Each day out here sparkles with a frenetic uncertainty, a kind of relentless unpredictability that defies planning and never ceases to catch me unawares.

The day broke with the surprise arrival of retired Royal Marine Nick Pounds, an old Helmand hand and my very welcome leave replacement. We crammed the next four weeks of issues and priorities into a rapid-fire chat over steaming mugs of tea as the sunlight crept into the compound.

Children of Musa Qala – constant companions in our work

Before we had a chance to refill the kettle, my radio crackled to life. Nazir, the head of our Afghan team reported the news that a local doctor had been kidnapped by the Taliban while returning from leave in Lashkar Gah. We quickly dispatched several of our local ‘fixers’ into the district centre rush hour to do some digging – things out here are rarely as they seem at first glance.

We hurriedly made our way to the District Governor’s compound for the first gathering of the District Community Council Justice Sub-Committee, as it considered a growing dispute over land between two families from a long troubled and tribally divided village. My hope for a quick resolution receded quickly as the argument grew more heated.

The Director of Education intercepted me as the meeting closed with news that another school had been shut down – the second in as many weeks. Apparently the landlord of the private compound that had served as the classroom had decided that it was no longer profitable. Another issue to be added to the decidedly gloomy state of education in the district.

During a fleeting pause for lunch (chicken fajita has become a personal favourite), the Civil Affairs Team Leader stopped by with an update from the recent chaos caused by an accidental overpayment of one of the Cash For Works programmes – which had instantly sparked spontaneous strikes and angry demands for pay rises across the district centre. (Not that I could blame them)

By this point the day’s schedule was shot to pieces. In our (belated) daily meeting with the District Governor he confessed rather gleefully that he had spent the morning with the Chief of Police on an impromptu – and dangerous – cross country road trip to several villages on the fringes of government control – a far cry from the norm for someone who has stepped out of his office only a handful of times in recent months.

We then scrambled to the top of the base accommodation block to watch an artillery bombardment of Talib positions to the south – staring in silence as distant booms reached our ears and huge plumes of smoke rose from the far off hills.

Before the dust had settled I was called to a hastily convened meeting to discuss plans for hiring local villagers as a private security force to protect ‘critical infrastructure’ beyond the areas of government control, and as a means to repulse nightly raids by the Taliban. A proposal to be treated with care in a region of shifting allegiances such as Musa Qal’eh.

Late afternoon the secure phone rang with the PRT health team wanting to discuss the relative merits of upgrading the local clinic to the standard of a district hospital. Given the challenges of getting supplies into this remote northern district, I remain wary about such an investment.

As the sun set behind the bleached mountains, I stole a quick half-hour to play volleyball on the HLZ (Helicopter Landing Zone). We were forced to pause every few minutes as aircraft shuttled Marines and supplies in and out of the district.

We gathered in the office at nightfall for a brief presentation by our local team on the economic impact on the local bazaar of a recent three-day ‘blockade’ of the district centre by insurgents in the south – in which commercial vehicles were forced at gunpoint to drive their goods instead to Taliban controlled markets, causing huge spikes in the prices of basic products. Here their reach is never too far away.

After a short evening meal (chilli macaroni washed down with Gatorade), I met with our close protection team to discuss plans for the ‘winterisation’ of our compound – a recent downpour had proved an alarming warning of what was in store for us as the new year wet season closes in. Im thinking of thigh waders and thermal gloves.

In the nightly Operations Brief, I learned that the following day we would be hosting a group of senior French officers on a lesson-learning tour of Helmand. I would need to prepare a presentation on the Politics and Governance of Musa Qal’eh for eight am the next morning.

No place for complacency out here. Or rest it seems.