Changing the dream
When I was, now let me see, about 6, or maybe 5 – it’s not easy to be exact with the age so let me start again.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to join the Navy. To be more specific, that would be the Royal Navy, over here in good old England town. My much older cousins were in the Navy and they would come home on weekends and make it sound so very, very exciting.
I wanted some of that.
I wanted excitement.
So I worked hard at school, and found myself at the interview on my 16th birthday. By November of the same year, I was in the military.
No – I was in the Royal Navy.
I had never wanted anything else – and I could not be happier. I was, quite literally, living the dream. I knew that I would be in the Navy for the rest of my life. I was also very, very young.
Worse still, I was also kidding myself.
A life at sea is just that, a life, there is no getting away from it at all – it is not a job at sea, it is your life. When it is good then it is amazing, like when you are among friends and you hit a town somewhere wild and new, like New York or Fort Lauderdale you just cannot even start to explain to people how good it is. When you are in Kuwait with school children asking you for your autograph – well words just won’t suffice frankly. I can look back and remember some really wild and brilliant moments in my late teens, and I just could never be without those memories. I'd wanted excitement, and boy was I getting it.
However, it isn’t always good.
The problem for me was in that as much as I liked the Navy and wanted to be there, I just was never very good at it. I wasn’t a great electrician if I’m honest, and when it came to team sports I lacked an awful lot of what the military likes to see. I also drank like a toddler. It’s true, I’m a rubbish drinker. I don’t think I really fitted in either, I just wasn’t strong enough socially at that time. I suffered bullying of really quite oppressive proportions, both mentally and physically. I spent many lonely nights without a soul that I felt I could turn too – even though I was surrounded by people. Later, when I was at my lowest, I was to find myself passing on that bullying to others. I don’t know why. I don’t think I ever will be able to like the Glen that I had become at that time – but those were the most miserable years of my life.
Part of the reason why I found it hard at that time was because I was still desperately trying to convince myself that I was where I wanted to be. All of that was to change, thanks to two amazing throws of Fate’s dice, which landed within a couple of months of each other.
In the middle of 1994 I learned that I was to be drafted to Naples in Italy for two years. I was very excited about this, firstly because it heralded the end of the three years of pain that I had just been suffering, but also because the idea of living in Italy was just awesome. I also got to spend a couple of months at a base in Harrogate Yorkshire for a while, as a filler gap.
In September 1994, I managed to bump into a young woman who would turn my life upside down.
These two events changed my life forever.
The base in Harrogate was a great warm up. It was fun. Proper fun. The people who were there didn’t seem to be full of hate. Somehow they accepted me in a way that other people never seemed able to do.
The young lady I had met was a bit of a problem, because though the chemistry was very strong, with an imminent two year separation, we both knew it was never going to work out – so ground rules were set, and we would split up as a couple. We would simply stay friends.
So I went to Italy, where I learned something very important. I learned that there are some brilliant people in the Navy, that it was possible to have the best time of your life with them. I learned that in an environment that absolutely nothing like the Navy. Essentially, I learned that I was a crap sailor.
I learned that the Navy wasn’t really for me.
In Naples we were treated like adults and allowed to do our work. We did this, without any issue. We also formed the strongest bonded team I have ever come across. I loved it. I also began to learn how important that ‘friend’ back home was.
After Italy, Jo and I got back together and became stronger and stronger as a pair. Jo introduced me to a world I could never have imagined, that included people from all sorts of cultures and sexual preference, and taught me just how sheltered and ignorant the Navy had kept me.
It didn’t take long for two very important life changing decisions to need making, and for me to see just how importantly intertwined they were. I needed to leave the dream behind and see the reality, and to do that I had to leave the Navy. I also had to accept another truth.
I had to stand up and accept that I loved this girl, and should really do something about that.
As I waited for my notice period to expire while serving on my last ship, things hadn’t really changed and I wasn’t having a good time. There were some really nasty people on that ship. However, I no longer allowed it to get to me. I knew exactly what the problem was, which was that I shouldn’t have been there. The problem wasn’t the navy; the problem was that I was just not a sailor. There was (I should point out) some pretty decent people on that ship too – you know who you are!
So here I am, almost 15 years since that decision was made, totally changed. I’m a married father of two who works as a telecoms engineer. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – exciting about my life.
But I’ve never been happier.