I heard a soldier on the radio, recently.

He was talking about returning from Afghanistan on leave.

He’d been looking forward to seeing his family and friends.

He wanted to tell them what it was really like.

Walking though hostile country, with a loaded weapon and the safety catch off.

Ready to kill, waiting to be killed.

Walking past parked cars which could explode any second.

Careful not to kick any rocks, in case they were booby-trapped.

Watching for movement behind mounds of dirt or rubble.

So far he’d been lucky.

He’d seen stuff happen to his mates, but not to him.

Limbs blown off by roadside bombs.

Ambushed and killed by groups of terrorists.

Yup, everyone back home would want to hear all about it.

But then he got home and went to the pub to see his mates.

And all anyone wanted to talk about was ‘X Factor’.

And who should win because they had a great voice and a really nice personality.

And who should get kicked off because they were absolutely useless and big headed too.

And which judge kept getting it wrong by voting for the wrong person.

And how Simon Cowell was smart or stupid to overrule the others.

They were taking it so seriously he couldn’t get a word in.

Arguing over it like it was a matter of life and death.

No one was interested in where he’d been.

His reality wasn’t their reality.

Later on he bought a paper, and all over the front page was a footballer who’d been caught shagging a prostitute.

That story ran over the next 8 pages.

There was nothing in there about where he’d just come from.

He turned on the TV news and the main story was some celebrity gossip.

And they interviewed the partner of the celebrity.

And they interviewed the parents of the celebrity.

And they cut to the newsmen gathered outside the home of the celebrity.

And they interviewed some fans of the celebrity.

And everyone seemed to think it was a matter of life and death.

But there was nothing on the news about where he’d just been.

Nothing about his reality.

And he didn’t feel he belonged in this world anymore.

He didn’t think what they talked about in the pub, or in the papers, or on TV, was the real world.

It was some strange parallel universe.

And he couldn’t wait to get back to the real world.

Where everything at least made sense.

Back to his army mates.

He couldn’t believe everyone thought this was the real world.


And everything in it was life-and-death.