We're part of a team building pubs and cafes for the armed forces. Most of Image Decorations' work in the UK is on shopfitting and leisure projects. For the work in Iraq we have to price the job in the UK, work out what materials we need to do it, then we ship all the materials we need out to Iraq in a container.
How long have you worked in Iraq?
I've been here on and off since November. I'm here for another 10 days then I'm home for a bit but I'll be back in March for another six-week stint. It's alright here.
Where in Iraq are you working?
At the moment we're decorating a cafe that has just been built for the army in Saddam's old palace in Basra. The palace is beautiful with a lake, with catfish in it, surrounded by palm trees. We live in a tent in the grounds and eat all our meals in the palace. Sometimes you have the tent to yourself; sometimes you end up having to share it with 15 guys from the army, it just depends who's at the base. Basra is a hole – it has been destroyed and it stinks. We drove through it the other day in an armed convoy.
What is a typical day like?
We usually start about 7.30 in the morning and work through to about 12 when it starts getting hot. We'll break for a couple of hours then work through to 7pm. It's a long day. In the evening there's not a lot to do so we usually end up watching sport on the telly. In the camp where we worked in Shaibah before we came here, we built a pub just so you could actually get a drink in the evenings – we were treated like gods on that camp! The only time we have time off is when we catch up with the joiners – maybe then we'll have half a day off to let them get ahead of us again.
What do you like about working in Iraq?
[Shouting to make himself heard above the noise of an army helicopter landing at the base] The weather and the craic. I'm standing here talking to you in a vest and shorts – you couldn't do that in Sheffield at this time of year. The weather's changing at the moment, it's getting hotter – some of the lads that were here last year say temperatures can reach 50°C in June. One thing you have to do is drink a lot of water – we've been told to drink at least five litres of salty water a day. There are a lot of other lads here from all around the world – we've worked with Australians, Ukranians and Iraqis – it's a good craic. In Shaibah we worked with five Iraqis. They were decent lads; they hated Saddam Hussein as much as we did. They got about $2 a day, which is about 20 times what they'd have got working outside the base – they were pretty happy about that. The worst thing about being here is getting diarrhoea …
When you started as a painter–decorator did you ever think you'd work in Iraq?
Not in a million years. I'm 34. I left school when I was 17 and trained as a painter and decorator. As well as Iraq, I've worked in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on the same kind of work – putting up pubs and cafes for the army. I preferred working in Bosnia because you were allowed to go off camp so you could get to see the place – here it's too risky.
Are you worried about security?
No. It's safe enough on the bases. Whenever we have to move to another base we always travel in convoy with an armed guard at the front and back of the convoy. But every night you can hear gunfire – we're told it's just a wedding taking place but you still wonder where the bullets will land …
Would you do it again?
I volunteered for this. I'd have volunteered for a job Image has got coming up in the Falklands soon, but I'll be back in Iraq when that one starts. Actually, I'd prefer to be in Iraq – it's warmer! I had a look at the weather the other day, and it's –12°C in the Falklands at the moment. I'm based in Sheffield but Image Decorations do a lot of work in London so I'm used to working away from home. I don't mind where I work – I'll volunteer for anything that comes along.
Name Richard Beasley
Employment history Painter and decorator since leaving school at the age of 17.
Currently working for Image Decorations in Sheffield. Has worked in Bosnia and Belfast
Qualifications Undertook an apprenticeship when first started Lives Usually Sheffield – but currently in a tent in Saddam Hussein’s back garden in Basra, Iraq