Medals mean jack shit. I got a tobacco tin full of them going back a bunch of generations. They made no one’s life better. Didn’t put food on the table. A lot of them are of the “I was there” variety. Nothing exotic. No life or death charges, just people wanting not to die and usually succeeding.
Yesterday I was privileged to watch the awarding of a DSO. It’s a rare thing, a bit like the Medal of Honor, except you bleed for it but keep on breathing. Our only higher award is the Victoria Cross. That tends to be given posthumously. The English are odd like that. Want the highest accolade the country bestows? Sorry, mate, you got to die to get it. There are few willing candidates, for obvious reasons.
So why bother? I certainly don’t wear mine, ever. I consider ribbon boards a bit ridiculous, to say the least. You see a General or Admiral and you think “Holy shit, you could paper a room with that thing.” It means nothing. Yet it means everything at the same time.
People like to be recognized. My Dad is probably prouder of his Singapore medal than he is of his DSM. He made a difference there. Sure, his difference was shooting a terrorist with a concrete rocket (accidentally), but still - it makes for a good story if you pour a few beers into him. When he got his medal last year, I have no idea who were prouder. Him on the dais, or me 5 rows back. Mom even cracked a smile, which is commonly considered the harbinger of the end times.
They are just bits of ribbon and tin. In themselves they mean nothing. The stories behind them mean everything.
We all have them. Stuff we want, but are unlikely to ever have. For some it’s enough to eat and a safe place to stay. For others its a 70 foot yacht. Or to go to an exotic locale. Or to break the chains of gravity and grab orbit, if not further.
So what stops people?
Its the same three classic things the cops look at when they are at a crime scene. Means, Motive, and Opportunity. Much like the holy trinity for soup base (onion, carrots, and celery) they define if you hit your dream.
Means is obvious. Can you afford it? Like it or not - and most people don’t - unless you are one of the vanishingly small percentage of lucky ones, you have to work like hell for what you want. Mammon must be worshiped. Don’t like it, but that is what it is.
Which brings us to Motive. How important is your dream to you? It’s often said that life is the stuff that happens while you are waiting for something else to happen. One of the most haunting songs I know, from a personal perspective, is Cat’s in the Cradle.
There were too many planes to catch. Too many bills to pay. The day to day crap drowns out the important things. Including your dreams. Being an adult is like being with the Red Queen. You have to run like hell just to stay in one place.
Finally - Opportunity. The big one. How many times have you heard someone, a little older and more bitter, start a sentence with “When I retire ….” It ain’t going to happen and they know it. Their roots are deep, they have people depending on them. And no matter how much they practice and try, you can’t convert a tone deaf person into a concert pianist, or a colour blind person into Renoir. Sometimes your dreams stay out of your reach. Still, you shoot for the moon, because your life must mean something, and who knows - you might hit the elusive sod.
Politics is a lot like this. You have a long shopping list of what you want in a candidate. Even pragmatists who say they just want a winner have conditions. Ask any of them, here or elsewhere. They all have “deal breaker” items.
Shoot for the moon. Chances are you are going to miss, but it”s a mighty fine view from up there in orbit.
One of my biggest regrets is never learning to swim. Sure, if I flail around hard enough I can usually stay afloat for a very short time, but it’s like watching a seal try to run. Funny to you, not to the seal.
We had a day off for once and decided to hit the beach. Took the usuals - towels, sun cream, enough food and drink to feed 40 people, minimal clothing and no modesty whatsoever. I just dozed in the shallows, elbows and feet firmly planted against the waves while watching the others in the deeper water playing water polo and using each other as impromptu diving boards.
It looked great. Really enticing. I mean how hard can swimming be? Even bloody cats can do it. Start to head out, and that’s when it happened. A wave smacked me square in the face. Wasn’t even a big wave, just a ripple, really. May not be able to swim, but apparently teleportation is one of my skills, because I were on dry sand in under a second. The fear was, once more, more powerful than the fun. Sucks sometimes.
The odd thing is when I were a kid, I loved swimming. Not saying it was terribly elegant even then, more walrus than dolphin, but me and my friends would go swimming most afternoons in the summer. It was a flooded quarry, pretty deep, but in easy diving range was an old car. Diving down and forcing your eyes open to see this rusting relic from the 30s was a special thing. Someone would steal a few matches and a couple of their parents cigarettes to both be smoked while drying and burn off the inevitable leeches. Salad cream and dandelion leaf sandwiches on bread so white it could flash blind you instantly were eaten, while we talked about the important stuff in life. The massive goldfish that someone had dumped into the quarry would rise to the surface as the sun hit the right spot to heat the water. Some of them were nigh as long as your arm. They loved bits of the bread and would fight over them.
It sounds boring. It were fun. Sometimes the better divers would go for crayfish and we’d cook the tails on sticks over a very small fire. People had been swimming there for decades before we started - it were an older sibling to younger sibling sort of thing, and we had rules. A fire in one place only, a naturally slightly hollowed chunk of limestone, and you would cut shitwood and stack it on the right in this little cave near the fire rock.
Then all that went. Totally stupid thing as well. We had a canoe. Nothing fancy, a 16 foot long one. Dad had the stern and steering duties, Mom and Sis were in the middle and I had the front paddle and was bloody proud of it. It flipped over one day, the wake from a speedboat on the lake. Me, being stupid, held on to my paddle and got stuck under it. It couldn’t have been more than a minute before Dad threw the canoe off me, but I can’t abide water out of my depth since.
I love the sea for the same reason I love flying. It’s open. Nothing between you and the horizon, and it’s somehow clean. The sea even holds you up, air, not so much. Yet I trust air more. I can breathe that stuff.
One of the more charming customs the American people have is that of thanking the military for their service. I have seen it in airports, in the streets, during marathons, even in PTA meetings. Setting aside a three day weekend is even more impressive, as is the habit of cleaning up and putting flags on the graves of the fallen. The first time it happened to me, from a young woman in the airport, it confused the hell out of me! Such respect for the armed forces is alien.
The British (and indeed European) habit is to ignore them all, except for Remembrance Sunday. You wear a poppy, observe 2 minutes silence and that is it. Forget about it until next year. Kipling’s lament of the treatment of soldiers, so eloquently penned in "Tommy" is the norm even now.
I think the main difference is most Americans worthy of the name treat the military as patriots, the walkers in the shadows so they can walk in the sun without fear. The front lines in the protection of freedom, liberty, and a way of living and thinking that is both new and precious in the world. In more socialist countries, we’re basically just glorified enforcers. Hell, Mob enforcers get more respect in a lot of ways.
Which leads me to the current VA scandal. It is something that a vast swathe of Americans is having problems with, as it goes against every instinct they have to respect and honor those who put themselves in harms way. Unfortunately, it is something we over here are used to. We don’t have a VA. You get injured and invalided out, you are treated in one of two military hospitals, then dumped into the NHS when you are no longer bleeding and can breathe on your own. There is no assistance other than what the Regiment can scrape together in an emergency. That usually amounts to a small wreathe and maybe a couple of pall bearers.
There are charities and groups which do provide some assistance for veterans - one, oddly enough, is run by the worst tabloid in the country (the Sun makes the National Enquirer look like Shakespeare) and does masses of good. Private donations of money, time, facilities. Care packages to active duty members. Americans do the same, I know.
So, on this Memorial Day weekend, I want to say “Thank you for your service.” Not to my brothers and sisters in arms. But to those of you at home, who got our backs, no matter what.
There is a tree is nearly there. 6 more stories, and done. Two of the stories will only be available in a limited, 6 copy run. Oddly, the two stories that have been the hardest to write - one because it is intensely personal, the other because it involves a very private person.
Still worth the writing, even if the only people who read those are the people involved.
OK, the title is not 100% accurate. Someone I know and trust - yep, I’ll pass them a few bucks if it is for a third party. You know„a sponsored run, a cycling event, a failed and embarrassing attempt at growing a mustache. Those, I can cope with. I work with the church, giving my time. Guess that counts, though it doesn’t feel like it.
It’s the others. They want cash. Always have a sob story, and never, ever pay back. I mean never. It gets old.
That is why I will only donate to someone I know well, for a third party. Got tired of being fooled
Was trawling through Free Republic. Everyone needs a reason to hate themselves, after all. Came across this little gem on a Micheal Sam’s thread:
"how do you undress and shower and pee or poop in front of a bunch of guys knowing that one of them is staring at your butt and fantasizing?….its not natural….."
Where the hell do you even fucking start? Oh, I know …..
Why the hell would someone be fantasizing about your saggy ass in the first place? Think you are God’s gift to both sexes or something? Fer Christs sake, assume some basic fucking dignity and some basic fucking humility here. Some men prefer men. Not exactly an exotic concept - it’s only been around and documented for millenia.
Sure - homosexuality being a sin is mentioned in the bible, for you “pick and choose” bible thumpers out there. Three or four times. The sin of hubris is mentioned dozens of times. And what, pray tell, is more prideful than considering anyone would be inflamed with lust just on seeing you?
Don’t even think about taking the mote out of someone else’s eye until you have taken the entire fucking forest out of your own.
Friendly reminder that http://awomanfromitaly.tumblr.com (ME!) makes COMPUTERS THAT ARE REALLY REALLY GOOD AND SO CHEAP YOU WILL CRY.
Like, forreal. You wanna play any video game out today? You don’t even need to spend 600$. You can…
Signal boosting - because fuck that noise about being able to be fired for being trans.
I used to write for a site. It was fun, I enjoyed it, they paid me for it and the readers enjoyed it.
It is shut down. Two years of answers and blogs, simply gone without a trace.
I had copies. The worst sound you want to hear as a writer is a crunch under your foot first thing in the morning. You hope like hell it is something minor, like a contact lens, a cat’s body part or your soul. When it is your back up drive containing everything you have written, you scream.
Carefully open the pouch. Extract the crackers, peanut butter and jelly. Eat them.
Thoroughly lick the empty PB and J pouches. Dispose of them neatly. Retain the cracker wrapper.
Extract the breakfast pouch. Attempt to trade it for more peanut butter and crackers. You will be rejected both verbally and physically, so expect that. Return the pouch to your kit. You are not that hungry yet.
Extract the breakfast pouch again. Read the instructions. Notice a distinct lack of hot water on the route march. Return pouch to kit. You are still not that hungry.
Take a sip of water from your camelbak. It is disgustingly warm and flat with a hint of chemical to give that j’nai sais quois that all high end restaurants go for. Hey, it’s warm! Dig out the breakfast pouch again. Open carefully and add some water. Using the kit enclosed spork, stir and stab vigorously to ensure your meal is well hydrated, has the correct texture and is totally dead. Add salt and pepper to drown the taste. Eat. Idly look at the lizards on the rocks and wonder what they taste like. Dispose of the packaging neatly.
Attempt to continue marching with a boulder in your stomach.
Stop for lunch. Dig out the lunch pack. Read the ingredients. Decide that today is the first day of your diet. You’ve been meaning to shed a few pounds. Your Sargent has other ideas. Resentfully open the pack. Add the water. Vindictively stir and stab the contents. The flies which have plagued you all morning suddenly depart in a hurry as you start to eat. You don’t blame them, and regret using your entire condiment pack on breakfast. In desperation add the dehydrated orange juice to the mix. It improves the flavor.
Now it is dinner. You are in a safe enough zone to have a small fire to boil water. Sheer luxury. Take out the dinner pack. Try to make out what it is in the dim light. The only words you can clearly see are the phrase “Suitable for Military and Prison Use” and the expiry date of a decade ago. A quiet whisper in your ear. For the low, low cost of three cigarettes and a swap of duty, the guy next to you will let you have 6 drops of hot sauce from his personal stash. Bastard. We are supposed to be a team here.
You have no choice but to agree. Someone on the other side of the bivvy is begging people to trade him his vegetarian entree for something that doesn’t taste of cardboard. At least yours has some beef flavoring (artificial) in it.
There is one more pouch. It’s a pudding. Supposedly. Chew on it endlessly. Keep the packaging to force feed to the quartermaster.
More hot water. Make yourself a cup of instant tea. No worries about milk, it’s in there, if you want it or not. Tip in the sugar. Stir it enough to get the worst of the lumps out. Drink and enjoy the moonrise.
Don’t get rid of the main pouch. There is one thing left in there. 5 squares of toilet paper, and you are going to really need them in about 4 hours.