The Old Days.

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I was sent an old picture today. One I haven’t seen since shortly after it was taken more than 24 years ago. I am on the right of the picture. It was taken at the London Fire Brigade training centre shortly after I joined. I don’t remember ever looking so youthful, or thin!

Looking at a photograph like this you haven’t seen for so long inevitably makes you look back down the years. At least it does me. Because it’s work related I tend to look at that perspective. 24 years in one job is a long time. One of the most striking things about this photograph is the old-fashioned look of the uniform. That tunic is the same as we used for firefighting at the time. I think it looked good but it was totally impractical and at times very uncomfortable. When working hard in a very hot environment a water-soaked, thick woollen tunic would probably not be most people’s first choice. A lot has changed in those years, not just the uniform. Some very much for the better but, as with all change, some one is not too sure about. My official title back then was “fireman”. That has changed too, in more ways than one. There are so many memories associated with that photograph and looking back over the years in the job. The times of the huge adrenaline rushes. Arriving, and being first into a building which is well alight and which people are trapped in is an enormous adrenaline rush and one I wouldn’t swap. The rescues of people from fire, smashed vehicles and trains, water and so on obviously stick in the mind. But also many smaller things that sometimes seem trivial but you realise afterwards mean a lot to the people involved. Then, of course there are the not so good things. Arriving too late to save a child, lying under a train and holding a person’s hand (one of the few unbroken parts of their body) and talking to them whilst they die alongside you; and of course, if you’ve read earlier parts of this blog, the bombs……

Yet, looking at this photograph is, for me, more than just a trip down memory lane of my time as a firefighter. I joined the fire brigade at the end of what was, in many ways, the worst year of my life. It was a year in which I met many people who became friends some of whom have come and gone (some permanently). Some of those people had a profound effect on my life and in one way or another some still do. But it was a year tinged all the time with great sadness and a sense of loss. Not just a sense of loss; a sense of being lost. I certainly lacked direction and was absorbed by the loss of something that had become unattainable. I often behaved in uncharacteristic ways and against strongly held principles. And I pined massively. When I joined the fire brigade I got a sense of direction and purpose and, in a way I hadn’t been able to before, largely forgot about my loss. This is all very relevant now. In some ways the past few months have been very hard and untenable. I can look at this photograph and try to see that things move on, that things can straighten out. It is an enormous effort but I can try.

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