Monday, 28 December 2009


Since my last entry the World, or at least the UK, has been thrown into utter chaos. And the cause of such a breakdown in the fabric of the country? It snowed!

Now, if Britain was an equatorial country, experiencing only minor differences between the summer and winter weather patterns, then I could understand it. But we're not. We are a temperate country which has both summer and winter difference in temperature. In fact, this latest snowfall was forecast a week before it happened. But when it did finally fall, it seemed to come as a surprise to everyone who was in a position to actually prepare for it. Consequently, the roads, the railways, the airports and even the ports ground to a complete and utter halt.

Every year it’s the same. If the councils devoted as much time to preparing for the weather as the news channels do to covering the chaos that a small snow fall can cause, then this country would be as efficient as all the other European and North American countries that have snow falls.

However, it appears that it is not just winter that causes chaos. In the spring we experience floods (everything grinds to a halt and there are assurances that this will not happen again..........until next year), the summer, where if the temperatures are high half of the elderly population dies (there are assurances that this will not happen again..........until next year), the autumn where there is chaos because the leaves fall off the trees (everything grinds to a halt and there are assurances that this will not happen again..........until next year) and finally winter, where cold temperatures and snow cause chaos (everything grinds to a halt and there are assurances that this will not happen again..........until next year).

However, the white Christmas that everyone hoped for didn't materialise, as the weather changed from snow to rain, and almost all of the snow melted.

Christmas Day dawned early (all of the kids were staying) and after pressie opening m'Julie cooked our huge turkey to perfection. Unfortunately, Alec was working, so instead of being seven of us at dinner, there were only six, Alec eating later when he got back from work.

Surprisingly, by Boxing Day all the turkey was gone, which meant that the days of turkey curry, turkey salad etc were avoided.

We also managed to avoid joining the throng at the sales, although we did go to the cinema to see St Trinian's 2 on the day after Boxing Day, which was a suitably silly film to see. The nearest that we got to the sales was to try and find some speakers for Hannah's new iPod, as the ones that she had are for the previous generation of iPod and don't fit.

Unfortunately, now that it’s all over, we have the inevitable returns to work. Although I'm not back to work until next Monday, m'Julie is back at work tomorrow and the kids are back to their mother's on Thursday, returning to school on the same day that I return to work.

So New Year's Eve will be a quieter affair this year, with only me, m'Julie, her mum and Hannah, as Alec is working in one of the bars that he works in.

Oh well, another year over.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Cull Centres

For the past week I have been 'sans Internet' at home, which has been very inconvenient at times. I found this out when I decided to check my email one morning and discovered that my broadband, which had worked perfectly the previous evening, was no longer working. At this point, I telephoned my provider in an attempt to establish what was happening.

Despite having the name 'British' in the title, the call centre for this company is located in India. Now I have no problem with this provided that a. the person with whom I am speaking has a good command of the English language and b. does the job for which they are being paid.

Unfortunately, whilst all those who answered my several phone calls met criteria a, they were appalling when it came to criteria b!

The first person that I spoke to, after several minutes, initially informed me that I had never had broadband. When I pointed out that I had been with my provider at my current address since July 2007, she informed me that I was moving house, arguing with me when I told her that I wasn't. Finally, she informed me that my broadband had been seized. I asked what this meant, and was told that it meant that my broadband had been seized. However, this lady was unable to tell me why my broadband had been seized, but knew someone who could and transferred me to a British lady, who informed me that my broadband had been seized.

When I asked her why my broadband had been seized, she initially informed me that according to her records, I had never had broadband at my current address. I told her that I had been with my provider at my current address since July 2007. She even asked if my landline was still working. I pointed out that we wouldn't actually be speaking if it wasn't. This lady then established that because my original contact was with BT-Yahoo, I needed to speak to someone else. Cue gentleman in Indian call centre.

As with the previous two people with whom I spoke, I was asked for my name, my telephone number, some security questions and the nature of my problem. Having done all this, I was firstly told that I had never had broadband at my address and was then told that my broadband had been seized. However he could not tell me why it had been seized and I was put on hold whilst being transferred to the person who could help me.

After five minutes a very cheery man asked me for my name and telephone number. I explained that I had already given it to the three previous people that I spoke to but he just kept asking for my name and telephone number.

Obviously, I had got the man who was new and wouldn't deviate from his script. I, a couple of years ago, when speaking to one of these call centres, had got the person who had the script, and if you interrupted them or asked a question, went back to the start of the script and repeated everything that she had just said!

So, when I asked cheery man to put me through to a supervisor, he refused (that was obviously not in the script!) Eventually, my patience ran out and I put the phone down.

Several hours later, I tried again, but decided that I would use the approach of speaking to someone in the UK. So, when I got through to India, I asked for the UK telephone number. Four times I did this, and on each occasion, I was informed that I would be put on hold. On each occasion, because of the inactivity, the phone cut out.

On the fifth occasion, I got the comedian. This was the one that, when I asked for a UK telephone number, put me on hold, but kept cutting in with 'would you like to speak to my supervisor?' and then put me back on hold again when I told him that I wanted the UK phone number. After the sixth time of asking and my response of 'Which bit of I want to speak to someone in the UK don't you understand you moron!' he cut me off.

On the seventh occasion, I got through to someone who, after leaving me on hold for five minutes informed me that they are only a call centre and do not have any numbers for anyone in the UK.

So, I decided to use the phone book, and I called the BT Head Office in London. It has a London address, it has a London phone number, and it diverts to the bloody call centre in India! I hung up when answered!

Next I tried calling the local BT business office with a local (to me) number. I got through to a very helpful lady who agreed that the call centre personnel are useless and who gave me another number 'up North somewhere'. I called the number and it rang twice before a recorded message informed me that the number was no longer in use and that I needed to dial another number.

Guess where the other number was for. Go on, guess. Yup! INDIAN BLOODY CALL CENTRE!!!

Eventually, after speaking to four more people, I found out what the problem was. Apparently, BT had sent me a bill in October and I hadn't paid it. Because of this, they had written to me asking me to pay it, and I had not replied. They had then written to me and told me that if I didn't pay it they would cut off my broadband service. Finally, on December 1st they had sent me a final bill and my service was stopped on 9th December.

However, when I looked at the final bill that had arrived the previous day, I noticed that there was a slight problem. The person to whom it was addressed was indeed me, the street name, town name, county name and post code were all correct. The problem was that there was no house number, which explained why I had probably not received the other letters.

So when I spoke to the final woman, I explained this. She informed me of the address that I had, which was correct, including the house number. However, when I told her that the only letter I seemed to have received from them was missing this vital element of the address, if the others were the same that would explain why they had not been received. This woman then argued with me that because they had my correct address it was not possible that the house number had been missed off. She relented when I offered to photocopy and send the letter to her complaints department and wanted to know her name so that I could inform them that she had called me a liar.

So now it came to sorting out the problem. I told her that I would pay the outstanding amount by card and asked when I would be reconnected. I was told that because of their error in not having the correct address for me, which meant that I received no bills from them, and therefore they 'seized' my line, that I would be treated as a new customer and would have no service for five to ten working days. At this point I informed her that this was not quick enough and would go elsewhere for my service. Consequently, this is my first Sky broadband post.

As for the outstanding bill, I will eventually pay it, but it is tempting to wait for them to phone, put on a series of stupid voices/accents, put them on hold a lot and cut them off at regular intervals before telling them that it will take two weeks for the bill to be paid. However, if they can provide proof that they have culled all of the useless oxygen thieves that I dealt with last week, then I will pay immediately.

Speaking of useless oxygen thieves I have had what I hope will be my final dealings with the CSA.

About six weeks ago, my ex-wife returned to work. At this point I telephoned the CSA and informed them of this fact and that the arrears that she had not paid as she was on benefits could now be paid.

Having heard nothing back, I telephoned again two weeks ago and spoke with David Grey who had charge of the communal brain cell that day (they really should be more careful who they let loose with it). Firstly, he informed me the amount that my ex-wife owed, and then informed me that she wouldn't be paying it at present as she was, according to CSA records, on benefits. I explained (slowly) that she had returned to work, informing him that I had explained this to his colleague four weeks previously. He told me that he would need to speak to my case worker, Sharon Hughes, but that she was not in until that afternoon, and that he would get her to call me. My last words to him were 'So she will definitely call me this afternoon?' and I was assured that she would.

Five days later, having heard nothing (no, I wasn't really surprised either) I telephoned again. However, when I asked for Sharon Hughes by name I was told that she wasn't my case worker. I suggested that David Grey had lied to me when he'd said that she was, but the woman I was speaking to got very snappy, informing me that she had been, but had moved to a different job the day after I was expecting a call from her. Convenient!

I therefore had to explain the whole business to her, and pointed out that the incompetence of her agency and colleagues was of epic proportions, and that I wanted the whole thing sorted out immediately, if not sooner.

Having again got quite snappy and having denied that the CSA was incompetent, I was then placed on hold whilst she did some 'checks'.

What these checks revealed were that my ex-wife is no longer on benefits and that she owed me four times the amount that Grey had told me. When I asked her how long the CSA had had the information and she had told me, I asked her to justify her denials of incompetence when Grey had access to the same information but had told me completely different things. No response.

The upshot was that she would telephone my ex, ask her about payments and would call me back, which she did the following day. However, in the true spirit of incapability that the CSA is founded upon, it appears that this woman had got the final figure wrong and that David Grey had been correct in what he told me was the sum owed. And yes, I did tell this woman that she was upholding the incompetence of her agency.

With the card payment now made, that is hopefully the last time that I will have to deal with those cretins at the CSA, although I am sure that they will, at some point, cock up when it comes to my paying for my children, but I'll deal with that when it happens.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Tempus Fugit

I'm going through a phase at the moment where my body clock seems to have reset itself, so I will go to sleep shattered and wake up 'hours' later. But when I look at the clock, I discover that I have been asleep for less than two hours. I then have the problem that I feel like I have slept for hours and can't get back to sleep again.

One of the advantages that I do have with my new iPod is that I can access YouTube wirelessly, which I did last night. Bizarrely, whilst surfing through the music on the site I saw a song that I hadn't heard for a long time. I clicked the song and as the first notes came through my earphones, the last twenty five years vanished. By the end of the song, I was once again 17 and (reasonably) problem and stress free.

There are many things that can elicit memories, smells and sounds particularly, and it fascinates me the way in which the brain processes these memories, giving a feeling of euphoria if it relates to a happy memory, and the sadness that you feel if it relates to a less happy memory. The song last night resulted in both responses, the euphoria because of what it related to and the sadness due to the outcome.

I've said before that there is very little that I would change if I could have my time over again, but it would be nice if we could occasionally go back and explain our actions and mistakes with the eloquence and maturity that we possess as the adults that we have become, rather than brashness and immaturity of the teenagers that we were. However, I suspect that some of my friends who have known me all of that time would argue that I have neither matured nor learnt eloquence in the last quarter century!

It is odd to look back and remember that when this piece of music was significant to me, I was younger than my eldest son is now.

Alec is now back in the UK, but is hoping to be flying out to either China or Senegal to complete his 'gap year'.

Unfortunately, his time back has not gone smoothly. Firstly, the people who were to collect him from the airport had a problem with their car, so, although he arrived back at 0700, he wasn't collected until 1900, by me.

Having collected him, I drove him to his mother's house. The following morning, there were numerous messages from his mother, and Alec, on my phone. The upshot was that she had thrown him out and he was staying with one of her friends.

Sadly, it will also be awkward for him to stay with me as we have rearranged the house since he left and he would no longer have a bedroom of his own, and it makes far more sense that he stay at his mother's, as that is where all of his belongings are. But she has put her carnal desires ahead of her son, again. She even gave Drew, Alec's brother, a hard time for allowing him into the house!

Hopefully, he will be able to meet up with the staff from Project Trust and head off to one of the other countries early in the New Year.

As I said before at the time that Alec was leaving Guyana, I was otherwise engaged.

The mess dinner went very well and I did fit into my mess kit (just!) It seems that I've put on most of my weight around my chin(s!)

The dinner was excellent, and the concern that there had been about the chef, this being the first function that he had cooked for since doing his chef's course, proved completely unfounded.

The menu was also very good, the starter being butternut squash soup. I'd never had this before and was surprised at how spicy it was. The main course was beef wellington, with sauté potatoes, green beans and carrots. The beef was also cooked to perfection, and I was actually unable to finish, although that was partly due to the concern that my mess kit was becoming tighter by the minute!

Desert was key lime pie on a ginger nut base, and then the usual coffee, mints and port for the toasts. All present seemed to enjoy themselves and were full of praise for the chef. The next dinner will have to be a guest night, or there's the risk that m'Julie will throttle me.

Oddly, I woke up on the Sunday with a bit of a hangover, but that had gone by the time I collected m'Julie a headed back to the Sqn. From there we headed into Maidstone and to coffee in the Mayor's parlour, prior to my separating from m'Julie and making my way, with the rest of the Mayor's party to the cenotaph in Maidstone and the Service of Remembrance.

Following this was the first visit this month to the church in Maidstone for the more formal service, before returning to the Sqn for a lunch.

The reason that this was the first visit this month was that I returned to that church last Wednesday for the funeral of the Warrant Officer who had died on 29th October.

The church was packed and there was a very large turn out from the Sqn. His son spoke, showing maturity far beyond his years, and many of the Sqn joined the family at the wake after the cremation.

So now it’s the build up to Christmas, which, unfortunately, has been building up on the TV for weeks with all the adverts. Hopefully, it will be good, particularly as all of the kids will be at ours. Now where's my Bah! Humbug hat?!?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon, 1914

In Memory Of
S/4206 Private JOSEPH WATT
1st Bn., Seaforth Highlanders
who died
on 10 April 1916 aged 19

Remembered with honour


In Memory Of
S/8909 Serjeant THOMAS McIVOR
9th Bn., Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)
who died
on 29 April 1916 aged 30

Remembered with honour

Friday, 6 November 2009

Major Changes

There have been several major changes since my last post, the first of these being that I am indeed a Major (can you see what I've done there?!) However, it was a bit of double-edged sword, as the day I was given my crowns was the same day that it looked as if the Squadron would be dormant for months.

There had been some talk for a while that the Government would need to save money, what with recession and their expenses claims, and one of the strategies that they had decided upon was to reduce training for the Territorial Army. I knew that some units were already doing unpaid training, but then the decision was made that all training would stop until April next year.

And where were we when we found out about this? On a weekend training exercise.

Initially, it had seemed that we would be unaffected, but then the axe fell on all TA Units, so I had to write to all members of the Squadron with the bad news.

It was not well received by the troops, but they understood the reasoning behind the decision, and many that were already booked onto courses said that they were willing to attend without pay.

It also meant that the Sergeant Major and I attended the launch of the Poppy Appeal without pay, although I don't think that either of us have ever claimed for the time for such an important event. The SSM was also being given one of the first poppies.

So, having written to everyone about the fact that there was no training, things changed rapidly within a week. First of all was the fact that the Government had relented a little, and decided for the sake of retention that one drill night would be paid.

I drafted another letter, but fortunately didn't send it, because within 24 hours, there had been a complete U-turn and all training was reinstated. Sadly, it was too late for some courses, but not for all.

Unfortunately, it wasn't all good news, as one of the Warrant Officers (the one with the simulated gunshot wound to the head in the last post) died suddenly last week. It is thought that he had a massive heart attack at home and as far as I was able to establish when myself and the SSM visited his widow the following day, he didn't even get as far as hospital. It came as a shock to most people as he was only 53. So my first order of business when the Squadron met again on Wednesday was ensuring that everyone knew, although we still hadn't heard anything at that point about funeral arrangements.

From a home point of view there has also been a major change, when my ex-wife telephoned me, the first time that she had actually spoken to me in about four years. But, like the harbinger of doom that she is, it wasn't good news.

It appears that Alec, my eldest, is not having as good a time as I thought in Guyana. In fact, he has been having a very miserable time and not getting on at all with the two people that he is living with in St Cuthbert's Mission. As a result of this, he has decided that he is returning home.

I telephoned him the day after the call from his mother and talked to him about the consequences of coming home after only nine weeks, but he was adamant, although he did talk about going to one of the other areas, either in Africa or Asia.

The fact that this was the first that I'd heard about all this, and the fact that it had apparently been going on for some time, far from impressed me. Particularly as I had made sure that the Desk Officer for Guyana at the charity had all my contact details.

When I spoke to him the following week, I was to discover why. He had been informed by my ex-wife that she would keep me informed about everything that was happening. I put him straight, and he's kept me informed since.

Alec leaves Guyana to fly back to the UK on Remembrance Sunday, arriving on the Monday, and then it’s a case of debriefing in Coll and hopefully, for him, flying out to the new location very soon after getting back to the UK.

At the same time that Alec is flying back, I will be in Maidstone taking part in the Remembrance Parade. But between now and then is my first mess dinner as OC. I wonder if I'll still fit in my mess kit...........

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Busy Busy Busy

Since I posted last, it has been quite a busy time. The two week camp has taken place and I have been back at work for almost two weeks.

Two days before the camp started, I finally received the letter that I'd been waiting for, although it was claimed that it had been sent to me on 12th August. This was the letter offering me the OC's post, which I accepted. Now I just have to wait for the Personnel Office to catch up and send through my promotion!

Personally, I think that it was a good time to be offered the post, as I was able to accept it and then do the job for two weeks solidly. I have also now changed my hours at work so that I am able to visit Aldershot once a week.

The first week of camp was spent in a place called 
Nescliffe, which is not far from Shrewsbury. The first part of the week was spent with everyone receiving medic training and this was all put into practice with a demonstration when the VIPs visited us.

The second half of the week was devoted to driver training at another training area in Swynnerton. This training area takes some getting used to as it was the old training ground for soldiers being posted to Germany, and so once on the training area, all traffic drives on the right, instead of the usual left. Several of the troops were able to get their licences and even the VIPs had a drive.

Fortunately, they survived uninjured, though they did worry their instructors on a couple of occasions. Their visit was rounded off with a combined Officers'/Sgts Mess dinner at a very nice restaurant in Shrewsbury.

During this week, it was early starts each morning so that everyone could do PT. The annoying thing is that, despite all the problems that I had last year, the only problem that I had with the PT was that my right knee, the one that I had the arthroscopy in last May at the start of all the trouble, is still playing up and swelled to about four times normal size every time I did something! As for the heart/chest? No problems.

At the end of the week, everything was packed up and we made the trip to Wiltshire and relocated in one of the many camps on
Salisbury Plain, just a couple of miles away from Stonehenge. This was part of a major medical exercise, with our Regiment exercising another Medical Regiment, examining the new role for the Regiments.

The Sqn therefore had the opportunity to work with the armour that we don't have and was used as observers, drivers and casualties, the latter being expertly made-up by a professional company, which also used genuine amputees.

Six of the troops found themselves attached to the Regiment that was being exercised and came back having learnt lots and having had a superb time.

There was also the opportunity for everyone to have a flight in a Merlin helicopter, as these will soon be used for casevacs. Great fun when flying straight and level, not so much fun when not, or when flying at high speed level with the trees!

The camp finished back where we started in the centre, with all the kit etc being packed away and vehicles washed, a night spent in the centre and all home at lunchtime on the Saturday. Although the camp had been for two weeks, it had gone very quickly, and plans are already in place for next year.

We were also very lucky for the entire camp, as the week that we were in Shropshire we had just one day of rain, and on Salisbury Plain it was warm and there was bright sunshine with just a couple of hours of rain (unheard of for Salisbury Plain to have no rain for that period of time!). In fact, it was positively tropical compared to the last time that I'd been on the Plain when m'Julie and I visited Stonehenge earlier this year and we'd both been freezing. Mind you, the dust.......Some people are never happy!

It was also this weekend that I got to speak to Alec, who phoned because he hadn't been paid and was skint. Other than that, he seems to be having a good time in Guyana. Its just a pity that he has no internet access, which means that his blog updates will be few and far between (a bit like mine at the moment!)

So, after all this activity, it was back to the grind after just one day off, and I was soon back into it. The only difference is that I am now taking Thursdays off so that I can go to Aldershot every week.

Unfortunately, the timing wotked out that the weekend after I got back, there was an Advanced Life Support course at the hospital that I was teaching on, so there was to be no time off that weekend either, although I did take the opportunity to stay in the hotel with the rest of the faculty and so was able to enjoy a few glasses of wine with dinner, unlike last time when I drove home after the meal.

So now, with my first weekend off in five weeks, I am putting off the inevitable course preparation for the European Paediatric Life Support Course that I'm teaching on in London next week.

Definitely no peace for the wicked!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

All growed up!

If you look at the 'Blogs I Read' section to the right, you will notice that there is a new one, 'Alec's year in Guyana'. Yup, he's gone. My eldest son is now, and will be for the next year, about 4,500 miles away, having flown out last Friday. This will not only be the furthest apart that we've been (Iraq was only about 2800) since he was born, but also the longest time. However, I'm sure it will go very quickly. The last three weeks has.

The house now seems very empty as both Drew and Maggie have returned to their mother's after spending three weeks here. However, they did have to earn their keep, as, although I was on annual leave, I did have to go into work on two of the days due to August being the month that all of the new doctors start, and they all needed to be trained. This was where Drew and Maggie came in, as they were able to demonstrate cardiopulmonary resuscitation and using the defibrillators in AED mode, and are probably far better at it than most of the new doctors!

The remainder of the holidays was a fairly relaxed affair, with just some day trips here and there, including Walmer and Dover and a day in Eastbourne at Eastbourne Airborne, which is not only the world's biggest seafront airshow, but is also free. Much to m'Julie's amazement, it is also the first time that I'd seen the Red Arrows 'live'.

Going back to before the kids arrived, the Garden Party went well. I was relieved that I did manage to fit into my service dress, and the weather wasn't too warm, so I wasn't too uncomfortable. m'Julie and I were on the Deputy Mayor's table, the lady who will be the Mayor next year. Maidstone does things slightly differently in that, rather that have an election for the Mayor every year or two, the most senior councillor is the Mayor for a year and the next most senior takes over from them, having been the Deputy Mayor for a year.

Having said all that, following the cakes, scones and strawberries and cream, the Sam Browne that I was wearing not only started to get tighter, but also became very uncomfortable.

Caroline's visit was not as long as I'd hoped, as her son-in-law was concerned about her travelling on her own due to the problems that she has with her legs, so he told her that he would drive her down and take her back on the same day. Unfortunately, that meant that we only had limited time with Caroline, and we met her at the Wings Museum in Surrey. The museum is not officially open yet, and although we were able to walk around and take pictures, we were requested not to put any of the pictures on the net, even the ones of me in the cockpit of the C-47 that was used in Band of Brothers.

The reason that we met here was that not far from where Caroline lives in Texas is the site of the WW2 British Flight Training School, which was where many RAF pilots trained at the outset of the Second World War. Caroline is very active in preserving this site and is keen to be affiliated to similar sites in the UK.

Lastly, the weekend prior to the children arriving was a range weekend. Due to the qualifications of one of the Sqn officers, we were all able to enjoy not only the usual fixed firing point shoots, but also the close quarter battle shoots, including the street, where there is one person on each side of a 'street', firing at targets that pop-up at the end. Judging by the comments, a great time was had by all. Unfortunately, the OC has left, and he was the only one in the Sqn who was qualified to conduct that range.

Now it’s just myself, m'Julie and Hannah in the house, although I'm away on camp for two weeks soon, so need to make sure that I have everything ready for that.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


I've experienced two distinct types of pain during the last couple of weeks. The first is the pain from the abscess, which resulted in a trip back to the dentist before my original appointment, including more antibiotics in addition to the ones I was taking, and the second was the cost of having the treatment done. And it’s still not completed. I have to go back at the end of this month to finish the treatment!

The advantage of all of this is that, due to having a temporary filling and then just cotton wool in the hole, eating was difficult and I have lost weight. I am now in the situation where the service dress jacket that I will be wearing at the garden party next week can now been done up, which, just three weeks ago was an impossibility.
However, whilst I was able to do up all of the buttons the last time that I tried it on, there was a distinct possibility that if I had coughed, sneezed or even taken a deep breath, then the buttons would have flown across the room. This also meant that when I did the OC bit of going and seeing one of the soldiers from the Squadron pass out at Pirbright, I had to go in a suit, rather than uniform.

At least I can still fit in my 'Combat 95' uniform, which is just as well really, as the second of the primary health care weekends has now taken place. The guys that attended seemed to enjoy it and I hope that they got something out of it. The remainder of these exercises will be run by someone else because of my promotion to 2ic, and, possibly, by the time that they're taking place I may be in the post of OC, which I have applied for this month.

The day that I was in Pirbright was also the day that No.1 son returned from travels of his own. As I have previously mentioned, he is off to Guyana to teach with a group called Project Trust. It did, for a while, look as if he wouldn't be going, as he had not raised as much in sponsorship as he needed. Consequently, he hadn't gone to Scotland for the meeting.

The day after he was due to go, not only did I receive a telephone call from his mother, but she actually spoke to me, demanding to know why he wasn't in Scotland as Project Trust had called her. It appeared that they hadn't received Alec's email. What was more surprising was the fact that she actually met up with Alec, put her hand in her pocket and paid for his journey to the Isle of Coll! No doubt he will end up paying for that in the future!

As a result of this, he is now definitely going to Guyana and leaves at the end of August. It works out quite nicely, as his brother and sister are with me for the summer holidays when he goes, so will be able to come to the airport to see him off.

Other changes are that Maggie, my youngest, leaves her primary school tomorrow and heads off to secondary school in September. When m'Julie, Hannah and I went to the school last evening to see Maggie playing the part of the adult Nala in the school's version of the Lion King, it was strange to think that that would be the last time that I visited that school.

The play was very good and Maggie seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself. She is also looking forward to the challenges that await her in 'big school', though I am sure that some of these will be eased by the fact that her older brother is already there.

Whilst the kids are with me and prior to Alec's departure, we are being visited by Caroline, mother of my friend Norman who was killed in January. Bizarrely, I was watching an episode of The First 48 when Caroline phoned, which must have been recorded last year, as when I hung up and went back to watching, there was Norman at a crime scene.

So it will be a busy couple of weeks with kids staying, when Drew gets back from Amsterdam, Alec working as much as possible to raise funds for Guyana, Caroline visiting and the garden party, which I've just realised will cost me for m'Julie's dress. I wonder if I can get some overtime.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


Incredible. A word that, to my knowledge, has been little used apart from in the Brian de Palma film of the same name is now appearing more and more frequently.

The reason? The thieving scum that inhabit the Houses of Parliament and jokingly pass themselves off as a Government have finally released their expenses. However, it looks as if my speculation that these expense claims were to be sanitised prior to publication was correct, as large amounts of the information is blacked out. But, rather than use the word 'censored', which in effect is what it is, all the trough dwellers are using the word 'redacted'. I strongly suspect that this is because politicians have so little respect for the people that they are supposed to represent that they believe that most people will not realise that when they say redacted they do actually mean censored.

The argument that has been put forward for this censorship is that without it there would be a risk to the personal security of the MPs. Perhaps personal addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses should not be made public due to security issues, but this also gives the thieving scum the opportunity to 'flip' their first and second homes on a regular basis and claim expenses for doing so (people like Blears, for example). However, there is much else that has been hidden on these grounds that in no way relates to their personal security.

In addition, all claims that were made and subsequently rejected (floating duck houses etc) have also been 'redacted'. The public have a right to know just how these politicians are attempting to exploit the system to their own benefit, so censoring failed claims is completely unacceptable. If these people did not want public scrutiny of their affairs then they should not have a. entered public life and b. attempted to use public money to line their own pockets.

However, despite the fact that it would be in the public interest to investigate and prosecute all of the trough dwellers that have done wrong, it appears that there is only to be a limited investigation and no doubt they'll get away with just a slapped wrist.

On the subject of publicity, I finally received a response from Errol Lutton last Wednesday. Did he answer any of the questions that I had originally asked in April? No.

What he did reveal was that despite my contacting the CSA in March of this year, he had spoken to my ex-wife the night before to confirm that what I was telling him was the truth. He also told me that he would be writing to Greg Clark and that I would be kept informed about what was happening. I'll believe it when it happens.

There's a forum where someone has made a Freedom of Information Act request to the CSA about how many complaints they receive each year. It appears that they receive approximately 48,000. I'm amazed, I was sure that it would be more. There is also someone on the same forum that claims that it is pointless to complain just once. Their advice was to complain repeatedly and often!
Changing tack completely, I will struggle for the next month with the power that has been thrust upon me. The Squadron OC is away on business in the Far East, so as the 2ic I have had to step up in his absence. There are advantages, though, as m'Julie and I have been invited to the Mayor's garden party in July. The downside to that will no doubt be the cost of the dress, and the hat, and the shoes, not forgetting the matching bag.........

First stop, County Hall, next stop Buck House!

However, all this is dependent on m'Julie, as she is currently laid up having prolapsed a vertebral disc the weekend before last. And what highly strenuous activity was she participating in when she did this damage? She was watering her plants!

Proof that gardening is, in fact, a dangerous activity and also proof that my refusal to do any gardening is completely justified.

The other problem that I have discovered which may impact on this function is that it is likely that I will be required to wear service dress. Unfortunately, when I tried on the jacket last week, it appears that during the time that it has been in the wardrobe whilst I was off last year, it has shrunk! I am therefore exploring ways of making the jacket bigger, and me smaller.

My efforts at dieting this week are being assisted by the fact that I have developed a dental abscess. This, due to the pain, means that I have very little appetite as well as the fact that, following the commencement of the root canal treatment, I have difficulty opening my mouth.

Currently, I have a temporary filling in place to give the infection a chance to resolve, aided by antibiotics, before going back to finish treatment next Tuesday.

Unfortunately, not only will I be getting lighter, but so will my wallet. Yesterday’s start of treatment set me back £95.00. Maybe I should have asked for a general anaesthetic on top of the local anaesthetic prior to being given the bill.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


Typical! Part 1: Having spent all that time and effort being sarcastic to that waster Purnell, what does he do? He resigns! Now I'll have to deal with a different Muppet! (Yvette Cooper who, along with her husband, another politician called Ed Balls, seems to be even more corrupt than her predecessor when it comes to parliamentary expenses, if that's possible!) He hasn't gone quietly, either, suggesting that Chairman Brown should step down for the good of everybody.

What did make me laugh was that the day after he resigned, a news reporter was camped outside Purnell's house in his constituency and reported that people kept stopping and telling him that he was wasting his time as Purnell had only been seen in his constituency once in the last ten years!

However, on the day that he resigned, I did get a letter from Greg Clarke, informing me that he had received my letter and that he had written to the chief executive of the CSA (now called the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission), Stephen Geraghty. This caused me some confusion, as when I had written to Mary Quinn, both the CSA website and the idiot that I spoke to stated that Mary Quinn was the chief executive, although I now notice that the website has been changed, and the Mary Quinn page, although still claiming that she is chief executive of the CSA, appears in the Department for Social Development website.

I didn't think that involving my MP would have much effect other than to get the morons at the CSA to actually do their jobs. But I was wrong, as I found out when Kevin Maguire phoned me on Friday to inform me that he was no longer dealing with my case, as it had been passed over to the Earl Luton (I still think that this could be an alias!) in the parliamentary team.

Whilst I had him on the phone, I also asked Kevin Maguire who his chief executive was. Just as well it wasn't a life or death question as he told me both Stephen Geraghty and Mary Quinn before putting me on hold and finding out before informing me that Mary Quinn is the head of the CSA and Stephen Geraghty is the chief executive. I'm still none the wiser.

I also had the rather bizarre experience of answering my phone yesterday to an Irish voice saying 'Hello, my name is Earl.....' However, that is where the humour ended as this idiot, obviously the Earl Luton that I'd been told about, informed me that he had taken over my case and had fifteen days (another CSA three weeks) to respond. More delays, meaning that by the time that I get this sorted it will be about eight weeks or more since my initial letter. Not exactly efficient when it states on their website
"It can seem difficult to make a complaint, but we want to make it as easy as possible so we can get things right".
Maybe they should let me design a more truthful website for them, perhaps
"Do you know an unemployable village idiot? If so, we have vacancies, especially management positions, just for them here at the Child Support Agency. Experience is a definite disadvantage although very low IQ and inability to perform the most simple of tasks will ensure rapid promotion. If they are exceptionally 'special' they will be assigned to our complaints resolution team in an effort to make it as difficult as possible for our incompetence to be exposed".
Earl Luton seemed quite surprised when I informed him that I expected things to move much faster than he was telling me as it had already been some time since my original complaint. His plea of it not being his fault that this process was taking so long was greeted by my informing him that I didn't care whose fault their inability to actually carry out their job was and that the whole business provided further evidence of the incompetence of the entire agency and all of its employees.

Typical! Part 2: When I received the phone call on Friday, I was on a minibus on my way to the Brecon Beacons having taken the day off to attend the Army Medical Services TA Patrolling Competition which was taking place in the Sennybridge training area, although purely in my role as Sqn 2ic, rather than as a competitor (far too old and unfit for that!)

All week, the weather had been very pleasant, even when we left the Unit for the six hour drive to Wales, it was still sunny, although it was getting a bit nippier the further west we went.

We arrived at 8pm and after a briefing, made our way to the main admin area, where we were eaten alive by midges before the guys headed off and I headed back to a room in the main camp. After that, it all went downhill.

When I got up on Saturday morning, although the sun wasn't visible, it was just overcast and colder than the day before. Stupidly, I left my waterproof in the room in my Bergen. I say stupidly, because no sooner had I got to the training area and had a briefing than the skies opened. And it continued to rain for the next 30 hours!

I managed to get round and see the team and met up with one of my colleagues at lunchtime and we were able to meet up with the team again during the rest of the day. We were lucky. We were moving from point to point in a vehicle, with heating and protected from the rain, whereas the teams were moving on foot.

Inevitably, there were several casualties, quite a few due to the cold and rain, so the decision was taken by the brass that the teams would be returned to the main camp, rather than stay out as they were supposed to. Myself and my colleague waited for the team to return and travelled with them to Sennybridge Camp before making our way to Brecon to the hotel where we were staying, The Castle.

The hotel was very nice and fortunately had working radiators, which meant that I was able to place my completely soaking wet uniform on them to dry out. With all the fresh Welsh air of the day and after a couple of pints in the bar, I slept really well. However, when I woke up, because I'd put the radiators on full to dry out my uniform, I was drenched!

After breakfast, it was back to the training area for the last of the events and we left the area at 2pm. And, typically, as we pulled on to the main road, the cloud cleared, revealing blue sky and sunshine, to the extent that we had to put the air con on in the car!

The team had done very well, considering that in the main competitors were from the various Field Hospitals, who have 7-8 times more personnel than the Squadrons to choose from, and finished higher than many of the other Squadrons.

So, sixty hours after leaving home, I was back and the process of sorting out my kit began, ready for the next exercise.

Typical! Part 3: When Alec, my eldest, was thrown out by his mother and moved in with me, I applied for child benefit. An application went in and then I received a letter asking for more information and proof that he is still at school. All this information was sent back to them three weeks ago.

However, last Tuesday there was another letter, identical to the first, with the words 'Duplicate-please reply' written across the top. Curious as to why this was sent, I called the number on the letter.

Unfortunately, when I got through and heard the Irish accent my heart immediately sank. I have nothing against the Irish, but I suspected that this may indicate that this agency was co-located with the morons of the CSA. And the woman I spoke to didn't allay my concerns, as every time I asked her a question or tried to explain to her that I had already sent in the information, she just kept repeating "You need to complete the form with the requested information and send it back". I decided to change tack and asked to speak to the section that was named on the letter.

I was refused access to this section and the woman also refused to tell me whether or not my previous information had been received, just repeating "You need to complete the form with the requested information and send it back".

Eventually, she agreed to inform the relevant section that I had telephoned and assured me that I would receive a call-back within three working days, which was Friday.

On Monday, having heard nothing, I telephoned again and spoke to someone who was much more helpful. What she told me was that it appeared that the section had indeed received the information that they had requested, but that it had been 'misplaced'.

When I asked the woman why it was that her colleague hadn't told me that the information had been lost, she was unable to tell me. She also pointed out that the information hadn't been lost, it had been 'misplaced'. When I asked her where it was and she told me that she didn't know, I suggested that she consult the dictionary and look up the definition of 'lost'.

So, now I have the information (again!) which is being posted to the Child Benefit agency (again!) so let’s see if they lose it (again!).

Monday, 1 June 2009

Silence is not always golden

At the time that I am starting this, it is Sunday evening and the house seems quite large. The reason is that Drew and Maggie have gone home, although it was made difficult for me by the fact that Maggie clearly didn't want to go. I think that it has to be the worst feeling in the world. I suspect that it will be written over a couple of days, so hopefully that feeling will have lessened by the time that this is finished.

The kids had arrived on Wednesday as it was half term, and I was pleased to see that Drew seemed to have fully recovered from the appendicectomy that he'd undergone two weeks previously. On Wednesday evening, m'Julie came up with the idea of visiting Greenwich on the following day. The reason for this is that at Greenwich there is the Royal Observatory, The Queen's House and the National Maritime Museum.

So it was that all five of us descended on Paddock Wood station for the trip up to Greenwich, which was slightly prolonged due to the inevitable problems on the railway, and we arrived in Greenwich at lunchtime. After a nice lunch in a French cafe, we made our way across Greenwich Park to our first stop, the Royal Observatory.

The first, and in fact I think the last time that I was at the Observatory was in 1976, when there had been an exhibition at the Maritime Museum commemorating the 200 years since America had gained independence. It had changed in the 33 years since my last visit.

The main exhibition area of the Royal Observatory is very interesting and we had the inevitable photo of us straddling the prime meridian.
Unfortunately, they were very strict about people not taking photographs inside the actual exhibition area which was a shame as there were so many historic and rare artefacts to be seen.

After the exhibition, we made our way to the only part of the whole 'Greenwich experience' that actually costs anything, the Peter Harrison Planetarium, where we were able to see what the sky should have looked like on Thursday night had there not been so much light pollution.

After the show we made our way back across Greenwich Park to the National Maritime Museum. One thing that I hadn't realised was that the site of the museum had once been the site of the Royal Hospital School, which is the inferior, Naval, equivalent of my old school, The Duke of York's Royal Military School, as well as being the old school of my friend Bruce. 

Unfortunately, we didn't actually get to the museum until nearly 1630, and as it closed at 1700, we had very limited time to look around. However, I'm sure that there will be another visit during the three weeks that the kids are staying over the summer holidays.

Friday was a relaxed day at home, the kids spending most of the day playing World of Warcraft (!), but m'Julie making plans for us all to go out on Saturday.
As the day dawned bright and sunny, the idea that m'Julie had been talking about on Friday was put into action and we headed to the South Coast metropolis that is Eastbourne, aka God's Waiting Room. Although this is not the nearest coast to us, the alternative, Hastings, is in my opinion, a complete cess-pool, hence the choice we made. 

We headed straight to the beach and the girls, who were already wearing their swimming costumes headed into the sea, which resulted in a loss, as Maggie decided that because it’s a stony beach she would wear her sandals. Unfortunately, a large wave sucked off one of them, and despite her best efforts to grab it, it was 'lost at sea'.

Drew also joined the girls, but as he hadn't taking his swimming costume, it was a case of rolling up his shorts and having a paddle.

After a quick meal and a visit to the pier, we all made our way back to the car and headed up to Beachy Head, which although it is so close, is the first time that I'd ever been there. After several attempts to get the video camera in still picture 'timer' mode, I was successful.

As well as being a well known beauty spot, it is also notorious as being a very popular suicide spot, to the extent that there are chaplaincy patrols along the cliffs. As I write this on Monday evening, there is a news report about two adults and a child whose bodies have been found 400 feet down Beachy Head.

Also in the above picture is Percy the Gnome, who was a present last year from H, and, now that he's been painted, is to be pictured in various places that we visit. m'Julie is even talking about his having his own Facebook page!

After all this fresh sea air, we were all feeling quite tired by the time we got home, which meant that for most of us, Sunday was another chill-out day before the kids left, although Hannah did have a dancing exam in the morning that she will find out the result of in a couple of weeks.

So, as I said at the start of this, the house is 'silent' again, so I can return to abusing politicians. The reason for this is that the 'special' person from the CSA with whom I had spoken, apparently called Kevin Maguire, called me back on Wednesday morning.

However, after a ten-minute conversation, rather than suggesting a solution, Kevin Maguire informed me that he 'couldn't make head nor tail' of my case and was having to request the case papers, which would take a further seven to ten working days to reach him. I was left wondering what this person had actually done since receiving my complaint, and was left to conclude what I already knew. Kevin Maguire had clearly done nothing.

Following this very unsatisfactory conversation and having had no response to my original letter, I decided to write to Purnell again to see if I could elicit a response from a second letter:
Dear Mr Purnell,
I wrote to you on 18 April 2009 regarding the incompetence that is rife within the Child Support Agency. To date I have received no reply, not even from your staff, although I am aware that your claiming staffing costs does not necessarily mean that you employ any staff.
Now that your behaviour re: expenses is in the public domain and you no longer have to spend time and effort in any attempts to cover this up, I trust that you will return to your Ministerial duties and look into my complaint and inform me of any action that you have either taken or ordered to be taken.
Yours sincerely
Not content with this, I also wrote to my local MP, Greg Clark, enclosing copies of my letters to both Purnell and the equally useless Mary Quinn. The reason for this is that when I previously had problems with the CSA in 2007, I involved Greg Clark.

Having had no luck from writing to the then Secretary of State, John Hutton, and the then CSA Chief Executive, Stephen Geraghty (another pair of oxygen thieves), I contacted Greg Clark, and within days had a solution.

Hopefully, the result will be the same, particularly as there is bound to be an election before long.