Friday, May 25, 2012

The ulimate in excellent adventures

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” – Helen Keller

At the very bottom of last week’s column I mentioned that Edgar had invited me to accompany him to the Bomber Command Memorial dedication in London. I had hesitated to add that last sentence because although I felt flattered to be asked I didn’t really expect to be going to the UK. I thought it was going to be one of those excellent ideas that would be discussed at length with great enthusiasm but never actually eventuate.

Then along came five o’clockish last Thursday afternoon and I received a phone call from Edgar and an email from Kirsten at Harvey World Travel Echuca. The flights were booked and the tickets were non-refundable: on the 19th June we will be taxiing down the runway at Tullamarine in a Qantas A380 bound for London via Singapore!!!!!! (I apologise for the excessive exclamation marks but I’m a little excited).

The excitement keeps building with Edgar now informing me he is looking for some striped pants, a morning coat and grey top hat so he can cheer Black Caviar to victory in her English debut in the 1200m Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday 23rd June. I suspect Royal Ascot is quite a contrast to our annual Moulamein Races but no doubt just as entertaining.

Following on from the Bomber Command Memorial dedication at Green Park, London on the 28th June we then travel 286km north of the capital to North Killingholme for a couple of days to attend Edgar’s 550 Squadron reunion dinner, church service and Lancaster flyover. Edgar is very much looking forward to catching up with the few remaining old faces he flew with during the war and visiting some of his former watering holes for old times’ sake.

On the 1st July we will be driving down to Lincoln, located about an hour south of North Killingholme, to visit the Waddington International Air Show. The largest of all Royal Air Force (RAF) air shows, the RAF Waddington International Air Show attracts upwards of 140,000 visitors each year.

Also on the agenda is a trip to the historic Lincoln Cathedral (built between the years 1185 – 1311), which greatly impressed Edgar when he first saw it nearly seventy years ago. During the Second World War, Lincolnshire was home to many Bomber Command airfields and was nicknamed “Bomber County”. For the aircrews returning from raids over Germany and Occupied Europe, Lincoln Cathedral was an easily recognisable landmark and as such took on great importance to the men.

After this our itinerary becomes a bit vague for a week but I daresay we will enjoy tripping around the English countryside chatting with whomever we meet. On the 11th July we will be hopping onto the train in London and a couple of hours later, hopping off in Paris where we are spending a few days before boarding a plane home to Australia.

The magnitude of this impending trip still hasn’t sunk in for me and I don’t think it really will until we are on the plane. While I’m not looking forward to being away from Max, Sam and Henry for so long, I do appreciate what an incredible opportunity this trip is. Looking forward to being the international correspondent for The Bridge in London and typing the column to you from the other side of the world.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bomber Command and Edgar

"The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory."
- Winston Churchill 1940.

On the 28th June this year Queen Elizabeth II will be unveiling London’s biggest military monument built in over two hundred years. It is a memorial to the young men of World War Two’s Bomber Command.

A total of 55,573 airmen died flying for the British Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command during World War Two. Of the total Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) bomber crew who served with Bomber Command, 35 per cent or 3,486 were killed.

Well-known local identity Edgar Pickles was one of more than 10,000 Australian Airmen who served with Bomber Command between 1939 and 1945. Edgar piloted a massive Avro Lancaster heavy bomber powered by four Rolls Royce Merlin engines, night after night over Europe.

On 23rd May 1943 (69 years ago next Wednesday), Edgar flew his first op as captain over Europe to Dortmund, Germany to bomb a heavily defended industrial complex. It was very nearly his first and last flight over Germany when his Lancaster was “coned” (caught up in enemy searchlights). His skill as a pilot, well executed evasive flying tactics and luck saw Edgar and his crew escape the searchlights that night. He went on to complete two tours, a total of fifty sorties over Europe.

Edgar was twenty-two years old when he flew his first Lancaster and by the time the war ended two years later he had risen from a sergeant pilot to squadron leader with a DFC and Bar (Distinguished Flying Cross). The DFC is awarded for "an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy" and the bar is added to the ribbon for holders of the DFC who received a second award.

Attending the dedication of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London next month means a great deal to the relatively few surviving aircrew. A significance that would ironically appear to be lost on the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) who claims their mission is “to support those who serve or have served in defence of our nation and commemorate their service and sacrifice.”

The DVA originally declared they would fund a maximum of eight veterans to attend the London event with others wishing to attend offered subsidies of $3000 towards costs. The medical criteria veterans were required to meet is explained below in an excerpt from a letter by Dr Graeme Killer AO Principal Medical Adviser for the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs:

“The Department understands that veterans of this age group are likely to have pre-existing health conditions, however strict medical criteria will apply to the selection process and any condition viewed as significant or high risk may preclude veterans form being selected. As such, nominees should be free of any significant health problems (for example conditions relating to heart disease, circulatory disorders, respiratory difficulties and nervous conditions) and physically independent to the extent that they can climb and descend stairs unaided, walk distances of up to 500 metres without tiring (including on uneven ground) and climb in and out of buses and board aircraft without difficulty. Limited medical support will be available on the visit but there will be no provision for individual carers.”

For men who are now in their late 80s and 90s these are extremely unrealistic expectations; the criterion is nothing short of insulting.

Due to mounting public outcry the DVA is now offering to fund and fly up to 30 Australian veterans business class to and from London to attend the official dedication of the Bomber Command memorial. They are to be accompanied by a support team of doctors, nurses and RAAF personnel. Australian Bomber Command veterans not included in the official party but who still wish to attend the London dedication will be awarded $5,000 towards their costs.

Despite the DVA’s inept handling of this most significant event, Edgar Pickles is determined to be in attendance in London on the 28th June and a few days later travel to the north east of England to attend his 550 Squadron’s reunion at North Killingholme. Edgar has invited me to accompany him to England next month for what would undoubtedly be an excellent adventure of epic proportions. Stay tuned…

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dealing with grumpy moods

You know those days we all have from time to time when nothing seems to go your way and every incy-wincy thing irritates you? Well last week on Tuesday there was no chocolate in our house and I was having one of those days. Clearly I had tumbled out of the wrong side of the bed metaphorically speaking.

Being the consummate professional that I am, none of my clients had the slightest idea of the grumpiness simmering away just beneath my smiley fa├žade… but the people I love most, my three sons did. Oh yes, I can be truly immature and childish when I put my mind to it. By the time the boys arrived home from school I had once again managed to transform myself into the female equivalent of Lord Voldemort (the most powerful dark wizard of all time in the Harry Potter series).

Acknowledging a grumpy mood can go a long way towards easing the tension and helping miserable thoughts and feelings evaporate. So after having a somewhat lengthy rant to Max, Sam and Henry, I then apologised and said lamely: “I’m sorry I’m just feeling really grumpy for no particular reason.”

Luckily my friend Em arrived for dinner shortly afterwards, breezing through the door with a mixed box of Kurrnung Citrus’s sweet autumn grapefruit and Valencia oranges… and a very nice bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc which does wonders for a mother’s moral around 6.30pm on a Tuesday.

The best thing about good friends is you can be yourself around them without fear of judgement. I apologised to Em and explained that I was feeling unaccountably grumpy (which of course had the immediate effect of helping me to feel significantly more cheerful). Em for her part showed plenty of empathic understanding and that does wonders for anyone when they are feeling gloomy. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside (not to mention normal), when we are reminded that everyone goes through exactly the same feelings from time to time as ourselves.

By the time we’d laughed and munched our way through a dinner of Barham Meats’ super fresh flake pan-fried and artistically placed atop a salad of mixed greenery from my veggie garden with copious amounts of homemade guacamole, my grumpy mood was a distant memory.

When it comes to empathic understanding for women, nothing quite beats a Girl’s Night Out. Men may have their fishing trips but we women have the Girl’s Night Out.

As luck would have it, tonight (Friday night), our very own Barham Preschool are holding a Girl’s Night Out in the Beer Garden of the Barham Hotel from 6.30pm to raise funds. At $30 per head this philanthropic night out includes a noble cause; a complimentary glass of wine, beer or soft drink on arrival; plenty of delicious snacky food all night, music and the excellent company and laughter of your new and old found friends.

For additional information give Kiralee O’Neill a call on 0437 352 203 or Leonie Borley on 0429 656 662 or just turn up, remembering that last minute adventures are often the best.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Discovering Yoga

Last week saw the commencement of term two for Yoga Barham. On ANZAC Day morning while many were attending the dawn service, I was attending Wednesday morning yoga. Earlier I had lain in bed om-ing and erring as to whether I should leave the safety and warmth of my wool doona for yoga or just roll over and go back to sleep. After a heated discussion with my conscience I made it out from under the doona and down to the former Glen Gray Furniture showroom for Mardie’s 6.30am class.

Yoga is a philosophy that began thousands of years ago in India as a way towards spiritual enlightenment. These days it is practiced as a form of gentle exercise that increases muscle strength and flexibility, circulation and calms the mind. It is an excellent tool for managing stress and anxiety in today’s busy world.

Some people confuse yoga with religion and worry that it may conflict with their own religious beliefs. Yoga is not a religion. While many world religions include yoga, yoga in itself does not include religion. It is a practice that provides a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental body. It is not necessary to surrender your own religious beliefs to practice yoga.

Wednesday morning yoga is a new habit in my 2012 weekly schedule. I signed up at the start of the year and early February saw me attending my first hour and a half yoga class. I reasoned that anything that helps to keep stress at manageable levels and puts me even vaguely on the pathway to spiritual enlightenment can only be a good thing.

So there I was doing all those stretchy poses us yoga fans like to call asanas. It gets my whole body tingling and our Yogi Bear Mardie is excellent at explaining each movement and reminding us to synchronise our breathing for maximum benefit. I like the fact that it is all done at a beautifully calm pace so even my uncoordinated self manages to keep up (as opposed to my failed attempts at aerobics during my teenage years).

The final half hour of yoga class is spent in Yoga Nidra or Yoga Nap as I like to call it. It is by far my favourite part of the class. We lie on our mats, close our eyes and listen to Mardie’s soothing voice as she guides us through a series of relaxation techniques until we are totally relaxed. The idea is to reach a state of deep relaxation while remaining conscious; like enjoying the benefits of deep sleep without the sleep bit. In the world of massage therapy this is known as the alpha state where the client feels completely relaxed but still aware of what is going on around them.

My ninety-minute escape from the world goes all too fast and suddenly Mardie is reminding us that it is Wednesday morning and the class is drawing to a close. Out into the day we go… Om Om Om.