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Coming Out After A Good Swim To The Island Behind Me
Coming Out After A Good Swim To The Island Behind Me

This is a long post and one that is a real testament to true love so please don’t try to read it quickly. Instead settle down with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to read it. I hope it will make you smile.

The German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant, once said that the ‘Rules For Happiness’ were simply:

‘something to do, someone to love and something to hope for.’

I apologise for my silence since my last post in May but I have been extremely busy getting happier.

As many of you will remember, I never truly settled in the fabulous city of Edinburgh. It was just too big for my damaged brain and twice I had been so overwhelmed by the flood of people, traffic noise and general busyness of the city that I had become completely disorientated. I was, on each occasion, standing outside one of the city’s well-known buildings and would normally have known where I was. Certainly as a young officer of the 1st Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers who was posted during my career to Dreghorn Barracks twice, Redford Barracks and Glencorse Barracks three times, I could navigate around Edinburgh by public house blindfolded. However, after the damage done by my brain tumour, the treatment and each and every one of the more severe epileptic seizures, when my brain was overwhelmed, despite having an Edinburgh city map and a phone with Google maps on me, I could not even work out where I was let alone how to get home. On each occasion, feeling so terribly lost and with speech failing and the red ants working their vicious way up my left arm, I had to concede defeat and call darling Allie to help get me home. More recently I met an old army friend in St Andrews Square for a catch up as he passed through the city on his way north. He suggested we go to find a café but even though I was surrounded by a city replete with cafés I could not lead him to a single one. My mind was a complete blank. I tried so hard to settle in Allie’s wonderful flat in Newhaven with incredible views over the Firth of Forth to Fife, and up the Forth to the three bridges linking Fife to Edinburgh. We had a great set of neighbours in our stairwell and I could see a sailing club and boats racing on the water; at times they would come quite close to our flat with their colourful spinnakers up racing hard. It was beautiful to see but I was restless just watching the view. I wanted to be in the view but not being able to drive, the process of taking numbers of buses or long bicycle rides to get into some of the wonderful green spaces that the city has, like the Pentland Hills Country Park and the Holyrood Country Park, Blackford and Braid hills, to name but a few, was extremely tiring mentally, leaving me little capacity for much else except for those wonderful days in which I managed to travel the distances and do the walk and return with little incident. And to add insult to injury, as a passionate dinghy sailor, it was hugely frustrating to be watching the racing but not being able to afford to join the sailing club I could easily get to. It was a very fine club I am sure, but without a boat, living on a war disablement pension, it was well out of my financial league.

North Berwick From Rhodes Park
North Berwick From Rhodes Park
My Brother Alistair, Allie, Nicola, Thomas And Mia With Me At Home
My Brother Alistair, Allie, Nicola, Thomas And Mia With Me At Home

I was truly happy at home with Allie but could not settle in Edinburgh. After being brought up in a close-knit family with 3 brothers and 3 sisters deep in the Hampshire then Berkshire countryside, before spending my school years in an excellent yet very small, close-knit boarding school in rural Somerset, before then joining a single-battalion Scottish infantry regiment in which I turned from boy to man within a small but close-knit and most excellent team, I missed knowing where I was and who I was with. I missed being able to walk around my home village or town knowing so many of those that I passed. I missed that feeling of belonging. I missed the countryside.

The year before last, we had a Sunday afternoon outing to have lunch at the No.12 Hotel and Bistro in North Berwick before heading out to the spellbinding Tantallon castle, set on the cliff edge with beautiful views out to the Bass Rock and the islands beyond. On another trip we had lunch in the Herringbone restaurant and on my birthday on Boxing day in 2019, we climbed the North Berwick Law to savour the views before taking lunch in the Puffin bistro. We came back again to delight in the food and views from the Rocketeer restaurant and we came back to try the Drift café perched precariously in a shipping container on the edge of the cliffs. Over these many trips we were awoken to the many pleasures of North Berwick: The beaches, the High Street replete with cafés and restaurants and wonderful food, clothing and sporting and interior design shops, the butcher, the baker, the fishmonger and greengrocer, the sailing club and many other excellent sporting clubs and facilities, the happy and welcoming community and the stunning countryside of East Lothian. This was an area that I had yet to discover and was loving what I was finding.

We were smitten and Allie, one day, knowing how much I was struggling in Edinburgh and seeing how much I was loving this town, suggested the idea of moving to North Berwick. It had all I craved, offered much to aid and further my recovery, yet kept me within NHS Lothian so with my most excellent treatment team at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. We went back, this time for lunch in the JP Deli and started looking. We looked at the values of houses for sale in the estate agent windows and our hearts sank. It was a long shot. It was an aspiration for another time perhaps. There was no way we could make it happen without a mortgage and neither of us had a regular income.

James Harriet And Emily Chilling North Berwick Style
James Harriet And Emily Chilling North Berwick Style

Yet Allie, on seeing how much I yearned to be in a smaller community who I could get to know, in a town small enough for me to know my way around, in a modest house big enough for friends and family to come and stay, so close to the sea and to the countryside, started her own research and amazingly managed to secure a mortgage in principal against my War Disablement Pension. It wasn’t a lot, but it did put us in contention for a modest house. Allie had her flat in Edinburgh valued. She was actually considering selling the flat with the view she loved in order to buy a house from which her husband could be in the view, be in a boat, be happier.

A chocolate box house came up for a figure that was just within reach but went for an awful lot more. Another brilliant house close by came up and went for significantly more and so the pattern went on. After six viewings and offers beaten at every turn we realised that we were going to have to take the risk and sell Allie’s flat early to be able to make a stronger cash offer. Yet still we were twice beaten by higher bidders. House prices were rising significantly, not helped by an article in The Times declaring North Berwick the best place to live in Scotland, followed by a similar statement in the Daily Telegraph and to top it all off the Delamere institute in Cheshire declared North Berwick the most tranquil place in the UK. Having sold Allie’s flat to a cash buyer we just wanted the media to stop telling everybody how great this place was. ‘Enough already!’ was the phrase that came to mind. All hope of achieving our dream was rapidly fading and the date at which we were to leave Allie’s flat was closing rapidly. We prayed, we prayed hard as Allie scoured the internet for available houses that fitted our aspiration. Soon enough we had all our friends with a faith praying for our aspiration to secure a house, yet nothing seemed to be coming up and the move out date was getting closer. A particular house that we loved came on and off the market three times with sales falling through. Three times we put in an offer but were unlucky each time. It was a modest house without sea view so should have been achievable. We felt like we needed a miracle to make something happen. Perhaps, as an answer to prayer, an old and dear friend of ours stepped forward and gifted us with enough to be competitive, and then another house that had previously been sold, but fallen through, popped back up. We went to see it and Allie said that this was it but then it was at the top of our budget to be competitive in a bid. We knew that it was most probably out of our reach, and needed a little work on it to be a house that Allie would be truly happy in. However, knowing that we have to be in it to win it, we decided that we would put in our best offer and hope for an answer to prayer. As a result I write this post from our house in North Berwick. The house and the town is everything that we had dreamed of and everything that we prayed for. Despite the stress of the whole buying and moving process triggering three horrible SMART attacks, now settled in the house and the town, I am truly happy.

Allie And Cocoa
Allie And Cocoa

Once in the house, the next challenge for Allie came in a phone call. An old friend of mine called and asked if I was around. Allie replied that I was having a nap to which this old friend replied, “Good. Allie, how do you feel about a dog?” Allie replied that I had been really keen to have another dog for years after the loss of my old Border Collie, Georgie, who had travelled the world with me and spent nearly every working and resting day with me in my military service, but that our circumstances in the flat in Newhaven were unsuitable for a dog. Allie also informed him that while I had been slowly trying to convert her to the idea of a Cocker Spaniel, a small dog, in our new house, that she was far from convinced as she had never had a dog and came from a family that did not have animals in the house, and besides, we just couldn’t afford to purchase a dog. Our old friend went on to explain that his Springer Spaniel had just had a litter of eight puppies and he was wanting to offer us one as a housewarming present!

Once I had woken up sufficiently from my nap, Allie told me about our friend’s generous offer. Clearly I was cock-a-hoop with the offer and asked Allie if this wasn’t our opportunity to take that next step. That perhaps this gift was too good, too generous to turn down. That I would take full responsibility for the feeding, training, and exercising of the dog. That while Allie had never had a dog before, through my life this this would be the eighth dog I had helped to look after, first as a child and then training my own dogs as an adult. That I knew what I was doing, but suspecting that, like many things I once knew, much of my knowledge has been lost to my damaged brain, I would read up and remind myself on the nuances of dog training and care.

Allie spoke to one of her close friends who was very much of the view that such a generous gift just could not be turned down. Allie thought about the whole idea further and remembering how my old dog Georgie used to warn me to sit down just seconds before an epileptic seizure hit, she thought hard about the idea from an assistance type dog perspective. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that the Spaniel, as it grew older could become a walking partner for me and with a dog tag on she could help others get in touch with Allie should I have a SMART attack while out walking. That this dog, if well-trained could help keep me safe. Allie being the most excellent manager of our finances looked hard at the practicalities to make sure we could actually afford to look after and insure a dog properly. We discussed it some more and eventually came to the conclusion that because I really wanted the dog, and because it would help to keep me safe, she would say yes, but only if she could chose the name. I reluctantly agreed and discovered that she was to be called Cocoa. Allie helped me to source and purchase all the equipment we would need within our budget and I bought a couple of books on dog training. As I read, so my memories of training were rekindled. I grew confident of my ability to train her and wrote a training plan.

Off To Start Fundraising
Off To Start Fundraising

The day arrived and we set off to collect our little bundle of joy from our friend in the Borders. She was perfect. With a heart on her right flank, an adorable face, and a loving character, we couldn’t help but love her from the start. Our friends had even started to house train her along with her remaining brother Bertie who was due to be shipped to Switzerland. So on the drive back to North Berwick as I cuddled her and stroked her on my lap she suddenly told me that she needed out. We found a village green in the Borders to pull alongside. I got out and put her on the grass. Within a minute we had a pee and a poo successfully delivered. I picked up her doodoos and knew this dog to be special. Back home I worked hard to keep to my promise of training, cleaning and caring. On that first day away from home we introduced her to our garden and open plan kitchen and dining room with hard floors, ideal for cleaning up those accidents. Slowly, through the day we introduced her to her crate, her new blanket and stuffed elephant toy with a hard-to-find squeak, and her ball that delivers kibble treats if it is chewed in a certain way, and gently settled her in. On the first night I slept on a camp bed next to her crate with my fingers through the door to comfort her. Amazingly we both slept for 6 hours. No mess. I got up at 4 as she agitated in her crate and took her outside to pee. Back in we slept for another couple of hours. The next day I took my office downstairs and started the training routine in which I worked on my book for twenty minute sessions with Cocoa attached to me by a short training line so that I could tell if she was up to mischief. Then I would take her into the garden to do her doodoos, then train her for 5 minutes, then play with her for 5 minutes, before bringing her back in to rest while I worked for twenty minutes. Before lunch a ten-minute walk in which I gently introduced her to the concept of sit and not eating the lead et al. I discovered on this walk that, having been brought up in an idyllic situation with her seven brothers and sisters and Mum in a large and bountiful garden, she was terrified of traffic so I ended up carrying her alongside the main road to introduce her calmly to traffic. I also discovered, when she all of a sudden, tucked her tail between her legs wet herself and turned and ran screaming, that she was terrified of other dogs, even a short distance away on a path. The second night I stayed by her and she slept a full eight hours, and we continued into her training routine and, as I did, I continued training myself. Over the first week I grew extremely tired. Tired to a point at which I could hardly speak and my balance was shocking as I twitched away, triggered no doubt by the increased workload I had put on myself by taking on a puppy. So in a way, while I was training Cocoa, I was also retraining and strengthening myself. There were many twenty-minute work sessions that became just rest sessions for us both but gradually she grew in confidence and established in our twenty-minute work/training routine with an early morning walk, pre-lunch walk, pre-supper walk and last thing in the evening walk; we have still had no accidents in the house, I am back in our own bed with Allie while Cocoa sleeps soundly with her elephant and blanket. I put out a shout for some puppies in North Berwick to socialise with and found a lovely lady with two Labrador puppies of the same age. We met up in some open common land in the town and with bags of space and no dangers we let them off the leads to play and play they did. Ever since, Cocoa has grown increasingly confident, and now wants to play with every dog. I have discovered that the model of 5 minutes walking for every month of age was not nearly enough for Cocoa so stretched the walks to fifteen minutes and then another couple of days later to twenty-minute walks and still she is a wonderful bundle of energy. Now, just ten days after bringing her home she is loving playing with pretty much any dog we can find to play with on the beaches and open parks of North Berwick with the only downside to this beautiful dog being that it takes me three times as long to complete any shopping in town. Just about every family I happen to pass wants to say hello to Cocoa and Cocoa wants to say hello to them, and knowing how important such socialising is, I do, of course, enable it, and then, when I require something from Turnbull’s Hardware shop for the house she is taken into the staff room to be spoilt rotten by the team while I do my shop and in Barker and Bone pet shop there is always a willing child to play with her while I shop. She is welcome in Wilson’s the greengrocer and in Anderson’s the butcher and in Why Not for the fishmonger and in our local independent pharmacy. Life with Allie and Cocoa in North Berwick is idyllic.

North Berwick From Rhodes Park At Night
North Berwick From Rhodes Park At Night

As I write this post just six weeks after moving: the house all but completed after Allie’s most excellent hard work with all but the final couple of wee projects booked in for the next couple of months. Cocoa has been with us for 10 days with no accidents, made tons of friends, and now that she comes back so willingly, encouraged by yummy wee treats from Barker and Bone, on the wide expanses of common land in North Berwick and the beaches I can let her off the lead to run and play like a puppy should. She grows in confidence and competence day by day and is a joy to be with. I have managed to join the East Lothian Yacht Club but sadly my two attempts at sailing a dinghy with the club, pre Cocoa’s arrival, were cancelled by the Haar moving in and by strong winds. I also have an invitation to join the North Berwick Rowing Cub, a coastal rowing club. Activities with both clubs are pretty much on hold until next year – when Cocoa is older and happy to chill for four hours or so in the house waiting for me to return while Allie beavers away in her office as an editor to help make the financial ends meet.
So……

……I continue to have something to do, despite my frailties, in my challenge to beat my brain tumour and better myself for work while raising as much money as I can to save and rebuild lives for the disasters emergency committee. To have a purpose makes me content.

I continue to have much to hope for. With my tumour beating and brain strengthening journey tied in with Cocoa’s own training journey, and the house now very much sorted, I have found my balance again. So my balanced daily lifestyle continues using food and exercise to prevent my brain tumour from returning as predicted; and using learning to play the pipe organ, learning to play golf, learning to juggle, learning to dance, litter picking, water sports and writing as vehicles on which to retrain and strengthen my brain, I continue to hope that I might one day be declared clear of my brain tumour and fit to work. I hope that I may one day be able to afford a family size dinghy so that I can take my family, my wife, sailing. All this to hope for makes me happy.

Sister Sarah And I Posing Before A Swim
Sister Sarah And I Posing Before A Swim

I have many people to love. My brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, Godchildren and close friends of course but to love unreservedly I have, of course, my son James and daughter Heather, my wife Allie and not forgetting Cocoa of course. All these people make me so very happy. Recent visits by my sister Sarah with nieces, Emily and Harriet on top of the visit by my brother Alistair with my sister-in-law Nicola, niece Mia and nephew Thomas, in which we frolicked in the sea, and the pending visit of my sister Isla, brother-in-law Rob with my nephews Archie and William and niece Flora coming to make sandcastles with me, all strengthen the bond we have and the bond of love.

But for me, with the selfless way in which Allie decided to leave her flat with the view of the Firth of Forth she so loved, to leave Edinburgh in order to find me a house in North Berwick, in a community in which I can feel content. With the selfless way in which Allie cast aside her deep ingrained instinct not to have animals in a house, any house, just so that I could have a dog that would make me happy and see me safer ………That is surely a testament to true love.

As Brian Tracy once said,

“The greatest gift that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance.”

Despite my poor health and limited earning potential, I have no doubt that Allie loves me unconditionally and as Og Mandino once suggested, “I treasure the love I receive above all. It will survive long after my remaining gold and health have vanished.” I am blissfully happy with Allie here in North Berwick and seek to focus this joy into my drive to get fitter and stronger to raise as much money as I can to save lives through the DEC. Once this post is published I will start to gently try and fundraise once again with all those that I meet and within this wonderful community.

Cocoa Socialising
Cocoa Socialising
Lunch At The Rocketeer
Lunch At The Rocketeer

There are 64,000,000 active current accounts in the UK. My challenge is to convince just 1% of those account holders to challenge me to keep fighting to achieve success with just £1 per month. If I succeed, I could raise over £640,000 a month with which to help save and rebuild the lives of those most in need through the Disasters Emergency Committee. With 72 sponsors so far obtained I am 0.01% of the way towards my target. It is easy to doubt that I will ever get there, but I refuse to, so please sponsor me, I guarantee, that with the generosity of:

  • The Royal Bank of Scotland.
  • Webb and Wallace Accountants in Doune.
  • MHCreations in Glasgow.
  • Key Facilities Management in Doune.

That every single penny raised goes to save and rebuild lives through the Disasters Emergency Committee. Not a single penny is lost to costs.
Every penny raised encourages me to keep fighting to prevent my brain tumour from returning as predicted, and to retrain and strengthen my brain, using the mediums of Golf, Music, Navigating over the Hills, Drama, Dance, Juggling, Litter Picking and Writing, with becoming neurologically and cognitively strong enough to one day be able to sustain myself in some form of future employment being my goal while saving lives through the DEC on the way.

Please sponsor me to make me happy. After all, happiness is the key to success

My Willing Volunteer
My Willing Volunteer

Thank you, Keep safe, keep being brilliant. Keeeeeeeeeeeep smiling

Yours aye with love and gratitude,
Archie xx

DIY In The Sunshine
DIY In The Sunshine