Thursday, 16 June 2016

First two weeks of March 2016

On Monday 29th February (Leap Year!) I started my full week's Breathing Apparatus course at the Training Centre, which I had been dreading for ages. A few weeks ago, one of the Watches had said it would be hard - harder than Firecraft Week (which I had found very gruelling). It turned out that I found this week much better! I coped with the weight of the air cylinder and harness OK, and though going under air and doing an exercise in the Operational Training Building is hard work, it's only for 25 minutes or so at a time.
We spent quite a bit of time in lectures, servicing our Breathing Apparatus (BA), and cleaning up everything afterwards. I found it quite difficult remembering all the aspects of testing your kit, as it is quite technical, and there are a lot of stages.
Donna childminded Harry.

On Tuesday we piled into two fire engines and drove to Marshall's Airport near Cambridge. I sat in the passenger seat and had a nice chat with Watch Olivier who was driving, who has a kid in the same school as mine. The guys on the course showed me some video afterwards of him cage fighting - he is lethal!!
At Marshall's, they have some metal containers, and they'd set the end of one up as a room, with wooden walls and furniture etc. We then sat down the sides of the container in BA, and watched as a small fire was started and spread, so that eventually the entire end of the container was alight, with swirling flames in the gas layer above our heads. We used Thermal Imaging Cameras to see the temperature, which was over 650 degrees! They warned us that our clothes might actually start pyrolising (decomposing due to heat), but it didn't seem too bad!
After a packed lunch, they then set another container alight, and had us go in in two's with a hose, and practice door entry, fire fighting and gas cooling techniques. It was a pretty good day.

I had a pretty emotional day on Thursday - I'd had a really sore throat all night and was tired out, plus my period started. I made silly mistakes setting up in the morning, and felt close to tears, then every time a Watch asked if I was OK, I cried!! I think I cried in front of three different Watches!
We spent the day going into the Operational Training Building (which is a huge warren of burnt, sooty rooms, with mainly metal furniture), doing search and rescue exercises with zero visibility (they smoked out the building, and even set up a large fire on one occasion). We used heavy cloth dummies as casualties which we'd try and find, and drag out the building. Then we'd sit down in our two's with a Watch for our debrief. (One hilarious point was when Sam admitted to carefully dragging an armchair cushion out, thinking it was a dummy!)
I wasn't particularly good (I'd feel totally disorientated and not have a very good mind map), but I found the debriefs really useful.
In one exercise and debrief the Watch was really cheesed off with my partner - shouting and swearing at him. I hadn't done a great job, but the Watch was fed up with my partner's attitude. After the debrief the Watch kept me back and asked if I was OK (he'd heard about me being upset earlier), which set me off again! We had a good talk - I told him my doubts about myself, but he said he'd spoken with the other Watches, and they were happy with the level I was at. He said I was an intelligent woman and he could see me being a Watch Commander myself at some point! He cheered me up enormously, and best of all I felt like I had taken the weight off myself. He said I was too hard on myself and couldn't expect to get it all perfect right now.
Also on Thursday, my friend Scott, had to leave the course. He'd had a hearing on Tuesday about a bad reference he'd received, and on Thursday, other officers made the decision to let him go. All of us including the Watches were surprised and sad.
Also on Thursday, Jack went on a trip to the Corn Exchange Theatre in Cambridge, for a poetry day. He enjoyed being out with his friends for the day, but said the poetry was pretty rubbish!

On Friday we had four assessments. We had a written test first, which was easy enough (I got 38/40), then I was first to go and do my BA wear. It went far better than any of my other wears during the week, and I was happy!
I then did a BA set description with Watch Carbis, where I had to talk through all the details of the cylinder, back plate, harness, Digital Display Unit and face mask. (I'd done a lot of revision in the evenings that week!)
I then did another BA wear as Matt Seymour's number 2, and didn't do a very good job for him, so felt bad. I asked a Watch if it would mess up his assessment result, and he said no, so I was a bit happier then.
I then had my Entry Control Officer test with Watch Carbis, which was straight forward enough. Afterwards he stayed talking with me for quite a while, about 'when' I'm a Fire Fighter, and giving me advice. I felt the shift from 'if you're lucky enough to get on your station' which the Watches have always said, to 'when you're on your station', and I began to feel for the first time that I might actually be a Fire Fighter, and that getting through my assessments next weekend was a real possibility! I'd never really let myself think about it before - it was always too stressful to think of everything I needed to do in between!
So I passed everything (everyone did), and went home delighted, but feeling rubbish with a bad cold. I couldn't get to sleep till 4.30am the next morning with it. I stayed in bed most of Saturday and Sunday, missing church.

Sunday 6th was Mothers' Day. I had lovely flowers, chocolates and cards. The headboard of my bed was a lovely eclectic mixture of stuff!

My card from Lucy.

On Monday 7th, I was still a bit ill, and had Fire Fight training in the evening, which luckily was all classroom based.

In our Tesco delivery on Tuesday 8th, it was apparent that I had ordered 10 bags of apples by accident instead of 10 individual apples. We accepted the challenge with gusto, and got through them in a week. (I think Jack ate most of them!)

I took Lucy for her Retinopathy test after school on Wednesday, which was ultra quick, as she managed to have the photos taken without needing eye drops.

On Thursday 10th, I took Tom to Peterborough City Hospital for an assessment of his teeth in preparation for a brace. I didn't have the satnav, and had no idea where the hospital was, so printed out some instructions and made Tom the navigator. It felt like quite a little adventure, which all went fine. The Orthodontist said he'd like to leave Tom for another couple of years before doing any work, to see how his jaw will develop. I also asked if he could take off the metal band left on one of Tom's teeth, and get the glue remnants off, which was great as that saves us a separate appointment at the Orthodonist.

I had training again on Thursday night, and we were in the yard doing ladder drills, which we'd not done in ages. Nobody else really wanted to, so I went first leading both the drill for the 9m and 13.5m ladders. I managed to remember everything, and got them both spot on, which was a good confidence boost.
I didn't do much studying during the week really. I just tried to distract myself from thinking about the upcoming final assessment weekend.

On Friday 11th, Jo invited me for lunch, for potentially my last free day before being on-call. (I won't be able to visit the farm when I'm on-call because it's too far from the fire station, and Jo is busy on my only weekday not on-call).
In the afternoon, I did a photography job for a LEAF report that Richard needs to submit. It was a nice afternoon - gorgeous light, and the countryside looked beautiful. I took pictures as evidence of different positive environmental features around the farm. 

I love this lane leading to the farmhouse.

Picking up Harry from school on Friday (I still had my camera with me!) He had made a creepy mask.

Also on Friday I made some cakes for Max Coles from my course, as it was his birthday on the first day of the assessment weekend.
In the evening, I got on with studying.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Rest of February 2016

In the last week or so of February, I spent some time taking nail varnish pictures and starting up an Essie nail polish review blog! I thoroughly enjoyed it - I love playing with the cute glass bottles and comparing colours etc, and it was a welcome distraction from Breathing Apparatus Training, which I was stressed about.

I even bought little sample sticks and painted them - highly therapeutic!!

Lucy was around on Thursday 25th February, and I made us both a good breakfast, which I relished!

On Sunday 28th February, President Clayton was at church, and gave Scott and I blessings, setting us apart to our new callings. He called me in for a chat beforehand to see how I was doing, and I said how hard I was finding both the Fire Fighting course, and also the uncertainty I felt about finishing it.
My blessing was lovely, and addressed not only my new calling, but also blessed me generally with health and vitality, and success.

In the evening I drove the older kids to Northampton for a Stake Youth Fireside. I had been asked to speak at it, even though I was released, and I was glad of the opportunity to talk to the youth one last time. I shared my testimony, telling them in no uncertain terms the knowledge I have of the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel.
I had the chance to thank Gill and Emma, and give them flowers I'd bought. Emma is the new Stake Young Women's President, and Gill was released from Young Womens.
It was President Hirst's birthday and all the youth gathered on the stage for a picture with him, then afterwards I had my picture with all the Young Women who were there. It was great to be with them, and I felt a lot of love!

Stitches Show, NEC Birmingham (20th - 22nd February 2016)

On Saturday 20th February, I picked up Donna Wright, and drove us to Birmingham to spend a couple of days at the Stitches Show - a big craft trade show. Our American friend Karen Burniston, who designed die cutters for Sizzix, and now Elizabeth Craft Designs, was coming to the show and when she emailed me about it, I decided that Donna and I should definitely go!
Karen was arriving later in the evening, so Donna and I entertained ourselves for the afternoon. After going to the wrong Ibis hotel first, then driving round Birmingham Airport one way system a couple of times, we finally managed to park the car and find the right hotel!
Chilling out in our hotel room for a bit.

The show was open to the trade only, so Donna and I had registered online as designers (which we were, with Karen's products) in order to have access to the show.
After a bit of time at our hotel, we walked across the road to the Airport and caught the monorail to the National Exhibition Centre. We still had a huge walk through the NEC to finally get to the place where the show would be held the next day. The place was pretty deserted, but we were able to use the codes we'd been given online, to print out our entry badges.

We came out of the NEC and spent a couple of hours in a big shopping centre nearby. Donna was just getting into nail varnish too, and was keen to buy some, but no joy. I bought a nice light blue shirt from Gap.
Messing around by the NEC sign afterwards.

We headed back to the hotel (making friends with two women who we bumped into a couple of times over the weekend - fondly known as 'the lift ladies'), and kept in contact with Karen who was travelling from London by train. She'd accidentally caught a slow train, but at last made it to her hotel, also on the Airport complex. Donna and I waited in the foyer for her and I was actually a bit nervous! We've been in contact via blog land and the internet for about three years now, and have got on well, but I'd messaged her saying what if we hated each other's guts in real life?! Happily we didn't, and we walked over to the Airport and had a meal while talking busily the whole time. Lovely to all be together in person! Karen insisted on buying everyone's meal.
We stayed in the restaurant till it closed, and walked Karen back to her hotel, then went back to ours.

The next morning we met in Karen's hotel again, and went to the NEC together. Karen had to go off then, and meet the people responsible for the stand she was part of. Donna and I had to wait a while before the show opened.

We met up with Karen again once inside, and chatted a while, but we didn't want to hog her, as there were quite a few people around. 
Here's Donna and I doing a 'Make'n'Take' with Richard Garay. He's another craft product designer, who I'd not heard of before, but some of the other women around the place thought he was quite a big deal, and were doing a bit of fan worship.

We also met up with Caz Counsell, another of Karen's Design Team Members (not that Donna and I are on the Design Team any longer). It was great to meet her in person too, after years of being in the same Facebook group etc!
I love this picture of the four us all together!

The same supplier who was representing Karen was also representing Tim Holtz, and I saw him milling around and asked Karen for an introduction. She knew him from their days both working as Designers for Sizzix. Tim is one of the biggest names in the industry. I was chuffed because he'd once featured one of my cards on his blog, as part of a 'blogworthy' post. It made the number of visitors to my craft blog absolutely sky-rocket!

Donna and I spent the rest of the day wandering around the show, picking up a few freebies, watching demonstrations and looking at the products. I had wanted to go to the giant CHA craft show in Anaheim, California, in January, but couldn't because of my Fire Fighting course. This show wasn't as good as that one, in that Stitches also included fabric and wool suppliers, but didn't include all the big papercraft companies, plus it wasn't the time of year when companies are revealing all their new products. It was still fun though, and nice to wander around with Caz for a bit too.
We also watched quite a while, while Karen demonstrated her products to people. It was fun seeing all her sample cards, which we were familiar with from the internet!
Donna and I grabbed lunch at the show, but later on Karen managed to get away from her stand, and came for a wander with us, and we had afternoon tea with her and Paula Pascual, another die designer, who I knew by reputation only. We all chatted like mad, and it was such great fun hanging out with craft celebrities!

In the evening, Karen was supposed to be going out for dinner with Tim Holtz and the other people represented by her UK suppliers, but she said she'd rather hang out with me and Donna, so we went back to her hotel and had a very nice meal in the restaurant there.
We went up to her room afterwards and just talked for ages. She'd also bought us gorgeous scarves. It was great hearing about all the behind-the-scenes goings on of the craft world! Karen also facetimed Els (who owns Elizabeth Craft Designs and who I know a little from the internet) and it was nice chatting with her too!

Back at the hotel, I spent some time on the internet. During church that day, I had been released as Stake Young Women's President, and Scott and I had been called as Stake YSA Couple. I received some lovely messages from people, and it was touching getting back and reading them.
A message from one of my Young Women:

''Thank you for being such an incredible young women's president!! Thank you for all the time and effort you have put into the young women's program. Thank you for all the love and light you share, at every camp, fireside or a simple pass by. You are my role model, such kindness you have, Christs light shines through you. Thank you for everything! I'm going to miss you!! x''

And from another friend:

The vote of thanks unanimous but of course unspoken, so for every young person's parents, whose children you have blessed, thank you both for your service and example. I feel sure you will bless many in your new calling too, so glad you can do that together. Helen, you may never save a life in a fire fighters suit but I think you could in this calling!

On Monday morning we met up with Karen again and went to the show together. Donna and I spent part of the time on the stand with Karen, and part of the time wandering round again.
Here's a picture of me and a lovely guy we met who owns a paper company. He was interested to hear about the blogging world, and said we could take as much paper and card as we wanted for free, and that he'd happily send us more free stock as long as we wanted, and in return we'd mention his company on our blogs.

At one point, I returned to Karen's stand, and Karen said something like, 'Oh here's Helen now', and a couple of women wanted to talk to me, because they knew my blog and were fans! It was pretty cool!
I enjoyed helping Karen out for a bit on her stand, and just chatting with people interested in her products.

Donna and I had registered too late to be able to attend Karen's formal classes in another section of the building, but she got us making some of her card kits up, to time roughly how long they'd take. It was so much fun to actually be crafting with Karen - and even seeing things like her famous glue bottle from her craft videos!
(Donna and I have our fabulous chunky rings on in this picture, which we made at the WOW! stand with a couple of hilarious people!)

Saying good bye to Paula, before we realised just how little time we'd allowed to get back to the hotel, check out and get our car out the car park before the cost went up astronomically!
We said a hurried good bye to Karen and then had to run the 2 miles back through the NEC and Airport to our hotel! Afterwards Donna said she might need to work on her fitness! We made it to the car just in the nick of time, and then drove back home. We were both pretty worn out, and had a quiet journey. 
I had Breathing Apparatus training at the Training Centre that evening!

My Facebook post from that afternoon.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

First Part of February 2016

I continued my training with a Water and Animal Rescue evening on 1st February. It was mainly classroom based, with a bit of rope throwing practice in the yard.

On Wednesday 3rd I finally got someone to come out and fix the boiler (about the 6th person I'd tried!) There turned out to be nothing wrong with the boiler, but a power cut we'd had meant that the boiler control box just needed the clock re-setting! I had the boiler serviced, so it wasn't a total waste!

I had a youth committee meeting in Bedford on Thursday 4th, during which I got frustrated about an on-going issue. Our meetings are usually really lovely, and most of this one was fine, but the portion of tension in it bothered me, and I could tell it had affected everyone. The next morning I emailed everyone in the meeting to apologise, and had some lovely replies back, but I still felt unhappy about it (and actually still a bit frustrated about the issue!)
Jo invited me for lunch the next day, so I went up to the farm. After lunch I had a good chat with Richard. We can speak pretty honestly, and I told him what was bothering me and he cheered me up a bit, making me feel not such a bad person!

On Saturday 6th February I attended an all day First Aid course at the Training Centre, which was fine. In particular we learnt CPR, the use of a defibrillator, and oxygen therapy.

Harry on 7th February in the Minecraft character costume he'd made for himself!

On Monday 8th, I took Lucy to the hospital for her usual Diabetes check ups, and waited outside. I drove her home then had to head straight back out again for a session of Firecraft at the Training Centre.
The next morning I helped Michelle Trickett-Smith again. Harry was ill, but Lucy was at home and could look after him.

Lucy and I had been made Visiting Teaching companions in December, but February was the first time we'd been able to visit one of our ladies - Sue Amos. We had a really lovely visit on the evening of the 10th, and stayed for hours having a lovely chat!

I watched the film 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' on 11th, and absolutely loved it! In particular it renewed my enthusiasm for my Fire Fighting course and reminded me not to be so stressed, and to live life!!

On Friday 12th, it was Harry's non-school uniform day, which we'd both forgotten about, so we walked home again so Harry could change. He finally got to school at about 9.40am!
I went to Richard and Jo's for lunch, then President Clayton rang and asked if Scott and I could meet with him. We arranged for Sunday night, but ended up re-arranging it for that night at Northampton where we were going for Seminary and a Deacon/Beehive Forum. Jack wasn't feeling great and stayed home to look after Harry, which simplified things.
Gill was running the Beehive Forum, and the Young Men were in charge of refreshments, so I didn't need to do too much for it - just make a load of die cuts from felt for Gill's craft project.
Anyway, partway through, Scott and I met with President Clayton and he released me as the Stake Young Women President! He and I were both a little emotional. He talked about what I have done over the past 5 1/3 years, and said the effects would last into eternity, that the Young Women loved me and would remember me. He then called Scott and I to be the Stake Young Single Adult Couple. This wasn't a complete surprise following the conversation I had with President Hirst after Stake Conference. We then talked about what that would entail. He said to continue to hold meetings like I have done, and that the meetings we have had have been great and among the best he's seen in the church.

I didn't have too much chance to let all the change sink in, because I spent the weekend of 13th and 14th at the Training Centre on a Road Traffic Collision course. Scott and I couldn't discuss it on Saturday night either because he took Lucy to a dance in Watford. On the course, we spent a bit of time on Saturday learning the theory of how to deal with car crashes, then spent the rest of the weekend cutting up cars in the freezing cold. We had three or four cars which we maneuvered into different positions (on their roof/side etc), then practiced using the equipment to stabilize the car, manage the glass, and create enough space to remove a casualty. We learnt to cut off the roof, peel away a side etc, using heavy hydraulic equipment. It was pretty interesting work, though very heavy, and by Sunday afternoon I was wondering if I really wanted to be doing this (again!) Near the end of the session, I tripped over and fell really hard. I was glad to finally get home, as I was feeling flu-y and head-achy too!
In the evening, Scott and I went to Ben and Anna's where I lay on the floor under a blanket generally feeling rubbish!

The beautiful flowers Scott had bought me for Valentines Day.

Monday 15th was the start of Half Term and we had nothing planned at all, thankfully! I woke up aching all over from the weekend, and with a very bruised and swollen knee from my fall. I felt so up and down about the Fire Service. I couldn't see myself getting through the course, especially with the notorious Breathing Apparatus section coming up, or see myself doing the job, but every time I contemplated actually resigning, I couldn't see myself doing that either. I just had to keep taking a day at a time, but was finding living like that quite stressful - not knowing what the future would be.
On Monday afternoon I had another Appointment with Vida, my Osteopath (who was great, and as encouraging as ever) and in the evening I started learning about Breathing Apparatus at the Training Centre.

We had a good chilled out Half Term holiday anyway. On Thursday 18th, Lucy and Tom went to Tammy Collings' house to help prepare food for a fundraising activity for camp/FSY, and in the evening I went to Breathing Apparatus training again.
On Friday 19th Jack went to help prepare more stuff at the Cain's house, and I took these photos at home with Harry.

My £2 cheque for being a Registered Person! We get £2 for each wedding we do. It makes me laugh, and I saved this cheque to laminate for a book mark!

I spotted the first daffodils in the area on 4th January, but ours came out nearer the middle of February.

Friday, 22 April 2016

The rest of January 2016

The rest of January was a bit crazy.
In the evening of Monday 11th, Scott went to Jack's Parents' Evening (I got the detailed report of ''Jack's a genius'' afterwards - that was it!) and I went to Fire Fighter training. My shoulder was still sore and I felt very tempted to not continue, but I decided to go, and see how I felt about everything once I was there. I had a chat with a couple of the Watches, felt encouraged, and completed the evening of training (doing ladder drills).

The next day I had my hair cut. I'd made the appointment because I was having trouble fitting my hair comfortably under my helmet, so got a good chunk cut off.

On Wednesday 13th, I had an online meeting with my Stake Young Women's Presidency - Emma and Gill. We got lots of stuff covered as usual, and felt such a friendship between us. I wanted to take a picture of us to record this aspect of my life!

On Thursday 14th, I took Lucy to Peterborough for her Theory Driving Test. It was revolting weather, but I wasn't allowed to wait in the test centre, so I wandered round TK Maxx, then sat in Cafe Nero. I think it might well be the first time I've been to a cafe on my own! I had the iPad which the training centre had lent me, and studied pitching ladders till Lucy came and joined me - totally delighted because she had passed!
In the evening I had another exhausting three hours out in the drill yard (and also mentally exhausting, because there are so many commands to learn and specific roles for each member of the crew.)

The next day I helped out at Michelle Trickett-Smith's again.

On Saturday 16th, we drove to Nottingham, dropping Harry and Tom off at Mum and Dad's house, then drove to Leeds to view houses. Scott has been researching buying properties to rent out to students for ages now, and we decided to go for it. 
We looked at houses near Hyde Park first - a pretty grotty area of back-to-back terraced houses. Three of the four houses there were possibilities for a cheaper house. Then we went to Headingley, a nicer student area a bit further out of Leeds, and looked at two more houses, one of which we thought was promising.
Afterwards we went into Leeds city centre, ate burgers at Five Guys and did a bit of shopping (Lucy was desperate for some new black boots for school, and I found a lovely Tweedy jacket in a Next outlet place.)
We then went back to Nottingham to collect the boys, who'd had a good day helping Dad cutting back a tree in Robin's back garden.

The next day I was the final speaker in Sacrament Meeting at Milton Keynes Ward. I spoke on the new Youth Theme for 2016:

The week of 18th to 22nd of January was 'Fire Craft Week' at the Training Centre, and it was HARD!!! 
As I write this a couple of month's later, the memory of just how hard it was has faded a bit - kind of like how the memory of giving birth does, but I still remember enough...
I left home each morning at 7.30am after making a packed lunch. It was below freezing a few days that week, and we spent most of 8.30am to 5.30pm out in the drill yard, honing our hose and ladder skills. I didn't actually feel the cold too often, because of how physically demanding it was, and I remember feeling glad that we weren't on the summer training course - which must get ridiculously hot.
I seriously had to adopt the mentally of 'just one day at a time'. I still wasn't sure I wanted to carry on with the course, or that I'd be physically strong enough to, but I just kept my head down and kept pushing on.
Driving home each night was a euphoric thing! I'd feel elated at having managed to complete another day, and having a whole evening at home ahead of me! (Though I had to study.) I'd barely be able to walk from the car to the house, because everything would be seizing up. We'd got shopping for the week with easy to prepare meals, plus I did a couple of slow cooker meals in the mornings. After school, Harry went to my friend Donna's, who is a childminder, and so I'd get dinner prepared while Scott picked up Harry. After dinner, I'd unstiffen myself in a hot bath, then spend the evening in bed.
I got to know the people on my course better during the week too. We'd all allow plenty of time to travel there in the mornings, not daring to be late, and often had a fair bit of time sitting in the waiting area of the Training Centre, chatting. We also had an hour for lunch. There was the mainly younger, 'cooler' group, around one of the big oval tables, then the quieter guys at the other table. I usually ended up with the noisy ones, because Vicky knew loads of the same people as a couple of 'the lads' from Chatteris, but she and I would chat too. I had to get used to hearing a lot of swearing, and a couple of the guys talked and joked about some really unsavoury stuff. They knew I disapproved, but we managed to find an OK equilibrium, and I did genuinely feel fond of everyone. 
One of the guys, Dave, had dropped out after the first week of the course, and Aruna, the other girl, dropped out during day two of Fire Craft week with an injured arm.
On Thursday 21st, I had a Stake Council meeting at Northampton. I got in from training, got cleaned up a bit then had to head straight out again. I thought I must be mad attempting it! The meeting was OK, though I was pretty quiet, and felt totally wrecked. We had some good discussion at the end about the YSA programme though. I sat next to Martin Guy in the meeting - he makes me laugh, and he was nice and sympathetic!
On Friday, we were assessed on some drills with hoses, operating the Light Portable Pump, Knots and Lines, and on leading a crew to 'slip and pitch' the 9m and 13.5m ladders. I prayed before each time it was my turn, and was blessed with complete clarity - remembering all the commands and elements, and getting the ladders positioned correctly, and extended to the right heights each time. I was so grateful! We all passed the week anyway, and got to go home a bit early. What a totally wonderful feeling of accomplishment and relief at the week being over!

A couple of my Facebook posts from the week!

It was lovely to get this text from Donna one day... Donna child minds two other boys from Harry's class, but it seemed her daughter Emma preferred Harry!

Other things happened while I was doing Fire Craft Week too, as summarised in another Facebook post!
We had picked one of the the cheaper houses and one of the more expensive houses in Leeds to make offers on during the week, and Scott would text me during the day on our progress!

On Friday evening after passing my assessments, I'd had a bath and was in my dressing gown, when the door bell rang. Scott went to get it, and a bit later came back with some Australian guy! We'd all been sitting round the dining table, so Scott made him a hot drink and he joined us. It was freezing outside, and he was trying to get support for St. John's Ambulance, and Scott just invited him in. He was really talkative and friendly. A bit later the door bell rang again, and Scott came back with another St. John's Ambulance guy! We had a lovely time chatting together! The second guy wanted to become a Fire Fighter, so we had a good talk about that, then we got onto talking about religion. It was a happy little interlude anyway, and they seemed really grateful!

Also the central heating had stopped working during the week, so we stuck a fan heater in the living room and the oil filled radiator on the landing and pretty much left them on permanently. It was cold weather, but they kept the chill off.

The day after my assessments, Saturday 23rd, I got a lift with Becki Cain and Linnea Erickson to Watford Chapel for meetings with other Stakes' Auxiliary Presidencies, Stake Presidencies and the Area Presidency.
It was a good day, and I felt very uplifted. Had a nice chat with Jennifer Kearon, Elder Kearon's wife, and we were provided with a lovely lunch.
That evening, I got in, picked up Lucy and we went to Grafham Water for a Laurel activity (16-18 year old girls). I had booked for the girls to do indoor wall climbing and archery. I was feeling pretty worn out by that point, so didn't have a go myself, but had good chats with some of the other leaders.
After that we went back to the Doughty's house about 20 minutes away, for pizza and a fireside. Gill had gone ahead to get things ready. After food we settled down in the living room and Gill lead a lovely discussion based activity. The girls also wrote letters to themselves, which Gill posted to them about 6 weeks later. (One of the girls emailed us when she got her letter, to say that it was just what she had needed!) There were 12 or more girls there and it was such a nice group. Everyone joined in. I closed the evening with my testimony at about 10pm.

On Monday 25th, I went to see Vida, the osteopath again. I told her what kind of week I'd had. She is so wonderful and encouraging, and gave me the pep talk of the year, plus helped my poor body out a bit! She thinks it's fantastic I'm becoming a Fire Fighter and says how proud of me she is! She also does acupuncture on me, and straps me up each time. It was really what I needed.
In the evening I had a Fire Craft session again, but it wasn't quite so arduous. The trainers said that they will lighten up on us a bit now, but one of them said that if we had found Fire Craft week hard, Breathing Apparatus week was even harder! I still had doubts about my continuing.

I also spent some of the week making cards. I hadn't made any for ages, (I resigned from Karen Burniston's Design Team in December), but a new UK company called Craft Consortium had written to me, saying they were working with an American designer called Tanya Whelan to make a new paper range, and would I like to receive some to make a couple of cards with? They said that Tanya Whelan had recommended they contact me! I was so chuffed!! I had made cards in the past using Tanya's previous paper collections, and have tonnes of her gorgeous fabrics, so I was so happy that she had heard of me, and wanted me to work with her products! A couple of days later a beautiful large pad of paper arrived.
This is one of the cards I made. Craft Consortium and Tanya shared the photos of my cards on their Facebook pages etc.

In the evening of 28th, I had a Working at Heights session at Training Centre, which was quite enjoyable. We learnt how to use a body harness and strap yourself onto a ladder if you need to be there for a while, and also how to clip on and off if you are climbing up a tall vertical ladder.

I took these photos of Harry's Minecraft world on 29th. He really does build incredibly creative things! He just likes to tell you about them all in minute detail!

A little snippet showing the randomness of Harry:

Me: I need to give you a haircut tomorrow Tom.
Jack: And me.
Harry: And me!
Me: Ahh nooo!!!! (I don't like cutting hair!)
Harry: Would you rather give everyone in the world a hair cut, or put their dislocated noses back into position?

Nice choices!!

On Saturday evening (30th) I went with Lucy to Stake Conference in Northampton. It was a nice evening, and I enjoyed chatting with loads of different people over soup afterwards. I had to speak with President Hirst afterwards about some thoughts following the last Stake Council meeting, but he was in with someone else first, so I had a nice time chatting with President Slattery and President Clayton for a while.
The next day we all went to Huntingdon Chapel to watch the broadcast Sunday Session of Stake Conference. I thought the talks were wonderful, and got a lot from them, including the talk from one of the teenage Malzone twins.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Beginning of January 2016 - Fire Fighter Training and 'The Jungle', Calais

On Sunday 3rd January at church, Lucy was called to be a Relief Society Teacher, and it was also Jack's first time blessing the sacrament. As I watched Tom passing the Sacrament, I felt very proud of my kids!
I didn't get a good sleep at all that night, from nerves over starting my Fire Fighter training course on Monday 4th.
I had no idea what to expect from the course, only that it would be quite hard. I'd bumped into two local Fire Fighters in Tesco over Christmas, one of whom was Lisa who I know, and they'd said to be prepared to hit the ground running. Because I'd had such a bad night's sleep, I was really worried about how strenuous the first day would be, because I felt wrecked!
Luckily, Monday was classroom based. There were twelve of us on the course, and we turned up at 8.30am at the Training Centre and had an introduction to the day. We learnt a bit about each other - there were two other girls on the course (one was a gym instructor and amateur boxer, and the other was a professional hockey player), the guys were from a variety of professions, and we ranged in age from 19 to 46 - two of them were older than me. We then had various presentations, were given our own fire gear, then had a Health and Safety course run by a Scottish guy who made me teacher's pet when he heard I was born in Glasgow. We were a bit taken a back to be told we'd have an exam that day, but it wasn't too bad. I was most relieved to get through the first day OK!

I also had evening sessions of 3 hours on Tuesday and Thursday that week. They were physically HARD! We warmed up by jogging in full fire gear (boots, trousers, under layer of clothes, tunics, heavy leather gloves, flash hood, helmet) round the training yard several time, and that was bad enough! We then spent most of the evening with fire hoses - rolling them out and then back up again. It doesn't sound like much, but was completely exhausting. There were moments when I was so shattered that I wondered if I wanted to be there any more - it seemed crazy to be putting myself through this when I didn't actually have to! Everything was very disciplined, with us learning how to address people, how to run out from the garage where we get our gear on, how to stand to attention/at ease, how we 'number off' etc.

Near the end of Thursday evening, I really had nothing left in me, and when I was stretching out my arms during a break, the shoulder I was seeing the osteopath about started hurting again. I was almost relieved to not be able to go back out and continue training, but I was also really upset at what it would mean if I couldn't continue after that. I had to sit out with one of the 'Watches' while he put it in a report. If I missed any sessions (other than the last 20 minutes of the session I had missed) then I wouldn't be able to stay on the course. They just said that I should turn up on the next session the following Monday if I felt OK, but if I didn't, they were happy to defer me to the next course. 
I had a complete turmoil of feelings that evening - I didn't want to have to wait three months and start again with a new squad, and I wondered if I even wanted to carry on at all. But I also didn't want to get this far only to quit.

I didn't have too much time to worry about it though because at 3am the next morning (Friday 8th) Lucy and I drove to Huntingdon to pick up Andy Collings, two of his kids - Oli and Jordan, and his niece Emma.
From there we drove to the Eurotunnel terminal where we met up with other church members, and got the train to Calais for a service project.

We were travelling to Calais to help at a makeshift camp of about 7000 refugees/migrants called 'The Jungle'. Under the direction of our church Stake Presidency, and organised by Nina Kerrou (who had initially got involved by herself), the Stake had collected thousands of items of food and clothing which people drove down in vans, and more of us were driving down to help in the warehouse of the charity we were working with called 'Care4Calais', and to help in the camp itself.

It wasn't really brilliant timing for me to be going, plus I was nervous about driving, and I wasn't sure I understood enough about the politics of it all - for example, if it was a good idea in the grand scheme of things to help at the camp, if that meant the camp would remain just about viable and therefore have more people coming and ending up in the same grim conditions. Lucy really wanted to go when she heard about the project though, and I wasn't going to let her go alone, so went with her. I figured that good would come of it one way or another, and that we would probably learn a lot. At the end of the day, we would be helping people in need.

My shoulder was still sore, but manageable if I didn't raise my arm too much. The driving was OK.
Most people slept in the car on the way down, and I had a rest in the Euro tunnel. When it came time to drive off, the car wouldn't start! I must have left my lights on or something. I was pretty far forwards on the train so was blocking a lot of people from getting off! 
Here is Oli, Andy and Lucy pushing the car along the train!

The Robinsons from Northampton were in the car behind us, so Simon helped push us off too. Only when he'd been out with us for a while did he realise that he had the keys to his car, so his car was now blocking everyone on the train!

Oli and I, finally off the train!

Andy jump starting my car from the Robinsons'.

Getting to the warehouse was fun too! We all met up at a petrol station, then traveled in convoy to the Care4Calais warehouse. I'd put the address in my satnav, and at one point everyone went off one way, while I followed my satnav a different way. I thought I'd better turn round and follow everyone else, but then they realised they'd got it wrong and we ended up meeting up again.
We parked along the road outside the warehouse, went in and gathered round for instructions. Here we all are in our church 'Helping Hands' tabbards, ready to get going!

Some of the group were going into the Jungle that morning to distribute goods, and Lucy and I were in the group who stayed behind and helped in the warehouse, sorting out donated clothing and filling up plastic bags with clothing and toiletries to hand out. Others of our group worked to build shelving for the warehouse and things to use in the camp. It was good chatting with other volunteers from mainly England who had come for varying amounts of time. They said how great it was to have us all there, and asked about the church. I had some really good conversations with people.

Lucy and some of her friends. They spent some time assembling tents in the yard, making sure all the parts were there.

In the afternoon, we piled into our cars and drove to the Jungle. We were going to help clear up rubbish. The surrounding area is Policed fairly heavily, and we were turned away from the first place we tried to get into the camp (after getting a bit lost on the way... Andy's favourite phrase of the weekend was 'you get to see more of France with Helen!' - our car did have an lot of fun!),  
At the camp, I was slightly apprehensive, because I had read and heard about the dangers in the Jungle, but we were put into smaller groups who we had to keep track of, and as a larger group we all stayed together. There were a few volunteers there from other organisations too, plus a couple of migrants helped, and we spent a couple of hours picking up rubbish from around one large field of tents. A guy called Ali from Afghanistan went round with Lucy and me, holding the bags open and chatting. He'd been in England a few years ago, and wanted to get back there. He asked if he could go back with us! It seems that everyone in the camp wants desperately to get to England, and many try each night to illegally get there.
The state of the camp was pretty bad. There are a couple of main 'streets' with mud roads and wooden shacks lining them. There are shops and restaurants, areas with taps and loads of people hanging around (the vast majority were youngish looking men). Beyond the few streets are just bumpy, muddy fields of tents and shelters. There was rubbish everywhere, and it was sad to see spoiled food, and thrown away clothing, shoes, blankets etc - useless because they were wet.

We entered under the bridge in this picture (from the internet) below.

We couldn't take many pictures in the camp, for fear of having phones/cameras stolen. I didn't take any - the three below are from the internet, and are typical of what we saw. The rest of the photos are quick snaps taken by friends.

Some of the rubbish we collected.

Graffiti on the bridge as we left the camp, including a Banksy painting of Steve Jobs (who was son of a Syrian migrant).

Our car (plus Heather, minus Oli) outside the camp after rubbish collecting.

One of the men from the camp came up to us and wanted his photo take with us too.

Back at the warehouse, we all gathered together along with the other volunteers, and shared a few thoughts and a prayer. There was a very strong spirit there, and there were quite a few wet eyes among us.

We then had to meet up at our Ibis hotel, and get rooms sorted out before getting food. Our car once again took the 'scenic' route!
We all hung around in the hotel foyer, while rooms were checked into. The entire place seemed to be full of English Mormons and French Police!
I was sharing a room with Lucy, though we said Heather Robinson could share with us. She had only been coming down for the day with her parents, but wanted to stay longer. In the end though I had the room to myself (the top bunk!) as Lucy and Heather dragged their double mattress across the corridor and put it on the floor in Jordan and Emma's room! I'm not convinced they got much sleep that night!

Once we were sorted, we all met up in the foyer again to sort out about an evening meal. The other Care4Calais volunteers had invited us to join them at an Indian Restaurant. Sam Hartley (a doctor from church who was helping in the camp 'clinic' along with a couple of nurses from church) texted me the details, which we put in the satnav and set off, followed by Jody Ryan and Alan Fox.

For some reason though, we ended up nowhere near the same restaurant as everyone else, so gave up and found our own restaurant - a Chinese eat-all-you-want place. Alan and Jan Malachowski decided to go and eat on their own, so Jody's car (with a couple of other women and YSA) and our car ate there.
It was great! All the youngsters sat on one table, and us oldies sat on another and had some really good conversation.

After that, Alan and Jan went off, and we drove back to the hotel so the other ladies from Jody's car could be dropped off. The rest of us wanted to go to the beach, but weren't sure how to get there. Andy went and asked at the hotel reception, and a lovely lady there drew us a very detailed map! We followed it and parked in a big car park next to the beach.
The girls!

The boys!

I said we had to go paddling, so we made our way in the pitch black over quite a lot of sand before reaching the sea. The water was rather cold!
Group foot selfie!

Then we went for a walk along the pier, where there were quite a few night fishermen. We tried out our French on them, which I don't think was very effective! They were friendly though, and showed us their fish and bait.

Back at the hotel, the younger ones all hung out in the girls' room for a while, and the boys stuck to the curfew I gave them, though I had to tell them to keep the noise down a couple of times.
I had a really good sleep in my top bunk! Andy and another guy were in the room next door, and Andy didn't have quite as good a night due to the snoring of his room mate!

On Saturday 9th, we had breakfast at the hotel, and then headed back to the warehouse.
I spent a while doing similar to the day before - filling plastic bags with a set amount of clothing and toiletries. We put together enormous white sacks full of these kits, ready for handing out in the camp later that day. I did a few other odd jobs too, moving boxes between the warehouses on a pallet trolley.

Lucy and the younger ones carried on sorting out T-shirts by size. Another car load of people came on the Saturday, including Ben Hirst, who had been worried about Lucy coming to the camp.

After a while, those of us who hadn't gone into the camp to distribute goods the day before, had the opportunity to go.
We split into three groups, and were given some training in the yard, as to how to distribute the goods, which included practicing making lines either side of the back of the van, so that the bags could be given out to a single file line.

We drove in cars to a different entrance to the camp, which had quite a few Police vans there. The Police apparently are not too keen on volunteers going in the camp, because it sometimes causes disruption. It felt a little tense as we approached the camp.

My group walked through the camp, following the van of bags we'd distribute. The woman who was in charge was in my group - she was a small, fiesty woman who you couldn't imagine taking any rubbish from anyone! We got on quite well, and she'd asked me to do a few specific tasks earlier on in the warehouse. She assigned me to hand the bags over to each refugee.

I walked along chatting with an Irish guy - a friend of President Hirst who was also in my group. He was a body guard, who had guarded some high profile people in his time, so I felt reasonably safe walking with him!

Once in place, Dan Kitsell went in the back of the van and got the right sized bag ready (based on clothing size, and judged by looking at the size of the person at the head of the queue) which he'd pass to me and I'd give to the person. Most of the people were men in their 20's and 30's, but there were a couple of women and younger boys. Some of the people in the queue I recognised as having been in the queue and received bags already, but we were told not to deny them, or cause any kind of conflict. As I handed the bags over, some people were grateful and expressed thanks, some people just seemed blank and dead inside, and others scared me - their expressions seemed sharp and shrewd and dangerous. A couple of times the bag I was holding got snatched, by people reaching under the van doors.
It didn't take all that long before the three white sacks in our van were distributed, and we were walking back out through the camp. The Afghan man, Ali, who I'd met the day before came up and walked back through the camp with me and the woman in charge.

Back in our cars (after the usual kerfuffle of me trying to get my car keys out of my body belt, from under various layers of clothing!) we drove a little way to meet up with everyone else, so we could drive back in convoy to the warehouse. We were hanging about for ages though, so Andy and I decided to make our own way back, and drove off. Back at the warehouse though, the woman in charge was jokingly mad with me for going off, shaking her fist at me! I think Andy and I felt a bit frustrated at times that we'd come all this way to work, but we seemed to spend quite a bit of time just hanging around.
We had packed lunch in the yard, then did a bit more in the warehouse, before saying fond farewells to some of the other volunteers we'd got to know.

We drove back to the Eurotunnel and got on our evening train without a hitch.
All the kids came and sat in my car, and Andy and I went and sat in Jody Ryan's car, along with Margit Izzard, a German women we'd got to know at the meal the night before.

Back in England, Jody followed us to a big Services, and we had a fast food dinner before heading home.
Andy and I talked in the front all the way back, and the kids fell asleep. We dropped the Collingses and Emma off home, before heading to our's, and filling Scott in on our adventures.

The trip was kind of how I'd imagined - we experienced some grim reality, and were able to help to a very small extent those in need. What also felt of value though were the conversations I'd been able to have with other volunteers about God and our religion.
There seems to be no easy solution to the problem of the Jungle and other such camps - even if we let everyone in them into the UK, the camps would refill overnight. The migrants/refugees could claim asylum in France if they wanted to, and not have to live in camps, but they are holding out for the UK.
The weather was really pleasant while we were in Calais, but in the days and weeks following, as it got more bitter and wet, I frequently thought about the people in the camp, and how utterly miserable it must be for them - regardless of whether they put themselves there or not. I felt very very grateful for the comforts of home which I enjoy, and would definitely take part in future projects planned to help.