Week 643

Sunday, 18th April, 2021

The beautiful days just keep coming. Yesterday we reached a pleasant 17C/63F. Looks like today’s walk will be just as nice.

You know you’re getting old when you take pictures of scenes like this ..

I’m really quite enjoying pushing myself more in terms of exercise. Some inherit long life through their genes; some have to work for it.

I was the pioneer of the internet in my school. In 1994, I set up a dial-up internet service in the Resource Centre. In those days, it was very flaky, made a lot of noise as it connected and was totally text-based. I was very excited. Eventually, I designed and built a school-wide Intranet, set up on-line learning, introduced Classroom registration on Tablets with wireless connections across the campus, introduced Staff access to School computers from home so work could be seamless and strove to get as many classrooms as possible stocked with PCs/Laptops.

There was a lot of resistance through fear and unfamiliarity at first. To overcome that, I used to play a game to demonstrate how essential the internet would become in our lives. The game was to illustrate that the internet could provide any answer to any questions within a few minutes. I challenged people to test me on it and they would ask what they thought were really obscure questions. I rarely failed to provide the answer.

I’ve found gorgeous No.1 – Blondie.

I have spent weeks trying to find 3 ex-College friends of Pauline’s from 1973. I’ve found their parents, their births, their marriages, their partners’ names but I’ve really struggled to find their current addresses. What you have to be is tenacious and never give up. Something always surfaces if you keep going. Having tried all the conventional routes, I had a brainwave. I had learnt the names of No.1 Christine’s children. I knew which town she was last known to live in. I reasoned that many kids like to stay within reach of their parents and I went to Linkedin to search.

Linkedin is a professional networking site and it allows job seekers to post their CVs and employers to post jobs. I put in a search for each child by their unmarried name and then narrowed them down to the town where the family had lived. I found three, professional men working for National companies in the town. I just took a risk and messaged them with a request to contact their mothers. A week went by with nothing but then, on Friday night, one emailed me asking for more information. Sometimes, you just have to take a risk to get someone to trust you. I do it all the time. What’s the worst that can happen?

Within minutes of sending more personal information to a total stranger, I got an email back saying that he was indeed No1 Christine’s son and that she was with him at his home. She would love to reconnect with Pauline. Emails between them quickly exchanged. She learnt that No.3 Denise lives just down the same street as Christine and No.2 Ros lives not far away. I had a feeling that, if I found one, I might see a domino effect. Even so, I’m very proud of myself to have provided Pauline with three old friends to reconnect with and sustain her.

Monday, 19th April, 2021

Delicious morning and we eventually reached 17C/63F as we sunbathed in the garden. Up at 6.30 am because we thought we had a Covid tester arriving at 8.15 am. My mobile was on silent and I didn’t hear her call come in until it flashed on my watch to say she couldn’t make it and would arrive mid-afternoon. We will be having our 11th Lateral Flow test and have now been recruited to the antibody research which involves a blood sample as well. It is just a finger prick blood test which I do once a week anyway for my INR self-test so I see no reason for not doing it if it contributes to the national database.

It’s amazing how coincidences occur. Yesterday I was writing about setting up a school-wide Intranet and I was searching through my cloud-based resources this morning when I came across this from almost 16 years ago. I know I’m sad but I really enjoyed designing this and inflicting it on all the staff. We were one of the first schools in the country to establish such an infrastructure.

It took a huge amount of work but, fortunately, I managed to pull in the support of excellent IT technicians and travelled round the country looking at other’s systems. I remember a long trip to Telford in Shropshire who really were pioneers and who inspired me.

Eventually, I met an interesting man who had started a company called Frog in Halifax designing Intranets for Business. He had much more skill than me. I got him over to my school to pitch to the team against the much inferior system that the Local Authority were trying to get us to adopt. We bought it at a cost of £56,000.00 and the LEA weren’t pleased but I was.

Tuesday, 20th April, 2021

Glorious morning to be up at 6.00 am. Blue sky and full sun and mild. Sainsburys are calling at 8.00 am and then we are walking down to the village Post Office to return yet more mail-order clothes. Women seem to have an infinite capacity for new clothes which I can’t quite understand. Never mind, it is not my job to understand this.

There are many things I don’t understand. One of them is the Teacher Training students from my past remaining obsessed with the College and the town of Ripon. They constantly return there to meet up and try to recreate the atmosphere that they remember.

Derek, Peter & John / 1969 – 72

So many of them stayed in the area and have never left. The College building has been redeveloped and is now apartments that some past students actually live in. I loved my time there but I don’t want to recreate it. I have moved on. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t parts of it I don’t cherish and want to retain but I give you just one example that goes straight over my head.

At one of their reunions – and I haven’t been to any – the idea was floated that it would be a good idea to recreate the College ties with the College badge which then expanded in to Scarves and eventually added bow ties to be worn on ceremonial occasions. I was contacted and asked if I would like to join in. I declined. I am very happy for them if that’s what they want to do but I have moved on and don’t need any of that. I did a BA Eng. Degree and had the certificate sent to me in the post because ceremony is not my thing. I love intimacy not group.

When the foundations of our Greek home were being dug out in the 4 acre field that we had bought, investigations had to be made to ensure that we were not building on top of ancient remains or Acropolis (Ακρόπολη). In order to prove that, holes had to be dug out to expose the substrata. Having spent so much money on the field, we were nervous of what would be found until it was explained to us by our Building Manager that, if Acropolis were found, the hole would be quickly filled in and new ones dug which would reveal nothing. Then inspectors would be called in to pass the building work.

Searching for Acropolis in Angmering this morning.

Through the wood fringing our Development, another 40 new houses are going to be built. The site of a former, commercial Herb Nursery has been cleared but building can’t start because archaeologists are inspecting for English Acropolis. Holes are being dug everywhere and barrow loads of soil carried off for analysis. A nervous time for the Developers.

On our walk this morning, I stopped at the Estate Agent’s window to look at properties on the market. Admittedly, the market is very buoyant at the moment with properties selling almost instantly. It was pleasing to see 4 Bedroomed Detached Houses starting to go up at £800,000.00 which is gratifying.

Wednesday, 21st April, 2021

The sun is shining strongly again this morning and we have reached the customary 17C/63F already. Been shorts & tee shirt weather all week. No clothes to return today so we will have to invent a reason for our walk. I might even clean the car. Actually went shopping yesterday – well to the Garden Centre. Really enjoyed it. Spent £200.00/€232.00 in about 20 mins. What fun!

After everything I wrote yesterday, I received this picture that immediately took me back.

My ‘Digs’ were in the top, right hand window.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my first day at Ripon College. This was the house I was in ‘Digs’ in with the Boyd family. Geoff Boyd was in the RAF. I’ve forgotten his wife’s name now but she was a brusque, efficient little Scots woman. (Actually, I’ve just consulted John Ridley who said we never knew her name.)  Geoff was gently spoken, humorous and ironic. John tells me they are both dead now. They had two, nice kids at Ripon Grammar School. I was sharing the upper floor with Nigel and John. You couldn’t have found two more diametrically opposed characters but it seemed to work. Two of us got girlfriends early on and didn’t spend a lot of time at home because we weren’t allowed girls there.

Start of the 4 mins run.

Actually, I spent quite a lot of time here. I even remember that it took exactly 4 minutes to run from the Cottages to the Student Bar at 10.50 pm although I think it might take me a minute longer now.

Mr & Mrs Boyd were really nice, caring people who acted like parents to us – feeding us enormous meals, doing our washing, keeping the house clean and tidy, etc.. For students, we were nice people as well and there was no conflict that I can recall. Nigel and I moved out after two years to get a flat with others. I didn’t see Mr & Mrs Boyd again for many years then, one day, I was doing some work in central London. I had to take the underground. There were huge queues for the ticket machines. I had to push through them to get to my train. As I did so, there were Mr & Mrs Boyd queuing for tickets. What are the chances of that? It must have been 25 years since I’d seen them. I was hurrying for a train and they were keen to get their tickets. Hello/Goodbye was all we managed but you don’t forget those coincidences.

Our flat included one of these black, bay windows.

I can assure you that I have had no affinity with Brothels. However, I have almost lived in two. I’ve already written about my Oldham experience but it all really started in Ripon. Four of us – Kevin, Chris, Nigel and I all thought it was time we grew up and branched out for ourselves. We took a ‘Flat’ above a television rental shop and (as it turned out) below a working brothel run by a huge Fijian guy who none of us was going to argue with. It was a dreadful flat and I would probably have been better staying in Digs but it taught me something about the world which I needed to learn. It doesn’t stop me getting hurt but at least I can anticipate it better.

Thursday, 22nd April, 2021

Another wonderful day. Life can be good, can’t it? The sun is beaming down, the sky is blue, the birds are singing their hearts out for our morning walk. An old, colleague friend of mine in Shaw contacted me this morning to tell me that quite a few members of his family had contracted Covid and been very ill although not hospitalised. Throughout this pandemic, I only know of one person in my area to get ill at all.

An old College friend tells me that the cottages I featured yesterday are now rentable holiday homes. The College itself is fully redeveloped as apartment homes. If only the owners knew the past events of their present properties!

The Art Block, where I spent so many happy evenings playing the piano, is still in deserted and dilapidated state. It must be ripe for redevelopment soon.

Certainly Ripon is a very marketable place for property. An Estate Agent is advertising a property a few doors down from where my flat was and it is on at £850,000.00. I’m not sure I’d be prepared to pay that.

Shop with 7 bedrooms above – £850,000.00

I’ve been back to Ripon once for a few minutes since the Summer of 1973. I didn’t find it an easy experience.

Pauline is already getting on well re-establishing old, College relationships. The girls who I have managed to trace bought this mixing bowl for her as she left. Just typical of her, she’s kept it throughout these 48 years and is still using it today.

Friday, 23rd April, 2021

Woke up in the middle of the night with these words beating in my head:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

and woke up this morning with a strange veil of sadness. It is strange because the day is so beautiful, with cloudless, blue sky and strong sunshine. I have got positive things to do like rake and mow the lawns, plant out some new purchases and pot up culinary herbs.

I apologise for what follows but, if you didn’t go to my College around the time I was there, these photos will mean absolutely nothing to you. To be honest, even if you did, they will probably mean little. I am using this as a point of reference for when Dementia destroys my memory and events begin to fade away….

The Northern Echo – Thursday, October 9th, 1969 – I am exact centre next to Kevin.

The above photo was for a newspaper article which announced the first cohort of men at the college.

Nigel on my shoulders with Kevin front left and Peter right.

I was young and more naïve than most. Nigel on my shoulders here was 3 years older than me. Kevin was 2 years older. At that age, 2-3 years makes a huge difference in maturity as I found out.

BR L-R: Judy, Christine, Bill, Nigel / FR L-R: Anne, Kevin,, Robert, Me

The more I look at these photos, the more foolish I realise I was in those days. Hiding in a corner; hiding my face with a waste bin. What was I thinking?

Bob, Derek, Me & Kevin

The above photo features Bob Stephens who died of cancer shortly after we left college. He was a quietly spoken, amusing lad who lived on cigarettes and Opal Fruits. I only found out that Derek had lived and worked near me most of his life after he had retired and moved away.

Me flashing down the Right Wing – 1970

I was a Rugby Union player and the world’s worst footballer but I felt I had to play for the college team initially. You can only tell this is me by the hair.

Oh, what jolly japes we had!

Of course we had to leave and make our way in the real world. I have already written of my angst in dealing with that. Before we did, there was the final photo. I didn’t attend the whole College photo. I assume there was one but I don’t remember it. However, as one of the first male intake, I did go for the photo with our Tutor, Mr. Lee.

Summer- 1972

This final photo was taken virtually as close as I got to the chapel in all 3 years. My hair seems to be a bit more under control by this stage. The photo features:

BR L-R: Nigel, John, Bill, Jimmy, Me, Kevin, Dave
MR L-R: John(Tash), Bill, Bob, Mature?, Mature?
FR L-R: Derek, Chris, Kevin, Steve, Mr Lee, Derek, John, Peter

Missing from the original 20 men (Matures didn’t count) were Bob (who I think was already ill), Andy and Charles (who I think had been kicked out).

Summer – 1973

Decline & Fall. Definitely starting to put on weight. This photo was taken in some Ripon pub with a few 3rd year students from the Year after me. I was there for a week working with David McAndrew delivering an English Language course to Dutch students. Quite enjoyed it and we repeated it the next year as well but, by then, the place had started to irk me. That’s why I’ve hardly ever been back.

Saturday, 24th April, 2021

It is fascinating how it is possible to run interior and exterior lives in parallel. Yesterday was the most beautiful day. Clear blue sky and very intense sunshine all day. A long walk followed by gardening in a temperature of 20C/68F burnt my face. Even so, the promise of Summer to come certainly is heartening. And yet I dreamt a really lurid, disturbing dream which felt like an alternative reality burning into me. I think it came from something my wife had said to me yesterday.

Pauline is already on her 5th detailed email with her newly re-found friend. They are quickly catching up on lives missed. Her friend’s husband died of cancer in his early 60s but she is sustained by her children, their wives and grandchildren. Out of my 6 siblings, 4 have families with grandchildren. Yesterday, Little Liz, who still does a very busy job as Director of Adult Social Care for Richmond & Wandsworth Councils, posted a very happy picture of herself cradling her latest grandchild.

Little Liz

My slightly younger brother, Bob, in Maidenhead, is retired and styles himself as Grumpy Bob although he doesn’t appear very grumpy and has a lovely family of which he is very proud. He certainly looks very happy even if he has lost more hair than his older brother.

Grumpy Bob & Jane

Even my god daughter, Julia, posted a lovely picture of her brood yesterday which exudes happiness.

Julia & Brood

Growing up in a large family, I always thought I would be a father. However, fate conspired against me. My wife said from the outset that she didn’t want children and I respected that. Actually, with so many children running through our hands as teachers, it was possible to sublimate that desire into them. Over the years, Pauline & I ‘adopted’ kids from school temporarily. Individuals or pairs of young people came to our house to help with IT work, help in the gardens, be taken out for the day, etc. I was an inveterate matchmaker (which is ironic in itself but I thought was a Dad’s job) and one pairing left school, lived together and had a child before parting. Felt a bit guilty about that!

In some respects, as time went on, I recognised the convenience of being able to pick children up and return them without the sense of responsibility. So much of what we have been able to do in our lives would have been compromised by the additional responsibility of family. For so long, we have never had to worry about money, buying what we wanted when we wanted it. I really enjoyed wasting money changing the car every year just for the smell of a new one. It was great to feel we could just fly abroad on a whim without having to worry about anyone else. We would never have built the Greek house if we’d been concerned about depriving our children of time and inheritance.

However, there have been specific times across our marriage when Pauline has panicked, as I cooed over a baby, that she has deprived me of that experience. Of course, I have reassured her with the arguments set out above but she was never fully convinced. Now, at this great age, her concern is that she should have grandchildren to look after her in her old age when I am gone. Yesterday day she said it again as I showed her Liz’s photo. I’m afraid it’s too late.

Week 642

Sunday, 11th April, 2021

Beautiful day here this morning although I have woken feeling there is a hole in the world. It wasn’t a cold night and there is no sign of frost which my budding figs will be grateful for but my sister in Yorkshire posted this on Twitter early this morning. She takes shots of the changing year from her kitchen window which is both economical but also illustrative of the times.

Yorkshire – 11/4/2021

I also had some photos from an old, College friend who lives in Rochdale. People say this is remarkable for April but I don’t really think so. We once set off for Manchester Airport in April with little time to catch a flight. As we drove from our home in Huddersfield, the skies opened and a blizzard hit the M62. Cars were literally going off in all directions, colliding with each other, sliding up the embankments, stopping dead out of fear. We struggled through and got there but it sticks in the memory.

Lancashire – 11/4/2021

There are things I miss about the North of England. I was there for almost 40 years after all but I do not miss the weather.

Monday, 12th April, 2021

The morning started out cold and wet but is gradually brightening up. Blue sky and sunshine has arrived but, even so, I’m going to do a big session in the gym today instead of going out. Before that, I am listening to a political podcast and starting on my Blog.

We are often told to stop looking back. Live in the present and look to the future. I try to get the most out of my everyday while maintaining great hope for the future but I do it from the roots of my past. I have been reviewing strands from my history recently and trying to tease out the elements which have been important and anyone following this Blog will know that my connection with my past is as much emotional as intellectual

Mary, Anne & Alfred Sanders at the mill – 1880s

I was born in the small, East Midlands village of Repton which will always be known for its famous public school with Alumni like Basil Rathbone, Roald Dahl and Jeremy Clarkson. However, it is also known for the Sanders family who were there and prominent for almost 150 years. They arrived there from Leicestershire in the 1850s when they bought the village water mill. By the 1880s, they still owned the mill but my Great Grandfather, Edwin Sanders, went in to partnership with Joseph Dolman and was branching out as a builder.

Foundation of Sanders & Son

Edwin was doing well and became elected to the Rural District Council and made a Governor of Burton Board of Guardians. By 1920, Edwin bought Dolman out and partnered with his son, my Grandfather. It cost him almost £2000.00 which was the equivalent to an average man’s annual wages for 10 years. Edwin died 7 years later and Grandad carried on alone until 1938 when he reset the business with my father who had just passed his Building Exams.

I was supposed to be taking on the burden but Dad died in 1965 when I was just 14. Time would not wait and the business was sold. Effectively, it ended our prominence in Repton and the family gradually dissipated around the country. I would not go back to that world for anything but I recognise how fortunate I was to have that stability in my upbringing.

Tuesday, 13th April, 2021

Beautiful morning although a little cool at 6.00 am under a clear, blue sky. Going out for an early walk in the sunshine. West Sussex is reputed to be the sunniest County in UK although I suspect it is rivalled by Cornwall. Anyway, all this walking outside is turning me into a pickled walnut so must put some cream on. Soon be time to return to the local beach.

There is a family Messenger thread going at the moment and we are all now retired or coming to retirement so family research is popular. Members of the family are keen to reacquaint themselves with their roots and these things – people & dates – are so easily lost in the mists of time. I use all sorts of tools and sources to find people and it can be difficult and time consuming but, being a research geek, I love it. There is something really satisfying when you ‘crack’ a difficult case. I am still struggling with Pauline’s former College friends although mine are a little easier.

This morning the thread concerned one of my Dad’s sisters, Kath, who married and lived up the High Street in our village. I use:

192.com People Finder,
Public Record Search
Trace Genie – Electoral Rolls

You can still get seriously frustrated which is why success is so sweet. Although I can picture both Auntie Kath and Uncle Arthur clearly. They were both lovely, kind people but who remembers their dates? This morning I was able to supply them for the Family thread quite quickly.

I remember, they had Dalmatian dogs in the time of 101 Dalmatians being popular. Arthur was Head of Science at a local school and a very interesting, gentle man. They had lived all their married life in Repton village. He retired and they moved to their dream retirement in picturesque Branscombe in Devon.

As so often happens and, particularly with teachers, Arthur didn’t last long and Kath came back to the security of her home village. A tragic addendum to that story is that their eldest son and my cousin, Peter, who was not long married, unexpectedly died of a heart attack in his sleep 2 years after her return at the age of 36. It must have been an almost unbearable time for her.

Wednesday, 14th April, 2021

I shot out of bed at 3.30 am in absolute agony. My left leg had cramped so tightly I could barely walk. It’s all this exercise. I must be over doing it. It took me ages of agony to get over it and then couldn’t get back to sleep until the radio came on at 6.00 am. Lovely, lovely start to the day though. Blue sky and sunshine and warmer.

It is just under 8 weeks since our first vaccination and we know people here have been having to wait almost the full 12 weeks for their second. That would have taken us to the middle of May. Yesterday afternoon we received a phone call asking us if we could go down this morning for our second jab. Who would refuse that? So that is the focus for the morning. Must try to get my exercise in first. Got to do some serious weight training. We have a couple of sets of dumbbells, a step bench and mat in our Home Gym but may need to take it to another level. Goodness knows where I will get cramp next!

My Vaccine Passport

Lovely girls at the Medical Centre. Turned out one of them recognised us because she lived not far away. The one who did the injection was so small she only came up to my shoulder when I was sitting down. Most of these people were just volunteering. Nice experience altogether.

Thursday, 15th April, 2021

Mid-April already. We should be away. My Memory Store threw this up this morning from 12 years ago. We had been retired for just 2 weeks and had arrived at our house in Greece. The Spring rains there had left the island very green although another month would turn it all brown.

Spring view from our Greek home – 2012

It is a beautiful day here and we are going out to enjoy the warm sunshine but there is something about a change of scene that raises the spirits. Still two vaccines will soon provide us with travel passports and freedom.

The other photo that came out of the Memory Store was for 5 years ago today. We had been in our Sussex house for about 3 weeks and had been dining off garden furniture because our ordered stuff hadn’t arrived. It was such a relief when it did that I photographed it even before we’d had the blinds put up at the windows.

Kitchen – 2016

I’d found the The Dining Table and chairs on-line while we were staying in a Tenerife hotel. Ironically, it turned out to be from Housing Units in Oldham which we never visited when we lived in the North. I was very pleased with it when we finally took delivery. It’s hard to believe that it is 5 years ago. What will the next 5 years bring?

Angmering village – April 2021

Did a really delightful walk down to the village – about an hour’s round trip. The sun was warm and the bird song incredible. There has been an explosion of robins in our wooded area. I love robins. They are so beautiful but feisty. The fat, brown rabbit seems totally oblivious to us nowadays. The walk was to the Post Office to return another £250.00/€290.00 worth of ordered clothes. It’s a great game.

If you’re going to have one, have a big one!

Weird footnote: Even though I don’t eat pastry, I’ve been fantasising about big, juicy Cornish Pasties. Where did that come from? Is it me or is life strange?

Friday, 16th April, 2021

Glorious morning. Clear blue sky and strong sun from the moment I leapt out of bed at 6.00 am. Must be happy! Actually, we are having a Sainsbury’s delivery at 7.00 am. My increased exercise regime has increased my energy levels which is good. Another walk down to the Post Office this morning. More clothes going back. Never anything for me. I don’t really wear anything worth calling clothes. Anyway, more money coming back into the account.

The BBC R4 Today programme tried to deflate me with an article about China’s approach to global emissions. I know, it’s early for such topics but it helps me engage my brain immediately. China are arguing, and with some justification, that developed countries like the US and UK have been through their industrialisation and, therefore, global pollution process long ago. China is going through that process now and post-industrial nations like us should be considered more responsible for ‘greening’ our economies than them. What shocked me was their target for becoming carbon-neutral by 2060. I will be 109!!

My Ancestry app runs an algorithm which searches for new connections for me and regularly emails me with suggestions. This morning, it found a 1939 Census return which featured our house in Repton. It was No. 81 High Street but Mum & Dad knew it as Ingle Nook because it had an ingle nook fireplace of which they were proud. In the early 1960s, it was replaced with a coke burning stove and central heating and the name seemed to fall into obeyance but it was nice to see the written confirmation.

Dad – 1939?

At the time, he was only 24 years old and single. I think he was quite handsome. Unfortunately, I think I inherited my Mother’s genes. I see her in the mirror every time I look. In 1939, Dad had passed his Building Diploma and was just about to risk his life fighting in WW2. As a builder, he was drafted into the Royal Engineers and found himself in the furnace that was Palestine. He rose through the ranks to Captain and, ultimately Major Sanders He never made anything of it in peacetime but my Mother loved to talk about it.

Although I was 14 when he died, I never really got to know him. He tried but he wasn’t very tactile or communicative. When Bob & I went to speak to him in his hospital bed where he was being treated for angina at the age of 49, none of us had anything to say. I remember it being very uncomfortable and it was the last time I saw him.

Saturday, 17th April, 2021

Glorious morning. We were out early to Sainsburys because they contacted Pauline about a product recall. She has been eating their Majool Dates like there is no tomorrow for a few weeks. They give an instant energy boost if its needed. Too many calories for me so I haven’t touched them. Yesterday, Sainsburys contacted her about the potentially infectious contamination of Hepatitis-A and provided batch numbers. Of course they were exactly the batch she has been eating for some time and she still had two boxes left. She had an immediate discussion with the Surgery about a possible blood test and we took the rest back this morning. I went for a walk in the sunshine while she was shopping.

We went on to the beach for a few minutes just to breathe the sea air. It really looked lovely and made me feel good. There were very few people out walking which makes it even more enjoyable.

I’m getting a bit worried that my neighbours are going to have me ‘Sectioned’ soon because of my behaviour in the Gym. My absolutely favourite television programme to watch at the moment is Would I Lie to You. Nothing I have watched in years has made me just scream with laughter. Particularly, I like Bob Mortimer’s tales. I am a very naïve, trusting person so it’s good training for me but my neighbours must really think I’m losing it as hysterics filter out of the garage.

They won’t hear it today because I’m going out for my second walk of the day to soak up the sun rather than the gym.

Week 641

Sunday, 4th April, 2021


There’s a hole in the world this morning. What are we going to do? Outside it is sunny but cool. Blue sky and sunshine does help but doesn’t make up for the absence of life. Certainly, money can’t plug it. Travel to France? Not sounding good at the moment. My cousin in Salles-Lavalette, SW France, is clearly in despair about her holiday lets. Even schools are closed again. We were there a couple of years ago and it is delightful.

I’ve requested details on some properties in the Murcian sea port area of Aguilas. Even if they come back favourably, we obviously wouldn’t buy unseen. We certainly won’t travel until a couple of weeks after our second vaccination which will take us close to the end of May. The hole deepens!

Aguila, Murcia

It’s amazing how time flies past but, in recollection, events feel so close. Ten years ago today, the removal van arrived to take all our possessions from West Yorkshire to Surrey. Although I remember it clearly, in retrospect so much has happened since then. We have sold and bought three properties since then, travelled thousands of miles in search of the sun, gone so far into retirement that it’s not so easy imagining going back into education now, had five new cars and at least five new diets. Throughout this time, I have carried with me some ambitions that I may never achieve but will continue until my last breath. I did say that I would never need to diet again by the time I was 70. I did say I would achieve fluent Greek. I Failed as I have with so much more. I keep trying.

The next challenge?

I did Spanish at school 55 years ago. I can still do bits but it will now be an ambition to learn more. We have driven across many European countries but not Spain. This will be the ideal new, learning environment. Portsmouth is not far away from here. Return journey by Brittany ferries for Portsmouth – Santander or Bilbao with cabin is only around £1100.00/€1300.00 and the drive across Spain will be fun. I’ve always wanted to go to Zaragoza and then on to the coast at Tarragona and then drive down the coast through Valencia.

You see, hope can be found anywhere and challenges are everywhere. This is the future!

Monday, 5th April, 2021

Time and Life are strange aren’t they? The past rises out of the mists, tantalises and then sinks back into it. It can be cruel but that always comes as a shock to me. When you expose yourself as I do every day to public scrutiny, you should expect it.  I never learn.

Last week someone emerged from the mists in the most magical way. Our house is full of televisions – 7 in all. I think it is a reaction to being denied one in my childhood.  I had the television in the kitchen on in preparation for watching some recording and a programme that I never watch because it is about skilled arts & crafts was on in the background. I was reading not watching until I heard the name, Linda Konieczny announced. I looked up and said to my wife, I used to teach someone called Linda Konieczny in the early days in the 6th Form.” It was only later that the mists really cleared.

A lad (now aged 72) from College contacted me and asked if I’d seen Linda on The Repair Shop that afternoon. Only then did I remember her. She was in the year after us but our paths had crossed a few times. I told him about my senior moment of memory. Next thing I know, I get a contact from Linda thanking me for the flattery of thinking she had been my student. She had remembered me quite acutely at college and certainly better than I remembered her. She sent me a photo to help.

It was quite an interesting episode she appeared in when she brought a large, toy racing car in for repair. Her recently deceased father had made it for her. As her name suggests, she is of Polish origin and her father had escaped Nazi internment camp and walked across Europe, finally getting to UK. He was a skilled metal worker and had constructed this mechanical toy at the end of the war but it no longer worked. Seeing it brought back to life was quite magical. Good things do come in small packages if you let them.

My sister Jane who lives on the Pennines when she’s not in her London home, posted a scene from her house on Twitter this morning. A smattering of snow arrived over night.

Yesterday, we spent a few hours sunbathing in the garden and it was so strong Pauline actually burned her neck through her blouse. It is beautiful here again today. At least we don’t expect snow this far south. Dispelling the mists of time, we are going out for a walk while the sun lasts although it is a little cooler this afternoon.

Tuesday, 6th April, 2021

I have been dreading this. I really can’t believe I’m 70 years old but, suddenly, it doesn’t matter at all. I have the loveliest people in my life and nothing else matters at all. Not sure why it’s taken me so long to realise. Perhaps I’m a slow learner and, maybe, some of them are as well. It doesn’t matter, I will go forward in the knowledge that I have them.

The morning has been really delightful with birthday wishes from all around the country and from Europe. As someone once sang, Love is all you need. It is certainly good enough for me. I have all the material things any man could want. How fortunate is that? If I haven’t done so personally, thank you to every one who has wished me well.

Garden Mezedes in the Spring Sunshine

It is the most lovely day of warm sunshine. I’ve still done my exercise routine because I’ve just beaten my record of achieving it every day for 54 consecutive days. I’m very target driven. People who set me targets regret it because I never give up until I achieve them. Tomorrow, I will try even harder. My birthday meal will be monkfish and king prawns in tempura batter with green salad and garlic dip. Looking forward to that.

Tonight I’m going to be indulged as I watch Real Madrid v Liverpool followed by another episode or two of Keeping Faith. I have really enjoyed this although I didn’t expect to. It is originally made by Welsh TV but I’ve completely fallen in love with this feisty woman. It is 3 series of 20 episodes all together and you have to watch the first series to really understand the rest. She ‘loses’ her husband and the search is gripping. Anyone who has that much intelligence, fight and determination is really attractive. For me, it is far more compelling than physical beauty.

Wednesday, 7th April, 2021

What a beautiful morning of strong, warm sun from a lovely sky. Sussex is a lovely place to be on these days. Yesterday, an old friend from Manchester saw my photograph of Lunch in the garden and said it’s snowing here. If I never see snow again it will be too soon. You really should be here! We spend a lot of time out of the house because of the weather.

I know everywhere can be lovely and there is pleasure to be taken in all circumstances but the opportunities seem increased in our area. Mind you, I would rather be in the Mediterranean walking on a scorching hot beach.

I calculated that we have spent more than 5 complete years living in Greece over our travelling lives mostly in 6 month spells but also 2 months spells pre-retirement. Our Local Authority clung to the 19th Century Mill holiday pattern of Wakes Holidays which, ironically, was Wimbledon fortnight. I must admit I didn’t bother to investigate its origin more than that at the time. It originated from pre-industrial revolution tradition with a night of prayer which was called a vigil, eve or, due to the late hour “wake”, from the  Old English Waecan.

There is jovial, joyous hour,
Of mirth and jollity in store:
The Wakes! The Wakes!

The Village Festival – Droylsden poet, Elijah Ridings 1802-1872

For years before Retirement, we would fly to Greece for Wakes Holidays fortnight and then drive to Greece for 6 week Summer Holiday. Looking back, I can hardly believe it now. I know we were so much younger but the effort we were prepared to go through for this I wouldn’t even consider now.

Ironically, the Saint George bound for Sifnos.

We would fly through the night, arrive at Piraeus Harbour for about 4.00 am on Saturday morning and wait for the ferry to board at 8.00 am. I woke up once on a dockside bench being licked by a stray dog and having been bitten badly by mosquitoes. I rather snobbily chose Greece as a more bohemian, intellectual alternative to Spain where so many of our pupils’ families were going. I don’t regret it but we can both afford and crave so much more comfort nowadays. If it hasn’t got a 5* Hotel or villa, what’s the point? We might as well be at home.

Everyone everyone can you hear the soldiers coming
Everyone everyone every man and every woman
We all fall in the end we’re just miracles of matter ….

The one thing that yesterday has taught me is that we are running out of time and must seize the day!

Today we have seized some lovely, fresh fish. The quality of this swordfish and salmon is hard to match. You should taste it.

Got a surprise in the post today. It was a card from a lovely girl who I taught 30 years ago. I don’t know where she got my address from. Must have been playing my game and researching Census returns. As she left, she had been going through a difficult time and I suppose I helped her more than most other pupils I dealt with. I even did a bit of match making for her when she was leaving school. I felt a bit like a Dad for a while. She has been happily married to an ex-pupil for some years and has three, lovely and successful kids.

It just underlined what a sad, old man I am becoming because the card got to me immediately. I am shocked and embarrassed at my current responses. It is looking as if internal travel will be our first trip and Greater Manchester will be our first destination. I will have to go and see her.

Thursday, 8th April, 2021

Lovely morning with lots of sun. Even the window cleaners have turned up so sunlight doesn’t make the windows look dirty. The day got better when I received a phone call from Spain. An Agente Inmobiliario in Aguilas was responding to my request for information on a new-build property.

I like people. I can’t help myself. I have to know the sort of person I am talking to on the phone. Before he could tell me anything about the property, I had got from him that his name was David. He was 32 with 2 kids and he was living in Aguilas but had a home in York. He was born in Ripon where his parents still live. I told him of the obvious coincidence and, by the time I had done, his sales patter was shattered and we got down to business.

We established that I only needed a one bedroom apartment but sea-facing. The floor plan fits exactly what we would need with a huge balcony/outdoor living area for Dining/Relaxing.

The Development still has quite a way to go before completion and we would be buying off-plan with payments in 3 stages before. The price on-line had been a come-on for the cheapest, least desirable but even the €145,000.00 is a steal for what is included. As well as the apartment, the Development has two pools, an out-door gym, restaurant and underground carpark. That is important because we would want to drive there and stay 3 months at a time.

How often do you buy something and, within days of the warranty running out, it breaks down. Well yesterday, I was on the treadmill when I heard a loud clicking. I thought there was a mechanical problem so I got off to look but the clicking carried on. It was my knee. It sounded like starting pistol. I know I was 70 on Tuesday but I didn’t know that marked the end of the warranty! I have completed an average of 6 ml/9.7 km jogging/walking/cycling every single day for the past 3 months which may account for it. Even so, I am loathe to miss a day and rest.

Friday, 9th April, 2021

Lovely, sunny morning but not warm. I’m having my haircut again. I don’t have to wait for Monday. I don’t like waiting for anything especially as time runs out. All things will come to pass. 

5* Valencia Palace Hotel

We’ve spent less than a week in Spain in our lives. Three years ago, we had the most delightful few days in Valencia. It won me over immediately. We stayed in the rather ornate but very comfortable Valencia Palace which was pleasant but the vibrancy of the city and the lovely people really made the visit. It was one of the few times in my life that I considered myself a ‘tourist’ as opposed to a ‘traveller’. It is bonkers, I know, but I can’t do a ‘standard’, 2 week holiday anywhere for just that reason. I have to go and ‘live’ somewhere for a while.

4* Los Gigantes, Tenerife

Our introduction to Spain was through the Canary Islands. We had been to Fuerteventura years ago – the 1980s I think but we found ourselves ‘homeless’ 6 years ago having sold our Surrey home before our Sussex house was completed so we spent 2 months in a hotel in southern Tenerife.

4* Los Gigantes, Tenerife

I did French and a bit of Spanish at school and I was quite surprised how quickly I could reacclimatise to Spanish while we were there. The ‘Romance’ languages are quite accessible. We were there for the month of November 2015 and January 2016 and we were basically just transferring our lives from UK to the sunshine. I wouldn’t go to the Canaries for the culture. We did a 3rd month over that year but went to the 5* Adrian Rocca Nivaria in the November 2016.

5* Adrian Rocca Nivaria, Tenerife

The problem with the comfortable hotels is the food. It just keeps coming. We had Half Board basis for the 3 months and I was eating Breakfast which I never normally do followed by a huge, buffet meal in the evening and I was piling on the weight even though we were working out in the hotel gym every day.

Saturday, 10th April, 2021

A cool, grey morning and wall to wall coverage of DofE death is just so over the top it’s depressing. Have to do a hard gym session today.

Little Julia Dagg – 1978 – Roundhay Fair

I love photography even if I’m not brilliant at it. I bought an SLR 40 years ago and a Digital SLR around 20 years ago. The equipment is a lot to lug around so I usually find my phone enough nowadays. I take dozens of pictures just to get one good one and, even then, I have to manipulate them on my computer. We have a huge box of pre-digital photos from across the past 40 years. Currently, I am digitizing them through my scanner and putting them up in the Cloud so they are available for my wife when I’m gone.

How did she turn into this? – 2020

Yesterday, this little girl popped out of the box. It is a terrible, 1978 photo reminiscent of the time. I am her godfather in spite of being a life-long atheist. Now she has her own, lovely family and looks very happy.

It all feels a bewilderingly long way away. How fate deals with our lives! I like to control things and although time is the one thing we can’t control, we can choose how to use it.

Week 640

Sunday, 28th March, 2021

Rather overcast this morning with a cool, off-shore breeze. We will go on an hour’s walk mid morning. I’ve been watching the political programmes until I began screaming and looking for another country to live in. Now I’m watching cricket from India and writing. Writing does help.

The next stage of the journey began. I preface this with the view that I don’t believe people really change across their lives. They may add things, develop things, emphasise things, try to hide things but, at core, remain the same.

I started teaching in Oldham in 1972. What more can you say about that? How did I get there? I suddenly felt a failure in every area of my life. I was living alone in a grotty room in a former brothel and working in a tough, mill town school. The only ray of light at all was that I found I was good at teaching. It came naturally to me. It was about the only thing that did. I was desperately isolated, lonely and depressed to think how far I had fallen below my own expectations. Suicide was not out of the question. Teaching was taking all my energies and I turned in upon myself. I looked to music for my solace. Just as The Moody Blues hit me 5 years before so a soul singer, of all people, came into my consciousness from where or why I have absolutely no idea. It was another of those seminal moments that have stayed with me over the years.

The juxtaposition is stark.

Like a primal scream, Lorraine Ellison’s Stay With Me stalked my brain in the dark hours. I knew I had to take control of my life. I was ashamed of the fact that I’d failed. I began a programme of self-improvement which had absolutely nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with learning. I went out and bought books on Art History, on Philosophy and on Politics & Economics. In my grubby, little garret I devoured them avidly. At the same time, I worked hard to get in shape physically. Every day in the early morning I went out running in the local area. If you’d been around at the time, I was the lunatic in a yellow striped, bright purple tracksuit charging down the local roads at 5.30 am. I was trying to expiate my failure.

I was genuinely helped by my friends from College, Kevin & Christine, without whom I’m not sure what I would have done. However, ultimately this can only be done alone. It comes from a sense of self. I realised that I had to rid my head of the primal scream and I thought I could replace it with classical music. Chopin’s Nocturnes started me on my way. It was the time of Ted Heath’s 3 Day Week and miners’ strike. The electricity was going off for hours at a time in the evenings. I had moved to a flat at the top of the brothel. I was really going up in the world although it was still only costing me £5.00/€5.85 per week. I can see myself now up in that garret, absolutely alone and in pitch blackness through the power cuts with Nocturne 20 playing on a battery-powered cassette player. I defy anyone to do that and not to be moved.

I knew I had to get a Degree and I have so much to thank Harold Wilson and Jenny Lee for that as I will explore tomorrow.

Monday, 29th March, 2021

Glorious start to the morning. I’ve even put the mower on to charge to start the season off later today. Pauline’s got more clothes to return this morning so our hour’s walk will be down to the Post Office in the village. So much gets rejected. I can’t remember the last time she kept anything. Still, think of all the money I’m saving! I joke about it but we are some of the lucky ones. Money is piling up with nowhere to spend it while down the road ordinary but genuinely needy people are queuing at Food Banks.

In 1974, I was in need of a lift. I was trying to drown out the primal scream with Chopin and then Rachmaninov which I played incessantly until I knew every note by heart. If you discount work, I largely shut myself off from the world. I found a new life in Art, Philosophy, Politics and History and Music but for my own self esteem I needed to formalise it. In 1969, under the inspiration of Harold Wilson, Jenny Lee set up The Open University. They did it just for me.

I was ashamed of the fact that I hadn’t got a degree and I decided to do something about it. I applied for an Arts course. I could have got funding from the Local Authority but, almost in a sense of self-flagellation, I punished myself by doing everything the hard way. The degree was done in spare time while teaching. The cost was borne totally by me. It was me saying, You deserve all this pain. It’s your fault. Now, get your head down and do it. I worked all day, came home and worked all night. Often, I survived on 2-3 hrs of sleep a night. You can do that when you’re young and desperate. I made no attempt to find companionship. I was too busy beating myself up.

Harold Wilson – Hero of Huddersfield.

Every Monday evening I travelled to Manchester Business School on Oxford Road for a tutorial between 7.00 – 10.00 pm and then home to write up my notes before catching a few hours sleep and then walking to school at 8.00 am. It was gruelling but essential. The only way was up.

I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be.

Suddenly I was being thrown a lifeline and being forced to struggle for it. From Vasari’s Lives of the Artists to Cartesian Dualism, my mind was exploding. Every month new Units of Study were arriving by post and I was actually looking forward to them. I am good at researching and writing essays. What an admission. Why couldn’t I be good at the essential things in life?

Through the writings of Marx and Engels to Mendelssohn’s rediscovery of Brahms, I was growing in self confidence. I do realise how sad that sounds but we cling on to small victories and they were mine. For my 3rd year Honours course I took Twentieth Century Poetry and was lucky enough to have a very special tutor. By day, I was teaching the poetry of Philip Larkin to A Level in school and by night I was being tutored by Larkin’s publisher and Biographer, Harry Chambers. I was in my element. Who would have thought that, as my first Degree came to a close, I would be taken off the market again. I wasn’t even in the market! See tomorrow’s exciting developments …

Tuesday, 30th March, 2021

Up early for a Sainsbury’s delivery at 7,00 am and then a fresh fish delivery after breakfast. Wonderful, wonderful day. The back garden has reached 22C/70F which is slightly warmer than Mojacar Beach in Spain. We have done a really enjoyable walk for just over an hour and then spent lots of time resting with iced white wine and olives on the patio.

Professor Emeritus Bill Stafford

So little is happening and moving at the moment in our lives that I have been filling my Blog with retrospectives. It is always helpful to reconsider how we got here. Not living in the past but preparing for the future. At the moment, I am tying it loosely to Music over the years. Music has been so important to me over my life. Very early on, I realised the massive emotional effect it had on me. It seems to speak to a core of my inner life that thoughts and images cannot begin to reach. It may be the sentimentality of an old man but I’ve found this response has increased over time.

Harry Chambers had been Phillip Larkin’s confidant. You don’t get much more impressive than that. He wanted me to write for him but I was already moving on. I had corresponded with a professor at Huddersfield University about my developing political views. Professor Bill Stafford was incredibly encouraging and invited me for interview. He was putting on a research degree course for post-graduates. It was based on a Marxist analysis of the world and covered Socialism and the rise of the Labour Party. It was exactly what I needed. I finished my B.A. in 1979 and started my Masters in 1980.

However, I have omitted two, crucial events. This young lady took me out to Dinner at the end of May 1978. Life changed rapidly and fundamentally and, at the end of June, she arrived at the door of my flat and announced, You’re coming to live with me. I always do as I’m told. Every item of my possessions apart from the bookshelves were crammed into the back of an ancient, white Mini and I moved to Yorkshire. We began a longer journey together of hugely challenging events.

Pauline was a cordon bleu standard chef who trained in London and was teaching Home Economics in my school having previously also owned and run a fashion shop in Oldham Precinct. She was also a nationally accredited Rounders referee. Every day, we would drive across the Pennines to work and back again in the evening. The 15 miles over the bleak moors was so often the most relaxing thing to do. I loved to play at full volume Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Pauline was incredibly tolerant and indulgent of me. Beethoven was the last thing she wanted in that situation. She liked Elton John, Moody Blues and Fleetwood Mac.

She hardly got a look in. I know and I have learnt over the years that I am a dominant personality. I get my own way and people give in to me. I can control a room and a discussion easily. I have had to try very hard to moderate my opinions and give in against my instincts. I still have to try hard to accept that mine aren’t the only views.

I moved in at the end of June and five months later we were married. It was lovely sharing and exploring a new life. We didn’t have a honeymoon. We married on December 30th in deep snow and were back at work a few days later. Our honeymoon period lasted almost exactly 18 months when, in June 1980, we were driving to work in our brand new, pageant-blue mini when some office worker in an old, Ford Cortina lost control on the bend as we entered Oldham crossed the road and drove straight through our car virtually cutting it in half. Pauline managed to get out with a gash to her head and damage to her leg. I was dead … or so Pauline and the ambulance men who arrived on the scene thought.

My leg was cut through to the bone but my head had been smashed against the side window causing brain bruising. The ambulance men initially pronounced me dead but had the foresight to put an oxygen mask on me. Apparently, in my unconscious state, I fought like mad against the mask. Two burly ambulance men sat on me to hold the mask on and sat on my leg cut through to the bone. I’m told I made one, last bid for freedom by biting forcefully on the man’s nipple nearly severing it. He left the ambulance screaming and clutching his chest. Although I was dressed in a suit, he asked my wife if I was a builder’s Navvy.

Live or die? All will be revealed tomorrow.

Wednesday, 31st March, 2021

Another lovely morning. Feeling happier than for a while. Must be the sunshine. Pauline has found me a new-build property in Spain for consideration at a fantastic price. Who knows? We’ve even considered buying two and letting one out. Investments here are making nothing so this would be an interesting alternative.

Going out for a walk in the sunshine. At 10.00 am, we are reading 17C/63F but we hope for better this afternoon.

Back to the story and the aftermath of the road accident in June 1980. I have virtually no memory of the next few months. I was unconscious in hospital for the next week and behaving very strangely. Apparently, I was prone to walking round totally naked, asking the nurses inappropriately intimate questions and I took over total control of the ward television. Just reverting to type I suppose. We went to stay with Pauline’s sister and Mum who looked after us in early recuperation but I was out of it for months. I fought hard to get back to work in September but was really struggling with memory loss, concentration and depression – all classic head injury results – and had to take more time off. We did finally achieve a reasonably sized compensation pay-out but nothing made up for that lost year.

One of the things I should have been compensated for was my addiction to Dallas. This rubbishy, American drama was dominating the airwaves as I drifted in and out of consciousness. Half the time, I didn’t know I was watching it as I sat on a sofa dribbling down my chin but, as recovery came, I found I couldn’t stop watching it – not that I felt comfortable admitting it at the time. After all, I was a respectable intellectual.

At this time, I was looking for promotion and preparing to start a Masters Degree and Pauline was doing her BA at the Open University. To make matters worse, just as we began to feel a little better and went back to our own home in Meltham, we were sitting in the Lounge feeling still quite shocked when an almighty bang announced a speeding vehicle had run out of control on the bend and crashed into the side of our house. The house was 120 years old with stone walls so thick a tank wouldn’t have made an impression and the car was the only thing damaged but it was a real shock.

1985 – Supervising Sports Day – ‘Bearded like the Pard’

Over the next couple of years, we got Pauline through her Social Sciences Degree and it was real testament to her determination because, for quite a while, I was a nightmare to deal with. What am I saying? I’m always a nightmare to deal with.

I had done 3 years of the most exciting, intellectual challenge of my life. I was Head of Lower Counthill which I found enjoyable and I was left with a 50, 000 word dissertation to write for my research degree to be awarded. I had chosen the works of R.H.Tawney, English economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist, to research. It was extremely demanding on time and money just as we had bought Slade House in Helme, a new car and booked lots of travel to Greece.

I was spending hours combing through the university ‘stacks’ of files in the library basement and lots of trips to the Rotunda Library – Manchester Central in St Peters Square. I was sending off to Oxford University and to Manchester’s John Rylands libraries for copies of rare books. I was doing all this just for my own self esteem. If anything, my professional life was fighting against me in this. Under this pressure, the thesis stalled. The deadline was the end of May 1989. By April, I had given up. It was just too much. Until my wife gave me a good kicking. She had given up too much to let me fail and she knew how much it meant to me. Throughout the Easter holidays I just sat and wrote in long hand page after page of analysis while Pauline typed them up on my first ever computer the Amstrad PCW.

Suddenly everything clicked. My thesis revealed itself as if by magic. It was done. I had to have it professionally typed and bound to publication standard. It had to be with my thesis supervisor, Professor Bill Stafford by the last Friday in May, 1989. Actually, we drove up to his home in Leeds and gave it to him two days late which he accepted. It was done. I felt as if the failures of the past had been salved. But why did it take so long? Why do I always have to do everything the hard way?

Thursday, 1st April, 2021

Looking to the Future

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

T.S. Eliot – The Waste Land

Like one of my heroes, T.S.Elliot, I went out early into the garden this morning and smelt the Summer coming. Having gone through a rocky, late Winter patch, I can feel the awakening Spring rain stirring memory and desire. I realise that, as I race rapidly in to 70, every moment must be grasped and savoured. At 7.00 am the ‘official’ temperature is 12C/54F but felt so much warmer in the micro climate of the garden.

It would be strange to list 1989 as the climax of one’s life but, in one sense, it was. What started all those years ago in Ripon College 1969 ended twenty years later in Huddersfield University in 1989. What a long haul but I got there. Of course, life doesn’t stop. We have to seek new challenges. I decided to make a new life in Europe. At the same time, I was trying to improve my cultural development at home.

Beata Beatrix – Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I wrote a couple of days ago about my dominant personality. Like an alcoholic, I would periodically feel ashamed and give myself a good talking to, make resolutions and then quickly go back to old ways. I was determined to explore art. My research period had incorporated the 19th century Romantic movement, neo-Gothic, neo-Medieval, Pre-Raphaelite and Arts & Crafts movements. I flooded our house with giant, framed prints of Rosseti, Burne-Jones, Waterhouse and Morris through to Whistler, spending thousands of pounds in the process. My wife said she liked them but I’m sure she had to work quite hard to do so. What a selfish soul I am!

The Soul of the Rose – John William Waterhouse

I became obsessed with Waterhouse for a while and actively searched out paintings for the house/Gallery.

Symphony in White: No. 2 – James Whistler

Whistler marked the end of this movement historically and in our house. Soon after he arrived on the walls, we were selling up and moving to Surrey. Pauline carefully bubble-wrapped and labelled all 53 huge pictures. They were loaded into a lorry and taken in to store. As soon as we got into our duplex apartment near Woking, it was immediately clear that the paintings were totally inappropriate. They were too big for any of the walls. We gave them to the local Hospice to sell for their charity and for a few years we received information as they sold another and raised more money.

I bought two, leather bound computer chairs for the Office in January. The moment I sat in one, I knew it wasn’t good enough. I ordered two different ones and, today, the originals are going to the local Hospice shop. After that we are doing an hour’s walk along the fringe of the woods that bound our development. The temperature is a pleasant 18C/65C and the sun is tanning my face. I quickly revert to Mediterranean which is polite way of admitting I look old.

Friday, 2nd April, 2021

Awake at 5.00 am and up at 6.30 am. It really is a good Friday. The sky is blue. The sun is out and all seems well with the world. Sainsbury’s delivery at 8.00 am and then a walk.

In the 1990s, I was determined to induct myself into the world of opera. I started with a monthly primer magazine as an introduction and progressed through cassette tapes, video tapes and live performances.

Before I went to my first live performance, I had spent hours listening, learning and singing along to numerous performances. Opera makes me cry. Everything makes me cry. Never attend an opera with me. I was banned by my wife when I took her to a performance of La Boehme by Opera North in Huddersfield. Pauline wanted to leave after the first act because I was singing loudly under my breath while simultaneously sobbing. It’s not something you’d pay good money for is it? ? I loved the emotional fragility of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and the heart breaking pathos of Puccini’s La Boehme. Sunday morning opera sessions in our Lounge were near suicidal!

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again …

As a counterpoint to this, I want to introduce two, final pieces of ‘pop’ music. I would drive across Europe from Calais to Ancona – 1000mls/1600kms/circa 18 hrs continuous driving. I did all the driving and it can be tiring particularly because we started on the day we closed school for the summer. It is easy to fall asleep at the wheel and, if you don’t drive at an average of 95-100 mph, you may miss the ferry. Consequently, my navigator and partner had to keep talking, pinching and slapping me to stay awake. We always hit the Swiss Alpine downhill roads at 2.00 am in pitch blackness as the rain had softly fallen and made them like glass.

You and me we can ride on a star
If you stay with me, girl, we can rule the world …

We found one other way to maintain concentration. We would play songs and sing along as we drove. My choice was James Taylor. What an intelligent performer! You’ve got a friend / Don’t let me be lonely tonight / Shower the people you love with love /  I could sing them in my sleep although, at the time, the purpose was to not do that. For Pauline, it was Take That. I actually began to enjoy it myself. Back for Good / Relight my Fire / Never Forget. They will always be in my memory and associated with good times. I loved living in Greece with all the challenges it threw up but one of my favourite times was the drive through Europe – Belgium Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy. I drove that route one way or the other exactly 30 times – more than 30,000 mls – and even got to like the same service stations that we called at for coffee.

I’m continuing to explore Spanish properties while they are so cheap. I think it’s got to be a new-build. This one looks ideal. It is in the area of Murcia. Our friends had a property in Mazzaron. This is in Aguilas which is a bit further south and looks nicely positioned. The development has a number of facilities we like with pools and a gym. The apartment has a large balcony and floor to ceiling glass sea views. I’ve sent for details.

Saturday, 3rd April, 2021

1949 – 2005

Woke feeling a little sad this morning. Outside is grey, cool and distinctly unwelcoming. I’m told it’s Saturday but I really wouldn’t know. It’s strange but, when one feels sad, the world seems to be punctuated with sad things. As I woke at 6.00 am, BBC R4 was broadcasting a programme from Stormont in Northern Ireland. The historic, Good Friday Agreement was negotiated by the wonderful Mo Mowlam 23 years ago and she has been dead now from a brain tumour for 16 years. How transient life is!

On this day 12 years ago we retired from work. We were both 57 although I was going to be 58 in 3 days time. Prior to retiring, I had spent weeks and months calculating our final salary monthly pension, our lump sums and we were negotiating redundancy payoffs as well. I had to balance it all against our outgoings which were dominated by a huge mortgage. It took one entire salary every month. Retiring allowed us to pay it off completely and instantly. As a result, not working meant we were immensely better off. I wouldn’t want you to feel sorry for us. We were never poor but retirement has been wonderful.

One of the things that (some) people worry about in retirement is the gradual erosion of their pension’s purchasing power despite our inflation-proofed income. This happens when wages across the country rise above the inflation rate. The 12 years of our retirement could not have been more useful in this respect. Wages were frozen or went back since the financial crash of 2008 while ours have increased with inflation. We have felt incredibly fortunate and still do.

I quite enjoyed Teaching but I don’t miss it at all. I sometimes miss the sense of purpose that daily work prescribes but there is always that lovely feeling of waking and thinking that we can do exactly as we wish. I like to burn the candle at both ends and always have. Up early and late to bed but now I do it out of choice. Life is short and, in my view, it is important to squeeze as much out of it as possible. Sleeping is not part of that. We had always intended that retirement would be dominated by travel. In fact, we have been travelling since 1981 – 40 long years.

Zakynthos – August 1981

Our first house was on the roadside in a smallish village. Just down the road was the famous David Brown tractor factory. We would regularly see trails of brand new tractors chugging through the woods to their test track. Our first holiday together was to the small, Greek Ionian island of Zakynthos nowadays called Zante. There was no island airport in those days and we flew 4.5 hrs to Athens, 5 hr bus to Killini Port on the Peloponnese followed by a ferry to the island. We were exhausted even as fit 30 yr olds. The very first thing we were confronted with in Zakynthos port was a David Brown tractor.

We had booked 3 weeks in a ‘villa’ in Argassi, Zakynthos. Neither of us spoke Greek, had eaten Greek food or experienced Greek heat in August. Within a couple of days, we were completely hooked. It began a 40 year project which involved more than 15 islands but with the Cycladic island of Sifnos at its heart. I hope to explore that next week but, now, although we can go no where, we are planning for the future which we think will be in Spain. There has to be a future. I will not give up!