So I left the NSIC at around half ten on last Friday morning, (25th October) wishing I had more time but fully appreciating the time that I had spent there. I had worked hard, I had pushed myself and whilst I was looking forward to seeing my family, all be it for one night, I knew I would miss my physiotherapy and even the fitness sessions with Kirsty. No time to dwell on it though, I have been shown some ways to get my weight down and so it was now down to me to try to make it work, for now though I had to get my shit together ready for an early departure to RAF Brize Norton. My driver at the un welcoming hour of 05.00 was “Reedy”, one of the soldiers from my unit but more than that, my friend. He himself had only returned from Salisbury Plain the previous evening having spent a week or so enduring the weather up there which as I understand it was not particularly good. Never the less he arrived at my place at a little after 04.30 where we promptly checked I had everything and drank a cup of coffee. Then he loaded my stuff in to the “Chucklebus” and my Wife secured me and my Power chair in. At a little after 05.00 we were on our way.
We arrived at Brize in pretty good time. “Reedy” dealt with the vehicle pass at the main gate and then we headed to the terminal. With the “Chucklebus” parked and my belongings and I out of the vehicle we headed over to get me checked in. In the queue a few in front of me was “Dermot” and Phil along with a couple of film crew and a lady from the English Heritage. We slowly snaked through the barriers and eventually arrived at the check in desk. My case weight surprised both “Reedy” and I as it was less than 20kg, we had thought it was looking at being a fair bit more but as it was this was within the limit I had been told. They then took my manual chair as they could not fit it on the scales and I told them the weight, then a guy from the loading area came and collected it. There was now a slight problem, they had been told that there was a chair to go in the hold but not that I would also be in one. No lift had been sorted but in true Military style, an improvisation was put in place….I would be lifted up by the catering truck!
“Reedy” and I had a quick chat and with me in the departure lounge he headed back home, a massive thank you to him for giving up his time and lay in to drive me. I sat talking with Phil, (while he wasn’t being asked for photo’s with various people!), and was introduced to the remaining members of the party. I was talking with a lady who as it turned knew one of the guys that I was in the Spinal unit with the first time which was nice but then they started to call people through by the first letter if the surname. One of the staff came over and asked if I would go straight to be checked and that they would then get me and my party over to the aircraft and loaded and so this is exactly what we did. Once on the aircraft which was not a Tristar as I had first thought it would be, it was actually their newer Voyager aircraft, the crew lifted me out of the power chair and in to a seat then took the chair down to be put in the hold. With the batteries disconnected and it surrounded by baggage to stop it moving, I was ready to go. Now was the turn of the remainder of the passengers to board.
Due to the mucking around with me, the flight was a little delayed, (sorry!), but eventually we were up in the air and on our way. The flight was lovely and smooth with only a couple of small pockets of turbulence, nothing worth the seat belt light coming on for, and in a little over four hours we were on the ground at Royal Air Force Station Akrotiri. The sky was clear and the sun was dropping but with everyone off of the plane, the Fire crew came on board and lifted me back in to my chair. Then it was on to the platform and down to earth. Bags collected at the terminal building and with us all loaded in to the mini bus, and my chairs in the back of the pick up, we headed over to the blocks where we would sleeping. I opened the door to the disabled room and very much liked what I saw. It was spacious and the bed was at a sensible height but the best bit was that the bathroom was set out so I could use everything. The shower seat was not padded nor did it have a hole in it like the ones in the spinal centre but it was leaning slightly forward which would be draining the water as I dried. The toilet was the same height as my chair which would make it a little easier, in short, this was great! There was no need to anything that evening and so I squared my admin away and went to bed.
The first night did not go exactly as I had hoped, in fact it was a bloody disaster with me in the shower at one in the morning but not to be put off, I got everything squared away again and went back to bed. There is no digging on site at the weekend and so despite my waking up and getting dressed ready to go at half six in the morning, I lay on the bed waiting for someone to give me a shout. I would point out that I had been given no timings and so I just had to wait. Having clearly missed breakfast I was given a knock and we headed in to Pafos for a look round and to get something to eat. I have a great deal of difficulty telling what the temperature is and so by the way everyone was fanning themselves with their hats I would guess it was quite warm, with the obvious heat and my pushing myself around I figured I would lose a few more pounds and was feeling secretly happy about it. I am going to cut a long story short and tell you straight that I doubt very much if I have lost any weight and indeed suspect that I will have put on as the meals we had for lunch and tea were a little bigger than any of us thought they would be!
I had not been to Pafos since 2003 just prior to our deployment to Afghanistan where we were attached to the 2nd Battalion The Royal Ghurkha Rifles (2RGR) in Kabul where we tragically lost Pte Jonathon “Kit” Kitulagoda as a result of a suicide bombing. It was where I had tried scuba diving with a company called CYDIVE who weirdly, had a group of divers wearing the CYDIVE logo embossed wetsuits pass us on their way back from the sea. It is also where the remainder of the Company Group spent the day on the “Jolly Roger”. This was an old style ship which took the party goers out from the port and had a day of revelling and drinking. I posted a picture on my Facebook page and asked if any of my military friends could remember it. The song “Gay Bar ” was mentioned along with Pirate acrobats which means nothing to me although I suspect I could hazard a fair guess! But that was then and this is ten years later, this time it would hold memories of not only good times in the past but good times with new people I had met and was now spending quality time with, sharing two incredible meals, some amusing conversation and the incredible weather. It would also be where they would create their own experiences one of which was the hiring of a speed boat!
I have to be honest, I would have gone for a ride in the boat, in fact the guys hiring them said that they would lift me in to the drivers seat as it would offer the best stability for me but I was happy to watch as the `crew` walked down the steps and climbed aboard the speed boat, one more gingerly than the rest! Seeing Phil in the speedboat, hat still in place on his head was not something I had ever thought I would see but as they headed sensibly off in to the horizon, I had an idea that his distinct laugh would be heard a lot in the boat. After around a half hour they returned, all looked like they had really enjoyed themselves and had clearly swapped places in the boat, only one member looked as though they may not have enjoyed themselves as much as the others but on the whole I think it went well. So from here we went for a `st-roll` around the coastal path. It was not the best path for a wheelchair, my power chair would have been ok but the manual struggled a little. Never the less I `rolled` while talking to Phil about various bits of archaeology and things in general. We got to a point where it was getting darker having already seen an amazing sunset, and so we all turned around and headed back towards the minibus. Just as we thought that we would get back without someone stopping us, Phil was recognised by two couples and so we all stopped for a chat. That is one thing that strikes me with Phil, he is not someone who will cut people short and is happy to chat to them, which I think is a real quality. Anyway, we got back to the main sea front and decided to have tea…a messi? I think it is called that, anyway, regardless of what it is called it means essentially that they keep bringing out serving after serving of all of the different types of fish. We had Squid, and baby squid and Octopus and good God only knows what else, but suffice is to say that we were all pretty full by the end of it!
We got back to the Air Base and in to our rooms ready for the archaeology the next day, Monday. Monday though as it turns out was a bank holiday here in Cyprus, who knew! So we had another day of getting used to the weather. The `crew` headed off for the day which I would have gone on but chose not to due to the getting in and out repeatedly as they were going round many archaeological sites on the island and so instead I went to the NAAFI and bought a couple of things that I needed. As lunch was around an hour away I decided to have a snooze for a half hour which went well, too well. I put my head on my pillow at 11.30 and woke up at 20.30, (half past eight in the evening!). Consequently I missed tea and instead had a cup of tea and then a cool glass of Gin with the `crew` before heading off to bed ready for the archaeology, which would be happening, in the morning.
Now, for my phone to charge it has to be away from the bed, I am not overly great at getting up to an alarm and so if I wake, I have no idea if it has already gone off or not. I woke this morning, looked up and figured it must be close to half five in the morning. I got dressed and in to my chair and over to the phone only to discover that it was actually half past two in the morning. Well at least I am not late. So I got back in to bed and undressed. I then woke again, I got dressed as I knew that I had already been up and so the time must be close now and it was four thirty. Having already done what I needed to do I set the alarm for six which would give me time to get up, clean my teeth and get over for breakfast at six thirty. And so I lay on the bed, with the now fully charged phone next to the bed and waited for the alarm. So, after being up and down like a fiddlers elbow all night I woke at…ten past seven….CRAP! I washed my face and cleaned my teeth and as fast as I could I pushed myself over to the Sergeant Mess for my Breakfast, getting there just in time. With Breakfast done it was time to get in to the minibus and head to the site.
The site from what I could see and after having a full briefing from the site manager, is really impressive, even for someone like me who prefers the first and second World War stuff. I am not going to go too much in to it but I have spent the day sieving dirt and picking out bits of mosaic which is actually quite relaxing, aside from the spasms and having to pull myself upright all the time. I had Phil explaining stuff to me as well which was great as it let me know about some of the things I had been discovering. BFBS crews were there as well interviewing us and generally filming what we were doing which I hope will encourage others who are injured or who are not in a good place to get involved. And so with the roar of the Typhoon aircraft `playing` over head, (the wake up call in the morning is impressive!), the Tristar’s and the other aircraft flying overhead all day, we eventually wrap the site work at around one in the afternoon simply because it is too hot for us all to be out in it, (so they tell me). I have therefore taken the opportunity to write about the last few days so that you don’t bugger off and leave! The `crew` have gone snorkelling this afternoon, they were happy to take me but I declined, I would love to go in to the sea or even lay on the beach but it would be unfair to expect people I have known for only two or three days to take responsibility for my welfare in the sea or aside from that, the sun. I will look to going to the sea maybe before we leave but we shall see.
I have received some AMAZING news while I have been here as well via e mail, I am going to leave you to ponder over that one though! Until next time.