Friday, January 29, 2010

North of the Border... (Completed)

Odd, my right shift key no longer lets me type capital S or N. How infuriatingly odd.
OK, fixed with the aid of a screwdriver. Still weird.

NOTE: Quotes from certain people, myself included, are not reproduced verbatim. These events occured days ago, and while I remember the events, the exact words used over the past few days may have skipped my mind. Note also that I describe the events in varying amounts of detail, but the order in which they happened may be incorrect. This is for the same reason. I suspect that I have, in fact, got a few presentations/tests out of order - there were a lot of them.

NOTE TWO: Covering 3 days in great detail is not the sort of thing you can do at a keyboard in the space of an hour or even two, so I'm going to break this down into sections.

PART ONE: AFCO

So I'm sat in bed, relaxing, being generally warm and lazy, and living the lazy equivalent of the good life, when the phone goes off.
Annoying when that happens, given that it happens a lot.

My dad answers the phone fairly quickly though, and the upstairs phone stops ringing.
Thank sod for that, back to sleep I go.

However, about 20 seconds after the phone goes silent, my dad shouts me from the bottom of the stairs, telling me that it's Sergeant Thingiewhatsit from the carreers office.

I stomp downstairs and answer the phone, as my new recruiting sergeant politely and professionally, but frankly asks me what the bloody hell I've been doing - or not doing - as my Army application has been dragging on and on for the best part of 8 months.

"Yes", I tell him, "I'm still keen". So he asks me to pop along to the office for a couple of interviews just to make sure that my details/circumstances haven't changed and whatnot.

So a couple of days later, I catch the bus to town, and after a quick but yummy breakfast, wander up to the AFCO about 5 minutes early for my meeting with this "new" sergeant who I've never met before.

To my pleasant surprise, the stern concerned sounding sergeant on the phone turns out to be a fairly friendly, chatty bloke. It comes up in conversation that if he decides I'm suitable for the army, we will get my application back on track, and I will conduct another interview that day.
Seeing my evident alarm as I start to point out that I'm not dressed for an interview, he tells me not to worry about turning up in trackies and trainers, as he will make it clear he didn't tell me I was to have another interview. He goes backstage (well, through the locked door to the rest of the offices) to do something and I get talking to another soldier, who turns out to be a photographer in the army. We spend a while chatting about what that job entails, how you get involved (you have to transfer to that job from within the army, you can't join as a photographer)

So off we go to the interview, and he starts before we're even in the room.

"You're so nervous aren't you"
"yeah"
[laughs] "I can feel it radiating from you, don't worry mate there's nothing to be nervous about".

Of course, my interview with him goes pretty well, and as we go through my record, he notes that the only problem with my application has been down to me having uncertainties - unfounded in retrospect - about my own physical fitness. He stresses that he is absolutely certain that I am ready for selection, and once again I watch the video about what happens there.

He then tells me he has no hesitation in asking me to go along to the second interview, and I am to wait in reception to be called by the senior recruiter. Fair enough.

Eventually the senior recruiter turns up - a surprisingly friendly easy going guy who was quite different to the stern frowning guy I'd expected. He asks me a load of questions - as you'd expect - about what selection entails, what my job entails, why do I want to do that job, why do I want to join the army etc etc etc.
Afterwards, he tells me he is also happy to put me forward for final selection, and asks me how the interview has gone.

"Well, I'm not sure, I think it went well, I think if I had any criticism, it'd be that I was very talkative, I didn't really treat it as a formal interview. I think I might have waffled on a bit".

He grins. "Ah well, you see, I have interviewed people who as soon as they realise it is an interview, just clam up and say next to nothing. They give loads of one word answers, and finding out anything about them is like drawing teeth. Whereas this I think was actually one of the best interviews I've ever had. You're a pleasure to interview because you actually volunteer information - it makes my job a lot easier".
So he also tells me that he's ready to put me forward for selection.

I talk to the my recruiter before I go, and he says he'll call me in the next couple of weeks with a date for selection, and I can expect to get about 2 weeks notice.

A couple of days later, the phone goes, I answer and it's my recruiter.

"You know you asked for two weeks notice?"
"Yeah I did?"
"You've got five days mate, is that okay?"

I start to waffle on about not being fit, but he cuts me off "Trust me mate, you know you're ready, we know you're ready, we've got the assessment results to prove it. Come in on xyz-day and we'll sort out your train tickets".

So I go back to the AFCO a few days later, he hands me my tickets (I'm amazed to see that the army don't even know if I'm physically/medically fit enough to join, and they've paid nearly £100 for my return ticket to Edinburgh!

Of course. The next few days are filled with nervousness, tottering about looking for shorts, washcloths, shaving gel and whatnot, ironing shirts, and generally getting ready for one big long job interview. Eventually though, after passing two self-imposed "be in bed by:" deadlines, I levitate into bed and surprisingly, fall asleep pretty quickly.

PART TWO: TRAVELLING

Of course, my body likes playing silly sods when it comes to sleeping, and when i HAVE to get a good night's sleep, it rarely lets me. Three or four hours after falling asleep like a log, I wake up, and am unable to get to sleep.

I'm too hot. I push some of the blankets down the bed.
10 minutes later, I'm too cold. I pull them back up.
I decide I'm uncomfortable sleeping on my left side, so I flip round and lay on my right.
10 minutes later, I don't like laying on my right, so I lay on my back. And I'm too hot again.

After about 2 hours of this silliness, I manage to fall asleep, again, managing (I think) to wake up just in time for my alarm to go off.
I press "snooze" and settle back down. It'll go off again in ten minutes.
My second alarm I set on another clock goes off. I turn this one off. The first one will go off in five minutes.

Eventually, it does, and admitting defeat, I get out of bed and get dressed. No running around, I did that all last night. A final check to make sure I haven't forgotten anything, and I'm in the car with my mum, who has very nicely agreed to give me a lift - all the way to the next town so I don't have to mess around changing trains.

On the way, this rather happy-yet-bittersweet (a word I try to avoid using) tune - rather fittingly by a Scottish woman, comes on the radio, and I resolve to remember it, so that as with so many other events, a song will remind me of a time in my life :-). Eventually though I get dropped outside the railway station.

First impressions, not good. I'm on my own in the next city, it's dark, freezing cold, and the station looks like a world war two hauptbahnhof (German central railway station). I go inside.

My train isn't for over an hour.

A summary of the next hour:

I go to the platform, and see a couple of trains there. They leave. So do I.
I go back outside. Meh, still cold.
I go back inside.
I go to the empty platform.
I go to a different platform, which also doesn't have a train at it.
I go back to my platform.

I'm glancing down the tracks at the local scenery. A couple of depressing concrete tower blocks, a brightly lit shopping centre. Crows hop about. Passengers wander around, which is like hopping about, but less purposeful.
Occasionally a cross-country train blasts through the station, electric sparks from the cables above tracing its course into the dark fog.

"I don't like this very much" I think.
"Calm down, you don't like anything very much. It's a train station, not death row" I think after.

Eventually, after 10 minutes counting down the minutes on the information board, I watch my train come out of the distance and stop at the platform. A fairly modern looking train, a couple of sharply swept carriages at either end, 9 passenger coaches in between the two. "If it's an electric train..." I think, "...why is it making so much damn noise?" [Answer: Because the train, is a British Rail Class 221 Super Voyager, which actually uses Diesel-Electric engines. It says in the article that the train is 5 carriages long - mine was 11. I counted. And no I'm not a train nut. I just have an inquiring mind :-)].

After getting on the seat, I find that the seat that was reserved for me has a table. Around it are two businessy type gents, tickety-tapping away at notebooks of varying vintages. Eventually I manage to get sat down, and off we go. Well, off I go, they were already going. Until they stopped. Now we're all going together. My back is to the direction of travel, so I get to watch the scenery as it goes past.

Before long, we arrive at York. Yikes, that didn't take long! We all stay seated as the scenery starts moving away from us. I glance out of the window to see the western front of York Minster receding into the distance. A huge building, but getting steadily smaller as we go through the countryside.

Next up, Darlington. The guy opposite powers down his computer and makes to leave. About 30 seconds before we start moving, he reappears, and sits back down, explaining that he meant to get off at Durham, our next stop. I don't recall much of the town, as again we disappear into the countryside.

Occasionally a train rocks the carriage perceptibly as it blasts past us, going the opposite direction. 11 carriages disappear in seconds as the southbound trains disappear from view.

Durham eventually appears, and from the huge viaduct I have just learned we were on, it's certainly an impressive sight, and a great view. And as I watch the castle, and the cathedral set within what looks like a rather pleasant - and busy - town, recede into the distance, I wonder why I've never been here before.

Next up, Newcastle. We've travelled about a hundred miles north, so far, and the day has begun, the dark blue sky has now turned become slightly less dark, and as the train crosses over the Tyne, the dawn light affords me an amazing view of the city. Four huge bridges, one behind the other, all high above the river, fill my view, and behind them, my travelling companion notes, the controversial - because it stopped functioning properly (the mechanism used to raise it stopped working, leaving the bridge immobilised) some time after it was installed - Gateshead Millenium Bridge. [Oddly enough, another bridge with "Millenium" in the title, the London Millenium Footbridge, about 300 miles south of Newcastle, is also infamous for severe technical problems (is that enough nested sentences for you?)].

The track curves round as we enter the station, and as we leave, I'm afforded a very close, and quite final glimpse of the iconic (and bloody big) Tyne Bridge, before the view is blocked by office buildings, car parks, and other features of the city center, that quickly give way to yet more suburbia, itself receding into the ever-present countryside.

We head north through Alnmouth, past Lindisfarne (mentioned in Blackadder), and up towards Berwick-Upon-Tweed.

This unusual town has an odd history. Being very close to the border between England and Scotland, the town has changed hands from one nation to the other and back again several times during several bloody border wars in the middle ages. Now firmly in English hands (since 1482) it was an unusual place to see.
From the train, in the dark early morning, it looked as if the city was cut in half by the river (it is, hence the name). The darkness gave the river the appearance of a great canyon, accentuated by the fact that across it, from one side to another, a pair of tall bridges stood high above the water, climbing steeply from one side to the other.

The train Stopped, but only temporarily.

I decided I fancied some music, and stuck on an album. As we again went into the countryside, the rail line hugged the coast. fields gave way to cliffs, and as we passed above them, I was amazed to see houses nestled in them, so close to the water that a violent spray must have flooded their gardens, seeing these nameless places, these places too small even to be called villages, made me wonder that perhaps the UK isn't such a small place after all, and if you've seen one city, maybe you haven't seen them all. The music seemed oddly appropriate, as the train rushed from Northumberland to the Scottish Borders, as English countryside gave way to Scottish moorland.

Finally, the train began to slow, preparing to end its journey across the country. As houses started appearing, turning into suburbia, and as the buildings got denser, taller, and more numerous, the driver announced that we were about to arrive in Edinburgh.

"Funny", I thought, looking out of the window. "It doesn't look Scottish"...

To Be Continued (as they say)...

RIGHT: That's me done for tonight, I've been at it for a good 90 minutes, having written a good 2,400 words, I'm off to go and relax. I'll work on part two either tomorrow or Sunday. I WON'T be creating new entries for later parts of this entry, they'll be added on to the bottom of this one (to give the entire entry the same creation date, thereby preserving the space-time continuum). You WILL be able to see if I've updated the entry, I'll change the title each time I do.

All the best.

PART THREE: DAY ONE

I get off the train, noticing the change in temperature straight away. Definitely cold up here!
I spend a while wandering aimlessly around the station (which compared to the one I boarded at, is huge!) and finally decide to leave the station and walk around the perimeter until I find the coach.
Rounding the corner, I see, not the coach, but a bunch of lads hanging round outside the restaurant, including one lad who rather amusingly (surprisingly, he didn't get any grief for it throughout the course - he did get grief for being a twunt though) had turned up wearing a camouflage jacket.

"You lads here for ADSC" I say to the nearest lad. He replies in the affirmative.
Filling a lull in the conversation, I turn to him and his mate.
"Where you lads come from then?"
His reply is so thickly accented that it takes me a few seconds before I work out what he just said.
"Darlington, eh?" I reply. The other lad turns out to be from Durham - they must have met on the train or something.

So we're stood around outside, it's absolutely freezing, and rain is beginning to fall. I look around at the scenery. "Bloody hell" I say, gesturing towards a massic stone spire (that turned out to be the Scott Monument), I bet that took some building.

After a short while, the coach finally appears and pulls over. A Scottish corporal sticks his head out of the door, shouts something in impossibly accented English at the now-assembled crowd, and then ducks back inside the coach. "What did he say?" I ask turning to the nearest lad. "Didn't understand a word, mate" he replies.

We get on the coach and are assigned numbers. My number is a secret because I'm mysterious like that. Eventually though, we're sat down and the coach pulls into Edinburgh traffic.

I spend my time staring out of the window trying to find anything that looks particularly Scottish, but with the exception of a Scottish souvenir store, and one lad waiting for a bus wearing a kilt [where would you find a kilt big enough for a bus to wear?], Edinburgh looks just like any other British city, albeit one with spectacular architecture.

After a short time we arrive at the Army Development and Selection Center, and comments start going back and forth. "It's smaller than I expected", "hey, looks like a nice place".

So off the coach, and first thing to do is take care of the Sample business. Pick up a numbered badge and your sample container. So off we go. Having obtained (contained, perhaps), said samples, we return downstairs. "I think mine's leaking" said a voice from the back of the group. Laughing, I think to myself "Carrying round a plastic container of piss wasn't what I'd been expecting).

Coming back, we're told to sit in one of the presentation rooms.

A fairly large room, with a huge white board at one end, on which is trained a projector. This projector is connected to a computer on the podiums, to the side of the whiteboard.

As we fall quiet, a Major walks to the front of the room.

"Hello lads, welcome to the Army Development and Selection Center. Before I go any further, I just want to show you guys something". He gestures to the screen and opens a WMV on the computer.

The sound of gunfire fills the room as the screen fills with a scene of British soldiers in Afghanistan. Heavy gunfire whistles overhead, as the soldiers fire dozens of rounds into the distance. There's the occasional boom of an explosion in the distance or the whoosh of an RPG flying overhead, and every now and again, with a high pitched pinging noise, an incoming bullet will end its journey in the nearby wall.
The scene cuts to another couple of sildiers firing a machine gun into the distance, before returning to our lads flinging more lead downrange. Some chatter on the radio, one of the soldiers gestures to his mate, and the soldiers change their target and open fire in a different direction. The screen goes blank and the sound of combat disappears as abruptly as it had started.
The room is silent.

"That's what you lads will be facing within one, maybe two years of you passing this course. Are you all still up for it?
The room seems subdued, not surprised, of course, but still reacting to a point that has been pressed home, yet again. Glances fly back and forth, and a ragged chorus of "Yes Sir"s hovers above the crowd.

"Sorry lads, can't hear you".
"Yes Sir!" the room shouts as one.

The major goes on about the purpose of the course, detailing the assessments we'll be undertaking. He hands over to a couple of other guys, who have their presentations to conduct, and after what seems like a couple of hours of powerpoint presentations, we get taken off for food.

After the meal, we get taken down to the Med Center for our medical assessments. This is the bit that makes me most nervous. If I fail here, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

We sit down and fill out a couple of forms. Ross Kemp is on one of the huge TVs and as lads get taken off for their individual medical assessments, a quiet chatter fills the reception area.

Eventually I get called for my hearing assessments, with a group of other lads. We sit in what are allegedly soundproof booths, with headphones on. The headphones play a very quiet, almost silent, tone (varying in frequency and volume) in either ear, and you have to indicate with a button, when you think you hear a sound.

The test went quite well. It would have gone better if we hadn't had to listen to the THUD THUD THUD of the nurse stomping around while trying to do the hearing test. Seems these soundproof booths aren't as soundproof as they were intended to be.

Eventually though, She opens the booth, tells me I've passed, and directs me back to the reception area. There's plenty of humour among the lads there. We all know part of the medical examination involves having your naughty bits checked by the doctor, and a lot of the lads were joking about, "I hope it gets done by that sexy nurse over there"...
...There was a burst of laughter each time an elderly male doctor stuck his head out of the door, and the face of the guy he called, fell.

Before long, I'm called in for some other tests. At this point I am relieved (haha, er...) of my sample, which is tested with a piece of paper, before the whole lot is unceromoniously dumped in a bin marked "Biohazard".
Usual stuff, height and weight, any distinguishing scars, tattoos, etc. Then comes the vision exam/eye test.
I didn't have any problem with the first part - it seems that my visual acuity is excellent, as is my overall eyesight. That's reassuring because I had wondered.
Next comes the colour perception tests. You get a load of bits of paper (Ishihara Test Plates, actually) covered in a pattern of randomised circles of varying shades, within which are numbers made of circles of a slightly different colour.

Simple enough, look at the images, and read the numbers. Any person with normal colour vision would have no problem identifying the numbers. Unfortunately for me, it became clear fairly early on that I was having quite a difficult time identifying a lot of them. Either the numbers seemed to shift from one number to another (say, 74 to 21) or they simply remained hidden and unable to be seen.
The mood which was fairly informal at this point suddenly tensened as the nurse and I realised that we had identified a problem.
She sits me down to do some more tests. A machine lights up two tricolour LEDS on its front face. Each LED lights either as white, green or red, and from a distance, you have to identify the colour of first the top LED, followed by the colour of the bottom one, so an answer would be say, "Red, Green".

I do this test, the machine shows me a few dozen combinations of different colours, and I try to identify them as best as I can - it's not as easy in practice as it is in principle.

The nurse switches the machine off. "Have you ever been tested for colour blindness?".
"No, never." I reply, fairly alarmed.
"Well these tests indicate that you have Red-Green colour blindness.

I was amazed. Never having been tested for it, this "condition" if such it may be called, is something I've lived with since I was born. It was weird, I'd always assumed I was the same as everyone else, but all of a sudden, I'd learned that I wasn't.

"Will this prevent me from being eligible for the job I'd wanted?"
"I'm not sure, let me check. What job were you going for?"
"MBT Crew".
She checks in her Big Book of Eligibility (made by the same people who make dentists' equipment - inside joke ;)) and in the silence, every second stretches out, until:

"I don't think this will be a problem".

Relieved, I am directed back to the reception area to await the final part of the examination.

Eventually my name is called, and I'm relieved to see "my" doctor seems to be a pleasant woman, looking to be in her mid forties. She asks me various questions about my life, do I drink, do I smoke, have I ever taken drugs etc. I felt like I was digging my own grave, but having been told at the induction that honesty is the best policy, I answered truthfully that I had been a occasional weed smoker when I was younger, but hadn't touched it for five years. In response to her further quesitons, I answer that I had not suffered any nasty psychotic side effects, and I had never needed to seek treatment or councelling for any drug problem. This is dutifully noted down, the doctor commenting "No problem, that's fine".

Then the medical examination proper. All my joints are checked, my eyes, my ears, my teeth etc, my limbs are moved in directions I didn't realise they went, and at the very end, yes, the naughty bits test.
"Right, No problems here, I think it's safe to say that you've passed".

For the second time that day, I'm amazed. I'd been expecting to fail, I'd worried about it so much in the preceding weeks that I was practically convinced that I'd fail. Being told that I'd laid all my cards on the table, and had still passed, was a huge weight off my shoulders.

I spoke to the Doctor about my diagnosis of colour blindness, and we spoke about it for a while. Turns out that something like 8% of the male population actually have some form of colour blindness, and that I should think of it not as a problem, but as a fairly common condition.

Unfortunately, she also told me, that being colour blind, I would never be able to achieve my long term goal of becoming a helicopter pilot. Certain conditions exclude you from being eligible for pilot training, and colour blindness is one of them.

"Oh well", I thought ". I'll stick to tanks then.

Having passed my medical, I swap my numbered badge for a numbered bib, and head out of the Med Center to the next activity.

More to come later: I've been at it another two hours so I'll crack on with finishing this later on in the week. Hope it was worth the wait. Cheers :-).

UPDATE: 7th Feb: I intend to finish this writeup/article/journal/whatever at some point in the next few days, but due to various offline problems have been concentrating on other issues recently.

PART FOUR: SILLY BUGGERS, AND HYENAS

We're met at the med center by an NCO whos identity I remember almost, but not completely, not at all. We disappear down the corridor and via a route I don't recall, return to the Presentation room.

At some point during the proceedings, we're introduced to a senior NCO, who briefs us on our terms and conditions of service, pay, holidays, medical benefits etc etc, on our interview tomorrow, and other things.

This person seemed to me to be an extremely larger than life character, and certainly filled the room with his presence. It seemd to me that if I were to superimpose imaginary speech bubbles over people's heads, the words within this gentleman's speech bubble would be red, bold, underlined and in capital letters.
The following is based upon this guy's enunciation, spelling edited for emphasis. (italic R is indicative of rolled-Rs)

"To meeake a goooode h'impression at your h'interview tooo-morrrrowww, you have to become a good h'act-torrrr. Can anyone tell me what a good h'act-torrrr is?"

Silence.

"Is Mel Gibson a good h'act-torrr?"

At this point, someone should have expressed an opinion. If only to say that, well, Mel's acting skill or lack thereof has been vastly overshadowed by his personal controversies. But no, absolute silence.
Nobody said "Yes, until he starred in Braveheart". No one had the courage, me included.

During our briefing on Terms and Conditions, the senior NCO happened to mention that we'd get two payrises each year. He'd already demonstrated his dry sense of humour, and when quizzed by one of the lads, took the opportunity to show it again.

"Do we get promoted each time we get a pay rise"
*silly whiny singsong voice and dancing around* "Argh, do weee get promoted each time we get a pay rise"... *voice returns to normal" NO! Otherwise we'd all be bloody Generals wouldn't we!

An informative lesson, and a humorous one.

Later on, a bunch of the lads, myself included, are taken upstairs to a classroom (for want of a better word) to do a maths test, to determine our maths skills (I don't know why, I wasn't aiming for a job that required any). The period was spent in silence apart from "has anyone got the answer to number XYZ"
Idiot from the front "Yeah, it's 34"
Me: "No it bloody isn't. It's 21"
Him: "It's 34! Don't listen to him!"
"You've multiplied it when you're supposed to have averaged it, you tit!"
A burst of laughter and a mumble coming from the other side of the classroom "mmm twenty... one..."

We weren't supervised. Whether they assumed that this would aid our scores (i.e. the scores all increase because everyone copies off the smart guy) or whether they were simply short of people, I don't know. What I do know is that 35 questions into a 55 question test, the corporal returns and tells us we're out of time. From the entire room comes a rapid burst of activity, as those who hadn't finished the test pick answers at random to try and be in with a chance of passing.

Later, in a lull, while some of the other lads are having their medicals (I believe) a group of us were taken to a classroom elsewhere in the site. Chairs spaced around the wall, and under each was a pen, a pad, and a grenade. "Odd combination" I thought. Still, I suppose a grenade would be quite effective at removing any spelling mistakes.
As part of our course we're given a lesson in the characteristics of two different types of grenade.
"[Grenade] has white stencilling, on a blue background. I've not read the test but I believe you may be asked about it, somewhere around question - hmmm - four".
More laughter.

We then went outside to an area close to the perimeter fence, where we were each handed a practice grenade, that is, one without explosives in it.
A bunch of targets had been set up, and each of us had to throw the grenade to get it to land as close to the targets as possible.
I think I did pretty well, in retrospect.
"Don't throw the bloody thing over the fence like Number 14 did earlier" our corporal remarks to more giggles. Only later when I met our "Number 14" did I find out that he actually HAD thrown the grenade over the perimeter fence, and no, no one had been sent to retrieve it!

We go back to the presentation room to be met by the PTI who wants to give us a lacture (lacture? Like a lecture but with more milk, I suppose) on physical fitness in the Army and whatnot. Eventually, time for some more assessments.

We're led through a gap in what I (wrongly) assumed was the perimeter wall of the facility, and down a hill to a large collection of buildings. Blinking, I realised that the place was twice as big as anyone had realised.
Off we went down to the gym, myself and three other lads, to do our strength assessments, pullups etc. Never having done most of these before I wasn't sure what to expect, but you'll be glad to know that I passed them.

Later in the evening we got on with physical activities, the good old Jerry Can carry, and a sodding bloody horrible Bleep Test. Eventually though, time rolled on, and we wound down for the night with an hour at the on-base bar. No alcohol, (some of the trainees were under 18).

Eventually we returned to our accomodation and after a while of chatting and joking, one by one the lights went out and we went to sleep. Well, mostly.
Unfortunately for me, I spent the next 3 hours tossing, turning, gyrating, spinning, revolving, contorting, exploding, and I all but changed species in an attempt to get to sleep. Finally after 3 and a half hours, I started to drift off.

I heard on the very edge of hearing, some muffled whispering and some giggling. Obviously a couple of the lads sharing a joke. The giggling continued, to be joined by a very odd noise. The best way to describe it, would be the sound made by somebody who was not only in extreme pain, but who had just been told the funniest joke in the world.

Folks, I am filled with moderate indifference as I present "Hyena Boy".

Unfortunately for us - trying to get to sleep - laughter has an oddly contagious quality. Trainee by trainee, his odd hyena-ish laughter moved from one end of the room to the other, until we were all in stitches of laughter. Eventually silence reappeared, but only after the entire room was in pain from laughing too much. As a room we wiped away tears and tried to get on to sleep again. Occasionally there'd be a burst of giggling from somewhere in the room, and usually the giggling died down. Sometimes though, just as a starter motor kicks an engine into life, this giggling yet again set Hyena Boy off, which in turn got the room laughing again. Eventually the desire to sleep overrode even the most jovial sense of humour, and eventually, after several repeats of this cycle, and several polite attempts by various folks to get him to be quiet and go to sleep, an angrily hissed "shut up ya f***ing prick" from the corner of the room did the job and eventually we all fell asleep to the sound of the driving rain and wind trying to uproot the flagpoles outside.
PART FIVE: EARLY TO RISE

I woke, as I always do when I value my rest, about 15 minutes before the first of the clock alarms went off (this would be about 4:45AM, I feel tired just thinking about it).
15 minutes of hoping that it wasn't too late to get back to sleep.
Eventually though, the first of the alarms went off, and none of us really had an excuse for staying horizontal.

We got up, folded our blankets, shaved etc, and sat around in the room waiting for Our corporal to come up and get us. Better that we wait for him tan vice versa, especially on an assessment. Luckily almost everyone agreed, and even though there were one or two dissenters, we were all up and ready to get cracking on with the day.

First thing, breakfast. Scrambled eggs, Sausage, Beans and Fried Bread. Yummy.
We looked at each other, chatting, yawning, rubbing eyes and generally feeling tired and a bit "oh, do we have to?". Yes we did, and before long we found ourselves down on one of the training fields ready to do the command tasks.
I was looking forward to these, I'd always excelled at them.

In retrospect, the main difference between the practice assessments and the real assessments is not only the pressure to perform, but the fact that as a result of that pressure, EVERYONE was shouting encouragement, instructions etc in an effort to drown each other out and to be noticed. It seems that your performance in this case was measured strictly on your ability to out-shout your team-mates, rather than any command/support/encouragement criteria [Actually, as I found in the interview, this is broadly true]. We got together pretty well in our teams though and one by one we came up with working plans. Finishing on a high we beat the other team across an obstacle field, cargo in hand. Great, so that's that done. A discussion on the value of motivation and teamwork later, and we're off up ready for the run.

Our PTI comes back down, tells us what we're going to be doing, about our run, etc, asking us to check shoelaces, make sure we'd had a drink of water if we needed it etc.
"Any questions?"
Hyena Boy puts his hand up.
"Can I have a fag?"
The resulting laughter served to ease some of the tension.

Eventually we're taken up to the Parade Square. We're shown the route, and after a couple of warmup laps, we assembled on the start line.
Is this where I go on about moaning and suffering for ten minutes?

Well no actually. Six times around the parade ground, and 11:30 came and went. I finished somewhere around the 11:40 mark. So I'd dropped 15 seconds off my most recent time. Hardly surprising considering that once the snow started coming down, my running took a back seat (better to lose a few seconds than break your bloody leg trying to run on ice!)

The run was over surprisingly quickly. We got back to our accomodation, had a shower, got changed, exchanged run stories etc, and got on with getting ready for our interviews to find out whether we had made the grade or not.

We were taken up to the classroom again, nothing to do now, but wait.
Some of the lads decided that they were bored with "wait" and found "make paper aeroplane" much more interesting. One at a time, paper planes of varying designs took to the skies, flying in lazy arcs (and frequently, hectic death spirals) from one end of the room to the other, accompanied by childish laughter. Ahem.
Hyena Boy asked why I was picking on him - I answered honestly that I tried throwing the planes in every direction except at him, and they still all managed to hit him in the ear.
"Look, see?" I said, throwing a plane into the corner of the room, where it hit some lad in the temple, to more laughter. After the events of the course had been all but completed, we weren't really concerned anymore about anything except our own waiting

For some reason it was determined that we shouldn't stay in the classroom (maybe more dudes had to do their maths tests) so we were brought downstairs to the presentation room. And there, we did some more own waiting.

In true literary fashion, I was one of the last to be seen. We had no outright fails ("don't let us see you round here again" and didn't really have many deferred passes ("better luck next time"), eventually I was called in for my interview by a Major who I'd seen around the camp a couple of times.

A Smile, a good handshake and a confident voice, and this is how we start.
I perched on the seat, ill at ease, trying to look like I wasn't ill at ease. Without fidgeting. Which was an unusual combination.

"So you're from Sheffield?"
"Yes Sir"
"Tell me about Sheffield then".
I wasn't expecting this.
"What would you like to know sir? I mean, from a tourist's point of view, or a student's point of view or?"
So I told him about the city, what it was like to live here, I tried to guage whether he was assessing me or being genuinely interested - realising such things would put me off my stride, I pushed such thoughts to the back of my mind and concentrated on answering the questions put to me succinctly, but thoroughly (if that's possible).

The Major asked me about my life, my family, asked me how I thought I'd done throughout selection. Answering honestly, I replied that although my practices had gone fantastically well, my Team-Task (Command Task) assessments could have gone better.
Answering frankly, he agreed, but did concede that over the course of the morning, the tasks had turned from an exercise in teambuilding, to a "who can shout loudest" competition.

There was silence for a few minutes as he shuffled his papers, looked (presumably) at my data on the screen and steepled his fingers.

Eventually he broke the silence, and told me that despite the command tasks not having gone quite to plan, he had examined my test results, and having spoken to me personally, had decided that he was happy to put me forward for training, and that this constituted an OFFICIAL job offer.

"I assume you still want to be Tank Crew in [regiment]?"
"Yes Sir".
"Well I will write up my notes here, and send your report to them indicating that I believe you are ready for training".

He handed me the certificate, THE certificate, the big green and white PASS certificate that I'd come all the way to Edinburgh to obtain, shook my hand firmly, and directed me back to the waiting room.
While waiting, I filled out a "how did you like your course/training/staff/meals/presentations" etc survey.

"Are you relieved mate?" asked one of the other lads.
I sat and thought about it for a second.
"No mate. I'm not relieved. I was worried about passing this, now I've passed it, I've got to go and do the bloody thing all over again, times ten, in basic".
He grinned. I lightened up and laughed, "Yeah I'm glad I passed mate. I'll be stopping at the offy on the way back tonight!"

Stifling a yawn, I rubbed my eyes, and wondered, after a 3 hour train journey back home, would I really be buying loads of beer and celebrating?

Eventually the commanding officer of the camp returned with the rest of the trainees who had been living it up in the mess, gave us a closing presentation (congratulations for those that passed, commiserations for those that didn't (about 5 people out of 22) etc), and before we knew it, we were hustled back onto the coach, carring our certificates, suit bags and other assorted messes of baggage. Helping myself to a free packed lunch on the way out (apple, sausage roll, apple juice, biscuit, packet of crisps etc) we boarded the coach and got taken back to Edinburgh.

On the way back we chatted, discussed the course, our passes/failures, and what we thought of the course. We ogled three or four GTRs that were casually lined next to each other outside the local (local?! It was bloody 3 hours train journey from my house - still, you know what I mean :P) Nissan dealers. I'd only ever seen one on the road and here were three/four lined up next to each other.
Chatting more, we agreed that the course had been a laugh, and resolved to stay in touch with each other after we got home. I looked out of the windows onto the streets of Edinburgh, and with a certain degree of wonder, at the snow-covered mountains that surrounded the city. "It's not such a small world after all" I found myself thinking.

Eventually we got off the coach, back outside the rail station. We were in the same situation we were in before, collectively, but the stress level had dropped by approximately one ADSC course.

We stayed around and chatted, and eventually moved into the station and chatted, which is exactly like staying around and chatting but lower down. Feeling incredibly overdressed in my smart shoes and suit, I hurried off for somewhere to change into my more casual clothes.

Having found an "accessible" bathroom (which a member of staff kindly let me get changed in), I hurried back to my mates, and carried on chatting. About half an hour later, we wandered along to our platform, to catch the train that would take us home.

PART SIX: LATE TO BED

We found our train eventually, and we found to our vast amusement, that we had in all probability, all travelled up on the same train, and just hadn't bumped into each other in the course of the journey. We got on the train.

Eventually, we found somewhere to sit in the mess of reserved seats, and finally, the doors closed, and we started moving. And the journey back was much as the journey there. But it seemed shorter.

Looking out of the window, the scenery appearing from behind me and whooshing off into the distance, the rolling hills and what was turning into a very dramatic red sunset, I decided to stick some appropriate mood music on, and for a couple of minutes, kept myself to myself.

Hours pass, as do the cities. One or two of the lads go to sleep, the rest of us stay chatting.

A woman came down the train pushing a cart. One lad had a hot chocolate, for my part I paid £3.80 (!!!!) for a tiny teeny weeny bottle of wine. "You've got to celebrate somehow" was my only explanation as I opened it.

Finally and at long last though, the train halts at Sheffield station and we (myself and a trainee dude who I only got talking to on the train back - if I'd have got on the train at Sheffield instead of further along the line I'd probably have known him pretty well by the time we arrived) stepped off it, back onto home soil, if you like.

Saying our goodbyes, he wandered off, and I noted that I was now alone once again. I exited the station, noting with some wry amusement that Sheffield station was no more familiar to me than Edinburgh's.

Stomping wearily through the town center I wandered up to the bus stop. Glaring at the timetable, I sighed as I noticed that after all, I had to wait 20 minutes for the next bus back.

Eventually I got on the bus and after an interminable journey through pleasantly familiar surroundings, got off the bus just outside work.
I went in and had a little chat, proudly showing my pass certificate, before popping up to the off licence to buy some beer.

I walked home. After a 30 minute coach trip, a 3 and a half hour train journey, and half an hour on a bus, I walked the final 25 minute slog to my house, my family, and most importantly, my bed.

I came in, exchanged pleasantries with my family, and eventually plodded upstairs.
I unpacked. I looked at the beer. Then at the bed. Then at my beer again.

It had been a long couple of days, and though I was almost ready for it to end, I had a couple of things I wanted to do first.
Shrugging, I sat down and opened the first can of celebration beer...

Thanks for reading :-).

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Whiteout!!!

I woke up to hear something that I only used to hear either in Need for Speed games, or at the local retail park on a wednesday night.

Looking outside, I saw a silver Ford Focus estate, struggling to get up the road (or at least, struggling to avoid sliding back down it). The noise coming from the car, was the sound of the driver bouncing the engine off the rev limiter repeatedly, combined with the sound of his (ruined by now, probably!) front tires going "SKREEEEE" against the road as they kicked up impressive arcs of...

Snow! Snoe, snoeww! lovely snoe! Well, lovely when you don't have anywhere to go I guess :-).
At a rough guess, we probably have 3/4 inches of it at the moment, with the sky still flat grey and the snow still coming down. Oddly, even the telephone cables that go from the utility pole to the individual houses, are caked in snow, and look really odd, now being about 2 inches thick, instead of maybe 1cm thick.

One other thing I woke up to was the sound of my mum, taking the christmas decorations down. Obviously they need to come down because if they didn't, how would we put them back up? Despite this, I've always found it a depressing affair. Weird cos I've always found putting them up infuriating.

Sooo, as I ask each time, what have I been up to?

Well, drinking a lot actually, to the point where even I would question whether it's a good idea. 24 pints in 10 days - can't be good for you.
Regardless, a fun time was had by all (me) and I didn't cause/get into any trouble which was fair enough :-).

One other thing I may have been up to is watching the New Year's celebrations on TV, as I do every single year, with my family. Don't know why, surely it'd be great to count it down with a beer in your hand or something - I dunno I prefer spending the time with my family.

After the huge firework display on TV though, we did indeed go outside, to find...

...fewer fireworks than we expected. This year everyone seems to have replaced their fireworks with those Chinese Lantern thingiemabobs. Not to worry though, because there certainly were a lot of them. Drifting over houses and off into the distance. Over 15 in the sky floating about at one point, which certainly made the place look a bit surreal. They were like little mobile constellations.

Anyway I'm off now, have fun :-).

Update 16:42 (Written at the time, on my ipaq, copied to PC 02:53 the following morning):

Well, sorry about having to dash off, nephew was being a little bit hyper.
We went out for a lovely wander in the snow, which turned out to be closer to six inches in places, rather than four as I'd suspected.
The little guy had a fun old time, dancing in the snow, watching the various dogs being walked, and giggling at all the kids sledging, some of whom had turned a heart-shaped sandpit into a three-man/kid sledge, a-la Takeshi's Castle.

Eventually, my nephew decided that he was too cold to enjoy himself in the snow, conveniently while we were at the fathest part of our route, away from the house.

I managed to get us home fairly quickly, detouring through the estate across the park, before heading through the "Magical woodley woods".
Oddly upon getting back, I was apprehended and asked to brush the snow off the windows of our cars. A fool's errand obviously, given that it was - *checks out the window* - is still snowing. I don't know where my dad thinks we're likely to be going tomorrow, in at least six inches of snow, but at least the windows will be clear.
Except they won't, as it's in the minuses outside, and since I cleared them, another CM of snow has fallen.

Well, I'm off to play Pocket UFO on my iPaq, my nephew having commandeered my computer to play the zoo game. Have fun :-).

Update: 02:57: Well, the snow continued to come down intermittently, switching between not snowing, to snowing reasonably heavily. Nothing major, but enough to keep the snow fresh, and more than enough to once again, cover the windows of the cars.

By 6pm, we'd finished taking down the last of the christmas decorations, and they're now safely stowed in the loft ready for christmas this year. The room looks kinda plain, but hey, it looks tidier.
Appropriately, tonight I finished another one of my ickle christmas presents: One that I forgot to open on Christmas Day.
While I was off out some time, my nephew and my mum conspired to cook me some lovely shortbread Christmas trees. I figured "meh, home baking, won't be as good as the stuff you buy in shops".
I tried them, and I was right. They weren't as good. They were much much better :-D.
So having finished them, and having made my bed, I'm now off to sleep in it. Hopefully we'll have plenty more snow overnight :-D.

Byee!
Oh yeah, some pictures - the table is our little feast we had on the 27th - another nice family occasion :-). There's my shortbread, and there is a snowy shiny photo of the woodley woods :-).
Dunno why they're so big, but hey :-).