Week 644

Sunday, 25th April, 2021

A really good sleep last night and woke up refreshed to a lovely morning. Didn’t last long. All but the main Sky-Q box were refusing to work. Breakfast orange juice, tea and coffee accompanied by frantic resetting of all the boxes without success. As soon as you consult the website, it says check your internet connection. How it is possible to read that website without one, I don’t know. Anyway, I have as strong an internet feed as it’s possible to have in UK. Fibre to the door providing Gigabit – well 940mbs download and 120mbs upload – delivery. 

I phoned Sky Technical Help. I was answered by a lovely young woman who I soon found out was 26 years old and called Katy. She was working from Leeds but came from Bradford. She had been intending to get married over a year ago but had been forced to postpone it twice because of Covid and was hoping to go ahead this June.

There are quite long gaps between doing some resetting of the equipment and waiting for the result. We chatted away quite happily. Suddenly, and I am rather slow, I realised she was flirting with me. I said, I am 70 you know. She said I didn’t sound 70 and asked me how I spent my retirement. As I told her about all the travelling I did, she said, I need to get to know you. I told her I would arrange another Sky technical problem before I set off abroad again just to give her the option. She ended the conversation with, Is there anything else I can do for you? before collapsing into a fit of the giggles. For anyone else considering it, this is how to raise the spirits of a sad, old man. The technical problem still isn’t solved, by the way. They are sending an engineer out for that.

Aging can be scary. My wife is obsessed with it. Everyone says she looks 20 years younger than her age but she worries about wrinkles, sagging skin on her arms, sun spots on her skin, lines around her eyes. The two young ladies above were in the 3rd year when we arrived at College. They were thought to be ‘movers & shaker’ by some. Moving and shaking changes its connotation as we age. We just have to learn to embrace it. Fortunately, aging has passed me by and I have retained all my youthful features!

Monday, 26th April, 2021

Wonderful start to the day. Beautiful sky, warm sunshine and …. the lovely girl I spoke to at Sky yesterday had ‘fixed’ all 4 Q-boxes over night. I suspect that she arranged for the software to be ‘flash’ upgraded remotely. All done. I might have to phone her this morning to say thank you. I am getting better at phone calls.

Memory is a mystery to me. Somethings were so delightful that I will never forget them. Somethings were so unbearably painful that I can never wipe them from my mind. In between, there is this continuum of pleasant and dispiriting experiences that quickly fade into the morass of time. That is what the Blog is for and that is what the Cloud storage system serves.

In ‘normal’ times, we would go to France 3 or 4 times a year shopping. We always have a suite in a pleasant hotel on the outskirts of Coquelles with wonderful, well-kept grounds. It is a short drive from the Tunnel and major shopping outlets. Food & wine is the very stuff of life. My Memory Box delivered this scene this morning.

Lovely feet!

I remember it well although it is more than 12 months since we stayed there. What I didn’t remember was that, on this day 4 years ago we arrived in a heavy hailstorm.

Hailing in Cite Europe

We did some shopping, had a wonderful meal in the most unpretentious restaurant before checking in at the hotel.

No Spam here!

As we entered the hotel car park, we were greeted by these little creatures who were herding a flock of chicks supervised by a fat, tabby cat who showed no interest in eating them. Only in France would one not be surprised by this scene although, come to think of it, could have been a donkey or goat in Greece but without the tarmac.

Don’t mate under my car!

These little memories get us through our lives and keep the major movements at bay to surface in the waking hours.

Tuesday, 27th April, 2021

In her 40s

Today is the 13th anniversary of my Mum’s death. The pain of it has faded now as it becomes a blur of memories. My mother was articulate, educated, forceful (controlling even), snobbish, Conservative and conservative, strongly Roman Catholic. She gave me a very stable childhood which she took too far. She really subscribed to the Jesuit, Ignatius of Loyolla, maxim: Give me the child for the first seven years and I’ll give you the man. She tried to control every area of our lives from how we dressed and ate to how we thought. She was quite clear to me that my girlfriends weren’t appropriate and made it clear to them as well.

For someone like me, who inherited her articulacy and strength of character, it was like a red rag to bull. Anything my Mother said, liked, thought, believed, had to be totally rejected and opposed. This particularly centred around religious rejection. I was impressed by the James Joyce character, Stephen Daedalus who rejected his Mother’s entreaty even on her death bed to come back to Roman Catholicism by repeating Lucifer’s Non Serviam. This meant that we weren’t close after I left home. I went home very rarely other than in emergencies although I did ring her twice a week to make sure she was alright. I was aware of my filial duty.

In her 80s with Mike

Right to the very end, having survived umpteen medical problems including cancer and bad falls, she continued to do things her own way. I regularly entreated her to sell her house and move into a community of people. She lost her temper and put the phone down. Even at the end; unable to breath and suffering from worsening Pneumonia, she went to hospital without telling most of us and she was effectively dead before I could get to the hospital. It is one of my big regrets that I didn’t get to say goodbye to her in person. However, I wrote and delivered the Eulogy in one of the few times I have been in a church since leaving home. It did give me some sort of closure.

I was amazed at the views of my brothers and sisters after Mum’s death. I had always thought she saw me as a failure and all of them as more successful. It turns out that they had each been given that view of themselves. She played us off against each other. I’m not sure why but others believe it was to drive us on to compete to be better. There is also that strand of a Catholic catechism that installs original sin in the psyche and leaves us feeling forever unworthy. I rejected Catholicism internally soon after leaving Primary School but feelings of unworthiness have remained with me all my life.

Bit of an emergency yesterday rather threw plans in to disarray. Phone call mid afternoon from Brother-in-Law up in Surrey to say that Pauline’s sister had been taken in to hospital with a suspected heart attack. It took just over an hour to drive up there on what was the most beautiful afternoon of delicious sunshine. It involves a spell on the M25 which seemed quite light luckily. They are both well in to their 80’s and quite frail. Pauline was the ‘mistake’ baby of the family and 14 years younger than her sister. Their daughter is currently in America chaperoning her son at a tennis academy so we had to step in to the breach.

We went round packing bags with clothes and toiletries, phone charger, etc. Off to St Peters Hospital in Chertsey. It felt strange to be back somewhere we lived for 5 years. I didn’t miss it. Hospitals are a nightmare at the moment and this one was worse than most. Spent more time in the carpark than the hospital. When we did get out, we drove back late at night under a pitch black sky with the most beautiful, huge full moon illuminating everything. The M25 has never looked more lovely. Shattered when we got home but had to be up early this morning for a Sainsbury’s delivery. Going for a walk down to the village Post Office to post back … more rejected clothes.

Wednesday, 28th April, 2021

I was looking for a photograph for Pauline’s friend yesterday when I came across this picture from 1974.

Not Rebecca-Jane but Julia

I messaged her last night and attached a copy of the photo. She says that she no longer has the duck. However, she does seem to have turned out to be a lovely girl.

National Bank of Greece – Sifnos 2010

It was eleven years ago that our confidence in the Greek economy was beginning to be shaken. The picture above shows our island branch of the National Bank of Greece (Εθνική Τράπεζα της Ελλάδος). We had spent a decade channelling over £200,000.00 through it for design and building work. On this day 11 years ago, we had over £10,000.00 in our account and there were rumours of financial instability in the country’s banking system. We thought there was a possibility of accounts being ‘locked’. We withdrew it immediately and stored it in cash. Fortunately, we had a few more years before we had to sell the house to protect our investment.

Carol, Husband & little Cathy – 1966

Following on from yesterday’s theme (sorry). Mum was born and lived in London. When war broke out, London children were evacuated to the countryside to avoid the Blitz. Mum was sent to a farm in Wales. I think she was in Builth Wells near Hay-on-Wye. As a 15 year old Townie, she learned to love it. She also fell in love with a lad in the family she was lodging with. After Dad died, she went back to visit him but realised he wasn’t the person she remembered.

However, she always loved Wales after her evacuation experience and persuaded Dad to take us on holiday there. We stayed at Tenby, Saundersfoot and Colwyn Bay. It is there, I fell in love with Carol. I was 15 and she was about 35. I was immediately and absolutely infatuated with her. I think she knew it and rather played along. After the two week holiday, we exchanged addresses and wrote to each other for 2 or 3 months. I’ve always fancied older women!

Forgotten who this is!

I just had to ‘dump’ Carol and move on when I was picked up and taken for a walk by this young lady at Scout-Guide camp. It’s all a learning curve, isn’t it?

Thursday, 29th April, 2021

Glorious morning. Going out for a long walk very early because I have to drive back up to Surrey later on to visit Pauline’s sister in hospital. There’s a chance that we may even be taking her back to her home after her procedure. It sounds daft but I’m quite looking forward to 2-3 hours driving because I’ve done so little of it in the past few months.

I’ve been working hard in the gym and walking each day for 4 full months now. I have only missed my targets 3 times in the past 12 weeks. I have also tightened up my food intake quite considerably and am now into my 4th week without alcohol. I do feel a lot better. In 12 weeks, I have walked/jogged 660 miles or almost 55 miles per week. I am now resolved to increase my efforts. Got to get in shape in case Katy from Sky Technical calls!

At least we have some lovely walks around here. The Sussex Downs are famous for tourist walkers. We have this delicious bluebell wood within easy reach.

Of course, most people come for the sea and the beaches. We are a sunny county and walking by the sea can be quite delightful. This little chap appeared in the shallows the other day.

Worthing Beach

These things are nice distractions and help me to exercise but there is much in life that is so much more important to me. Really miss friends. Six years ago this morning, we were meeting Viv, a lovely girl who did Reprographics for us in our school and was paid peanuts for doing it. We were having coffee with her in the coffee shop in Oldham Library and then went on to meet Brian in Shaw followed by Margaret in Marsden. So many people in the North that I miss!

Friday, 30th April, 2021

The last day of April, 2021. Everything is running away. It is, I must admit, another lovely, sunny day. Up at 6.00 am for Sainsbury’s delivery and then out for an early walk. Going to do some gardening but, otherwise, it is a bit of an empty day today.

I must apologise to regular readers of the Blog who haven’t any connection with my Training College. I have been collecting and collating pictures of that time all those years ago from and for friends who have lost contact. I have spent the past few years communicating with old friends/acquaintances and collecting memories for myself so I will just store them here for future reminiscence. Over the next few days, I will post a number of photos which I will try to link with narrative but which will mainly be for future reference of aficionados.

I was taking English as my main subject but I was mainly surrounded by artists. My mother was an art teacher. I love art but I have no skill at making it. I enjoyed the work many fellow students produced. I was given a grainy, old brochure for the college with what looked like ancient photos of ex-students. When I focussed in on it, I realised that many of the illustrations were from my time. It is a shock to realise how old we are, how black & white our history is and that now is the only time left to address it.

For reference, I think I recognise one of the girls in the top left photo and I think it is Steve Gill in the top right. However, it is the central panel which features my old Digs-mate, John Ridley and, I think, Julie in the centre. Above is Judy Hall in the foreground, a mature student and the Potter, Victor Priem in the back, centre.

I did a bit of research on Victor Priem because he was a fascinating character. The first thing that came up was one of his 1970s pots for sale at auction.

I was shocked to find that he died at the ridiculously young age of 64 but soon found out what a hard start to life he had when I found this.

It was only then that I realised he had lived and worked just a few miles away from my current home. I even found a Times Obituary of another artist who Victor Priem had taught at school in Brighton.

Kevin Sellers was a significant member of my group and he continues to produce art work at his home in Cumbria.

Kevin

Chris Tolley & his wife live in France, as I understand it although I haven’t had contact with him.

Chris & Margie

I lived with Nigel for all three years of my College life in Digs and in a ‘flat’. He was an extremely interesting lad who taught me a lot. I had never heard of Leonard Cohen in my life until I met Nigel. I was immediately attracted by his anarchy. What would my Mother think?

Steve, Nigel & Julie

I had never drunk wine in my life but Nigel introduced me to red wine and I have never been able to shake it off since. Within weeks of arriving in Ripon, Nigel got me drunk for only the second and last time in my life and I found myself sitting on the white line at the centre of College Road at midnight singing the Beatles, Why don’t we do it in the road? What would my Mother think??

Nigel as I remember him.

The last time I saw Nigel and the lovely Julie was at a party at their home in Rochester, Kent in 1974. How lives change. They split up. Nigel became a Buddhist Monk although he has since emerged back into the world as an artist. Julie did an MA in Art History at Leeds but never remarried. At this distance, it makes one’s heart ache!

Julie as I remember her.

Just one coda for today. The Head of Art at the College was the irascible Derek Bolton pictured here with John Lee, the Mens’ Tutor.

They both look so young. As a student, I remember them as being so much older. John Lee, who I didn’t find easy to relate to, caught me with a girl after hours in the student bar in the Summer of 1973 and gave me a real telling off until I reminded him that I was no longer a student there at which point he turned his ire on the girl. Such memories!

Saturday, 1st May, 2021

Happy first day of May, 2021 to all our readers. It is the most beautiful day down here this morning and all is well with the world. Hope you have a lovely month. 

I am going to start the morning in quite customary way by walking down to the Post Office in the village. I don’t need to tell you why but I do observe that most of the clothes order is being kept this time. Success was modelled happily yesterday and only two items repackaged for return.

When I arrived at college 52 years ago this October, it was a scrambled event. I had learned at the end of August that my A-Levels were not good enough to get me into Newcastle University and I was scrambling around to avoid having to get a job. Ripon, like many Training Colleges, had been instructed to take English students to fill serious gaps in the country’s Teaching Force. My mother was desperate to get rid of me and saw the advert. 

With about two weeks to go before term started, I went up for interview. I had to report to the Porters’ Lodge like some latter-day, minor public school. It was unlike any interview I had been to before. I was not the supplicant. They were desperate to attract men for the government’s funding-stream. They had heard of Burton Grammar School and were impressed. They had heard of Men and were impressed. What’s not to like? Could I cope with all those women? I had been to an all-boys Grammar School but I pretended to be a man-of-the- world who wouldn’t be phased by lots of girls. After all, I had 5 sisters. How difficult could it be? Little did I know!

Coffee Bar

The College was still in the first half of the 20th Century, still demure as befits a Ladies, Church of England College. This brochure page from 1970 is illustrative of the interior. Fresh cut flower arrangements were put in the Bishop Chase Common Room every morning. Decorum was the watchword although the young men throwing a ball about rather ruined it.

No men in rooms after 10.00 pm was still in place and there were stories of students’ doors having to be left open when ‘entertaining’ people. The buildings and the regulations, the culture and the staff were rather from a different era. They were definitely worried about the effect the new Men would have on their Ladies. Of course we were saintliness personified!

The last rights.

The Ladies College had begun in 1862, took its first male intake in 1969, merged with the Men’s College of St. John’s in York in 1974 and, finally, moved there completely in 2002. The building has since been turned into private apartments.

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