PC 71 Shared Experiences


Apart from a couple of hours in 2006 I hadn’t seen him since July 1967 when together we had marched up the steps of the Old Building at Sandhurst, he commissioned into the Royal Glosters and me into the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Having re-established contact a year or so ago, he and his wife came to stay the other week.

There is a temptation to go down the familiar route, whenever you meet a friend from long ago: “Do you remember so and so?” “No? Well let me tell you, I met him again in …….” We didn’t, thankfully, but at some point in our evening together he recollected the shared experience of being one of the officer cadets on the parade ground at the military academy. The sense of pride, of belonging, of collective consciousness ……. as one thousand young men, at the start of their adult lives, came to ‘Attention!’ as one. I mentioned this experience in PC 25 ‘A Voice’, back in November 2014; clearly I was not the only one to remember it.

Sovereign Parade 1967

March Past at RMAS 1967

He had occasionally commented on a PC. “I suppose since Sandhurst we knew you were full of sh*t ….. but I love reading your PCs. It amazes me how you can make something seemingly so mundane into a really interesting read.” Or “You know you are a very weird person, but I did enjoy your latest muse ….. you lovely nutter!”  Others of you might share his sentiments?!

Do you know, Celina, we had this obstacle course to do, a major team competition, and one of the major obstacles was a 10 feet (3.5m) brick wall. Getting 6 people over it, with all their kit and rifles etc, required a huge amount of team work, understanding and technique.” And the physically stronger ones helped the weaker members of the team, I thought, because in other situations and faced with different obstacles it could easily be the other way around. In real life there will always be those who think about finding a ladder, hiring a crane, building a scaffold …….. but back then time was of the essence. I’ve thought subsequently, is this ‘wall’ a metaphor for life, that to get on, to achieve, to succeed, it’s best to do it with others (actually a ten foot wall is impossible to get over without help)?

We didn’t talk much about other aspects of our two years together, didn’t mention the granite-faced Sergeant Cameron of the Scots Guards who threatened to rip your arm off for some inadequacy on the drill square, of the first field exercise in December called appropriately Gravedigger, or indeed of the miles we walked over the Brecon Beacons in South Wales – in all weathers, but being together it was if we had met last week, with no 49 years in between!

You see it in programmes about recruits for the police, for students at University, for those who want to join one of the military services; a shared experience, often one involving adversity, mental or physical challenge, will unite those students, developing a corporate purpose, a sense of collective responsibility. The schools and universities in the UK often have a Combined Cadet Force, a quasi-military organisation that helps individuals develop into mature adults and my chum had had a huge hand in bringing the national structure into the C21st. Wonderfully he confirmed that the change these units make in individuals and the values they instil underline their importance, just as the experiences we had so many years ago did. Good to hear! Of course there are those who lead naturally and those who follow, either out of curiosity or duty. Putting individuals through tough training will always bring out the best in people and that knowledge and experience will travel with them their whole life.

During the course of our twenty four hours together the subject of sailing came up and I recounted a tale of my own experience, one that is as fresh today as it was 37 years ago. The two of us hadn’t shared this particular experience, but those who did will remember it for the rest of their lives, I think? A tour of the D-Day WW2 battlefields in Normandy was bookended by sailing out and back to the UK on a 43ft yacht. Our return was slightly delayed by a gale in The Channel, and it wasn’t until 0215 that we left Trouville, just South of Le Havre. Mooring in France often involves an anchor and, as we left the harbour, the crew struggled to fit it into its stowage up in the bow. With reefed sails we cleared the immediate breakwater and set a course for the Isle of Wight; it was still blowing hard from the north east and a lot of spray came over the bow. Down to leeward was Arromanches, a shallow and rock-strewn coast.


Trouville sur mer

Trouville sur Mer is on the coast almost due south of Le Havre

I was just about to give the helm to another crew member when one of the women called from below, to say that there was a lot of water over the cabin floor!! Rushing below, I saw that the whole of the floor was awash. We started pumping! Everyone looked at me, as skipper, to think/say/act! My brain went into overdrive: Think! Think! Think! I checked our position on the chart, told the man on the helm to heave to, and thought about life jackets and how the life raft was stowed. Why were we taking on water? Where was it coming in? Two of us went up to the bow, to check the anchor stowage. It was in a bad place and a bad design; if you got it slightly wrong …. water came in. And so it was! Refitted snuggly we were watertight. Relief all around!! Hours later the wind died away completely and we motored into The Solent and moored up.

Most of my character-building experiences seem to have been during my military service but that character has, in the main, allowed me to cope with the obstacles of life when they’ve appear. Funnily enough I overheard the team leader of the guys who delivered the large fridge freezer a fortnight ago tell a junior member: “Obstacles? Just work your way around them” and I was reminded of Ernie Zelinksi. In his book “The Joy of Not Working” he says of obstacles and creative people:

They realise many new obstacles will appear regularly, but they also realise there is a way to overcome virtually all obstacles. When one appears, creative people will figure out a way to eliminate it. If they can’t get over it, they will go under it. If they can’t go under it, they will go around it. If they can’t go around it, they will go through it. With all these options, there is no need to worry about obstacles.”

I think he’s right! Oh! And it’s great to relive our shared experiences with chums.

Richard 29th May 2016                                        richardyates24@gmail.com

PC 70 My Man Drawer

When we moved into our large apartment in the completely renovated Amber House here in Hove, there was little storage, so we had to be quite ruthless in what we kept. Somehow I was not quite ruthless enough and I am still sorting through stuff, knowing that I really should have another clear out soon. In the kitchen part of our living room, there was space to put bar-type stools underneath the ‘island’, next to the wine cooler. We didn’t really want the latter, and didn’t think we would use the former, sitting up to eat when there was a perfectly good table close by! And where was the ‘man drawer’? Within a few weeks the space had a new cupboard with three drawers; two for trays, table mats etc and the top one for my drawer.

I don’t think I ever called said drawer a particular name but here in the UK it’s become an essential part of how we males live, a place to put things. What things you might ask, especially if you haven’t yet developed such a cache of treasures? Well, I opened the drawer and saw:

An out-of-date Southern railway train timetable (2013) So why is it still there?

A meat hook

An old measuring tape made out of paper – now that’s quite special

An old wooden expandable ruler ie measuring device but in Imperial units

A new steel measuring tape – up to 3.5 metres

A nifty small ratchet screwdriver with changeable heads

A cord to put around the sidepieces of reading glasses to hang around your head – but no glasses. So if you can find the glasses, useful!

Actually some glasses for watching 3D films – only used once, but you never know when you might need them again

Talking of glasses, a pair of reading glasses left by a lunch guest

A small tub of Orchid Fertiliser


My Man Drawer

My Man Drawer

One of those Swiss Army Knife types – this one with its own smart leather holder, and yes, it has one of those gadgets for removing the stone from a horse’s hoof.

A real authentic Swiss Army Knife – red! (Probably made in China)

My Brighton & Hove City Council Bus Pass (Ah! You cry. Now I know what a man drawer is!)

An open pack of red and blue drinking straws – half used, and the remainder keep leaving the plastic bag.

Spare Christmas Tree fairy light bulbs – although I really am not sure whether they are for the current three sets or for some other set, long discarded.

A small, beautifully manufactured LED torch – with batteries that work

A rather old, well-used little purse

A box of matches

Theatre tickets for a show at the Theatre Royal Brighton in June

A half used pack of Thank You cards

A booklet of daily vouchers for The Times and Sunday Times

A half full tube of sparklers

A User Guide for our BT Answering Machine, which doesn’t tell us how to change the day – the machine message gives a day three days ago!

Some yellow paperclips

A bag full of different rubber bands – the purple ones come from packets of Asparagus bought in Waitrose, the brown taken off the bundle of post

Talking of Waitrose, some green tokens given with change which you’re meant to put into some plastic box for a good cause. Mine seem to end up in my pocket, and are then transferred to the ….. man drawer. I must put them in their proper place.

I can’t throw away string – so the ball of string in the man drawer manages to unwind all on its own and wrap itself around …..

Keys. Spare apartment keys, car keys, a key for the green Council wheelie bin given by Joe, a key for the padlock for the ladder tucked away in the Bike Shed – probably rusted through as the salt air here is extremely corrosive

Biros and highlighters – green and red should you be wondering

Four bits of wire that came wrapped around some new gadgets’ power cable ….. and might come in very useful sometime

A little plastic oval with ‘Perfect Egg Timer’ written on it. You’re meant to put it into the boiling water and it’ll turn a certain colour when the eggs are ready. Often of course an egg will crack, a little white will escape and you can’t see to the bottom of the saucepan.

Looking at the photograph you might be reminded of Kim’s Game? Nothing to do with Kim Kardashian, the game was invented by Rudyard Kipling for his creation Kim, to develop his capacity to observe and remember details, during his training as a spy! He wrote the novel Kim in 1901 and the game is still played by Scouts and Guides all over the world to this day.

The blue cord, bottom central, is a lanyard for a sailing knife, complete with a shackle key. Even did the whipping myself!

Then there’s one of those security code generators for online banking

Rolls of Trebor Extra Strong peppermints

‘The Conservatory’ (did you spot the card?) is a lovely Aladdin’s Cave type emporium selling plaster urns, garden statues, furniture, lights of every shape and size, a plastic blow-up Elvis and shark heads, pink pigs galore. Mick who runs it is a treasure himself!

So this is really a whole bunch of scribbles but it might make you smile and for those male readers, tempt you to go and have a look at your ‘Man Drawer’?

Richard 18th May 2016                                        richardyates24@gmail.com

PS My daughter has her own version of a man drawer; it’s a wooden cupboard designed for papers, maps, architectural drawings or some such. From memory she has 6-8 drawers – and everyone is absolutely full with ……

PPS Did you spot the gorilla in the drawer? The cutlery divider put to a different use.

PC 69 Health & Effing Safety


I grew up to believe in the art of the possible, and developed an attitude of ‘I can do this’ as opposed to ‘I can’t do this.’ I thought about the issue, worked out some options and maybe even tried a few. (There were parallels in the ‘military appreciation’ which was either done in the heat of battle on the back of a fag packet or more formally, taking account of all the factors and coming up with options*.) You found out what worked as, sure as eggs are eggs, something will. Recently I have come up against the insidious development of the anti-culture, of the ‘can’t do’, ‘not my problem’, here in Britain and I find it very very sad …. and actually a worrying development in a country which historically has been one for invention experiment and possibilities; now we have the art of the impossible.

Our relationship with the landlord of Amber House is now very much a working one, and we get things done. For instance, I realised that if a lightbulb in the communal lights went, it tripped the electrical circuit board and that needed to be reset. That required an electrician to be called out as the cupboard was always locked! Oh and the electrician was need to change the light bulb! So we got the system redesigned, so that a dying light bulb did not trip the system and we also got a key to the cupboard. So I thought, well, the next step is to change the offending light bulb ourselves. As it’s a communal light bulb, it’s covered by the landlord’s insurance and as I don’t work for the landlord I’m not covered. Ok! I can cope with that. “But you haven’t had ladder training.” This of course is the outcome of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. No doubt there was a need to tighten up some of the regulations about safety where people worked, reducing the deaths and injuries that occurred, but this ‘catch all’ act is being used to stifle our humanity. I say ‘humanity’ because, for instance, policemen have been prevented from jumping into a canal to save someone who’s fallen in …….. because it’s not part of their job, that it requires specialist training.

I explained that in 2004 I had climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge …… and to do that you have to have, inter alia, ladder training! You are also breathalysed, have to remove anything that could be dropped or fall off, and wear a prison-style boiler suit, but I digress. Seemingly this wasn’t enough! Then a neighbour who has the same sort of attitude as me said that he, as an employee of British Telecom, had been trained to ‘climb a ladder’. I can sense you’re smiling, wondering how difficult it is to climb a ladder and you would be right. Surely the only question is: “Do I lead with my right or left foot?” So the landlord supplies me with spare light bulbs, I climb a short ladder, and we don’t call out the electrician.

I tried to get agreement from the landlord to cut the communal grass, as I think I would take more care than the contracted company, and I care. As I do not own the grass, I am not covered by the insurance and ……. can’t do it!

Now we come to what really got my goat. Living in one room, a room where we cook, eat, and relax, I suppose you could call it a ‘living room’ (!) the noise levels of domestic appliances are quite critical. The kitchen was already in place when we bought the apartment, complete with an American-style fridge freezer – with water dispenser and ice maker. I had arrived! I loved it although was a bit concerned of the noise level of the fan. Out of warranty, I had it replaced; I had it replaced 6 months later and again another six months after that – “Well, it’s not that bad and they are all like that” the engineer says as he leaves. Enough; my decibel app measures the noise as 75 db (advertised 43db!!) so the Lamona had to go. I eventually ordered a Samsung fridge freezer from Curry’s, a national retailer supplying TVs, domestic appliances, computers etc etc; Samsung have a reputation for quiet machines!! We discussed with Idis at Curry’s whether the 8 steps up to the front door of Amber House presented a problem and he said he didn’t think so but to be on the safe side he added a note to that effect – suggesting three people were needed (Note: these fridge freezers weigh about 130 kgs) I paid an extra £19.95 (why wasn’t it £20?) to have it delivered in the afternoon.


Tessellated steps up to Amber House

So I waited. The doorbell rang. Knowhow, Curry’s delivery company had arrived; a good start! But then the two guys said they didn’t know how they would get it up the steps – “Oh! Yes. The paperwork says three chaps are recommended but the manager ignored it, obviously!” “Don’t you have some tackle on your van for helping lift/manoeuvre heavy items?” I come back to my ‘can do’ attitude; if I was a delivery man I would take pride in the fact I could delivery what I have to deliver, even if it meant having gear to assist me. That saying “More than my job’s worth mate!” came to mind. But this couldn’t have been the first time? Could I help you? “Nah! mate. Not insured.” They then moved into the world of the ridiculous; they could ‘deliver’ it onto the pavement – at which point I got uncharacteristically angry and asked them to leave.

John Lewis said the same, the delivery company couldn’t promise …..

So I found a local company who were Samsung dealers – delivery is tomorrow. I showed them the photograph of the steps. “Not a problem; we’ll have enough people to do that.” (A ‘Can Do’ attitude huh?)

And then I went back to Curry’s to get a full refund; “3-5 working day, mate. (everyone seems to be ‘mate’; over-familiarity or what?). It’s the banks, innit!” To add insult to injury, Curry’s asked me to complete an online survey on ‘how we did?’ ‘How was your recent experience with Knowhow? Rate 0-10 ‘0’.’On a scale of 0-10, with 10 being fantastic, how would you rate your experience with our Knowhow delivery drivers? ‘0’. To help us improve our service proposition (what does this mean?) please could you advise us of the reason for cancelling the order? ‘You couldn’t deliver it!’

Time for tea and toast.

Richard 2nd May 2016                                                                             richardyates24@gmail.com

*For those of you with some military experience, ‘two up and bags of smoke’ often seemed to be the answer!! If, dear Reader, you have no idea what I’m scribbling about, ask me.