Far To Go
The Life of a Thursday Child
Howard Martin Osborne
Copyright 2019 by Howard Martin Osborne
pretentiousness, this preface is an attempt to provide some shading
to the themed account of my life that follows.
is themed, as in the ‘far to go’ focus that some may
observe is at the expense of fuller coverage, such as marriage
partners and kids and the unquestionable love and respect I have for
them all. They represent a rich vein of detail, most of which remains
sufficiently private and does not echo this admittedly left-brained
focus on journey.
may sound ironic at times, but that may reflect some aspect of my
view on life. It is also by definition, incomplete. Not seeking to be
a grand sweep of an outstanding life, yet still outstanding to me, it
treads warily across the decades reflecting the high spots - whether
fundamental or trivial, yet often relevant to journeys. These are
mainly outward rather than inward looking. Perhaps the latter are
more readily inferred from my other writings.
is not intended for a large readership, but for those closer to me
who may retain a passing interest in my life and how indirectly, it
may have affected theirs.
was born a little over term, and was heavy at 10 pounds (or whatever
that is now in Kilos) at Oldchurch Hospital in Romford – then
in Essex, now part of another London Borough with a name based on a
small and previously hardly-known village. Born on 8th
July 1948 I was a Thursday’s child – apparently with ‘far
to go’ according to the rhyme. I guess that might imply either
travel or self development, and perhaps both. Others must judge in my
own case if there is any veracity in that saying.
mother wished that I should not be easily nicknamed so chose the
forename Howard, although occasionally a few people have attempted
‘Howie’ and received short shrift for their attempt. In
my early teens my nickname was ‘Twizzle’ after the slim
boy character with extendable arms, in a kids TV series. Later it was
many others without an obsessively record keeping parent, there is
very little detail left around about my very early few years, but
think I must have been 2 or 3 when we moved into a newly built
council house in Stifford Clays in South Essex, a few streets later
to expand into a large estate, but at that time with open empty
fields at the bottom of our long garden.
guess that in those years immediately post-WW2 that bringing up a
baby may have been hard. I suspect I was cared for just as much by my
grandparents as my mother.
Dad was a bus driver and I do recall when very young, accompanying
him to a hall in the nearby village to select some clothes – a
dark suit in particular. Perhaps demob suits had a second wind. I
also took a monthly bus ride with Mum to collect a small bottle of
thick and sweet orange juice; I guess a state handout of vitamin C.
Apparently I lacked appetite and was exposed to ‘Parrish’s
Food’ and ‘Virol’ (a sweet version of Marmite).
Hated the former, loved the latter.
a young pre-school age I was taken shopping with my family in
Romford, strapped (or almost so) in a cream painted pushchair. It was
a classic mistake as my parents and grandparents each assumed the
other was watching me. I escaped and toddled off down a side street.
I can imagine their panic in searching everywhere to finally discover
me under a car that was about to reverse out of a drive, pointing and
saying “Car, car”. My new yellow blazer with splashes of
sump oil was a permanent reminder - perhaps an early instance of ‘far
home in our 3 bedroom council house, I slept in the small boxroom. I
vaguely recall a duck-print wallpaper and a scary black and red still
life painting of flowers. A wooden cot served as my bed for some
years although one Christmas morning upon discovering a small pile of
presents on the floor, I slipped through the bars somehow - to play
in the still cold quiet of a pre-dawn Christmas day. I was already an
accomplished escape artist.
must have been around 4 or 5 as among the presents was a construction
set similar to Meccano. I was soon lost in brass nuts and bolts,
building something that had wheels.
in the garden (was it always warm sunny summers then?) and looking
across the fields, I recall on two occasions a group of soldiers or
probably cadets, jumping with parachutes out of a basket slung under
a barrage balloon. Thinking of it now, it did not seem very high, so
perhaps they were on fixed lines rather than ripcords.
same field was an escape route for a local boy who tried to steal a
toy from me. I chased him across the fallow field, saw a discarded
ketchup bottle full of earth and threw it. An amazing shot over 50
yards hit him square on the back of his head - and he went down. I am
ashamed to admit I felt only vindicated and did not rush to check
that he was OK. He was not there next day and I suppose he survived.
was the time when metal dustbins were collected from back gardens and
returned, and leftover food dumped in ‘pig bins’ in the
street for regular collection. Food was always on the table, albeit
plain and simple. I do however recall one day seeing a parcel wrapped
in newspaper that turned out to be whale meat. I did not enjoy that
too much, just like ‘lights’ that I later discovered were
actually lungs. Liver and kidneys were fine and even brawn - that I
subsequently found out was pig brain or ‘head cheese’. I
also recall gold coloured conical tubs (ideal for a small domestic
waste paper bin) that originally held Argentinian corned beef, but do
not think we ever owned or saw one unopened.
grandparents visited every Sunday afternoon for tea – typically
spam and green salad, plus for dessert any chocolates they brought –
particularly miniature pastel-coloured paper-wrapped bars with palm
tree designs. They all played cards or sang round the piano. My
granddad made things, and made things for me, including detailed
metal toy trucks and gadgets, but on one notable occasion pulled from
underneath his overcoat – a small puppy nestling in the palm of
his hand. ‘Lucky’ was a smooth haired fox terrier and
stayed with me until I was 15 years old.
began at five
the age of 5, I was due to start infant school at Tyrell’s
Heath, later renamed Woodside. This was a 30 minute bus ride away in
a newly built low-level development that had a Disney feel with round
windows and patios with raised flowerbeds. However, just like all
schools it had that particular smell – floor varnish,
disinfectant and the faintest whiff of sick.
Macanally was the headmistress and my first teacher was an elderly
Mrs Baker. The second year was taught by Miss Butcher – a
really attractive young teacher with a hint of a New Zealand accent.
It was a pleasant time for a few years, learning to read and write
very quickly, complete with chalk and slates and subsequently nibbed
pens and inkwells. Looking back this really was the 1950s not 1850’s,
but a strict yet friendly regime prevailed. We learned well and for
the most part it was a happy enough time. In my class I even recall
Joan Clary - a proto-girlfriend, who cuddled up close in the
to my wanderlust, one day I decided not to catch the bus home but
call in on my pseudo-aunt who lived quite near the school in a
pre-fab home. In an age before widespread telephones I can again only
imagine the anxiety of my Mum as I did not return on the bus. She
cycled to the school and must have checked at my aunt’s house
to find me coolly and without apparent concern or guilt, having tea.
My return trip was wedged in the black painted cage seat on the back
of her bike.
was bought a second-hand tricycle, badly repainted in black. I rode
often and ventured along the local lanes that eventually led after
several miles into open fields. On one occasion, starting my return
home, the wheel buckled and broke. Despite the whole contraption
being well beyond any chance of repair I dragged this trike for
almost a mile until, once again my Dad came searching and found me.
He instantly recognised the futility and tossed the wreckage into a
ditch, walking me the rest of the way home.
my everlasting shame I, along with all the other kids in my last
year, assembled and sat in the school hall. We were addressed by Mr
Clays - the headmaster of our prospective next school. He droned on
and embarrassed to put up my hand to be excused, I sat in an ever
widening puddle of urine until further mortified and taken out of the
hall to sniggers and laughter.
age 8 I moved to that very same Stifford Clays junior school - a
modest walk from home, in short trousers, cap and a blazer with
crest. It was a soft start but became harder with each successive
year, both in terms of stricter teachers including a hardened
Yorkshireman, but also being pressed in what now seems learning ahead
of its time at that young age. Science experiments including a
voltameter splitting oxygen and hydrogen - seeing the respective
flames when lit, and history lessons: Hereward the Wake, and Rainhill
trials in the early days of steam.
learned to play the recorder, initially sharing school instruments
reeking of disinfectant. I also joined the school choir, competing in
inter-school contests. I still vaguely recall the carefree lyrics of
‘From Lucerne to Weggis blue’. We did not win that day
but I think we were the youngest by far
closest friend was Robert with whom I spent almost every spare day.
This was a time of serious swimming and cycling. We both ventured far
afield, to Upminster swimming pool, Hanningfield reservoir and even a
50 mile round trip to Southend on sea, arriving at the Kursaal
fairground to merely ask for a drink of water from a stallholder then
turn around on wobbly legs and cycle home again. At school we
collaborated on performing often improvised regular mini-plays
featuring two characters: Egbert and ‘Orris, always popular
with our classmates.
were always competitive, seeking new trials of strength and
endurance, such as how long we each could hang from a branch of our
cherry tree. As an early enterprise, we prepared medicinal poultices
comprising wet grass and weed leaves, wrapping in brown paper and
posting as free samples along my street. The packets leaked onto hall
carpets and naively we had written out my name and address on the
packages – for marketing purposes of course. Therefore at least
one irate neighbour turned up at the door to speak with my parents.
was the time of free school milk, one third pint bottles delivered in
metal crates. In winter we had to wait until the milk thawed,
cradling bottles against our bodies. I was aware of another boy in my
class named Trevor who I was to join several years later in a rock
group and remains a friend to this day.
do recall when returning home for lunch each day that one boy
repeatedly attempted to challenge and fight me, often successfully.
One day I snapped and fought back, pinning him to the ground and
bashing his head repeatedly upon the pavement. Looking back this was
a close call for him, but he never stopped me again.
did make things and innovated. I built and operated twin balsawood
cablecars running on lines from a tree in the garden up to my bedroom
window. An electric gramophone motor ran the cars and thin wire wound
into the string lines provided a low voltage current for their
internal lights. The latter, flickering and moving in the gloom,
convinced people some doors away that either ghosts or aliens were
operating. I also wired simple pressure contacts under several
carpets to a lit up panel so that I could track movements in the
house. All those TV spy shows I guess. I also built up a chemistry
set including some items considered dangerous in today’s
vulnerable world - but no explosions, just some weird smells.
spent a lot of time with my Grandad in his workshop; a veritable
Aladdin’s cave of tools, nuts and bolts and all things
associated with making stuff. He would share only a few snippets of
his war and pre-war life, including an engineering contract in
pre-revolutionary Russia taking along his new wife, losing all
possessions carried on a separate ship when it was torpedoed at the
start of the first world war, upon his return to sign up into the
Royal Horse Artillery. His trained at Woolwich, spent time at the
front and was frowned at when updating the officer that, as he had
been trained on new shells, that they had been firing shells unarmed.
A subsequent bullet wound when shot through the cheek meant he lost
his sense of smell. The limited first aid was reflected in the
initial dressing station treatment being to sew a pair of scissors to
hang from his tongue – allegedly to prevent his swallowing it.
He recalled with a smile that the horse he was issued must have been
taken from a circus as it wanted to jump over everything.
had several brothers and one was an estate agent in Hertfordshire,
living in a tudor style old house in a valley nestled almost under
the old Great North Road. This was the scene of Dick Turpin and
highwaymen with a local small road named Robbery Bottom Lane. I
stayed at the house once and explored, gleefully discovering a half
height door in the kitchen that led down spiral staircase to another
set of empty rooms.
also joined the St.John’s Ambulance Cadets, meeting in a smelly
hut each week in full uniform to perform drills and learn skills for
sleeve badges. I was proudly informed that this C3 unit was the
oldest surviving in the world. Well, perhaps. We also took part in
Remembrance parades and took our turns manning a tiny white first aid
hut on the busy A13 roadside, armed with our triangular bandages, tea
and Sal Volatile.
a family we holidayed every year, including a week in the Isle of
Wight but often in Folkestone, Kent, staying in a boarding house with
an ageing Mrs Tilley whose late husband must have been killed in the
Zulu wars with tribal assegais and hide shields on the walls.
Sometimes we travelled by coach and on occasion with my Dad driving a
car borrowed from his brother. One day we found ourselves on foot,
climbing the white cliffs of Dover under a merciless hot summer sun
and with limited foot- or handholds. I was truly scared and after
nearly reaching the top it was decided we should climb back down,
finding this even more dangerous than going up. We reached the bottom
safely and I was badly sunburnt - but very relieved.
year we flew to Ostend from Southend airport on a Bristol
Superfreighter propeller plane whose large nose doors opened up to
afford carriage of one or two vehicles. As a young boy I was invited
to enter the cockpit during the flight and sat nervously tucked
against what appeared to be multiple black racks of switches and
dials. Another time we flew to the Isle of Man and did the tour,
forced to greet the fairies at each bridge we crossed. The little
railway took us round most of the island and we stopped off at remote
station platforms and explored unspoilt leafy glens that led down to
the last year at junior school we were a class numbering 54 pupils.
They talk about overcrowding nowadays! However, it worked somehow. Of
course these were the days of the Eleven plus examinations that would
determine streaming into Grammar or Secondary Modern schools. It was
also the time for innovation in education and a third category of
school emerged – the Technical school, apparently less
‘academic’ than grammar but on the ‘right’
side of streaming for those that passed the exam. I passed and was
assigned to Aveley Technical High School, a new-build co-educational
facility located nearly 10 miles away. It was the second year of
operation so had only one more year senior to ours. Mr Henley was the
head and must have been close to retirement. He was tall and stooped
with a skull-like countenance plus a traditional view of discipline.
Of course, caning was still common, albeit only for boys.
was pride and aspiration for the school, with maroon blazers and
associated uniform code, a griffin and diamond badge with motto:
‘Rara Avis in Terra’, or ‘rare birds in the land’.
of secondary school were mixed, as probably most never realised these
may have been ‘the best years of your life’ until much
later. Not quite on that scale, but generally my experience was,
during those years, mostly satisfactory. An intelligent pupil but in
the second of four notional ability streams each year.
scraps were common, although most were both in fun and with little
damage. Some ‘rumbles’ expanded to include up to 30 or
more boys writhing like some super rugby scrum. A common torture was
to be strung by hands and feet by four larger boys, and run several
hundred yards, face skimming inches from the ground.
were all progressive and enduring, covering a wide spectrum of
topics. At that time, a weekly timetable would include a mix of
single and double lessons spanning English, Maths, Physics,
Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History, French, German, Physical
Education, Engineering Drawing, Metalwork, Woodwork, Art, plus
Religious Education; a remarkable feat of scheduling. All this after
a full school assembly each morning with hymns and announcements.
teachers included Herr Prager – a no nonsense disciplinarian.
Every red pen mistake which if contested, was matched by another
minus mark, effectively ensuring full resignation. He demonstrated a
borderline slimy taste for attractive girl pupils and this eventually
incensed me and a friend to provide some response. Perhaps over the
top, but I balanced a heavy broken oak desk lid above the classroom
door for his post-lunch return. This did fall accurately although
only a headache was achieved despite the potential of major injury.
This led to my receiving a caning by the headmaster - yet worth every
meals qualified to become legendary, brought in dull aluminium oblong
tubs to each table of eight. No water, as the first cohort in the
year above had misbehaved and this ‘privilege’ was
subsequently withdrawn for all time. Mostly quite good food despite
the slang descriptions including ‘cold sick and blood clots’
for semolina with token dollop of raspberry jam
was increasingly oppressive as each year progressed; ultimately,
after getting home and eating, up to 4 hours every night. There was
token streaming for classes mainly focused on perceived academic
leanings or abilities. My stream was B - and glad to avoid C D and E,
managed to maintain both arts and science subjects until my final
selection of science for the forthcoming GCE O level exams in year 5.
joined the school choir under a strong Mrs Seeger, notorious for her
‘treble forte all the way’ cries, but was dismissed with
contempt when my voice broke from treble to tenor. At age 13 I joined
a local brass band, learning music notation, Bb cornet and eventually
soprano Eb cornet. The brown uniforms of Grays Temperance Silver
Prize band had gold piping, but was told the colour choice was ‘to
hide the beer stains’. We did many concerts, competitions and
marches, having to rig up a bulb and battery to read the march card
at the annual Burnham on Sea torchlit night-time carnival.
was recruited by a friend’s younger sister to play cornet in
the small orchestra supporting her girl’s school operetta –
Britten’s Noyes Fludde. In one sense Frances was almost my
first girlfriend but we didn’t quite seal the deal and I moved
on whilst still visiting her brother, a classmate at school. It was
on one such occasion when arriving on my cycle and resting it
alongside a motorbike, I first met Pete who was seeing the older
sister. We struck up an initial friendship and were later to meet
again in that rock group.
were encouraged to strike up penpal relationships in French and mine
was with Gilles. Our class crossed over to Paris and I stayed with
his parents near Montmartre on Rue Caulaincourt. He attended school
during the week so I was out and about exploring alone. Paris will
always remind me of wet cobbled streets and the combined smell of
Gitane tobacco and drains. I also remember the daily breakfast
comprising tartines with marmalade that dribbled into a large bowl of
milky coffee, and dinners with red vin ordinaire for all and ‘petit
had always played guitar, and was also experimenting with building an
electric guitar whilst assembling valve amplifiers ordered from
Practical Wireless magazine. I still remember the names of the valves
to this day. I paired up with classmate Tom and we did a few gigs,
adding bassist Steve, drummer Buz and female vocalist Gloria along
the way. However, interactions were always a little off and I was
approached and poached by my old friends Trevor and Pete to join
their band. Within a few weeks we played a gig at a football stadium
to 4,000 fans, broadcast over the tannoys from the clubhouse. Whilst
playing, an old and clearly old fashioned club official pulled the
power plug mid song. Despite the then famous Carry On star Bernard
Breslau intervening on our behalf to restore the session, we packed
up early and left.
the fifth form at Aveley I asked Janice to the school dance. This was
despite both of us having separately dissected dogfish in biology
classes. This was my first real girlfriend and we quickly became very
close. Our first date coincided with another opportunity. At a
Saturday night dance the booked band broke for half-time and we asked
if we could fill in with their gear while they relaxed. We dropped
straight into our new set for about 30 minutes and at the end of the
evening were asked if we could be a regular band for their Saturday
group evolved into the ‘Condas’ with me as lead guitar
and main vocalist. It was the mid 60’s and we grew our
repertoire rapidly, mainly with Animals, Kinks, Stones, Beatles and
other then-current influences. We seemed to be playing every weekend,
and once even three gigs. A monster old Austin van transported us
everywhere, loaded with our gear and sometimes with our respective
time we were booked to play at the sergeant’s mess at an
American airbase. Upon arriving at the security post, Trevor (always
the wag) leaned out and said to the 6 foot heavily-armed guard, “I
don’t see any V-bombers”, to which in a lazy drawl he
replied, “Mac, If you see a V-bomber, you’re dead”.
We laughed nervously but passed through and did our gig with free bar
drinks and an appreciative audience.
lasted about four years playing together and we subsequently drifted
apart to pursue careers marriages and such.
was also the age of motorbikes and Tony in the group sold me an
ageing Lambretta scooter. With a solid driveshaft and leaking oil, it
ran for about 200 yards before seizing up for good. However
short-lived this ownership of two wheels, I was taken by the other
group members to Paddington in London to join the ‘59’
club; a badge to sew onto my black leather jacket, to go with my blue
slacks and white silk scarf. Tony and his fiancée bought me my
gold coloured helmet and visor. All complete now.
parents then bought me a Honda 50 Sport motorbike that served me well
for several years until I upgraded to a 500cc Triumph Tiger100A. This
was a beast with valve bounce at 100mph, and was a more credible ride
as a token ‘Rocker’. I miss bikes so much.
a car was inevitable, and my long list of cars over the years began
with a ‘sit up and beg’ Ford Popular – black of
course. Not so cool but a start, which soon led to getting a green
Austin A35 that despite its small size went very well.
a longish engagement and eventually married, now with a permanent job
and income I purchased a new Hillman Avenger in ‘firebrand red’
and with my wife did a Scotland driving holiday with another recently
married couple. We pulled off the road by a loch but did not realise
the ground was actually a bog. Opening the car door to see tyres
slowly sinking into the mud, my friend got out to push as a I tried
to manoeuvre back onto the road. From spinning rear wheels, black mud
sprayed all over his new slacks and shirt. This was almost repeated
when we camped at Dalkeith outside Edinburgh. It rained all night and
as all drivers awoke in the drizzle we all saw the one single exit
gate and scrambled to de-camp and race toward it before getting
stuck. We just made it. Rain was our constant companion that week.
world of work
my early teens I had already worked regular Saturdays as a dispensing
assistant, filling prescriptions and even making up medicines and
tinctures – filling small circular waxed tubs and finishing the
ointment surface with a patterned flourish. I had also worked during
my school holidays on a council road gang laying bitumen road
surfacing, and as a production line worker at a local shoe factory.
This latter job found me naively keeping up so well with the moving
production line, fitting a small compass in the heel of boy scout
shoes, that in part to either teach me a lesson about being too
efficient or as a production opportunity, a machine was wheeled
alongside me so that I could also remove rubber bits from the soles
of RAF boots.
also worked as an assistant at the local hospital Pathology
Laboratory, mainly testing urine samples but also witnessing a
post-mortem on a newborn baby. Just before lunch.
the earlier years of my engagement to Jan and finishing school with 3
GCE ‘A’ levels – eligible for yet not inclined
toward, a traditional university degree route, I began my career at a
local pharmaceutical company as a research laboratory assistant in
their pharmacology facility. This was in parallel to commencing a
day-release degree programme in applied biology at the local college.
After 2 years, gaining the HNC qualification was coincident with my
marriage and I continued with my Institute of Biology course
eventually passing exams and gaining full membership –
equivalent to a first class degree in pharmacology. This was with the
untiring support of John, a co-researcher who became my best friend
and subsequently best man. I was later allocated my own laboratory
and had by that time co-authored several research papers.
was a games addict and we sought every opportunity to challenge each
other at a variety of intellectual games, often simultaneously. On
one occasion it was Halma, 3D chess and Cribbage. We played Mafia
rules Monopoly where one could buy Go and charge a toll, buy jail and
charge rent plus other interesting opportunities, and a complex word
game of our own design.
a sucker for work I had also met with John’s friend Grahame who
asked me to work evenings as a driving instructor in his business.
This I did several evenings a week, often so tired after work and
study that on one occasion with a quiet and subservient pupil I awoke
to find that without comment, she had driven us some 20 miles distant
along main roads. It was a further half hour before we got back; more
driving experience if not tuition, than she had paid for. The car was
not a typical learner vehicle either as it was a quite long and
sporty Ford Corsair. One short pupil could not reach the pedals so I
had to attach wooden blocks to them for her each lesson.
and I had started married life renting a newly built flat in Grays
and the inevitable upgrading to owning our own home led to our
seeking somewhere cheaper, albeit more distant. My work leaving card
reminded me with the ‘tired of London, tired of life’
saying yet the prospect of a new job and cottage in Wiltshire
beckoned. Jan was a radiographer and also was able to move jobs into
a local hospital in Swindon.
cottage was small and ice cold. Nowhere else before or since had we
ever considered going to bed wearing anoraks to keep warm. The walls
were 6 feet thick in places and the open fire had a straight chimney
up to the elements, with chains half way up – apparently to
smoke hams. However, it was a great little village despite the
neighbours mystified that we would go to work so far away each day
albeit only some 20 miles away. One of the two local pubs had a dirt
floor and yellowed newspapers on the windows. It was shut down as
insanitary some months later. The mornings were memorable with sheep
bleating and the brook burbling at the bottom of the hill. The bakery
was sold out by 7am and unidentified locals once left a brace of
pheasants hanging at our back door. Today the village has become
gentrified and expensive, in part due to the combination of Princess
Anne and her local fiancé at the time, Prince Charles’
estate and the Badminton Hunt – all only a few miles away.
became the time when the property market went crazy and local estate
agents jumped on the bandwagon to exploit soaring prices. We had put
a deposit on a modern 3 bed semi newbuild in neighbouring Malmesbury,
a town where everything was named after King Athelstan. After selling
the cottage we stayed in a local hotel until the house was completed.
Although completed physically the developer kept delaying the date
and raising the price to nearly double in the space of a few months.
the crazy return commute of 250 miles each Friday between Swindon and
West Ham, my work colleague and I registered with my old Polytechnic
(now University) to undertake a Masters degree. Soon after this, I
was increasingly disillusioned with Pharma research and left,
swirling around three prospective new directions. First, again via
driving school Grahame, a fresh start in selling life insurance. This
essentially mobile role coincided with the international severe fuel
shortage and was issued with some wartime petrol coupons, gladly
never used. Second, a new venture with a research co-worker to
commercially develop a EEG brainwave analyser machine. In some
financial need I sold out my share cheaply and this company (Research
Machines Ltd) went on to develop as a major business in personal
computers – particularly in education. The third direction,
with acute awareness of increasing age at 26, I sought a military
career – ideally to fly.
I applied to the RAF and was invited for the standard week-long
interview process at Biggin Hill. This was a similar format to what
many decades later was ‘Big Brother’ TV show, as day by
day the dorm beds emptied as those deemed unsuitable were eliminated.
Early face to face interviews were conducted with the usual ‘what
does your father do’ questions despite earlier assurances that
the modern RAF was all about merit and not social class. Unusually
for sedentary me, I was swinging on ropes and jumping over barrels in
leadership exercises, plus medical exams in which surprisingly I was
passed A1 fit for pilot, also with 20-20 vision. However my demise on
the penultimate day was responding to a tannoy announcement that all
those interested in ground positions should report to the flight
sergeant at hut 10. I later discovered that anyone prepared to
consider any role other than flying ‘was not for us’.
waiting for their final decision I considered the Navy Air Arm. It
seems that this is not a regular entry point and was therefore sent
through the ‘usual’ route, yet ending up meeting an
ageing Admiral in an office within Admiralty Arch at the end of the
Mall who snorted and reminded me that all who join the senior service
‘must swab decks at first’.
led to the third option of the Army Air Corps but with these salutary
lesions in my thoughts I decided to widen my perspective. In front of
a recruiting office sergeant I was asked my preferences. I admitted
to being open to other parts of the army, and in some ignorance of
their function mentioned the Pioneer Corps. This was met with a wry
smile and the comment ‘We call them the Chunkies’. I also
mentioned Intelligence and based on this I was invited to an
interview in central London that had all the stereotypical signs of a
60’s spy novel. I was told to go to the rear of a designated
flower shop and knock on the door. This interview disappeared into
some dusty file but I was told I would get a visit at home.
Brigadier Buttenshaw arrived and in an avuncular manner asked my
preferences. I said the Tank Corps but he smiled and sarcastically
remarked ‘Fine, if you are comfortable parking your bicycle
alongside the Jaguars outside the officers’ mess’. I took
the hint and demurred, asking his advice. His was ‘the
artillery – as it is a bit technical’. I was invited to
Larkhill on Salisbury plain and was met at the gate by a Major who
leading me up the steps to the main building remarked in his plummy
voice, ‘Oh Howard – you do drink Pimms don’t you?’.
At that point I thought - was ‘this’ going to be the next
ten years?. My military aspirations were at an end.
had been nearly three years in the wilderness and I resumed my search
for a permanent and regular job. With my experience in being one of
the few computer programmers and users in the mid 60s that I’ve
ever met since, I applied and was accepted to join a new UK
subsidiary in west London of Tymshare - a US Communications and
Computing firm based in Cupertino, California.
were exciting times with our powerful 4th
software in the hands of end users that outstripped traditional batch
processing and low level programming by an inaccessible elite.
However, amidst all this hi-tech we experienced the UK Government’s
3 day week and alongside our limited backup generator to keep
communication consoles alive on the worldwide network, we lit candles
in the office to see by.
moved to Wokingham and after several miscarriages Jan finally gave
birth to our lovely twins James and Jacqueline in 1976. It had been a
very difficult time for her as she had to stay in hospital for most
of the nine months. It was also a subsequent challenge for her to
manage twin babies with alternating feeding times. I was very busy in
my computer career and often away from home during the week. This was
the time for my first visit to the USA.
here I come
in San Francisco I was met by Dick - a work colleague who had been in
the UK office for a while. Seeing my holding a car rental reservation
he took and scanned it, then said ‘not this- you’ll have
a real automobile’ and at the desk changed my vehicle to a
white Plymouth Volare. Embroidery style bench seats, column shift and
a flat hood like a fullsize pool table. Despite my 13 hour flight he
strongly suggested that we see the city before getting to my hotel in
the Valley. Up and down steep hills, strange signs and driving on the
other side of the road, I was navigated through the city centre,
weaving down winding Lombard Street before finally exiting at rush
hour onto southbound El Camino Real. It was late December and as we
inched along in heavy traffic I spotted something falling from the
wintry sky. Onto the median (highway central reservation) a few yards
away from us landed a skydiver – nude except for a red santa
hat. Only in California.
to my trip, someone in the Silicon Valley HQ was casually arranging
my accommodation and in an email (yes, this was mid 1970’s)
they said they would check on Ricky Hyatt’s House. I naturally
assumed this was a willing employee and asked if he did not mind my
staying. The response was amusement and I later discovered it was
shorthand for the Hyatt hotel. I was checked into HoJo’s - a
midrange hotel on Stevens Creek Boulevard near Cupertino and picked
up again in the morning. Eating out for breakfast was a novel idea,
especially as the menu was Mexican influenced. A few days mixing work
with a freedom to drive and explore led me to Los Gatos where I
bought my first and only Stetson hat. I was invited by one of the
senior staff at work to dinner at his home in a San Francisco suburb
and discussions revolved around the transience of careers and people
in the area, illustrated with an anecdote that just after my hosts
had moved into their house, a neighbour knocked on their door and
said ‘we don’t want to get to know you ‘cos we
can’t handle short term relationships’. Hmmm.
years before I had a brief dalliance with another pop group in which
I sang soul numbers, or tried to - and be sufficiently credible. The
bassist had moved to San Francisco as a Forex trader and I looked him
up in Foster City – a new suburban housing development on
lagoons. It was a unique idea to go out to dinner across the water by
small sailing boat. His Mother-in-Law returned home that evening
clearly stoned after a few days’ gambling in Lake Tahoe. True
to her values of Californian courtesy she then offered us some ‘weed’
- which we declined. I also visited the University Observatory at
Santa Clara to see the then very new computerised display of the
night sky, cleverly named ‘I C the light show’.
US trip was also multi-centre, visiting several other offices of the
company. My red-eye flight arrived in Washington about 4am. Blearily
I picked up my rented car and eventually drove into the city hitting
the early phase of the usual rush hour traffic. Unable to check in
that early I parked the car at the hotel and walked to the office for
a day’s meetings. That evening I returned to my hotel room and
crashed. Oversleeping I woke up to a phone call by the bedside from
the NewYork office asking where I was and that the bagels were
getting cold. A fast check out, drive back to the airport and a
shuttle flight to JFK meant that I caught up with meetings that
afternoon in Manhattan. After some obligatory post-work beers I
eventually got a taxi to my downtown Manhattan hotel. I exited the
cab with my luggage and within seconds was pushed into a doorway by a
large guy asking for some change. A soft mugging already.
several years of recruiting training and managing a team of software
consultants I was attracted to the lure of the City of London and
joined a banking software firm, developing and subsequently
supporting communications systems for both SWIFT transactions and
led to a General Manager role with a consulting company in Windsor
with three other offices worldwide (California, Massachusetts,
Belgium). The four managers met a couple of times in the US with a
Boston stay and subsequent awayday on Cape Cod. I recall two
prospective clients in particular. One was a group of Palestinian
businessmen seeking to pick our brains on AI and robotics. We met in
London and I chauffeured them in my red Mercedes saloon (that must
have reminded them of the usual Middle Eastern taxi) to a small firm
that worked robots at events and in retail environments. They
obviously returned to that firm soon after we parted company - to
make their own deal. The second contact was an individual seeking
development expertise for a vague vehicle navigation idea. Although I
later followed up on this I do recall our first business meeting with
him dressed in black doublet and hose as he was an actor between
performances of Hamlet.
company was allowed by the US owners to fragment and go under and I
very reluctantly agreed to lay off most of the UK staff at Christmas
time. A painful experience for them and me. At that time I applied
for a job as regional manager for Western Australia and was invited
for a week interview including meetings in both Sydney and Perth.
Sydney was OK and I enjoyed staying in the CEO’s house in
Vaucluse, above Sydney harbour. However, I fell in love with Perth
and driving my rented car whose contract stated that it could not be
driven west of Kalgardie (as the good roads sort of ran out), I
browsed and found a new build house with ‘reticulated lawns’
in Wanerooshire, anticipating my family’s imminent relocation.
With a holding deposit paid, upon my return to UK and having formally
accepted an offer on our UK house, the firm phoned to say they had
just changed their mind on filling the role – so a difficult
recovery from an almost total loss.
next job was a directorship with another consulting firm specialising
in banking systems and based in the City. My regional focus included
Benelux and over several months I was based in Amsterdam during each
week. I like the city and many local business contacts were both
friendly and strange, reflected in an anecdote where annually a group
of Forex traders meet on a barge, shut the doors tight and all light
up cigars. The winner is the last person to avoid unconsciousness as
the oxygen runs out.
banking systems experience naturally led to my next role as Director,
Capital Markets with the International Commodities Clearing House –
again in the City. This was a company in transition; a high salary
plus car and strangely, luncheon vouchers. I also had at least for
me, an obscenely large and newly furnished office. Projects and
programmes were extremely interesting and high level, with UK bank
owners, domestic clients including Bank of England and over 30 banks
as international clients, plus a strategic partnership with SWIFT.
This firm had its own dining room and chef, with a daily schedule of
lunch invites for the City’s great and good.
official launch of our SWIFT partnership in Vienna was followed by
the commencement of a worldwide sign-up of banks for a confirmation
matching system applicable to inter-bank currency trades. The Vienna
trip afforded only a limited time for sightseeing but I did manage to
include a visit to Schonbrun and a ride at Der Prater – the
famous wheel featured in the Third Man movie. My colleague claimed
she saw a man selling balloons. We dined at the Rathaus restaurant
and as the Strauss waltz live music stopped all diners suddenly stood
silently to attention as the famous Vienna Boys Choir filed through
with another member of my team I undertook a world trip to sign up
banks to this common standard system. In addition to various European
cities this included Hong Kong plus Melbourne and Sydney in
Australia. That was my second trip to down under and recall driving
out into the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, sitting in the sunshine
eating locally grown passionfruit. Back in the UK I also began a new
development with individual partners to design, establish and support
a new electronic agricultural marketplace - initially for livestock
including a cattle womb futures option.
was common in the City at that time, radical changes to management
teams was increasingly common. A new MD from a big-8 consulting firm
whose resume stretched to one side of A4, decided to slash and burn
the existing board on a quite arbitrary basis. I was one of the
targets and was ‘sent to Coventry’ by those seeking to
keep their places under the new regime. I was forced to undergo a
full medical, hoping for a negative outcome - yet unfulfilled. On
leaving this institution I again circulated among several business
ideas and private opportunities.
these was a company to import and resell fully sound-equipped
lecterns from Arkansas. This began with a US trip where I was to be
met at the airport by the export company’s sales director. As I
looked around the arrivals hall, yes it was the guy in the Stetson,
boots and I’m almost sure - some jingly spurs. As we got into
his truck and avoiding a comment about the gun rack, as a good
European I reached for the seatbelt but none was to be found. His
drawled comment was ‘when we get a new truck we get our Bowie
knives and cut the darned things out’. Despite this stereotype,
Hank was a pleasant guy to discuss business, and after placing a
relatively large order he arranged a trip to the Capitol in Little
Rock where I received a ‘Arkansas Traveler’ certificate
from the then State Governor Bill Clinton. Back at the office I was
invited to dinner by the company president and in advance asked what
liquor I drank. I said Bourbon, trying to be non-contentious. However
upon arrival and handed my filled glass it became obvious I was the
only one drinking alcohol. It was a dry state. This business grew
slowly but faltered when a big order from the RAF failed due to a
consignment being held up by an extended dock workers strike in
also completed some consulting work for the actor whose idea was for
an in-car navigation system. This was before satellites and my
approach was based upon triangulating radio signals. My feasibility
study was funded by a Government Department and I sought development
funding from Venture Capitalists. One of these was interested in an
application for the Israeli military in occupying Lebanon - to
navigate the Beirut streets. However questionable the application,
the funding was not to be in cash but acreage in the disputed Golan
Heights. Thanks but no thanks. I also had met with another potential
funder in Dallas, Texas. Picked up at my hotel and driven together
with two American Airlines hostesses to a bar called the ‘Dallas
Palace’ where I sort of learned the Texas two-step, but that
the funder was not funding at that time.
this time I was also developing and programming computer games for
early games machines such as Sinclair Spectrum and others including
Dragon and Oric. I sold some simulations titles including ‘Election
Fever’ and ‘Oil Baron’ but the technology was
moving so fast with the entry of very big players.
lived in Hertfordshire in a big house with a large garden and apple
orchard. The grass needed a ride-on mower - or so I said, and my
wife’s parents and later my grandfather each lived with us in
separate attached annexe accommodation. I do recall taking the family
on holiday to Turkey before it had become a regular tourist
destination. It was a heatwave of over 40 Celcius and the apartment
above Bodrum had no replenished water supply for toilet flushing.
This combined with the inevitable ‘Bodrum bum’ meant a
difficult few days, including the sheer effort of carrying a gigantic
overweight watermelon up the many steps to our room and then hacking
it to pieces so it could just fit into the small fridge. We rented a
car and recalled the tip in some handbook that drivers in Turkey
‘tend’ to drive on the right. Close shaves with water
trucks on narrow hilly roads was an experience best forgotten yet we
did find and view possibly the last surviving wonder of the ancient
world: the Mausoleum at Helicarnassus.
after this I went into business with an ex-colleague from my City
software days, to develop and sell a new system for multiple telex
connectivity supporting Forex dealing. Four live feeds at once on
screen. I was slightly surprised at one client that wished that the
four function keys on the keyboard should be programmed as ‘1,
5, 10 and 50’ – each signifying millions of pounds as an
instant trade. Perhaps typical of the crazy 1980’s in the City,
another client insisted on the ‘red wine test’ to prove
that the system could survive spillages from dealing room
celebrations. This system was of great interest to many banks and we
sold to several. One prospect in particular was the major competitor
to Reuters, offering realtime rates feeds. Their reputation was
tinged with a possible Mob connection, and yet we were invited to
pitch to their president in NewYork. On floor 101 of the World Trade
Center we met him in his obscenely large office featuring erotic
sculptures, probably worth millions. He accepted our proposals and
committed to buy, but said we must meet his VP before we left ‘to
confirm details’. On a lower floor without the fancy trimmings
we entered the office of John Terranova. He squinted at us and said
that we had a firm deadline for delivery of the system in London and
if late ‘he knew where we lived and would get some people to
break our knees’. Never before or since were the stakes so high
in I.T but we did deliver on time – just.
partner drank heavily and a key programmer sabotaged a version of the
software making it unsupportable. Thus came the end of dawn
installations of software in stuffy trading rooms, before New Zealand
trades began. I later wrote a crime novel (unpublished and now quite
dated) reflecting this crazy world. It was an unreal time including
one notorious 11-hour lunch and on other occasions scrabbling among
cables and under desks to connect screens in trading rooms
taste of public service
that time there was a major upheaval in the UK economy with inflation
reaching above 15%. Mortgages soared and our own home in
Hertfordshire was repossessed, leaving us as an extended family with
mother-in-law, forced to rent locally with our kids in the local
grammar school. I applied for a job in London with an NHS Trust, to
jointly manage a Vocational Rehabilitation Service with an
experienced nurse manager. We became close friends and it was not
long until I was invited to visit his family with him in Malaysia.
was a great visit for which I had promised myself as part of an
adventure and for courtesy’s sake, to always eat whatever was
offered. This turned out to be varied and often as any extended
family always insist on sharing food at each visit. On our travels we
did stop to sample the Durien fruit, notorious for the permanent
smell if carried in the car boot, but the inside of the fruit looked
like an embryo and tasted of custard. The fruits were numerous and
the thick coffee approaching weapons grade, but apart from a street
vendor’s bagged vindaloo for breakfast one morning, all was
accommodated with no ill effects.
we drove across to the Cameron Highlands to visit a tea plantation
and a tasting. This area was anachronistic with clear British
overtones with a red telephone box and a stereotypical country pub.
On our way back down the mountain roads we approached a wooden hut
built on stilts perched on the sheer roadside drop. These were
aboriginal natives and we approached bearing a gift of a packet of
cigarettes. We were invited inside and sat on the wooden log floor
with gaps between where we could see the valley and vegetation
perhaps several hundred feet below. My friend’s brother had
some grasp of the aboriginal language and he asked if there were
tigers around. The man smiled and we saw his teeth had been filed to
a point as he said ‘no we have eaten them all’. Further
down the mountain, avoiding rockfalls we stopped to buy giant
semolina crisps, each the size of a car steering wheel.
course throughout my stay the number of temples to visit seemed to
multiply daily. At one we were invited to add gold leaf to a statue
of the Buddha and try to lift it. Success was a propitious sign; at
another to contribute and burn paper money (mostly dummy notes
purchased at the entrance) as an offering.
also penetrated the jungle to seek a native village or Pendang. We
encountered a group of huts on stilts and after sitting around with
the headman was offered a barrow full of bananas. We politely refused
and left with smiles all round.
my passport and paying ‘overtime’ to the guards, we
ventured across the border into Thailand where culturally I was
struck how cheap life and dignity were regarded. Despite the golden
Buddha statues, at a counter in a department store the offer of sex
if I bought two silk neckties rather than one was surprising. We
dodged the ‘other’ sort of massage parlours but did get
an ‘ancient massage’ which was actually a genuine
massage, albeit initially choosing a masseuse from a lineup of pretty
girls. Purchasing a Rolex watch knock-off but with Citizen mechanism
for only a pound was unreal, and four men sharing a hotel room would
seem to have been quite normal.
day we drove to the coast and took a ferry to Langkawi island –
the Malaysian equivalent of Phuket, where alligator farms and
waterfalls were offset by highly coloured printed Batik silks, drying
on lines at the beach.
subsequently co-authored a reference book about managing vocational
rehabilitation, published by Longman. We both got involved in serving
on and my chairing, the board of a national charity.
moved to a rented house near Hampton Court and I moved on within the
NHS as a business manager with a regional Forensic Psychology service
in London, basically involved with monitoring secure units and
dangerous patients. However these were generally nicer people than
the consultants who often each earning four salaries, decided to take
the patients’ bus for their own European driving holiday.
Designing and commissioning medium secure units was interesting,
forcing one to think laterally – even selecting window frames
that could not conceal hidden razor blades for self-harm, and line of
sight corridors for staff security. I participated in a Kings Fund
working group regarding prison mental health and after a couple of
years completed my day-release MBA at the Kingston Business School.
booked a holiday to Tunisia and again suffered the twin hassles of
pushy market traders and the ever-present heat. We hired a cab to
visit what was left of Carthage. Not much.
were our kids’ later teenage years including college, parties
and first cars. My daughter applied and was accepted for Oxford,
although she demurred and commenced an interior design degree course
at a South coast university. My son almost started a digital media
degree but neither twin was attracted to university life and probably
had the need for some financial independence with earned income.
a period between jobs I wandered into an open day for the local FE
college in Richmond where I met a lecturer excited by environmental
issues and the new Rio accord with accompanying funding to launch a
suite of training courses for green enterprise. I had already filled
a temporary lecturer role in IT at an earlier local FE college in
Essex, and I proposed and secured a role designing and delivering a
course in Innovation and Invention for mature students considering
starting business start-ups. In part being local to Eel Pie island in
the Thames, the recently late Trevor Baylis - famous as the inventor
of the clockwork radio, became a course sponsor.
of the students was ex-BBC and with some early common interests, we
began to collaborate in writing scripts for TV, eventually pitching a
TV comedy series to the BBC. Unfortunately, the target producer was
my writing partner’s recently divorced husband and it never
flew. I also signed up for a number of adult education classes,
including scriptwriting and becoming proficient in Shiatsu. In this
creative mood I wrote much poetry, short stories and regular articles
for an international magazine, and also wrote a novel - remaining
this same time, with a backdrop of almost paranormal topics in the
ether, myself and a lecturing colleague formed a business to
undertake and qualify claims for esoteric products. This proved very
interesting, visiting several people of varied outlook, all claiming
and some able, to demonstrate weird effects. These included a table
tennis ball free-floating in mid-air between two electrodes powered
only by twin streams of running tap water. Despite my scientific
training I still cannot explain this phenomenon.
to this other than by association with my new business partner, I
joined the Freemasons. This was to seek out arcane knowledge -
fulfilled only in part, but also led indirectly to my becoming
confirmed as a Knight Templar and also a confrere in the Order of St
Lazarus. Both were religious orders with strong crusader origins and
a wealth of history and research potential. I even explored
undertaking a PhD at Huddersfield on Templar economic history but was
less pleased with the prospect of committing five years to this end.
My own atheism did not prove an active constraint, but sadly research
was deemed secondary to ritual and dress code. My passion faded as
did my robes, over time across all three organisations.
gaining my MBA, I accepted a role with a London Council, running a
small enterprise support team, seeking to build skills and encourage
new small businesses to start and grow. I met with the local
Enterprise Agency whose concept of new innovative business included a
bakery ‘as we don’t have one of those shops in the town’.
had moved from London to Folkestone, into a 3 storey terraced house
with some WW2 shrapnel damage - for me, bringing back some fond
memories of childhood seaside holidays - probably located on the same
road as then. It was also accessible to some great countryside, only
an hour commute to London and on many days a view across the channel
to France. After a gap of over 30 years I enrolled in the local brass
band in Canterbury playing cornet, ‘getting my lip back in’.
accepted a new role to manage a EU-funded training project at a South
London FE college. I built a small new team and designed the project
to develop a range of e-learning resources. This was at the start of
this new technology, but with the help of a web programmer and
sessional creatives including graphic designers and puppeteers, we
succeeded – with a suite of interactive DVD titles including
remote tutor oversight and monitoring. The European project evolved
into a pan-European partnership with regular meetings with colleagues
from Hamburg and Bochum in northern Germany, Lecce in southern Italy
and Malaga in Spain. It seems ‘far to go’ was a constant
feature in my professional life.
a glutton for punishment I secured several additional funding streams
for parallel yet distinct projects including the design and
development of a new multimedia development centre for local South
Bank creative enterprises. High speed internet, 30 workstations, an
Avid editing suite, green screen studio and more. After my departure,
this was scrapped and left gathering dust in storecupboards as the
college wanted to re-use this hall for exams at desks. Vengeance or
lack of imagination. The complexity of ‘match funding’
meant careful juggling which funds could match others to leverage
developments substantially. At its height we had eight such active
projects and a strong international partnership with regular project
meetings across Europe. This funding matrix appeared to be impossible
for college accounting staff to fully grasp.
After suffering a
nasty turn of staff politics almost unique to the education sector, I
was lured away into the world of recruitment, joining a firm
specialising in public sector roles, mainly civil engineering,
maintenance and extending to refuse collection. During this time I
was very uncomfortable in experiencing a brown bag handover to
facilitate a sizeable contract with a north London Council. I had
invited my recent colleague and friend to leave his own Council
Social Services job to join me in recruiting social workers –
and due to the unmet demand in the UK, seeking talent from abroad.
His geographic focus was Zimbabwe and pre-EU Romania, mine was North
America and Australia. The firm became more cheaply commercial and we
both left to start our own company, maintaining this new
international professional focus, placing qualified social workers
into permanent UK jobs.
own stateside recruitment experience was assisted by a co-worker in
Canada. We met in Toronto and established her mobile office with a
laptop mobile phone, and an account with recently launched Skype. She
tended to focus north of the Mason-Dixon line. My southern states
focus meant that I was interviewing pre-selected candidates in hotels
from Georgia to California. However, our business model was flawed in
two ways. Firstly, as the perception of recruitment agencies in the
USA meant that despite confirming ‘firm’ arrangements and
our incurring significant travel costs to meet for interview, a
significant minority were no-shows. Secondly, that for those meeting
the clients’ criteria, we covered the candidates’ long
haul flights and UK accommodation costs. Perhaps naive in missing
their attraction for a free international trip, and in contrast to
the high rate of client job offers, we ate through both business and
personal finances. Toward the end we launched a second sectoral
business, seeking to fulfil other local social care support roles
such as community transport for those with disabilities and special
needs. I secured but never used, a competency certificate to drive
and operate disability minibuses.
serious drag on personal finances meant a very significant challenge
of survival without formal bankruptcy but with unavoidable
substantial damage to financial stability. This coincided with a
developing personal relationship with an American lady in coastal
Georgia and my moving to the US, at least for several repeated 3
month stays without a more comprehensive visa. She was a professional
social worker with a private practice.
there from the UK with a modest realised cash sum I purchased a great
used car that I still miss a lot; a white Lincoln Continental with an
obscene 5.4 litre engine and strange automatic suspension based in
part on leather bladders and some questionable electronics.
months later my divorce came through but as this new relationship
went it finally ended amicably after nearly 12 months, and I met
Vanessa with whom I lived in Alabama for further periods until we
later married in Sevierville, Tennessee. We had originally met online
and finally met in person in the romantic setting of a Walmart car
park. We were married in what was originally a feed and seed store by
the local store owner and magistrate, honeymooning in a log cabin up
in the mountains above Gatlinburg. We lived in a rented ranch-style
house in Talladega, home of the famous speedway, and my new wife
continued in graphic design work with her local employer. We clipped
coupons and exploited discounted items and meals, and stayed there
for nearly a year. In the screened back porch it was my first
experience of seeing the magic of green flashing fireflies.
the immigration processes were such that our moving to the UK was
easier than my trying to stay permanently in the US, let alone the
prohibitively high cost of private medical insurance. We sold up our
stuff in a yard sale and headed back East across the pond. Vanessa
applied for and secured British citizenship despite the daft
‘Britishness’ questionnaire. She took a few refresher
lessons and the driving test, gaining her UK licence.
rented a cottage in a small village near Tadcaster and this was just
after I secured a two year project manager role within the local
county social services - jointly with the local NHS Trust. This
provided an opportunity to introduce significant innovation and
transformation of how older peoples services could be made more
effective using telecare, risk stratification and developing a
multidisciplinary 24/7 response team.
gained Prince2 practitioner qualification although this traditional
methodology was poorly received in a public sector environment. The
project came to an end and this became a springboard for me to begin
a fourth (or is it fifth?) career as an interim consultant and
programme manager within social care. Initially, contracts were local
in Yorkshire but over the next ten years extended far and wide with
Councils across England and Wales. In these latter roles, staying
away during each week became tiresome and expensive - especially as
HMRC changed tax rules to make very few expenses claimable. I
diverted some income into private pension arrangements, almost all of
which investments failed. Now I am retired I am left with very modest
private and state pension incomes.
these years Vanessa and I have returned to the US on several
occasions, visiting her family and friends. On each trip of several
weeks duration we would typically fly into Atlanta and drive between
timeshare resorts in the south east up to and including Virginia. We
love Savannah and nearby places, but we have also sailed across the
Atlantic in style mainly on the Queen Mary. Most recently on a ‘there
and back’ transatlantic crossing we joined in the guest choir
ending with public performances in the grand lobby. Exceptionally,
one year we stayed in the more northerly states including
Pennsylvania. On every overseas trip I try and select three
unexpected words reflecting the area. Here it was bad food, bad roads
and Jello wrestling – as we regularly passed such a sign
outside a roadside bar advertising this activity.
one transatlantic crossing we became friends with another couple; he
Swiss, she Indonesian. Since then we have met several times on
European holidays. Often these driving trips have included stops in
Germany and Switzerland – both great countries and people, but
with lesser enthusiasm returning through northern France. When
staying in Oberstaufen on Lake Konstanz we drove into Austria and
then into Lichtenstein – which was closed. However, driving
back to Germany I was taken aback as I saw in the sky – a
Zeppelin. I later discovered this was not time travel, but from a
local airship factory.
in our modest Yorkshire semi-detached house we have partially
integrated despite my own accent being deemed ‘posh’ and
Vanessa’s diminishing Alabama accent still alien to some. As an
ex-mining community all local towns retain long bitter memories of
the Thatcher years and closure of the mines. A neighbouring town even
burned an effigy of the Iron Lady when she died. My own southern
origins and accent remind some of the police drafted in from London
and southeast against the local striking miners. Having lived and
worked in London for many years I realise how much I despise the big
city, relishing with some surprise the dignified modesty of Yorkshire
towns and countryside. My twins Jacqueline and James, live in the
region and happily we get to see them and our grandkids more
joined a sequence of second section local brass bands and with one,
took part in a major contest in Blackpool which we won. I have to
admit to the greatest rush of excitement and pride felt in many
recently Vanessa and I enrolled in the very active ‘University
of the Third Age’ in Barnsley, trying a couple of activities
including my joining both poetry and writing groups, but both
settling on the monthly quiz – taken very seriously by the
regulars – and me as I take my turn devising and hosting the
quiz several times a year.
yet another gap of some 13 years I joined their ‘Old Blowers’
training brass band group associated with a local second division
colliery band - and soon after was accepted into the main band. This
proved a challenging and steep re-learning experience. However, due
to losing front teeth and associated embouchure I had to give up my
position and despite a brief foray into learning tenor trombone, am
likely now never to play either instrument seriously again.
hope not for reasons of ego that I have pulled together some of my
earlier recollections –perhaps as a sort of literary equivalent
of a family photograph.
the usual health issues associated with being overweight diabetic and
with increasing age, I recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer
and am about to undergo some radical radiotherapy. Currently
(although this focus will no doubt change) my main concern is the
prospect of a daily drag driving an hour and half each way to the
other side of Sheffield for 7 weeks of treatment. This is coincident
with our reviewing options for moving house – perhaps to a
retirement property with substantial downsizing in prospect.
from still more planned holidays and trips including USA and
domestically, perhaps ‘far to go’ has been well evidenced
to date and can with dignity be wound down gradually over the next
few years. Not without a fight though!
am recently retired from my several previous professional careers
during which I have travelled widely, but see that I may now have
more time for writing.
enjoy all genres and have resumed creative pursuits after a previous
spell of writing including short stories, poems, a novel and several
was some years ago during which time I co-authored a non-fiction
reference book published by Longman.
am married and living
in Yorkshire, England with my
wife who hails from Alabama - but that's a different
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher