A conversation not to be forgotten!

Today I was working in the front garden. I was digging out Grape Hyacinths and Bluebells that are always threatening to overtake every other plant.

A lady stopped to pass the time of day.  She lives fairly close by and I see her often, and wave. Occasionally we have a brief chat.

Today, she greeted me with, “Oh, I didn’t realise that you lived there, so close to me!” She told me that she was Secretary of the local Allotment Society, and how busy that kept her. She also informed me that she had a pacemaker fitted, and how it had given her a new lease of life.

The conversation progressed along traditional lines and then she set off to continue her journey home.

I did not let on that we had had an identical conversation last time she passed by when I was gardening at the front, almost at the same spot.

As she left I said, “I’m Peter by the way!”

She reminded me of her name.

For the life of me, I cannot remember what it is!!

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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!)

My Life #3-Recycling newspaper!

I suddenly had this horrible thought. (Here I must warn readers that I am renowned amongst my close friends for openly discussing bodily functions.)

Having said, in My Life #2, that our house did not have a bathroom, I suddenly remembered that some, if not all, of my American readers will have read that as “there was no loo/toilet/lavatory”. Shock, horror. What on earth did they do?

What I omitted to say was that the lavatory, as we called it, was out of the back door and turn right. It wasn’t quite an outside loo, but it may as well have been, as it was situated in an open porch, with the coal shed forming the third side.

We definitely did not linger! The cistern was a high level one that froze in winter. The toilet had a wooden seat. The door had gaps at the top and bottom, presumably for ventilation. This was most definitely not required.

On the back of the door was a large nail sticking out some 2 inches. This, of course was for the newspaper, cut into small squares. Younger readers may need to ask someone why! When I was old enough to handle scissors safely, this task fell to me.

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Later we had the luxury of Izal toilet roll, a bit like fine sandpaper on one side and shiny on the other!

 

 

The coal shed was filled to the brim during Summer months when the coal was at its cheapest. It varied in price according to the quality and size of the lumps. The cheapest form was “nutty slack” which was mostly coal dust, but with very small pieces within it, taken from the bottom of the extensive coal piles at the merchants. This was only of use once the fire was burning fiercely.

Fire lighting was a skill that needed to be learned by all the family. Sometimes embers were still alight in the morning so this made the job slightly less irksome. It also made it more dangerous, as the ash still had to be collected and emptied from the base of the fire. Normally the fire lighting task fell to Mum.

To start a fire we used sticks, chopped from a stock of logs we kept in the coal shed. To supplement the sticks we also all had to learn to roll newspaper and plait it into firelighters. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you can learn here: https://youtu.be/a0_Pxiq5cTI .

In later years, when we had a television, we sometimes lit a fire in the “front room” by carrying burning coals, on a small shovel, through the house. I wonder what Health and Safety would have to say about that?

Don’t get too cosy sitting by the fire. The rest of the house, in Winter, was freezing, sometimes literally! We woke to ice patterns on the inside of the bedroom windows. Very pretty, but not conducive to getting out of bed.

If you needed to go to the loo during the night there was no nearby “convenience”. Under the bed could be found a chamber pot – Yes, REALLY! Emptying? Another job for Mum.

There were fireplaces in the two large bedrooms but these were reserved for times when someone was really ill, or dying. In the bottom of the wardrobe in Mum and Dad’s bedroom were a bedpan, and a “bottle”, a means of having a wee whilst lying down. These had been obtained when Dad had a serious accident at work, and was bed bound for several weeks. This is not a true memory as I was too young to register the fact. It is an implanted memory!

I can’t remember a lot of toys. I don’t think we had many. We played mostly outside, and used whatever was at hand. Dad was expert at making bikes out of old bits and pieces, trolleys for giving youngsters a riding platform, sledges, stilts. You name it, he made it. Where he found the time I have no idea.

We even had the top section of a trap (as in pony and trap) that became a ship, a shop, a lorry, or anything else that our imaginations could conjure up. (I had my first, very innocent, sexual experience in that trap, with a girl called Cynthia!) Later on we learned the skills to make our own bikes, sledges, huts, and so on. If I could freeze my life in any particular time I think it would be here!

We had a very large garden, as I’ve mentioned. For many years it was not accessible to vehicles. I remember that, several times, Dad brought a tractor from work, and accessed the garden from an adjoining field so he could plough and harrow to get rid of large sandstone blocks.

Eventually he brought a tractor, with blade and digger attachments, and carved out a driveway from the road into our garden. This was no mean feat, what with all the sandstone, and it also required quite a steep cutting. Another tractor, and trailer, carried away all the spoil. After completion, it took some skill to drive a car onto the property, as the surface was uneven bare rock, and the initial entry angle was close to 45 degrees.

No badges this time! See Here

 

 

 

The 1000 words a day challenge

write

Debbie, a blogging colleague, and friend, has set herself a 1,000 words a day challenge for the New Year, and yes, she does write with a pen! See what she says here:

The 1000 words a day challenge

Debbie is relatively new to the blogosphere but has already had success in writing a script for a small budget film, produced in Derby. You can read about this here:

https://wordpress.com/read/post/id/88188102/19

allotment

I particularly enjoyed her short story about making soup with produce from an allotment. See it here:

https://wordpress.com/read/post/id/88188102/17

I think Debbie is very talented. See what you think!