On Friday night Hagar and I were watching a programme called something like ‘Killing The Red Baron’, in it were two ex-Fast Jet pilots, who said that all pilots, in their nature, were competitive. Hagar agreed and then recanted his day. He had just returned from the Air Medical Training Wing, where he had spent the day in various states of hypoxia. He and his pilot chum, climbed into a big steel hypobaric cylinder with 10 seats and sealed door and were taken to a simulated height of 17,500ft with equivalent pressure. At 10, 00ft they took their oxygen masks off, they then climbed to 17,500 ft and spent 30 minutes at that altitude. During the 30 minutes they were given a series of texts and increasing complex diagrams to copy to assess the slow onset of hypoxia and understand the physical impact on the body. He and his chum embarked on an unspoken competition to see who could complete most sentences and diagrams as perfectly as possible, before they, potentially, passed out. Neither mentioned it, but they both knew the challenge was on.
This competitive perfection spills into our domestic life. Everything about Hagar’s training centres around Time On Target (TOT), arriving at the objective as the clock turns zero – this is what success looks like to Hagar. I operate in TOT plus 10-15 minutes which drives Hagar insane. But at the same time in civvy street, it’s impolite to ring the door bell the second the clock turns onto the hour when arriving at a social function.
For me, the non-military infidel wife, I try to somehow strike a balance between the paradox of our life and beliefs. Hagar and I, we are opposites and sometimes it really works, and sometimes it really doesn’t, but it keeps us on our toes. It has been pointed out to me that I seem to have a love-hate relationship with the military, and it’s true, I really do. It’s complex and genuinely un-resolvable. It’s part of the dichotemy and the rich tapestry that is our life, so we just bumble through it as best we can.
Like, I said, this competitive perfection does spill over into our domestic life and I, too, am fiercely competitive, so I find myself getting sucked in, when really I should know better and walk away. But the yo-yo continues and it isn’t changing anytime soon, so the internal battle continues on.
A couple of years ago, when the Grenade was a mere 18months old, I was working as PR Manager for solo yachtsman Mike Golding, and managing his PR, while he sailed non-stop solo around the globe on a his 60ft Open 60, Ecover, in the Vendee Globe 2004. It was Christmas and the race was around halfway. The Grenade was an insomniac, Mike had been at sea for around 40 days so life was pretty full on. We had been invited to a mince pie and drinks party by another military couple with a flock of other military couples also invited. But there was a twist – it was going to be a mince pie bake off. I very foolishly thought this was actually meant as a tongue cheek, slightly camp gesture. Each of the wives was expected to bring their finest examples of mince pie bakery.
In the midst of an intense media campaign, we were head-to-head with Ellen Macarthur’s solo record attempt and sailing media airtime was in short supply. Coupled with the 18 months of intense sleep deprivation due to the Grenade’s mania, rather than saying, ‘No’, I stepped up to the plate. 30 minutes prior to departure, I cut up some filo pastry (that I had bought and defrosted earlier) into squares, shoved in a tea spoon of mincemeat (that I had bought earlier), turned into a parcel, repeat 20 times, bake for 10 minutes at gas mark 6, (I cook everything at gas mark 6) and the dust with icing sugar. Stick on plate, bundle Grenade and Hagar into car, attend drinkypoos.
Now, Hagar and I, we were one of the first of this little military clique to squeeze out the offpsring, and quite frankly we had produced a lively one. We arrived at the party and the Grenade, immediately curled one down in his nappy. After, 18 months I was a pro at the super whippy, minimal impact, poo change, and so, in lightening speed in a far corner of the kitchen, I did a power-charged nappy change, to the very sour, tuts of all childless, young wifelet attendees, and the whispers of really you should do that elsewhere. (Interestingly, in the last month two of the tutters have squeezed out sproglets and both changed their offspring’s turdlettes on my living room floor without so much as batting an eyelid – how things have moved on. I guess it’s just one of the disadvantages of producing early)
The mince pies are produced and to my horror, it appears that this is not some tongue-in-cheek mince pie gag but a very serious competition. The women are instructed to stay in the kitchen, whilst the men folk adjourn to the dining room to judge the mince pies, with a set judging criteria. It turns out that one wifelet has got her granny’s best recipe and this is actually her fourth batch so intent on victory was she!
I am pretty horrified at the hideousness of the occasion. I can’t help thinking ‘what is going on?’ The judges return and the results announced the filo parcel pies are 2nd. The Grenade starts to cause destruction beyond what is acceptable, and I have to publish the evening polls on the Vendee Globe, so we take our leave and head home. Thinking about Jerry Hall’s famous quote ‘A women needs to be a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom’. I mumbled something along the lines of next year instead of mince pies, ‘why don’t the husbands just take it in turns to f*ck each one of us’ – a worthier attribute then our bake-ability, but I don’t think anyone heard, as they were all twittering lard and flour.
When we get home The Grenade chucked his ring up all over the hall floor, and in the midst of this I received a text telling me that after some deliberation, it was decided that the filo parcels were disqualified as I bought the pastry. ‘Arrrgghhh!!! – As I was up to my elbows in baby puke, I couldn’t give a flying f*ck’
Six years on we are the new folks on the block in our current quarters. The front of the house is south facing and everyone on our street has a little bench in front of their kitchen window, a little personal expression of who they are. When we moved I swore to Hagar I would not be swayed, and that we would not be joining the bench club. But six weeks in and the ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ competitive brain cell is squeaking naughty thoughts into my head…..’buy bench’ it’s saying. “Aaaarghhh!!!’ I have resisted so far but I am not sure how much longer I can ignore it for. This is part of the paradox, I am the conforming rebel – the battle rages on……