A gift beyond Christmas

Once upon a time I loved the so called season of goodwill ever since childhood. The one time of year that you can dream. That magic comes to life for young and old alike. And more importantly we remember as Human beings to treat each other a way that’s sadly sometimes forgotten the other 11 months of the year.

December 1st. The start of the traditional advent calendar in the British isles. A festive tradition going back many years. Nowadays some may argue it’s now a commercialised money making process that has engulfed and swallowed the true meaning of Christmas. For me it still retains that magic despite the flaws despite the pain it brings.

A door to open every day of December leading up to Christmas. Something special behind each frame stares back at you every day. Something thought provoking. From a snowman to a reindeer. Each handle opening a door to my imagination.

As a child I used to love counting down the days until Santa arrived. The sheer excitement of hoping for gifts. As a child it offered me an escape for just a little while. Some magic that could make me forget what sometimes was a cruel world.

I simply missed the point and even as an adult it took tragedy to wake me up.

As a parent my world has changed. I now have a little human being depending on me. Being a Dad is the greatest gift I have ever received whether it be Santa’s magic or other forces at work. Waking up each day seeing a smiling face and hearing the cherished words of “I love you Daddy” finds the target of the centre of my heart each time the words are despatched.

2009 changed me. As a person forever. For me a crisis was a missed bus home or forgetting my lunch and having to pop to shops. Then I became a father for the 1st time.

Kyle McGuire came into my life on May 6th 2009. My 1st born son. Asleep in my arms for eternal minutes I will cherish as long as my heart beats and beyond. My 1st experience of having a beautiful extension of my newly formed marriage in my arms. Tears silently fell into the night as nightmares crept from my sleep and became the reality I never dreamed would happen.

We had 12 precious hours with our only son which we squeezed in a lifetime of memories and cuddles. Daddy is no x factor winner but I sang every nursery rhyme my lungs would allow to escape the choking pain to our wee fella. I cupped his hands and made a vow his memory would live on.

In the coming days we had to register a birth and a death in one singular moment. Reality was piercing my self imposed bubble and the cracks were starting. I held firm as A father I knew my family had to be protected.

On a beautiful sunny day I fulfilled my duty of carrying my boy in his beautiful angelic white bed and laying him to sleep one last time. Thankfully the sun was shining as my sunglasses hid my eyes the day my soul was dying before everyone to see. I repeated my vow as balloons sailed high.

Our life in ruins. I can’t describe any other way. Until Kyle had other ideas. His little sister was on her way. Our healing was beginning. Fate was now entering our lives.

Christmas Day 2009. Under the beautiful shadow of a snowy Ben Nevis we made the trip home. All I can give my lad on his 1st Christmas is a wreath and the pain was colder than the ice below my feet. And then something happened I can’t explain. A Robin lands on the grass, hops on the Gravel and sits on Kyle’s headstone. Finally he lands on my boot and looks at us for what seemed an eternity then flies away. Our Angel was saying his very own goodbye and amongst the Freezing snow, we felt the warmest glow possible. It ignited my fire that moment. It was Christmas magic beyond my wildest dreams.

In the coming years life took a great bloody kick at us. Cancer went after Kyle and Amelies mummy. Their mummy fought and won. As a family we fought together. We raised 7 thousand pounds in Kyle’s name. For all our pain we felt there was always someone worse off. 6 marathons came and went. Highs and lows. Blood, sweat and rivers of tears.

2018 has been a special year for our little family. Kyle’s name was heard in our parliament as we fought alongside many others to have funeral expenses abolished I’m Scotland. And we won. Proud beyond words of what our Son achieved. His mummy beat cancer and has been discharged from the NHS. For the 1st time in 10 years we have a very special Christmas to look forward to. Forget money and riches. Our family has had a lottery win with luck at last with our health. This year we are eternally grateful for all. We have each other.

Amelie now understand Christmas more than I ever did at her age. 8 years old and after selling her excess toys she donated her money to the local foodbank by buying a full shopping trolley of food. As a parent I’m bursting with pride at what both of our kids have achieved this year.

In my darkest days I questioned many things. I walked on the edge and stared into the abyss. Amongst the darkness hope flickered back. I grasped onto it and clung to it no matter how faint. It saved my life.

We have taught our daughter it costs nothing to simply be kind. Someone could be hurting behind a glass smile and you wouldn’t know. She still has her list for Santa although it’s small and mainly asked for something for her Mummy and cat. Another sign we are on the right path.

I’m eternally grateful for all the goodwill shown to my family. Not just the month of December but all year round. From strangers on social media I now class as friends to our loved ones around us. You have shown us love and kindness we will try and give back as you have for us. I promised our lad and we will try and make the world a tiny bit better if we can.

I’m writing this the day we put up our tree. A smiling little face as bright as the electrical beams reflecting back at her. Simple innocent childhood joy. We know our tree isn’t the only star beaming down at us.

Whatever your beliefs are I sincerely wish you the very best for the coming Holiday season. Life is so precious. Enjoy every moment. Christmas really can be every day if you want. We only get one chance. Leave no regrets x

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Mind the Silence

The human mind. The most powerful weapon we possess as an individual. The ability to process more than any super computer can ever dream of doing should it manage that feat.

I underestimated the power such a device holds. I’m going to try and unlock the back door and allow a small glimpse into my own control room. To allow a fresh perspective on the operator of my bodily machine. How it has coped under stress and performed when the batteries were failing all around. A guided tour of the mission control to on A person’s soul if you like.

Every magnificent human being is unique. We are all special in different ways. Not all of us will be a Doctor or a Scientist. Not every Doctor or Scientist can Run a marathon. Not every Marathon runner can swim a yard. We are all in multiple league tables. No matter how good you are at any task there will always be someone better. Equally no matter how poor we may think we are, there is always someone worse off.

The last sentiment in particular rings true to myself and I will explain shortly why such a phrase is a key programming of my own computer system.

I’m 35 years old. In truth I feel 75 some days. Other days I have the vibrancy I did aged 15 mentally although my physicality will bring it back to earth.

Resilience has been my best friend over the last 25 years. A companion who I may not have always wanted but needed. From my early childhood and misery of school life to achieving my life goal of wearing the Uniform of the Royal Air Force as so many of my family did before. There were times that my biological vehicle had nothing left in the tank. Drained and on the verge of giving up when times got rough. Resilience had stowed on board and would take the controls just as the eye of the storm threatened to strike.

From wanting to quit my dreams to life in general. A silent guardian angel took her place In the epicentre of my mind and has remained loyal ever since.

In 2009 I was finally on cruise control. Married to the woman of my dreams. 1st Child on the way. Life was now mapping out exactly the stereotype That was permanently inked onto my brain. And then came the derailment. We had lost our only Son. The Angels had decided he was simply too perfect for this world and called him home. My control room simply overheated. Searching for the solution as life malfunctioned right before my very eyes. The script was not being followed. A glitch was deep rooted yet could not be found. A super computer more complex than the human mind was now flexing its power to show that no matter how great your own arsenal is, life holds a far greater strike capacity.

This was when I discovered my own auto pilot. When I lost full control of my own self. A time where I fell away as resilience took shifts with the heart at steadying a now listing vessel.

Part of me died in May 2009 when we laid Kyle to rest. A hand grenade of emotion had been tossed and I thought throwing myself on it would protect others at my own expense. I could take on the world to save those I loved and emerge unscathed. How wrong I was. The invisible wounds cut to the bone.

From that Day the damage was done. My internal servers damaged. The grenade had exploded and scattered a mixture of worry, anxiety and pain that now firmly embedded and could not be removed. Feelings that carried a noise that would remain forever.

Slowly I began to learn the controls again. Small steps. Figuring out how to smile was challenging although it was harder to cry at the right time. The damage would not allow tears when they were ready. Something held them back. Pride overload meant this was done in silence when the world was asleep. The feeling of being superman was uploaded and giving a false reading of The definition. The numbness was only masking the pain I was causing myself.

When Cancer decided to go after my wife within 5 years, code red was in full flow. The temporary repairs were now crumbling all around me. Resilience was working double shifts. As my wife battled she gave me strength. Her courage charged my auto pilot and gave me the fire to fight on. As life pressed the nuclear button it also fired a defining moment. As a family of 3 we stared down the barrage that was coming our way. And we had the choice to either sink or swim. The superhero cape was on its final legs with the love of my wife and daughter holding us together.

I’m going to admit that ashamedly part of me wanted to sink. I pleaded with any religious part of my soul. I begged for life to spare my 2 girls from the impending misery and I offered my own place. To be clear on something, Suicide never has or was a option. Allowing any God to trade however was completely on the table.

Resilience thankfully took the stick and fired back. As I said before, my family were now providing the energy I had badly craved. We decided to fight back. We owed it to our kids to say mummy and daddy didn’t just accept the cards we were dealt.

We decided that No matter how bleak things were there was always someone else worse off than we were. We fought back. We took the controls and struck a few salvos back at life. We raise awareness for Kyle. We have ran marathons while this runner can’t swim. We will not go down without a fight.

And so In October 2018 the guns fell silent. Rachel was discharged from the NHS after 5 long years in a war we never ever wished. We took ourselves on a much needed escape from the fractured reality of the past to mark 10 years of Marriage. To start the healing process that we have needed for so long.

Resilience had now stood down from her duty. 10 years and beyond of serving a vessel that for a while bounced from rock to rock risking breaking apart at any given moment.

This was When the last explosion hit me. Silence.

For the 1st time in years I was able to shut down at the end of a day without the shrapnel of anxiety and worry embedded in my mind. Free from the fear of losing everything when I restarted my systems each day with the first blink.

Now came a new challenge. Facing up to the new Normal. The first silence in years. Although different as the echoes of The last decades pain still linger. My tap of tears is slowly learning to flow when required. I’m Taking back control of myself once again albeit with many modifications and repairs.

Resilience still has a passenger seat. To catch me when I fall and remind me when doubt creeps in that it can be removed. I have also kept a space for hope. Without hope my engines will not fire up. It’s really as simple as that.

The human mind is a beautiful thing. It’s capable of so much wonder yet can be as fragile as a butterflies wing. Like any machine as long as it’s looked after it can function. More importantly I learned that if damage is unavoidable it’s certainly not game over. You can repair. You can fight back. The love of others can offer the healing when maybe you can’t find it yourself.

Life may be a wave that little bit more powerful. We have every right to ride that crest and cherish every moment we are on the board.

It’s ok not to be ok x

Defining Magic

I’m scribbling this deep onto the night in October. The time of Halloween and all things mystical and enchanting. Currently in my last night in the sunshine state of Florida. A land of Mickey Mouse and Theme parks where dreams are created. The land of the American dream.

Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. And when the clarity arrives, she does so maybe as striking as Lady Godiva was all those moons ago.

Some who know me will know about the last 10 years of my family life. And the Irony of how we have set up home on a constant Rollercoaster that dwarfs anything the sunshine state has to offer.

The feeling of the last decade began on my wedding day to my amazing wife. Walking down the aisle mirrored with going onto a thrill ride for the 1st time, not knowing what life would now give. 10 years of a constant emotional loop. From exhilaration of the Birth of my daughter to the utter despair of losing our only Son, Kyle. When you add my wife’s cancer at 26 the fun of the fair had left my world. The lights had gone out and I now prayed to be allowed to jump off these fractured tracks that were infused to my fate. For all the prayers this was my very own hotel California. A journey I simply could not leave.

The carriage was broken down and for 10 years intermittently trundled along. Some days running free only for the cruelty of fate to sharply apply life’s parking brakes.

October 2018 was the month our family was finally able to step off after a 10 year voyage. Rachel discharged from our wonderful NHS care after 5 years, just days before we landed in Florida. A holiday we craved so much now took on even more significance.

For the 1st time in years I went to bed without worry. I closed my eyes and instead of departing to the land of nod via a mental meteor storm, I now travelled in 1st class comfort over a Rainbow.

We have spent 2 weeks laughing and building dreams. Seeing our 8 year old daughter now a full year psoriasis free has given back more than her physical health. We have seen her care free again with her confidence back. That as a parent has been a beautiful sight.

Disney world and all its glory. Our own princess has absorbed herself into her very own fairy tale. Meeting heroes and making memories that will sparkle on in her memory as precious as the pixie dust sprinkled by Tinkerbell onto the gazing crowds below. Eyes lit up as the fireworks overhead painted the sky with her hopes and dreams.

And then on the final day of our trip came the lightbulb moment I was waiting for. A spark that Nikola Tesla himself would have been proud of.

Universal Studios. From legends such as ET to Marty McFly’s Delorean and the carnival of Dr Seuss land. You cannot fail to be impressed. Then you see the main event.

Harry Potter Land. Even if you are not a fan, the spellbinding beauty captures you. If you are a lover of all things from Muggles to Bellatrix then this is your heaven on earth.

Walking along to join the queue for the Hogwarts express line there she was. A lady I’m front of me. Not wishing to sound rude I would have guessed aged early 50s. Dressed in a Harry Potter robe, wand in hand and crucially the final piece of the outfit…. A smile as wide as the eye could see. A lady who was Cleary caught in a very special moment. A moment where every single one of us on that platform became stripped of the age that our bodies had bestowed on us. For that splinter of time we had become whatever we wanted. Our minds separating from reality to allow an escape to something simply beautiful in every sense.

I don’t know her name and I probably never will. However to the lady we saw today on Platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross awaiting the trip to hogsmeade I will say one thing.

You showed me the true meaning of the word Magic.

My life in the Blue Suit. Part 2 – Moray to Penguins.

The summer of 2000. So many memories from the time I completed my 2nd and final phase of training.

Robbie Williams was huge at the time with his album Singing when your winning. England had played their final game at the old Wembley and lost 1 nil to their old foes Germany. The weather was glorious and life was good.

I was on a new course with some I had been in basic training with and others just met. We had a real good mix of half of us under 18 and half over. We all gelled and the next 1e weeks were a good laugh amongst the pressure of final graduation.

Inbetween a trip to Wales took place for adventure training. Right on day my beloved Rangers were playing Celtic in the opening fixture of the season. At the time all I had was a text service of goal updates at 30p a pop. No radio or phone signal meant a torturous journey. At last my phone sprung to life and cost me best part of 3 quid as the horror unfolded we had lost 6-2. My colleagues whooped in delight to annoy the token Scotsman. The other one Stevie being Rugby daft and didn’t care. I will talk about Stevie a little later. Someone I hold in the highest regard and a friend forever.

Wales was a great laugh and for the first time I was emerging from my shell and allowing my own persona to develop, free from fear of failure.

Back to Halton and we graduated for a 2nd time. Once again my family travelled from the north of Scotland to witness an Air Vice Marshall present our course with the rank of Leading Aircraftman. We were now ready to depart to our units! Goodbye training and hello to the Real Air Force!

I had been assigned RAF Kinloss on the Moray coast and only 2 hours from home. This was a dream. Freedom yet able to see family at such a young age. And after being on the same intake of 5 & 6 Flight, Stevie and I were posted together along with Simon (Harry). I had 2 pals at my new home immediately.

Harry 1st left still pals 18 years on

1st day at RAF Kinloss. No longer a recruit but now a fully part of the armed forces. And it felt amazing. Walking to work a group.of Air cadets at summer camp stood to attention as we passed. I laughed as on my days prior this was us. Then I heard a voice saying “Hello Michael “. As i turned it was a young lass I went to school with. I laughed as her warrant officer bollocked her only to recognise me being younger than her from school. Her red face was priceless.

I now had my own room, and a be and new life. I’m the year that followed I was able to fly in a Nimrod, the Anti Submarine hunter that was our fleet at at Kinloss. I went to Germany with the Squadron football team and came home with my 1st trophy and 1st adventure abroad as a serviceman. All I can say was it had it all. From wrongful arrests in holland to nights out in Germany. 18 years old and my dreams were coming true.

Runner up plate from RAF Bruggen, Germany 2001

I had progressed as everyone did to Senior Aircraftman and became fully operational. This meant I would soon be going on my 1st Out of Area (OOA) tour. And within a few weeks the signal came that in September 2002, the South Atlantic would be my home for 4 months as I joined the Penguins down the Falkland islands.

A famous day in history arrived I will never forget. I had returned from lunch and found the hangar deserted. Oddly I wandered and found the entire squadron watching tv. As i walked in I saw an aircraft slam into one of the twin towers in New York. I asked why they were watching a movie? To my horror this was real. September 11th 2001 and the day the world changed. Immediately the base went into lockdown. Airspace over the Atlantic closed and we prepared for multiple flight arrivals. Thankfully it never happened. This was the day the world changed forever.

A month before I left one small mishap occurred that would play a part in coming weeks. Alone on night shift making a cuppa, the fire alarm sounded. At 1st I suspected a false alarm but I followed procedure and located what was an electrical fire with flames 30ft. Training kicked in and after calling emergency service’s I simply tried to remove as much combusatble material as possible as within reach was a cardboard storage area. The firemen swiftly arrived and blew away the myth all they did was play volleyball. I was ordered out as they done their business.

Half an hour later the boss was called in and I was let’s just say shiting myself. Turns out I hadn’t made any error. After being offered to go home I.declined. I finished my last 7 hours as we had ops needing cargo that wouldn’t send itself.

And so came September 11th 2002. A failed driving tests as nerves beat me. September 12th was the trek to the South Atlantic on a Tri-star aircraft ZE706 nicknamed Damien for many reasons. Arriving on Friday 13th. I couldn’t have written the script.

Arriving halfway at ascension island we waited on refuel. My Scotland top on someone laughed as we had a piss poor draw with faroesjust days earlier. Hearing My accent the gentleman asked where I was from. When I replied Fort William ” , he asked “are you Mickeys lad”? I was speechless. Turns out the stranger was an electrical contractor pal of my dad’s. We chatted thethen got back on the plane. He was the row in front of me! 18 years on I now work with his son in law. A small world indeed.

Waiting down there were some familiar faces from home. Stevie had departed days earlier to keep our fate tied once more. Dirk and Richey also there made the transition easy. As the plane taxied I looked out to see a group all dressed up holding score cards for the pilots as well as the grim reaper stating “welcome to hell”. Immediately I laughed and felt at ease. Even better was to come finding out this was my squadron and I would be joining in on future arrivals.

The Falkland Islands. So much to say. A small group of islands yet so important. To honour the fallen heroes of the 1982 conflict and also protect the islanders in the present day to ensure they lived the same freedom we take for granted. For the 255 Brave Men who gave the ultimate sacrifice in 1982 it was humbling to be standing in a place of relative peace all because of them. Every one of us owed it to them to serve the islands without fuss and with honour.

A beautiful place. The nature was stunning and at 19 I didn’t fully appreciate what an opportunity I had as the bar was more appealing on downtime sadly. I did however go on battlefield tours and pay respects to fallen from both sides. I met heroes who served in 82 and were back again. It was an honour to be in such company.

I settled into life well and my new role. We had phone cards issued every week. 20 minutes each. We use to either trade them or save up for Xmas etc.

Myself with Chinook refuelling 2002

We had no satellite tv or Wi-Fi, internet was offered at 30 minutes a day. Just a standard forces tv which included soaps from week before and the odd live game of football. I remember vividly watching Rangers and Celtic battle a 3-3 draw as we all huddled round a small tv screaming.

As the days moved on, others you got to know would be leaving and saying goodbyes. The closer it got to your own date the harder it was seeing others depart knowing you had weeks left and minus a buddy every day. However we certainly knew how to give the lads a send off.

Richey was lucky or unlucky some would say to have been twice in 2 years. In the middle his R&R (rest and recuperation) he was allowed back to Blighty. On his return he took me a Big Mac from McDonald’s. It survived 18 hours and I could have kissed him. I microwaved it as scores gathered to smell a little home comfort. I couldn’t do it. So I cut it into a million pieces to let everyone have the moment. I felt like Andy Dufrense on that prison rooftop In shawshank redemption.

Logistics Squadron football team 2002

Remembrance weekend now arrived and being not on parade or duty we went for a drive to Darwin. There we went to the Argentine war cemetery to pay our respects to their fallen. It was the right thing to do. I’m still haunted to this day by the images of boys younger than I was on the many graves. We laid flowers and saluted before solemnly leaving for home.

Christmas came and went. A barbecue and drinks. Probably the hardest day as the booze flowed. I retired to bed by 3pm. A mixture of drunk and missing my loved ones on a family day of the year. Thankfully the RAF family look after each other on days like this.

Hercules over South Georgia

Before we knew it new years eve had crept up. As we prepared for a night off I had taken part that day in police dog training for charity. The dog slipped and missed me leading to laughter. As scores of the Squadron were gathering in the bar, I was being purposely kept back in work. Worried i had dine wrong I said nothing. Eventually I was last in and convinced I was up for Wanker of the week award for failed for bite. This was 4pm.

Our Sqaudron leaders said a few words thanking us all for our dedication away from home. He then asked me on stage. I front of a few hundred army, navy and air force all wanting away for 7pm.

He had received news that the new years honours had just been announced. and in the military ones I was being awarded an Air officer commanding number 3 group commedation for bravery. He handed me 2 letters from my station commander at Kinloss and the wing commander. The bar was proclaimed open 3 hours early to the delight of our boys and girls. I never had to buy a drink all night on arguably the best hogmanay of my life.

Sheepishly I wandered off for 5.minutes to use my phone card and tell my mum and dad of the surreal events that had just unfolded. The proudest moment of my military career.

My award ceremony at RAF Kinloss with GP Capt Porter

11 short days later and thankfully there were no delays in the airhead. My replacement had arrived and after Stevie, Dirk and Richey leaving my turn was now. 4 months that will never be forgotten almost at an end. I was lucky enough to fly over South Georgia on a Hercules an see ice fields as well as fly in cockpit of a Chinook. Experiences I will treasure forever.

The last drama came at Gatwick. Waiting to go to Inverness I declared I had a hollowed our Tornado ammunition round. I had paperwork yet British airways has never seen. I was quizzed by terror cops as people stared. I offered to bin it as all.i wanted was home. I eventually made my flight as my colleagues enjoyed the free lounge I missed out on.

12th January and back home IN Scotland. Just under 3 years served in the RAF and not even 20 yet. It was the stuff of dreams. Although like all dreams they must come to an end.

My life in the Blue suit – Part 1 – Highalnds to Halton

16 years old. Inverness on a cold wet morning and applying to Join Her Majesty Armed Forces. A day I will never forget. From aptitude tests to medicals.

My dream was to Join the RAF from a young age. My grandfather had worn the uniform amongst many others on my Father’s side. In truth it was also an escape from the world I no longer felt part of. A deep rooted hatred of School. A miserable experience finally free of the bullies and vermin that had made mine and many others life unbearable. Maybe a sign I had to toughen up and fight back.

I had experience my first setback as my hearing had failed me on one side to a point it had ruled out my hope of being an Air Traffic controller. Truth is I wasn’t disheartened. I would have taken anything to be in the Air Force and I settled on the trade of Supply and Movements. I had been accepted and would be leaving in the following May. First steps were taken.

February 2000 and a week before my 17th birthday the call came through that someone had pulled out. My new date was in 2 weeks time. Feb 29th wasn’t just a leap year in time, it was the biggest jump of my young life.

Saying my goodbyes I stepped into the Caledonian Sleeper train ( Ironic as could not sleep a wink) in Fort William and departed for the bright lights of London. The furthest I had been away from home alone was Glasgow, a mere 100 miles away. This was another stratosphere for me.

Arriving in London was surreal. I had printed maps ( long before days of smart phones) and meandered my way through the swathes of bodies making their normal daily commute. Finally arriving at the small Wendover station. Stepping off the train I had no need to look for directions. An immaculately dressed drill instructor (DI) stood with a staff, ushering swarms of giant ants towards the carriages that awaited them.

This was it. Deep breaths and no turning back.

In the holding room I tucked into a Green Apple provided. My stomach wouldn’t allow me to take on anything else as my nerves were chasing butterflies. Looking around I could see people of all ages, waiting for the start gun to sound. Next up I had to lose all of my hair and pay for the privilege! Every male now looked the same 1950s style convict. This part I found hardest yet now I can laugh being bald at 35 it was simply a wee heads up to the future. We were then ushered into a hall where we took our Bibles and swore the Oath of Allegiance to our Queen and Country. I was now fully attested into the Royal Air Force. My childhood ended 90 seconds previous and my adulthood was just beginning.

I was assigned to no 6 Flight. Our Sgt Weaving and 2 Corporals, Smith and Mayor. All 3 took no prisoners. From the off we were left with no illusions. They expected the highest standards. Yet they were charismatic and compassionate when required.

1st few days I struggled. I relapsed between the man I needed to be and the boy I was leaving behind. I cried for my mum the 1st week solid much to the disgust of the 3 guys I shared a room with. Homesick for a life only yesterday I was desperate to leave behind. Being under 18 I could only leave if my parents consented. Easy. Mum crumbled as expected. My Dad? Threatened to disown me and said I had no home to return to. I hated him there and then. He had single handedly destroyed my last hope of escape. We have never seen eye to eye but I will concede what he did for me I’m eternally grateful.

For the 1st 16 days it was bedtime at 3am and up at 5am. Literally scrambling for every ounce of energy. Many would fall asleep in lectures, we all did at some point relying on the person next to you to shake you awake. It was team work yet again.

3 meals a day, mainly carbs were devoured as I gained weight. Physical education came in form of gruelling cross country runs and circuits. Rooms and barrack block had to be immaculate. From dust free to the brass window latches gleaming. And this was before you made sure your Kit and locker was perfect. From creases in shirts to “bulling” your shoes for a perfect mirror reflection. Not to mention the dreaded bed pack. Draconian bedding squared perfectly into layers so a coin could bounce from them. Not ashamed to say once I had mine mastered I slept on the floor in order to squeeze in previous minutes sleep in the coming nights. My batteries were dead and I was onto my emergency reserves.

Only when your older and wiser do you realise that even your best was never going to get pass marks. Many a day beds were ripped apart, lockers emptied and left a quivering wreck as your Drill Instructor disects your confidence like the birthing scene from alien. Then they slowly build you back up as a team.

First test was Day 17. A huge kit inspection. Failure would mean backflighted. Success would allow the 1st weekend pass and a little freedom. 1st test duly passed and my fractured jigsaw of confidence and the 1st piece reconnected. Celebration was a jaunt into Aylesbury with Dave, who was our senior man. Dave was a Geordie and a bit older. He seen my struggle and took me under his wing. A gentleman who I owe so much.

Rock and roll for me was home by 4pm and I slept until 4pm the following Sunday. Ready for round 2.

The next phase was Ground Defence Training (GDT) with the infamous RAF regiment flight. These guys had a reputation of being utter hard Bastards and hard as nails. And they didn’t disappoint. We spent the next 3 to 4 weeks learning everything from first aid to weapon handling of the SA80 assault rifle. Even now I think I could strip one and reassemble such was the drill used.

We also got the dreaded Gas chamber as part of our Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare (NBC). The horror stories were infamous from hearing them in the Mess (dining) hall. You enter a locked room fully kitted up and then the green mist descends. Nothing. Easy. Then you are instructed to remover your mask and say your name and service number. For a millisecond it’s fine. Then the fire hits. Your eyes stream and you cannot breathe. Eventually after suffering enough you are allowed to leave. The proof of having confidence in your Kit right before your bloodshot eyes may just save your life. Now we could take part in the infamy and enjoy terrorising recruits yet to face the chamber.

After passing more exams and final exercise phase in the field now came the final weeks before pass out. Day 43 inspection. The most vigorous yet. Any mistakes now just days from graduation would be nothing short of a disaster. Not many slept that night as we ensured our standards were above the highest. And come 10am after we had all finished a night exercise we collapsed in an exhausted relief. I could call home and tell Mum and Dad to book their flights.

In between all this I got some welcome weekend respite. My aunt paid for flights and I got some precious hours back in the Highlands to cure my homesickness. I can never thank her enough. It got me over the line.

Final prep was now in order for the final week. Drill and more Drill. The weather was awful and on the 18th of April 2000, the day was finally here.

Our No 1 Uniform that had stayed immaculate in our lockers was now given permission to Join the party. Pulling on the Blue peaked hat, White Gloves and gleaming shoes was probably the proudest moment of my life. As we formed up in the indoor facility I caught a glimpse of my family. This was our moment. We marched to the Royal Air Force band and graduated after 7 weeks of intense mental and physical endurance. The feeling was elation. Seeing my family now as a Man after leaving them as a Boy.

One thing spurred me on. My local bar, many guys I had known as a child had placed bets on me leaving and being a failure. After week 1 I admit I was. However no matter the circumstances I stuck it out to prove them wrong. One friend named Lachie always told me visiting home I could do it. He fought my corner. and he was an Inspiration. Sadly Lachie is no longer with us but his footprint is well and truly left on my pathway.

Now came phase 2 and trade training and the beginning of some friendships that have lasted almost 20 years. My journey was only just beginning.

Courage of a Rainbow

” You have Cancer”

3 simple words yet life changing in the moment they flow from someone else’s voice.

I’m writing this from the view of someone on the other side of the window. Looking in from afar yet close enough to reach in. I can never give a perspective on someone who has battled this illness and I apologise if this offends anyone who has.

October 2013. The month of scares and frights and the year it also attached the meaning to our family. We had lost our only Son just 4 years before. This wasn’t for us. We had already received our portion of bad luck. Surely no God could be so cruel?

Something wasn’t right. And instinct had told us to get checked over. Our GP instantly referred to hospital and we duly obliged. Smears were up to date and we just needed the closure that it’s nothing. But it wasn’t. Something was found and needed a biopsy. The eternal optimist in myself refused to believe sinister and reassured Rachel it was all ok. 6 days later my words were chewed up and spat out in my face as we were give the news we feared.

As a husband and father of a 3 year old I wore my cape. I had to be strong and hold it together. Unable to cry or show emotion as I had my world resting on my shoulders.

The initial shock passed, Rachel wiped her tears and she vowed it’s game on. “I’m not losing, my little needs her mummy”

3 day a before the diagnosis was the Fort William half marathon. Waiting for me were my 2 ladies and I wasn’t letting them down. Stupidly I hurt my ankle at mile 8 and didn’t quit. Pride pushed the last 5miles when my body cried not to. I had stress fractured my heel. The reason I recall this is as it played an unlikely role in events to come.

Next stop on our journey was now Aberdeen for a staging scan. Stage 1 of the fight back was on. As I hobbled in, most folk assumed the hospital visits to Inverness and Doctors in coming weeks were for my foot. It was the perfect cover for the Privacy that was deserved. Although what I will openly say is people in positions on authority leaked the news before we told some family members. It took a while but I forgive them.

And so came the 1st week in December. When our life froze in conjunction with the weather outside. I was firmly pressed against the window. Unable to intervene as my best friend was being injected with chemicals. Helpless as you see someone only 26 going into round 1 with destiny itself and you can only stand in the corner.

Worse came next. The 1st goodbyes. Having to leave my wife behind in hospital accommodation 60 miles away. Returning home to comfort a confused 3 year old and lie to her that mummy is working away. Listening to the emotion as Mummy phoned every night for 6 weeks reading a bedtime story when I could see the pain in her words.

This is where my Glass shattered. I Tried to break through and cut myself in the process. It’s a window you cannot escape. When Amelie was asleep and the world couldn’t see me I cried in a corner. Feeling selfish as I wasn’t ill. I had no right.

The coming weeks were tough. I forfeited food in order to squeeze extra petrol money. So I could make midweek trips after work to be with my wife as well as be a Daddy and work to keep a roof over our head. It broke me.

I don’t work for my employer anymore. What I will say is they treated me with compassion and went beyond what anyone else legally would do. For that I’m always going to be grateful.

We spent Christmas at home together and my girls were as one. Despite being very sick Rachel smiled all day for Amelie when inside she was exhausted.

New year brought another trip to Aberdeen and round 2 was beginning. 2 consecutive weekends of operations. Again my window kept me at bay. A view of the ring but blocked from entering. After being on the ropes I was at Ringside to be told that the tumour was gone. Rachel had put cancer on its Arse as she landed a knockout blow.

We arrived home victorious and delighted Rachel could finally rest up. Nope the judges of fate had ruled a rematch and hospital called again. Rachel’s Gall bladder had taken too much. Chemotherapy prevented instant operation so the next few weeks were spent in and out of hospital waiting on the bell to sound. Eventually it did and once again victory was within grasp. And yet again fate was playing every cruel card it had left. C Diff ran into the ring with a blindside attack. Only the interception of blue lights and intensive care stopped a 10 count.

I spent 2 days in my work clothes by your side as I prayed. The window opened a little so I could hold your hand as rainbows shone.

And finally in April 2014 we Got to take you home. Our NHS team had played a blinder in your corner and we had our world together again. May 2014 would change everything. Our little boys 5th birthday you were summoned to Inverness. As we travelled Rainbows reminded us who was with us. And on Kyle’s big day his Mummy went into remission.

You went back to work that summer and climbed a small hill behind our home less than 6 months after chemo yet it was bigger than Everest in effort. You had put cancer on the floor and won. Although it remained for the next few years refusing to leave the table just yet.

February 2016 arrived with something special. I foolishly never checked our life insurance. I only wanted to make you better and was last thing on mind. Turned out our policy was valid and it paid out. Our mortgage was gone. Bitter sweet moment thinking back on struggling at our darkest times. Now we had something good. Trips to new York for Christmas followed and we created our very own fairy tale.

Our Daughter also took after her Mummy with a fighting spirit. When fate went after her with psoriasis she battled. 2 years of hospital trips and she now stands 11 months clear. My girls simply do not know when they are beaten. Fate would be wise to pick a fight elsewhere.

The windows have been well and truly replaced and the locks allow me to be a lot closer. We have our family together. We know how fortunate we are when sadly we have friends no longer with us. We are eternally grateful for the 2 Children we have when some have none.

All throughout you have acted with immense dignity and pride. Teaching me how to become a better human being, Husband and Father in the process.

Cancer got into the ring with the wrong girl on this occasion. In the face of adversity you stood up to every single punch it threw and you fired them straight back.

If anyone reading this is due a Smear test or is scared I plead with you to go. I’m a Man and won’t patronize or pretend to understand the physical pain or discomfort involved. But I will tell you it’s nothing compared to locking horns with the alternative.

We are flying to visit our old pals Mickey and Minnie mouse next week to celebrate 10 years of Marriage when we almost got derailed at 5. Celebrating our vows especially “sickness and in health” never did we envisage they would be so vital so soon.

Life is too short. Live it. Smile. If you have a dream then chase it. Nothing is impossible and if you believe in something then go after it. One day I will write my little poetry book for Kyle even if it’s my last days. 2018 has seen Kyle’s name spoken in Parliament making his parents proud.

October 2nd 2018 was the day my lottery ticket came up. Forget all the money in Fort Knox I’m a Billionaire in Love. My world makes me rich beyond my wildest dreams.

A special mention to our NHS. You are the reason my daughter still has her Mummy. I owe you my gratitude forever. Also to Miss Prince who is sadly gone to soon, you are forever a hero in our home.

Cancer one day you will be beaten. May not be in my lifetime but Its coming.

For my family “Float like a butterfly” you certainly did the rest is history x

Choking Red Mist

The Glass is half full. For 10 years no matter how many leaks and spillages occur, my glass has never fallen below the midpoint.

Many a time it has come close but Rain has always come when a drought threatened my thoughts.

After losing Kyle, as a Father I immediately put up my barriers. An impenetrable object that not even Barnes wallace could bounce a teardrop from. If my Dam had shown even the slightest crack then my hope may have escaped to the ravine of fear that has been camped outside for 10 years.

On the 6th of May 2009 the brightest Son in our solar system had gone to sleep. That same day Part of me also was laid to rest. No longer 100% human, I was devoid of a little fire and hunger in my heart. A partial empty space now lay in its place.

As my light slowly went out, so did many others as some friends and loved ones jumped on the first flight out or our life. Wandering in a bleak cave of life’s ruins, Gold would slip through my fingers as loneliness joined the group. Luckily some Gems never fell and indeed a few rubys dropped into our world from above.

When the Cave finally allowed light to guide us out, I would rather a handful of rubys than mountains of gold that didn’t want to stick around when the going got tough.

This was when Mr Jekyll introduced Mr Hyde to my soul.

For 10 years my 95% existence functioned. Embracing a new normality. I tried to bring something positive from the harshest winter Pain could conjure. Raise awareness for Kyle and throw a few counter punches when the 12th round was stuck on repeat for so long.

And when I woke up with my 95% leading the charge, I could conquer any army that life advanced on me. Marathons would shell any negative infantry. Charity work sailed the seven seas beating back any hurricane that had formed out of tears.

And then it would come. The day you knew existed yet was kept at bay. The 5% that never made it to the front of the queue. No warning alert system could stop it. A tidal wave of emotion plucked out of nowhere has now breached what was once an impregnable perimeter wall. And for a split second after tears raised their flag in victory, silence. No words or sound. A millennium of silence that lasted seconds. The clear blue skies you had painted for so long were fading away before your very eyes as something replaced it. A Red mist would come crashing down packed with the emotions you had locked away and submerge all in its path.

Dr Jekyll had left the building as Mr Hyde put on his specs. Casually lifted the half full glass and smashed it into a thousand pieces of hope. Consumed by everything that you had tried to hide. Anger and Fear were now on the stage and nor letting go of the microphone any time soon. Hatred for anything was now infecting my body.

In between such Raw emotional weather came a way out. A train pulled up with St Peter’s gates as it’s final destination. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious. Especially if a welcome party awaits. It was a one way ticket. If for just one day there was an offer for return travel then I think the train would be sold out. However despite the red mist clouding all sane judgement, there was never a chance of boarding a journey I couldn’t return from. The carriages remained empty for a reason. I had never even come close to boarding and pray I never will.

I stepped back from the platform edge. Soundly knowing what and to be done. As with any weather event, this storm would pass. My mood would snarl it’s teeth at innocent bystanders as I scurried to find somewhere to bunker down.

Like any storm, my rainbow simply had to follow. And it waved off Mr Hyde as she duly arrived from the heavens. My Glass had been replaced with a fresh supply of hope that topped it up. The 95% part of me carefully placing it out of reach of the 5.

For 10 years I have tried to suppress the small gap within me. Tried to hide it away. And the more I try the bigger it expands.

Now when I know it’s coming there is no point trying to fight off a tsunami with a bucket and spade. It has to come out and hopefully it can pass without anyone witnessing the event.

It’s not easy for me as a Male to talk about feelings. Especially when life has had more ups and downs than a theme park.

When the Red Mist descends a Rainbow will always follow.

Hope will always shine through x