Gratitude and us

Recently my mother has been taken very ill. She has emphysema from a life-time of smoking.  Whilst I was sat with her late at night in the hospital the nurse who was looking after her on that long night shift said that we should be grateful that my mother was “asleep” through this all and that the machine she was attached to was breathing for her.  I felt a little annoyed with the nurse at first as she was interrupting my thoughts at that time.  I was actually thinking what was I going to do without my mother.  What was I going to do on a Sunday now that we were not going to be able to talk to one another if she had to stay in hospital, what would I do if the worst were to happen, how would my life change. Which, upon reflection, was incredibly selfish.  So I decided to put together a list (lists are after all very popular at the moment in our house) of things that I am grateful for.

The list has both serious and frivolous items on it as I am really grateful for a lot of “crap”.

Things that I am grateful for:

  • Having been brought up by my mother and father in the way that they did
  • Bank holiday weekends
  • The first coffee of the morning
  • Tenby in the summer sunshine
  • Historical castles
  • Eating someone else’ chips from their plate
  • Holding a hot cup of tea in both hands outside when gardening in the cold
  • Welsh isms (isnit, buy year etc.)
  • Windscreen wipers keeping in time with the song playing on the radio
  • My daughter’s imagination when she is playing with Lego
  • Being able to park right outside my house on a Friday evening getting in from work
  • Ice cold milk drink
  • Going to the cinema and seeing how excited my daughter is
  • Watching my son work something out on his own – with no outside help
  • Driving to work on a Monday morning at 4 am and seeing no other cars on the road
  • Blue Christmas lights on a tree in someone else’s garden
  • Sleeping in fresh bedsheets
  • Eating free samples with no intention of buying them
  • Completing a to do list on time
  • Gravy in a Yorkshire pudding
  • Crispy Yorkshire pudding edges
  • Watching the first seeds budding
  • Sitting in the garden listening to silence
  • Listening to an invented story by my children
  • Socks straight out of the tumble drier
  • A family meal out and my daughter’s food arrives first – she gets so excited
  • Reading a Where’s Wally book – and finding Wally first
  • Getting a 9 letter conundrum watching 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown before John Richardson does
  • Slightly burnt toast with marmalade
  • A day in my pyjamas
  • Strawberries and cream on a summer’s day
  • Waking up and staying in bed for another half hour just in the half and half sleep zone
  • Biting into a cold apple
  • Singing
  • The internet



why my bucket list?

What motivates me to blog?

I really have no idea what made me want to blog in the first instance, although I believe I have a story, well several stories, of some of the things that I have seen and done in my life that I know are interesting, some are really funny, but really I want to do is improve mine and my daughter’s written English, additionally we will have a joint interest and I thought by adding this (blogging) to my bucket list it would force me into improving my English.  My biggest problem (other than spelling and grammar) is I am absolutely cack at writing stories down!

Some of the stories I have are downright rude and belong in the “what happens on tour stays on tour” league, but by changing some names ,dates etc. I am sure they could be put out there and be read by many people. Hopefully if anyone reads them they will find them funny as well.  There are some serious stories as well, you cannot go through tours in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Bosnia, Northern Ireland (again and again), Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan without having a few stories that  can put a lump in your throat but these tend to only come to light when I am in a dark mood, which is very rare these days.

However, when we meet up for our veteran weekends; supping a beer or three, pulling up a sandbag we chat for hours and hours about what we did, where we did it, with whom and how drunk we always got after (that last bit is a very common thread throughout the majority of the “dits” and yarns we always spin).  Most of these stories have us all roaring with laughter, however, when I write these stories down they seem like a very long dialogue of not so interesting facts!

I have recently read several articles on this blog website (see hazyraindrops blog on for the article on Colour-by-numbers as an example), this blog is very well articulated, with no spelling mistakes, clear points, is obviously well written and researched, is really well thought out and I enjoyed reading it very much. Ultimately it is what I would like my daughter and I to be able to do, write really well and articulate our stories.  I am quite hopeful that Courtney will be able to do this as she has her mother’s brains and some really good teachers at her school.  I am going to sign up for a free course on Alison and see where that takes me, hopefully it will also help improve my grades on my Open University course to boot.

The first things I need to do (as I have just been told by my daughter):

Proof read everything…twice!

Read more blogs and books

Take a course in English

I will have to add these to the bucket list, which is ironic as we intended to do a few things on the bucket list this Easter but all we have managed to do is add more items to the list.

I am not defined by my work

I am reflecting on meeting up with one of my former military friends and literally 20 seconds into the conversation the question I always dread came up “What are you doing now?”

These words have a terrible effect on me; as I am not my job, I was never my job when I was in the army either.  It is not that I fear being judged on what I do (I fear being judged on how good or bad I do my job but not by my friends but by my co-workers).  Which is why for the sake of this story I shall call him Numbnuts.

This question really makes my teeth itch.  I have a good friend, Paddy, who struggled for work when he retired from the army, he went through dozens of jobs before he found that actually, the job paying him wage gave him massive job satisfaction. He looks after disadvantaged / disabled people as a carer.  Does this job define him?  Does this make any less successful? I think not, what defines him is his sense of humour, his kindness and his astounding personality, he lights up any room when he walks in with his enthusiasm and he always listens really well to anything he is being told.  Listening is a skill and he has buckets of it.  He is also exceptional at telling a story and never lets the truth get in the way of a making it a funny story!

But back to meeting up with Numbnuts…

I had been looking forward to catching with him after he had sent me a friend request on Facebook as we have not seen each other since May 2003 so a brew and and an hour chewing the fat sounded like a right good plan, but 20 seconds into the conversation we were talking about work.  Don’t get me wrong, I really do like my job but it is only that for me, something I do so that I can do other things I really enjoy like spending time with my family, eating out at nice restaurants, eating out at not so nice cafes.  Even when I am in work our coffee breaks are all about football, rugby, Swansea City Football Club, Hull City Football Club, “insert footy team name” football club, hardly ever do we talk about any Statements of Work, contracts, etc. why would I then talk about them when I meet up with people socially?

I have been really very fortunate since I left the army, I have found employment (purely by accident I hasten to add – I have no “master plan”) that pays above the minimum wage with some really good responsibility and they have challenged me on a daily basis; although I must add that when I first left I had some low paid jobs that sucked the big one – picking potatoes springs to mind.

Others of my friends have not had the same good fortune, but again this does not define them.  Numbnuts is now a Senior Project Manager with a large corporation in Cheltenham, he runs a department of 17 personnel and has a company car.  He droned on for ages about the minutiae of his job and it was boring as a boring thing that had a good excuse to be boring.  I was willing him to stop when I realised that he had not the slightest interest in catching up but was on a massive ego bragfest to show off to me, and hence onto all the others in the veterans group, how successful he had become.

He is under the impression that these things define how successful he is and obviously I would be massively impressed and would want to worship at his feet of greatness.  I think it defines how much of a boring b******* he had become.

What Numbnuts needs to do is not try to impress people with what he does in the office and allow this to define who he is but realise what he does between 8 in the morning and 5 in the evening is what he does to earn the money to pay for the things he does that really do define who he is not what he is? Does that make sense? I do not care that he is a Senior Project Manager with a company car, I care that he is happy, not having nightmares, plays golf/football whatever and gets to spend time with his family, who gives a monkey’s arse what he does and how many people work for him? I don’t.

If I am honest I am embarrassed that I now work as an engineer, although I spent the last three years of my army career working directly towards that goal.  I studied (and still study) really hard at Open University as I intend to get a degree.  I sort of fell into it and my current employers took me on because of the other skills I had but they support me in getting the degree, but I am not ashamed of my job, but neither am I so proud that I will brag my brains out telling everyone wat I do, how many people work for me (none) or how much budget I get to spend.

I meet up with Paddy once a week for a coffee and a chat, I mentioned that I had met up with Numbnuts and Paddy groaned, they met up about a month ago and Numbnuts had judged Paddy 7 ways of Sunday belittled Paddy because of the job he did.

I told him that he should be proud that he has found the job that he is passionate about, I mean, he is absolutely brilliant at it and you can see that he really enjoys his job.  The point is he is not defined by what he does nor is he so attached to his job that it is his main point of conversation when we meet, he treats his job exactly as it should be treated, something he is doing that he enjoys that pays his bills and keeps the wolf from the door.

He is not his job; I am not my job. I am far better than my job Paddy is far better than his job, I try to be better at my job in work, but when I meet up I like to talk about everything else other than my job.

As an after comment Numbnuts only asked about family and mutual friends as we were saying goodbye.  I do not think that I will be having another brew and a chat with him for a while, but I will be meeting up with Paddy for a coffee and a chat again next week, after all we have a reunion to plan on how to get to where work talk is banned and only stories of daring do and alcohol are allowed.

The attached image was taken from

football field


Things I know now that I wished I knew then

This was something that was sent to me by a former colleague of mine who is just leaving the army, it did make me laugh because when I left the army some of these were an almost a daily tick sheet for me!

Things to consider whilst adjusting to Civvy street:

  1. Speech:
    • Time should never begin with a zero or end in a hundred; it is not 0530 or 1400. It is 5:30am or 2 in the afternoon.
    • Words like “pit”, and “PT” will get you weird looks; use bed, workout, get used to it.”F***” cannot be used to replace whatever word you can’t think of right now. Try “um” instead.
    • It’s a phone, not a radio, conversations on a phone do not end in “Roger That” or “Out”
    • People will not know what you are talking about if you tell them you are coming from Dalton Barracks with the C.P. platoon or that you spent a deployment with the RN…. no more acronyms
  2. Style:
    • Do not put creases in your jeans.
    • Do not put creases on the front of your dress shirts.
    • Do not refer to your suits numerically; your best jacket and trousers are not your number 1’s
    • Wearing a hat indoors does not make you a wren; it makes you like the rest of the world.
  3. Women:
    • Being divorced twice by the time you are 23 is not normal. Neither are 6 month marriages, even if it is your first.
    • Marrying a girl so that you can move out of the barracks does not make “financial sense”. It makes you a retard.
  4. Personal accomplishments:
    • In the real world, being able to do lots of press-ups will not lead to automatic promotion or help your career in any way.
    • Most people will be slightly disturbed by you if you tell them about people you have killed or seen die.
    • How much pain you can take is not a personal accomplishment.
  5. Drinking:
    • NATO is an organisation, not the way you want your tea made
    • In the real world, being drunk before 5pm will get you a written warning (or sacked), not a pat on the back from your boss.
    • Shouting “Naked Bar” at your works Christmas party will have no effect.
    • That time you drank a bottle of Absinth and shat in your pals suitcase is not a conversation starter.
    • That time you went to the combat life saver school and practiced giving vodka IV’s will probably not impress a civilian.
  6. Bodily functions:
    • Farting on your new colleagues and then laughing hysterically while you walk away may be viewed as “unprofessional”.
    • The size of the dump you took yesterday will not be funny regardless of how big it was, how much it burned, how much it smelled….. or how clear the photo is.
    • You can’t make fun of someone for their disability, no matter how funny the ailment is.
    • VD will also not be funny.
  7. The human body:
    • Most people will not want to hear about or see your balls. Odd as that may seem, it’s true.
    • If your arse is sore, don’t ask your colleague on the next desk if he can see what’s wrong with it.
  8. Spending habits:
    • One day, you will have to pay for the things that keep you alive; heat, light, shelter, food, etc, etc.
    • Buying a £30,000 car on a £16,000 a year salary is a really, really stupid idea.
    • Spending money on video games instead of on nappies makes you a twat.
  9. Interacting with civilians:
    • Making fun of your neighbour to his face for being fat will not make you popular in the neighbourhood.
  10. Real jobs:
    • They really can fire you. On the flip side you really can quit.
    • Screaming at the people that work for you will not be normal. Remember they really can quit too.
    • You can’t tell your secretary to “follow it down” if she drops her pen.
    • And taking naps at work will not be acceptable.
    • Sport is no longer part of your working week. Wednesday afternoons are for work, just like every other afternoon
  11. The Law:
    • Your civvy boss, unlike your C.O., can’t save you and probably won’t. In fact most likely you will be fired about 5 minutes after he finds out you’ve been arrested.
    • Even McDonalds do background checks, and “conviction” isn’t going to help you get the job
    • Fighting is not a normal thing and will get you really arrested and/or fired, not yelled at Monday on morning before being asked if you won.
  12. General knowledge:
    • You can in fact really say what you think about the Queen in public.
    • Pain is not weakness leaving the body. It’s just pain. Unless you were infantry, then it is probably arthritis.
    • Your new boss won’t wear anything shiny that tells you they are more important then you are. Be polite.
    • You no longer have to go to the POL point; just go to the BP garage like everyone else
  13. Finally
    • Read the contracts before you sign them – remember what happened the first time…!!

A week of sinusoidal differences

What a week this has been. We started off with the wonderful email from Matty in Ireland telling us that he had found our balloon, he totally entered the spirit of the game that we were playing and has promised to send a balloon back to us!  I really do hope he does that because what has happened in Brussels this week has really thrown us off course.

We just do not understand why people would do this.  I find it difficult to put into words that both my wife and I can understand let alone trying to explain to an 11-year-old girl why things like that happen.  Anyone has any advice please feel free to chip in.

What motivates people to go and do these things?  I have dealt with extremists in Bosnia in the ‘90s and Iraq in 2003, I understood why they did what they did ( you could never justify it, just understand it) but to go after civilians going about their business is beyond my (limited) comprehension.

We have distracted Courtney now with the promise of making things this weekend (it is after all the Easter Bank holiday) so rather than just stuff ourselves with chocolate eggs we are going to make stuff with balloons and string – there are some really good how to guides on the internet and quite a few have appeared on my Facebook feed as well.

We will be trying to cross off a couple of things on the bucket list, well that is what we are promising ourselves.

It is looking good for walking 50,000 steps in a day as a good friend will be visiting over Easter (as well as our youngest son being home from university) and we all love a good long walk.  I am desperate for the 50,000 steps as I am in a competition with one of my work colleagues to run 1000km in a year as well as walk the 50,000 steps in a day.

We are both at or around the 240km mark already, that is being achieved by running 5km on Monday, 10km on Wednesday and another run of varying distance (sometimes 5km sometimes 16km) on a Saturday (but never a Sunday as that is red wine flu day).  This is paying dividends for both of us as we have both lost weight, I am determined to lose my belly this year and I know I can achieve it, I lost 4 stone last year then put on 2 stone on the build up to Christmas and New Year.  I lost the weight by following Jerry Ward’s BIOS3 video blog on YouTube, that guy really explains things at a level that I can understand, although he has a penchant for using the ‘f’ word quite a lot! What he says makes a lot of good sense to me, well it did last year and now I have started to watch his videos again I am sure the fat will start to fall off again.

A little bit of a schizophrenic post today but the shocking news this week has really knocked us all a bit sideways, hopefully a bit of time off and destress time will put things right.  Who knows, maybe we will sell our house this Easter and everyone will be happy?


The book has a bit of a blip last week and we did not really add to it, we will do so this weekend and will post something from it next week.


The balloon gets back in touch!

The mystery is solved!

We had the most wonderful email from a lovely gentleman in Killinick in County Wexford on Thursday night.  The balloon that we had launched from the top of the Preseli hills last week turned up in the hedge near his church.  It seems that he saw it whilst taking his dog for its evening walk on Thursday and then he emailed my daughter to let her know that he had found it and that he would be showing his grandchildren the balloon.

As I work away during the week I did not get an opportunity to speak to Courtney to let her know until Friday afternoon and she was absolutely made up by the news.  We will be doing this again but we will be putting three balloons together and setting them off in the summer when the weather is better. Here is a copy of the email that we were sent:


Hello there Courtney and her dad

I have found your balloon!

I live in a little village called Killinick County Wexford Ireland and this morning when I was out and about with my dogs i saw your balloon message in the very hedge by the church! I hope this is a long way away from where you sent the balloon. I will be keeping the balloon and your message to tell my grand children about it, could you be so kind and let me know from where you launched the balloon.

Thank you for making an old man laugh and very happy,

Matty O


We have started to write our book (also on our bucket list) now that we have finished planning it all out, we will have to put up an excerpt when we have written a decent amount of the book.  I have to say that writing a book is a lot harder than we first thought. It is no like writing an essay or an engineering report or statement of work – you have to follow the plan otherwise none of it makes sense. We have subscribed to Nina Amir to learn how to run a blog and post a book on a blog, quite interesting so far.  This serves two purposes, one, I get to spend time with my daughter doing something constructive and two, Courtney writes a lot and improves her writing and English.


Courtney’s words:

I miss that balloon quite a lot now!!

We waited for nearly a week for someone to reply to us and now it has finally happened. I was so chuffed to hear from the gentleman but also a little sad that “balloonie” has gone from us.

We also started thinking about writing a short story that will probably be about some chocolate Easter eggs that we hopefully might make “fingers crossed!? or we may write it about our “great balloon escape” but for now, we need to focus on our story called the Great Suburban Submarine Hunt!!!

Now I am going to tell you about what we will do with my chocolate Easter eggs, my parents will hide some mini eggs around our house and may hide a BIG EASTER EGG somewhere. To put it in shorter word: we will be doing an Easter egg hunt around our house.

The great silver balloon escape

Well that is the second item ticked off the bucket list! We sent a message on a balloon… eventually!

We drove to the Preseli Hills where the wind was blowing a right hooley and you could not see further than your end of your nose.  We parked up just off the main road, opened the car door and nearly lost damn door the wind was so strong.

Luckily there was a massive pile of wet dirt right next to the car, that cheered me up no end when I put my foot right in it, well it made me laugh when my wife also put her foot in it!

We waited for the traffic to clear on the road and were hoping for maybe a bit of a break in the 90mph fog to release the balloon (this is Wales after all – you know it is summer because the drizzle is warm) but gave up on the fog having a little break after about 10 minutes because it was so cold and windy.

The balloon was released by Courtney and we thought that it was not going to fly up as it was forced into the hedge in front of us by the wind, but it eventually lifted up and disappeared in the fog faster than a rat up a drain pipe.

It was quite funny as we were all really excited by it (bizarre! Just letting go of a silver balloon) and we all laughed as it went on its way. Although we were all glad that the heating had been left on in the car as we got back in, if you find the damn thing let us know via the email address on the card, that would really make our day, hopefully it will be found at a great distance from Preseli Hills.