Tag Archives: Arborfield

Surprise Landings

So there we were, sitting watching the TV, when I hear a weird noise from outside. Stepping out into the garden, this is what we saw, a Virgin hot air balloon coming down rather quickly. These pictures show the view as it went over and came to rest on the garrison sports field, amazingly coming down in the relatively small space between the tree lined road and the rugby posts. Considering that a few metres short on the other side of the road he would have been coming down onto the Penrose Park housing estate, and the rest of the sports field has regularly spaced rugby posts along it’s length, it was a pretty impressive bit of piloting.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Two Weeks Later

So after the brief snow we got for Easter, and the temperature reaching the dizzy heights of 18 ÌŠC this last week, on Sunday morning we awoke to this…

April Snow from Richard Peat on Vimeo.

By the time we had to head up to St James, the temperature had risen slightly and on the roads the snow had melted. However we still got a pretty view as we made our way. The video below is the view from the front of the car heading up the lower part of White Horse Lane, complete with a horse coming the other way, and an example of quite how little snow some people remove from their cars before setting off…

White Horse Lane from Richard Peat on Vimeo.

For more pictures see our photo galleries.

Life in Iraq: An Army Officer’s View

Captain Abi Brown

The final lecture in our Lent series was given by Captain Abi Brown, a member of our congregation and serving army officer, who had recently returned from a six month posting in Iraq – her second, having been posted previously during the initial invasion back in 2003.

This again was a total change of subject area from the week before. A lot of the presentation was about practical things, explaining what the army is doing in Iraq, and the day to day life of our soldiers out there. She also covered the preparation that the troops are given to prepare them for their tour of duty, and how the army supports their personnel once they get back.

Perhaps the most interesting part of all the background is the realisation of quite how little we know about day to day life for our troops in Basra. Even with all the embedded journalists that have been placed with troops we still only get a snapshot of life – it is rather different hearing from an actual solider.

Abi is a Captain with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers known as REME, who are headquartered here at Arborfield, hence how she came to be part of our congregation. Her troops were responsible for the maintenance, servicing and inspection of much of the equipment that the army use in Iraq, in particular vehicles such as the Challenger 2 tank and the Warrior APC that are the mainstays of the British equipment.

However aside from listing the equipment, she really focused on day to day life.

She was, like the majority of the British force based at Basra Airport, where the force is under continuous bombardment from mortars and rockets. She showed some pictures of the damage that these attacks cause, and also the measures taken to protect the troops. For example she showed pictures of her sleeping accommodation – a mattress surrounded by breeze blocks and a ‘roof’ consisting of a steel plate covered by sandbags. Another real and present danger was the risk of kidnapping, so she was armed at all times, and was never allowed to move around on her own – that even extended to going to the toilet at night, people were always accompanied.

She made some interesting comparisons with how things were during her initial posting to Iraq during the invasion. Today the army is well equipped, and properly supplied – she said that this is a big difference from how things were back in 2003. Back then she refused to wear desert uniform until all her troops were similarly equipped – she never wore her desert uniform during the entire posting. The general impression she gave of the situation then was that the army were ill prepared for what they had to do.

She largely steered clear of political comment, although she did say that about eighty percent of her troops probably disagree with the reasons that they went to war, but on a professional level want to do a good job. Interestingly she says that their biggest worry now is that due to political pressures the troops will be pulled out too early, and not get a chance to do their jobs properly, the job being to bring the Iraqi army up to a standard whereby they can look after their own country without aid.

Her husband Adam was posted to Iraq at the same time as her, but was in a different part of the country. She did say that the only British soldiers not posted to Basra were some admin staff based in Baghdad, and the special forces. Adam was posted to Baghdad, and all she would say about what he did was that it was a lot more dangerous than what she did, and that for her own sanity she never spoke to him at all about the kind of things he did.

She also talked about what it was like as a woman in a largely male organisation, and in particular being in command of men. She has some support in this respect as she is assisted by the first female ASM in REME. She commented that as a woman, the relationship with the men is different – she actually said that perhaps the least successful women in the army are those that try to be like the men – she sees handling things differently as an advantage. The most interesting comment she made was that many of the men seem to regard her as a mother figure – indeed one of her men commented after a telling off that it was by far the hardest he had had because he felt like he did when his mother was telling him off. She also said that because she is a woman many of the men open up to her a lot more than they would to a male officer, which sometimes gives her more of a broad view than a male officer would get, when perhaps the men would not mention some issues. Having said that, there are still soldiers who have a problem with being commanded by a woman – she has one in particular with which she has had issues. As part of her training though, she was required to spend some time working in industry, and she said she had a much harder time being a woman in the engineering company to which she was seconded than she has ever had in the army. Although it is still dominated by men, women are in many roles all across the army.

The final part of the talk, she discussed how she and her troops deal with the loss of fellow soldiers, she lost her first within twenty-four hours of arriving in Iraq. She also here talked about her faith, and how the weekly Church services she attended were about the only escape she had from the continual worries of attacks on the base – the Church was the safest building on the base. Key events are Remembrance Sunday – the base has a memorial with a brass plaque for each soldier that has been killed – and whenever a fallen soldier is repatriated as many troops as possible attend the ceremony. Amongst all of this, she says that many soldiers do find religion – “more than you would thinkâ€? she said – however that still doesn’t stop many of them having times when they find themselves asking why it is that situations like Iraq can happen, and why it is that certain people are killed and others survive.

All Home and Safe

Baird Road

Well we’re both home, and as of about 9:30pm tonight we managed to get the cars back too. Beth also managed to make it a short walk from home, but on the wrong side of this flood across the edge of the army base. At this point she just parked up and waded out. We then walked back down a couple of hours later to take a look to find this guy who had made it almost all the way through – it was over Beth’s knees wading through, so most of the onlookers thought he was lucky to have made it that far. Another car later on that had a go barely made it in before the car packed up – unfortunately that car had two mothers and toddlers and they were trying to get to the hospital. Luckily another car that was there helping out a friend who had also got stuck gave them a lift on to the hospital.

Anyway, about 9pm another one of our neighbours came home and said that they had both come across the bridge at Barkham without too much problem, and offered to give us a lift to go and collect the cars. Although the flood on the edge of the base was still there – and even crossed back across the road further up, there was no water at all over the bridge. The rumour that the bridge had washed away also proved to be wrong thankfully. So by going the slightly scenic route we were able to collect both cars – although the various cars stuck in this particular flood were still stranded.

It looks like although the flood at the bridge looked considerably more spectacular – as it is a river anyway, the water was able to clear pretty quickly. Places like this where there isn’t usually a river, all the water has collected.

According to the weather forecast the rain has moved north, so we’re a good deal better off than some other places in the country where it has rained continuously all day. We’re also a lot better off than Windsor, Maidenhead and Thatcham, all of which have significant numbers of houses under water – as can be seen on this BBC News Report. Although it was frustrating struggling to get home, it was certainly a relief to get home to a dry house and our thoughts are certainly with those people around the area who haven’t been so lucky.

And apparently all of this is because the jetstream is running further south than usual

Wokingham District Housing Consultation

Development Plan

Today we had one of the periodic communications from our local councillor. Along with a glossy colour brochure telling us what John Redwood, our local MP was up to, we also had an A4 sheet about the current housing consultation. The interesting thing is that housing was one of the big issues in the election this May, with a certain amount of mud slinging from each party accusing the other of wanting to bulldoze the local area. A little over a month ago it all kicked off again, and I explored the arguments in a post back then, so I won’t go over them again now.

What I have done is log on to the councils PlanAccess system – which although I moan quite a bit about the council, is a great tool, and taken a look at the Local Development Framework layer which shows graphically the various proposed developments that are on the list, the changes to green gaps and settlement boundaries, and a confusing array of other information.

I tend to find it easier to work visually, rather than just a dry list of numbers, so I’ve taken a screen grab of our part of the Wokingham District – and it is probably enough to give a lot of local residents in certain parts of the area a few nightmares, and probably isn’t a lot of peoples idea of saying no to housing. However, bear in mind that this isn’t a plan of where houses will be built, it’s all the places that they could be built. Simplifying the explanation of the colours a bit, existing development is in yellow – so you can clearly see Wokingham, and the villages of Barkham and Finchampstead on the map. Slightly confusingly, Arborfield is only a small block of yellow, but this is because the land around Arborfield Garrison is not classified differently, so the existing army housing can be counted as new development. Effectively all the red, blue and pink shading indicates various proposed developments of different classifications.

The red area around Arborfield is just as big as the numbers imply. Finchampstead village itself gets off pretty lightly, but the map shows a good deal of in-filling of current small bits of countryside to the north – so for example you can see the edges of Wokingham merging into Barkham and North Finchampstead on the plan – particularly a development area between the railway and the Finchampstead road is marked. A development on the site of the Ravenswood settlement is shown as well. The plan also indicates development on the south side of the railway to Bracknell – currently Wokingham comes to an abrupt end at the railway, however the remain area between to the south is marked in green. All told, there are still some gaps for countryside, but for certain parts of the district it definitely gives food for thought. If you are a local resident I urge you to take a look at the council website, and to get in touch with them with your opinions on the various areas shown.