So last weekend I was driving a tank. As you do. And a few things struck me. Not literally, like bombs, or grenades, or mortar shells. I’m a lover, not a fighter, and the tank driving was purely for the experience of doing something I wouldn’t normally do. The ‘Jessica’ on the tank refers to the tank’s name (yes, they name their tanks), not me. Though I do answer to the term ‘Jessie’.
So this tank business. It’s all very butch. And the inside of the tank is filthy (as,actually, its the muddy outside). Somewhere in my mind, I thought they’d valet it to make it all clean. We had to wear the most unflattering jumpsuits – vaguely camouflage design, but there aren’t many places to hide in a Leicestershire farm field occupied by a herd of domestic cows and a handful of military vehicles. Certainly nowhere to hide a tank.
A couple of friends who’ve seen pictures have commented that I ‘wear a tank well’. Strangely, I agree with them. Which is a bit disappointing – I can’t camp up the machismo size and context of a tank. It consumes you, so you have to become part of this military machine.
So there was me, a woman I didn’t know who was part of the same group, and the instructor who told us we could call him ‘Big G’. I don’t think so. He gave us a spiel which included a lot of statistics on the tank’s weight, what it did, how fast it went – all of which went over my head. He said, almost proudly, that it was the type of tank used in Afghanistan. I wasn’t proud, or impressed, having taken part in many anti-war protests. If anything, the enormity and ‘in-humannesss’ of the tank – its ‘dalekness’ – made me feel distinctly uncomfortable, even in a farmer’s field in Leicestershire.
We went round the field twice each – first time round looking out of the turret, the second time with the cover down so that we could only look out of a pillar-box viewing slit. Much more difficult, and much more Dalek-like. My co-driver declined to have the cover shut her in, but she did manage to reverse park the thing, thanks to instructions from ‘Big G’.
We got the opportunity to buy some pictures taken on our way round (£20 for a disc of around 100 pics), and then to look round the other armoured vehicles on show. Some of The Guys were terribly interested in all that – but it just seemed like big cars to me, and I’d already played with the biggest.
Meanwhile, in another part of my life, I’ve been helping with online research for Macmillan. One of the questions was around the language used in illness, and how useful it is. This followed a conversation I had with a lesbian feminist friend I’d had after seeing the film Pride which had prompted us to look at the langiage of struggle and, partifularly, the domination of militaristic language, and how a friend of hers was ‘battling cancer’ but had no lnaguage to expeess how she really felt. it turns out those of us who have had cancer aren’t all that keen on the whole ‘battle/fight’ analogies – and why would we? Who wants to be at war with their own body? Susan Sontag identified the importance of language and metaphor around illness, and AIDS taught me the importance of reclaiming terms like ‘victim’ or ‘sufferer’, ‘fighting’ and ‘losing the battle’.
I’m a lover, not a fighter.
Somewhere in my online response around illness imagery, I waffled about positive imagery, and recognising that, whatever the illness, the body does its best. I do my best – I’m not separate from my immune system, or a broken heart, or a tumorous testicle. I don’t want to fight my body, I don’t want to see it as my enemy, or to hate what it becomes or how it changes. In a previous post, I referred to my favourite book of the moment, The Wounded Storyteller by Arthur Frank, which describes the struggle of a person designated ‘ill’ to own their narrative, and come to terms with ‘the diminished self’. That may be a struggle, but it’s not a fight, or a war, which we’re in danger of ‘losing’. It’s an experience, which is what it is – sometimes up, sometimes down.
We’re living in peacetime but in a time of war – Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Ukraine, Gaza, an Ebola Crisis, a ‘war’ on ‘terror’, the challenges of climate change…You can add to the list, I’m sure. But let’s not make ourselves victims, and let’s not wage war on ourselves. Let’s not become the enemy, or the battleground.
My friends were right. I wear a tank well. But I choose not to. I don’t drive with the lid down, and with my view restricted.
But you can still call me Jessie.