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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!

End of a good day

I went to bed about an hour ago and was just laying there awake thinking of what I’d put in a blog post. So rather than think about it, I thought I’d get up and write something and see if I can purge myself of it all and get some sleep!

First off, the biggest news is that I finally got the translation of the archaeology book sent off today! I don’t think it has sunk in yet. Lorraine finished her proofread on Friday and I got tore into it today and got it all done. It’s by far the biggest freelance project I’ve undertaken and, although I feel like I’ve acheived something really worthwhile, it’s not something I’ll be looking to do again in a hurry. It was too much for me at the end of the day and I bit off more than I could chew. Still, I wasn’t to know that.

So, to celebrate having my work done, it was time to put in the 36 GB Raptor drive I bought on eBay a couple of months ago. I have two 160 GB SATA drives and one 200 GB IDE drive in my main rig. The IDE drive is all data in one big partition, but each of the 160 GB drives has partitions of about 25 GB at the beginning of the drives for operating systems. For some time now I’ve wanted to put XP on its own drive, and the small-capacity 10,000 RPM Raptor was the obvious choice.

I built my system to be silent as it can be, part of which involves suspending the hard drive cage inside the case with elastic. With the 3 drives in there it was hard to balance the drive cage and so I’ve been running with the side panel off for a few months now because it touched the side of the unbalanced suspended drive cage and negated any benefits of suspending it in the first place. Now with four drives in the cage, it balances a lot better. Plus the fact that this is the third time I’ve done it so I have more experience of what elastic works and how to go about it.

I also installed an Icy Box drive cage in an empty drive bay so I can slide in SATA drives straight into the empty slot for back-ups, etc. I bought a 320 GB SATA drive to back up my collection of FLAC files from the media server to keep off-site as I’m paranoid about losing all my music. I have about 250 GB of FLACs right now, all on a server that I can stream to my Squeezebox 3 digital music players (one in the living room hooked up to the amp and one in the kitchen with a pair of powered speakers.). It has revolutionised the way I listen to music. I also plan to put my CD collection into CD binders for storage and throw out the jewel cases. They take up way too much room. I will keep the back-up drive at my wife’s office I reckon. I’m looking forward to the day when storage is so cheap and reliable that I can do the same with my DVDs!

Anyway, back to the drive installation. I got everything up and running before midnight then went to install XP on the Raptor. It was then that I discovered that the product key was in the ring binder that I’d just handed over to my accountant to do this year’s tax return. D’oh! Thankfully I was able to connect to the server where I keep my Thunderbird profile using Windows through Parallels on my MacBook and found the e-mail that Microsoft sent with the product key when I went legit from my hookey version. Now I’m glad I decided to keep my T-bird profile on the server!

I still enjoy geeking out on my rig, although it’s not quite so exciting as it used to be. I was thinking back as I lay in bed to the very first time I reinstalled Windows 98 on my first laptop (Pentium MMX 266 with 64 MB of RAM and a whopping 4 GB hard drive that the salesman told me I’d probably never fill!). The first time I entered format c: was quite nerve-wracking and exciting. Now it’s just a matter of course really, but still slightly exciting I guess. I’m going to leave Vista well alone by the way, just as I did with XP until service pack 1 was released. I find that XP does me just fine and don’t fancy the performance hit of Vista on my now aging rig (AMD 3500+ w/ 2 GB of RAM).

And onto another topic completely – we decided to start potty training Freya as of yesterday. We took her shopping so she could choose her own new pants (she chose frogs, princesses and strawberries) and also to get a new toilet seat as ours has been loose for years and would slide off to one side if you weren’t careful. We got one that the lid won’t fall down on (it drops down gently) and a cusioned insert for Freya to sit on. Oh, and a footstool with a tiger on it for her to climb up on. At the end of day 2, she still hadn’t got the hang of it and had gone through all her pants and most of her trousers too. It should be fun to see how she gets on at the crèche tomorrow!

Right, maybe now I’ll be able to sleep so I’ll close with a nice picture I took today and bid you all goodnight.

Hamish’s first day at Little Gym

Hamish on Little Gym Day

It was a big day for Hamish today. Thank to the thieving gits that nicked his Maxi Cosy car seat, he got to move up to the bigger forward-facing seat today, which means I can put the mirror up and see him in the back now as I’m driving.

And he had his first session of Little Gym today! It was really great fun. He’s a bit wobbly for his age and so it’s good that he’s getting out to have contact with other babies and get some gym work in. Today was all about body parts. It really took me back to when Freya first started going. She’s been going since she was about 9 months I think and started as a Loupiot. Hamish is a Petit Bous (whatever that might be), so a beginner. There were about eight of us there and hardly anybody waiting outside. Freya’s group on a Saturday morning is choca, so it was a refreshing change. It was also nice not to be in a rush like we always are with Freya. Hamish’s class is at 2.45 pm so I pretty much go straight from dropping Freya off at crèche so that H can get a sleep on the way there.

It was great just spending some time with Hamish on my own and being able to give him my full attention. He’s such a lovely little boy and it was heart-warming to watch him laughing and enjoying himself. He was as good as gold and we had a lot of fun. I remember feeling a pang of sadness as Freya moved up from being a Loupiot to Mini Pouss, as my wee girl was growing up. Sounds daft, eh? Anyway, it’s nice to be going through it again with Hamish.

Barge & Nam visit

My good friend Barge and his wife Nam came to visit for a few days. Hamish was still poorly with his chesty cough and Lorraine was suffering too, both from her bronchitis and her lumbago.

On Saturday I went into town with Freya, Barge and Nam. First stop was Little Gym, where it was show day, which serendipitously meant that friends and family could come in with cameras and enjoy the fun. So Barge took camera duty and we had a lot of fun. 

Then we headed into town. I found out that the restaurant we were looking for had changed into a rather nice chocolaterie. We wound up in a Mexican restaurant so Freya could have chips and chicken nuggets and ice cream (with no chocolate) and then to the toy shop to see if we could find a bus. We did manage to find one and also a rather nice wooden fire engine. And, of course, I had to buy both.

Then it was back home via the supermarket for supplies so that Barge could make his delightful dahl and saag aloo. Hamish was really suffering and his breathing had us so concerned that we ended up taking him to the A&E. It turns out that he has croup, poor wee mite.

After dropping Nam off at the station on Sunday, Barge and I took Freya to Remich where we had some fun running around the bandstand, playing in the park and feeding the swans and ducks. We had some crêpes for lunch then headed into Germany for a random drive. We stopped at a random town while Freya was asleep in the back so that Barge could go for a smoke, but Freya woke up when we stopped and wanted to go for a walk. Thank goodness she did as the place turned out to be really quite something. It was called Saarburg and had a waterfall right in the middle of the town that used to spin a waterwheel for milling flour. It was such a shame that the whole family couldn’t have been there, but now we know where it is we’ll have to go back to visit the chocolate river.

All in all it was a really great weekend for me and Freya, but not so good for Lorraine and Hamish.

News update

Lorraine put her back out somehow in her sleep the night before last and is now at the doctor yet again. Her bronchitis also sounds worse than ever. She’s really not having a good time of it at all at the moment.

Thankfully the kids seem okay; the coughs are almost better now and they’re both happy.
Arran wise, progress is slow. I almost completed the RBS business plan template and had Lorraine help me with it. She pointed out that the parts I was stuck with were because they didn’t really fit with the type of business we’re looking at — I guess that’s the problem with templates. So we’ve decided to send the Post Office business plan to the bank instead of the RBS one. I did about half of it yesterday and hope to complete it this afternoon.
Arjun and Marina are coming to visit on Friday for the weekend and I’m really looking forward to seeing them.
Time to change some nappies. I hope to get another couple of blog entries done soon; there are a couple on the boil…

Vox Hunt: Worth A Thousand Words

Show us a picture that’s worth a thousand words.
Submitted by sami711.

And so it begins…

Hamish news

Hamish has signs of his first tooth coming through! Freya was 8 months when she had signs of her first tooth so Hamish is ahead of her by a month. Go Hamish!

We took them both the the wet and muddy swing park last Sunday and Hamish enjoyed the swings just as much as Freya did when she was a slingster.

 

 

Freya’s poorly

Freya was sick yesterday morning, then again and again throughout the day. When Lorraine called the crèche, they said that there were a few children there that morning who were sick too, so it must be one of these immune-system-building bugs that go round.  She perked up a bit in the late afternoon, but flaked out by teatime and had a temperature. We gave her some “pink” (her name for the cure-all Calpol) and she started feeling better by bed time.

She was sick again this morning as soon as she got up, but she seems pretty much back to normal now (lunch time) so hopefully that’s it passed.

Lorraine’s also got a bit of a chesty cough again, which is always a worry given that she’s so prone to bronchitis. And no sign of Hamish’s chesty cough shifting either, but the physio said he’s much better.

Quip of the day

Freya: Close your eyes and look at me!

 

I got a Nikon D70S in July

When Freya was born we bought ourselves a camcorder, so when Hamish came along, we (or, rather, I) decided that it was a good time to get a digital SLR. I’d heard Alex Lindsey and Emery Wells discussing cameras on a this WEEK in MEDIA and it was seemingly a choice between the Nikon D70 and the Canon Digital Rebel.

I soon discovered thereafter that my favourite flickrer uses a D70 and that was that. For once I didn’t have to spend weeks researching. So we all trooped in to Esch-sur-Alzette to visit the camera shop. They had a D70s in the window, the shop was OPEN, the salesman spoke ENGLISH and knew about cameras (in the computer shops they’re generally surly (if they’re open) and know less about the hardware they’re selling than I do). It was all a good sign. Couple that with the difficulty of actually getting to the shops with a toddler and a baby and it was a done deal there and then.

Soon thereafter I ordered the Nikon D70 Digital Field Guide on Amazon, but I haven’t read much of it yet. Nor have I really learned how to work the camera and I really should. So far it’s been on auto the whole time. There is a photography course starting tomorrow in town, but I can’t really justify another week night out at this stage.

Of course now the D80 is available and apparently it has no competition yet. I’m sure it won’t be long until Canon come out with another Rebel to compete. The D70s will do me just fine though (so I’ve been told!)

Also on my list of things to do is finish the Photoshop CS2 Total Training course. I got about half-way through the first disk and have since forgotten most of it.

Here are some of the first pictures I took of Freya; it’s scary how much detail it shows.