In this blog, I’m going to share with you an insight into my life as a child… how adventure was nurtured and encouraged…
From a young age I have had a passion for adventure, a thirst for travel, exploration and for conquering challenges.
It’s easy to trace back for me, my Father was keen to encourage and reinforce this adventurous spirit in me. He would regularly go away on exercise with the Army for 4 to 6 months at a time. Although it was always sad to see him leave, we would write to him with “Blueys”, (Letters sent in the military, called Bluey’s because of their colour). I would be so excited to receive one of these blue letters in the post, it may have been the only contact I had with my Dad for months. In the letters and when he got back, we would hear about his amazing stories and he would always tell them as if they were an adventure, although of course, that may have been far from the case in Bosnia, Iraq and Northern Ireland, the tales of training in the Jungle in Belize or training in the Arctic would fascinate me. He would come home with a small gift for each of us 4 kids, a tiranchila or knife from the jungle perhaps, always something exciting.
We lived in Aldershot, back then it was home of the Parachute regiment. I’d watch my Dad jump out of planes most weekends, I would point to the sky with my older Sister, probably 8 at the time and ask her which one was Dad… with 200 Para’s falling from the sky it would have been a particularly difficult feat to know which one he was, but she was always pretty certain!
My time as a young boy in Aldershot was the best years of my childhood. If I wasn’t in school, I was outside. I spent most of my time climbing in and out of tanks, climbing cargo nets, racing through assault courses and exploring local forests. One day, much to my Mother’s despair at the time, my Dad had me on top of the Garage outside the house teaching me to abseil down, I was 6 years old and in my element, it all ended safely with a new skill learnt, although perhaps, not a typical skill for a 6 year old to pick up.
Looking back, It’s hard to say if the thirst for adventure was indeed nature or nurture. Certainly, these years in Aldershot surrounded by adventure at every corner, planted the seeds in my mind that Adventure was a high value in my life and this was solidified by the positive reinforcement of this learned behaviour from my Dad.
From my experiences as a young boy I was certain I’d be joining the Army, we moved house to Bradford On Avon in Wiltshire and things quickly changed. There were few kids my age in the area and my Dad’s work was no longer on an exciting Para’s base. I picked up Martial Arts and it became my life from age 7, it became my whole community and it gave me direction and purpose. Previously I talked about how it guided me through difficult transitions and including school changes and bullying. I began competing in martial arts around the UK and won several national titles and became a 2nd Degree Black Belt. My Dad was always there to support me at these competitions, camcorder in hand so that we could analyse each match afterwards, watching back on the VHS. We would often drive up to 6 hours to compete, loose in the first match (1 minute rounds!) and come home empty handed. It was always framed as a positive experience and just leaving the house to go and compete in the Nationals was made into an adventure with my Dad.
As a teenager (14-15)I was massively encouraged to be part of anything adventurous and so naturally I put my name forward for Ten Tors. A 35 mile trek across Dartmoor in 1.5 days, camping halfway. The smallest in the group with a heavy bag, I found the whole experience incredibly tough but massively enjoyed the challenge and the team work. Navigating across Dartmoor in terrible conditions was made bearable by the incredible camaraderie my team developed. We felt part of a small, elite group of adventurists! I felt immense pride when I completed the event and our team came 3rd out of 400 other school teams. Little did I know within 10 years I would have created an import business supplying all of the kit and merchandise to the Army for their Ten Tors event.
I had just turned 16, just finished my GCSEs and was starting my A levels. At age 17 I would be able to be part of the Royal Marines Reserves (RMR). Finally able to join the military. I couldn’t possible wait until I had finished school and doing my A levels seemed like a good decision. So the application process started early for me, the initial interviews and fitness assessments took half a year while I was 16 and the week of my 17th Birthday I began training.
As a member of the Royal Marines Reserve every week we were training in Bristol, and every other weekend (Friday to Monday) we would be training in Lympstone, home of the Royal Marines. At this point I was still learning to drive so that I could go alone on the 1.5 hour journey into Bristol after school once per week, for the first 6 months my Dad would come home from work and drive me, wait in the car and drive me back, again showing absolutely incredible support for any adventurous pursuit.
The training with the RMR was incredibly difficult. The Commando course was definitely the hardest thing I had ever done. At the time my body, although fit and strong for a young 17 year old, lacked the stamina of the older guys. I’d come first in the circuit training and assault courses but struggle massively to run for 6 plus miles with heavy webbing after a weekend of no sleep in between A level revision.
While training in the RMR and studying for my A levels my Grandmother died of Alzheimer’s. It was a difficult time for the whole family and my Dad and I decided to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. We planned, what was to be an absolutely mad adventure. We packed up our mountain bikes into cardboard boxes, shipped them to Marrakech in Morocco (Africa). Meeting up with a few other ex-army friends who were joining us, we then got transported by minibus with our bikes strapped to the roof 500 miles away into the Sahara Desert. We then cycled back, through the Sahara desert carrying 20L of water and camping kit each, sleeping at night in dried out river beds, over the Atlas Mountains and down into Marrakech to conclude the trip. For a 17 year old this was quite possibly the most exciting thing I had ever done. We raised several thousands of pounds for the Alzheimer’s Society and came home with hundreds of stories of Mid-Sahara punctures, running out of water and food, Scorpion dodging and tales of struggle and triumph. A brilliant adventure.
At age 18 I was still training in the RMR. The weekends were long and absolutely packed with tough physical exercise, assault courses, yomping across Dartmoor and technical classes on shooting, ironing, washing, navigation etc, with very little sleep. I would come into school Monday morning and I remember our IT teacher who would take my first class of the week, becoming quite concerned as I would be sleeping at the back of the class every single Monday.
Being part of the Royal Marines and handling my AS level and A level revision and exams was tough, polishing boots and fitting in training during the day, running with webbing during each of my Free slots in school to build up my stamina. All of this, while other students were relaxing or catching up on work gave me an huge amount of pressure on top of what most students would consider the hardest academic years of their young lives. Eventually something had to give and I decided to give up the RMR. It was a difficult decision, but I was happy and proud to have been on such an incredible adventure and it gave me a real taste of the military. I made some brilliant friends (although all in their 30’s, far older than me) and I learnt the importance of camaraderie and the four elements of the Commando Spirit; Courage, Determination, Unselfishness, and Cheerfulness in the face of adversity. I learnt the importance of attention to detail which was drilled into us so regularly during training. The lessons learnt from being part of the RMR were invaluable and I look back on them with fond memories.
The adventures and lessons I learnt through my life as a child, teenager and up to the age of 18 would determine how I lived my life and certainly the more extreme adventures I have found myself a part of as an adult all stem back to the stories and lessons learnt in these younger years. Living a life of adventure has provided me with so many rich experiences that have given me every emotion, taken me around the world, taught me about so many different cultures, picked up so many exciting skills and really helped me thrive in this exciting world.
Now that you know a little more about my background… In the next blog I’m going to dig into how I believe how encouraging a sense of adventure in your child will develop their creativity , resourcefulness and team work!