I was aiming for a hat-trick this week; last Friday get my driver's license, Thursday get my Afghan medal and today get British passports for Y and I. You have all read how the driver's licence thing went - the less said the better. That's one down already.
Today Y and I went to Barnet Registry Office to apply for the passports. Previously we applied separately at different times for our permanent residence. When Y applied, months after me, we were told "Duh! You should have applied together. You could have saved hundreds on the fees." We pointed out that Y was not yet eligible, and were told this didn't matter. I'm sure you can see where this is going ... this morning we applied together, and were told that while I'm eligible, Y still has to wait several more months. *sigh*
Many thanks to rumint , who agreed to be a character referee for both of us with about 30 minutes notice. The other referee was the admin officer at my squadron; being in the Army means I have a large pool of official-type people to act as witnesses, certify documents etc. It's great!
So, that's the half - I will get my passport in the usual 3-6 months, and Y can apply in about 8 months. She has a Korean passport, which seems to grant more visa-free travel than any other, so it's not really a priority for her.
So, on to the success - my medal! This was quite an epic 36-hour effort to get everyone in place for the medal parade at Merville Barracks in Colchester. It started on Wednesday night, as Y, V and I drove up to my parents' place in Cambridgeshire. We stayed there that night, then I left at 0600 to get to Colchester for 0800, while everyone else left at 0800 to arrive around 1000. I arrived at the time I was told - 0800 - to find that everyone else had been forming up since 0700, and the rehearsal started at 0800. I managed to slot in on the correct block without too much difficulty, though, and as we rehearsed the medal parade twice everything seemed to be going smoothly. I caught up with everyone and was pleasantly surprised by the warm sunshine on the parade square - I remember thinking "I hope the sun shifts enough that it's not in my eyes during the parade!". I got my wish, but not in the way I wanted.
At 1000, just as everyone was arriving, the first drops of rain fell. We were all formed up in our squares and ready to march on to the square, so there was no hope of donning the rainproof, windproof smocks that everyone had cheerfully hung up earlier in the day. I had even being persuaded* into doffing my t-shirt, so I, along with everyone else, was wearing just a thin tropical camo shirt when the cold, steady rain began to fall.
The thousand or so guests had gathered around the parade square as we marched on. Taking part in a regimental parade with several hundred soldiers is quite awe-inspiring. We marched on reasonably well, although the halt was messed up for our block of the parade. No matter! When the parade moves into open order to allow the inspection/presentation of medals, there's plenty of scope to adjust position.
I happened to be in the third row of the parade**. The first row had medals presented by the Prince of Wales, the second row by the Duchess of Cornwall ... and the third row by a major-general. Not to diss the rank of major-general, but it doesn't compete against the heir to the throne. The presentation of medals - each one presented individually along with a quick chat - took about an hour, so everyone on parade was a bit chilly and damp by the time the parade ended. I received a medal (not my medal, though) and we marched off in good order and with no-one collapsing, though, so no worries!
After the parade we were gathered on a field nearby for a regimental photo. Stands had been constructed to allow all of 2 and 3 Para to form one giant block for the group photo. We had to wait around for a little while, and it took some time to position several hundred people shoulder-to-shoulder on the stands, so we had warmed up and dried off by the time we were all in position, and waiting for the royals to arrive ... and then the heavens opened.
There were several warning peals of thunder before the rain slammed down with a vengeance. It was raining so hard that within five minutes my clothes were sodden to the point that my boots started filling with water. I'd like to reiterate the thin, tropical uniforms we were wearing. We were not going to move for two reasons - firstly, it would take to long to position everyone again, and secondly, both 2 and 3 Para were determined not to be the battalion that wimped out in the face of the rain and scurried for shelter. After about thirty minutes,2 Para caved in and shambled off, to be met with a roar of derision and triumph from our stands. Morale and humour can warm you up! We didn't give in at all, and eventually the rain slacked off and the royal party arrived for the photo. I'm in the regimental photo and the regimental officers photo, with the Prince and Duchess. Definitely ones for the wall, even though I'm blue and grimacing from the cold.
After such a miserable three hours, everyone dispersed to meet family and friends. My dear family (thanks for being there!) were all cold and wet, and little V, who was a little soldier for the whole morning, was starting to fret from the cold. There were various teas and meetings throughout the remainder of the day, but I ditched them to get the C family somewhere warm and dry. I went and exchanged the medal I had for my actual medal*** and we left! We had a family tea at a little restaurant outside Colchester before splitting up and heading home.
Epic day, epic weather, and my first medal. Hopefully the weather will be better for the next medal parade!
** Of five rows
*** It has my rank, name, number and corps engraved on it.