Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Old Haunts and Goodbyes

At the beginning of this month, I had the opportunity to visit somewhere that I hadn’t been since I was a child, when I flew to Belfast to teach on an Immediate Life Support Course for the Reserve Field Hospital that is stationed there.

When I was aged of two, my father was posted from Düsseldorf to Lisburn at the start of what became The Troubles in 1969.  This was an interesting and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, dangerous time to be living there, particularly as the son of a serving soldier.  To this day, my nose is at an odd angle due to a child in my primary school class finding out that my father was in the Army and throwing a brick in my face, breaking my nose in the process.

However, that was a long time ago, and in the intervening forty-four years there has been a peace process that has resulted in far less violence than occurred during the time that I was there, although sadly, it still does occur.

The ridiculous thing about the trip to Belfast was that the flight from Heathrow to Belfast City Airport was less than an hour, but to travel by train and tube from High Brooms to Heathrow took just over two hours!
The flight was uneventful (and short) and we landed in a very wet Belfast (just how I remembered it).  Once I had found my driver, we made our way to the Reserves Centre to ensure that everything was set up for the course the following day, met up with the remainder of the faculty, all but one of whom had flown over from the mainland, and then made our way to our accommodation.

We were being accommodated at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, a place that I had last been to with my father, who had been stationed there, but this time, rather than going to the Sergeants Mess, it was the Officers Mess.  Not just that, but because of our rank, myself and one other member of the faculty who is also a Lieutenant Colonel, were accommodated in a suite, not just a room.

After quickly unpacking and a quick beer in the mess, we were transported into the centre of Belfast for a quick drink in a pub prior to a fabulous meal in a restaurant called Made in Belfast, located in the Cathedral Quarter.  On the way in, we had driven along the Westlink, passing under a statue called that is officially called Rise, but we were informed is known as either the Falls Balls or the Westicles.

The following morning we were up bright and early to be transported to the Reserves Centre to deliver the course.  En route we passed my first ever primary school, Harmony Hill, which was much smaller than I remember.  

The morning was cold and frosty, but sunny.  However, being Northern Ireland, that didn’t last and during the course of the day we were subjected to snow, sun, hail and rain.  I think that the only thing missing was fog.

At the end of the course, we drove to the airport as two of the faculty were flying back that night.  The route that we took was through West Belfast, an area that is famous for its murals. After the trip to the airport we then went to the Titanic Quarter, where one of the faculty was staying as he was meeting up with friends and going out in Belfast again that night.

Once I was back in Thiepval Barracks, I contacted Jenny, whom I had served with in Aldershot and who had moved back to her native Northern Ireland, and she and her husband then collected me and we went out for a nice meal in Lisburn at Ed’s Bar and Grill.

After another very comfortable night in my suite, I was up early and awaiting transport back to the City Airport and the short and equally uneventful flight back to Heathrow.  The one advantage was that it was a very sunny day, so there was no cloud cover, even at the height that we were at, so we could see all of the country laid out below us.

After this busy weekend, it was back to work as usual on Monday, although on the Thursday I had the afternoon off to attend the Tim’s funeral.

There were three other Dukies who attended, in addition to Tim’s brother, who is also a Dukie.  The service took place at the crematorium in Leatherhead, the eulogy being read by Tim’s oldest brother and then a poem being read by John Sessions, who is an old family friend.

After the service, it was back to Tim’s Brother’s house where it was nice to catch up with Tim’s parents whom I hadn’t seen for about thirty years, although I would have preferred happier circumstances.

The weekend following this I was again busy, as there was an Advanced Life Support course that I was teaching on, which meant that by the end of last week, I had done nineteen days in a row and was ready for the weekend.

However, next weekend will not be as chilled as I am off to France on the Friday and then at Twickenham for the Army v Navy rugby on the Saturday.  At least, as it’s a bank holiday, I’ll have two days to recover afterwards.