveh Golestan, 1329 - 1382. Killed while recording the truth." It's a reference to Kav's Channel Four documentary on press freedom in Iran, also called "Recording the Truth" and is a simple but fitting tribute.

I've also just come across a number of touching obituaries from Iranian colleagues and friends that I hadn't read before:
Farnaz Fassihi: Crossing The Border
Goudarz Eghtedari: Finding Kaveh
Shirin Sadeghi: Sunset in Golestan

The articles also include links to some examples of Kaveh's work. As Time magazine's Kate Brooks is quoted as saying in Farnaz Fassihi's obit: "Why him, why him? He was the nicest and sweetest person here."

I'm proud and honoured to have worked with him.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

This week's News Online diary has been published here.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

What are the skills needed to bring about peace in the Middle East?

Patient diplomacy? Gentle persuasion? Tough talking and hard bargaining?

Or how about a complete lack of understanding of the subject?

On the Aqaba Summit, The Guardian has the following to say about President Bush's grasp of the issues involved:
"Old hands in the diplomatic service, say the President knows almost nothing about the intricacies of the conflict. Nor does he show any sign of wanting to learn.....Snatches of presidential conversation that creep into the American media suggest Mr Bush sees naivete as an advantage that will allow him to cut through the bickering to core issues."

Ignorance as a diplomatic trump card, eh? An interesting strategy.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Long overdue fame for Jo and Martin, who have been featured in the Bristol Evening Post and Gloucestershire's finest, the Western Daily Press!

If you want to scare the children, here's the original cutting from the Western Daily Press. Apologies for the grease stain on the right hand side, which comes courtesy of my Auntie Angela!

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

What's bothering me right now isn't the loss of my foot. I'm slowly getting used to that.

It's the fact that the smallest thing seems to take an age.

If I want to get from the bottom of the stairs I have to shuffle up on my knees or backside.

If I want to get to the car I have to negotiate my way outside on crutches and stuff my wheelchair into the boot.

If I want to travel just a few hundred yards I have to negotiate sloping pavements and steep curbs in my chair.

The simplest task is now a major undertaking. It's exhausting.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

My dad of all people has suggested that in this picture Aileen looks like she's had both her legs amputated at the knees.

By God, he's right!

She always has to go one better.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

I'm turning into a disabled parking bay zealot and I'm becoming every bit as unbearable as an ex-smoker or an evangelical fitness fanatic.

OK, OK....I admit that before my accident I did occasionally sneak into disabled spaces because they were closer to the shops and were often empty anyway. Where's the harm in that?

Now, though, the sight of a row of cars -- none of them displaying blue badges -- filling up the wheelchair bays sends me into an uncontrollable rage.

While I was at the hospital the other day I saw an advert for a range of calling cards bearing sarcastic messages which can be placed under the windscreen wipers of offending vehicles. I'm tempted to buy a pack. If I don't I'm going to end up smashing someone's car to pieces with my crutches.

Physiotherapy? It's anger management classes I need.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Monday, June 02, 2003

The day when I resume life on two feet is getting tantalisingly close.

On my return to Cardiff this afternoon I had an appointment with my prosthetist, Ian, who works for Blatchford.

He wrapped Mr Stumpy in cling film before covering him with strips of fabric and plaster of paris, which he kneaded and shaped around my leg. The result was an exact plaster mould of my stump, which Ian will use to make the socket onto which my artificial leg will be attached.

He even gave me a choice of colours. Apparently black legs are very much in vogue at the moment. Thankfully, though, Ian is no Henry Ford and didn't say I could have any colour I wanted as long as it was black. Being an old fashioned kind of guy I decided to stick with the more conservative pinky flesh coloured option.

If there are no hold ups or unforeseen problems my very first leg will be ready for a test drive next Monday.

Ian’s warned me it won’t be the world’s most aesthetically pleasing leg. Mr S’s circumference at the bottom is still 4 centimetres wider than the area just below my knee, meaning that Artificial Leg Version 1.0 is going to be a fairly bulky specimen. Hopefully a lot of the muscle bulk will reduce once I start exercising the leg.

Frankly I don’t care how big the prosthesis is. I just want to be able to walk again.

Picture: Casting 1
Picture: Casting 2

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Hey.....How come this guy's walking with his prosthetic leg already and I'm not?

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Don't be misled.

On the message board, Colleen draws attention to the Observer article on cluster bombs.

The campaign group Landmine Action in particular is making a big song and dance about the use of cluster bombs by US and British forces.

Unexploded bomblets are dangerous. However, the statistics gathered by MAG (collected by field teams who are actually doing the dirty work of trying to clear minefields) show clearly that the overwhelming majority of deaths and injuries in Iraq since the war have been caused by landmines and UXO -- not cluster bombs.

Note that the map published by the Observer highlights areas blighted by ANY form of live munition -- not just cluster bombs.

Cluster bombs are just a tiny part of a much bigger and more serious problem -- that of the millions of landmines and stockpiles of UXO now littering Iraq.

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"

Here's a cutting I've been meaning to post up for weeks.

It's from the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, which -- in the search for an angle -- seized on my Catholic upbringing, even though I don't think I've been to mass for at least a decade (for which I'll no doubt burn in hell for all eternity.)

Read the opening sentence carefully. I stepped on a what?

Dammit, who put that stately home there? It's just blown my foot off.

Cutting: Tablet Notebook, 26th April 2003

Discuss "Beyond Northern Iraq"