Bistro Birthdays

The running continues to go quite well. I can cover 5km ten minutes more quickly than my first attempt at running a few weeks ago, and I have had a wonderful week of celebrations. First, my daughter’s 18th which we celebrated with a spa day in Bath for the ladies of the household (gentlemen were at work and school respectively) and a family meal at Comptoir Libanais in the evening.

After a quick turnaround on my return from work, the boy and I arrived at the restaurant to find the ladies looking revitalised from taking the waters at this historic place. The food at the restaurant was great and reminded me of some of the exotic tastes that I experienced during my time working in Qatar. The mixed grill and the mezze plates are highly recommended. I was a little sad that culinary delights of elsewhere in the Middle East were not available ( the famous Egyptian Umm Ali dessert, to name just one).

This reminiscence prompted me to look up how this delicious pudding came by its unusual name (Mother of Ali). The story of this dessert comes from an episode of intrigue and violence in 12th Century Egypt that is worthy of a Game of Thrones plot line. Umm Ali  was the enterprising mother of a new Sultan (Ali) who engineered the untimely demise of her rival Shajar al-Durr at the hands of maidservants who reportedly beat her to death with her own shoes. In celebration at the death of her rival, Umm Ali ordered her cook to make the most delicious dessert. When she served the dish to her courtiers, Umm Ali had a Shajar al Durr gold coin placed in each bowl, prompting them to chant her name.

The weekend saw us travel to East Sussex to celebrate my father’s birthday. This brought my brothers and I together for the first time in several years. We had a great time with a rather excellent meal at Rosetto; arguably Eastbourne’s best Italian restaurant. The service was second to none, with plenty of bonhomie from the waiting staff.

All of this celebrating and the fact that I have spent the weekend mostly sitting in a car means that I must double down on my commitment to reducing my girth and improving my fitness. With three months to go until the next family birthday, I have plenty of opportunity.





My Inspirational Mystery Runner

There is someone who lives near me who has had a great influence upon me, yet we have never met and I have no idea who they are. I shall call them my Inspirational Mystery Runner (IMR).

Last summer was a hot one and after several years of being desk bound at work and restricted to long commutes by car to get there, it is fair to say that I had turned into a fat knacker. I blamed my work routine, the weather and just about anything else for my predicament

Throughout last year’s heatwave, at about 0530 every morning, I would be woken from a fitful sleep by the rhythmic slap, slap, slap of running shoes pounding the pavement outside my house.

The first time I heard it, I thought nothing of it. But having heard the sound of this unseen athlete’s morning thrash on repeated occasions, I thought, “Well if they’re doing it, I should be getting out there too.”  So a few days later, I pulled on my running kit and hit the road.

Over the next few weeks, taunted by the daily foot stomp of the IMR, I trained progressively to reach the point at which I could run 3 miles at a half-decent pace and took part in a couple of Park Run events. In late September, disaster struck in the form of a ‘flu-like illness and a run of subsequent heavy colds. I soon settled back into old habits.

It is now January and I have managed to fit in five runs since New Year’s Eve with a sixth scheduled for Friday. A week ago, my running closely resembled dying in an upright position while moving in a vaguely forward direction. This week, I have managed to rise early and run before work. On both occasions I have completed a 3 miler in a manner that felt like and hopefully looked like running. I have not heard or seen the IMR for weeks, but as I work to regain a reasonable standard of fitness, I know that I owe them a debt of gratitude.

adult architecture athlete boardwalk

Photo by Pixabay on


Johnny Came Marching Home

I wrote this poem four years ago, but in light of the alarming number of veteran suicides this year, it sadly seems as relevant as ever. I dedicate this poem to my brothers and sisters in arms, many of whom are still fighting the wars of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere despite having returned home. Please check out Trevor Coult MC, on twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Trevor is a veteran and author who is devoting his life to helping veterans in need and campaigns on tirelessly on veterans issues.

Please, no political rants in the comments section, I am just an ex-military poet sharing his poem. If you like it, please comment and share with others. If you don’t, please keep your comments to yourself. Blessings to all.


Johnny Came Marching Home

No one said it, everybody knew
War had changed him
All pretended it hadn’t
Happy he was home

Time was not a healer
Carried on fighting the war
Anger fuelled by drinking
Violent outbursts

Battered, shell-shocked wife and kids
Soldiers all, in their own way
‘They also serve who stand and wait’
That’s what they used to say

He did what soldiers shouldn’t do
Retreated, cut off, by the foe
Low on supplies and ammo
Trapped in no-man’s land

He foraged and found an abandoned cache
Grabbed hidden liquor and pilfered pills
Trapped by the barbed wire of his mind
He left the war behind

February Update

Poetry might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but most people like a cup of tea, or coffee. To reach a wider audience, I have decided to launch a brand that will see my poetry and designs featured on a variety of products ranging from ceramic coffee mugs and travel mugs to iPhone covers, and pillows.

The brand, Buddy’s Pantry is named after Buddy,  my stepdaughter’s adorable, but mischievous border collie who has a love of food, which he will help himself to if he can get away with it! In time, I will be setting up an online UK store and sourcing quality goods specifically for the UK market. In the meantime, I am testing the market with some ideas using the online store Society6. Society 6 caters for the US and international market and offers an impressive array of products to which those with a creative bent can add their designs. 

I have used some of my more light-hearted poetry and have included verses and stanzas from Need for TweedFour Little Paws and Together Forever. Four Little Paws has not yet been published or posted and is a short poem inspired by Buddy’s penchant for sneaking into my stepdaughter’s room for a cuddle on her bed.

I recently had confirmation of my invitation to join the judging panel for the 2017 Never Such Innocence First World War poetry competition. This excellent competition is open to children aged 9-16 from the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries. It is a huge privilege to be invited to judge and I am looking forward to reading everyone’s entries. The closing date is 10th March, so if you or anyone you know wants to enter, you need to get your entries in soon – you have to be in it to win it!

Paperback sales hit a spike in the run up to Christmas, but have dipped since; thankfully e-book sales continue to be buoyant. I am struggling to find the time to write at the moment, but am planning to have a new book of poetry and memoir out before the end of the year. In the meantime, it would be lovely to think that some of my friends and readers are supping their morning coffee from a mug that has carried my words into the world!

Buddy’s Pantry on Society6

Never Such Innocence Competition




A Subaltern’s Love Song Redux

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. I thought I would share my tongue-in-cheek re-working of Sir John Betjeman’s famous poem. Note to non-UK readers, a Subaltern is a term for a junior officer in the British Army. Aldershot, also known as The Home of the British Army is a Garrison town near the border between Hampshire and Surrey.


Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn

Alas no more found under Aldershot sun

Your like has been gone for many a year

Place taken by loud ‘ladettes’ drinking beer


Innocent courtship of tennis has passed

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn would I’m sure be aghast

Down roads ‘not adopted’, woodlanded ways

After dark in the car park, ‘dogging’s’ the rage


Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn

The Surrey Heath drug dealer’s armed with a gun

Late night in Camberley, oh what a sight

The shock of a violent closing-time fight


Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn

How mad I am, sad I am to see what’s become

Once-pastoral Surrey, all gone to seed

Your letters from ‘Betjers’ by burglars thieved


With speed and grace, you played on the court

On a warm summer’s eve, who would have thought

That in verse you’d be immortalised, forever young

A pure ‘English Rose’, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn


© Barry Alexander 2016 (with gratitude and apologies to Sir John Betjeman)

My Nursing Birthday

Today is my nursing birthday. On this day, twenty-seven years ago, the January 1990 group of students at Sussex Downs School of Nursing commenced their three years of training. On that dim and distant morning, we all assembled in the common room of the staff accommodation at All Saints’ Hospital, Eastbourne to receive our initial briefing from our nurse tutors.

Built in the gothic style, All Saints’ was an imposing building complete with a beautiful chapel that had stood since the 1860s. A former convent hospital, All Saints’ had been taken over by the National Health Service in the 1960s and was dedicated to continuing care of elderly patients and the rehabilitation of stroke patients. On these wards, we would put into practice the fundamentals of nursing care that we would learn in the School of Nursing that was based at Eastbourne District General Hospital on the other side of town.

During those first few weeks of training that I learned and applied the skills of my profession, I also discovered how physically and emotionally demanding my chosen profession could be. Along with my classmates, I would learn the patience required to communicate with elderly people suffering from severe dementia or rendered unable to speak by strokes. I would also learn the practicalities of the Sisyphean task of managing (all too often failing to manage) patients’ continence.

As I look back on twenty-seven years’ experience, it occurs to me that I also experienced my first taste of being on the receiving end of toxic leadership at the hands of the ward manager on the ward to which I was seconded. Feared rather than respected, this woman seemed to delight in making my life a misery and almost compelled me to quit my nurse training in those first weeks; it is only thanks to the support and friendship of others that I remained. Had I not done so, there would have been no military nursing career, no tours of duty in far-flung war zones and perhaps no writing. I am in little doubt that the resilience and determination forged in me during my first months in nursing contributed to my abilities to cope with the crucible that was Helmand Province. I will never know what the ‘path not taken’ would have looked like and it is perhaps best to not dwell on such thoughts.

The public image of nursing has been battered over the years. Whilst in the nineties, the popular press was still inclined to refer to us as ‘Angels’, more recently, one might be forgiven for believing that an admission to hospital will lead to an untimely demise. Although I firmly believe that care and compassion must remain at the core of the profession’s values, nurses are not angels but highly trained professionals. The last time I worked as a military nurse in a NHS hospital, the staffing levels meant that competent nurses struggled to deliver the care they wanted to give. The resulting pressures were such that nurses’ capacity for compassion and ability to provide care were pushed to the limit. I found strong parallels between the NHS ward and the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

All Saints’ Hospital has long since closed and has been tastefully transformed into luxury apartments; Sussex Downs School of Nursing was long ago absorbed, first by the Sussex and Kent Institute of Nursing and then the Healthcare Faculty of the University of Brighton. Much has changed and I am sure much will change in the future and not all for the better.

Sadly, I have long since lost touch with most of the January 1990 intake but will never forget those with whom I shared those early years of my career. On this, my nursing birthday I salute my professional brothers and sisters.

Surviving Christmas with Military Planning

It may not be an austere setting, but if you’re hosting a family ‘get-together’ this Christmas, your home may very quickly resemble a warzone. These are my Top 10 planning tips to get you through the Festive Season:

  1. Plan early, plan twice. As this military adage suggests, you would should allow plenty of time to make your plan as well as execute it. Last Minute dot com may cut it as a website, but it won’t see you through the holidays unscathed.  Have a contingency plan and be prepared to enact it in the event of your cooker blowing up or your much-loathed long lost cousins turning up.  I would like to emphasise that I  can’t tell you what that contingency plan should be, only that you should have one.  As they say at the Joint Services Command and Staff College; this is about how to think, not what to think.
  2. Set a timeline. Christmas Day is a complex event.  You know that you want to deliver the Turkey to the table at 1300hrs so that everyone can eat drink and be merry before settling down to watch Star Wars at 1530hrs. To make sure that you maintain the initiative, you must plot the key events on a horizontal line and work back from them – the meat, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, Christmas Pudding all take different times to cook so be prepared and do the maths. Don’t forget to factor in Big Bird’s defrost time if you’ve purchased a frozen Turkey. Although for the adults, the day revolves around food and drink, little ones have a different agenda. You may consider plotting a separate timeline for the kids and running it in tandem.  Add oldies into the equation and you may need a third timeline.  Plot the key events for all (dishing up, present-giving etc.) and make sure the separate timelines for each group converge at these times. Military planners call this a synchronisation matrix.
  3. Analyse the Human Terrain. Okay, so let’s be brutally honest.  If your family is going to survive the holidays intact, you are going to need the skills of an accomplished peacekeeper in a vicious inter-factional war. Period. If grandparents are going to be present, you can bet your bottom dollar that you and your siblings will revert to caricatures of your juvenile selves in their presence.  Sometimes the different factions manage this themselves by creating enclaves (the Smiths remain in the living room and the Joneses camp out in the dining room), but this is not a given and they will all have to come together at the dining table.  Work out the Friendlies, the Hostiles and the Neutrals; differentiate between those with reconcilable and irreconcilable differences and plan your seating arrangements accordingly.  Work out who the key leaders are and influence them (plying them with drink usually helps too).  Just remember that nobody will ever forget that time that Uncle Bob got drunk and insulted Aunty Judy’s prize begonias and that you must keep these two warring factions as far apart as possible; perhaps you might want to suggest that one Uncle Bob goes to his in-laws for Christmas and visits you at New Year instead.  If you have more than one dog in the house, do a doggie terrain analysis too.
  4. This will be tough, there will be casualties. You might have the best operational plan, but if you don’t have a sound medical plan, your troops will lack confidence in the system that is there to care for them.  Anticipate the following:
    1. Penetrating trauma – from broken glasses and clumsy post-imbibement knifework.
    2. Blunt trauma – usually from child-on-child / child-on-adult combat.
    3. Eye trauma – from flying champagne corks and nerf darts.
    4. Psychological trauma / battle fatigue – the hosts are the primary ‘population at risk’.
    5. Disease and Non-Battle Injury – alcohol intoxication, abdominal pain, acute exacerbations of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases such as ‘flu may rear their ugly heads during your Christmas operation.
  5. Delegate responsibility. You are the commander – the responsibilities rest on your shoulders, but you can’t possibly do everything.  You need to appoint a second-in-command / Chief of Staff. Allocate tasks, provide the resources required and trust everyone to do their jobs, but do check on their progress.  You will probably find that there is no shortage of willing volunteers.
  6. Work out phases. There should be a natural and sequential phasing to your Christmas.  Consider using the concepts of Preparatory Operations, Shaping Operations, Decisive Operations and Stabilisation Operations to guide your thinking.
  7. Sustainment. Someone once said that amateurs talk tactics and professionals talk logistics. Thankfully it’s not the 1970s and you will probably find that the shops are open until late on Christmas Eve and you may even be able to get some emergency supplies on Christmas Day. If you have planned well, you will have established stocks of essential supplies (food, drink, wrapping paper, sellotape, toilet paper, kitchen roll, batteries etc.) throughout your house using the echelon system, which might look like this:
  • F (Fighting) Echelon – everything you need to sustain you through the contact battle – located in the kitchen, living room and dining room. Emergency rations will usually be found wrapped in foil and dangling from the branches of the Christmas Tree
  • A1 Echelon – immediate resupply of F Echelon consumables, located in the spare bedroom, home office, and pantry/larder.
  • A2 Echelon – replenishes A1 Echelon stocks. Located in the garage and shed.
  • B Echelon – replenishes A2 Echelon stocks. Longer lead time for obtaining these items. Typically located at Waitrose, Tesco, Aldi or Lidl. Urgent operational requirements can usually be obtained at the 7-11.
  1. Training.  You need to get into serious shape for Christmas Day, if you eat healthily and drink sparingly throughout most of the year, use the December party season to get into tip-top shape to ensure that you can cope with a gargantuan dinner and don’t resemble an empty wetsuit that is burbling nonsense after your first glass of ‘vino di collapso’.
  2. Remember Murphy’s Laws. From “the box said it came with batteries” to, “unwrapped at 0600hrs, not working by 1600hrs” and “the bloody Turkey’s still frozen” remember that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Fans of Clausewitz will recognise this as friction and the fog or war.
  3. The Decisive Act. Known to devotees of Clausewitz as ‘schwerpunkt’, there will be a decisive act which determines the outcome of your Christmas. In an ideal world, if you have planned well, it will be the delivery of a perfect dinner in a harmonious atmosphere with smiling happy children, all pleased with their presents. In the real world, this is less likely (just remember that no plan survives contact with the enemy). For many of us the Decisive Act will be when, faced with chaos and carnage, we decide to “stuff the Turkey and drink the wine.”

© Barry Alexander 2016