Week 639

Sunday, 21st March, 2021

Glorious, warm – 15C/59F – and sunny morning. Been out for an early hour of walking. Sitting, shattered in the kitchen with the conservatory doors wide open as the sun and warmth streams in. Annoying little reminders keep popping up on my iPad telling me to complete the Census form. I love census data. It is so useful for finding people. It is a researcher’s dream. Of course, everybody should fill it out on pain of paying £1000.00/€1161.00 fine if they don’t.

I filled ours in on line a week ago and payed specific attention to two discrete areas. Religion is one. As a life long atheist, I am delighted to shout that and I was pleased to read predictions that, over a 20 year span, those ticking Christian will have fallen from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011 and possibly 48% in 2021. The other area which gave me pleasure was in identifying as European in National Identity. Like so many others, nothing will make me a Little Englander!

Quarry Court

As we were planning to establish ourselves on a remote Greek island with a sizeable and potentially expensive  bridging loan for £60,000.00/€70,000.00, we knew we would need to raise money for the building. We put our home in the country on the market and decided to use some equity from that to help. Effectively, we expected to downsize. In reality, we bought a bigger home in a smaller plot of land. We were never at home to look after the garden so it was a sensible swap.

The Helme house sold very quickly, we paid off the loan and moved into Quarry Court on the day we also set off for a drive across Europe to Greece for a six week stay. We thought we were trading down but it turned out to be a delightful place to live with beautiful views and lovely neighbours. The triple garage was a real bonus! We stayed 10 happy years before moving to Surrey via a temporary let in Huddersfield.

The interim, rented Shoe Box

We had retired from work, sold our home, were spending 6 months in our Greek home and 6 months in UK. It made sense to have a smaller home. Pauline’s Mum died shortly after we came back from Greece in October 2010 at the age of 97. Having sold our Quarry Court home, we had the unique experience of being with her for her last few weeks and we were living in her sheltered accommodation. We actually slept in the Hair Dressing salon of the establishment. It was worth it. She wasn’t alone.

We had bought a duplex apartment off-plan in the heart of Surrey. We needed somewhere to use for Winter which wasn’t too big and could be locked-up and left for 6 months of the year. It was also so much closer to the Channel Tunnel for our drive to Greece. I’d always fancied apartment living but soon realised it wasn’t really for us and we only stayed 5 years – until we’d sold the Greek house.

Monday, 22nd March, 2021

Bit grey although mild this morning. Bin Day – all 3. How will I cope? At 9.00 am, the Covid tester arrived and we both completed our 10th, throat & nose swab test. Another £50.00/€58.20 in the bank. So far, we have been paid £600.00/€700.00 which should buy us a nice hotel room when we can travel.

I’m looking for small things to cheer me up at the moment. This cartoon appeals to my rather warped sense of humour:

Almost at the end of the journey now although I hope not literally. Once again, we looked to buy a new-build property off-plan. Having left Greece, Pauline was desperate to be near to the sea. The difference about property selling in Surrey was the speed at which it sold and the fact that it had almost doubled in value over 5 years. West Sussex is an incredibly expensive place to live if you compare it with West Yorkshire. It is amusing and shocking to calculate that we could buy 120 of our first home in Meltham in 1978 for the value of our current home in Angmering, West Sussex in 2021. How anyone gets on the property ladder for the first time now?

Three months before we moved in.

Who knows what is next? We are never really settled or satisfied. We have become rather addicted to moving and setting up new homes. At one point, it almost became a way of life in itself. In some ways, being itinerant allows one to leave problems in the past like Norman Nicholson described in his poem about a little lad desperate to be older than he is, Rising Five:

The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.
We drop our youth behind us like a boy
Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,
But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,
But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed
In the baby’s cradle, we look for the grave in the bed; 
not living,
But rising dead. 

Sorry if that is a bit of a depressing note to end on but it rather catches my current mood. …..

Well, the grey skies having completely departed. Not a cloud in the sky as we’ve done our walk in strong, warm sunshine. Hope you did too. There is always hope.

Tuesday, 23rd March, 2021

Up early on a grey start to the day but a little pinprick of sunshine has just broken through and I am very grateful for that. Let’s hope it develops over time.

Just received a text from an old friend which has left me very sad. A couple – Pat & Derek – who were on our staff and about 10+ years older than us retired to the Yorkshire countryside. We last saw them three years ago when both appeared well and happy. A year later, Pat was dead of bowel cancer. Today I learned that Derek has been taken in to a care home exactly on the second anniversary of his wife’s death. His dementia had become such a problem that he was no longer able to look after himself. The huge, strong man who had so much life has fallen in to such a decline that he cannot look after himself over a period of just two years. It is almost unbearable to consider.

Im the hooligan in the green jacket – 1971.
Alun Armstrong

I have tried to live my adult life on a calm, controlled and thoughtful level. I am not an actor. My face gives me away immediately. I was quite a good Bridge player because of my memory for numbers and sequences but my face and eyes and body language reflect everything going on inside my head which betrays my game to opponents. I wear my heart on my sleeve and cry easily. As I have written before, music is particularly a trigger. None of these things am I ashamed of. They are part of me. In some respect they are admirable qualities because they speak of honesty and truth. I have never subscribed to the stiff upper lip, be a man approach. I do not feel any weaker because of my character. People who have tried to stand in my way will testify to that!

I’m back centre. Don’t know the poseur front right.
I wonder who splashed out for this?

However, there are times when I would be grateful for the ability to act and to shield my feelings. At College, I took subsid. Drama because it seemed to naturally fit with English Lit.. A lot of it was rolling around on the Hall floor in the darkness pretending to be trees or ghosts which was never me. I spent an enjoyable few days as an extra on an ITV police series in 1971 but mainly because the professionals like Alun Armstrong, were so interesting. The Drama goup had to put on a production and I appeared in Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt which I can’t say I was either good at or particularly enjoyed. I am better analysing the text.

Great Costumes

Just like yesterday, the afternoon has turned Mediterranean with clear blue skies and strong sunshine. Been out for an hour’s walk. After spending so many years living in Greece, I find my skin tans very easily. Even March rays are giving me a colour.

Wednesday, 24th March, 2021

The start of the last week of March already. We are well in to the Spring Equinox and clocks go forward at the weekend. In Europe – C.E.T. – this may be the last time. They voted to keep their clocks unchanged and this will make an interesting difference when we/if we ever start travelling again.

I lead quite a strong interior life – thinking, reading and writing. Looking back, I always have. I love physical activity and need it desperately to make me feel alive but I live in my head a lot. The former friend and ex-colleague who I wrote about yesterday moving in to a Care Home for Dementia sufferers made me think over night about my own memory which someone described recently as ‘Dodgy’. Although I don’t think I am at dementia stage yet, my memory has always been extremely selective.

I was lying in bed trying to recall the name of an artist from my past and try as I might, it just wouldn’t come to me. I fell asleep worrying about dementia. I’m sure this happens to most of us at times. I woke up this morning and her name popped straight into my head.

Briget Riley aged 39 – now aged 89.

As that name arrived from outer space aka my memory, it brought with it a book I read at around the same time. Although we probably didn’t verbalise it or even acknowledge it at the time, it was an early introduction to socialism in action. I became a student just as the student protests of 1968 were being softened and addressed by European governments.

Socialism in Action

There was a broad movement in opposition to the Vietnam War all over the United States as well as in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. Mass movements grew not only in the United States but also elsewhere. In most Western European countries, the protest movement was dominated by students. The most spectacular manifestation of these was the May 1968 protests in France, in which students linked up with wildcat strikes of up to ten million workers, and for a few days the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government.

I was no radical. I had come from a very middle class, conservative home and very sheltered even stultifying village life. I had never eaten fish & chips out of newspaper for goodness sake and my Mother sent me off to college in khaki slacks, a striped nylon shirt with a mustard-coloured cravat topped off by a newly bought and very expensive £50.00/€58.00 country gentleman’s jacket which I quickly sold to my friend in digs, Nigel. She thought she was doing her best for me in spite of my protests and she was devastated to see me come home in the green coat I bought for £5.00/€5.80 from Millets. She called it a toilet attendant’s coat.

My memory may be dodgy but also rich and selective. I will resist being disposed of yet by anybody.

Thursday, 25th March, 2021

Pleasant but quite cool morning. I’m feeling a bit of a lethargy today. Pauline has been buying clothes and is now vacuuming and steam cleaning all the downstairs floors while I am reviewing travel plans for the coming year. I have jobs to do but just can’t be bothered. 

We recouped all the cash we laid out last year for travel which amounted to about £10,000.00 all together but we allowed one booking to be carried over because of the generous deal on offer. We had booked a suite for 4 days of late August at the Electra Palace Hotel in Athens. We paid in full around £1200.00/€1400.00 long before the pandemic hit in March. It was the first time since 1981 that we hadn’t visited Athens at least once each year. We’ve also got £700.00/€815.00 tied up in flights as well which we deferred. They will have to be rolled over again unless things change rapidly.

Sunny Breakfast with a View.

We have been regulars at this hotel and they offered to roll over our booking for 18 months and return the cash in full if we didn’t use it. Throughout the last horrible year, we have expected to be there in late August 2021 but, recently, we have begun to have some doubts. We genuinely thought we might be driving in France in June. I’d love to go back to Paris. It seems years since we were there. It appears as if we may have to put dreams of France off a while. All of this is depressing but I am holding the faith. It will happen!

Now I’ve got that out of my system, I’m ready for some exercise. Actually, just before that, my cloud photo storage system’s memory for today is the picture above. We were in our Greek home for school, Easter Holidays and Greek Easter 2008. Half a lamb was collected from Apostolos & Moshca and our lemon trees were fruiting heavily. There is nothing better than picking lemons from your own tree and splashing its ultra-fresh juice on hot, roasting lamb. Must do some exercise!

Friday, 26th March, 2021

We were told it would be raining here today but at 11.30 am there is still absolutely no sign. We were up at 6.00 am for a Sainsbury‘s delivery at 7.00 am. Beautiful, sunny morning. We were doing our walk by 9.00 am. The only problem with all of that is what to do with the long day stretching out when we get home.

I left home in September 1969 and we had never had a television at home before I went. It felt strange because all the lads at Grammar School would be talking about things they’d watched the night before but which I knew nothing about. My parents theory was that it would be too distracting from our homework. Most of my access to popular culture was from the radio and stultifying post-war singalongs like Workers’ Playtime and The Cliff Adams Singers which Mum loved. At school some of the older boys talked about Dylan and Baez and I managed to hear some and they felt as if they were speaking my language.

There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Oh please let it shake my windows. That’s exactly what I needed. I needed to be somewhere else and that’s when I first heard Go Now by The Moody Blues.

It was one of those seminal moments and it is no exaggeration to say that when I first heard it on pirate Radio Caroline, I thought something had exploded in my head. It was like a signal that was talking to me. I had never been so affected by anything like that before. I had enjoyed the frisson of anarchy that early Beatles had provided as a backdrop to my teenage years but this was something entirely different.

And go I did. I wanted to go to Newcastle University to read English Lit. but I had no conception of the competition at the time for Arts Degrees. When I went up for interview, I was shown in to a candidates room with the most wonderful collection of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen in my life. Never had I wanted to go to university so much but it was all too late. I hadn’t worked hard enough for the 3 x Grade A A’ Levels that they demanded. As so often, the girls were snatched away before I got started.

I grabbed at anywhere that would get me away from home and there were girls. I found an all-women’s training college that was accepting a handful of men. In that interview, they were begging me to take the place. Would I be able to cope with so many young women and only 19 other men? I told them I would do my best. I didn’t need to. I was taken off the market in the first week.

On my first day, I was driven up to Ripon by my mother. Mr & Mrs Boyd were letting out their top floor to students. We carried my trunk up those steep stairs and heard a very loud noise coming from one room. It was a small, communal room with a table and chairs. On the table was a record player blasting out a noise I had never heard in my life. Under the table was a young man who was going to be my Digs companion for the next two years. Nigel, like so many of the other lads in my year, was so much older than me although I didn’t know it at the time. The noise he was playing was Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room. My mother looked at me as if she had delivered her eldest son to an alternative circle of Dantes Inferno. She left very quickly for the peace of her quiet Midlands village and never returned.

Saturday, 27th March, 2021

The most beautiful day after a wonderful sleep. Early walk again today. We are expecting an extended warm period over the next week so the garden furniture will be brought out and cleaned up for early use. Goodness knows when we will get abroad. I was even looking at hotels in Paris yesterday and then the news that Pas du Nord had gone in to tougher lockdown measures rather put me off.

You, who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so, become yourself
Because the past is just a goodbye

Teach Your Children – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

At the risk of boring you, I am going to continue with the theme of My Music including a story that I have never spoken to anybody about in 50 years. I busked my way through much of college time doing as little as possible. I remember talking in a tutorial about a Joseph Conrad novel, The Secret Agent for about 20 mins having only read the blurb on the back of the book. I was very pleased with myself although I learnt later that my tutor had been in despair.

I was just too busy learning what life was about, learning what sort of person I wanted to be, learning a code to live by. I wasn’t even that sure I really wanted to be a teacher. I learnt I hated discos but I loved music. The college discos were playing Motown which I really didn’t appreciate and Elton John was also particularly popular. He did little for me either although I liked his piano playing.

My Lit. Tutor, David MacAndrew

In our final year, I had to write a dissertation and with the help of my dear, old friend, David MacAndrew, I chose to write on the poetry of Cumbrian poet, Norman Nicholson who I’d done a poetry reading with at Leeds Town Hall. It is the only time I worked really hard and enjoyed it. I actually spent time in the Library researching.

I knew a lot of the students who worked in the Arts Block and they had practical Exhibitions to put on instead of a thesis. They had to put in hours of work in this separate building before they were finished. On the ground floor of that building was a piano. The room was always empty and quiet and I sat there in the evenings while the others worked upstairs on their exhibitions. It was a lovely opportunity to have the piano to myself. Night after night I played down there alone. I was teaching myself a slow, sad tune. The left hand was syncopation and the right hand overlaid cadences of sadness.

One evening a figure appeared in the room as I played. It was a lady with grey-white hair scraped back into a bun like a typical, spinster school ma’am. I think her name was Miss Rimmer – a teacher in the Art Faculty. So you’re the source of this sadness night after night, she said. Yes, I’m sorry, I replied. No, not at all. I’ve been enjoying it, she said and left. The next evening as I played, she came in and said, Move up. and she sat next to me on the stool. Much more expertly than me, she took over the left hand and we played for a few minutes. With a twinkle in her eye, she was gone. We never spoke about it again but I learned that the piano is the most moving instrument to accompany the human condition as I will describe in the dramatic developments of the next stage of life in Sunday’s Blog.

One, final coda to this stage: David MacAndrew and Tony Axon – my English tutors – and a lecturer who I did a brief Philosophy unit with all tried hard to persuade me to stay on for a 4th year to complete a Degree. I assume it was a B.Ed.. Possibly I should have done but was just too keen to get in to the next stage of life. I wanted to build a life. I thought I could do it. It proved harder than I expected.

Week 638

Sunday, 14th March, 2021

Out for an early walk this morning under a weak sun. It is amazing how short 5 miles begin to feel the more you do the same route.

Time and perspective across it have been occupying my thoughts for a while and I suspect my upcoming 70th birthday is partly the driver of that. There is a desire to look back as much as forward when more stretches behind than appears in front. I have something of an understanding of my origins in family and place. Recently, I have been reaching out to that intermediate time when I left home and started to forge a life for myself.

Just 50 years between these photos

It is a shock to think that I left home over 50 years ago. A couple of months ago, I put a photo up of Pauline & I celebrating 42 years of marriage. A girl who I knew at College and who I haven’t seen since a party in Rochester, Kent in 1974 saw my posting and contacted me to say she would have been celebrating her 49th this year had things worked out for her. I immediately felt sorry that my posting had evoked that emotion in her but it left the images of her, her ex-husband who I had shared Digs with, the place, the events, the feelings, the music, the art, the poetry flooding through my head, almost overwhelming my Present. On Friday, I was watching an cricket match in India when she announced she was doing exactly the same thing. A simple thing but an absolutely weird feeling reaching across 50 years!

I have an unbearable desire to reach my hand across the time to touch the past. It’s not so unusual. People like to touch old artefacts – Stonehenge, Roman coins, etc. – in an attempt to feel a connection with past times. My need is almost visceral. I have always had this desire to return to places I have known if only to touch base. Sometimes, they disappoint but it still fulfils a need.

Last night I forced Pauline to endure a difficult, historically-based film. Fanny Lye Deliver’d is a British period drama film, set in Cromwell’s period of 1657 on a Shropshire farm. It stars Maxine Peake who I love. It is a difficult and slow first half hour and an almost unbearable subsequent hour. How anyone really managed to survive the conditions of life in mid-17th Century England goodness only knows. A life of harshness and cruelty, of cold, dark, smoky, wet and muddy, insanitary existence. I do not have any desire to reach back that far.

Monday, 15th March, 2021

Half way through March already. What is happening? Well, it’s a sunny, mild day but we know that is deceptive because cold weather is due to return later in the week. At least that will be moderated down here.

Went on a blind date with a girl who mixes concrete for a living. Things were going great till I put my foot in it.

I’m a bit set in my ways.

Major panic this morning. The bin men came early. Only black bag today so I just managed to catch them.Wouldn’t want you worrying about me.

The Wilkinson Building – 1971

Amazing how memories can fade unless they have real meaning. I have never been one for going to pubs or clubs. I prefer small, intimate gatherings. I think I could count all the pubs I’ve been to over the past 50 years on the fingers of two hands. The poorly focussed image above is of our Student Union building where I would make a mad dash at night to be there in time for Last Orders. Actually, the barman, who was called Maurice and who boasted that he regularly drank 12 pints a night, was easily open to extending the deadline for friendly people like me. What worries me is that I probably look as out of date as those cars!

Tuesday, 16th March, 2021

Up early for a 7.00 am Sainsbury’s delivery on a warm morning. The kitchen still smelled of the aromas of Pauline’s activities yesterday afternoon.

She normally makes wholemeal but had white flour to use up or throw away. With one or two lapses, I have not eaten bread for nearly ten years. I have not eaten potatoes, pasta or rice either. The sources of carbohydrate fuelled my blood sugar and Type 2 Diabetes. Cutting them out completely eradicated my Diabetes and absolutely amazed my doctor.

Slade House: 1984 – 2000

Yesterday, I was contacted on Twitter by Dr. Mitchell. That name haunts me. Having recently retired, he was burning stacks of his old case notes. In May 2000, I went to see him about a back problem. His first words were, Never mind your back. Can I come and view your house? which we had just put on the market. He was in the middle of developing his Practice surgery in Meltham. Our house was in the lovely, nearby, Conservation village of Helme. A Huddersfield Town footballer came to bid for it as well but, eventually it went to the doctor who we’ve stayed in touch with ever since.

It’s turned in to quite a mild day – 15C/59F – but rather grey and uninviting. I’m doing a workout in the gym and watching Politics Live. Later, we will griddle Tuna steaks out in the garden and eat them with green bean salad. If only I’d stuck to this diet while living in Yorkshire. I wouldn’t have to struggle so hard now.

Wednesday, 17th March, 2021

Beautiful, sunny and warm morning. We are going to have a walk on the beach before High Tide. Still feeling like a hand grenade has been thrown in to my life and I can’t understand why. Still picking up the pieces. The header on my Blog carries the T.S. Eliot line:

These fragments I have shored against my ruin ….

and I feel I need them more than ever now. Partly because of that, I am continuing to spend some time digitising and preserving past memories.

Slade house, October 1984

Slade House, Helme on the day we moved in – October 1984 – was fairly raw land. It had
¾ acre of garden which attracted me. I wanted to grow things.

We were very busy at work and wanted to develop a good garden with lawns and shrubs on one side but with a deep bed vegetable patch down the other as an antidote to our daily lives.

It was very hard work but great fun. I found I really loved gardening and, particularly, growing vegetables as my father had done before me. A local man installed the hard standing and the beds. Pauline did the weeding. I just enjoyed growing things.

During our time there, I was head of a school housed in a pagoda-style building which first opened in 1891. All the furniture was original, ornate, integrated mahogany. Every classroom, office, toilet had these huge, heavy doors. Every classroom and office had built in storage units/bookcases fashioned just like the doors. When it was finally closed and demolished, I had the door of my office delivered to my Yorkshire home. Pauline stripped it of a century of paint and had it installed as our back door. As a tangible connection with the past and my past, it really appealed to me.

In reality, we probably spent too long there. I loved it and resisted Pauline’s urgings to move on, make a profit and reinvest. We did sell it for 4x the price we bought it and I did finally realise that there was a life beyond Helme.

These images and thoughts swirled round my mind as we walked for an hour this morning. One of the people we will visit when we return to the North will be the doctor and our old property. I wonder what happened to the door?

Thursday, 18th March, 2021

Everything in our house is insured and serviced comprehensively. Nothing is left to chance. Today, the house security system is being serviced. The maintenance contract only cost about £100.00/€117.00 per year and probably isn’t needed so often but we set it up anyway. The boiler/central heating was done recently although at just 5 years old, it shouldn’t really need it. Today, our new house warranty which covered everything from structure to decoration, fittings and white goods comes to an end. Tomorrow, we’ll probably find the dishwasher, washing machine, wine cooler, fridge-freezer, built in oven, etc, will pack up in acknowledgement of the passing deadline. They don’t have to worry. We’ve got them covered.

I’m digitising houses at the moment and this was our first – a 19th century Coaching House in Meltham. In June 1978, all my worldly possessions were packed in to the back of an old, white mini and delivered to this house above. We spent our first 6 years here. It had 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, large kitchen, large lounge and a walk-in pantry. Outside was an open double garage with inspection pit for when the Rolls-Royce was stored there and serviced by the chauffeur of the big house.

Pauline liked to scour the local antique/junk shops for period pieces to furnish it. She found the wallpaper in a Philips television advert in a magazine. I wrote to them and they told me it was from Osborne & Little. We sourced the wallpaper and bought the TV which you can see is state of the art. My one real claim to DIY fame was to open up the fireplace, source the stone surrounds from a local quarry and install them along with the hearth.

When we were young …

Sunday mornings were often spent collecting logs for the fire from our nearby wood. It was all so long ago. We sold this property in 1984 for 10 x the price we bought it and it gave us the platform to move on and up.

Friday, 19th March, 2021

On the 14th April, 2000, I had been 49 for just over a week. We had finished school early for Easter Holidays and dashed home to Helme, got out of our suits and into our jeans. We stuck our pre-packed bags into our car and set off for Manchester Airport. The flight to Athens airport – the now defunct Ellinikon International – was late evening so we ate in their best restaurant before take-off. The flight was timed to arrive at around 3.00 am in time for a bus down to Piraeus Harbour and the F/b Agios Giorgios via Kythnos & Serifos to Sifnos. Leaving at 8.00 am, it was a 5½ hour ferry journey which always left us exhausted.

Ferryboat – St George of Piraeus

We were renting Villa Margarita for a fortnight and a small car to get around. Very soon after we arrived and settled in, we were offered a 4 acre field across the valley to purchase. It was far too big and much more than we wanted to pay for land. Back in 2000, it seemed very expensive at £60,000.00/€71,000.00 just for a big field. We hadn’t got that amount sitting in our Bank Account for such an event.

A 4-acre field in some foreign land.

Pauline phoned our bank on her mobile from this little blob of rock in the middle of the Aegean sea. She asked to speak to our personal account manager. She could hear her assistant calling across the office in the 10 Yorkshire Street Branch in Oldham. Sue – our personal account manager, could be heard to shout, What do they want? The assistant said, A bridging loan for £60,000.00 to build a house on a Greek island. Sue’s instant reply was, Tell them ‘Yes’.

We had good jobs and decent salaries but even we were a bit surprised how easy it was to get the money. Sue, our personal manager, who became a friend before she moved on to work for the Private Bank of Coutts, had already visited our island of Sifnos and had dreamed of having a house there. After agreeing the loan, she visited the island again and viewed the field she had helped us invest in. She was personally invested in our project which would take nearly 5 years to fully realise.

Gorgeous Summer weather on Hayling Island beach today.

More about the Greek Story tomorrow. Yes, I know you’re desperate but, like all good things, it will come later. Today is the most magnificent, warm and sunny day. We have driven out 50 mins in to Hampshire and are visiting Hayling Island and walking on the beach in this wonderful weather. Walk with me.

Saturday, 20th March, 2021

Mild, grey morning. Went out early for some fresh, sea air around Littlehampton. Fishing boats were gutting and preparing their catch, tossing the waste into the sea for the gulls.

Returning to our Greek project which had begun in 1984 by a chance browse through a travel brochure for me. A now defunct company called Freedom Travel specialised in isolated, Greek islands. A picture of a gorgeous, bare chested girl emerging from the sea on the island of Sifnos in the Cyclades caught my eye and I told my wife that was where I wanted to go. We booked for the summer and were absolutely hooked. We returned every year, usually twice a year until we decided to build a property for ourselves. 

Our Greek friend who found the land for us assured me that we could build a small house for around £50,000.00/€59,000.00 on top of the cost of the land. I wanted to believe him and, although sceptical, tried hard to convince myself that it was something I would regret if we didn’t at least try. About 5 years later and at least £200,000.00/€236,000.00 poorer, we were able to move in. It was never going to be easy but we hadn’t realised how demanding it would be. The processes of officialdom the Greek state puts in place are really daunting. We would not have managed without the support of a Greek friend holding our hand all the way.

Early stage building

We had to rely on our Greek friend to manage the project while we worked hard in UK to earn the money to pay for it. We had massive mortgages and were constantly sending additional tranches of £20,000.00 at a time without really knowing what it was funding. We were flying out at Easter for 2 weeks and driving there for 6 weeks and the rest just carried on without us.

Summer 2004

I would get calls on my mobile in school from our architect in Athens speaking Greek rapidly which completely stretched my ability but, by 2005, the shipping container we had been urgently filling with beds and tables, chairs and benches, a full IKEA flatpack kitchen, a log burning stove, television, etc., was driven from the port up to our house, installed and we started to live quietly above the port.

We were incredibly pleased to have been the first on the island to have installed underfloor heating and we were able to transport the quality of our English life to a small, Greek island.

We were not there to downgrade our life but to graft the simplicity of Greek island life onto comforts of our UK existence.

We had to have satellite tv, internet access, residential affluence allied to Greek island charm and I think we achieved it.

In late 2014, things started to crash around us and we were so relieved to sell up and get out unhurt. We look back now with such relief. How could we have managed this under a pandemic let alone the iniquitous Brexit! We are about to be 70 but are already thinking of buying abroad again. We can’t just sit around waiting to die.

Week 637

Sunday, 7th March, 2021

The morning opened beautifully all round. Strong sunshine encouraged us out early. We went down to the beach. We’ve been here almost 5 years now but have never seen the Oyster Pond being cleaned out. The displaced swans were flapping around on the beach.

The Oyster Pond was being drained and cleared.

All around Europe, coastlines have been experiencing extremely low tides. Kamares port on Sifnos has seen its beach stretch well out into the sea over the past week. Littlehampton Beach is usually shingle but consists currently of vast swathes of sand.

Not the only Stranger on the Shore.

The deserted breakwater reaches out as if for a hand to hold but in vain. Sometime soon, the tide will come back in and envelop it in the soothing waters that are its destiny and purpose.

I had a horrible ‘senior moment’ yesterday. When she was 96, Pauline’s lovely Mum was in and out of hospital quite frequently. When she was at home in her apartment, she had a rigorous skincare routine. All the stuff that women plaster their bodies with was applied. In one of her final hospital visits, Pauline was at her bedside and helped her walk to the toilet. As she passed a mirror and not having her creams and lotions with her, the 96 year old exclaimed, Oh no, my wrinkles are coming back. It was one of those seminal, never-give-in moments. Yesterday, I found a wrinkle on my arm!!!

Pauline’s Leavers Photo – 1973 – College of All Saints, Tottenham

Pauline has asked my help to find some friends from her college in London 1970 – 73. It doesn’t exist anymore having been absorbed by London University. If you don’t know, Pauline is the blonde on the back, left. I always went for the small, intelligent ones but rarely for blondes. I’m proud to say that I never asked a girl out in my life. I always got selected by them. Actually, I don’t think I was capable of such a nerve-wracking move. I didn’t and still don’t understand girls.

Monday, 8th March, 2021

Cold over night and we opened the morning with yet another lovely, sunny day but only around 10C/50F. Feeling a bit of an emptiness this morning. Something is missing. Just going through the humdrum of everyday life. Putting the bins out, unstacking the dishwasher and so on. Had to do my Official INR and email it off to Worthing Hospital. Spent some time in the gym not exercising but servicing the equipment. I’m not practical at all so I had to have an Assistant who is.

All Saints College, Tottenham

I have been trying to find a photo of the College building Pauline spent three years in at the start of the 1970s. I get accused of living in the past but we all need to touch our history at some stage. My need is just much greater than some others. The college was absorbed in to London University by 1978 and the building demolished. We think this is a photo of its last years.

The Knights of Saint Columba Club

In 1972, a friend and I were looking for teaching jobs. Ironically, one of the first places we looked was in London. I had a job interview in Ealing. I was offered a post teaching English but my friend, who I think was looking in Haringey, wasn’t so we moved on. However, I’ve been sent this unwritten and pristine postcard which features a private residential Club in Lansdowne Road, Tottenham. I knew immediately what it was but not my historical connection to it. I can actually remember walking down Lansdowne Road but did I stay there? I have no memory. Answers on a postcard, please.

Done an hour’s walk in lovely sunshine and I’m now going to finish off with another hour in the gym. Give me strength!

Tuesday, 9th March, 2021

Woke at 5.30 am and felt real optimism and hope. Who knows why. We were having a Sainsbury’s delivery at 7.00 am but that certainly wasn’t it. Quite cold – just 2C/36F – but blue sky and sunshine as far as the eye could see. Pauline’s iPad had given her notification over night that the order would not arrive until 8.00 am and would not contain skimmed milk. No skimmed milk? Who can live without that?

The way we were today. What am I doing here at 7.00 am?

So it was for that we were out to our nearest supermarket, Asda Ferring, at 7.00 am. I was walking round the enormous carpark in the sunshine while Pauline indulged herself and went shopping for skimmed milk. It doesn’t get much better than this!

As soon as we got back, I made a digital card for one of my little sisters – Catherine who prefers to call herself Cathy nowadays. She is 66 which shocks me because it makes me feel old. People tell me not to worry but approaching landmark ages such as 70 does make one question one’s own mortality. In the end, of course, we can run away and hide or seize the day. It is our choice. My day is going to be seized by going for a long walk in the sunshine. Actually, it might be a bit painful because I’ve twisted my knee. This is what you get for carpe diem at (nearly) 70!

Zakynthos – 1981

My cloud storage system throws up photographs of the past which I haven’t see for years. This morning it is really poking fun at me by putting up a picture taken almost exactly 40 years ago. I was 30 years old and spending 3 weeks on the island of Zakynthos/Zante. The worrying thing is that I remember the island. I remember the villa. I just don’t remember a body like that at all. Unfortunately, not many people do. Oh, my knee hurts!

We should have our second vaccination in early April – 2 days after I’m 70 – and be largely safe by the end of that month. How we will feel and what we will do, I have absolutely no idea. Today in the gym I will be watching a Swedish wartime love story with subtitles which is how I twisted my knee because I find it hard to read and run at the same time. Trouble is, I don’t learn.

Wednesday, 10th March, 2021

First grey day for a while. Not cold but only 8C/46F overnight. As a sun-worshipper, I find greyness depressing. Looking for lightness elsewhere in life instead so I’m continuing to mine the treasure trove of memorabilia I’ve been exploiting recently.

The Cricket Team – 1970
Joke of the 1970s

I went to a Grammar School which rather fashioned itself on the Public School ethic of Academic and Sporting excellence. I didn’t excel academically. I did in sport. My school was renowned for its Rugby Union and I was a big, strong, fast-running lad who was up for a fight. I absolutely loved it. I got my First Team colours a year early and played on the Left Wing. I played for Staffordshire. I was a sprinter and was made captain of the school Athletics team. I was constantly training but not revising for exams.

At College in 1969, the dominant sports were Football and Cricket. I was an embarrassment at both of them but there were just not enough ‘men’ to fill the teams so I was drafted in. As more men arrived in subsequent years, I was very understandably dropped. If Kevin is reading this, he will be nodding in agreement. Even so, my hairstyle was more of a joke than my sporting prowess as the photo above illustrates.

A lot of pandemic exercise has involved walking by the sea. My precious smartphone is clutched tightly in my hand and used to photograph anything of interest. It also collects location which is recorded and mapped. Never commit a murder or have an affair! What does it say about my life that my movement map is so restricted?

Thursday, 11th March, 2021

Didn’t sleep well. The night was dominated by the disturbance of strong, blustery wind which is so unsettling. I know I’ve quoted these lines before but they are so apposite.

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet …

Ted Hughes – Wind – The Hawk in the Rain, 1957

In Hughes case, the atmospheric situation mirrored the turmoil in his mind, crashing around in the darkness towards a decision. It is possible to view that as a romantic, dramatic conceit or the attempt to describe an internal struggle.

An angry high tide …

The morning broke with beautiful sunshine but blustery, cool winds. We went down to the sea where a high tide was boiling on to the beach driven on by the wind. Actually, there were windsurfers out in the huge waves but few takers for coffee in the sunshine.

This will soon be busy again.

The afternoon finished in a gym session which will mean I have achieved my effort target every day for the past 30 days and covered 170 miles. Looking forward to expanding horizons again soon and walking in Mediterranean sunshine. The news isn’t good across Europe in that infection rates are surging again while tourism centres of Greece, France, Italy and Spain are hoping to gear up for the Summer. Here, we are told that the vaccine has much weaker effectiveness in Cancer sufferers and those with a depleted immune system which must be worrying.

Drama Today

It has been a dramatic day – for me a dénouement and the evening sky confirmed it. Ever seen something like this? It felt barely real. Let’s hope it portends a better future!

Friday, 12th March, 2021

Up early on an uncertain new day. Sainsbury’s delivery at 7.00 am. Lovely, sunny morning that was quickly interrupted by heavy, driving rain. That seems rather how life is at the moment. Hope for the best but expect the worst ….

“I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ – W. B. Yeats

The rain stopped and, just needing to get out of the house, we drove out to the nearby historical town of Steyning which dates back to Anglo Saxon times. It has a 12th Century church and many Tudor and earlier buildings. Parts reminded me of Chester, parts of Montreux in Northern France. I can’t stop living in the past.

Steyning, West Sussex – Reminiscent of Montreux, Northern France

I must admit, it made me feel rather old just going out for the sake of it – filling the time sight seeing but this is what we seem to have come to.

Pensioners’ Outing

It is 27 weeks since Pauline had her hair cut. This morning we both remarked that it was looking better than ever. When I first met her in 1973, her long, blonde hair flowed down to her bottom. In recent years and particularly when she went to Sassoons, it has got progressively shorter with age. She hasn’t got even a hint of grey and Lockdown may prove a turning point for style.

Saturday, 13th March, 2021

Torrential rain storm battered the house in the middle of the night … so I’m told. I slept through it. The morning has opened with lovely sunshine but still breezy.


An item on R4 Today programme caught my attention this morning. It was about F.O.R.E or Fear of Re-Entry. For people who have been shielding – at least in part – over the past year, going back in to society raises some anxieties. People teetering around the age of 70 like us will have concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccine, the dangers of becoming infected if we return to ‘normal’ life suddenly. I haven’t been in a shop for so long that I’ve forgotten what they look like on the inside.

Retreat to Café Nero

The first test will be when Pauline goes for a haircut. I will sit in a coffee shop for an hour or so. Mind you, if it’s as socially distanced as last time I took this photo, it shouldn’t raise concern.

Valencian Food Shopping

What we really want to be doing is travelling, driving to the North of England and then right across Europe. We normally make two trips to Yorkshire/Lancashire each year to visit old friends and I can’t wait to do it again. We set retirement plans to travel across Europe and have done plenty of it but this year has been so hard – trapped and aging.

We have been so used to just deciding at the drop of a hat that we need some cultural change and booking Gatwick flights and a hotel over the ‘net’ and going. It is one of the joys of a comfortable retirement. Three years ago, on a whim, we spent some time in the city of Valencia. It was an absolute revelation. The weather was wonderful and the people delightful.

If I were to choose one place to move to now, it would be Valencia. Just a little apartment would do which we could run to for a few weeks when we felt like it. Even the flight is only a couple of hours which makes it all so easy. The time is running out. It would need at least £100,000/€117,000 to get something really comfortable which is what we would want. How many years would we use it for?

Week 636

Sunday, 28th February, 2021

The end of February has been marked by the most wonderful day. From first thing the sun is blazing down. It is only 14C/57F but many in the neighbourhood are in t-shirt and shorts. The Sunday Times featured two items this morning over breakfast. The front page had a stunning photo of our local beach at Rustington.

Rustington sun makes the news headlines.

It also featured a survey of the healthiest and happiest areas of the country to live. West Sussex featured prominently. I have to say, we aren’t surprised.

Even so, after watching the early political programmes, we went down to the sea just because we could. We drove through the old part of the village which is so dilapidated but looks typically of faded fishing community.

Even so, there are small boats going out every day. Down here on Littlehampton Marina, squalls of seagulls were marauding some boats as they moved their catch on to the docks. It is nice, just occasionally to stop and stare. It is quite calming. Let’s hope it presages a good week ahead for all of our readers.

Monday, 1st March, 2021

Happy March

New month and new resolve to make the best of life. Have had a bit of a rocky week but have come through the other side feeling more reassured and stronger. Maybe I will write about it sometime. Now is not the time.

What a wonderful day it is Today. The weather is fantastic with bright sun from Dawn to Dusk and 15C/59F. Pauline has had a project. She is a chef. She loves cooking. She is making Beetroot Chutney. It is wonderful with cheese and salad. It will store for a year or more. Chutney making can stink the whole kitchen/house out because of the vinegar. We had a lovely, warm day and an outdoor kitchen for the cooking so no problem at all. 

We did a 5 mile walk at mid day to drink in the sunshine and get our hearts pacing. We didn’t have lunch. I am making a concerted attempt to control my appetite. I do so envy skinny people! I’m never going to be one. We griddled Swordfish Steaks out in the sunshine of the garden and ate it with Greek Salad and a bottle of Rioja. I have a feeling I might sleep well for the first time in a week.

Tomorrow, Dear Readers, Irish Partition politics – a subject which is dominating my thoughts this week. I will be looking forward to editorial suggestions as we go.

Tuesday, 2nd March, 2021

Another gorgeous morning. Up at 6.00 am. Sainsbury’s delivery at 7.30 am. And so the day starts. There follows quite a long Blog Post but it could be interesting if you stick with it. What else have you got to do? Certainly nothing more important.

Grandad Coghlan was born up the steps to the left – 1894
Grandad in WW1

I have recently been accused of living in the past. Very unkind, of course, because I’m a Historian. That’s what we do. Some try to suppress the past for fear of what it may reveal. Others try to embrace it as a guide to the future. During this pandemic and with restriction of movement really stopping us travelling, I have been enjoying filling in the background of my knowledge. My antecedents on my Mother’s side were Irish. My Grandfather was James, Joseph, Jeremiah Coghlan. He was born in Brighton (ironically, just down the road from where I now live) but his parents were from southern Ireland. Unfortunately, the connection is not close enough to claim Irish/EU citizenship.

Buried in Repton

Grandad’s name was Coghlan (an anglicisation of the Irish surname Ó Coghláin) and my Grandma’s maiden name was Curley which is a Gaelic Irish name. Actually, her Mother was Fanny Curley which conjures up a wholly different image altogether. Born in to poverty and second class citizenship, both made good careers for themselves.

Grandma was a highly respected seamstress and tailor. Grandad started as a Cabinet Maker/French Polisher but with huge effort and enthusiasm taught himself the antique business and he became really adept in his own business of buying up old antiques, restoring and selling them at a big profit. There’s a bit of the Irish Tinker in there somewhere but, when he retired from London to our Midlands village, he would march round in his bowler hat, city coat and silk scarf as if he was still in the city. Like me, living in the past.

Set in the rebellion leading to Partition – post WW1

People of my age were brought up with a news backdrop of ‘The Troubles’. Effectively the war being waged by the IRA was on what they saw were the occupying forces of oppression – the English. Not many bother to understand the origins of all this. I wasn’t completely clear myself until I started reading and I have enjoyed watching some dramatisations set in it as well.

Even today the English establishment resist History.

The 18th Century was known, notably by Thomas Paine, as the Age of Reason and it came to an end rather abruptly with the onset of revolution. The French Revolution (1789-99) put the skids under the established order all round the world. The 1798 Rebellion in Ireland can be traced to the setting up of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast, preparing to throw off the yoke of their foreign occupiers. Its aim was to remove English control from Irish affairs. Their bloody rebellion of 1798, however, resulted in the 1801 Act of Union, which brought Ireland tighter still under British control.

The treatment of the Irish was unjustifiable and brutal. As the two dramas featured above make clear, the Irish had little choice and were totally justified in their fight back during the post WW1 Irish War of Independence. They won an uneasy partition which still holds but can never hold until the whole of the island of Ireland is one. It has always seemed so obvious to me although I hadn’t bothered to research the background.

I cry at the drop of a hat and I’ve never been too proud to admit it. It is usually for other’s pain rather than my own. I have spent three or so hours exercising in the gym while watching these dramas play out and weeping copiously. It is not a pretty sight watching an old man on a jogging machine running with tears filling his eyes.. It is so hard to believe that human beings can do such unspeakable things to their fellow man. If you watch no other film in life, Ken Loach’s award winning film: The Wind that shakes the Barley is a must. If you have a strong stomach for fortitude and tragedy, the mini-series Rebellion on Netflix since 2016 honours the 100th anniversary of the start of the Easter Uprising in 1916.

It was tantamount to treason to express support for the IRA during the early part of my life. The establishment would brook no idea of it as the border violence continued and the UK mainland was bombed. The history was immaterial. It took Tony Blair and Mo Mowlam to change this view and just last week, Roy Greenslade, former editor of the Daily Mirror, has revealed that he was an active supporter of the cause but couldn’t reveal it because he would lose his job. This week and because of his revelation, he lost his job. Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.

Wednesday, 3rd March, 2021

A pleasant, mild if slightly greyer morning. Even so, the world seems to be announcing a move forward. All around us here, the trees, bushes, woodland banks are budding, shooting, displaying Spring flowers and resounding to the gorgeous sound of birdsong.

I  have written about this before so regular readers will know that I love post landing on the mat. I am rather like an overenthusiastic puppy who hears the stimulus sound and bounds to be first to get it. Actually, over the years, my wife has learnt not to interfere. She leaves me to collect and open all post. I even love ‘junk’ mail but, recently, it has become far too targeted for comfort.

I will be 70 in just under 5 weeks time. Age has never really worried me in the past. I haven’t had a wish to go back and be younger. I don’t fear death. Pauline refuses to even acknowledge it. She asserts that she will never die. Both our fathers died at 49 and the genetics did concern me but reaching 50 allayed that concern. However, we both realise that the impending landmark of 70 is significant. For me, although I am reasonably fit and healthy, it is suddenly starting to feel a little bit like time is running out. There are so many things I want to do but time is running out and Covid & Brexit are, in part, stopping me doing them.

I am Type 2 diabetic although in complete remission and have atrial fibrillation which makes me a bit more susceptible to Covid. For that reason, we have been extremely careful over the past year. We were both very shocked when a lovely neighbour in her 40s pushed a note through the door recently saying she hadn’t seen us for a few days and were we alright; did we need any shopping done?

That lovely gesture from our neighbour absolutely shocked us both. She clearly saw us as old and vulnerable. All my life I have seen the vulnerable as in need of my help. Suddenly, the boot was on the other foot. It made me almost feel vulnerable myself.

That vulnerability seems to be being exploited by the commercial world. I put my life out for all to see and my demographic is available to be exploited. I know I can expect this sort of targeting but it doesn’t fit with who I see in myself. A well know sportsman died this week at the age of 82. My first reaction was, That seems very young. He was involved in sport and fitness. Since my youth, I have not been although the past 12 years of retirement have seen me try to readdress this.

I hope I live to 101 and get to resolve so many of my desires. I have made mistakes across my life that I have been trying to address in retirement. Some have been done and some are still pending. However, I am not yet ready to address my funeral. Actually, I have already told my wife that, when necessary, she can put me out in a bin bag and leave me out for the waste collectors. I will try to die on a Sunday night because Black Bag is collected on Mondays.

Thursday, 4th March, 2021

Grey, mild and overcast day. I’m watching Test cricket from India where the weather is quite different. I usually run this on the TV in the Office while doing other work. And so it is today. My Masters Research Degree is in political history. I like politics, history and research. I have been doing it for years.

The web is so valuable. To find people and explore connections I use Ancestry.com192 People Finder and UK Census Online. Actually, the Census is coming round again very soon.

While one side of my family originated in Ireland, the Sanders (son of Alexander) side are rooted in the English Midlands. I was born in Repton, the capital of Murcia. In Anglo Saxon times, Paeda was the first Christian King of Mercia and his son was called Piddock. The surname Piddock was first found in Somerset where they held a family seat from early times and their first records appeared on the early census rolls taken by the early Kings of Britain to determine the rate of taxation of their subjects.

The Piddock Family motto was:

Seigneur, je te prie, garde ma vie / Lord, I beseech thee, save my life.

Putting aside the ‘Lord’ bit, I’m beginning to feel that way myself. It is the age old wish. The difference is that we are more likely to be granted this wish than our ancestors.

I am determined to stay alive and, in the past 8 weeks, I’ve walked/cycled/jogged 310 miles or 499 kms. No wonder I’m tired! Looking forward to my meal of homemade salmon fishcakes and homemade baked beans. And so to dream ….

Friday, 5th March, 2021

Me aged 19

Had a text conversation with my skinny, little sister, Liz late last night. I hardly ever use text messaging. I much prefer email where I can write in paragraphs and integrate pictures into the text. It is much more conducive to expressing developed thoughts. However, I’ve been using it a bit more recently and quite enjoyed it. It was certainly lovely of Liz to take the trouble out of her busy schedule running London’s Health Service.

… and very daft.

I phoned my very old sister, Ruth, this morning. Of course, she is never in when I phone but I spoke at some length to her lovely husband, Kevan. We don’t speak often but, for someone so much older than me, he is extremely understanding and easy to talk to. My motive was to discuss the fact that I had just received an invite to their wedding – on July 1st, 1972. Even he was a bit surprised.

I’ve had a wonderful, difficult, lovely, painful contact from an old friend in the past couple of weeks. It has evoked so many memories of when we were so much younger. I have always been obsessed with the passage of time and the inevitability of events. In the past few days, these obsessions have melded together. I knew this moment would come.

The Boy who would be King! – The painful transcience of Youth

My friend has very kindly sent me a stash of memorabilia which is almost uncomfortable to look at. The passage of time really is a terrible thing. All those hopes and dreams dashed, unfulfilled. In those days, I was going to be a world-renowned poet, a widely published novelist, a genius of letters revered by all. I became a teacher in Oldham. Obscurity incarnate!

Bearded like the Pard

I must admit, I’d forgotten how gorgeous and precocious I was back in the early 1970s. How dreams can be dashed and yet we make new lives for ourselves and move forward. 

My wife and I have done challenging and exciting things in life – things I could not have anticipated. We have done interesting jobs in Education. We have bought and sold lots of lovely properties including buying a field, designing and building a house on a Greek island. We have driven around Europe together until it is almost second nature and we have moved, gradually from North to South of the UK in the process. 

We have weathered some incredibly hard times together. In the early 1980s, we had a near fatal car crash which saw us hospitalised and me as close to dead as a living man can be. We had to fight enormous professional pressures from threats to Pauline’s career to attacks on our health and welfare. We have survived all that and, in spite of scarring, carried on.

However, I have always lived with a weight deep inside me. (I’ve carried a weight round my middle but that’s another matter.) It is the weight of responsibility that I can never and do not want to shirk. I will never resile from it. There are significant people in my life who are owed so much more than they will ever know. I have spent my retirement attempting to at least acknowledge that debt. If any of them are reading this now and I know some are, I acknowledge it again now. That debt will always honoured if never fully repaid. 

Saturday, 6th March, 2021

Wonderful sunny and warm day. Sounds like it has been the same across the country. Before our 5 mile walk, however, the highlight was a haircut for me. When I was the age illustrated in yesterday’s Blog, I swore I would never get my haircut. It may have been an instant response to my Mother’s insistence that I had a short back and sides every 6 weeks at home. The local barber was often berated by her for not cutting it short enough. From the age of 40, my father had a bald circle on the top of his head and I swore I would kill myself if it happened to me. I even borrowed a Drama Props Department ginger wig and wore it for my 6 weeks Teaching Practice to avoid cutting my hair.

I don’t want to get even more boring and I have mentioned this before but I haven’t paid for a haircut since September 1969. I have no idea what a haircut costs now. It was 5 shillings for my last one. If I have my haircut about every 6 weeks, it would have been done about 440 times since then. I’ll leave you to work out the savings I’ve made.

In September 1969, I was taken in hand by a new and less experienced hairdresser who did it for me with a razor-comb. That is not a euphemism. I thought the ‘slashed’-look was trendy and it was ‘free’. In my early years of teaching and after my hairdresser had moved on to promotion, I thought I would use the razor-comb myself. How hard could it be?

Sunday evening, bottle of wine, scruffy, dinghy flat, poor lighting, distant mirror, first confident scrape of the razor-comb. Total horror at completely bald patch at the side of my head. Bit of blood. School tomorrow. I had to finish the haircut without too many more disasters. As I walked to school in the morning in my pin-sharp suit, I looked like a total disaster above the ears even though I looked gorgeous below them.

I haven’t had to kill myself although I now enjoy short hair. I’m thinning and lightening but not balding or grey. My wife cuts it expertly every 6 weeks. Symbolically, I sit on my Father’s ‘Richard Chair’ under a hairdresser’s cape for about 40 mins. I’m not the most patient customer and I try to conspire to be watching some interesting discussion programme or sporting event while the operation is performed. At least I lose a bit of weight periodically.