If you’ve browsed through the pictures here in Somersetland over the past couple of days you may have seen a photo of me with my great chum Lt Cdr Richard Williams dressed in ‘combats’ and grinning from within a banana shed at the little Belize port of Independence. We had been flying in Richard’s Sea King helicopter from Belize City, where I had spent a couple of days, back to HMS FEARLESS which was doing some operational training with the Belize Defence Force in the south of the country. Unfortunately we hit a rather violent electrical storm and so Richard, quite rightly, decided to put down and wait for the storm to pass as it was making flying hazardous. The lights of ‘Independence’ hove into sight and the pilot landed in a field next to a jetty with a large banana wharehouse on it. The noise of a landing aircraft caused all the dock workers to crowd at the doors of the shed to see what was going on and watch the half a dozen of us on board race the 100 metres across the field to shelter. We explained the situation and we were made extremely welcome, given hot drinks and told to put our feet up and relax until we were ready to set off again, Meanwhile the dockers got-on with loading the Fyffe’s Banana Boat bound for – all of all places – Portsmouth!

We were now in the wee small hours of the morning, and the Flight Commander was keenly aware that the ship was at sea and due to get underway for our next evolution somewhere else in the Caribbean. He also knew that the Captain would not be best pleased if his programme was delayed by the late arrival of one of his aircraft. But safety, of course, was always and without question, the first priority. The storm seemed to be passing us by and easing a little, so it was decided that we would all get back on board, make contact with the ship, assess the situation and if possible get on our way to the ship which was now 80 miles out at sea from the Belize coast. And so with bananas poking out from every pocket and with cheery farewell waves from our kindly hosts we ran back across the field in the rain and deep darkness and climbed on board the Sea King with me taking my usual seat just to the right of the cargo doors. I belted-up, put on my helmet and listened-in to the on board conversation between the pilot [P], the navigator [N] and the petty-officer [PO] crewman in the back with me. The chatter went something like this:

P: So where exactly is the ship now

N: She’s right here – (gives lat & long) approximately 85 miles to the south east of us.

P: Ok. Fuel state

N: We have enough for xxx minutes flying time.

P: Is that enough?

N: Oh yeah – should be plenty.

P: Should be???

N: Yep

P: Ok. What’s the weather report from mother?

N: (gives some met details) Can’t see any probs.

P: What do you think?

N: Go for it

PO: Yeah go for it sir.

P: Well weather and fuel state look ok for us getting there – the only problem is that if we are unable to land-on – would we have enough juice to get back to land?

N: Errrr…. probably not.

P: Not eh?

N: No.

P: What do you think then?

N: I think we should go for it.

P: Yeah I think so too.

N: Roger – go for it.

Chaplain: Hail Mary full of grace….

P: Have you been listening in to all this?

Chaplain: Sure have.

P: Well we can’t go wrong with the padre on board – lets go for it!

And so our intrepid team took off and we (obviously) landed safely with no problems and have lived to tell the tale. But it was certainly anxious making.

I must admit to being fairly anxious about the next couple of weeks as I go back into hospital on Tuesday for 10 days worth of isolation – with no visitors – as I get my radioiodine treatment. The intention is for the active ingredient to attack any remaining carcinogenic cells on my thyroid and on my scapula and to go in deep against the growths on my left ribs and in my lungs. Of course I am under no illusion that the cancers I have will have shortened my life considerably, but the hope is that this coming treatment will at the very least extend my life by a significant amount and will also relieve me of the pain and discomfort that I have. I am anxious on two fronts; firstly – naturally – that the whole evolution should be as successful as possible, but secondly because I suffer from a mild form of claustrophobia. It’s not so much a concern about being locked in a (en suite) room alone for ten days, but the disease itself makes me feel closed-in and confined and restricted – and that’s not pleasant.

Fortunately however, the NHS will be supplying me with a TV and DVD player and I can take my laptop and mobile phone as well as books of course –so I will have some diversions, and I hope to be able to keep-up the blog whilst in purdah. So – tomorrow (Tuesday) is the day…oooooerrrr!! The address, by-the-way is: The Isoptope Unit, Bristol Oncology Centre, Horfield Road, Bristol BS2 8ED