Its about time…

I wrote another blog. Its been 6 months since the last one about my birthday so here goes.

A lot has happened to me personally and to my family but I like to listen and observe and not necessarily tell the world about it, like some do. I’m in the middle of writing a novel; an autobiography, some short stories and lots of scribbling of notes, ideas and thoughts. The trouble is I haven’t felt like doing any more to them for ages. It’s not writers block it’s can’t be arsed block. The brain is willing and quite frankly bursting with ideas, it’s the execution that’s at fault. I guess that is something to do with being retired and ‘comfortable’

I’m not trying to be lazy, but when you are that comfortable it seems an effort to do anything that requires brain power. It’s bad enough doing physical stuff, in the garden for example, but the brain uses too much energy. Now you could say ‘lazy bastard’ but that’s not actually the case. Its the old adage that work expands to fill the time available to do it. So not having to cram everything in for the two days of the weekend means I’ve the whole week to do what I want. Of course there’s the daily tasks; eating, drinking, bathroom action, sleeping and slumped in front of the telly trying to stay awake enough to go bed and sleep, again. These tasks take up a good proportion of the day, and eat into leisure time, which is a bind. But, I’ve heard it said many times; I’ve got less life in front of me than I’ve gone through so I’ve got to fill my days with meaningful stuff so I don’t regret anything I didn’t do. Thats cobblers, you can’t spend every day doing something that you should do because you could be dead tomorrow. Daily life has to go on, unless you get into the black science of depression and then you don’t care about anything, least of all yourself. I’ve had many friends, all around my age, who have passed away in the last year or so, some ‘suddenly, others after a protracted illness and that concentrates the mind very well. Naturally there is nothing you can do about either, the first is literally in the laps of the gods, and the second is down to medical science whether you make it not. So I’m slightly philosophical about my eventual demise but I would like to think that I would have had a life well lived. Others may disagree.

So on to the daily ‘grind’, although it’s not. This past summer has shown that good weather and visits from your family certainly make life worthwhile, as does the love of a significant other, as the modern parlance would have it. I prefer the old fashioned wife or husband: girlfriend/boyfriend, fiance, good friend etc.what is a BFF anyway? I don’t get these modern idioms, but then I suppose we had them ‘back in the day’, another hateful expression. I’d prefer, ‘when I was younger’ etc. So my wife of many years makes my life complete. Oh yes we have arguments, and disagreements; I can’t fathom those married couples who have never had a cross word in 30 years of marriage or whatever. It’s inevitable that two people living together will disagree with one another over something, but it depends on who wants to win the argument more is the one who often does, or they make up anyway and all is sweetness and light again. Don’t get me wrong, I hate arguing it makes me feel awful, but it usually ends in a score draw so it’s not all bad.

Sitting here on the cusp of autumn, bathed in warm weather, makes me feel totally relaxed, it engenders a wonderful feeling of wholeness, of being at ease with myself, ready to take on whatever is thrown at me, but at this stage in my life, nothing major will be. The biggest challenge I’ve got at the moment is finishing this piece and then painting a retaining wall. Such is life!

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Another Year, another pain….

Yes, it’s that time again when another birthday passes. I’m not going to insult anyone by directly saying what my age is or what year I was born, you’ll have to look at previous blogs for that. Suffice to say I’m nearer to seventy than I was.

Luckily the day itself, 10th March, was lovely with exception of England getting beaten by France. So I watched rugby, had a few beers and enjoyed a curry with family; all pretty normal and unremarkable. I don’t feel any different, like you used to be asked when younger: ‘so how does it feel to be 15/30/45 etc?’ No, you get to a certain point, say over 50 when the years till on and merge into one another. The length of the year seems to be shortening all the time. It’s nearly April yet a few minutes ago it was winter.

“I don’t actually mind winter, getting warm clothing on, brisk winter walks, a wood burning stove and hearty meals like casseroles, roasts etc. If course snow is often part of winter and the other week was the worse snow we’ve had for a long time. So, we hibernated for three days and didn’t leave the house, except to fetch wood to keep the fire going. It was quite cathartic actually, and was not boring, or frustrating or anything like that. Luckily we had enough milk, bread egg so didn’t feel the need to strip the supermarkets shelves bare ‘just in case’.

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2018? Get your wish list in

So another year bites the dust, where did it go? The old cliche about time passing quickly has never been truer the older you get, but 2017 seemed to go quicker than most. In March we went to Australia for three weeks and that doesn’t seem so long ago, and where did the summer go for Christ’s sake?

Still, last year wasn’t a bad one for me, it started getting treatment for prostate cancer and ended with me being signed off for a year having beat it, for now. In between time we did lots of visiting, and besides Australia had a few weekends away. This year we go on a river cruise in France, and are looking for another break probably in the UK. It’s always nice to have a holiday to look forward to. Not that being retired isn’t like being in holiday all the time, well maybe it is but it can be hard work when you’ve got to get out to do normal stuff sometime during the day, when it pleases you. Hey I know I’ve beat this particular drum before, so I won’t mention it again honest.

So what does ’18 promise? Well the Brexit (yawn) negotiations will carry on interminably, and get nowhere meanwhile plunging the country into even more debt. I bet the other EU countries see us as a cash cow now we’ve voted out. I predict the whole thing will be a mess, cabinet posts will resign and there will be a general election, but gawd help us if corbynista takes over and makes an even bigger mess of it. There’ll be tears before bedtime. The winter Olympics take place in South Korea and they’ve invited the North to come down and take part. I hope Kim Yong Il takes it as a gesture of goodwill, they need some in that region. Russia haven’t been invited though, when does winning become everything, not matter what did their athletes are fed? The Commonwealth Games take place in Australia, I’m sure the GB countries will do well. The football world cup is on, and England are in, so it’ll be England 0, anyone else a shed load of goals and a sacked manager. Give me rugby 🏉 any day. The brains who arrange these things forget to check the calendar for Harry’s wedding on May 19th, the same day as the FA cup final. Doh! They tried to justify their cock up by saying the events are not on at the same time. Could be a bit rushed for William though if he’s best man and due to deliver the cup to the winning captain at Wembley. Might have to pass on the best man speech to one of his uncles. There’s not much else major on for the rest of the year, besides the usual top flight events like Wimbledon, the Open etc, and not much else outside sport either.

 Still every year brings its surprises, and this will be no exception. So my predictions for 2018: a senior royal will become ill, North Korea will relax, Cornyn will win a general election, Brexit will be re-referendummed (is there such a word?) and we will vote to remain. IS will be completely defeated but another group will try impose their fanatical ideas on the rest of us. Their will be a strike in the NHS. Just my opinions, give me yours. Anyway that’s enough waffle for now see ya!

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3 in a row

I didn’t think it could get any worse, but another friend has gone, this time with gall bladder cancer and it only took 5 weeks from diagnosis.

We joined the RAF together 50 years ago in January. We were hoping to get a 50th Anniversary meal for all of us who joined up together in place, for sometime on 2018. My friend was a nice gentle man in every sense and had retired with a couple of pensions to enjoy a peaceful life after work. But it was not to be and as I understand it, he contracted one of the rarest cancers, with deaths in the high hundreds per year rather than say prostate cancer where 25 men a day die of that.

We went to his funeral, and it was another very sad occasion, but I met up with 3 old comrades. Again it brings into sharp focus one’s own mortality. As someone famous (I think it was Robert dear Niro) said, nobody gets out alive, we’re all born to die, there’s nothing as sure as death and taxes. BUT none of us expects it it or is necessarily prepared for it or wants to embrace that final segment of one’s life. Life is pretty random, some smoke, drink and eat fat and STILL live until they are 90+. Others keep fit, eat sensibly, don’t drink or smoke and still die before they’ve retired. Life in this respect is also unfair, you never know when you’re going to struck down with a dibillitating disease, or worse, incurable cancer or similar. It’s so unfair; but who ever said life was fair? But the funeral was, if it can be said, lovely. It lasted an hour and was presented by a vicar in a church who gave a great eulogy for our friend. Afterwards we went to the local pub and talked about old times, Ivor, life now and a myriad of other subjects. We may only see each other every ten years or so, but we can gossip like nothing when we get a chance to meet. Life has been pretty good to the lads today since we all know we’re within a year in age of each other, and can discuss things that might not be in another group or context having that bond which tied us together for two years back in the 60s as apprentices, and continues to this day.

So, farewell old friend, we will miss you terribly at our 50th anniversary in 2018 (coincidentally the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force), and we’ll raise a glass to remember absent friends. Who would have thought those callow 16 and 17 year olds from so long ago would still be meeting up 50 years later?

RIP Ivor

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The Harrier Force Remembers

The Gang 2018

The splendid guys and gals of the Harrier Force

It was a crisp bright day when the members of the Harrier Force assembled on Horse Guards parade in London to take part in the annual remembrance parade on Sunday November 12th 2017.

This is the 2nd year that the Harrier Force has assembled to parade and to remember the fallen. It was all started by Craig Benton a resident of Germany since he left a Harrier squadron while based there 20 years ago, and went to work in the German economy. Craig thought it was about time that the Harrier was able to parade alongside other Royal Air Force elements. The Harrier was in service with the RAF and Royal Navy for over 40 years and during that time was one of the backbones of the defence of the British Isles. There have been hundreds of engineers, pilots, suppliers, air traffic controllers and myriad other trades who were involved in maintaining and flying the Harrier during its service life. Other RAF squadrons have been parading annually at the Cenotaph on the date set aside for Remembrance Sunday and Craig set about trying to find the men and women who served on any one of the Harrier squadrons which ceased service 7 years ago. The squadrons were: 1(F), 3(F), IV(AC), 20, 237 OCU, 800, 801. There were also other Harrier bases including Belize. This made us fairly unique, as we we are a group for an aircraft whereas most other RAF groups are single squadron based. Using social media it quickly became apparent that there was a great deal of interest in taking part in the parade.

Typical regalia

A Typical Regalia layout

Craig knew and kept in touch with many of his former colleagues on IV(AC) squadron based at RAF Gutersloh in Germany, and by posting on Facebook managed to capture many other people from other Harrier squadrons. In conjunction with the Royal British Legion via The Harrier Force Association, we were accepted and were able to attend the parade and march past the Cenotaph. Then there was a flurry of activity on Facebook which saw the word being passed rapidly to anyone who worked or flew on Harrier squadrons including MoD personnel. It was decided that the dress for the day was to be berets, Blazers with squadron badge and medals, white or cream trousers and shoes. The response was amazing and the enthusiasm was exponential. Traffic built up on social media and ex-Harrier people world-wide were clamouring to be part of the parade. Eventually we received the tickets, after providing essential information including service details, medals awarded, war theatres attended and many other aspects. Luckily all were accepted and plans were laid to get to London for 13th November. Hotels were booked, relatives were contacted for possible accommodation and journeys were planned. When we all assembled on Horse Guards parade, there was 67 of us. A marvellous result. The night before there was a gathering in a pub nearby and this was where old friendships were renewed and new ones formed. The next morning Craig and helpers waited at Trafalgar Square to issue tickets to gain access to Horse Guards, along with photo i.d. The wives and families attending were looked after as well by John Eaton, being taken to a good vantage point. Then the Force moved down to Horse Guards where Craig mopped anyone who couldn’t get to Trafalgar Square in time to issue the final batch of tickets, even though there were some no-shows. Waiting on Horse Guards for about an hour enabled all the people to say hello to all who managed to get there for the day. It was an emotional experience, we were there to honour the years of Harrier service . We have lost people in wars ranging from the Falklands to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia. The Harrier was taken out of service by the government of the day in a straight competition with the Tornado which won the day and the Harrier Force was disbanded in December 2010, the aircraft being sold to the USA who were going to use them as spares donation assets. We have our doubts, but there doesn’t seem any sign that they are flying the 80 airframes we sold them. Luckily it seems that most of the guys and gals who were involved with the Harrier Force went on to further careers which were enhanced by their service on the Harrier.

Quote from Michael Mather:

‘Once again I was humbled to be in the presence of such fine personnel and family members from the Harrier Force. The camaraderie doesn’t diminish, in fact I think it grows stronger. I look forward to seeing you all at the next HEAR (Harrier Engineers Annual Reunion) or again next year in November.’

The Remembrance parade set off from Horse Guards and went into Whitehall and waited for 11 o’clock the time of the signing of the armistice on 11th November 1918 at 11.00 am. Small flasks were passed around to keep the cold out, and then the two minute silence signalled the laying of the wreaths at the Cenotaph. Then we were off! The march past the Cenotaph and down King Charles Street then down Horse Guards Parade was fantastic, the crowds applauding everyone who marched past, Turning into Horse Guards we approached the saluting dias where the salute was taken by HRH The Prince of Wales, it was eyes right, eyes front and onto the parade square where we were dismissed. It was agreed that we would meet in the Old Shades pub in Whitehall, where it was manic, absolutely rammed with humanity. We manged to get a drink, just, but our party went off elsewhere to find somewhere to eat. It was over for the first Harrier Force Remembrance Sunday Parade, and it was a huge success. It was a fantastic, emotional and energising experience.

Horse Guards Plan

The parade square layout

This year the same system of advertising the word on social media spread the net even wider. The same applications were made through the Harrier Force Association and the tickets were applied for. I think the final total on parade was 90 or thereabouts. There were some differences, based on the experiences learned in 2016. Chris Sprott liaised with the Union Jack Club near Waterloo Station and arranged for a dedicated room for us all to meet on the Saturday night to bond, and to pick up tickets. There was the usual banter and good-natured ribbing as the guys went up to collect their tickets from Craig, and put £10 into a pot to help pay for the hire of the room and bar staff. There were people from all over the place. Pat PV Voigt (ex IV (AC)) flew in from Hong Kong where he is a pilot with Cathay Pacific. Craig of course came from Germany and others came from all points west and east. The arrangements for the following morning were nearly the same except that Trafalgar Square was cordoned off, so Craig asked to meet the guys outside a Costa coffee shop, but this was too crowded so we changed this and waited outside Charing Cross Station instead. Then we all trooped off to Horse Guards to join the other 1500 or so other old sweats from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. This time we turned left and formed up further back in the parade than last year. The hour or so wait until 11.00 am ensued and then we were on the move past Downing Street, down Whitehall and then right into Great George Street then right into Horse Guards Parade. The salute this time was taken by The Earl of Wessex. Then as before, dismissed on Horse Guards, and to the pub, The Old Shades which again was absolutely packed and after a quick drink we left and went further afield. The whole day was as good, if not better than last year, and next year Remembrance Sunday is 11th of the 11th 2018, exactly 100 years since the armistice was signed. This will make it a bumper year as everyone will be wanting to take part on such an auspicious occasion, so we’re hoping we can top 100 for the 100th. Hopefully the BBC will actually show us on television, unlike last year and this. As a footnote, hotels are being booked fast and space is running out if accommodation is required. Be warned if you want to take part, get your hotel booked quickly. Oh and on a personal note, if you need a blazer badge, I can get any squadron badge; I’ve already supplied over 60 to parade participants. Contact me for details.

In conclusion, we must give a big thank you to Craig Benton and his helpers (Shannon!). Without him the Harrier Force parade would not have happened, although he’s probably created a bit of a beast for himself. There’s always help from the rest of us Craig. Of course it goes without saying to thank all those who turned up and took part. Without that support it would not have happened. If you are reading this and want to take part, and served on a Harrier squadron, all the details are on the Facebook page, click on:

Harrier Force Remembrance Parade 2018

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And another one

It’s now getting scary.

Another friend and colleague has passed away, I think he was in his early 60s and died in his sleep. The cause was ‘excess fluid around his enlarged heart.’ This is scary on many levels.

I have an enlarged ventricular chamber, which is an enlarged heart, whether it is surrounded by fluid or not, I don’t know. But could this happen to me? I don’t know and I shouldn’t worry about whether it will or not, but I do. There are many ways that life is going to kill us, and it’s inevitable, but I’d still like to see it coming. Poor Chris didn’t wake up, which is maybe one of the best ways, at least he wasn’t in pain. He had a pacemaker but this apparently didn’t detect his heart problem, he was tall and had suffered from angina for many years. It’s all come as a huge shock to all his ex colleagues and I expect a huge turnout at his funeral. I send condolences to his wife Jan and his daughters Nicola and Emma. RIP Chris.

Just lately I’ve heard with horror about crime going up but detection and arrests are going down. Quelle surprise! Cuts in police budgets and poor sentencing by the courts, coupled with overcrowded prisons means that the majority (non criminals) are in fear of the minority (criminals) and neither the police or the judiciary have the means or wherewithal to do anything about it. The government is in crisis about many things, who’d be a minister or in government at the moment? Useless bunch are found wanting all the time, what with sex scandals and corruption. Countries going to hell in a handcart.

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The Final Frontier

We’re all in the same boat.

I think its been said by many well known quotation makers that there is nothing more sure than death and taxes. Well while some be able to get away with not paying the latter, the former is inevitable and unavoidable. A friend has just passed away unexpectedly, who was only in his early sixties. There was no known previous medical history and the medical people tried to save him for half an hour, to no avail. What this sort of sudden death always does is to bring into sharp focus your own mortality, it puts you firmly in your place that despite all the joking , all the bravado, eventually we’re going the same way. I like the old Facebook quote that often comes up: Don’t go to your grave quietly and in full health, slide in kicking and screaming ‘hell, what a ride’ in your knackered worn out shell. It probably has more impact on you if it’s a contemporary who you’ve known for some time, than say your parents or grandparents. But this is not meant to be a downbeat eulogy about death, just an essay on the effect others passing on you.

Yes we all know we’re going to go, some of course make it easy for the grim reaper to wield his sythe, by trying to do themselves in by indulging in dangerous pursuits. Others do by inhaling or ingesting stuff that is definitely not good for you and may hasten your demise. And then some follow all the rules, live healthily, eat sensibly. keep fit, don’t do mountain climbing or whatever and still peg out for no apparent reason. That’s the scary one; we could just drop down and never get up again. At least you wouldn’t know anything about it. I don’t know which I would prefer; as if I had a choice, but peacefully surrounded by your loved ones sounds the best. None of us can predict which way it will be though, and when someone you know passes away suddenly your mortality gene suddenly kicks in and you think about your own lifestyle and loved ones. The devastating part about it is the ones you leave behind in a ‘sudden’. One minute you’re there and the next your’re not with all the heartache and hassle that goes with it.

So this is a tribute to my friend Lez, RIP mate.

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