Every time March 5th rolls around I pause to mark an anniversary in my head and what I think of as my own personal ‘sliding doors’ moment. Thirteen years ago today I packed up my home and headed for RAF Brize Norton. I was excited and terrified and my life was about to change…
I had just started a contract with British Forces Broadcasting and they were sending me to work in the Falkland Islands for six months. I knew no one there, had no experience of working with the military and had never lived outside the UK, let alone in the South Atlantic.
My parents drove me to the airport late in the evening and we got stuck in every conceivable hold up you can imagine. Motorway exits were closed because of roadworks, the only map we had with us with out of date and the whole thing became ridiculously stressful.
I arrived an hour late for check in, but two hours before departure and when I staggered up to the check in desk laden down with bags, the first thing they said to me was “you’re too late, you can’t go” so I burst into tears. Fortunately it turns out men in uniform don’t like civilian women crying on their watch, so they quickly reversed the decision to allow me to board.
20 hours and one refuelling stop later, our 747 was escorted in to land at Mount Pleasant airport by a Tornado fighter jet. I was a million (oh ok, 8,000) miles from home, in a surprisingly warm and sunny Falkland Islands.
It turns out that in fact, everything that came after that point was quite surprising. Six months of frolicking with the forces (no not like that!) detonating explosions, taking helicopter flights, penguin spotting, drinking (a lot) partying, broadcasting (aka work) and eventually meeting the man who was to become my husband.
Half a year away from home was hard at times and yes the Falklands can be bleak particularly when you are in winter and everyone in the UK is in summer, but everything about that time was an experience.
I often think about how close I came to not getting that flight. Not because of the hold ups and the officious check in staff, but because as a single 29 year-old with a cat and a house, the easiest thing to do at that point in my life was nothing at all.
It was really hard to throw myself into the unknown and it was only because of the reassuring words of friends and family that I did.
To think how easy it would have been to take the other path and miss all the amazing adventures I had and the resulting turns my life took (hello marriage and two children!) makes me a little sad.
Yes the outcome could have been different, I might have hated the islands and had an awful time, but I would always have come away from it enriched in some way.
Baz Lurhman probably got it right when he said “Advice is a form of nostalgia dispensing it is a way of … recycling it for more than it’s worth” but at this time of year I always think about people making difficult choices and will then on to be a little brave… There are adventures out there for all of us, so say yes as often as you can.