A Trip through Time – some of the steps that I admit to and that can be published!
Taking my cue from Gerard Hoffnung, I was born at an early age, 2 o’clock on Tuesday morning the 7th September 1948, to be precise, in Barton-on-Sea in what was Hampshire but I believe now has been moved to Dorset. Eight months later Mother, Father and I had moved to the Scottish Borders and then Moffat in Dumfriesshire where we stayed for nearly ten years. This was a good time as my uncle, aunt and their family lived on the other side of town and we spent much time together. My sister arrived during that time and she considers herself to be a Scot whereas I am a genuine half-breed. Father was a Lincolnshire man and Mother was Scottish.
We moved to Derbyshire and lived in Edensor as Father had become the Chatsworth Estate Accountant and that was the beginning of twelve years of pure fun with the freedom of Chatsworth Park literally over the garden wall. Lady Manners School in Bakewell was enjoyable, probably because we had very good cricket and rugby teams at all levels. The academic side of life was enjoyable most of the time but came a distinct second for me. I played rugby for the County and was School Captain, very satisfying, I must say.
During these years my interest in bird-watching and trainspotting developed and I cycled miles in pursuit of both hobbies up and down proper hills in the Peak District. I was a bit fitter then than I am now.
Eventually the time came when I had to get a job and various interviews and entrance tests came and went until I finally landed a place with what was then Sun Alliance and London Insurance Company in Sheffield. One of the unsuccessful attempts was for the Civil Service which involved two days of exams in Nottingham. I came 222nd out of about 480 which I thought was quite good. Then they told us there were only 14 vacancies, quite few of us were not impressed with that information.
Life in Sun Alliance was interesting and along with about half a dozen other trainees we moved round the various departments learning what insurance was all about. We had a good cricket team at work and at Chatsworth and I was playing rugby for the school Old Boys so with a few bob in my pocket I enjoyed life to the full. That’s where censorship kicks in I admit to nothing more! Well, in the late sixties you were able to enjoy life with very few restrictions being imposed by various forms of authority.
A move to our administrative centre in Horsham was offered and accepted so new chapter opened up. Just picture it, a huge office building and a really good sports club and lots of young people thrown together from all over the country, quite a heady mix, I can tell you. A few months later a transfer to head office in the City of London resulted in me becoming a real commuter – same paving slab on the platform bang opposite the same carriage door of the same train at 07-31 every morning. You have to experience that to appreciate that almost any other job in the world has huge attraction. Life in the historic City was interesting, given that the insurance industry began there and the Sun Fire Office bit of our company was the first proper company being formed in 1710. What became Lloyds of London had been around a bit longer but they were individuals, not companies. During some of my time at Head Office life became a bit hairy when the IRA started their indiscriminate bombing campaign.
At some point soon after moving to Horsham I was persuaded to join in the company blood-doning session in the TA drill hall. I survived that and am still a donor to this day with well over a hundred donations to my name. Three family members have had transfusions so I know how important it is to attend a session.
My acquaintance with the drill hall was re-inforced soon after that when I joined the local TA unit, I think after a fairly convivial rugby dinner the previous weekend. That was the beginning of an almost parallel career which I thoroughly enjoyed. So here I was, a weekend soldier, for the next 23 years. We served through some of the coldest bits of the Cold War where life expectancy was measured in getting four anti-tank rounds off before the fifth Russian tank got you. I had by now moved to Hertford and was in the Royal Anglians and we were a Nato committed Battalion. There were compensations for this with Annual Camps in Cyprus and Gibraltar as well as all over the UK. One drill night the pay clerk didn’t turn up so a change beckoned and I took over the position. Eventually I became Paymaster of the Battalion which was quite an honour. There were four or five of us in the pay team and I always tried to get the paperwork up to date so that when the Camp Exercise came along the team could be part of the enemy. This was always good fun because we could get up to all sorts of sneaky tricks to test the others. Eventually, like was happening in all walks of life, there was one reorganisation too many and my job disappeared, plus I was too old to retrain as something else, so I retired. As luck would have it, much the same was happening at work and a few months later I took early retirement from that too.
By that time I had been married to Sue since 1980 and with our two daughters had moved from Meldreth to Downham Market via Sutton-in-the-Isle, all at the behest of work. We met on a blind date set up by a chap I worked with and his wife who worked with Sue at solicitors in Cambridge. That was end of March and we were married in the November. I know a good thing when I see it! We have now been West Norfolk residents for 26 years so are thinking about applying for citizenship – if you will have us! We are not leaving. Our youngest daughter is a veterinary nurse here in Downham Market. Our eldest daughter went to university so to help with her costs I did two campaigns at Wissey and a year or so at Fishers/Del Monte at Methwold. This was useful partly for the extra money but also because I learned a fair bit about what was a major part of farming life here in West Norfolk.
I became part of Downham Market Town Council in 1999 with special responsibility for rural transport in and around the town. This was interesting but when the funding ran out so did much of what we were trying to do. Rural transport needs subsidising if it is to work. I was lucky enough to be the Town Mayor in 2005/6 which allowed me to meet all sorts of interesting local people and businesses.
In 2007 I was persuaded to stand as the Conservative candidate for Wissey Ward in the Bough Council elections of that year. The selling pitch was “please stand because we can’t get anyone else”. A ringing endorsement if ever there was! However, it worked and now, four elections later, I am still the Wissey Ward Member for which I thank all of you who have supported me over the years. During that time I was fortunate to be Mayor of the Borough in 2011/12 and honoured to host Her Majesty The Queen on the 60th Anniversary of her Accession to the Throne in King’s Lynn Town Hall. A unique occasion which is in my memory for ever. A few weeks earlier I signed the Charter along with the then Bishop of Norwich which made St Margaret’s Church in King’s Lynn into King’s Lynn Minster. I think that was the biggest change to the status of the building since the 1500’s when Henry V111 was dissolving the monasteries. I also hope those of you who have different views from me enjoy the discussions we have and that I manage to help you as well. I thoroughly enjoy the challenges that arise and it is rewarding but oh, so frustrating because nothing happens as fast as it should, even when the right outcome is achieved.
Returning to my interests again, this part of the world is, of course, well known as one of the best birdwatching areas in the country so we are all extremely lucky in having it all on the doorstep. Even walking the dog every morning on the edge of the town has its rewards almost every day and my “garden tick list” is quite impressive, at least I think it is. During the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s I had a week a year with two friends as Osprey wardens at Loch Garten which were magical times. We saw some really exciting and rare birds, plus the red squirrels, up there. My very first trip was towards the end of August and I was taken down to the observation hide on the Friday evening, just to get the lie of the land. Looking through the huge German binoculars I saw a young osprey (my first) down one tube and a peregrine falcon down the other, sitting either side of an old dead tree bathed in the pink light of late evening. I was entranced. Some of you might have looked through the same binoculars and seen something similar. One time we were there it was ringing time so were able to watch at close quarters the rings being put on the young ospreys by Roy Dennis. Very exciting and a privilege to be in his company.
Trains have always played a part in my life, partly perhaps because my grandfather was railwayman, but partly because my father was interested in them too and we spent many hours wandering around stations and engine sheds. We used to have weekends in northern France travelling on the last of the French steam-hauled trains which was around the same time as steam finished on British railways. Birdwatching was also a common interest and together with my cousin we have been frozen while watching the winter waders, geese and swans on the Solway during Christmas holidays with my uncle and aunt. He and I used to joke about our reversed roles in life; he was an accountant by profession and an artillery surveyor in the TA while I was an insurance surveyor by profession and a military accountant in the TA together with the shared interests of birds, trains, cricket and rugby. I never managed to join in with his love of golf though. While not being a literary buff, I enjoy all sorts of books and my favourite author has to be John Buchan because many of his books are set in the Borders so I can easily identify with them but one starts there and moves south to the Burnhams and King’s Lynn, Downham Market, Ely and the Huntingdon area.
That then is a potted history of life so far which I hope you have found interesting. I fully expect to have a fair bit more time to enjoy my grandchildren and hope that I have sufficient energy to keep pace with the four of them. I have hopes that some of my interests are finding new homes with each of them but am resigned to the fact that many of today’s marvels of technology will take precedence in their lives. This is only right and proper and I am sure that they will derive as much pleasure from their interests as I do from mine.
The motto of the old Great Central Railway in 1899 was, and indeed still is on the preserved section of that main line, “Forward” and so it must be for all of us.