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.

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