Far To Go

The Life of a Thursday Child

Howard Martin Osborne

© Copyright 2019 by Howard Martin Osborne

Photo of a water lily.  (c) 2003 by Richard Loller.

Without pretentiousness, this preface is an attempt to provide some shading to the themed account of my life that follows. 

It 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.

It 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.

It 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.


I 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.

My 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 just ‘Ozzy’.

Like 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.

I 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.

My 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.

At 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 to go’.

At 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.

I 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.

Playing 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.

That 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.

It 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.

My 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.

School began at five

Around 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.

Mrs 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 playhouse.

True 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.

I 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.

To 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.

At 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.

I 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

My 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.

We 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.

This 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.

I 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.

I 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.

I 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.

He 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.

I 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.

As 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.

One 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 sea.

In 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.

There 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’.

Memories 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.

Playground 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.

Lessons 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.

Notable 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 painful stroke.

School 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

Homework 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.

I 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.

I 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.

We 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 Suisse’ desserts.

The group years

I 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.

In 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 dances.

The 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 girlfriends too.

One 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.

We lasted about four years playing together and we subsequently drifted apart to pursue careers marriages and such.

It 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.

My 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.

Owning 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.

After 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.

The world of work

In 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.

I 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.

During 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.

John 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.

As 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.

Jan 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.

The 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.

It 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.

Despite 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 can fly

Initially 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’.

Whilst 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’.

This 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.

A 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.

It 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.

These were exciting times with our powerful 4th generation 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.

We 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.

California here I come

Landing 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.

Prior 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.

Several 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’.

My 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.

After 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 Telex.

This 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.

This 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.

My 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.

This 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.

The 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 our midst.

Together 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.

As 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.

Among 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 Liverpool.

I 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.

At 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.

We 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.

Soon 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.

My 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

A taste of public service

At 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.

This 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.

Inland 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.

Of 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.

We 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.

Without 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.

Another 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.
We 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.

We 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.

We 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.

These 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.

During 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.

One 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 unpublished

At 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.

Unrelated 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.

After 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’.

The big break

We 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’.

I 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.

As 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.

My 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.

The 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.

Moving 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.

Several 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.

However, 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.

We 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.

I 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.

During 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.

On 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.

Living 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 regularly.

I 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 years.

More 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.

After 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.

I 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.

Despite 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.

Apart 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!


I 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. 

I enjoy all genres and have resumed creative pursuits after a previous spell of writing including short stories, poems, a novel and several scripts. 

This was some years ago during which time I co-authored a non-fiction reference book published by Longman.

I am married and living in Yorkshire, England with my wife who hails from Alabama - but that's a different story.

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