Gunner; 2003-2016

We lost dear friend Gunner this morning. While sad it was the right thing. He had been suffering from a degenerative hip for some time and had lost considerable mobility. When a dog reaches the point of enduring rather than enjoying you know it's time.

Gunner came from Skipton in Yorkshire but displayed none of the traditional traits of irascibility and obstinacy usually associated with that county. His father was an English field trial champion and it showed. He was the easiest of puppies and the most biddable young dog imaginable. They say that Labradors are born half trained and Spaniels die half trained. Gunner certainly fell into that tradition and was a walking advertisement for the breed as a family dog. Gentle with children and cautious with strangers it was a rare to find oneself telling him off. In one moment of dissent though, when we moved from the last house, he laid down across the garden path and steadfastly refused to move, making the removal men step around him........ for five hours.

Gunner never lost his dignity, right up to the last. With Zulu and Gurkha they made our family life complete if occasionally chaotic. Now Diesel and young Arthur are left to fly the flag. Gunner was a decent fellow and the end was gentle and super quick. I'll tick that box if I ever have the chance. He will be missed.


Mrs Flashbang is taking me back to the QA in Portsmouth this afternoon for a follow-up endoscopy to check all is well after the last procedure. Being my sixth visit this year it's all pretty routine now. Above, you can see a picture of Arthur. Mrs FB took him to the Vet's yesterday for a 'procedure.' If you sense a hint of betrayal in his face it's probably because he came back less intact than he was before he went. I shall be striding into the QA later with maximum vigilance. 

Christmas With Crumble!

Christmas can be a vexatious time, none more so than the moment when she opens her 'special,' gift under the tree. Husbands have been getting this so wrong for so long it's a miracle that any of us have made it as far as we have without being seriously incapacitated. Too often what we think is a helpful and diligently thought through present can have rapid unforeseen consequences. When you buy anything for example, with 'kitchen,' on the box, such as an electrical gadget, ("so you can spend less time in the kitchen love'), do bear in mind that surgeons have not yet perfected the surgical procedure for removing bread and ice cream makers when embedded in the upper body. Indeed, I fondly recall when the electronic thermometer I had lovingly purchased some years ago quickly reached terminal velocity after being unwrapped and only narrowly missed my forehead because of my ninja-like reaction time. 

Some friends are world class exponents at getting it wrong. I still look back with admiration at how my old chum Ben escaped intact after giving his wife a box of Bic biro's, 'she's always shouting for a pen whenever she's on the telephone.' The all-time-classic-never-to-be-beaten though was another chum who, when sent into town to buy an Aga, drove home in a newly acquired two seater sports car.

Most of you won't yet be suffering from shopping exhaustion, mostly because not one of you (men), will have yet started. This is good because there is still time to absorb some well meaning advice from your battle scarred mentor.

Follow these simple rules and you may avoid the cold and unforgiving letter from the divorce lawyer round about January 5th,

  • Under no circumstances buy her gift from Halfords, B&Q, Screwfix or Cotswold.
  • Gift certificates, anything 'not sold in stores,' gadgets and anything from those infuriating tat filled catalogues that drop through the letter box are a big no-no. 
  • 'Night wear' - Just don't go there. This is so wrong on so many levels and you will get it hopelessly wrong on every one of them. Whilst you may see your bride as you did on the day you met she doesn't and she mostly won't appreciate your invitation for her to dress like an Estonian pole dancer. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
  • If you would prefer to not be present during a stress episode then for goodness sake don't buy anything which comes with phrases like, 'I thought we could do with something for the house,' or 'it's all about the kids really, isn't it?' or 'all your friends use these in the kitchen,' or 'Which magazine said these were the best value.......'
  • They do love their calendars of family pictures but get one of the kids to do it. If you sit down with a large glass of claret at the computer it very probably isn't going to end well. 

I will admit, getting it right is somewhere between science, art and luck but it's mostly about a big credit card bill. The only 100% safe zone names are those like Chanel, Hermes, Tiffany and Cartier and 2016 had better have been a stunning year at work for that to happen so good luck.

Don't for a moment think you can reassure yourself after a catastrophic Christmas present moment by saying to yourself, 'she'll get over it.' No son, she won't. It will simmer away for years, corrosively eating away at a once happy union. If she is really angry, and I'm thinking mean and angry, then watch out; you don't want her to make The Call and for you to end up with these poor souls,


Joanna Seldon

I received some pretty glum news this week when an email dropped into my in-box from Sir Anthony Seldon to the broad Wellington College community to tell us that his beloved wife Joanna had come to the end of her very long journey with an incurable cancer. Joanna was a special person and will remain so in the memory. It was clear and evident to us all at Wellington that given Anthony’s legendary work rate and manic enthusiasm for all aspects of College life he could only have sustained his extraordinary efforts over ten years with the support and counsel of an extraordinary partner. Over dinner a few years ago, while on a parents trip to Auschwitz, I was chatting with Anthony about his soon to be published book about happiness and asked him, ‘Do you have a sort of editor figure who helps you plan the publication timetable and subjects for your books.’ Without hesitation he said, ‘yes, Joanna.’  What a wonderful team and I am proud that they had such a fabulous influence over my children and their education. Joanna though was much, much more than ‘wife of.’ She taught English. Well, she didn’t so much teach, rather she shared her love of English and imbued her natural enthusiasm for our language in her students. She championed and led creative writing, ran the Jewish society, was a close friend and confidant to many staff in the Common Room and opened her house to students, parents and visitors for informal fireside talks from guest speakers, pre match drinks on Saturdays, teas, lunches and any number of other events that Anthony dreamt up. Joanna was of course an accomplished writer and poet herself. Her website is well worth a visit. 

To deploy the tired cliche, ‘she lost her brave battle against cancer,’ would be idle, untrue and something of an insult. It seemed to me that Joanna treated the unwelcome news of her diagnosis with grace and equanimity but then approached the problem with an intellectual curiosity that was entirely characteristic of her approach to life. If you have a moment, the talk she gave at Wellington about ‘Living With A Chronic Illness,’ is very much worth listening to. After her diagnosis in 2011 Joanna dealt with the many discomforts and hospital visits with admirable matter of factness while her self deprecating humour quickly put the rest of us at ease in conversation. It was in fact common to be at a College event and Joanna would wander into the room carrying her drip with her without a hint of self consciousness. Rather, she exuded a nonchalant serenity and dignity that demanded our affection and respect all the more. We produce some very great women in this country and in my mind Joanna is one of them. She wasn’t large in stature, more Piaf-like but my she was a big figure in every other interpretation of the word. 

I offer my sincerest condolences to Anthony, Jessica, Susannah and Adam with warmth, love and respect. Joanna was a remarkable woman. There simply aren’t many of us that have lived a life so fulfilled. I remain, grateful to have known her and cherish her memory with affection. 

Christmas; I'm Here To Help!


Christmas is apparently hurtling toward us and once more we must brace ourselves and draw upon our deepest reserves of tolerance and good humour to navigate our way through the festive battlefield. Whatever you do, don't panic. I'm here to help and as an experienced operator I'm happy to share my native guile and cunning thus ensuring that we all survive December intact financially, morally and spiritually. Let's start with luxury gifts.

funny that..... he doesn't have ink on his hands....

funny that..... he doesn't have ink on his hands....

Obviously, the post Brexit decline in Sterling has provided the luxury goods industry with a reasonable excuse to raise prices. Unfortunately, some have raised them by unreasonable levels. Not withstanding that many will still throw themselves into the jaws of penury by shopping in Bond Street and good luck to them. Some of you might be considering buying a nice fountain pen for a loved one, friend or significant other. Here's a tip, unless you are into finger painting, avoid Mont Blanc. I have a Mont Blanc fountain pen. A very nice Mont Blanc fountain pen in fact. Unfortunately, it has a rudimentary design flaw. Every time I use it I get ink on my hands which is bloody irritating. So I don't use it. Instead, I bought a £15 Lamy fountain pen which is immaculate. I liked it so much I bought another two so I've always got one to hand. The Mont Blanc is x40 the cost of the Lamy. I'll leave you to ponder.

I though, have ink on my hands.

I though, have ink on my hands.

My experience of so called precision engineering out of Switzerland hasn't been a roaring success. My shiny IWC chronograph, (you know the ones, supposed to make you look like you jump into a fast jet cockpit in your spare time as a test pilot for Red Bull), stopped working after two years. At the cost of a small mortgage I shipped it back for repair and in the time it takes to pay off a small mortgage it eventually found it's way back to me.  Then the second-hand fell off. I put it in a drawer where it has spent the last ten years and it can stay there for another ten. 

All is not lost for the Swiss though. Here's a little widget which is well engineered, indispensable to any household and won't break the bank. She'll love you if you buy her one of these,  some Rubis splinter tweezers with an 8x magnifying glass, (Make-up artist Bobbi Brown described them as the Ferrari of tweezers and they're great for modelling and small appliance repairs). Perhaps I should use them to attempt a home repair on the watch. How difficult can it be?

Barrett's is a Bastard

The biggest boost to a soldiers morale is hearing your name at 'mail call!' I should say, given the imperious advance of technology, 'in my day, the biggest boost..........' That is, right up until you heard the oldest and most worn line in the book, 'Crumble! Give this to McTavish.' Try it with the kids at Christmas; it is the joke that keeps on giving. I remember one day my heart soared when my name was called out and I walked back to my billet with a letter in hand from my girlfriend of the moment who I hadn't seen for some months. While it wasn't the most upbeat letter it wasn't the one every man jack hates to receive. In it, she detailed with great care, a list of ailments that would befall me should I continue to smoke. It was a long list although she ended by pointing out that it wasn't exhaustive. You're damn right it wasn't. She didn't mention bloody Barrett's...

So, I've got Barrett's Oesophagus, (I wish he'd take it back). While smoking isn't exactly the cause it almost certainly contributes to the condition and at best, we can say that smoking is kind of unhelpful here. So what is it? Simply put, BO is a condition where the sphincter like valve between the oesophagus and stomach loses it's elasticity allowing acid from the stomach to splash up and burn the lower end of the oesophagus. Doesn't sound good does it? It isn't. The area that becomes damaged provides a fertile breeding ground for a Defon 1 really nasty cancer. That's why I have the joy of having a routine two yearly check which is better than not having a two yearly check. Right up until the point when they call and say, 'hmmmmm, could you pop back; we would like to have another look.' 

Just want to point out that this would never have happened if John Hurt had gone to the QA in Portsmouth with his really extreme Barrett's Oesophagus.

Just want to point out that this would never have happened if John Hurt had gone to the QA in Portsmouth with his really extreme Barrett's Oesophagus.

So I did. I had a lesion. Now the word 'lesion' doesn't sound too bad. The second doctor I saw though didn't call what they found a lesion. He called it a granular cell tumour. The second doctor got my attention. The surprising little detail they omitted though, until my third visit for an ultrasound, 'we have to find out how deep it is,' was that this unwanted new resident in my oesophagus was out of the Barrett's zone. That is, by a freak coincidence, in having had the routine endoscopy they picked up this other squatter. Bear in mind, this thing was tiny, only 4mm but by the time it was removed last week it had grown to 20mm. Yep, I've seen Alien too...

Subsequently,  I found myself in the operating theatre for the apparently small procedure, ‘we’ll just go in and snip it off,’ last week. It turned into a rather longer 2 hour procedure. I am now not on the pre-Christmas liquid diet I had envisaged. The day after the op I felt like a troop of Royal Marine Commando’s had climbed up my oesophagus using ice axes and crampons. It did in fact, hurt like buggery. Still, that’s me having ticked the box marked, ‘my first operation,’ and hopefully it will be another handful of decades before the next...

Bit premature there son........

Bit premature there son........

The family reaction left me somewhat bemused. Mrs Flashbang abandoned me as I was being wheeled away to go shopping then home, ‘call me when you’re ready to be picked up.’ My daughter didn’t call but spoke to her mother on the grounds that I didn’t display much empathy when she had her wisdom teeth out. One son, who has watched every single episode of House and knows more about medical complications than the average consultant did call but was slightly more interested in the procedure than I found comfortable while the other son messaged from his expedition saying, ‘so, is this the moment we put your Bucket List together Dad?’ charming……....

For what it is worth, and this is the point of the post, if you suffer from persistent acid reflux and heartburn, go and see your GP. Many souls knock back a few Rennie's or Gavascol and soldier on. That is not the correct drill. Some GP's will upgrade the usual remedies by prescribing Omeprazole which is a quick and easy fix but may cover up a more ominous problem smouldering away. An early diagnosis of Barrett's is obviously better than a late diagnosis. There is more to write on the subject, from a slightly more serious perspective, with regard to diet and I will do that in due course.

In the meantime, I'm very much looking forward to my return to the QA in Portsmouth for my follow up scope in Dec with the Olympic Endoscopy champions led by Professor Bhandari. If you want to see an example of world class medicine in the NHS, it's right there in Portsmouth.

Remembered Still

This time of year is one a reflection for many former servicemen. Some drop into maudlin moods while others, after an appropriate hour of remembrance, enjoy being twenty one again with other old salts over a beer or two when they mostly agree that 'things aren't what they were,' while mostly disagreeing on who did what, when and where. It was ever thus.

Oddly, the people who tend to spend the least time mulling over events of the past are the young soldiers of today who usually have far too much on their plate to sit around thinking about what went before. They will change. We all do.

Most of us have moments we focus on. Perhaps family members we knew or heard of when growing up or friends who didn't make it. It's easier, if more pained, than dwelling for example, on the enormity of the losses on the Western Front. 

I tend to flip and flop between them all. This year though, I would like to mention the men and women who die in training. Most of us know someone who died in a training accident. It is just a fact that when you join your 'at work,' risks become elevated by the very nature of the munitions and heavy kit from tanks to fast jets that servicemen spend their lives in close proximity to. 

No one treats these tragic events, when they occur, lightly but they are seldom remembered by the collective body. Even the regiments themselves don't really keep a permanent record of lives lost in training. In fact, only at my children's school have a seen memorials to those who died in this way. The point is though, the casualties don't have a choice how it happens. It just happens. Other former servicemen will appreciate just what a lottery it can all be.

Here then, are three young men who I knew who were taken, all good guys, all on their first or second tours,

Lt Phil Pickering RA            Killed in an adventure training accident in Canada

Lt David Wilson RA             Killed in a RTA in Sennelager

Lt David Agnew RHF           Killed in a helicopter accident in the Oman

Remembered still.


The Greatest Generation

By tomorrow morning the people of the United States will have chosen their new president. They will be left more divided than they have been since the Civil War. I hope they can patch up their differences.

It is clear that many American citizens are resentful that what they were brought up to regard as their birthright has been denied to them, through no fault of their own. That is, by following their parents and grandparents in doing the 'right thing,' they could expect to participate in the American Dream which implied a better life in turn for themselves and their children. They feel cheated, left behind and are making their feelings known in a protest vote every bit as big as the one that greeted Churchill in 1945.

Who though, were that older generation who set such a magnificent example and set the pace for all that followed? Typically, they were children of the twenties who came of age in the Great Depression, fought and won the Second World War and then built modern America. Their common values of honour, duty and courage with unthinking service to family and country were the bedrock of all that followed. Poverty and despair during the economic decline in the thirties was followed by a glimmer of hope which was quickly doused at Pearl Harbour. They spent their young adulthood fighting in some of the most brutal engagements imaginable yet at the end of the war they returned to their homes and set to work, determined to rebuild. And they did. They created the biggest economy in history, catapulted science and medicine forward, put a man on the moon and changed the face of the creative arts and media. They stood as a beacon to the free world and broke Soviet totalitarianism. They built a not perfect but fairer society and legislated to make it so.

Certainly, they made mistakes but as that generation marches off into history I am finding reading about them a gentle antidote to the lunatic fringe which appears to be on the brink of walking into the White House. I refer to either candidate incidentally. Both are unsuitable and a long way from what we know is the best of men and women that the US produces.

I can then, if I may, heartily recommend Tom Brokow's book, 'The Greatest Generation.' It is, a thundering good read.

A Very Fine Line

I like to think that I was an early fan of TED talks. Many are genuinely thought provoking if not inspirational. When though, TED invited comedian/musician Reggie Watts to give a talk on what ever he chose to talk about the result left me somewhat stumped. It is either the most brilliant talk ever or the most stupid. I just can't decide. If you watch and are left open mouthed in quizzical confusion then you will mostly know how I felt when I looked at my last physics exam paper at school. In that instance, the examiners didn't take long to come down on the side of stupid rather than brilliance. It is, a very fine line you know. 

If it Were Me...

The runaway train that is the US Presidential Election is a catastrophe heading at full speed for the cliff. I'm as confident now as I was six months ago that Trump would surprise, if not astonish the watching world. International spectators for the most part have simply accepted what the Democratic leaning media have been pumping out and haven't looked closely at the underlying emotions which are driving his campaign. Unsurprisingly, they did the same in our recent referendum. 

That doesn't make me a Trump supporter. It makes me a realist. Neither candidate passes even a cursory suitability or sniff test. Both are too old, (they wouldn't be allowed to run a FTSE company in the UK), and the prospect of a 2017 US governmental meltdown giving the opportunity to rebuild is the only thing offering a glimpse of hope and optimism to many Americans.

Make no mistake, at some point Hillary Clinton is going to be indicted or impeached. Hiding and destroying evidence is not going to look good and that is just a starter for ten. What is going on is much, much bigger than Watergate and it is only in it's infancy. Were she to win the election, the post investigation result will be chaos given the faith of her millions of voters in the democratic process will be shattered.

But I don't think she'll win. The democrats only hope is for Clinton to step down now and give Biden a pass, (he's 100/1 at the moment which looks tasty). That though is not in her DNA. She'll spend the next week on the back foot while all Trump now needs to do is to start acting in a detached presidential manner with dignity and restraint. When Trump wins, I believe he will appoint some attack dog like Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General to conduct investigations. Then, stand back and watch the fur fly.

Anyway, looking to our own shores I've been inspired and fully intend to seek political office. I'm going to base my campaign on this advertisement which is quite the best political ad I've ever seen.