Three Score years and Ten

70Two years ago was my 70th birthday, a notable date in anyone’s life in reaching the biblical three scores years and ten. . In some ways it is a day to reflect on ones life and to take stock of where one is now and perhaps how one arrived at this point in time. In many ways it does represent a lot of proverbial water that has flowed under the equally proverbial bridge. I was a professional firefighter most of my working life and I do belong to a closed group on Facebook which the majority of my retired colleagues also subscribe to. It is a good way of keeping in touch with numerous old friends.

I did write an article for that group of my 70th birthday reflecting on a potted history of my life. I had forgotten all about the article until I recently came across it and I though I would republish it here.


 

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Well folks, for me, today is the big 70.

It is that day which throughout my life has always been vaguely somewhere in my distant future and now it has finally arrived. It’s strange how only yesterday while still in my sixties it seemed my fifties and all the memories they evoked were still just around the corner, and today that era has become remote and distant. An era that was cherished but can never be touched again.

Even now as I reflect on my past life, it is difficult to comprehend where all those years have gone or how the changes I have seen came about. Born just after the end of WW2, I was one of the original baby boomers. One of those that grew up in the era that was supposed to be ‘in a land fit for heroes’, and I as a baby, like everyone else born at the same time, was expected to be part of that vanguard that would lead our country into a bright and prosperous new world that was the future.

Although I was born in Dulwich Village, an area that is now considered quite salubrious, I certainly did not come from a moneyed family, quite the opposite. Although I lived in what was a large house, it was still never-the-less a case of coal-fired cooking ranges, gas lighting, tin bath hung on the wall and outside toilets.

It was also an era of extreme elitism where people were supposed to know their place, an unhealthy period which many of the older generation had been conditioned to accept. I first encountered this preconditioning through the education system. It was a system that was supposed to allow the brightest to succeed, and to train the remaining masses for work in the factories as plebiscites. It was not until much later in life I realised that even if everyone was equally bright, the goal posts consisting of grammar and secondary modern schools determined by an iniquitous 11+ exam system would have been moved to achieve the same effect. At that time I did not understand how people went to university. My only experience to that highest of all education systems is what I had seen in films. That always portrayed a life of the rich and privileged and certainly not for the common plebs like myself.

So at the age of 15 I went to work, initially as a telegram boy on a push bike, and a year later on a motorbike. It was a fun time for someone who did not yet really know what they wanted to do in life, other than there was no way I was going to work in a factory. It was also the post school period when one knew that in a way, the future was still irrelevant. At that time, one still had to do three years national service when the age of 18 was achieved. Real working life did not begin for males until they reached the age of 21.

Well things happened during that period particularly the scrapping of conscription. That suddenly opened up all sorts of new vistas and the immediate one I was facing was not particularly enamouring to me. 18 was also the age in the Post Office when I would cease to be a telegram boy with all the juvenile fun that went with it. I would have to become a postman and the prospect of trudging the streets of London with a heavy sack of mail slung over my back was the least appealing thing I could imagine. It was a future I could see that had no real prospects and also one of relatively low pay. It was a possible future I held in dread as inwardly I knew I was capable of so much more.

London TLThe question was what future until one of the lads where I worked suddenly came into the office to announce he was joining West Ham Fire Brigade, which covered part of the area where I was based. His tales of what the fire service would be like flooded my imagination and within weeks Dave Clarke who worked with me and myself had both independently joined West Ham Fire Brigade too.

In my own case, the entire enrolment process from walking through the front door of the fire station in Stratford Broadway, to completing my exams and successfully undertaking a medical process and also being offered a job took a total of 90 minutes. Something that is incomprehensible in today’s lengthy recruitment process. Little did I know as I walked through those fire station doors for the first time, it would be another 42 before I walked out of them for the last time. Those 42 years are as they say now history, but what a history that was.

Apart from the fire service side of my career it was also the beginning of the trade union side of my career too. That was only because I did not run fast enough when at a branch meeting the previous branch secretary suddenly resigned and before I knew it, I was his involuntary replacement. It was however a position that was to eventually see me rise to a high official status within the union in London and the main contact between politicians both in Parliament and County Hall. Now that I have retired, others quite rightly quickly replaced me and have since taken over the reins. All that I am now left with is mellowing thoughts of those times.

Now as I look around my largish home with equally large gardens set in the pleasant rural countryside of Somerset, the rooms bedecked with furniture and the like, I cannot but help wonder where on earth it all did come from and how did I achieve all this? Coming from quite poor and humble conditions when I was born until now, something must have happened in-between, but I cannot quite remember what except for perhaps making some wise choices at the right time. Joining the fire service was perhaps the wisest of the all.

With 42 years of service I cannot help but think of the generations of fire service people I have known. There was the generation in already in-situ when I joined, many who had seen war service. The generation that came and went when I first started, and the generation that had completed about two thirds of their career when I left. That is an awful lot of people most of whom I have fond memories of.

It does seem when I take a euphemistic view of life that when we are born, it is as if a small sandcastle representing myself had been built on a beach far away from the sea. Not a sandcastle in isolation though but one that is surrounded by the other sandcastles of people born about the same time and destined to become my future friends and colleagues. Far in the distance is a thin shimmering silver band which is the sea, but too far away to ever worry about. Many other sandcastles lay between mine and the sea representing my parents, aunts, uncles and forefathers. As the years have passed the incoming tide of time has sadly claimed all these other sandcastles, as well as those of a few friends and colleagues who passed on well before their time. Now the incoming tide of time is nearly lapping around the base of my castle. I suppose I can achieve a degree of immortality by surrounding my little castle with a layer of concrete, but then I know the time will quickly come when my little castle is on its own in total isolation, and in a alien environment too, as everything around me changes against my wishes and beyond my control. All my friends and colleagues would have disappeared. Given the choice, I think I prefer allowing nature to take its natural course.

I suppose I like the rest of us have dwelt with thoughts from time to time, if we had out time all over again, would we choose to take different career paths and so on? For most it is probably circumstance that initially determines the paths we tread. Although I now like to think I have the confidence to succeed in anything I might have chosen to do, the truth is I neither had that confidence that comes with experience, or the money needed to follow many careers. If we could go back it time, would that also mean the hindsight we now have would also come with us to be our foresight for the future? Probably not. I would hate to have lived a life where my future was mapped out in advance, knowing what was to happen each day.
That is what I loved so much about the fire service. Like most of us, it trained us to give us the confidence we needed in ourselves to handle whatever scenario we were likely to face. It even gave us the confidence to deal with situations that no one could plan in advance for. We learnt to work and live with each other and with few exceptions, have respect for each other too. It was also the thought that each day we came to work, we could be dragged away from the more mundane routines at an instance notice to deal with the unexpected in a professional manner, and all in the public eye. So would I have chosen a different path if circumstances allowed? Well that really is a impossible question to answer. What I do know is after all these years; I am more than well content and satisfied to have chosen the path I did. I am also more than pleased to have met all of you.

What the political analysts missed.

Polling chartYesterday England went to the polls in local elections for it’s Metropolitan and District Councils. This did not include the counties of England often referred to as ‘The Shires’ as they are on a different electoral timetable.

Prior to the elections, one party in particular was boasting of the large landslide wins it expected to make and most of the media got caught up in a lot of this speculative hype. However irrelevant of what popular media might think, the electorate has its own unique  way of of determining what they want, not what the political parties of media think they should have.

Well the aspired to political landslide eventually turned out to no more than a few grains of sand rolling down the proverbial hillside. One political party was all but wiped out of local affairs and the seats they previously held fell reasonably evenly to the two main political parties dependent on a particular area. Overall the local political map was neither painted with large new areas or Blue, Red or Orange, but with few exceptions on either side, the political map remained more-or-less as it had been prior to the election.

Political analysts are busy beavering away with their charts, swingometers, statistics and graphs trying to make sense of what happened and what this means to the future fortunes f the political parties and their leaders.

One thing I find the political analysts tend to overlook is the mood of the electorate as a whole, which is more likely to make more sense of yesterdays voting trends than anything else. Something I have sensed for a long time is a complete lack of trust in any political party. Many voters now have a feeling they have been completely disenfranchised by parties that seem to have long ago forgotten who they represent other than themselves. If that is correct, then no political party can in future rely on any form of support from traditional supporters, as dependent on any given local area, the vast numbers of voters who feel they have become disenfranchised will no longer vote for a given party, but are more likely to vote for what it sees as the best of a bad bunch at the time.

All political parties are very inventive in their dialogue and the popular flavour of the month, particularly after an election, is talk of ‘re-engaging’ with the electorate. These are however just words, words the electorate are becoming weary of and it is likely that political futures will now be made or broken depending on which way the wind is blowing at the time. One thing the electorate do know is they voted by a majority for Brexit in a referendum, and all they have seen is politicians constantly trying to undermine the majority decision. It is unlikely a future wind will blow favourably on such politicians and more than likely our second chamber,  the unelected House of Lords will face calls for its abolition after they decided by a large majority to attempt to impose what is effectively a Brexit wrecking measure.

The seasonal clock is running late.

Spring clockAlthough I am not a farmer, one is still influenced by the seasons when one lives in the countryside. Farmers, be they agricultural or livestock based are reliant on the seasonal clock being accurate for lambing, sowing, moving livestock into fields, harvesting, milking and so on. Unlike regular employees who can guarantee a regular income, the faming community must bear its own losses.

Certainly Somerset like many other counties has received more than its normal share of rainfall this winter, coupled with”The Beast from the East” cold weather. This has led to waterlogged land still unfit for sowing. Cattle unable to be released into Spring pastures meaning winter feed has either run low, or become completely exhausted, forcing farmers to dig deep into their own pockets to buy feed at inflated prices. Overall most farmers say they are running about a moth behind time, precious time that is difficult to make up.

I probably like most of us have been craving for better weather for those more open-air pursuits one associates with non-winter months. A few weeks ago was the Easter Weekend break when it feels as if whole nation is on the move like a sudden uncoiled spring. Everyone is seeking to escape the long winters clutches for a few day. From my home, I can observe in the distance the A303, one f the main routes from London to the West Country. The continual flow oh headlights throughout the night could be seen from cars with their urban escapees. Unfortunately to accompany this flood of headlights was a even heavier deluge of non-stop rain that lasted the entire Easter break. It was almost as if Mother Nature was saying that she will tell everyone when they can enjoy themselves and not before.

Well today eventually feels at long last like something of a Eureka moment with the long awaited arrival of warm sunshine. Suddenly gardening chores that have been on hold finally become doable like mowing the lawns. Up until today the grass had already started its Spring spurt, but was still soaking wet not allowing cutting. Now after a few hours work the garden suddenly looks transformed and awaiting ‘Teas on the Lawn’ weather.

Ford Kuga 03I shall also be taking possession of a new SUV car later this week. My present car although still very reliable, I have had for a long time and finally it is time to move on. My first impression when taking the model of car I am buying out for a test drive from the dealers was similar to that what pilots must experience entering a air-line cockpit. I am impressed though by all the safety features in modern cars, even those that cannot be seen but never the less help drivers avoid getting into trouble. All far removed from more basic vehicles I have driven years ago with crash gearboxes and the like.Vehicles where the only hint of modernity was an open-glass temperature gauge   stuck on the outside radiator.

The new vehicle should however allow me io get into a few more off-road location than present, something I am certain my dog will appreciate. I just hope todays pleasant weather now continues onto into the Summer. Not only for my say but also for the farmers and all those seeking some form of away break.

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As time goes by.

2015 On Athletics All Weather Running TrackYesterday was my 72nd birthday and many thanks to all those that sent me birthday wishes. This morning when I awoke for some reason the thought immediately crossed my mind of how different, if not alien, the world I was born into must seem to someone born today. I was born just after the end of the war in 1946.A little simple arithmetic shows deducting my 72 years from that date is equivalent to a person being born in 1874 when I first entered the world.

The oldest person I knew in my family was my paternal grandmother who was born in 1881 and I am now talking of a time before even that year.

To me like I suppose it must seem to all of us old un’s, that I remember my childhood well, my school days, my early working life, followed by my fire service career until I eventually retired. Again I suppose like most of us it still seems like yesterday but the world I was born in must appear as alien to a youngster today as the world of someone born in 1874 must have seemed to me.

I don’t want to hark on about the tin bath hanging on an outside wall, the outside toilet, gas lamps or coal fired cooking range which many of us grew up with. but for many born in 1874, even these basics must have seemed a modern luxury compared with the like of the no sanitation at all world they were born into.

Many of us grew up in a victorious but war torn nation. The war heavily influenced our childhood with hundreds of thousands of servicemen who had experienced its horrors coupled with a recently Blitz blasted civilian community fresh in everyone minds. Now 72 years on, the vast majority of those people and their memories have now passed on. To many youngsters today, WW2 must now seem as remote to them as the battlefields of 1874 would have seemed to me. As an example, the Zulu wars did not occur until 1879.

My grandmother was born in Camberwell, south London in 1881 an maps of the time show almost everything south of the Peckham Road was open land containing many market gardens. All that had disappeared under rapid urban expansion by the time I was born, but likewise much open land I knew as a youngster has equally disappeared. It is as difficult for a youngster today to visualise the open fields I once knew as it is for me to visualise the open fields of my grandmothers time.

One only has to look at a zoomed out aerial view on Google of London and the southeast to see the blur created by buildings now runs almost unchecked from Heathrow in the west, to Shoeburyness in the east, bar for a small break in the middle. Compare that against a immediate post-war map showing buildings to see just how much land a rapidly ever growing population is gobbling up. I do not know what the remote future will hold, but it is things like the above example of the rapidly disappearing countryside that tell me it will not be in the too distant future, that governments will seriously be debating birth control measures.

No doubt in another 72 years, those newcomers to the world being born now will also have similar thoughts.

Yes in the past 72 years the world has changed a lot. But I cannot help but think when compared of my imaginary 1874 predecessors or what the great as yet unborn will face, we probably have experienced the best of it.

Conkers – Are they now a thing of the past?

SDC11269I took my dog for a long walk this afternoon in the fields that surround my village. The warm autumnal sunshine was quite pleasant too. Two of the fields are divided by the River Yeo with a bridge which has hunters gates at either end linking the two.

Part of the route brings me to a disused footbridge which once was the primary connection to the adjoining village of Limington. A footpath used to run between the footbridge and Yeovilton Weir. Years ago a new road using a slightly different route between the two villages was constructed and the footpath and footbridge fell into disuse. The line of the footpath can still be seen however where it ran through a field as it was lined with horse chestnut trees. I walked along the line of the old footpath today and below the mighty horse chestnut trees thousands of conkers lie strewn on the ground. The trees still carry thousands of conkers waiting to fall and while I was there, continual soft dull thuds could be heard as even more fell to the ground.t

The sight of so many thousands of conkers, all in pristine condition just lying around, untouched and uncollected I find sad. As a schoolboy such a treasure would have carried enormous street credit if you could find them, but now they are like a disused currency not wanted by anyone. In some ways it is like finding the Count of Monte Cristo’s treasure and leaving it where it is as worthless junk.

SDC11275I did bring a few home as my wife believes that new conkers placed on the window sill act as a spider deterrent.

I suppose in some ways it is a sign of how things change with time and could not but help be left wondering, that if there was such a thing as a Iphone tree, whether future generations would not be bothered to pick those ‘old things’ up.

History – Gone in a instant.

IMGP0820A recent event in a neighbouring village suddenly thrust to the front of my mind a though I have had in the back of my head for sometime. In the historic village of Ilchester in Somerset, the Market Cross which has stood since 1795, was destroyed in seconds by an allegedly drunken driver. Hopefully it can be restored but only time will tell.

The incident however does illustrate how fragile and transient in nature historical objects are. Once they are gone, they are gone forever and can never be replaced. As much as mankind may seek to protect ancient artefacts and buildings, it is a war that is gradually being lost in the passage of time as catastrophes like fire, earthquakes, accidents, natural weathering or even wanton destruction by extremist groups with warped ideologies as happened at Palmyra in Syria, gradually take their toll on ancient structures.

IMGP4042I suppose in some ways, the knowledge of historical events is far more enduring than physical objects, but again that is reliant in those who are interested in preserving that knowledge. As time passes, events that were of great importance to the people who lived through them, can become increasingly less important in the perception of future generations. Events that happened say two thousand or more years ago with Mediterranean rulers and  armies establishing Empires through conquest and the like are still of interest today, but are not of the same importance to the current generation as those who lived through and experienced those times.

One cannot help but wonder if the human race survives for say another 100,000 years, what importance or interest, if any, our current world events will be to that very remote future generation? In one hundred millenniums time, in such a future generations perception of the past, they would probably consider us to be much closer to the ancient Romans than we do ourselves. Our current world is still heavily influenced by the events of the two Great Wars, but to far distant generations, they might not be more than interesting points to note, like grains of sand on the beach, in the great tide of history that has yet to be created between now and 100 millenniums in the future.

It it also quite probable that just as the great empires of the past have vanished, the great nations of today will also have vanished or changed into something unrecognisably different. Human aspirations and needs are always something of a constant great melting-pot of change, and political thoughts and divisions have always been a great driving force for internal change within countries. As the saying goes, ‘Nothing is forever’.

I cannot help but speculate that if time travel were possible, (and I do not believe it is), and those distant future generations could be visited to be asked what they thought about the UK’s struggles in leaving the E.C. or Russia and the USA being at constant loggerheads with each other, the ego-deflating response would likely be one of, “Who”.

Sea-Vixen pilot performs perfect Belly-Landing

 

One does occasionally see interesting events living next to the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton (RNAS Yeovilton). One such recent occasion was when the hydraulic landing gear system o the only flying Sea-Vixen apparently failed when it was returning to the base. As the video shows, the pilot, Cdr Simon Hardgreaves performed a perfect wheels-up landing.

The Sea-Vixen which is based at RNAS Yeovilton as part of their historic flight was due to perform at Yeovilton’s renowned forthcoming International Air Day. But the question on everyone’s lips at the moment is how badly was the aircraft damaged and will it ever fly again? I do hope so as this was such a iconic aircraft that once represented a significant partof the UK’s military air power.

The aircraft remained on the runway where it landed directly opposite my home until recovery teams were in a position to move it. That did give me the opportunity to taken a number of pictures of the recovery exercise.

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