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Friday, 9 December 2011

Reason To Smile- A Heartfelt Mission to Rescue Peg

Many may say that daytime telly is filled only with trivial celebrity drivel; but as someone who has had to rely on such entertainment for sanity over the last five years when I've been stuck in bed unable to concentrate on a book or even a DVD due to the cognitive effects of my morphine- I can assure you that it does often throw up some fantastic stories of courage and inspiration.
One such story that you may have missed this morning if unlike me you have a job, children to run around after, or maybe just a life in general- was that of the late Conrad Lewis, who's family will have an incredibly difficult Christmas as the 22yr old soldier was shot dead in Helmand province earlier this year.
Conrad's parents and siblings appeared on the This Morning couch this morning with one other very special guest accompanying  them.
Whilst serving in Afghanistan Conrad befriended a beautiful and loyal companion in Peg, a local dog who would follow him and his colleagues everywhere, even the front line where she would lay down next to the soldiers.
In Conrad's 'blueys' that he would send home to his family, he would always regale tales of his four-legged friend and expressed his wish of if anything were to happen to him that he would love his Peg to be saved and brought home.
The family had no doubt that they would ever not fulfil their son's wishes as they knew of the comfort and companionship that this dog had given him whilst he was in one of the world's most dangerous places. This extraordinary mission was made possible by help from the charity Nowzad.
Nowzad was started by Sergeant “Pen Farthing” of 42 Commando of TheRoyal Marines.
After being deployed to the war torn town of Now Zad in the Helmand Province in 2006,
Pen was soon to realise that it was not just the local people who needed help in providing stability to their area, but there were indeed many dogs in this province that needed a lot of help also.

Taken from the Nowzad website Pen's own words recount..
….“When we first arrived in the town of Now Zad I broke up a dog fight that was taking place right outside our remote compound. What I didn’t know was that one of those fighting dogs would then befriend me! I couldn’t say no to those big sad eyes, the now very former fighting dog, became my buddy and found himself a name – Nowzad”.

 Pen and his colleagues went to incredible lengths to get the dogs that they had become so attached to home to safety. Dog lovers the world over heard of these men's actions and joined with them to help save these creatures who without their help would certainly die of starvation, cold or do fighting.
You'll be pleased to hear that Nowzad made it home and in May 2007 the charity Nowzad was formed and registered in the UK – number 1119185.
To hear the full story of Pen and his incredible achievements, please visit the Nowzad website http://www.nowzad.com/about/ or read Pen Farthings book 'One Dog At A Time', which actually sits proudly on our bookshelf at home as Garry read it on one recent deployment to Afghan himself.
Anyone who owns a dog can vouch for the love, companionship and comfort that they bring into our lives.
My husband can also vouch how being in a war zone can compound these feelings, as in such a unique, stressful and at times harrowing environment, one understandably looks for any comfort that can be found, and in Garry's case it was watching one young amercian woman try to savee the innocent life of a puppy she was secretly keeping and so can understand to some degree the love that Conrad Lewis must have felt for this creature he had become so attached to.
I'm aware that today's Reason to Smile, fits in to both of my perhaps all too regular of categories of dogs and the military, but I'm sure you'll agree with me that it is wonderful that the incredibly sad situation of this family's incomprehensible loss is eased even ever so slightly by the pure unconditional love of one dog who their son loved so very much.
Although I hereby enclose a link to the written story on the Daily Telegraph website, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/onthefrontline/8927439/Family-of-para-killed-in-Helmand-adopt-his-Afghan-dog.html I urge you to watch the clip of the This Morning interview on ITV player http://www.itv.com/ITVPlayer/
to witness the incredible nature of this sweet hearted dog, in spite her desperately sad start in life.
This story made me cry and smile in equal measure.
My thoughts are with the Lewis family this very difficult Christmas.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. If you're able, please spare a thought and if you are so inclined, a prayer for those serving in war zones away from their families this Christmas period and for those who never made it home to their families at all.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Profusely Proud To Be A Military Wife

You'd be hard pushed to have missed the huge furore currently surrounding BBC choir master Gareth Malone and his unstoppable force of military wives from RMBs Chivenor and Plymouth, who are currently being tipped by the likes of Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans, to beat Simon Cowell's X Factor winner to the coveted Christmas no. 1 spot in the charts.
This the fourth series of the BAFTA award winning BBC series following Malone's ambitious quests to form choirs from unlikely and often under confident participants, saw him call upon the courage of the wives of  Royal Marines, Army and RAF personnel, to step forward out of the shadows and into the limelight, to take part in a choir that would see them perform at The Royal Albert Hall's Festival of Remembrance in November, and later release a single of the song written for them by royal wedding composer Paul Mealor.
The seed of this now nationwide phenomenon, all began with a letter to the former London Symphany Orchestra choirmaster, from an army wife based in Devon, suggesting that he form a choir from the wives left behind in blightly whilst their husbands and partners serve in Afghanistan.
Thereafter followed the collaboration of wives and girlfriends from the two Devon bases.
These amazing ladies were also brave enough to give forth their personal letters, or 'Blueys' as we affectionately know them- so that composer Paul Mealor could create lyrics lifted directly from their own heartfelt words.
When I watched the episode where the creation was first sung to these courageous women, I joined with them in shedding a few tears- and by few, I mean few bucket loads!
The wonderfully interlaced words from these women's own hearts, to me speak for every single one of us who have been left behind, unable to know where or what our beloved husband or partners are up to, and who worry and pray for their every second away from home.
It is a position I would not ever wish anyone to be in. My mother often emphatically reminds me, of my need to know what is going on since I was a small child- Why are you doing this? Where are you going? What are you going to do there?
It is a trait I never have grown out of and one that doesn't serve a military wife well I can assure you!
For the last few years it has been impossible for me to call Garry when I have needed him or indeed when I have just wanted to talk to him, when he has been away with work, Instead I have had to sit at home for many an anxious night waiting in hopeful anticipation that he might be able to get to a computer, or better yet a phone so that I may simply be able to know that he is safe.
Thankfully, for me at least, back in 2006 when I had my accident, Garry then carried a captain's phone that I could call him on and express my shock and distress at just having been involved in an accident.
It is amazing how even in less dramatic and important times than this, hearing his voice when I have been unable to for too long, can turn me into a love struck school girl all over again!
On Garry's safe return home, it actually feels like all of my childhood, ( and for that matter adulthood as well!), Christmases have come at once- coupled with my wedding day and birthdays all rolled into one!
This coming from the world's biggest Christmas fan/elf ! If only you could see the amount of fairly lights that currently surround me lighting my keyboard as I write this post!
Unbelievably sadly, all too many wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, mums, dads, brothers, sisters and children don't get to experience this jubilation and immense relief, as their loved one does not return home to envelope them in their arms.
The last base in which Garry and I were based, was struck by it's own earth shuddering tragedy, when it lost an aircraft and crew a year before I met him. Despite the stoic and traditionally military character of all it's personnel, I always felt that a piece of the heart of the place had been ripped from it, to the day that the base recently closed: yet at the same time an increased strength of spirit was present as the base family pulled tighter together in order to hold one another up, as everyone despite their sympathy could not help but think selfishly of how it could have so easily been them facing such heartbreaking loss.
The Military Wives choir were themselves struck by such tragedy- as whilst Chivenor's troops thankfully return safely from the six month tour of Afghanistan both bases were on whilst the choir was formed, Plymouth's 42 Commando tragically suffered fatalities.

My thoughts are of course with those women who are now single mothers and heartbroken widows desperately trying to cope without that huge piece of their lives where their husband once fit so tightly.
That void will never be filled for them and those children will grow up without their dad's playing football with them, or tucking them in at night.
Please spare a thought, and if you're inclined, a prayer for these decimated families this Christmas and support the charities which will help them cope as well as is at all humanly possible with life's biggest and most painful obstacle- The Royal British Legion and SSAFA.
If ever there was a worthy way of spending £1.99, it is this beautiful single. Let's face it, that's less than a pint or a glass of wine in the pub!

Whilst researching for today's post, I typed into the Google search engine- first Military Wives and then RAF wives and so stumbled upon this entry into a wedding planning website's forum.
post was entitled:
Whats it like being an RAF wife?
And was followed by this young girl's concerns over her fiance's desire to join the RAF as a pilot.
The bride-to-be wrote...
    ''I'm not wanting to really be a forces wife, but if needs be, I'll live with it.. I'm concerned that my lack of enthusiasm for the social side of it will impact on my future husband.
... if someone could tell me what its like, what the responsibilities are and what I can expect, I'd be ever so grateful.''
Although my circumstances were different, in that when I met my husband, he had already been serving as an RAF pilot for 8 years and I was filled with a mixture of awe and pride for this profession of his; I did still share this girl's anticipation of the unknown.
The concerns of-
 What is expected of me, in both the personal and social sense? How do I know who's who on social occasions? And of course most importantly- Where will he be deployed and how long will he be away?
These are questions that I know every one of my friends who are military wives have asked themselves when they embarked upon their serious relationships with their now husbands.
In my case, when I met Garry, all but a handful of his friends and colleagues had been together a long time- they were married and many were expecting their first round of babies, ( I say this as there is an odd coincidence that babies born to squadron personnel and more specifically 'married patch' dwellers, have all been born around the same time, with the second child born to each family also coinciding with the others based around them- spooky ha!)
When I moved to Garry's base, all of the wives had already experienced their husbands being away in conflict and more trivially, (but strangely still importantly to us girls!) knew what dress to where to each social occasion and who's wife belonged to whom and said events!
There is no doubt that entering into this world is daunting in every capacity, but what I soon learned was that the sense of community and even family amongst those at RAF, Army, Royal Marine and Navy bases alike, is a unique and strangely wonderful thing.

Yes marrying into the military often means that your career comes second, you have to relocate to places you frankly would never choose to live. You have to put up with your husband missing, birthdays, anniversaries and other people's weddings and other events you then have to attend alone. Life can often be lonely, anxious and stressful; but for me the many positives out way these negatives significantly.
First and foremost there is of course the uniform-that's many of the negatives above outweighed already!
But on a more serious note, having been a part of the RAF and in turn the RAF a part of him, for a third of his life- I am married to a husband who is proud of his work and this brings him joy and a contentment often lacking in so many careers.
It goes without saying that I am so incredibly proud of Garry and his colleagues in all of the armed forces and I pray for all of those who will not be home for Christmas and who will be spending it in a war zone, and for those who's loved ones will not return at all.
Please support these wonderful women (and one marvellous man!) on their fantastic quest to raise money for an incredibly worthy cause.
Listen to the lyrics and I challenge you not to be moved to tears.
Have a good night everyone. Treasure it, and those loved ones around you spending it with you.

Do you still need to do some Christmas shopping? Please check out Help For Heroes on line shop where you can buy presents and make a difference at the same time. That's got to be good hasn't it! x

Monday, 5 December 2011

House of Pain

Hi everyone, I hope that you enjoyed a healthy and happy weekend.

This Saturday I was privileged to be well and strong enough to spend some quality time catching up with my extended family; but as has become my norm, I consequently had to pay the price for this. (as with every wonderful active or social experience I have), by being confined to my bed/sofa for the rest of the weekend and having to forgo the rest of the weekend's events.

Despite the frustration of this perpetual problem, (and believe me there was frustration in abundance on Saturday night when my pain meant that I had to miss out on going to Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland- tears may well have been shed)- my primary issue at the moment is most certainly my sleep, or my lack of it more to the point!

Among the many wonderful things about my brother and sister-in-law living with Garry and I at the moment, ( and I'd like to emphasise for the record in case she is reading this, that there are indeed many!!)- the most wonderful of these, is the fact that my sister-in-law has brought with her to our humble abode 'House', series 1 -6!

Having never really watched much of this programme before, I have since been sucked in deep and have subsequently developed a deep love for it having thrown myself into the wonderful world of the remarkable Dr Gregory House and the incredibly talented Englishman Hugh Laurie, who plays this character with the most proficient American accent performed by any foreigner ever!

For those of you who have not as yet had the good fortune to have the time or inclination to while away an afternoon or two with this televisual masterpiece- all you need to know for this post, is that Dr House is a medical genius who heads a team of diagnosticians at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.

Most relevantly House suffers from chronic pain in his thigh, following surgical complications. House relies upon a walking aid as well as the addictive drug Vicodin to manage his pain.and although I fortunately don't have such an addiction- I can naturally relate to this character's more general problems pertaining to his  chronic pain.

At present my situation is such that I am trying to gradually increase my daily activity- as a result I am naturally suffering more with pain at night.

I have spoken in great detail about my night time trials and tribulations of late, so I won't bore you with the details again, as basically it just goes as follows: horrid pain, relentless itching and then when the clocks marks the hours of 3 or 4am- the anxiety and depression set in with avengence!

Although I'm aware that technology and more specifically electrical goods such as laptops and smart phones are not conducive to sleep and should not be kept near your bed or in your bedroom at all- when you are awake for hours in bed and are taking on a collaborative army of pain, itching and anxiety, you take any distraction going!

Of late the distraction of choice is watching 'House MD' on my iphone whilst playing a simple game of matching coloured blocks on my iphone- ( I have been told by pain psychologists that hand-eye coordination such as this can help distract the brain from pain).

Whilst suffering one such difficult nocturnal nightmare at the weekend, I watched an episode of  'House MD' where the rather eccentric and exaggerated character of House was reluctantly forced to live without his beloved Vicodin.

Watching the wonderful Laurie so accurately portray the process of a chronic pain sufferer withdrawing from strong medication touched such a chord that it actually made me well up- so much for the distraction from emotional distress!

I have had to endure the process of withdrawal from slow release morphine twice now and I would not wish even a fraction of the pain, discomfort or distress associated with it upon my worst enemy- not that as an unemployed, passive, Christian  housewife I have many enemies, but I'm sure you get the general idea!

98 % of my life is spent in pain and probably half of that is spent in ridiculous, scream the house down, pull your hair out pain.

Laurie's well executed portrayal of this process pleases me immensely as I feel that it is imperative that issues such as chronic pain are depicted in mainstream entertainment such as House MD, as it is a vastly underestimated disability as there is so often no physical marker for people to grasp it's severity or affect on the suffers life in every way, and one which is so rarely talked about,  by anyone other than me!

Chronic pain is an invisible disability.

Unfortunately it is my disability.

Chronic pain is my challenge, but we all have those.We all have our cross to bare and chronic pain is mine.

Whatever your cross may be, good luck with your challenge. Take each day as it comes, and if that is too much to bare, take it by minute and second- Lord knows I have been at the pain level of applauding myself for each second survived, and despite five years thus far of the pain and associated depression. I have done just that survived.

Nobody knows what is around the corner, be it bad like my accident, or good like me finally establishing and accepting a level of daily morphine which allows me to have a life of sorts.

Until tomorrow everyone. I hope that you have a relaxing and restful night's sleep.