Saturday, August 28, 2010

Various goings on. Week 1 to 4.

PART ONE: STUFF

Okay, almost to week 4.

And yes, this is a very abridged version. I'm in the NAAFI (armed forces recreational center) and I have other stuff to get done back in my room.

After a traditional and rather upsetting tearful goodbye at the train station, the train journey was uneventful enough and after a couple of short hours, I found myself at ATR Bassingbourn, meeting the first of a load of new friends.

Over the course of the week I grew to know these people vaguely well, and as you can imagine, as time went on, these relationships improved. Eight new friends. Cool.

Towards the end of us initially getting settled into our accomodation, in walks a young lad, looking a bit lost, and nervous. He's bunked up opposite me so since we're practically going to be bunkmates, may as well get to know each other.

Name of Paul, 18 years old, from Perth in Scotland, a lively sense of humour and a bit of a temper. Still, we were getting on at this point so that didn't seem much of an issue for me.

Week one was filled with little more than getting to know the camp, our instructors, each other, and having death by powerpoint inflicted on us by various people, for many hours.

At the end though, we were taken off for a little camping trip in the woods, army style. Having constructed our shelters and got to know each other a little better, we were gratified when the heavens opened and the Cambridgeshire Ocean tried to come back down to earth. Time to put our shelters to the test. Paul and I, as we shared one end of the room, were bashad (living in a basha - a type of tent) up together, and had become pretty good friends at this point.
Did our bashas keep us dry, warm, and keep the water out? Well, yes they did actually. Unfortunately, the pair in the basha next to us had staked one of their pegs under the edge of ours, and as a result, all the water running off our poncho - the sheet making up the roof of the basha - ran into their basha.
Still, shouldn't have pitched up that close to us. The idiots.

Week two was where the paperwork drifted off, and we started getting into the swing of things. Loads of incredibly interminable rifle lessons, and after two weeks, the "restaurant" breakfasts, (for me) a sausage, a hash brown, scrambled eggs, baked beans, and a bowl of bran flakes - EVERY BREAKFAST - started becoming incredibly boring. The dinner and tea menus have enough variety, but breakfasts were something to be tolerated, not enjoyed.

My relationship with my friends had improved and we were all getting on well as a team at this point. Kind of important given the work concerned.

PART TWO: "HAVING A BIT OF A WOBBLE"

Week three brought with it a strenuous run over very hilly terrain, over grassy fields and through woods, no less hilly, and thick with roots.
I ran myself ragged, partly not to let my mates down, and partly because I had some of the Army's finest yelling at me in both ears.
I fell down, I got up. I carried on running.

I don't remember much after that, apparently I fell down again, and did not get up.
Rather amusingly, as one instructor was arranging care/first aid for me, the other who seemed not to be needed, was apparently throwing grass at my recumbent form, repeating "man up".
I don't find that unprofessional or wrong, the way it was explained to me makes it simply sound funny.

I remember being brought back slumped over the seat in a land rover, while mates including one of the corporals (who is one of the coolest guys I've ever met, incidentally) tried to keep me awake, checking whether I knew what my name was (I got it right, eventually), and before long, I got carried bodily through the air by three of my mates, onto an examination table in the med center.

Hmm. Loony blood pressure (92-50), very high temperature, sweating profusely, and hyperventilating. Not a very pleasant way to do things.
Eventually and after a perceivably long time, I started "recovering", but just to be on the safe side, I was carted off in an ambulance to the local civilian hospital about 15 miles away.

A stay overnight in the hospital between the worst snorer in the world, and a dear old gentleman who "seem to have lost my products" on a regular basis. A few checks in the morning, and after a BK meal thoughtfully provided by the orderly officer, back to camp into the med center where I was to stay for two nights.
Compared to the lifestyle I had become accustomed to, the med center routine was so sedate as to be almost like my home routine. Late to rise, early to bed, and very little to do except play with my ipod and watch tv. And get better, apparently.

On the second day I was allowed to visit my mates back in our room, where I was very upset to learn that Paul, what passed for my best friend here, had finally had enough, thrown a wobbly, and had reached a mutual agreement with the army that he was going home, to be a soldier no longer. This really threw me, and my mood darkened considerably over the night. I'd been having doubts of my own and I approached a couple of the staff for guidance as to whether I should stay or leave. Their job, they reminded me in a kind but definite manner, was to advise, not to make the decision. Hmm, better luck next time.

Eventually I was discharged from the med center, with a reminder to return the following monday. The provisional prognosis is heat exhaustion coupled with/arising from dehydration. Characterised by low blood pressure, Tachycardia, hyperventilation/profuse sweating and collapse.

What fun. Still, at least I didn't have to run the whole thing, nor did I have to show myself "correctly dressed" at 8 that night, after being told my boots were not shiny enough (yes really).

PART THREE: GO KARTING

Today, however, has been absolutely awesome. A nice sedentary day, we marched to the drill square (during which I (having been declared sick) was told to "Keep five metres behind the men, or they will become infected by your weakness" - which made everyone including myself giggle. I didn't take this personally, exactly the same has been said to other sickies on other occasions, and is meant as much as a joke as an instruction) to get onto the coach.

Fifteen minutes later and we arrive at the Go Kart track.
Now I've never been into go karting, for some reason it has never really appealed to me. But having not only not had to pay to go, but also actually being paid to go (technically on duty 24/7 you see), was what swung it for me.

My first go in a go cart? Yes. Wearing the traditional overalls and helmet, I swung myself down into the low slung vehicle.

The ride started like a bumper car, slow and sedate, but as the motor picked up speed, so did the kart, until I was touching 30mph. Now 30, with your arse 6 inches off the floor, is thrillingly fast, and I'd not got halfway round the indoor circuit (which in addition to a nice long straight, featured both a chicane and a few demanding hairpins) before I was grinning like a kid on his favourite fairground ride. I wasn't alone in this, everyone went together, officers, sergeants, corporals and recruits alike. Later, I began throwing the cart around a little bit, slamming the steering from side to side, shifting my weight around in the seat (taking a sharp corner at 25, your body [weight] is surprisingly difficult to keep centered in the seat) gritting my teeth, stamping on the brakes and accelerator, the ride became a full body workout. I perfected most of the racing lines, managed to crash twice (one time, a guy also clipped my right-rear and spun me into the barrier) got overtaken a few times and (woo!) managed to keep a train of 4 or 5 karts firmly behind me for the whole time I was out there.

Lots of video was shot, lots of people were shouted at (2 sections comprised of 10 lads each disqualified in their entirity due to bad behaviour (dangerous driving etc)), including the captain (who got a 1 minute pit penalty for speeding in the pit lane (I think), a leiutenant who got a firm talking to (for some unidentified reason) and a corporal who got disqualified for crashing into one of the other drivers. The awesome thing was because we all had helmets on it was difficult to identify our troop members. One of the people I kept behind me might have been one of the corporals, my sergeant or even the captain himself. Going back into the real world was the great equaliser, and it was nice to be "human" again.

We left in joint 7th place, out of 9 which wasn't good, but this wasn't really the point as we'd all had an absolutely amazingly awesome time. Having spoken to some of my section members, we have agreed that after week 7 (the point at which we are permitted to leave camp unescorted), it might be an idea for a few of us to get a taxi down there on the weekend and spend a few hours razzing round the track.

So yeah. Weird week, it started very badly, and ended on an absolutely amazing high.

We've been given the best part of the weekend off too, which is a rare, and very cool occurance. Which I'm now off to enjoy.

So all the best folks, sorry I haven't been around much, marching to march, boots to polish, etc.

See ya for now!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Farewell! For now!

Yikes, I spent ages and ages working towards this day, now it's arrived it's not entirely as I'd expected.

Yes, folks, I'm finally off to basic training. I'm partly nervous, and quite excited. I'm looking forward to meeting new challenges, and making new friends. Going new places, and having new experiences.

Unfortunately and as I have found out to my cost, my sentimental side which has never failed to make its presence felt, means that I am much closer to my family than I had thought. Rather than the start of something new, moving away feels more like the end of the world. Today's been quite an emotional day.

But, as I've always said, life has a habit of finding equilibrium, and things will just return to a new state of "normal". I'll get used to it. Besides, I'm back up in seven weeks, and I should be able to see my parents in less than that. And I'm told I should almost certainly be here for christmas, possibly for the annual trip to Gainsborough too, and with my new-found wages, that's definitely something to look forward to, onwards and upwards as they say.

But still, I can't help feeling like today is something bad instead of something good.
Time will tell I guess, I'll remain hopeful. I've already promised everyone that I will be in cnotact as much as possible, and that includes this blog. I'll update as and when, but it won't have skipped my mind either way.

See you soon, I hope :-).

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Whitby...

With my time living with my family on a permenant basis rapidly coming to a close, my mum and I have been taking advantageo f the excuse to spend quality time together. My dad for his part never really spends much time with anyone, but does seem to be being more civil with me with one or two exceptions.

So I woke up a couple of days ago, after only a short period of sleep, and off my mum and I go. She won't tell me where we're going initially, so it's a bit of a mystery. For old time's sake, we go past my old workplace, before going up past the crappy falling-down flat where I used to live.
It's still crappy and falling down, just so you know :-).

Eventually we pull into a Little Chef for some breakfast, where we have a lovely Full English breakfast (which I surprised my mum with, by eating it in its entirity - except the mushroom), which was really tasty.

Off we go and my mum reveals we're off to Whitby. Now I hadn't had much sleep so its at this point that I start feeling tired, so as we go further across Yorkshire, I try to resist the urge to fall asleep, with varying amounts of success. The weather's a little grim, changing from cloudy to raining and back again several times.

We disappear over hills, up and down various steep gradients over the North York moors, through the village where they film Heartbeat. As expected, the place was crawling with tourists and Heartbeat fans from countries all over the world, including dozens of Japanese tourists, who allegedly take photos of everything, including the roads, the sheep (many of which seem to be suicidal as they like to play chicken - aha ha aha etc with the cars) and even each other. Eventually though, my mum says she can sea the see (?) and before long, we're in Whitby.
Looking for a place to park. Which takes aaages.

Eventually we find somewhere to park and I have a look around.
The weather is grey but not cold, the place seems pretty busy, so off we go.

Now Whitby isn't a flat place. There's a lot of hills and cliffs, and we come to the top of some of the cliffs overlooking the city.

Now, a phobia is defined as an "irrational fear". I'm not certain that an instinctive terror of heights counts as irrational fear, or an inbuilt survival mechanism that stood the evolutionary test of time. Either way, I look beyond the waist high safety barrier, to three or four foot beyond where the scrub and plants end abruptly to see their leaves hanging out into empty air, masking what, from the top, looks like a terrifying sheer drop. I didn't want to touch the safety barrier - I didn't even want to go near it, so I just sort of hang around and watch a young Herring Gull squawking at me intently.

Eventually, we walk down what seems to be a huge flight of steps, going from the top of the cliffs to the bottom. The stairs are nice and wide, and not too steep, and there's a sturdy guardrail at the edge. But I still find it an uncomfortable task to have to walk down these very high stairs, looking - as walking down stairs requires you to - down to the bottom, which is a fair old distance away.

Eventually though we get to the bottom, where I look up and see that the cliff, while high, is neither as high as it looked from the top, or as sheer or vertical as I had expected. As I said to my mum at the time, from the top I didn't want to go to the edge. From the bottom, I felt I could happily climb it with equipment.

We wander round the town for a while, looking at various things, eating seafood (not me) and visiting various shops. We stop in the middle of the town for a drink (I had an "nicely layered" ice coffee with hazelnut syrup, which I immediately de-layered and drank happily) before moving on and continuing our tour.

We come to one of the two (four if you're picky, two if you're very picky (two are sea walls not piers)) piers, and as we walk along the sea wall, though the ground is level, the drop from where we were walking to the ground /water either side of the sea wall once again becomes quite disconcerting. Eventually though, we come to the pier itself, which is where I must admit, I had tremendous fun. In a sarcastic type way.

Well, here's a pic, which will save me a big long explanation. As you can see, that's a fair old drop. Yes, there's a sturdy wooden deck above the concrete, but what you can't see is that the deck was made of wooden beams, that had gaps between them of anything up to a couple of inches. The effect was that of walking above a large drop, on a semi-transparent uneven floor. To a dude like me who is averse to heights, it was pretty disconcerting. Eventually though, I make it to the end, passing others who have equally nervous expressions, whos efforts to avoid looking down are noticable. After ceremonially touching the railing at the farthest tip of the pier (to say "THERE I have reached the end!) I take a few photos while I'm at the end (conveniently forgetting to take any of the pier itself) to prove that I got there, and slowly, we head back.

I return to the end of the pier, and at the end see some steps leading downwards to the lower "deck". They're sheer and very steep, and not particularly inviting, but hey I bet I could get a few decent photos, so I very (!) carefully and slowly edge my way down the 19 scariest steps I've ever walked down. And lo and behold, I take a few photos, before almost equally slowly climbing up and returning to the more solid concrete walkway of the sea wall itself.

The weather's turned nice at this point, so we wander round having a great time, looking round more shops etc. The day was pretty much a nice day of enjoying the sun, taking photos, and generally enjoying each other's company, which is really what I think family is about. Weird words from me I suppose given how much I keep myself to myself, but hey.
I take plenty of photos many of which I'm pleased with.

Eventually, we head off back to the car, and on the way there I buy an obscenely priced ice cream (£1.90 for a normal ice cream cone!), and pop into a local shop to buy some stuff for my ickle nephew.
We leave with a toy Jellyfish (which he's taken home with him), a laser sword (which he broke into two bits a couple of days later) and three huge awesome glass gems which he seems to like, and which go well with his treasure chest.

We drive off, having had a very good day, down the coast to Bridlington. Bridlington is a place where I've been going since I was little and I still love to go there. Normally we make a big day of going, and we used to count down the days to our regular trips there as kids, so the somewhat off-the-cuff "Oh we'll go to Bridlington for our tea" takes me somewhat by surprise, but that surprise was very welcome.

Dusk has fallen and the lights are beginning to come on, and the place is pretty quiet. Still, doesn't stop me having the best battered-sausage and chips I've ever had (which is weird because various reviews of the restaurant indicate that other people found the food really bad) with batter that is both crispy, chewy, and full of flavour and the same time.

As the sky darkens and the streets go quiet, the lighthouse in the distance comes on, its light noiselessly flashing across the bay, making the place seem even quieter than before. I've always found the seaside a lonely place to be at dusk, not sure why.

Eventually though, enough is enough, and we head home as I try and play scrabble on my ipod. The weather worsens and the rain starts coming down. Eventually though we get to the Humber Bridge, (and its little toll booths with a light that to my delight, goes "Ding!" just like something out of a cartoon, as it changes from red to green) and cross it, before disappearing down other porly lit motorways, making our way back home.

After a long long drive, eventually and finally at long last, we arrive home, and despite our tiredness, manage to spend a good hour or two talking about how much we enjoyed the day.

And so there we are, an absolutely fantastic and very very enjoyable day out with my mum. One that I'l have fond memories of :).

Anyway, here are some shiny pickatures, including the "best" graffiti I've ever seen :-). Ciao.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Oaths, Towels and Barbecues...

...Well, the 27th finally rolled round, and getting my shiny shoes and nice suit on, I went to the AFCO to swear my oath. Thanks to heavy traffic, I managed to get there about 5 minutes late, but no one seemed to notice.
Again, from the waiting room I was led "backstage" through various corridors and down little microstairs deep into what must have been the opposite side of the building. There, we had a couple of sergeants takling to us, answering any questions we might have, sorting out paperwork and whatnot...

Eventually the parents come in, followed by the Major, the senior recruiting officer for the area.
He talks for a while, explaining how proud we (8 of us were there that day) should be, how well we've done, and how we should take the opportunity that we've been given to get an awesome carreer etc etc, and gave us a short video presentation.

Afterwards, we were instructed to stand, and as one, swore the oath, making us all ceremonially at least (not legally - that happens when you sign the contract on the first day of training), the latest additions to the Army. A proud moment for me and my mum, who had gone along to witness the moment :-). The Major congratulated us, and emphasised that we should keep in touch with our families during training. Something I took to heart as despite my advancing years (ok, well, 25 - lots of the lads there will be 18 and 19, so yeah, advancing years), I'm a bugger for getting homesick.

I was given a certificate to commemorate the occasion, which I put in my clever black file thing that has my rail tickets in it (this will mean something to me in 10 years time maybe).

Afterwards, with something of a spring in my step (I don't know whether my mum had a spring in my step, but I did have a spring in my step) we wandered around for a while, shopping for various items that I'll need, not the least of which was a rather shiny (and oddly shaped) steam iron, as well as loads of shoe polish, brushes, clothes brush etc etc. We also had a nice. meal in one of the local citybargastroresturantypubthingie whatever the heck they're called these days (A nice pub serving nice food by day, a rowdy nightclub at night), where I had something or other. Err, Baconburger with curly fries and Jack Daniels sauce, as well as some sponge thing with chocolate sauce on it, as well as ice cream. We wandered around a bit more, buying other items, I saw one thing that I thought was really cool - a microfibre bath towel - lightweight, thin, but very warm and absorbent. Why do I care? Because it folds up into a tiny pouch and dries super quick, meaning it would be very practical for training. Unfortunately it was very expensive, so we left without one, and after a leisurely walk around, eventually set off home. Not before my mum bought me some writing paper and envelopes, though.

A few days later, ostensibly to make sure it was working and "burnt-in" properly, I set about ironing a T-shirt which went quite well. I learned that even new irons, even new irons with "anti-drip", can drip bloody hot water on your feet if you're not careful.
I also learned that using copious amounts of steam while ironing is no substitute for washing the garment in the first place, as it was a crumpled and smelly t shirt when I started, and a perfectly flat and smelly t shirt when I finished.
Oh well, can't win 'em all.

WORK

Rather oddly, it absolutely threw it down during the start of my last weekend at work, and I got thoroughly soaked. Not to worry though, as it was a nice enough shift and the tips weren't bad. Especially since one very lovely customer tipped me £4.50! The soon-to-be-outgoing manager at the time, was nice enough to grant me a large pizza, which I took the opportunity to pile high with toppings, turning it into an artery-clogging monster of a pizza (Quadruple cheese, triple pork, beef and ham, and pepperoni and red onion, topped with sage and onion stuffing and more cheese, all on top of a special 1/1 mix of salsa and spicy pizza sauce).

I turned up, a day later, to what was to be my final shift, and it proceeded well enough. Tips weren't too bad, not helped by me losing £2 in the till (robbing sods always try to cheat you out of your tips (They don't but they rarely pay attention to what goes in)), and off I went on my last delivery ever. Assuming I take 15 deliveries a shift, that works out at... Hmm. 2,280 deliveries since december 2008.
I took the opportunity, after completing the delivery, to go back to work the long way, looking at the clouds, the trees etc, riding my teeny and annoying but ultimately faithful and reliable scooter, back to the shops for the last time. And that's it, that's all she wrote. I don't work there any more.

BARBECUE/BARBACUE/WHATEVERCUE

The day after, we all went along to my sister's house for a cool barbacue, a nice opportunity for a family occasion, to see me off. There was plenty of yummy food (not including the quiche I took which was crappy), Sausage rolls, dangerously cooked burgers, traditional frozen-in-the-middle-but-burned-on-the-outside sausages.
Another interesting contraption was a "Home Draught" thingie, a giant 10 pint (nearly 6 litre) bottle, with a CO2 cartridge and a little lever/tap thing, the pair of which turning it from a giant bottle of beer, to a cute little "pour-your-own-draught-beer-straight-from-the-bottle" affair. Not sure how this differs from the traditional "pour-your-own-beer-straight-from-the-can" arrangement that I'm used to, but it seems a significant enough change to do so. I liked its novelty value, but unfortunately, the first jolt sent the CO2 out of suspension, and turned the tap into a high pressure beer-foam blasting device, suitable for creating a drink consisting of an inch of flat beer, and 5 inches of foam no top.

All said and done though, the barbacue was great. The weather was nice, the dog was playful, the food was great, the company was nice etc etc. It was a nice family occasion :-).

TOWEL
For some reason, my mum and dad went out during today, and returned to announce that they had a gift for me. Expecting something like a customised pencil or an embossed ruler (I'm a natural pessimist), I was very happy and surprised to be presented with one large-size microfibre towel. And the little thing is amazing. It's thin, light, it feels insubstantial but the spiel on the box promises me it won't be. The remainder of the day I've spent building a lego UFO for/with my nephew (vaguely time consuming), playing Walking Legs with my him (enjoyable), as well as trying to teach him to fly helicopters on X-plane (futile). So later I'm probably going to grab some supper and maybe have a bath so I can test out my new towel. Either way, I'm busybusybusy. Lots of stuff to do.

Here are some pics, got to go or else I'll get nothing done! Have fun folks :-).
EDIT: I'd upload more pics, but my computer is telling me that (amazingly!) it's out of memory. It's got 3Gb, how can it possibly be out of memory? Oh well.

EDIT EDIT: Public Clarification. My dearest big brother would like me to point out that he was responsible for bringing us back home the other day after my dad threw a wobbly. I didn't actually say how we got back, but now you know :-).