Too Soon to Speculate: thoughts on Grenfell Tower Fire

What a brilliant article by my friend Kirsty, and what chilling reading the blog of the Grenfell Action Group makes. (Linked from the “raised again and again….”) Clearly, there has been a problem for a long time, and there is still a problem with other tower blocks. No money to cure the problem? Tough – We have to find the funding! What a great community spirit has been displayed in the aftermath, with no regard to race, colour, religion or gender.
Whether you have a faith, or none, pray that you never have to experience what those fellow human beings have had to endure, and what they have to live with for ever!

kirstwrites

Sometimes you can watch the TV news unfold its daily horrors and let it just wash over you; at other times the sheer awfulness leaves you breathless, heartsick, overwhelmed. Today is one of those other days. It’s been difficult to concentrate at work today, flicking back to the news websites every so often with a pounding heart. If this is how I’m feeling, a comfortable 200 miles away from Grenfell Tower, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for those personally affected.

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The little sods from the !st Monchen Gladbach Scout Troop

Read this fantastic story of Scouting of yesteryear told by John. He is now retired, both from stealing from the Tuck Shop, and from his legal duties. He can still sing the old scouting songs though!

Broadsides

scouts-threeIt must have been the summer of 1961. Certainly before the Beatles. The music that year was all Dean Martin and the Drifters, or itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini.* And I recall being in love with a girl in the 4th form at Queens’s school in Rheindalen, Carol, and constantly singing a song to her called “Oh Carol”.** And there was Elvis of course. Anyway, I was in the boy scouts then. Moved on I had from the cubs, left behind all that Akela and dib dib, dib, dob, dob, dob stuff. Cubs had sixers in charge. I had been a sixer when a cub. Born to command I was. Now, in that summer of ’61, I had graduated to the scouts and I was quickly made a Patrol leader. Sometimes I even wore long trousers.

They would meet once a week, Wednesday evening…

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Leave it Jezza, it’s not worth it!

Kirsty, one of the few blogging friends that I know IRL, has a few views about politics. She gave up soaps some time ago. Now she plans to give up politics……..well, almost!

kirstwrites

Several years ago I remember waking up in a cold sweat after a nightmare about EastEnders. I think it was about Sonia Fowler – that sweet brainy trumpet-playing girl who fell in love with bad boy Martin after he’d accidentally killed her lovely previous boyfriend, then didn’t realise she was pregnant until she went into labour, gave the baby up for adoption but then had a breakdown and kidnapped the child back. 

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I’ve never wished that I wasn’t a woman. 

A powerful piece of writing from a young lady who is worth far more than all the misogynist, childish, and ignorant bullies who hide their own insecurities behind group bravado. Please do like, and comment, on the original post.

Emily Speaks

I’ve never wished that I wasn’t a woman. Not once. I’ve never envied a man or wanted to be anyone else. I’ve always felt valued and equal to my male friends, never an object or something insignificant or worthless. I’ve never felt scared to walk down a street, as a woman. I’ve never felt like my gender defined who I am or what I’ve done. I like to break the mould, the stereotype; be different and be myself. As a woman, I’ve always stood tall. I’ve always felt proud and strong.

I’ve never wished that I wasn’t a woman, until recently. Until I was jeered at by a group of men, as I walked past them. Until two men stood in front of me and my friend and wanted to tell us (and probably show us) “all the things I’d do to you”. Until I was made to feel like…

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The farmer, the puppy and the little boy 

A lovely tale here from Jack Fussell. There’s plenty more where this came from. Go have a look!

Fighting Alzheimer's

A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He painted a sign advertising the 4 pups, and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his yard.
As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt tug on his overalls.
He looked down into the eyes of a little boy.
“Mister,” he said, “I want to buy one of your puppies.”
“Well,” said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat of the back of his neck, “these puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money.”
The boy dropped his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket,

he pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer. “I’ve

got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?”
“Sure,” said the farmer. And with that he let out a whistle. “Here Dolly!” he…

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My life#10 – The Army – A wife’s view

“The Army” series, came about through my Niece, Penny, requesting some information on my Army days. She was doing some sort of project that required a “behind the scenes” view of military life, so I started to jot things down.

I got a little carried away!

My wife was also asked for her views and this is what she wrote

For more like this click on the Tag “My Life”.

Dear Penny

Peter seems to be writing his autobiography for you so, as I “only” had 20 years experience of coping with separation, I have tackled it in a different way.

To put my feelings into context, separation in all its forms is extremely hard, but I learned to use coping strategies and also became almost a different person i.e. putting on armour or another character to deal with house moves and arrogant officials.

The whole experience has made me a different, stronger, and more confident person, at least on the surface. You learn to hide your vulnerabilities to enable you to succeed.

The other factor is that I have a wonderfully supportive, and very loving husband who endured my tears of temper and frustration, and many bouts of haranguing, against the almost incomprehensible military system.

I also had a very loving family who sustained Claire and I with letters, phone calls, visits, and parcels. Sadly many have now passed away or, like Mum, moved into a world not accessible to us, although still with us. We owe them a huge debt.

Effects of Separation

Feelings of Isolation

A move to a strange country with a different language is a huge challenge but add into the mix the addition of a 3 month old baby and a husband who went away 3 days after arrival makes the situation very difficult.

Exercise is a military term for practising war manoeuvres and is not without its dangers. There are deaths and injuries but during our time there was no communication with families and so the rumour mill was rife which added to anxiety levels.

I also suffered from severe post natal depression and the “cure” advised by the Doctor was to get out with my baby and walk. This I did religiously almost obsessively and never had a weight problem.

I also missed my family. It wasn’t easy to phone then. No mobile phone to hand or even a land line for many years.

Anxiety

Separation increases feelings of anxiety so every small cough sniffle from the baby intensifies the normal fears of the new mother. This carries on when the child is older and away at school and causes feelings of helplessness.

Integration

I am neither an extrovert nor social person so to make friends was a challenge. As Claire went to kindergarten, and school, friendships formed via the school gate, but only one has remained a long standing friendship. I would enjoy talking to people, but I had nothing in common with most, plus the Army is quite a hierarchical society and I was betwixt and between officers and the rest. I spoke and acted like an Officer’s wife but Peter was not an officer. I ended up doing my own thing which proved very useful once I was in a managerial position.

I made a valiant effort at first to attend the “Wives Club” and became the Secretary etc but once Claire was at Boarding School I stopped going.

Hardship and fears

External stressful situations intensified the feeling of loss during separations. These included terrorist threats in Germany and Cyprus. These were very real, and resulted in the threat alert being raised to red, and lock down situations in the housing areas. The children were guarded on school buses and sentries were posted at all school entrances. Cars were thoroughly checked before driving away.

You will have seen this on news reports but we were subjected to these scenarios for years.

Ireland of course was extremely tense and we lived inside a fortified camp. You had to be very aware when you went to town but it is extremely difficult to disguise the fact that you are English.

Life appeared normal but once you returned to the UK you realised how great the tensions had become.

The Hebrides although a glorious place, and in many ways a wonderful posting, during the extreme weather the hardship was intense. Power cuts were frequent, and lengthy and, as the house was heated by electricity, as was cooking, this was a huge problem. Peter would ensure that we had paraffin for our heater before going to St Kilda but as he was away for 6/8 weeks at a time stocks could run out and if the weather was severe it was both impossible to travel for supplies or, in the worst case scenarios, for the supplies to reach the islands.

Boarding School

This is an area of great anguish and so I will only reveal superficial feelings.

Anger, huge loss, desperation and sorrow are some of the feelings. Guilt is perhaps the greatest and I am not sure I have forgiven myself. School is only referred to fleetingly now as it brings back too many painful memories for all of us.

It was necessary for Claire’s education due to Peter’s many postings but was a very painful experience that Claire will not discuss.

I have to be honest and say my initial scribbling were more open and frank but I found that it had distressed me immensely so I have curtailed the official report. I suppose that is the real effect of separation – effects go deep and never really disappear, they are only hidden under a myriad of self protection

Love Erica

My life#9 – The Army – (A précis of 28 years)

“The Army” series, came about through my Niece, Penny, requesting some information on my Army days. She was doing some sort of project that required a “behind the scenes” view of military life, so I started to jot things down.

I got a little carried away!

I am offering these jottings exactly as originally presented, the only changes being the introduction of badges, where appropriate, and occasional comments, shown in blue.

For more like this click on the Tag “My Life”.

 

And so Penny, in no particular order, some points that I consider may be pertinent to your project and my apologies for anything you consider in too bad taste.

The Army have always had a call out procedure for rapid deployment. In Germany, during The Cold War, we always had to have our kit packed and ready to go at a moments notice. There were regular tests of this and no thought was given to what effect this had on families (quite naturally as the Russians would not have given notice!). We were called out and did not know where we were going or for how long. Rumours were rife amongst the families and they soon got to know of any injury or death that occurred. (No mobile phones, no iPads, Laptops, WiFi then)

Exercises, training, and detachments away from home are always difficult. It is fairly easy for most soldiers as they change into squaddie mode, get on with the job, and do not do a great deal of thinking, if any, about what they’ve left behind. For the families it is quite different. They are abandoned, in a foreign country, with strange money, strange language etc even though the “powers that be” set up Wives Clubs and the like.

I remember, vividly, taking Claire to the airport at the start of her second term at boarding school. I had to push her, crying, into the departure lounge and watch her disappear in tears. My natural inclination was to hug her and take her back home. It still hurts!

Many more boarding school memories. All of them painful. However, Claire’s education would have been so disjointed had she not decided to attend Ockbrook.

Boarding Schools tend to be very class based establishments and it was only the fact that I was in the highest paid trade group that enabled us to afford to send Claire. She would have experienced quite a large amount of “us and them” as youngsters can be worse than adults in that respect! The majority of non commissioned service families had to accept education at Service schools and a move of school every time their father was posted.

There were a lot of mistaken beliefs that Army families had all sorts of freebies and benefits. In fact, there was quite a bit of hardship, especially amongst the lower ranks. At one stage, in Germany, all Corporals and below were on benefits because they were so poorly paid. If you imagine a young wife, in a foreign country, often with young children, no family nearby, no mobile phones, not even a home phone, no computers, no English language television (Claire used to watch Sesame Street in German!), no credit cards, husband away on exercise, you may begin to understand how difficult it could be.

When we first married the means of getting personal possessions around the world was called MFO (Military Freight Organisation). Everything had to fit into standard size boxes, 1m x 05 x 0.5. We started off with 5 boxes. The quarter (house or flat) at that stage came with everything you needed to live. Furniture, bedding, crockery, cutlery, kitchen ware, brushes, mops etc. You had one room with a square of carpet, and a few mats. In later years you were given 2 carpets and, later still, they started to fit carpets. If you were a Warrant Officer, or Officer, you had a bookcase! We had to store away anything that we did not wish to use and, very much later we could stipulate that we have an unfurnished quarter that came with carpets and cooker.

After a year and a half we moved with 10 boxes. Next time 22. White goods had to be crated and normally ended up being damaged. The process of packing up was extra stressful. One room of the flat or house gradually filled with boxes and you had fewer and fewer things to live your life. Meanwhile the house had to be prepared for “march out” where it was inspected and had to be handed over in perfect condition. Any deviation from perfect had to be paid for – decoration needed, stains on carpets, bedding, damages of any kind. (Imagine trying to restore your cooker/hob to pristine condition. Not only did we try, we succeeded.)

Meanwhile, back with the mother and child (ren). The family had to move. If there was no quarter available in the new post then there were 2 options. Either, the soldier moved to his new post and family stayed in old quarter until one was available, or, family went to mother’s until new quarter available. More stressful separation!

Moving a family by plane, boat or car, with sufficient clothes and supplies to last until you have set up home again is no mean feat. Babies and small children do not find travel exciting and stress ensues. Feeds, nappies, wipes, prams, pushchairs, clothes, drinks, all have to be catered for. A customs official wanting to look in every case, bag, and box whilst your baby turns purple, being desperately in need of a nappy change, and having endured a bumpy landing, is not the way to start a new posting! (We know from bitter experience. First in to customs, last out……with a 6 week old baby.)

Army humour is unique and tends to stem from the unspoken thought that you may not be around long and that you have to make the most of what you have now. The classic story that lots of individuals claim to have witnessed, or said, following an explosion.

“Help me, I’ve lost my leg!”

“No you haven’t mate, it’s over there………”

A regular question from one to another when an exercise or tour of duty away from home is coming to an end.

“What’s the second thing you’re going to do when you get home?”

The answer, of course, is “Take my boots off”

The transition back from squaddie to husband and father is not always a smooth one. The smelly, dirty individual, arriving at the front door is intent on getting clean, getting fed and getting to bed. The child (ren) want to tell Daddy all about what they’ve done, how they’ve grown, stories to be told. The wife wants to tell her husband all about what has happened while he’s been away, she needs a few odd jobs sorted and does not appreciate all the dirty washing and dirty stains on carpets, seats etc.

While away, even for a short time, each partner moves into a solitary lifestyle and copes as best they can. Back together, they must re learn, each time, how to live as a family again. Apart, the wife may be a very effective head of family, taking independent decisions, sorting out problems, coping with crises. Together she takes on the role of allowing the husband to take those decisions, sort those problems and handle the crises. This can often create very real resentment that their own life has been yet again disturbed. This is not a mould for everyone because everyone handles their own situation in their own particular way.

We always made a home as soon as possible after arriving in a house. We put up pictures, we used our own possessions right from the start. We even carried a huge carpet around a few homes. We made a garden whenever we could, nearly always from scratch. We spent a deal of money over the years on these and on curtains, nets, cushions, furniture that fitted one house but not the next, anything to make our nest more homely.

 

I think it is probably time to call a halt now. I’m sure that there is lots more I could say. I consider myself extremely fortunate that, not only did I have an interesting, fulfilling, and at times, exciting career, I had, and have, a supportive wife and daughter to help me along.

 

General thoughts:

 

  • Army life is often an unreal existence. Soldiers are trained to react instantly without questioning and consequences are left for later
  • Mental health problems, alcohol problems, violent behaviour, are all more prevalent amongst service personnel, particularly army
  • A lot of young (and older) men and women see, and experience, things in army life that they would prefer not to
  • Winston Churchill suffered from “black dog” bouts of depression. Could it be as a result of all the horrors he witnessed as a soldier in India, the Sudan and South Africa and as a correspondent in warfare?
  • Is modern reporting a help or hindrance to modern soldiering? We have a Rambo type hero worship and exposure of extremely vulnerable young people. Perhaps we do need more exposure so that more people can see the futility of fighting!
  • As a nation we hide death away and we have tended to pretend that disability and mutilation do not really exist. We are now (I originally wrote “being confronted with”) being reminded daily that limbless and disfigured individuals are part of life, as are mental health problems, abuse problems and the like, and that death is very much a part of life. (Though we are still not very good at it!)