Very, very occasionally I moan about my lot in life: Work is shit, they don’t understand/rate/like me (delete where applicable), my pc is on the Fritz, the boss is an arsehole etc etc. You may go through similar periods of woe-is-me yourself. Then every so often something happens which puts it all into perspective. On Sunday morning I got the call that an old mate of mine, Phil Coburn had suffered horrific injuries while doing his job in Afghanistan.
He was caught up in in a blast which killed his friend and colleague, reporter Rupert Hamer while they were embedded with the US Army in Helmand province. He is described as being in a ‘serious but stable’ condition in a Birmingham hospital. He escaped with his life but at a great cost.
Phil and I worked and drank together at The Telegraph many moons ago, and were the opening bowlers of the stick-yer-job-up-yer-arse XI most evenings in the pub after work. He was then a junior photographer, I was a junior picture editor. We moaned and we drank and we moaned some more and drank some more. He in his dark, Northern Irish brogue, and me in my North Kent nasally lilt.
I suspect we got on cos we were as miserable as each other, but could see the ridiculous in most anything. We often were at each other’s throats, then buying rounds for each other in the next breath. Work was the common enemy, or rather the people we worked with. After a night of this we went home to bed and started afresh the next morning.
After serving our apprenticeships on the paper we went our different ways, I went off to warm offices to get moaned at, Phil off to trenches to get shot at, in the name of journalism. We occasionally bumped into each other on jobs, or more often-than-not funerals and leaving dos. He was the star of my leaving do from The Telegraph: a beer-soaked 24 hour boat-trip piss-up to France where he entertained us with his moans and his hilarious gallows humour about life and work. He is a very funny bloke, that is when he’s not calling you a useless cnt.
So the next time you stand next to me in a pub and hear me moan about my current employer, or my horrid journey to work or the lack of lemons in the boozer, please feel free to tell me to fuck off: I have little to moan about. And it’ll be as if Phil were standing next to me.
Good luck, Phil, and hoping to see you in the pub sharpish. It’s your round, anyway.
Another moaning old bastard from that Telegraph drinking team, now in The Gulf, puts it this way:
The war in Afghanistan seems a million miles from Abu Dhabi – and a few million more from we here in London.
Yet, early on Sunday morning, the bloody conflict pierced the very heart of my home.
Michael Smith, an old friend and the defence editor of the Sunday Times, rang my mobile. “Phil Coburn has lost part of his leg in an explosion in Afghanistan,” he said. “Rupert Hamer (defence correspondent on the Sunday Mirror) has been killed.”
I did not know Hamer, a 39-year-old father of three. But photographer Coburn and myself have been close for the best part of 20 years. To be frank, our off-duty antics have prompted bartenders’ eyebrows to be raised in drinking establishments across the world.
When we were both working in New York, our impromptu line-dancing performances at our favourite and oft-frequented Manhattan bar became the stuff of legend. Or so we liked to tell ourselves.
We have come through the odd bombing in Northern Ireland together, been scared witless by an exploding volcano in Montserrat and been moved to tears by the teenagers of Columbine High as they recounted the horror of the massacre there.
I was the first to know he had fallen in love with Alison Roberts – a fellow journalist and now the mother of Joe, their three-year-old son – and, as usual, he was the last to leave my silver wedding celebrations a couple of years ago.
And today he is lying in the acute ward of Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, where the UK’s military trauma cases are treated, one leg shattered and the other missing below the knee.
Phil, a 43-year-old Ulsterman, and Rupert Hamer had been embedded with the US Marine Corps since the New Year. On Saturday, the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb near Nawa in Helmand Province.
Rupert and a US marine died instantly. Phil and five other marines sustained serious injuries.
Both journalists were experienced Afghanistan hands, each having made several trips there previously. Invariably, when Phil returned from his other trips he would moan that his newspaper had “thrown my pictures away”, only using one of them on a piece on page 28 or some-such.
We would smile indulgently. It is a prerequisite of journalism that, whatever a newspaper editor does with your story or picture, it becomes a source of bitter complaint.
And Phil could have had earned himself a master’s degree in complaining. I recall him moaning to me once – during an assignment in the Caribbean, as we were stretched out on loungers beside a sun-drenched pool, large rum and dry gingers at out side – that he was “really fed up because I haven’t had a bloody holiday all year”.
When I pointed out the irony of his remark, he grunted, then giggled and then ordered a couple more drinks in a very loud voice.
But behind the sometimes grumpy mask lies what Londoners like to call a “genuine geezer” with a mischievous sense of fun, a devotion towards his family and a quite inexplicable loyalty to Liverpool FC.
Why anyone would want to blow him up is beyond me. Of course, it has always been beyond me, in a disinterested, reasoned sort of way, why anyone would want to kill or maim anyone, in Afghanistan or anywhere else.
Now, though, that violence has become personal. And it hurts.
At least, Phil Coburn escaped with his life, as so many in Afghanistan have not. And, when he is patched up, I have no doubt at all that he will be berating his picture desk, demanding to be sent back there because, after all, it is what he does.
And when he gets back from there next time, I am equally sure that he will moan incessantly about how “the idiots” have, yet again, thrown away his pictures on page 28.
And this from The Mirror.co.uk today
Photographer Phil Coburn, who suffered serious leg injuries in the bomb blast that killed reporter Rupert Hamer, is a war-zone veteran.
Highly regarded throughout the newspaper industry, his bravery and commitment to the job saw him travel to Afghanistan at least five times.
Phil, 43, was in Iraq to cover the allied invasion in 2003 and had returned more than a dozen times since – always with his trusted companion Rupert.
The pair set off for Afghanistan on New Year’s Eve for what was to be a month-long assignment. Phil has a reputation for capturing moving images from the front line.
Mike Sharp, Sunday Mirror picture editor, described him as a “dedicated and passionate photographer” who could always be relied upon to produce great pictures under the harshest conditions.
He said: “Phil is simply an exceptional photojournalist. His personable and charming manner sets everyone around him at ease.
“Journalists, his subjects, and other photographers all remark on his commitment and his ability to relax afterwards – a unique skill which is invaluable in conflict areas.
“His dry, often deadpan humour has helped him escape some tricky situations.”
Phil lives in north London with his partner Alison Roberts and their young son Joe. He is due to be flown home today for treatment at Birmingham’s Selly Oak hospital.
Although critically wounded, he is expected to pull through.
Phil has worked for the Sunday Mirror for eight years.
He trained as a photographer in his native Belfast.
He spent several years living in New York as a freelance for American picture agencies before returning to the UK where he also spent some time working for the Daily Telegraph. Colleagues and friends last night hailed him as a consummate professional with a natural talent for the job.
His impressive portfolio includes images of British troops burning a massive heroin haul found in Taliban compounds.
He captured soldiers on gruelling, lengthy patrols in the Afghan desert and others as they patrolled downtown Basra in Iraq.
Daily Mirror photographer Roger Allen said: “Phil is a larger than life Irishman with a great sense of humour – a very funny bloke.
“He’s got a great eye for a picture and he works hard and plays hard.”