2006 Lisburn, Northern Ireland
In 2006 I was running the 'Radio Section', of a specialist Royal Signal Squadron in Northern Ireland. The job meant that there always had to be a team on call and ready to deploy on a job, anywhere in the Province. I remember staying in Northern Ireland over the holidays. Also on call were two guys who worked for me - Quinny and Andy. We were the singlies (not married, for all you civilians)in the section and as such deemed it fair for the married members to get time off over Christmas.
|Quinny - on a night climb|
|Where we spent Xmas day!!|
On Christmas day itself the three of us met up in the garage that we worked out of and completed the usual check of all our communications sites before getting out Andy's playstation and spending a couple of hours playing some tennis game - huddled together in the tiny office with its fan heater for warmth. I remember Andy getting pissed off around lunchtime and taking his PlayStation away with him because me and Quinny kept beating him!! haahaa. A few days later - on Dec 30th, we spent the night climbing a 40metre radio mast in frigid temperatures installing a vital new antenna. We finished just after 2am and I remember Andy climbing down the icy mast, wearing a short sleeved t-shirt and with cold blue hands. A good year and good memories.
2007 Kandahar, Afghanistan
I was in Head of a small team running a computer network on Kandahar Airfield in 2007. Christmas was a great day - a normal day in work - during which we all had one tiny bottle of unknown liquor - sneaked into the country by our boss especially for Christmas and our only alcohol in 100 days. Lunchtime was a full Christmas meal, in a cookhouse of 500 people and listening to a live USA army band playing Christmas music. Later in the day, just after dark - we came under rocket attack from the local Taliban and enjoyed watching one of the range huts burn down as it was hit by the rockets. It gave a lovely orange glow to the sky as we stood on the roof of the bunker we should have been inside for protection.
|Thanks for the present - Mr Taliban!|
|Xmas morning festivities|
|Only one small bottle of weird liquor each|
On New Years eve we took advantage of the quiet hours and worked from about 11pm to 3am changing a couple of out of date network routers and re-programming the network. My old mate Tarik, a German soldier, helped me out and we listened to the new years eve celebrations over British Forces radio as we worked!
|Do you recognise Santa!? (He is a little bit dead now!)|
2008 Brunssum, Netherlands and London England.
In 2008 I stayed in The Netherlands asI only got back from 6 weeks away snowboarding on the 23rd December and my old mate 'Max', had drown himself a Christmas shift at work and he was cooking a typical Christmas dinner. He finished his shift at 9am on Christmas Day morning and I spent the rest of the day with him, eating a huge ham and drinking the day away. A couple of days later we drove to Brussels and jumped on the Eurostar to England where we spent a few days over the New Year. We saw all the sights of London and on New Years Eve itself we were on Waterloo Bridge, watching the fireworks over the Thames and the London Eye. Lots of drunk people and a really chilly night, but a fantastic week with Max and one that I will always remember. Its just a pity that Dan Hine couldn't make it down to London too.
|Max just after midnight|
|Me on waterloo bridge with the london eye behind!|
A more standard and normal holiday followed in 2009. It was my last Christmas before I started travelling, but I had already got my plans in place and knew I was leaving in September. So I spent Christmas with Gareth, Tracey and my mum and dad in Northampton at Gareth's old house. I chose Christmas to tell everyone about my plans for the next year or so and that I wouldn't be about for next Christmas. A really nice pleasant gentle Christmas in between all the madness of the others!
2010 Melbourne and Sydney, Australia
What a Christmas and New Year!! After travelling mostly overland to Australia for 3 months - I spent Christmas day on the beach in Melbourne with Jennifer, Olivia and Jen's new house mates. A box of wine and warm ocean were followed the next day by the Boxing Day test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 90,000 people watching a cricket match.
On New Years eve I flew to Sydney and met up with Keri Sharp. We went out to one of the best night clubs in Sydney - drinking and dancing (Keri did all the dancing!) until nearly midnight, when we joined the throngs of people on the streets of Sydney, watching, but mainly listening to the greatest firework show on earth - New Years Eve in Sydney Harbour. We were only a few hundred yards from the Harbour Bridge and saw some, but not all of the show. Another great night out though!!
|The girls dont remember this!|
|Christmas hat in Melbourne|
|Xmas day on Melbourne beach|
|and a nice paddle|
|The Boxing day test in Melbourne|
|New Years Eve - off out with Keri|
2011 New York, USA and Niagara Falls, Canada
After my first visit to Winnipeg, I met up with another old mate - Sid, in New York for Christmas with his girlfriend Claire. We actually visited the Ground Zero memorial on Christmas Day morning, before a great day wandering around New York and a dinner next to the Ice Rink at the Rockefeller Centre. Its just a pity it didn't snow!
|With Sid and Claire at Ground Zero|
|and Xmas dinner in The Rockefeller Centre|
I left New York after Boxing Day and for New Years eve I stood in cold wet rain watching the fireworks display over Niagara Falls. A stunning place to visit at any time, but another New Years eve spectacular that I wont forget.
|and the falls.|
2012 Winnipeg, Canada
This year we had a huge family dinner at Buffy's aunts and uncles place just outside of Winnipeg. We had spent the morning swapping presents withe close family, before driving out in the early afternoon. A huge dinner with 21 people - aunts, uncles, close friends and neighbours all enjoyed great food and a few beers, before finding the pickle hidden in the tree! After a few more beers all us youngsters got our kit on and headed outside into the cold -21 degree evening. A small hockey rink, covered with snow instead of ice was set up in front of the house and we played boot hockey (ice hockey without skates) for nearly two hours. A Canadian Christmas tradition and in the Cowtan family we played for the Caribou cup - which you can see in the photo of the teams. My first game of hockey in Canada, but probably not my last. I loved every minute of it.
|Pat and Stef enjoying their presents|
|Me and Buffy having a cold Xmas day walk in the country|
|Warming up by the fire|
|Family and friends|
|Getting stuck in playing hockey|
|It was a bit chilly|
On New Years ever we went to the Forks - one of the entertainment districts of Winnipeg overlooking the junction of the rivers that pass through the city. Buffy had been invited to sing, live, for part of the evening by 'John', one of her musical friends and so we dressed up and spent the night in the lounge bar of the posh hotel down there. A nice way to bring in the new year - apart from the walk home in minus 34 degree chilliness!!
|Just after 12|
|A cute singer|
So that's 6 years of Christmas. I cant believe that I have been so lucky to have such varied and interesting memories from the last few years. I wonder where we will be in 12 months time!!?