Remembrance Day: a short story.

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My medals ready to be sent back through the post.

I recently did something that I had been meaning to do for 6 years; to have the last medal I was awarded during my service added to my existing medals.

I felt a moment of nervousness when I handed over the package containing my medals in the local Post Office to be sent off to the specialist company in Bournemouth. They can be replaced but there is a lot of emotional attachment with medals that have been earned during military service. I hoped that by sending them via Special Delivery I would all but guarantee their safe arrival the following Monday morning.

On the Monday afternoon I received a call from the company to tell me they were ready to send back. That was a fast turn around. I asked the gentleman to hold the package because I was going to be in the area for a few days and I would call in to collect them in person.

And that is what I did today.

To say that stepping into the Mess Dress Ltd premises was nostalgic would be an understatement. It was an extraordinary little place. On every wall there were reels of medal ribbons, replacement medals and bars for every campaign since the Second World War and Regimental ties of all persuasions.

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Every wall was full of boxes containing badges, rank slides and other military paraphernalia.

Inside I met Alex, the proprietor who has been running this business for 15 years and proudly claimed to be the largest supplier of military medals in the country. I can see why. A lady was at her desk, sitting amongst discarded ribbon and threads, carefully sowing a set of miniatures together.

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A lady takes great care with each set of medals she works on.

The shop extended away along a corridor to the rear of the converted house, the walls lined with everything you need to look your best on parade. While I was inside another young man knocked on the door and entered Alex’s medal mounting headquarters;

“What do I have for you?” said Alex.

“Could I have a crown for staff sergeant please?” came the reply.

“Which Regiment?”

“Royal Artillery.”

A simple exchange but one so full of meaning for the newly promoted Staff Sergeant.

And then I left, I shook Alex’s hand, said goodbye to the lady working so diligently on other people’s most treasured possessions, and took my box of medals with me, no longer needing to feel anxious about their return journey by Royal Mail.

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It’s the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice this year. When you watch those current and former members of the Armed Forces march on parade, wherever you are in the world, think of the care and effort that has gone into making them look their best to honour the fallen.

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Writing again…

In 2009 I returned to the UK after a notably intense operational tour of duty in Kosovo. Even though bullets were not flying past my ears, the 6 months I spent there made a lasting impression on me. Even two weeks into my time based in Pristina, I knew there was a book waiting to be written about the events I experienced that Autumn and Winter.

I was able to see a side to Kosovan life that few in uniform experienced.

Fast forward to 2015 and I realised that I needed to put pen to paper. After reading through lots of notes made in the weeks immediately after my return to the UK in February 2009, I started writing, cross referencing events and conversations with my diaries and notebooks which extensively covered my tour. I had written frequently and in detail.

Sitting in a small house in northern Portugal; where I first started writing this book.

Bringing these notes and my strong memories together into a memoir has taken a number of years to complete. And now I am on the final straight. I have been working on the book for the last 7 months, on and off. I am now finishing the final couple of chapters on the coast. Every time I have invested time in this project I have had to be by the sea. There is something reassuring about the motion and predictability of the tides and the waves. They are a powerful combination when you are looking for inspiration. This final retreat is no different.

The Norfolk coast is my destination of choice to write the final chapters.

It’s not easy for me writing something about a specific time in the past. I have to immerse myself fully in the events from ten years ago. Every day when I get started, I take myself back to a familiar place, interacting with people who have become great friends, as well as reliving exchanges with people I would rather not see again. Essentially, I am living in Kosovo once more, remembering the meetings, the conversations and the journeys into the unknown.

This time it has been especially hard to get back into that place, but I have arrived after 4 days of prevarication and dodging the real purpose of being here; the need to finish my book. I am a master of finding reasons to get distracted: going for long walks; drinking coffee in town; helping old ladies cross the road; these are all necessary preliminary activities on my journey to the act of writing. It’s takes a while for the creativity to come to the surface. It can be frustrating, but once I am there, it feels the most natural thing in the world.

And I am now where I need to be.

Resolutions…

Well there is one thing that I can definitely confirm as a resolution; to make 2018 better than 2017. It will not be hard to achieve that.

2017 was the worst year in living memory, for many reasons. But that’s another blog post for another time…

So what do I want to achieve this year? Please note the lateness in January for this post… I am working on the theory that by waiting a couple of weeks before committing to a resolution, there may be less chance that it will fall by the wayside along with the empty ‘get fit’ promises. To be fair I am already fit, I am at a great weight and I am pushing 80-90 thousand steps every week. So that’s not the issue.

So what is the issue? Well, I have something of a change of lifestyle – enforced – to plan for, and I have an unexpected house purchase to consider.

And I have my book to finish.

Leaving aside the first two challenges; again, they are for another time. It’s the third one that I am really keen to complete, and to complete it with enough time for some sort of publishing solution to be put in place. Two years ago I started investigating the various options for publication. I now know why people spend months if not years trying to get their work published (and failing); as well as a well written and unique story, I need an agent, but not just any agent, I need the right agent.

A couple of years ago I attended a book launch related to Kosovo and the wider Balkans region. At Daunt Books in Marylebone, I met someone who suggested he could get my book published in Albania. I guess that’s better than nothing! In fact I would be happy to see it published in Albanian because the story is all about how NATO tried to stitch up the Kosovo Albanians during the most significant change to their security status in the county’s recent past (that’s the teaser)…

So my resolution is to complete the book, whatever it takes, and if I can find an agent – the right agent – to publish it before my self imposed deadline of January 2019, all the better.

Maybe I will return to Moledo, my favourite coastal village in northern Portugal, where I spent ten happy days writing my manuscript in 2015.

Holiday Thoughts: Barcelona


Like most people across our planet, I was again saddened by the senseless killing and maiming of so many people in what is a beautiful city. Like many, I have visited and enjoyed Barcelona. Like many I have wandered aimlessly around the streets without thinking I was in danger. I tweeted this picture yesterday; I am also aware of how futile a gesture it was but I had to express my support for a fine European city.

So do we need to change our behaviour in the light of terrorists attacking ‘soft’ targets? 

In the military we were always on the look out for people acting suspiciously, especially during the IRA’s reign of terror in Northern Ireland, Germany and mainland UK. It was called Sharkwatch and tended to be used when socialising. 

Is it time to introduce something similar into our lives?  Should we now routinely expect a member of tourist groups in the UK or abroad – whether family or friends – to be alert to things out of the ordinary? Can we expect people without any relevant training to even think about their safety when out and about in a place they should be able to relax in? Are we subconsciously doing it already? Probably not, but it’s worth conserving all the same. 

It’s a hangover from my military career, but I am constantly profiling people when I am in unfamiliar environments. It pays to be prepared. I guess we call it people watching. It’s what so many of us like to do. Instead we need to do it within the context of the current terror threat. There will be more attacks. We have to accept that we could be caught up in something, but the statistics don’t lie; the chances of being involved in a terrorist incident are very low. 

So caution is the watchword. Balanced with our right to relax and enjoy ourselves. Coupled with a faith in authorities that they have done everything they can to minimise the opportunities for terrorists to strike. There’s a lot to think about this summer.

Ok, back to the book…

Living the high life…but getting back online.

Its been a while since I last wrote anything on this blog. I have been head down settling into a new and demanding role, which has included some of the more interesting things in life: travelling abroad, taking photographs; meeting people; and generally living a busy and extraordinary life! These things don’t last forever though and enjoying them while you can is the key… so what have I been up to since my memorable visit to Budapest in November 2015, followed by my appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live programme?

In November I went to the Middle East with work. Whilst there I renewed a number of old acquaintances and made some new ones. I visited Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It was a packed programme with some challenging meetings and some great reunions with my Qatari friends in particular. I also met up with our old Au Pair who has settled in the UAE working as cabin crew with Etihad. It was great to meet everyone. On my last day in the region I was a VIP guest of Williams F1 on the Friday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

I can hardly find the words to describe how much of a privilege it was to be wondering around the paddock, using the Williams villa as my base, doing some serious VVIP people watching, drinking coffee (and more…) finding myself sitting next to and meeting Claire Williams, Sir Jackie Stewart, Damon Hill, Felipe Massa, Toto Wolf and Martin Brundle from Sky. There were too many others to mention.

It was an extraordinary day and one of those experiences that even at the time I knew was unlikely to be repeated. I was treated exceptionally well by the Williams team and I watched (and listened to) the two drivers tearing around the circuit, coming in for practice starts and getting technical tweaks done to their cars. It was very special, standing next to Felipe’s Father (whom I also met – I speak Portuguese) at the back of the garage. I was then invited to meet the Williams drivers and to have a formal photograph. The picture below has now been framed at home! Getting such an insight to F1 life was remarkable. Strolling along the paddock, watching Bernie Ecclestone chatting to the teams and seeing Nico Rosberg walk through the paparazzi heading for his own Mercedes villa. Little did they all know how things would change in the months after that race.

Then last month I was back in the UAE again. And back at Yas Marina. This time inside the 5 star Viceroy Hotel which straddles the track. I arrived, joined my boss in the lobby and ordered a coffee. Then who should turn up but the entire global peloton who were staying in the hotel in advance of the Tour of Abu Dhabi. And Mark Cavendish wandered over, shook our hands, then agreed to pose for a picture. Who will I meet next time I am there?!

So after a period of hibernation I am back and will start to share my thoughts with you once more. What can you do to help? Please share this link if you find what I am writing to be of interest. I will be commenting on many things. I will be giving my views on local, national and international matters. And I want to hear from any readers who find what I am saying to be interesting.

Signing off…

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With Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in Abu Dhabi before the Yas Marina Grand Prix in November 2016.

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Meeting Mark Cavendish in The Viceroy Hotel, Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi in February 2017

Reflections on Budapest.

  Thanks for reading this short blog and for visiting my site.

I know many readers are very interested in my connection with Sándor Görög who lives in Budapest. In fact I can say with clarity that my experience of visiting Sándor this Autumn was a highlight for me and it marked the end of a remarkable journey. I hope Sándor feels the same way. We both agreed that we would meet up again this time with my family in tow, so that he can get to meet my wife, my teenage son and my daughter. We will go there one day.

After returning to the Uk after my whistle stop visit to Hungary, I then ended up on UK national radio as a studio guest on a very popular Saturday morning programme on Radio 4 called ‘Saturday Live’. It was a special moment and I relished the opportunity to talk about my journey, which started in Auschwitz and ended in early November meeting Sándor in Budapest. I am so proud of my connection to Sándor and I feel privileged to have become his friend. He is a special man.

So I will sign off by wishing you a Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year. I am looking forward to 2016 more than I have ever anticipated the coming of a new year before. Much has happened in the last 12 months, which has included losing a job, finding another, starting to write my book on my experiences in Kosovo in 2008, and of course meeting Sándor. I never seem to have a dull and uneventful life!

All best and take care.
Ade

Getting Away From It All

Sunset over the Atlantic

Its not often that we are able to escape from the rat race. This week I flew out to stay in a family house in a small, near deserted seaside village in northern Portugal called Moledo.

I have only ever been here in the summer and the difference is stark. The streets are empty with dried leaves swirling around the windy streets, devoid of cars and holiday makers. Instead there are stray cats darting between hiding places with a few locals, either retired or working locally, going about their daily routines. No queues, no noisy kids, only the regular train service shaking the house to its foundations every time it passes the rear of the property!

Will I be an author one day?

I am here to write my long awaited book on my experiences from Kosovo. I am, as they say, fully immersed in something that happened 7 years ago. In fact, 3 days into this trip and on advice from a successful author who I met the night before flying out here, I’m now concentrating on writing enough for a submission to an agent. There’s a lot to write; I have underestimated the time I will need to complete this project.

I have to say that getting away for ten days has done me the world of good already. I’m still looking for a permanent role and have arranged several meetings on my return, but for now it’s ‘me time’!

Christmas lights and decorations in Caminha.