​​Living: A Memoir

There is no doubt we live in extraordinary times.

In my lifetime, we have gone from bust to boom and back again, both locally and more recently globally, perhaps a dozen times.  There have been Conservative and Labour governments aplenty, and even the ragtag LibDems got in on the act in Cameron's Coalition.  In the US, the Democratic and Republican parties swap places in a never ending round of personal abuse and broken policies in an arguably broken electoral system.  Devasted nations across Europe pulled together to form a cumbersome and poorly governed EU, looking for peace and prosperity (and until recently finding it), and welcomed former Soviet satellite states with the fall of Communist ideology and resultant break up of the USSR.  Germany and Japan, on the losing side in World War 2, grew spectactularly to become world powers and the biggest ecocnomies in the world (after the US, of course).  Former colonies like Brazil and India, a resurgant and once more independent Russia and the huge China have joined them, whilst Britian's power and influence on world events has shrunk.  And of course there has been the apparently unstoppable rise of Islamic fundamentalism and other largely religion driven global terrorism.

In the City, we have a moved from quillpens and ledgers, through mainframe and personal computers to tablets and now devices you carry in your trouser pocket that carry more computing power than took Apollo 11 to the Moon and back.   No longer do you need to visit your bank manager for a stressful interview to obtain a loan: use an app on your bank's website via your mobile to do it online.  Radio lost ground to television, which in turn is losing out to downloads on your pc, tablet and phone, and the way people listen to music went from vinyl to tape to CD to digital downloads.  Printed entertainment - newspapers,  magazines, books - have gone online too.......you're reading, this right?

The Apollo program was not even the greatest feat in aviation: there followed a re-usable space shuttle, and probes that are now travelling beyond the Solar System, landing on other planets and moons, and even comets moving at tens of thousands of miles an hour.  And all of them sending back huge amounts of information that daily improve our knowledge of how the Universe works.  And yet, when I was born most airliners were either converted World War2 bombers or based on them, and had piston engines and propellers.  By the time I was 20, we had jet engines and jumbo jets and supersonic Concorde.

Our climate is changing, and argument rages as to whether this is a natual cyclical phenomenon, or a result of man's addiction to fossil fuels.  Once common and splendid animals like the elephant, the giant panda and even the blue whale, are fighting a battle against extinction, and tropical rainforests are being decimated, often illegally, on a daily basis.

Extraordinary times, indeed.  The world is changing before our eyes.

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Living: A Memoir, mixes the story of how a working class kid from a council estate grew up to work in the financial services and IT industries (that neither mum nor dad ever understood), going from a rented council house to his own four-bedroom detached house, and now a small flat in another country (and raised two families along the way), with the tumultous changes in the world at large and  how they affected him and his loved ones.  It is a story about ordinary people living ordinary lives, while all this extraordinary stuff is going on around them - often unnoticed.

It's a work in progress that I hope will answer the "what were you doing when you were my age, dad?" questions that my kids sometimes throw at me, in what I hope is an entertaining and interesting way, that will be enjoyed by everyone - not only my family.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Luxembourg 26 September 2017

UPDATE:  This book is still plodding along.  Since I added the last little update  I've been beavering awat spasmodically and committed a little under 45,000 words (roughly 84 pages) to the first draft.  Soon, I will be taking my 11 Plus..... ;-))  A LONG way to go, but there is interest - I'm working with someone on publishing The Match - see the previous Section for more information, and if that goes all well, then living will follow eventually.  Happy days.

In the meantime, here is a little taster to whet your collective appetites:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Warsaw, October 11 2018

                                                                                                                        WELCOME TO THE WORLD, LITTLE MAN
                                                                                                                                          25 March 1953

Apparently, the day (a Wednesday) was quite warm, at least in Kent – temperatures around 21C (or in old money about 70F). Not bad for a March day after a quite harsh winter.
But, at least historically, it was a quiet one. No-one famous died. Robert Fox, who later became a well-respected theatre producer, was born the younger brother of the more famous actors James and Edward.

In Pinner, Middlesex, young Reg Dwight celebrated his sixth birthday in a semi-detached council house, possibly by having a little tinkle on the ivories – he had been playing the piano for three years, and was a year away from starting proper piano lessons. In later years, he found fame, fortune and much else as Elton John. And in so doing provided much of the soundtrack to my own life.​   cross the pond, in the Detroit suburb of New Bethel, Aretha Franklin turned 11. It was probably a muted affair, as her mother had died a year earlier. By this time she was already singing regularly at the local Baptist church founded by her father, and perhaps considering the musical career that would make her one of the best and most popular soul singers in the world – a career that spanned more than 60 years until her death from cancer in August 2018.

If you look at any of several historical web-sites, March 25 is shown as being the religious festival of Lady Day (amongst several others), and as Freedom Day for Belarus. Not Freedom from the now fragmented USSR, but celebrating the creation in 1918 of the Belarusian People’s Republic by the occupying Germans (the First World War was still raging). These days, under hard-line butcher, friend of Vladimir Putin and unapologetic Communist President Aleksandr Lukashenko, the day is only sparingly celebrated, on safety grounds. 

It’s also (it says here…) International Day of the Unborn Child, Mother’s Day in Slovenia, Struggle for Human Rights Day in Slovakia, and the wonderful sounding Waffle Day in Sweden. And it’s Tolkien Reading Day, launched in 2003 to celebrate and encourage the works of the good Professor, and of course (as anyone who has read his masterwork The Lord of the Rings will know) the day that Frodo’s Quest succeeded, the One Ring ended up in Mount Doom along with Gollum, and Sauron fell. Hurrah.

Beyond that, in years gone by, Venice had been founded in 421; Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland in 1306; Christian Huygens discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in 1655; the Second Hellenic Republic was proclaimed in Athens in 1924; and a mere four years earlier in 1949, Uncle Joe Stalin’s minions started the forced deportation of over 92,000 people from the Baltic States to Siberia and all points East in another of his brutal collectivisation exercises. Fortunately, his own days were numbered.


None of which will have meant a thing to my poor mum, sweating and cursing to squirt me kicking and squalling into the world in the double-bedroom she slept in with my dad, in a three-bedroomed end-of-terrace council house in Church Street (possibly not unlike Reg Dwight’s home in Pinner, come to think of it). She had turned 38 exactly a week before, considered quite an advanced age to be having kids in the early ‘50s, so I was a bit of a belated birthday present for her. It set a kind of precedent – I have never been good at remembering birthdays, so late presents became par for the course from that day on as far as she and I were concerned.

As you may have gathered, I was a bit of a late arrival, and unexpected to say the least. I had two older sisters, Shirley and Winifred, both born during the dark days of World War 2, while my dad was away fighting under Montgomery in the Western Desert against Rommel’s feared Panzer Divisions and later under Mountbatten in the terrible Burmese Campaign against the Japanese. He had a good war, in that he survived, with only two relatively minor wounds, both garnered in the steamy jungles in the Far East. I still have his campaign medals. But he was no hero (except to me) – no Military Medals or Victoria Crosses or any other “for gallantry” awards. A couple of times he was “mentioned in dispatches”, which is apparently quite an achievement, and reading his service record he was a very popular man and a good soldier, well thought of by everyone.

It was an opinion of him shared by many people throughout his life, as evidenced by the packed church at his funeral. I remember him as being very even-tempered – laid-back, in today’s terminology - , as unaggressive as it’s possible to be, hard-working and funny. He enjoyed a brown ale and a cigarette, and was an avid and wonderful gardener. Before the War, he had worked on the Chiddingstone Castle estate, tending the huge and well-kept grounds there, and courting my mum who was “in service” in the Castle as a chamber-maid. His skills kept us all well fed in the austere post-War days, as he lovingly cultivated our big back garden and a plot at the local allotments. You name a fruit or a vegetable and he grew it – potatoes, onions, cabbages, carrots, parsnips, cauliflowers, broccoli, peas, runner beans, broad beans, cucumber, lettuce, rhubarb, raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries…… There was even a patch of fresh mint to add a delicious flavour to the spring potatoes that no restaurant I’ve ever eaten at since (and there have been many) has been able to replicate. About the only fruits that were missing were apples and pears, and that was only because there wasn’t room enough to cultivate the trees. From my earliest childhood to the day he died, I can’t remember ever eating shop-bought produce (except for apples and pears).

The front garden, too, was always a picture, with roses growing across the front wall of the house and surrounding the parlour window, well-manicured lawns, and flower beds of peony and daffodils and tulips, and a sprinkling of wild flowers like primroses and bluebells that he liberated from the nearby woodlands and tended with more loving care. I’m not sure about then, but nowadays the practice of taking rooted wildflowers to your garden to cultivate is actually illegal, which I think is a great shame, as our garden always looked as beautiful as the woods and hedgerows from whence the plants came, and I can’t honestly see much harm from it. As I grew and discovered football and cricket, my friends and I turned a good chunk of the front garden into Wembley Stadium and Lord’s Cricket Ground, to the devastation of those flowers, and dad never once raised his voice or told me off about it, though it must have hurt him badly. Boys will be boys, was his attitude.

Even the back garden did not escape the destruction. Inspired probably by a story in the Victor or Valiant weekly comic, we decided to pretend the garden was part of a prisoner-of-war camp. Remember, this was the 1950s, the Second World War had ended only a few years before, and British comics were full of War stories, where the British and the Americans were always the heroic good guys and the Germans and the Japanese (and now and then the odd Italian, for comic relief) the dastardly villains. Superman and Batman and today’s Marvel and DC Comics characters were unheard of, at least in rural Kent. Anyway, my friends and I decided to dig an escape tunnel, and over the course of a weekend excavated a hole perhaps three feet deep and about six across before growing bored and giving up. Now I come to think of it, it must have resembled a grave….. Dad merely shrugged his shoulders and left it, just in case we had any more bright ideas, but mum was less than pleased and gave me a clip round the ear.

Alas, his green fingers were not passed down to his only son. Over the years I’ve had some decent patches of land with my houses, and tried my hand at gardening, but never approached his level of skill and success. Lawns and flower beds have been reasonably successful, if a bit overgrown and untended more often than not, but I’ve never grown a vegetable in my life.