Friday, 29 March 2013

End of an era

On Wednesday 28th February 2001, I made my way from Tunbridge Wells (where I was then living) to Ditton to make enquiries about joining the Territorial Army medical unit that was based there.

I was interviewed by the then Permanent Staff Administration Officer, a Captain, who explained to me the role of the Squadron and what I could expect if I was to serve with them. One advantage that I did have was that I knew two of the Officers that were already serving with them.

At the end of the interview, and almost as an afterthought, he said to me "By the way, there is the possibility that you could be deployed, but don't worry about it too much, as it hasn't happened since the Second World War".

I left with the world's supply of paperwork and the process of joining began. This included an interview with the Commanding Officer who told me that whilst he was happy that I commission, he thought that it would do me good to do the Phase 1 training that the soldiers do.

In August of 2001 I received my 8-figure Army number and three days later, on 1st September, departed to Devon on my first Annual Camp.

And then it all changed. Ten days after arriving in Devon, a group of nineteen men hijacked four passenger aircraft, two of which were flown into the World Trade Centre in New York, one into the Pentagon in Virginia and the last of which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, initiating the "War on Terror".

Security was immediately increased and I remember the speculation in the mess that at some point UK Armed Forces would be involved in a conflict in Afghanistan (at this point it was known that Al-Qaeda had established training camps in the country) and that there was a possibility that even Territorial units would be involved.

However, even after the British involvement commenced in November 2001, we were not called upon and carried on the usual round of training during drill nights, weekends and annual camps.

I completed my Phase 1 training in the early part of 2002, attended a Commissioning Board in the May and was Commissioned as a Captain in July of 2002, receiving my 6-figure Officer number, and was Gazetted in August of that year.

At the beginning of 2003, there was much activity due to the imminent invasion of Iraq. I received call up papers at the beginning of February, reporting to the Reserves Training and Mobilisation Centre (RTMC) eleven days later.

For various reasons, I was not deployed on Telic 1, so returned home and concentrated on preparing the Squadron for deployment on Telic 2 in the June of 2003, although I again didn't deploy. However, I remained at RTMC as a Nursing Officer in the Medical Centre, performing medicals on all those who had, or were about to, deploy.

I did get my opportunity and deployed on Telic 3, arriving in Iraq on the morning of Friday 14th November 2003, for a six month tour, returning home in April 2004 (to discover I was getting divorced) with just sixteen days of R&R in the January in the meantime.

On my return, it was back to the usual round of training, including a week's adventurous training in Canada in 2005, and medical cover for the Nijmegen Marches in 2010 as well as several courses. All in all I had an interesting, varied and enjoyable time.

But the pinnacle of all of this was when I was promoted to Major and appointed as Officer Commanding (OC) of the Squadron, as reported here in 2009, a post that I have held for more than three years and which has now come to an end, leading to this ramble.

Last Wednesday was my last drill night as OC. I relinquish command on Sunday, the new OC taking command officially on Monday and the handover/takeover happening on Tuesday. So this week has been very strange, clearing my office of all my pictures etc. And although I won't be leaving the Squadron immediately, it is likely that the twelve years that I have spent as a member of the Squadron will be over by the end of next month.

So what's next? Well, I have applied for some posts as a SO2, which my attendance at Staff College last year should help, but the boarding for this does not happen until mid-April, hence my remaining at the Squadron. If I am successful, I will carry out this role for the duration of the contract and then, hopefully, move to one of the Field Hospitals having been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

So whilst I do feel a certain amount of sadness to be leaving the Unit that has been my military "home" for pretty much all of my Reservist career, I look forward to facing the future challenges.

2013 is definitely proving to be a year of change!

Monday, 25 March 2013

All change...Again!

Tomorrow was the day that I was to go into the estate agents and set everything up for renting the house that we'd seen on Saturday. But that has all changed.

Firstly, this morning I received a call from the lady that I'd spoken to on Saturday with her wanting to take all my details and get the admin started. However, at the time that she called, I was just about to commence my annual manual handling training, so I told her that I would call her back at lunchtime.

Lunchtime came and went with me completely forgetting to call her, and I was busy teaching this afternoon. When we had coffee, I noticed that I had two missed calls and a voicemail. One of the calls, and the voicemail, was from the estate agent that we had seen the first house that we wanted to rent with. The voicemail was telling me that the people who were supposed to be moving into the house last Saturday hadn't actually done so and the landlady (who lives in Cyprus) had been in touch with her to tell her that she had decommissioned the other two estate agents. The house was therefore available to rent, but she needed me to call her back urgently if I still wanted it. I called straight back and she told me that she had already spoken with Julie, who had said yes on my behalf.

I then telephoned the other estate agent who had been letting the house that we saw on Saturday, and told her that having had a long discussion with my son, we felt that as it was extremely likely that the let would only be for six months, and neither of us wanted the upheaval of a second move so soon after this one, I had changed my mind and decided not to go ahead with the let. She did call me back almost straight away to ask if I would be interested if she could speak with the landlord and guarantee that the let would be for a year. 

I haven't called her back as yet, and probably won't if I'm honest. Both Drew and I felt that the house that we saw a week ago was the ideal place and both of us were disappointed when we were told that it had already been let.

Now it’s just getting everything ready to move. It’s still not a move that I particularly want to make, but at least it's the house that I wanted to move into, rather than the second choice. When I got home this evening, I wrote my notice on this property and Julie will deliver it for me tomorrow. The big advantage is that the estate agent that we rent this property through is the same one that we will be renting the next one through, so many of the admin checks etc. that increase the cost of the move won't need to be done, as they were completed a year ago.

So the plan is to move into the new house on the 24th April, clean this place up on 25th & 26th, handing the keys back on the 26th, and then to Twickenham for the Army v Navy rugby on the 27th.

Busy times ahead!

Saturday, 23 March 2013


Well, we've seen the house and I've said a provisional "yes", but I still have certain misgivings that I will go into shortly.

As I had said I would, I called the other agents that were advertising the house. I explained the situation to her and she said that she was happy for us to view the house with the other agents and to get back to her. She even gave me her mobile phone number to facilitate this.

Now I will go into a little bit of the background about the agents that we were seeing the house with today.

This is the same firm that let Julie's mum's house. The woman that Glenys was dealing with would regularly telephone Glenys and issue orders about what she had to do and when by. It got to the stage where I actually had to write to them to remind them that they were working for Glenys, not the other way round.

The tenants that were in the house would regularly not pay their rent, usually because they wanted something done, but when Glenys tried to organise anything or gain access to the house, they would be very awkward. And the agents always seemed to side with the tenants.

The final straw was when Glenys received a letter informing her that the tenants had given their notice, moved out and the agents had found new tenants. None of this had been discussed with Glenys.

So these were the people that I was dealing with. Drew and I arrived at the house about fifteen minutes early and I immediately noticed a "For Sale" sign outside, which caused me some concern as I didn't want to be taking on a short-term lease.

The agent arrived about five minutes after us. We got out of the car, introduced ourselves and then he handed each of us the sales literature. This set off a few alarms and I asked if he was aware that we were looking to rent the house, not buy it. He wasn't. In fact, he had nothing to do with the lettings, only the sales.

However, he let us in, informing us that the family that were living there were moving out this weekend (even though I'd been told the 8th when I telephoned).  The agent seemed very confused and asked if we were happy to show ourselves around whilst he made some phone calls. I think that he was also expecting some other people to view the property.

Drew and I walked around, and although the property was smaller than it appeared in the pictures, we both felt that it could be home. The only downside was the fact that it was for sale as well.

When I spoke with the agent, he informed me that the house had been rented for the last 5 years, but the landlord wanted to sell  and therefore was renting it out in the meantime, for a six month lease. Drew and I thanked him for his time and left.

A little later I telephoned the other agent and told her that we were interested but that I had concerns about the fact that the property was also for sale. She told me that the landlord wanted to sell the property as an investment; the person buying the property wouldn't move in, but would continue to let the property. So, yes, the initial lease would be for six months, but it would then be a rolling twelve month one. However, she couldn't guarantee this, although she was sure that this was the case.

On that basis I have said yes. She is phoning the landlord today and I will be going into her office on Tuesday to set the ball rolling.

I also telephoned the original agents to tell them that I wasn't interested and took the opportunity to point out that in future perhaps they need to communicate more, as their agent at the property was the sales agent, who had nothing to do with lettings, and that I hadn't been informed that the house was also up for sale. The person who answered phone assured me that if I had decided to take the property, it would have been taken off the market and sounded very surprised when I told him what I had been told earlier about it being a six month let.

So it looks as though Drew and I will be moving at the end of next month, all being well. I just wish I could get rid of this nagging doubt about the fact that the house is also up for sale.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

There is some hope

So, wondering if I was to have more success today, I telephoned both of the estate agents at about 10am.

I called first the one that I had called yesterday and spoke with a different person. He apologised for the fact that I hadn't had a call back and told me that he would pass on my details to the agent dealing with lettings in the Tunbridge Wells area. I explained that this was what I had been told yesterday, but I was assured that he would get back to me within the hour.

I also telephoned the agents advertising the house that I had seen yesterday, or should I say one of the agents, but more on that later.

The house is currently occupied and will be until 8th April, which is fine as we can't move until the 24th. So the woman took all my details and promised to call me back within the hour with a viewing time.

It was only after I had hung up that I realised that I had cocked up, as the agents that I had called was the one that has it advertised at £45 per month more than anyone else. So I resolved that if we do decide to take this house, we'll go through one of the cheaper agents.

I also had a discussion with one of the people with whom I share an office, who not only lives in the same town, but has just bought a house behind the one that we will be looking at. She was singing the praises of the area and I actually felt quite positive about the place, which I had not previously done.

Both having promised that they would get back to me within the hour, neither did! In fact, it wasn't until six hours later that they did call, and both called at exactly the same time, because just as I answered the lady who deals with the Tunbridge Wells lettings, my phone was beeping to let me know that the other agent was calling.

After speaking to both, there was good news and bad news. The house that I really liked the look of in Tunbridge Wells has been seen by some people who liked it, but wouldn't make their decision until tomorrow. So the lady will call me back tomorrow and let me know either way, and if they decide not to take it, she will arrange a viewing for Saturday.

Whilst this conversation was going on, the other agent was leaving me a message asking me to call her back, which I did, and then I received a text message during the conversation from her giving me the details that she was telling me. The upshot is that we will be viewing this house at 3pm on Saturday.

Hopefully, at least one of these will work out as I have just looked on the t'interweb again, and there is nothing else available.

This could take longer than I thought!

I was teaching at work today, but I did manage to make time to call about the houses that I'd seen yesterday, although only three of them as, after discussion with Drew, the house that was so close to his mother was binned as it would be awkward for him to get to work (a bus and a train, or a long walk and a train, rather than a short walk and a short train journey).

Property No. 1 had been let. Property No. 3 had been let. So why the hell don't they update their websites!

Property No. 2, on the other hand, was still available. However, the fact that I couldn't see it until Saturday didn't seem to impress the agent. What do they want? If I wasn't employed, they probably wouldn't want to know, but because I am and can't just turn up when it’s convenient to them, they seem unhappy. I bet if I wanted to see it when I finished work, which would be when they had also finished work, the answer would be no.

The other matter that the agent with whom I spoke seemed unhappy about was that not only could I not move in until next month as I have to give a month's notice where I am, but also the fact that I hadn't already given notice. He did, in fact, ask why I hadn't and I explained, in my best "talking to a moron" voice, that I wanted to wait until I had somewhere to move to, rather than make myself and my son homeless.

I was then told that he would speak with the agent that deals with the Tunbridge Wells lettings and have her call me. I explained that I was teaching all day but that she could call and leave a message. Still waiting.

Having looked this evening, there is one other "spacious 3 bed semi-detached house, within walking distance of both the town center and the mainline station" which sounds a little like yesterday's property 1, which it is quite close to, but at least the agent marketing that property could spell centre!

So another call to make tomorrow, and I may have to call the other agent back.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Sod it!

Looks as though I may have spoken too soon about how painless the house hunting was. The reason that I say this is that I had a telephone call from the estate agents this afternoon to tell me that the house that we had said that we would take, which was also being marketed by two other agents, had been seen by people last Saturday, who said that they would take it and are moving in next Saturday.

Back to the drawing board, or rather back to the "property to let" sites on the Internet.

So I have widened the search a little to include Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and now have four potential properties that I need to speak to the various estate agents about tomorrow. Unfortunately, even if I call tomorrow, the earliest that I will be able to visit anywhere is on Saturday.

Property 1 is a "a three bedroom semi-detached house, which is situated within a short walk of the town centre & mainline station". The house looks quite nice from the outside, but there are no other pictures of the interior, which always makes me a little dubious.

Property 2 is a "charming, newly refurbished, 3 bedroom semi-detached family home". This looks the nicest of the lot, particularly the internal photos, and I think is definitely worth a look.

Property 3 is the cheapest of the lot, £100 cheaper than the others and is "An older style end terrace house with really good size garden to the rear". It is in one of the less salubrious areas, and looks it. Sadly, beggars can't be choosers!

The last property is one that would have an upside and a downside. It is "a well presented three bedroom semi-detached house". The upside is that Maggie would be able to walk round and visit whenever she wanted, but the downside is that this would be possible because the house is approximately 1/2 mile from where my ex-wife lives. Perhaps not, then.

So its back on the phone tomorrow to arrange viewings, whilst keeping looking. Watch this space.

Monday, 18 March 2013

House Hunting

Despite the fact that the title of this is usually sufficient to strike fear into the stoutest of hearts, it’s actually been a relatively painless process and it looks as though the right place has been found, less than two weeks after deciding that I needed to find somewhere.

At first, it looked as though it was going to be a long, hard struggle, as there seemed to be nowhere appropriate. I needed to find a property with at least three bedrooms, one for me, one for Drew and one for Maggie when she stays, and for visitors when she isn't staying. A search of the Internet produced just four suitable results.

The first house that we visited was described as a "spacious three bedroom terraced house", which I have to say was not strictly true. The house was situated on the main road through Paddock Wood, opposite a pub. Granted, the downstairs rooms were reasonably spacious, but the kitchen was tiny, as was the back yard (note the use of the word yard rather than garden).

Getting upstairs was interesting, as the staircase was not exactly wide, and whilst I'm a bit lardy, even Drew had some difficulties. The two double bedrooms were a reasonable size, but one had clearly been the bedroom of a teenage girl, as it was a purple and mauve shrine to Robert Pattinson and Twilight, complete with an oversized R painted on one wall.

However, there was a third double bedroom, although this was an attic bedroom, accessed by an equally narrow staircase. The problem with this room was that neither Drew, at 6'0", nor I, at 6'2", could actually stand upright in the room. Needless to say, we made the decision there and then that it wasn't for us.

The next house that I tried to see was a "recently repainted three bedroom semi-detached house with a nice size garden" for £875.00 per month. The earliest day that I could see it was last Tuesday as they were unwilling to let me see it on the Saturday. I left my details and was expecting a call from the estate agents to confirm the viewing time. Having heard nothing on the Tuesday, I telephoned and was told that because of the weather (it snowed again last Tuesday) no-one would be able to get out of the office (even though all of the snow had almost thawed by the time that I called them). An appointment for 10.00 today was therefore made.

The next house that I saw was described as a "3 bedroom semi-detached house. Well-presented throughout". It looked very promising, but was about £50.00 a month more than I really wanted to pay. However, I telephoned the estate agents to arrange a viewing.

I was surprised to actually speak with a very honest agent. She informed me that whilst the house would probably be suitable, the people who were letting it ultimately wanted to sell the house and for that reason, the let was only for six months. Definitely not suitable!

This left just one house, described as a "spacious 3 bedroom terrace house recently redecorated throughout with new carpets". There was a little confusion about this, as this house had been discussed when we had looked at the first house, but the agent said that the family were unsure whether or not to let or sell, as the person living in it was now in a home. But when I saw that it was still on the Internet, I telephoned and spoke to the other agent at the same estate agents, who told me that the family had never intended to sell. So I made arrangements to view it at 2.00 this afternoon.

In the meantime, whilst looking, I had noticed that the house that was on the market that I was supposed to be seeing at 10.00 today was also on the market with another agent, but £25.00 per month cheaper.

Having had a busy weekend teaching on a course, I had taken a day's leave today, but was up early so as to be at the house we were due to see. But at 9.00 I received a phone call informing me that they were unable to make the appointment time and could they delay it until 4.30. As it worked out, it was quite fortuitous.

Drew, Alec (who is on Easter leave from Uni), Julie and I walked round to have a look at the house, which is just round the corner from where Julie will be moving to.

The house was OK, but did need some modernisation. In fact, it was pretty much identical to Julie's mum's house, but a mirror image. It did have a nice conservatory, or at least it would be nice once the smell of cat piss was gone, but I didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling, and neither did Drew.

I said to the agent that we had one more house to see this afternoon and I would get back to her. She then informed us that she had a house that hadn't even been advertised yet, the agency only receiving a call from the owner today, and that it was in the same road as the one that I was seeing this afternoon.

Drew, Alec and I decided to go and see it straight away and were surprised to discover that not only was it in the same road as the house we were due to see this afternoon, but it was actually the same house!

Pretty much as soon as we walked in, Drew and I had a good feeling. The house is almost identical in layout to the one that we are currently in, although it doesn't have an extension like this one and has one less bedroom. The rooms are all a little smaller than the current house, but they are big enough for the pair of us.

So we have told the agent that we would like to rent it. It just needs a little more work done, but we won't be looking at moving before the end of April, so it should all work out.

So, I had to telephone the agent who I was due to meet at 4.30 and tell them that I wanted to cancel the viewing as I had found a house and no longer needed to see the one that they were showing.

Just after this, I received a panicked call from the agents that we are going to use, asking me not to mention that I had seen the house via another agents. I might use this as leverage to make sure that the rent is decent!

Still not looking forward to the actual packing and moving, though!

Saturday, 9 March 2013


A little over a year after the chaos of the move to the house that we are now in, it looks, barring a small miracle, that we will be facing the chaos again. Sadly, it is not a move that I ever wanted to make, but it has become necessary. It may also mean another major change in my life, but I really hope not.

Just before we moved into this house, the job that m'Julie was expecting to start shortly after our move fell through, and unfortunately she has not been able to find a full-time, reasonably well-paid, job since then. As a result, the burden of the financial outlay has fallen on me, with her mum also contributing.

As a result of this, I have been extremely stressed for the majority of the last year, trying desperately to ensure that we had somewhere to live and food to eat, in an effort to keep us together, but it appears that what I have actually achieved is to push us further, much further, apart. So when this move takes place, it will see me and Andrew move into one house and Julie and Hannah move into her mother's house. And whilst that doesn't necessarily mean the end of the relationship, it certainly feels like it at the moment.

Inevitably, there has been reflection, certainly on my part although I can't speak for Julie, on the almost eight years since we met, and apart from the last year, almost every memory is a happy one.

When my ex-wife and I parted, it was no real surprise. Our relationship had been in the doldrums with a unending round of almost constant arguments for a number of years. If I'm honest, I had only carried on for the sake of our children, who at the time we parted were 12, 8 and 6. Definitely the wrong reason for staying with someone! Her timing of presenting me with divorce papers four hours after I returned from Iraq wasn't the best timing, but that sums her up really.

However, that hasn't been the case with Julie and I. Yes, we've had our difficulties, but we have always been able to sort things out and look back and laugh, even when I was ill. We have no "mutual" children, but my children, particularly Drew, have more affinity with Julie than their own mother, and Hannah has called me "Dad" since about a year after I met her.

In fact, before we moved into this house, we never really had any significant problems, lived a reasonably good life and had no real financial worries. But all of this changed after the move and we haven't had the disposable income that we had previously, which has meant that we haven't done half of the things that we did previously. On reflection I can say that often it was a case of my not wanting to "in case" we couldn't afford it rather than because we actually couldn't. I have also been very tired as I have been working at least fifty hours per week and sometimes as many as seventy.

Inevitably this has resulted in my being more irritable and less forgiving, which has clearly impacted on the way in which Julie and I have been with each other.

So that's the current situation. Perhaps, as Julie says, having semi-separate lives will result in us re-discovering the spark that we have had for the last eight years, ignited in May 2005 when I received a letter from a Dental Nurse whom I had recently trained asking me to "Please excuse the familiarity". I hope so, because it’s pointless being financially better off if the person that you love isn't there to help you spend it.