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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.