Tag Archives: Navy

New horizons

12 Sep

It has been a very long time since I last contributed to this blog of ours, it might have even been this time last year. Louise does such a good job of keeping up with our comings and goings, I sometimes feel that what I can say will be of any interest. Besides I am a much more passive communicator; listening and reading are more my comfort zones!

Talking of comfort zones this is a year for us to be well and truly tested with a baby on the way.   The due date in the middle of September is fast approaching, having seemed for so long to be have been a point far on the horizon. I am incredibly excited, but daunted at the same time. I know that our lives will never be the same again in a matter of days. Louise, as ever, has been extremely organised and we have been busy shopping for baby ‘essentials’, she even managed to bring me along to a baby expo in Sydney a couple of months ago. I will be honest, it was not my idea of fun as I don’t have the best patience for shopping at the best of times, but it was a useful trip and we came home with a pram!

Ardent 2 on the uniform

Ardent 2 on the uniform

Along with fatherhood, 2014 has also seen me taking command of a warship for the first time in my career. I joined my crew, called ‘Ardent Two’ in Darwin at the end of May and we embarked in HMAS Wollongong, an Arimdale Class Patrol Boat (ACPB). The patrol boat community in the RAN is unconventionally manned, with more crews than hulls, and a rotation system of 8 weeks ‘on’ and 4 weeks ‘off’. This means that each crew goes back to a different Ship each time, odd, but it almost works. Anyway, Wollongong was my first and I have since been back briefly to Sydney and am now back for a longer duration, until the birth and hopefully, for a few weeks after it as well. I have immensely enjoyed the first four months in command, have quickly come to realise that all my time in the Navy to date has prepared me for this one job. Each day on board I seem to find myself remembering instances when something similar occurred under different commanding officers and how I reacted then and now. It surprises me how lessons were imparted to me in all manner of situations.

July also saw me reach the halfway point of my Masters of Business programme, which I am being funded to complete by the RAN. It is a pleasing milestone, but the end still seems some way of, particularly as I have taken a break for the first six months in command whilst I get myself settled into the job at sea.

After my first stint in patrol, I had to find myself a place to liven Cairns (well, Louise did, and I just inspected on my arrival in Cairns!) I managed to secure an apartment in the city, which gives me a base up there  and somewhere for Louise and the baby to visit occasionally as well.

The new Cairns pad

The new Cairns pad

Winter sun at Bondi

Winter sun at Bondi

Physically I have also embarked on a press-up (push-up) challenge. I saw this being talked about on Facebook at the end of last year and it intrigued me. The challenge is simply one press-up on Jan 1st, two on Jan 2nd continuing in this vein until Dec 31st! Today I have had to complete 256 press-ups, not in all in one go thankfully, but it is a physical and psychological test that I am determined to complete. In total I will have knocked out over 66,000 over the course of the year.

Doing the push-ups in front of the Ship

Doing the push-ups in front of the Ship

By the end of this year I will have taken on a hugely responsible role in two regards, both in my personal and professional life. They are both responsibilities I feel ready for, although something tells me a tiny newborn may prove more testing than a crew of grown men. Either way, Louise and I are about to find out very soon.

 

 

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The long farewell

26 May

It’s been a long time in coming. Since February, James has been on course to ready himself to become Commanding Officer of a ship but it has been on the cards since July last year when he was on the signal to take command. In fact for James himself, you could argue it has been something he has aspired to for the past 17 years of his Naval career. Well, the time has now come and we have said our farewells. In eight weeks when he returns for the first time, we’ll be able to tell you whether all that preparation has been adequate!

The period of James’ sending off parties seemed to reflect the length of time he has waited for this job. I’m not saying he likes to milk these things but…

It started a few weeks a go when I held a surprise party for him at a bar in Sydney. After scouring his contacts list and asking a few people to pass the word on to Navy friends, more than thirty people were already gathered when we arrived to give him a big cheer. It was a really wonderful evening with so many friends offering a lot of good wishes and congratulations. I had been planning a special gift for him to say ‘well done and good luck’ for a while. It is a naval tradition that only the captain of a ship can write in red ink and so decided it was a good occasion to present him with a Mont Blanc pen complete with red ink cartridges. It went down pretty well!

The following weeks involved drinks with friends, being taken out for dinner, more brunches and evening drinks and finally a lovely Sunday lunch with some good friends.

We have tried to make the most of these last couple of weeks together, particularly as when he returns I will be significantly larger and probably less up for traipsing about or going on long walks. We have stayed local but spent time down at the beach or in the park.

Walking in the Botanical Gardens

Walking in the Botanical Gardens

Autumn in Centennial Park

Autumn in Centennial Park

Bondi days

Bondi days

Drinks at Balmoral Beach

Drinks at Balmoral Beach

We had not been to Cockatoo Island before and decided to take the ferry there to see the biennale  – the art festival held only every two years. Although there were a lot of obscure video installations such as the one involving a man with a bag over his head and people wailing in German, there were also a few interesting and interactive exhibits, including the gym installation and the giant waterfall at the end of one of the buildings.

Harbourside buildings

Harbourside buildings

Working Out the Art

Working Out the Art

Cockatoo Island is a perfect location for an art festival. The once busy boat building hub and former convict prison is now an almost deserted island of old warehouses, sheds and prison cells. There is an eerie sense of abandonment in some of the old work sheds where the day’s tea order is still scribbled on to a blackboard, machinery remains suspended, the pulley systems rusted and decaying and the clock halted at the point when no one returned to repair it. Art installations aside, it is a pretty interesting place to visit and the view from the wine bar at the top of the island is pretty good too!

Arriving on Cockatoo Island

Arriving on Cockatoo Island

Old machinery

Old machinery

Turning to rust

Turning to rust

Climbing to the top of Cockatoo Island

Climbing to the top of Cockatoo Island

Abandoned and empty

Abandoned and empty

View from Cockatoo Island

View from Cockatoo Island

As you can see we have been enjoying some incredible weather over the past couple of weeks. Autumn has graced us with summer warm days and crisp evenings. It is really a beautiful time of year here.

Heading home

Heading home

When James and I next see each other it will be mid winter and it won’t just be the season that will have changed. I am sure James will have a fair few stories and experiences after his first stint in command and well, I just probably won’t fit in any of the clothes he last saw me wearing!

The Bump!

The Bump!

Curve balls

24 Apr

Life sometimes throws a few curve balls around. They come as a surprise, they can often be unsettling or  they can be viewed as a positive thing. For about, let’s see, almost four months, we’ve escaped unscathed from any curve-balls until I got that phonecall. The one you always risk as a  tenant but one I have so far avoided in all my time renting houses and apartments. It came the other day, the news that the owner wants to move back in and so, we have three months left in the lovely place we’ve called home for the past twenty months. What we do next is wait. The Navy may have other properties, although inevitably not in this area or we may find our own place to rent. Either way, the time has come to move on out and then of course, once we have found somewhere, in a couple of months we also find out James’ next posting so who knows  whether we’ll be on the move again later this year. It’s part and parcel of being married to the Navy but we are viewing this particular curve ball as an opportunity, a chance to find a new place and having twenty month’s worth more knowledge and experience of Sydney than last time, it should make the hunt a little less daunting.

 

 

Permanently changeable

23 Jan

Permanence. It means ongoing, ever-lasting, unchanging for an indefinite length of time, forever… It amounts to stability and certainty. Why am I mentioning this? Well, just the other week, it came to my attention that I am now entitled to apply for my permanent residency visa (where did that two years go since first lodging my visa application?!) Also cue lots of thoughts back to the weeks of collating an encyclopaedia’s worth of information documenting the legitimacy of our relationship. So now, I am at that stage again – requesting a police check from the Australian Federal Police, asking friends to make declarations as to the ongoing nature of our relationship and writing our own personal statements about how we financially and emotionally support each other. Fun times ahead. It also struck me then how at the moment, I am not permanent: not in Australia, no longer in the UK and perhaps not even in Sydney (although that all very much depends on James and his work and the next move, which I am sure will be mentioned further down the line.)

It doesn’t really matter. I mean not being ‘permanent’ does not really change anything for me at the moment but it did get me thinking how it would be nice to have something certain and unchanging for a while. We have each other and that of course, will always be the constant, but having no permanent job, not even a ‘permanent residence’ can make the idea of permanence (previously something to be looked down on with derision as boring and unadventurous) suddenly quite appealing.

Even at the start of the year, as I was looking to make myself a permanent resident here, I was further disentangling myself from the UK Inland Revenue, filing my final tax return (which incidentally took five times longer than usual for a poultry four-month period because I had to get my head around what defined ‘non-resident’, ‘ordinarily resident’ ‘non-domicile’ and not to mention split tax-years and remittance claims… I still don’t know so don’t ask.)

So the start of 2013 has been busy: not just with flitting between UK and Australian admin but about looking at finding a route to publication for my novel, looking at a permanent job and looking at longer-term plans and investments for that stability and certainty in our future. It is easier said than done and in itself, quite time-consuming but hopefully will lead to a sense of permanence at some point!

Not that being married to a Naval officer will ever really allow for that and this then begs the question: is there any point applying for the ‘permanent job’ if you’re not hanging around? (And yes, I have had the internal conversation about not living life on ‘what-ifs’.) But it can be hard to really have that focus and motivation to apply for a dream job if you’re going to uproot in the near future. (I’m imagining the interview: Q. ‘And where do you see yourself in five years time?’ A. ‘Um… Maybe not even in this city, or country or…’ Probably not the ‘progressing nicely through the company, taking advantage of training opportunities and blah blah’ answer they were expecting.)

So, a busy few weeks but hopefully constructive and you know, they say a change is as good as the rest and right now, things are well, permanently changing!

The Home Front

20 Nov

The men may go out and ‘protect the nation’ and do all the macho stuff but they would not do so well without someone lining their stomachs and so Navy wives have their duties too. This I discovered when asked if I could ‘just bake something’ for when an Admiral comes to visit the base this week and after some subtle hints about how ‘chocolate brownies and cookies go down very well with the guys’.

Further hints were not needed and although I was tempted to point out that he knows where the oven is – go for it – I realise knowing where it is, is different to knowing how it works. So, a tin of brownies and chocolate chip and nut cookies were ready to go on Monday morning and today there is an apple and cinnamon cake waiting for morning tea with the Admiral tomorrow. I can only hope it passes muster but then I did get the recipe from a site, claiming it was the ‘best apple cake in the whole world’. This is quite a claim so we shall see how it goes down.

Unfortunately I can’t slice it open to try it but I thought I’d share it with you because it actually smells delicious and seeing as I won’t get to try any – maybe one of you can bake it and tell me!

http://www.marthastewart.com/351254/apple-spice-cake?autonomy_kw=apple%20cake

Just to note, the measurements are in cups so here is roughly what I’d use:

  •  300 ml oil / 1 1/3 cups (canola or vegetable)
  • 300g flour / 3 cups (I used self raising but the recipe calls for plain with baking soda and salt)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 425g / 2 cups caster sugar
  • 3-4 apples (I only needed 2 fairly large Granny Smiths and it was plenty)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Oven at 180 and although it suggests 75 – 90 min, I found 50 minutes was enough and the batter is quite thick but the water from the apples adds moisture when baking.

Don’t worry – I’m not about to become a cooking blog but I have started enjoying baking a lot more and trying out different recipes. Next to try are macaroons – could be a bit ambitious!

 

The James update

5 Jan
Yet again Louise has been doing all the hard work with the blog, it’s not that she is any less busy than me, but when I am slumped before the TV after work she seems to find the energy to work at the computer.  Whilst I am still on leave and Louise is at work, I felt it appropriate to give you an update on life from my perspective.
Before I go on – Happy New Year to you all.  It was strange not being at home for the Christmas period and I think that both of us felt a little sad at times not being there with you all.  As Louise mentioned in a recent entry we were very fortunate to be invited to stay with the Lettens in Brisbane and we were made to feel extremely welcome and part of the family, which was wonderful.
I had two weeks off over Christmas which was pretty short compared with the majority of the navy who as a rule close down for around four weeks during this period.  We (HMAS Newcastle) for various reasons decided to take a shorter leave period and frankly that suits me, especially with Louise at work, it also makes going back that much easier!  I joined HMAS Newcastle at the end of November, and my job is the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Officer, as opposed to my previous existence in the RN where I was the Above Water warfare officer.  To be honest there isn’t that much difference; sink submarines vs shoot down missiles!  So far things seem fine.  The XO (executive officer and second in command) joined at the same time as me and as my immediate boss he seems like a very decent bloke, with a similar philosophy on work/leadership as myself.  The CO seems ok, I will be able to make a more informed judgment once we get to sea in mid January.  Initially I was a little peeved as when I joined he didn’t conduct a formal joining interview with me, and I felt that he had no idea who I was and what my experience/background consisted of.  I suppose that as most of my Australian PWO counter parts tend to be junior Lts with little more than 4 or 5 years experience behind them, he didn’t expect a Lt Cdr with 15 years of service and having served in 7 Ships.  However, after attending a warfare conference at a nearby base before Christmas and after taking on a couple of big projects for him we managed to have the ‘joining’ discussion and I think our relationship has been strengthened because of that chat – I just need to perform now!
The Ship’s programme is pretty suitable for me, both personally and professionally.  We remain in Sydney, going to sea most weeks from Monday to Friday until the end of February, after that we are heading over to WA (Western Australia), where the other main Naval base is located for a few weeks of exercises.  One of the these weeks in a ASW exercise for which we going to be in charge of all the Ships and aircraft in fighting a submarine and basically it is up to me as the ASW officer to come up with the plan to defeat the Submarine over a three day period.  This is a high profile exercise and there is much emphasis placed on trying out some new doctrine that has the interest of senior Navy leadership – no pressure there then!  Once we have completed that series of exercises the Ship will spend a long weekend alongside in Fremantle for the Easter weekend. We hope that Louise will be able to fly out to join me for Easter and we plan to head down to Margaret River a couple of hours south of Perth in beautiful winery countryside.  From WA we head to New Zealand via a quick stop in Tasmania to conduct some navigation training for a batch of navigating students – similar to what I did in 2004 around the channel islands and the south coast of the UK.  Again, commitments permitting, Louise may fly out to join me in NZ for a couple of days.  The Ship returns to Sydney in mid May and will remain East coast based for the reminder of the year, spending the odd week at sea.  As it stands I am meant to be leaving Newcastle in August to commence a warfare course back in HMAS Watson in Sydney, but the CO and XO (and me) believe that my RN qualifications and experience are more than what I would get from the course and they would prefer that I stay on the Ship and take over as the Operations Officer.  We’ll see what happens, I have submitted a formal request for the RAN to recognise my RN PWO qualifications, hopefully I will have an answer by February – it will also mean a pay rise if the request is approved.
My career in the longer term will be determined by how well I perform in Newcastle, however there is a shortage of Lt Cdrs in the warfare world (PWO Lts are now coming through in greater numbers) so I envisage a shore posting as a staff officer.  I hope to be based in Sydney, perhaps instructing PWOs at Watson or maybe at the Sea Training group also in Sydney but going to sea to ‘ride’ Ships as they work up.  The other options are getting on the Battle Staff who are unfortunately moving their HQ to Brisbane, but with the way the RAN is growing with the arrival of HMAS Choules (formally RFA Largs Bay) and the big Helicopter landing ships Canberra and Adelaide in a couple of years (huge Ships like an aircraft carrier they will make a vast difference to what the RAN with embarked army and helicopter forces) that this is where the future lies and it may make sense to get involved from the outset.  There is also the option (if I am selected) of getting a Command of a mine hunter.  Anyway we’ll see, much water to pass under the bridge.
Outside of work Louise has kept you up to date on our activities, life is busy but very enjoyable.  We have a great set of friends and we are really beginning to feel settled.  I have bought a basic road bike (racer) and went for my first early (6.30 am) bike ride with Andrew Letten this morning, we both have ambitions of doing a triathlon…someday!  Anyway it was worth rolling out of bed at a silly time whilst on leave, watch this space.
Well I think I will call it a day there, the cricket is on and Clarke is on 283, so I would like to see him get 300 before lunch.

The wanderer returns

25 Nov

James is back and will probably update you on what he’s been up to with work, having spent a couple of weeks at sea now.

Prior to that he was at HMAS Creswell on an induction course for all the ‘new recruits’.

Slightly reminiscent of his old school sports teams photos (but with a few more wrinkles and less hair between them), here is a photo of his course!

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