88B Recruit Troop

88B Recruit Troop, June 1989

88B Rawson Squadron. Click image to see high res.

Who am I?

I got stuck in a total time warp last night. My stay in hospital naturally got me thinking about my army days. A quick Google of AAC Harrogate (where I did my training) quickly led me to Facebook where I found loads of my old pals and, better still, loads of old photos.

I’ve caught up with a lot of people and when I went to bed, I could not get to sleep for thinking about it all.

I served for around four years, but of that time only two were spent in training; the rest was hospital and sick-leave time. Now at the time I was never what could be called army barmy, but I was good at what I did and I really loved the social side of serving in the forces. The friendships you make there are without doubt some of the closest and most quickly-formed that there are.

I never actually made it as far as the regulars. We did two years’ training as apprentices at the college in Harrogate and only then got to the regulars. Well, in a sense I suppose I did as I did graduate from the college, so for that brief time between grad and my medical discharge, I was technically a Signalman in the regulars. All my classmates went on to earn their first stripe straight away, simply because our trade got us that quick step up.

Looking through photos of one particular friend got me wondering and feeling a little sad of what might have been. I would have enjoyed that life.

On with the philosophising. After the army I went to school for two years and got what I needed to get into university. I got into one of the most prestigious universities in the country (it’s good enough for Prince William!) and, one way or another, graduated with an MA. Thence on to do a Masters Degree, which I also got and where I met Lorraine. And then working and living abroad for 10 years or so, which is kind of what I’d have done if I had remained in the army anyway.

I left school with next to no qualifications and it was the army that got the best out of me. It turned out that I was a pretty clever bloke and that is the one thing I can and will be forever grateful to the army for getting out of me. I only joined up because I didn’t think that there was anything better for me.

So I really shouldn’t be feeling sad for what might have been, rather I should be grateful for what was and accepting that all of what I did has made me who I am today. I was in the army, I suffered a terrible accident and got through it, I made friends, I went to uni, I met Lorraine, I worked abroad, I live on an island, I was crazy about BMX freestyle, all sorts of things that all go together and form my past.

One of my employees is now in the process of applying for the army, partly at my suggestion, and she seems really excited. I’m kind of reliving my experience through her at the moment. She’s hoping to be a veterinary technician and she’s so well suited for that.  Anyway, enough for now. Let me just say how great it is to have found so many old friends on Facebook and it’s good to be in touch again.

 

Weekly last.fm charts (featuring The The)

11 Nov 2007 – 18 Nov 2007

Beastie BoysThe TheBert JanschRadioheadLou ReedTommy EmmanuelNine Inch NailsPeter GabrielBeppe Gambetta
1 Play Beastie Boys
35
2 Play The The
28
3 Play Anna Massie
26
3 4 Play Bert Jansch
25
5 Play Radiohead
23
6 Play Lou Reed
16
7 Play Tommy Emmanuel
14
7 Play Nine Inch Nails
14
9 Play Peter Gabriel
12
9 Beppe Gambetta
12

My last.fm profile is beginning to reflect my musical profile more accurately as time goes it. It was time this week to address some gaps. First up, the Beastie Boys. I was a fan of the Beasties since Licensed to Ill, and it’s still a cracking album. When I was doing my basic training in 1988 at AAC Harrogate, we all had to do a party piece. Mine was Billy Connolly sketch (the one about getting caught ‘having a wank’) and the full version of Paul Revere from Licensed to Ill. It went down pretty well as I recall (although I think the Billy sketch was better received!). Then came the classic Paul’s Boutique, the Beasties seminal album in my opinion. An incredible set of samples and hip-hop that was way ahead of its time and relatively unknown compared to Licensed to Ill. We even tried to find the real Paul’s Boutique from the address given in the album (in Brooklyn) when we travelled the US in 1993, but it was to no avail! (I could link to the post I made but for some REALLY annoying reason Vox displays only some of my tags – why is that Vox?) Then came Check Your Head, another ground-breaking album in the same vein as Paul’s Boutique. Brilliant. Ill Communication didn’t sit so well with me; I just never really bonded with it in the same way and I that was the last B-Boys album I bought. So, I spent some time this week spinning the old Beasties albums and filling a gap in my profile.

Next up, and this week’s featured band, is The The. Despite their really annoying name, I’ve loved this band right from the start (well, I never really dug Burning Blue Soul and still don’t, but that was originally released as a Matt Johnson solo album). I shan’t go on about them, just to say that Matt’s one of my favourite lyricists of all time and I’ve always really related to his words and the music. “The future is now, and it’s all going wrong; bodies queue for nothing for it’s to nothing they belong”, etc.

Annie Massie is a young Scots lass who plays a variety of instruments really, really well. I first saw her at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow back in 2004 (I think) and was blown away. She plays mainly in the traditional Scots vein and can flatpick like no other gal I’ve ever seen. And she’s so wee! Her music is terrific and I highly recommend her CD Glad Company. I’ll certainly have her as a featured artist one day.

I’ve mentioned Bert a lot so browse previous last.fm entries. He was my featured artist last week.

Fellow Voxer Bevester inspired me to dig out some Radiohead again. I hadn’t listened to them in a while and it was good to hear them again. Kid A is my favourite with Amnesiac a close second (but they’re all good). Those two albums were a lot of work, and I mean a lot. This is not easy listening and needs repeated spins to get it. But once you get it, it really pays you back, big time!

Lou Reed’s New York was the first CD I ever bought. I enjoy his music and the Velvet Underground a lot. This week I had to share my story at an AA meeting and so played my playlist called Spiritual on the iPod on the way in to town. There’s a song on The Raven called Vanishing Act that is just wonderful. So I listened to that a few times over the last week, along with a lot of other Lou stuff.

Tommy Emmanuel. If you play guitar you should certainly know about Tommy. And if you don’t play, you should still go and see him. One of the best performers I have ever seen.

Nine Inch Nails. I used to listen to them a lot. Pretty Hate Machine got me through some hard times, particularly Something I Can Never Have. Downward Spiral was great. Fixed and Broken rewarded repeated listens but were tough going at times.

Peter Gabriel. Brilliant. Love his solo stuff and Genesis. As with Bowie, his most recent stuff is some of his best in my opinion. Up was terrific!

Beppe Gambetta is an Italian flatpicker. I saw him last night and will write about him there with some audio. I had lessons with him too back in 2005. He’s a really nice guy.

So that’s it for this week. Enjoy the The The tunes (see, told you their name was annoying!) I’ve included two from Shades of Blue since it’s not such a common one (it’s a 4-track EP).

Enjoy!

Dolphins
The The

My short but interesting Army career

Me and mum after prize-giving

This post began when I saw a picture of me and my mum as I was flicking through my photo album. I only planned to post the picture and ended up writing a rather lengthy post about my Army career and how it ended. I hope it’s of interest to someone, but even if not, it’s been kind of fun to look back and figure things out in terms of dates and locations.

It all began in 1989. I left school with little to my name by way of qualifications and, on 18 June, at the tender age of 16, I headed off to the Army Apprentices’ College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire to begin my Army career as an apprentice Radio Telegraphist in the Royal Corps of Signals. I signed up to do a two-year apprenticeship. Basic training was tough. Being away from home for the first time at 16 is hard enough, but enduring six weeks of hardship was almost intolerable. It’s funny, but as I look back, it really doesn’t seem like it was that tough. But, at the time, it was. I’m sure my mum still has the letters.

Somewhere between the start and finish of my basic training, we were obliged to take a modern languages aptitude test. This involved looking over a list of Kurdish words with their English equivalents for a few minutes, then turning the papers over and writing down as many English equivalents as we could recall. I did well and, on that basis, was offered the chance to change my chosen trade to that of an Electronic Warfare Operator (EWOP). I had no clue what that was. All they could tell me was that it involved studying Russian intensively for two years and was some sort of intelligence work. I had four weeks of summer leave to think about it, during which, as fate would have it, my dad was doing a job for a guy who had served in the same regiment. He hadn’t been an EWOP, but a Spec Op (Special Operator), the other trade in the regiment that was affiliated to the intelligence services. Seemingly, the EWOPs and Spec Ops worked closely together and the guy explained to me that I was being offered quite a lot more than I thought I was. So then I decided that, yes, I did want some of that after all.

I did pretty well at the academic side of things, and could even shoot pretty well, but when it came to the military stuff, I was pretty average.

After a year of training, we were on an external leadership exercise in the Lake District. We were doing a map reading activity that involved some pretty hard walks over the mountains to various checkpoints within an allotted time. Our instructor, in his infinite wisdom, suggested that we take a short-cut up a cliff face. He went up first, followed by two or three others, then me. We did have ropes, but we weren’t using them for some unfathomable reason. The instructor dislodged a rock, which tumbled down the cliff face and hit someone above me a glancing blow on the head, knocking him off and into me. I remember the feeling of overbalancing as the weight of my Bergen pulled me backward. Next thing I know I was bouncing down the loose scree at the bottom of the cliff and couldn’t stop.

Day of accident, 18 July 1989

I had multiple open fractures of my tibia and fibula on my right leg, as well as a broken scapula (collarbone), fractured skull, broken teeth and some pretty bad cuts and grazes. I had landed on my right leg and then continued down the slope at rather a high velocity.

I was eventually taken off the mountain side by helicopter and the long process of surgery and recovery commenced. My first operations were in a hospital in Whitehaven in Cumbria and it was basically touch and go as to whether I would keep my leg or not. The open wounds were full of dirt and the chance of infection was high. Thankfully I was able to keep my leg, although there were many times when I wished I hadn’t. It would have been a much quicker process to get back on my feet again with a prosthetic limb and I still had a reasonable amount of good bone below the knee. But the leg was saved.

After a while I was fit enough to be moved to another civilian hospital nearer my family. I left for Scotland in an ambulance with an external fixator keeping the bones together. I was there for quite a while and enjoyed being in a place where friends and family could visit. After a while, some military bods paid me a visit and the question arose as to whether I was to remain in a civilian hospital or be moved to a military hospital. I decided to move back into the arms of the military and had a brief spell in a hospital in Yorkshire before moving on to the specialist burns and plastics ward at the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in London. It did feel better to be back with the military again. The treatment was better than in civvy street and I got to meet a lot of really great people, both patients and staff alike.

As you will imagine, some of the injuries one comes across in a military hospital are of a rather horrific nature. I became good friends with two Manchester lads who had been shot by the IRA on their way home from babysitting for their sergeant major. Scary.

I was in the burn and plastics ward to have skin grafts done over the open wounds. Skin was taken from my upper thighs and grafted on to the wounds. It took a LONG time for those grafts to take and it was a horrible time. The pain was simply unbelievable. After a while, I was moved to the orthopaedic ward where I spent another month or so. Eventually I was deemed fit enough to recuperate at home and thus began the long process of travelling by train up and down from Glasgow to London once a month for x-rays and check-ups.

One of the things I remember about my stay in Woolwich was sitting outside the front doors after breakfast, smoking fags and listening to Simon Mayo on Radio 1. I could wheelie my wheelchair all the way from ward 7, down in the lift to the ground floor and out the front doors without the front wheels touching the floor. And when I got onto crutches, I could walk on just the crutches alone with my feet off the ground. I guess I must have got pretty fit after a while of walking on crutches.

DMRC Headley Court

After the hospital in London I was sent to Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre near Leatherhead in Surrey. I was examined there and it was decided that I needed more surgery, a bone graft that was to be done at yet another military hospital, this time in Aldershot. Bone was taken from my hip and grafted onto the tibia. After healing up from that, it was back to Headley Court where, this time, I was deemed healed enough to start the process of learning to walk again. I have great memories of Headley Court; it was July–August 1990 and very warm I seem to recall. We spent the whole day engaged in various exercises, my favourite of which was volleyball played sitting on the floor. I remember the warm evenings and going out on the piss in Leatherhead. One of the Manchester lads that I knew from the QEMH in Woolwich appeared while I was there. We spent evenings playing Monopoly and it was round about then that I was getting into listening to The The’s Soul Mining and Depeche Mode’s Violator albums.

I always knew that I was going to be discharged from the military after I’d recovered as much as I was going to, but they allowed me to go back to Harrogate and complete my training. I spent the next year on light duties, i.e. doing just the trade training with none of the military crap. I was even given the apprentice sergeant major’s en-suite bunk. I guess I was a bit of an oddity there, especially being as status very much depended on how long one had been “in”. So it wasn’t long until I had been there longer than anyone else; I even wore the red senior term ribbon for a whole year!

Me on my Bully Bashguard

During that year I healed well enough to start riding my BMX again (I was a fanatic about BMX freestyle and perhaps still would be today if it hadn’t been for the accident). I used to ride my bike on the parade square in the evenings and weekends. There were metal plates holding the bones together so there was little danger of doing any damage.

It came to graduation day and I picked up the prize for best Telecommunications Operator (Linguist)—the name had changed to that from EWOP during my year-long absence. I remember the Adjutant-General congratulating me on successfully completing the first rung on a long ladder, so I had to put him straight.

During the course of the second year at Harrogate, I’d been to visit consultants and they offered me more surgery to have my clawed toes straightened. So I went back to Woolwich to have that done and went back on sick leave again for a while.

During my sick leave, I had discussed with the military orthopaedic consultant the possibility of having more surgery to have my leg lengthened. After all the surgery, it had healed crooked and was two inches shorter than my good leg. So, in June 1992 I went back to Woolwich to have an Ilizarov frame fitted. At the time, I was one of only a few to have had this type of surgery in the UK. When I got back to Scotland on sick leave, I was invited back to the hospital where I had been a patient the previous year to show off the technology to the consultants there, as they’d never seen one in situ before!

Ilizarov Frame

Mentally, this was much more difficult to deal with than the first series of operations. It was one thing going through all that surgery to fix me up; it was quite another to go in all fixed up to get broken again.

So I was back on crutches again for pretty much another year, and this time flying up and down to London and back on the Army’s tab. It all went well and I got much of the length back again.

I had told myself that, as soon as this was all over, I was going to visit North America and travel. I lost my walking stick on a bus from Niagra Falls to Buffalo and never used a stick again. That was June 1993, so a year since I had the Ilizarov frame fitted, and four years since the accident.

I’m now left with some pretty bad scars, intermittent sensation and clawed toes. My ankle doesn’t move beyond 90º and I get pain quite a bit. I can walk pretty well, but I do have a limp. Sometimes people who’ve known me for a while suddenly notice the limp and ask what’s up. I had to give up the BMX biking because of the ankle thing.

I had some x-rays done a week ago and it turns out that my leg is still short and could lead to back problems in later life. So I have an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant for next Wednesday. I guess it never really ends.

Some time between now and then, I proceeded with a law suit against the Ministry of Defence and ended up with an out-of-court settlement for compensation. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it did pay off the student debts that I had accrued between the accident and my graduation from University. As I was healing from the final operation, I went back to school for two years and got what I needed to get into St Andrews University where I studied Russian language and literature. That’s a whole other story though!