The first thing I heard this morning, (Sunday), was the sound of loud revving engines. I knew it was rally day but my word, I did not think that they would revving the nuts off of their engines at half seven in the morning. We did not have to worry about getting breakfast for any of the people here today as they had been issued their ration boxes last night; all that needed doing was to turn the water boilers on. I had managed to get to bed a whole hour earlier than on Friday evening and I did know I had been lucky enough to get that extra hour. I was able to really take my time when getting dressed and doing my personal admin because I had already briefed everyone on what the plan and timings were and to that end just had to wait until they had finished their block jobs and check everywhere was clean and tidy. I got my foot in to my boot today, but it was such a cack handed mess of trying to do it that I can’t clearly identify exactly how I did it. Never the less I had managed it this time, (which is an achievement), and so now fully dressed and in my chair I looked around the place to see how they had done. Generally it was not too bad, I noted a couple of areas down as one had blatantly been left, but as it was the brew area it can get really out of hand if you let it get messy and it can attract all kinds of wonderful creatures, in short, an untidy brew area breeds germs and bacteria. If you do not stamp on it before it gets too bad then people will begin to get the poo poo shits and then it all goes massively pear shaped. Checks over I went across to the feeding building to see how they were getting on. They were all eating, and no one was complaining, they were in fact telling us that they tasted better than they thought they would and that they actually liked them. I noticed that a couple of them had emptied the contents of their boil in the bag in to a bowl or on to a plate, I joked about the fact that even though the food was on a plate, it was still rations although psychologically you may be able to convince yourself otherwise.
There was obviously very minimal washing up to do as they had not had to use the cook set or pans and so cleaning up was easy. They disappeared off to get themselves sorted and then when everyone appeared to be out of the block and next to the bus I spoke to them about what they were wearing. I also did a kind of a kit check, much the same as I would do with my platoon before moving out. I was really pleased with the fact that they had remembered collectively what they had been told in the evening by myself. A couple of them had to run off and pick up a couple of things that they had overlooked but generally they had really taken the information on board. Tomorrow I will do it again and see how they get on. They all loaded in to the minibus and headed over to the dig site while Dave and I cleaned out the boiler and generally made sure that the place was tidy and clean. It must have been a truly hilarious site. Me in a wheelchair and Dave with only one working arm trying to lift a part filled boiler to tip the contents out and then re swill it. Even Dave and I were laughing, you talk about the blind leading the blind, I forgot to put my brakes on so as were tipping the boiler forward and bear in mind that we were holding the thing up between us, my wheelchair was rolling backwards. To counteract this I would lean further forwards until we were at the point that I was going to fall and Dave could not lean any further forward, a simple putting on of the brakes sorted this though and the boiler was rinsed round. We took it back in to the building, placed it back on the table and refilled it with fresh water.
You could hear the rally cars revving and screeching all day, I was talking to one of the people who were something to do with the rally who asked if I had heard a loud bang at all this morning which I hadn’t, I was curious as to why he would ask this and so I told him. He went on to say that one of the rally drivers had just got his rally car sorted, it had cost £80,000 that’s right, eighty thousand pounds and he had smashed it up. I know that it costs a lot to have and race a rally car and that to do it you must either have good sponsorship or have a lot of savings but I can imagine that smashing up £80,000 of car would properly piss you off and have a resounding impact on how the rest of your day went. Regrettably I did not get to see, film or take any photos of the rally so I am unable to show you any, but I can tell you that there were over sixty cars of various types so you can imagine how noisy it was today. With everyone up at the dig site and the admin done by Dave and I, Paul and I headed in to the Coach and Horses pub. We had to try to find out about the possibility of some more sites of interest in the close proximity of the training area, to do this though we needed the intersmut and as the signal is really bad here, we went to the Coach and Horses to use the WIFI. We went in and were greeted by the Landlord and Landlady, they are lovely they really are, we told them why were in so early and asked if we would be able to use the WIFI while having a coffee. They could not have been more helpful, even showing us where to plug the laptops in if they went dead. They brought over a couple of coffees and we set about our research. I used the first part of the time there to upload my Blog entries. I write it on the Word programme and then when I can get to an internet connection I copy it on my Blog, and then publish it. With this done I helped Paul with the research. We pulled up the satellite image for the area and cross referenced it with a drawing of a map of the area resembling the year of approximately 1600. By keeping the map on one screen and the satellite image on the other we zoomed in and out until we were as close to being the same scale as we could figure and then compared features. We found some pictures taken from above of a ploughed field which clearly shows a light coloured strip down the centre of the field. We cross referenced this with the old map and it follows the same course as best as we can determine, of the old Roman Road. We spent a long time doing this looking for several other sites of interest, a couple of coffees and then the inevitable happened.
Paul bought us both a roast dinner, knowing that the rest would be on rations I was worried about how they would feel if they knew that we were having roast, but then figured that I had done more than enough of the ration thing over the years and just tucked in instead! After lunch we packed up and headed back in to the training area so that we could get hot water on for the rest of the people, if needed we could get the hot water up to them in the containers which we use in the military for tea, coffee, soup in fact any hot food or drink that we want to keep hot before serving it to soldiers in the field. I took a ride in my wheelchair up to the site area as I had not been there yet and quickly thought that actually, my power chair would probably have worked a bit better as it was all uphill. Undeterred though I cracked on with Paul and a guy called Mike up the hill until we finally reached the wooded area where the digs were happening. I stayed for around a half an hour talking to some of the others before heading back down to the accommodation to be back before them. They were to be driven back in the minibus. I got back and a message came through from Sgt Walshe to inform everybody that the transport would be leaving at five o clock to go to the golf club in order for them to have showers. I gathered the things I would need for a shower, Paul grabbed my shower chair and we loaded up in to the Chucklebus.
The venue for the showers was at the Marriott St Pierre Hotel and Country Club, Chepstow. It was a bit posh, I saw a Bentley, some BMW’s and Porsche’s amongst some of the more family type cars. There was a wide variety of vehicles in the car park which was outside of a beautiful old building, the scene was like you may see on a period drama on the television (minus the cars of course), and then a bunch of dirty people who have been digging and resemble people from Glastonbury festival rock up and take over the showers! Paul pushed my shower chair in to the changing rooms of the golf club but there was no way that my chair would fit in to one of the cubicles. I told Paul to crack on as I would simply have another strip wash back in the block. He said to wait a moment and left the changing area, after around ten minutes he came back and said that a manager was coming over, in the meantime though Paul had his shower. Shower over and at perfect timing, the duty manager came over and told me to follow on and so with me in my chair and Paul pushing my shower chair, we followed the manager who led us through part of the restaurant, down some steps for which they had ramps and in to a swimming pool. This place was beautiful, they had really gone out of their way to accommodate the fact that I needed a disabled shower and provided me with exactly that, a family and disabled changing room. I pulled alongside my shower chair to transfer across but with the solid wheels of the chair on the wet tiled floor it did not go particularly well and caused Paul to damn near shit himself however I did not hit the floor and managed to get myself back in to the chair. Paul was now paranoid about me falling out of the chair and constantly wanted to support me while I was trying to transfer, (bless him), but eventually I did swap chairs and went on in for a shower. The shower was hot and powerful and although it took a while to get undressed it did not take long to wash properly and start drying. When you are able bodied, drying after a bath or shower is easy and takes all of five minutes, when you are unable to get up it is not as simple. Just try, for one shower or bath, getting out of the bath or shower and sitting on your toilet. From the seated position try drying yourself. It will not be too bad for you initially but when you get to your lower body for example below your belly you will start to struggle however for you it will not be too much of a problem because you can lean over to one side and lift your butt cheek to dry underneath and you will be able to really bend, lean and reach to accomplish your aim of getting dried. Now try to imagine having to dry in that way BUT having no muscles that work below your nipples. It will be almost impossible for you to imagine and will be impossible for you to replicate as your brain will not allow you to switch those groups off. For me and many other wheelchair users though, this is our reality. Drying for me at the moment until I crack the technique is an absolute balls ache. Lean over as far as you can on to something and dry, then spin round to lean on the same thing while you dry. Lean forward to dry your feet and try not to over balance and fall forwards. Fight the spasm in your leg while trying to dry your feet …oh my God….
I left the shower room needing another shower! The steam had heated the room right up but the room was already lovely and warm when I first went in, now with all of the struggling to lean and balance and dry I worked up quite a sweat which almost defeated the object of having a shower, what a nightmare. Now I had to get back in to my manual chair by the side of the pool, hoping not for a repeat performance of the first attempt I asked Paul of he would stand next to the chair to block it, this worked well and in less than a minute I was across. After Paul collected my uniform and wash kit we were escorted by a member of staff who kindly put the ramps down and moved along with us making the steps accessible, and also assisting me by pushing my wheelchair up the ramps. We finally got to the door and I thanked the guy who had helped. The Marriott St Pierre Hotel and Country Club have said that I am welcome to go every day, they have more ramps and that they will gladly put them down so I do not have to wait for ramps to be moved, this really is beyond anything that you would imagine. I am not a member of the club nor am I staying at the hotel, but they have still offered their facility for me to use, the others are using the golf club showers as I said previously but again, no membership and they know who we are and what we are doing. The Marriott St Pierre Hotel and Country Club have offered their facilities to assist Op Nightingale, they know what Op Nightingale are about and who it is designed to help, they have given unselfishly to assist Op Nightingale while rehabilitating the service personnel who have been broken both physically and mentally, by way of allowing the use of their showering facilities. It is good for those injured who have either been referred to or volunteered to go with Op Nightingale to be around the military banter, to give them a chance to open up to other servicemen and women, to talk shit and for many who were perhaps damaged from previous conflicts, give them a sense of being. To be working as a team again, to be in the military environment without being in a military environment.
I truly believe that once you have been in the military, be it regular service or reserves, and you have spent a good deal of time with your military `family`, when you leave or have to leave, you leave a part of you behind. Sometimes just being back around others who are or have been in the services is enough to flick a switch and pull people out of any recluse state that they may have ended up in, to give them the freedom to have banter which non military persons would simply not get and whilst this will not be people that you will be around constantly as each Op Nightingale `exercise` lasts varying amount of times, it offers a tonic, a boost which can sort people for various amounts of time. The archaeology gives them something to learn, to apply their minds to. It offers the chance to apply knowledge that you have for other things which may make certain problems easier, it gives them the chance to solve problems with the `thinking outside of the box` approach that so many military personnel have. For them to be sitting or laying down gently scraping with a trowel or dusting finds with a paintbrush can be therapeutic. A broken person can feel such elation when they find an ancient bead, bone or uncover a wall or footing, to announce that they have found something that had been buried for hundreds or thousands of years, and for that second, minute, day, week, month, year or maybe even for the rest of their life, just finding that something that had been buried for hundreds or thousands of years has reinstalled some self worth, some pride and gives them something positive to talk about and share with others. For them to know that they found something which could be placed in to a museum, or maybe become a picture in a book, magazine or on the internet can be enough to make them want to keep coming back. I think it is fair to say, and feel that the majority of ex forces will agree, that you can take the person from the military, but you can’t take the military from the person.
I had the intention of an earlier night tonight (Sunday), to write my Blog and hit the sack early however I got talking to Sgt Walshe about various things. We finished talking and he headed off to bed and so I continued with my Blog on to Word to copy across when I can get the internet. Just then though everyone else came back from some sandwiches that the Coach and Horses had laid on. Op Nightingale does not encourage drinking, it can be a slippery slope for some but by the same token some may already be on that slope. It is important then for those people to be allowed to have a drink but only when directed. The fact that they know a drink will be available for them stops them from running off to sneakily get some. Remember that Op Nightingale is to aid in the rehabilitation, reading what people’s needs are comes from experience and previous learning which they have down to a tee. So it is now after one in the morning and my early night is now going to be an early morning instead. However it will still be earlier than yesterday when I get in to bed.