Friday, 12 September 2008

Significant dates

We all have significant dates that we remember each year, Christmas, Birthdays, Anniversaries, etc. But we also have dates that seem to become significant entirely by accident. These are dates on which significant, often life-changing, events have occurred. They don't happen every year, and often it is not until looking back sometime in the future that you realise that they are significant.

For me, September 12th seems to be that date. On several occasions in my life, this has been the date that significant events have occurred, but three stick out in my mind.

The first of these is Tuesday 12th September 1978. On this date I travelled from Whitton to Dover, to the Duke of York's Royal Military School. Along with 74 other boys from all over the world, we were commencing 5-7 years of education at an establishment that would often shape the rest of our lives and we were to meet people who would remain lifelong friends. An example of this is that in the blog list to the right is Naive Zebra. He too started at DYRMS on the same date. The author of Diary Of An Old Dukie started at the school the year after us.

It’s very easy to look back with rose-tinted spectacles and claim that my schooldays were the best days of my life. They weren't. True, I had none of the concerns then that I have now, not just health-wise, but how many of us would want to relive puberty!

There is also the 'I wish I knew then what I know now' school of thought, and yes there are certain things that I wish I could go back and change. I wish I'd never started smoking and I wish I'd actually studied when I was at school. I think that I'd leave just about everything else as it has been, otherwise I would be a completely different person.

I definitely wouldn't change going to that school. The friends that I've made, not just from my own year, are the type that you may not see for months or sometimes years. Yet when you speak to them, it’s as if you had only not met for a couple of days. There also seems to be a common bond between all who attended the school, be it pre-war or last year, that means that when there are reunions, there is always a good atmosphere between all age-groups. That's something that I definitely wouldn't change.

The next date is Wednesday 12th September 2001. This date is significant for different reasons. The day before had seen the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon.

I had joined the Territorial Army in February 2001 and in September 2001 I was an Officer Cadet on my first camp in Fremington, Devon. When I'd joined, I had had all the usual talks, one of which was about the unlikelihood of my ever being required to serve for real, after all, the last time that the TA had been called upon was during the Second World War.

On September 11th, I, along with several of the Officers from the Sqn made our way to the mess for lunch. We arrived in time to see the second plane fly into the tower. However, it was not until the following day that we received the full briefing.

On the 12th, we were briefed about the security situation and how George W had declared a 'Global War on Terrorism'. There was also a lot of speculation that as a result of the events of the previous day we would all be mobilised to fight this global war. Within two years, just about all of those at that briefing had deployed, or were just about to deploy, to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

There can be said to have been two good things to have come out of all this devastation. Firstly, this was the most devastating terrorist attack that had occurred on US soil and led to the 'War on Terrorism' announcement. The knock-on effect was that American terrorist supporters were more reluctant to continue supporting Irish terrorists who were killing British soldiers and civilians. Now, we have peace in that troubled Province.

Secondly, there was an element within the Territorial Army who saw their service as being a member of a uniformed drinking club. Following the announcements of 12th September 2001, almost all of these wasters, when suddenly faced with the prospect of actually having to do the job that they'd been trained for, left. What this means is that those of us that are still serving know that we can rely on those who are serving with us.

Lastly, Sunday 12th September 2004. I had returned from Iraq in April 2004 to discover that I was separated. In the months after I returned, a friendship developed with a girl called Kate that, by September 2004, had developed into more than just a friendship.

I had spent much of September 2004 in Aldershot doing a course for the Army, but was back in Kent for the weekend of 10th-12th September. Kate had spent most of the weekend engaged in a St John Ambulance duty in Tunbridge Wells, and on the 12th I was returning to Aldershot to complete the course. So we agreed that I would meet her from the duty, drive back to her house and have a coffee with her before heading back to Aldershot so that we got to spend some time together.

Having met Kate, she waved me on and followed in her car. It was a route that we had taken numerous times, however on this occasion we were only a couple of miles from Kate's when I heard tyres screeching, and when I looked in my mirror, I saw Kate's car swerve across the road in front of another vehicle, which hit her and pushed her part way through a fence into someone’s garden.

I pulled the car over and ran to Kate's car, and found her unconscious but breathing when I did my primary survey. Other witnesses had called the emergency services, so I carried on looking after Kate. It was when I did a secondary survey that I discovered that she had blown her left pupil, indicating massive head trauma.

The emergency services had to cut Kate out of the car and she was taken to the local hospital, where she was intubated and admitted to the intensive care.

Two days later, the tests showed that Kate was brain dead and she was 'switched off', although her organs were donated. It appears that she had suffered a massive cerebral haemorrhage whilst driving which had led to her losing control of the car. She was 35.

So, here we are, 30, 7 and 4 years after each of these dates. This year nothing has happened of any significance, but I will be honest I am always curious to see what will occur as the date approaches.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Its a foreign country, innit bruv

Yesterday I travelled up to London to attend the pre-assessment clinic at the hospital where I'm to have my surgery. This was quite interesting. The first thing that struck me was that all the people awaiting surgery and who were there for the clinic were about twenty years older than me.

So the first thing was a talk from one of the cardiac nurses about the anatomy and physiology of the heart, followed by what actually happens from admission to discharge. Now because of my job, these two elements were 'grandmother, suck eggs' time.

The last element was a talk by a chap who had the surgery four years ago. This was interesting and there were some useful tips. In fact he is the dad of one of the people who laughed at me in the CCU when I told them that I needed an ECG when I had my original MI.

After the various talks, there were the tests. Chest x-ray, blood tests, ECG (again!) and then a one to one with a cardiac specialist nurse and the pharmacist. So now that all that's completed, it’s just a case of going in for the surgery, which the mutterings yesterday were that it will be in four to six weeks. After a relatively painless five hours, it was time to head home.

I'd travelled up by train as I thought it would be easier than morning rush hour in a car and trying to find somewhere to park. This gave me the opportunity to 'people watch' and I became aware of just how different London has become compared to the 'Wilds of Kent'.

I lived on the outskirts of London for years , until 18 years ago, but just cannot believe how London and Londoners have changed. Firstly, there's the people. I had to travel into London Bridge and then back out again through Peckham and was able to observe the people in the streets. They all seem to be evolving into the same person. They all look alike and they all dress alike. There seems to be no difference between age, creed or colour. The only slight difference is where gender is concerned, and even then all the women/girls seemed to be wearing cycling short type things that came to their knees and skirts that didn't, giving the impression that they were wearing both trousers and skirts.

Maybe it was the time that I spent at Down House, but I also thought that even the people themselves are evolving, to the extent that before long there will be no distinct ethnic groups. There will be no Black, Caucasian, Asian or Hispanic, all will be replaced with Caublasianic.

Even language. I watch some of the American shows where they subtitle people because without the subtitles, the dialect that they are speaking would be unintelligible to most English speakers. And on the train yesterday there was a group of schoolboys having a conversation. They were of mixed ethnicity, black and white, and I was sat and trying to work out what language it was that they were speaking when I realised that it was English (of a sort) but was so interspersed with 'Ya get me's and 'innit's that it resembled a little known Eastern European language.

I also looked around the areas that we were passing through. The hospital is not exactly in the nicest of areas. In fact, most hospitals seem to have been founded in the poorest areas and getting to the one where I needed to go meant passing through some really depressed areas.

A lot of London was destroyed when the city was bombed during the war, and it seems that the post-war architects felt that the best way to replace the old 'slum tenements' was with shiny new tower blocks. However, what seems to have happened is that these tower blocks have simply turned into high rise 'slum tenements', with there being a greater population in the same area because of the high-rise factor, and the situation is similar to that which can be found in historical records of the differences between the various socio-economical groups in the 19th Century, complete with no-go areas. The only differences are that the lowest socio-economic group is, in most cases, more educated and financially more secure than their historical counterparts.

It is also possible to see how the city has expanded since that time, just by travelling on a train. The hospital where I am having to go was opened in 1840 in an old workhouse and a railway station was opened very close to it in 1865. It is a typical boxy, below street level, urban railway station, like most railway stations that were opened at that time.

I travelled back on what, according to 
Wikipedia, was originally the London, Chatham & Dover Railway, but is now just another line from London to Kent, but not the 'Mainline'. The architectural style of the stations gives a very obvious clue as to how London has expanded in the 150 years or so that the railway has been around. The majority of the stations in 'old' London are the 'below street level boxy' ones, but as you travel further out, the architectural style changes to a more 'countrified' style. It seems odd to look out of the window at a country station, which, when the train sets off, reveals that it’s in the middle of an urban sprawl.

When the 'country' does come, it’s not, as you would expect, a gradual process. There is urban sprawl, there is a clump of line side trees, there are fields. It is here that the country stations look more at home. One station, I forget which, when we stopped at it looked like something straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. In fact, the only thing missing was a 
Hansom parked in the forecourt.

Perhaps that distinct cut-off between city and country is the reason that there seems to be the two types of people that inhabit this part of the world, Londoners and everyone else, but how long before we, just 30 miles away from London, are swallowed up and become just another suburb.

L8rs. Ya get me ma bruvvas and sistas, innit.