Least We Forget

Today, June 4th, is one of those historic days that while celebrated, is done so with a heavy heart. It’s a day I remember because members of my mother’s family lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy. It was always a sombre day for my parents, though my father for different reasons, as a military man nearly his entire adult life, he understood.

I was always aware of this day during my childhood, but saw it from a distance, as through the lens of their pain, and it wasn’t till I was seconded by my then boss, while serving in Germany, that I felt the weight of this day and understood more about certain pivotal moments in our shared history.

My then boss was working with several others on a memorial weekend to not only commemorate those lost in the Battle of Arnhem, in the Netherlands, but had been asked to liaise as a consultant and took me a long on a long weekend as his researcher. I learnt so much more about this lengthy and costly battle than I ever wanted. Facts that brought home to me that not every battle is won, and that so so many troops lost their lives even after the invasion at Normandy. We walked the graves that weekend at the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery. Once you have visited a cemetery like this and walked row after row of graves, you’ll understand what it means to fight for freedom on a whole other level.

Please remember and never forget that the freedoms and privileges we all enjoy today came at such a high cost to us all, in lives lost. Do your best to fight tyranny and injustice where ever you see it, you owe it to yourself, and more, you owe it to all those who gave their lives to war so we could lead a better life.

The Sleep of the Dead

Lou Plummer’s post today, What Is Your Superpower not only had me laughing, but also nodding my head remembering my own time in the military. And while I don’t call it a super power, Lou is right, one of the greatest things that the military teaches you is how to fall asleep anywhere, under any kind of circumstance.

My first lesson in how to fall asleep came a few days into my first posting to Plymouth, in Devon, to the little unit at RAF Mountbatten, who served mostly at the RCC (rescue & coordination centre). The first time I did a night shift I had, to coin the phrase, a very rude awakening. The officer I was on duty with sent me off to the printer room with instructions not to come back till 6 am. Key in hand, I thought, “wow this is a lark, I can sleep all night.”

Ha! There was absolutely no chance, that first night, of me ever getting any sleep whatsoever. It took me all of a minute to realise I was IN the printer room. A small room loaded up with almost 20 printers sat on little tables all printing non-stop!

I mean, yes, there were nano seconds between a single printer stopping printing one message and then another coming through. All these printouts dropped into baskets below, slowly filling up over the course of what was, for me, a very sleepless night.

It didn’t take me long to learn how to sleep in this crazy noisy environment. Several nightshifts later, and I slept like the dead on a mortuary slab. A good pair of earplugs helped, as did noise dampening headphones airmen wore next to taxiing aircraft.

After the challenge of sleeping in that room for several months of night shifts, I could literally sleep anywhere.

As a side note, when I was stationed in Germany, during a rather lengthy Exercise I discovered someone sleeping on a shelf in a document locker. I kid you not. Not only had he some how managed to get inside, and shut the door, but that no one else had discovered him let alone missed him.

Loud Women

“There goes the last great American dynasty
Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been …”

I’ve become something of a Swifty these last few years, having discovered the singer songwriter during lockdown. And have to say my favourite album (to date) has to be Folklore. There’s something about the songs on this album that reached out to me. Not least because I can sing along to them all, and know all the words—yes, by heart.

It wasn’t till recently though that I fully understood the lyrics, and the emotion behind the words. I watched the recent documentary, The Long Pond Studio Sessions, in which we hear about her thought process and the creation of these songs and lyrics. The evolution is as interesting as is the emotional punch behind them. I love to that I also got a bit of a history lesson and learnt about the divorcee, Rebekah Harkness—who married Standard Oil heir William Hale Harkness in 1947—a story which inspired the song, The Last Great American Dynasty.

When you look at it, I think Harkness had the last laugh in the end and, in some respects, given the huge success of Taylor Swift who’s riding the world at the moment, so is she.

Here’s to loud women everywhere.

Favourite Moments

One of my fav blogs to read at the moment is Lou Plummer. Not just because you always get a post worth reading, but that he also shares any number of insights into his life, and where he lives. These more personal posts always resonate, as did his recent post Twenty Sublime Moments. Which got me thinking about some of the happier moments in my own life.

  1. Seeing the first spring flowers after the snow melts
  2. Hearing the sound of children’s laughter
  3. The smell of my mother’s favourite cologne
  4. Listening to bird song in the park
  5. Reading at my favourite spot, in the park
  6. Eating my sister in law’s pulled pork poutine
  7. Taking the ferry across the St. Lawrence river
  8. The sound of bees buzzing in summer
  9. Climbing into a bed with fresh clean sheets
  10. Watching the first snowfall from inside in the warmth

And you, what are some of your favourite moments?


In the time of Estrangement

Covid didn’t just kill millions world wide and put us all in lockdown at various times in those first couple of years of struggles, it all but destroyed people’s relationships and sanity in so many ways. I know two dear friends of mine who I helped introduce never survived living together in tight quarters, each unable to escape the other when things got really bad. While a couple of other friends said they grew closer together from everything they went through, and, as nurses, they went through a lot.

For me and mine, things quietly went on mostly as they always had, like a comfortable pair of socks, we just fit together. We adapted and changed a few things but, as homebodies and relative dormice, we didn’t miss the going out, we had what we needed. And what we didn’t have, we ordered in where possible. And if we couldn’t, we made do. I can’t say it was perfect and we weren’t obsessively cleaning everything, or terrified like everyone else on the planet. But we somehow managed bolstering one another were we could.

The one thing that those couple of terrible years cemented and brought home to me was the fact I was—even before the start of the Covid era— fully estranged from people who were once my family. People who I once thought I knew but, in the end, really didn’t know any more than any one of them knew me. Or even cared to know the real me.

It’s one of life’s greatest sadnesses that these people are no longer in my life and, from all accounts, have no interest in being in my life. That’s fine, that is, to a certain extent, their choice. But that some of those people also chose to poison others who might have kept in touch, is what still hurts.

I’m bringing this up now as a number of seminal anniversaries have just passed and where, at one time in my life I would have flown home to join in the parties and or sent cards and gifts. Now, there’s just an awareness that these people are my past, no longer to be in my life, and certainly never to be in my future.

It’s been a long while for me, accepting that I don’t know whether any of them are even still alive or, even care to know whether me and my partner are. I guess I might never know.

That sadness I once felt in my heart has slowly eased and that, after all, is what matters. I can no longer mourn the loss of something I probably never had to begin with, their love, or even, their respect.

And, the Rules Are ...

While god may have handed down the Ten Commandments to the Israeli and, it’s usually accepted we should try and live our lives by them. Not all of us, whatever our religion, follow them for whatever reason. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some sense of moral code to live our lives by based on these tenets. Especially as we all (well, mostly all) agree that, Thou Shalt Not Kill, should be up there in pole position.

So what rules do I try to live my life by? Good question.

First and foremost and in no particular order:

  • Do no harm
  • Be kind at all times
  • Ask yourself, is this helpful? Whatever this is
  • Don't put off difficult tasks
  • Face your fears and understand them
  • Try to learn new things
  • Try to set yourself realistic goals
  • Figure out your purpose
  • Think before you react
  • And always, always, listen first

Of course, this is just the basic list, there are more I could and have added over the years but, following these has been a good start. And you, what rules, if any, do you try to live your life by?

Inspired by Lou Plummer's Rules for Me post.

My Sister and Other Strange Phenomena

My sister breaks things.

It’s a fact—a family fact.

She doesn’t just break ordinary things like you or I might do; dishes, glassware, bones in our body, no. My sister breaks things like, the internet.

What? Oh, okay, so maybe it wasn’t her, per se, who caused Google to have a nervous breakdown the other day, thereby causing everyone one on the planet to collectively hold their breathes. But we, that is, our family, on hearing of another Google outage immediately think, Sis! Yes, we actually text and or message one another asking, did she do it, did she break Google again?

You see, my sister has this knack, put her within 3 feet of a remote handset and you can guarantee it, and any programme you might have set to record will either start in the middle, end before it’s supposed to, record another channel entirely, doesn’t record because it set itself to another century from now, or simply doesn’t work.

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Life After Death

Or, how I survived the loss of my parents.

Surviving a loved one’s death can only be personal and subjective. We all react differently, we all perceive differently, we all emote differently. Some feel the loss more keenly than others, some not so much. But one thing you can be sure of is, the loss of a loved one changes you no matter what your relationship was till that point.

I lost my father to lung cancer in 1991, he was only 68 years of age. His ‘illness’ was slow, debilitating, terrifying and painful right through till the last few weeks when, being cared for in our local hospice, my father passed quietly, almost peacefully after his (and yes, our) two year ordeal.

Heroic in her efforts and, till those last few weeks, my mother took on the all but lonely burden of looking after my father almost singlehandedly. Albeit with help, where we could, from the rest of us. Supporting and bolstering my mother, where we could, during a time where home care from any nursing services was, at best, minimal. Closer to the end, and before he was lucky enough to get into hospice care—and yes, I say lucky, because, due to space limitations, and the lack of hospice care in general, most people either die at home, or in hospital. And usually, with minimal care and attention. My mother had to feed, bath, dress and care for my father—a man she had already dedicated her life to for most of her adult life, sharing all the highs and lows along the way and giving birth to, and bringing up six children.

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Bombs Away

I’ve always viewed being in the military the ‘safe’ option, which, when you really stop to think about it, seems either stupid or naive given what’s required of most personnel in the military. Though it’s true, I worked on what was called a front-line base, meaning our squadrons were considered not defence but an attack option. You’d think we’d be one of the first bases bombed in any invading scenario that involved the Russians, or, as they were at the time, Soviet Union. The wall hadn’t come down while I was still serving.

So you would think that I was less safe on a military base than say living in any city in the UK. But, not so. In terms of violence and crime, assaults on women, and yes, they did happen, even on a military base. We, women and personnel in general, were more protected than most civilians going about their daily lives.

We were afforded a lot more than most. And, having been brought up in the life, I was accustom to that sense of safety. Nonetheless, one day, all that that came crashing down when one alarming incident occurred out on a taxi way in the north side of the camp.

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A Royal Pageant

In complete contrast to meeting Princess Anne, while stationed in Germany our base was graced with a royal visit from Princess Margaret. The two visits couldn’t have been more different. This one was on a grand scale and involved a military parade, a band, lots of flags, a fly-by of fighter jets, and an afternoon Garden Party in the Officer’s Mess grounds. It certainly didn’t involve Margaret meeting the ordinary service personnel except for those unlucky enough to be picked to be on parade for her arrival.

Not that I got away unscathed. I was volunteered by my Admin Corporal to do door duty on Margaret’s arrival. They wanted a number of well presented young women to open and close doors, rather than a bunch of men. Not sure why, but that’s how it went down. So, like those other poor volunteers I spent the week before the arrival doing “door practise”, as if we needed practise on knowing how to open and close a door. But, apparently, there’s a protocol for everything. \

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Meet A Royal Day

I was lucky enough or, depending on who you speak to, unlucky enough to meet a few royals during my time in the military. The first time was at RAF Mountbattan, in Plymouth, UK, when I had the chance to see and shake hands with the now Princess Royal, Princess Anne. Who, at the time, was doing a number of royal visits to Plymouth and, as it happened, chose to stop in for afternoon tea with us WRAFs in the women’s block sitting room.

Which, of course, meant that days before the planned event, that was to be only about an hour in length, we all had to clean the entire block, top to bottom. And yes, paint stuff outside that included hydrants, and white boarder stones around the two tiny pieces of front garden. I think I was probably the only person there, other than maybe the two WRAF admin staff excited about the prospect of meeting a royal. I had seen Princess Anne, at a distance, on two other occasions as an air force brat. But to meet her in person? I was kind of in awe.

The prep, however annoying, was worth it in the end. Even though this royal would never see anything beyond the front door, hallway, and our sitting room, which suddenly got decked out with a lot of new plants and flowers. It didn’t matter. Officers will find any excuse to make us all clean something. That aside, the fancy china from the officer’s mess was loaned for the occasion and, along with our WRAF admin officer and corporal, we all lined up outside like something from Downton Abby to greet the pennant flying car as it cruised the 30 yards from the officer’s mess down to our building at the bottom of the hill.

Earl Grey tea was served inside with scones, cream and jam, and finger sandwiches the like of which most of us were unfamiliar with. And to which, Anne, taking a droll moment to break the ice and get us all relaxed and chatting said something along the lines of “why do the always starve us with tiny sandwiches?” Making the room erupt in nervous laughter.

It was a fun hour that stretched into 2 and, by the time this down to earth Princess left, turned into something memorable for all present. I know I still remember this woman for her kindness, droll wit, and arching eyebrow.


What Could Have Been

Some of the scariest things happen without our knowledge, as happened to me one time that, until a few days later, I didn’t know how lucky I had been. The anniversary of this incident is on May 23 (1977).

Let me start at the beginning. I was about to take a break back home, to the UK. Had booked my passage right on through to my parent’s home town: train from our local station Roermond to Hook of Holland in Amsterdam to catch the overnight ferry to Harwich, where I’d catch the early morning train into London. And from there, a train up north. It was all organised thanks to a chance meeting.

A few weeks earlier I had been sat with friends in a bar in the Dutch town of Roermond, enjoying a beer and a guy sat down next to me and likewise, ordered a beer. He turned to me, smiled and, from that point on, we started chatting. And before I know it, a couple of hours had passed and I was making arrangements to meet Jan, a few doors down from the bar, to book my trip back to the UK. Turns out, he was a travel agent.

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For the Love of a Bacon Butty

One of the best things about the military is that whether you worked days or shift work, you could guarantee that at any time of the day or night, you could get a meal. There was no excuse for missing a meal as far as I was concerned, and even though I might be brain dead when coming off a night shift, I made a point of staggering to the mess hall and chowing down on at least an egg and bacon butty before bed. Though I’m not sure either my waistline or cholesterol levels appreciated my hearty appetite.

I especially loved night shift and yes, you guessed it—and this is where I learnt how to cook—I always volunteered to collect our overnight rations and be a part of the cook team, which was usually a two person job. Night shifts could be long and boring and while on some nights you could wrangle a few hours sleep in between, the seemingly endless hours of night were filled with cards, debates, endless cups of coffee and supper.

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The Day I Climbed the Runway

Well, to begin with, as it turned out, we weren’t allowed to actually use the runway in this particular event and ended up on a taxi way in front of one of the squadron who were on stand down that weekend.

What the hell am I talking about? I suppose I better start at the beginning … charity work. We weren’t forced to participate but it was, to put it mildly, expected, seen as part of our contribution to society. On each base I was stationed I always volunteered to joined in (you see a pattern here?) Why? Well, because I actually enjoyed the social aspects, never mind the rewards of taking part in some fun activities our small groups use to get involved in.

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Fly like a Bird

Well, maybe not like a bird, I don’t have wings but, during my time in the military, despite suffering with air sickness my entire life, I made a point of flying on every available aircraft I could. Even if that meant throwing up for take off and landings. Even if that meant a 12 hour flight over the north sea in an antiquated Shackleton that vibrated like an old rust bucket. Hell yeah, I was there clutching not my string of pearls but a collection of sick-bags.

I didn’t miss one flight, or one plane. I got to fly from mere minutes to hours, and, at one point, held a record for the most flights as an observer. I even received a coveted phantom squadron badge from my bestie, Group Captain Harding, weeks before he—and the 4 flights of phantom jets—left Bruggen for the UK.

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A Galaxy of a Problem

There were times, some of them quite comical though serious, that happened during my tenure in the military. Point in case, the day we had an emergency diversion—due to bad weather—of a USAF Galaxy cargo plane. Which was 3 hours out and would be landing on fumes by the time it got to us—the only base it could divert to due to it’s size and weight.

While our runway was rated to take the weight, we nonetheless had to have a 3 month closure in order to redo and resurface the runway after this single plane diversion. An unforeseen consequence which made me wonder, just who exactly footed the bill for that?

That aside, and with only 3 hours notice and due to the really shitty weather elsewhere. We, that is, the base, had to somehow accommodate this behemoth.

The comical part to this situation was the fact that, because of the sheer size, never mind weight of this plane, it’s wingspan alone was going to take out two small buildings on landing unless …

Unless said buildings were either moved, or dismantled for the landing. Moving was, at that time, in that timeframe, obviously out of the question. As to demolishing them? Nada. They both housed delicate radar equipment. But, regardless, somehow, in that 3 hour window, engineers and crews figure out a way to take off just enough of the side and top to both units in order to accommodate the Galaxy’s wingspan.

I’ve never seen people move so fast and yet, so precisely in order to achieve this herculean feat. And, as this huge plane started on it’s final approach, nearly all of the base personnel, including most of the Americans station on-base, were lining every available safe spot they could in order to get a good view and or take photos of the landing.

It was quite the achievement let me tell you. I’ve never witnessed anything like it since and probably never will. And I sure as hell will never forget being in the air traffic control tower watching this monster land. And yes, before you ask, there were more than a few beers to celebrate at various parties later that night, all across the base.


Accidental Fatalities

One of the hardest things about being in the military was dealing with loss. And I don’t mean the sporting kind, I mean, the loss of life. And while it didn’t happen all that often, a single event could bring us all to our knees physically and mentally.

My first loss was an abstract loss, in that, while I participated in the on-going situation—the rescue of a young child who had floated out to sea on a lilo (an inflatable pool raft)—it was from a distance and on the periphery of the event that, sad to say, ended in the loss of life. The child drown before either the helicopter or lifeboat launched could reach him. That loss, nonetheless, hit all those involved, from the rescue crews to those on-scene at the holiday beach, to us at the rescue centre when we heard the awful news. It was heartbreaking.

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Out on the Range

One of the highlights of being stationed in Germany, on a front line base, was that, during a major exercise we were issued with fake guns. Yes, fake as in wooden, because, if we were really at war certain female members within the operations block would be able to carry a sidearm.

I’m not sure how this came about, but, once the decision was made (and not rescinded by subsequent Group Captains) wooden replicas were issued in our mock invasion exercises. All of which meant one thing. That while we might not be allowed to be issued with the real thing during said exercises, we still had to have training on the actual real weapons. And so, on a given day, I was sent along with a handful of other women to the range up by the armoury for weapons training.

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Playing with the Card Sharks

Following on from yesterday’s post about my introduction to shift work, the reason most of us survived and, quite possibly flourished on night shifts, was nothing to do with the copious amounts of thick, treacly black coffee we all consumed, but the fact we all played cards. Bastard Whist, to be precise.

It didn’t take me long to find out where the card games were being played through out each night shift. All I had to do was stumble into the Comms room and there they all were, staffers from every department; sergeant, corporal and junior airmen alike, rowdily playing this crazy fast game where, I suspect, everyone, including myself (eventually) cheated. As that was all part of the game and what made this mad-cap game so much fun, never mind, an addiction.

Each session could be played with between 3 to 7 players. No less no more. Not 2, not 8. I’m not sure I can explain just what the game involved, you would have to play it. It took me a few hands to understand not only the game play itself, but the strategies involved. It was simple and yet, it was as complex as the people playing it.

Playing this game kept us all sane and, for the most part, I guess, gifted us a sense of camaraderie. It was these people outside of shift who we usually sat with at meals, or at the NAAFI bar of an evening, and celebrated milestone events with, like birthdays, postings, births and weddings.

Even today, I still wonder what happened to some of these people who, over time, became good friends, and those who I stayed in touch with for a long time, over the years, long after we had all left the military. I still think of them fondly, along with the game. And wonder if service personnel still play Bastard Whist in the wee small hours on night shift, on bases around the world?


Get A Move On

In the military there is no such thing as weekends off. As I have said, you are, to put it bluntly, on call 24/7. And in my line of work, trained as an assistant air traffic controller, I was expected to work shifts whether that was in the Controller Tower itself, or in Flight Ops, or the Operations building.

Shifts was not something I was ready for, not on any level. So when I got my first posting to Plymouth, in Devon (UK) I was in for a rude awakening at just how demanding a boring job could be. While my childhood had prepped me for so many aspects of military life, these kinds of working conditions were a whole other ball game, and one I wasn’t prepared for.

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