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How much more vivid it could have been, dammit.
on 9 February 2012
This is an extraordinary story. But the writing is dreadful - which is a great pity because Simon Mann is undoubtedly one of Britain's foremost military entrepreneurs, greater even than Mike Hoare of Congo fame.
There is a penchant for lots of short, sharp sentences bundled together. Like this. Tap-tap. All staccato. In a single paragraph. To give a sense of pace. Obviously. This is OK but it needs leavening with a copywriter's artifice to make the passages flow. It is odd that his literary agent and publisher didn't do something about this. And the chronology is muddled. Thus the book is robbed of both clarity and impact. How much more vivid it could have been, dammit.
But if you like the genre, stick with it because the content saves the book. Just about. I am filled with admiration for his sense of high-risk adventure. A buccaneer on the side of the angels - more or less. I am still not completely clear as to why he didn't abort the effort on Equatorial Guinea but I guess that when you perceive that you have powerful organs of state - or states in this case - backing you, albeit implicitly, and a project gathers momentum, you pass the tipping point so there's no turning back.
Moreover, the book provides a lot of history; it is about rather more than the Equatorial Guinea debacle and some successes add a positive note to the concluding disaster.
I found his description of his time in captivity quite harrowing. Interestingly, it seems his spell in E Guinean jails was less awful than that in Zimbabwean hell-holes. Ghastly. One salutes him for coping with five and a half years' incarceration with considerable resourcefulness as well as mental resilience. And he writes movingly about his release.
Two small asides. I was amused that he mentioned how bad Khyber safety matches, made in Pakistan, performed when he was in clink in Zim. I have a box in front of me that I bought at Gandamak Lodge, a hotel in Kabul run by a friend of mine. Well, if you drag the match-head across the striker bar gently at thirty degrees, then they are sure-fire. Secondly, to suggest that Aegis is the most successful private military company is less than impartial. But I understand why he said it.
Anyway, it is easy to judge. What we do means more about us than what we say. And as Sir Winston Churchill said, `When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.' Britain is better with people like Simon Mann than without him. I mean, real Britain - whatever there is left of it.
I wonder what he will do next? Bon chance!
Lastly, in case anyone rushes away with the thought that joining a private security company must be a great idea they should bear in mind that although there are undoubtedly outstanding people in the business, these days there is also more than a sprinkling of self-regarding braggarts bloated with a grossly inflated sense of their own abilities. The latter's world is one where loyalty is a rare commodity. Some clients are not exactly as pure as the driven snow, either.