An Alphabet Of My Life: Z


Zealous is usually a word associated with religion these days, as in ‘Religious Zealots’. A rather old-fashioned word that has changed its meaning over time in society. In the past, ‘Zeal’ was a good thing. It made me think of brave soldiers, hard-working inventors, and charitable people who helped the unfortunate.

As far as this final word in the alphabet of my life is concerned, it is connected to ‘P’. I was very zealous in my political ideals when I was younger. Determined, committed, and keen to argue my side. On some occasions, this zeal on my part upset people. It made me enemies, and affected my jobs.

But I was undaunted, and continued to be politically zealous for the greater part of my life.

An Alphabet Of My Life: Y


I looked up this word to make sure I was using it correctly. I was.

a feeling of intense longing for something.
“he felt a yearning for the mountains”

I have definitely yearned for many things in my life. But nothing comes close to how much I discovered yearning when my mum got her Winter shopping catalogue from the Catalogue Lady who lived nearby. The catalogue was bigger than a telephone directory, and so heavy I could hardly lift it. It was like a Bible of consumerism, lavishly illustrated with photos, and containing everything a family might ever want to purchase.

The most popular companies in 1960 were Freemans and Littlewoods, both competing for an eager market of shoppers who wanted to have everything in the post war boom. And they could, because those companies offered credit with a simple and affordable system. Each item had a price next to it of course. If you could afford it, you could pay the catalogue agent outright when it was delivered. But there was also an easy payments system that went something like this.

Say you spent £50 on an assortment of items. (£50 was a lot of money then, my dad earned less than £20 a week at the time.) You could pay just £1 a week for those items, over a set period. That was usually 60 weeks, so ensured the company received £8 in interest. The Catalogue Lady would call at your house each week, take the £1 payment, and mark it off on your payment card. You could see the debt decreasing, and you were also able to order more items if you so wished, the card being altered accordingly.

Yes, this was something of a ‘Debt Trap’ for working people before the age of credit cards, and when bank loans were hard to get for anyone on a weekly wage. But working-class people no longer had to save up to buy something. From a new tea-set to a girdle, a vacuum cleaner to a pair of slippers, they could have what they wanted or needed, and it almost always cost just £1 a week.

The catalogues included toys, and the Winter edition included dozens of pages of toys, usually at the back of the catalogue. As soon as I was left alone with the catalogue, I immediately turned to that section, and began yearning for many of the toys shown in the photos.

It was real yearning, believe me.

Not allowed to mark the items on the page using a pen or pencil, I would turn down the corners of the pages I was interested in, then add scraps of paper sticking up from those pages with the stock number of the toy I liked best on that page. Then I left the catalogue for my mum to look through, and yearned.

Waiting for Christmas morning to open my presents and see if the intense research had worked.

Most years, it had.

An Alphabet Of My Life: W


WordPress to me means blogging, but I used something else for ‘B’.

I came late to blogging. It was not until after a suggestion from my friend Antony that I even considered starting a blog. He thought it would be something for me to do once I retired from work. I looked into it, and decided that WordPress was the platform to choose. At the time (2012) it was the easy option. The process was laid out in a way I could understand, and it was free too.

Those first few posts were very short. I let my friends and family know that I had started a blog, and they encouraged me by leaving occasional comments. Some of them even followed my blog, and I started to become aware of other bloggers, and followed some.

A year later, I was having interaction and engagement with a selection of followers, and starting to feel like I was part of an international community. I even started a second blog with a very different theme, though I don’t post much on there.

Since then, I have added photos, written fictional stories and serials, told the world about my life in a small village with my dog Ollie, and reflected on my past in London. Although follower numbers increased dramatically, and I have now published 5,257 posts, it is usually the same core group of committed and much-valued followers who read and comment on my blog posts.

Blogging not only keeps your mind active, and allows you to express your emotions and opinions, it also introduces you to some amazing people from all around the world. You gain an insight into the lives of people from other countries that you have never visited, and different cultures to your own. Blogging is great, but you have to stick at it, and engage to get the full value from it.

I’m so glad I started a blog. My life has been enriched by blogging, despite the glitches, frustrations, and occasional annoyances.

An Alphabet Of My Life: V


Fortunately, I have been more of a witness to violence than a victim of it during my life, save for a few notable occasions when I was on the receiving end.

At school, fights were common. They seemed to start over nothing, and end quickly. If teachers did not step in fast enough, a larger boy usually overpowered a smaller one to gain victory. I was popular enough not to be picked on, and good enough at talking my way out of potentially violent siuations when the need arose.

In my teens, South London pubs could sometimes be violent places. Older men, sometimes criminals or gangsters, might suddenly start fighting. Those fights could be brutal, involving bottles, broken drinking glasses, and anything heavy that came to hand. I tried to leave when that happened, or at least keep out of the way. But one time a man hit me with a bar stool, which knocked me flat and made me see stars. When he realised that I was not one of the people he was fighting, he helped me up and apologised.

Some years later, I was involved in a violent street robbery, attacked by three men as I was about to deposit money in a bank. When I tried to hang on to the cash-bag, they kicked me in the head until I had to let go. Luckily, I was young and strong then, so suffered no long-lasting effects.

Being an EMT can be dangerous. More dangerous than you might ever expect it to be. Drunk people, plain nasty people, psychiatric patients, drug users hallucinating, all of those are likely to try to do you harm. I have been kicked in the face by a drunk, threatened with knives, a machete, and even a loaded shotgun. It was hard to believe when I joined the Ambulance Service, that such a large percentage of the public in London would consider me to be a valid target of their violent aggression.

But the real violence was what I witnessed in my job, not what happened to me personally. Stabbings, shootings, terrorist bombings. Faces slashed with knives or burned with acid, terrible beatings with blunt objects. Long bones broken, skulls fractured, noses and ears cut off. Murders by strangling, murders by drowning someone in a bath, toilet bowl, or wash-basin, and on one occasion, even a decapitation using a hand-axe. It is equally hard to believe how quickly I got used to such things, and was not fazed by them.

London can be a violent city. If you are somewhere at the wrong time, or involved with the people for whom violence is always their first option.

An Alphabet Of My Life: U


Unhappy is a word that I (and others) use frequently to easily describe so many things.

I can be unhappy if it is raining when I want to do something ouside.
I can be unhappy if they cancel a TV series that I really enjoyed.
I can be unhappy if a shop has sold out of the type of bread I want to buy.

But on reflection, this is not being unhappy. That is something much more serious.

Have I been unhappy at stages in my life, really unhappy?
Yes I have. Or have I? I at least thought I was.

I was desperately unhappy for my mum when my dad left, and she had to sell her beloved house in the suburbs. I could see the pain on her face, and hear the heartbreak in her voice. But I was not unhappy to see my dad go, I was being unhappy for someone else.

When my first marriage broke up, I was genuinely unhappy. I felt bad that I had failed as a husband, and discovered loneliness sitting on my own in a new small house. At the time, I dealt with that by using denial, and felt sure we would get back together.

Some years later, I was divorced again, and living in a rented flat a long way from the parts of London that I knew well. Coming home after an exhausting shift on the ambulances, I had nobody to talk to, and sat in that cold, damp flat feeling very unhappy. I dealt with that the second time by drinking a great deal of red wine, and seeking oblivion.

I had to rethink though. Was I genuinely unhappy, or was I just feeling sorry for myself? Was ‘unhappy’ just a convenient word for a different feeling?

Now with the accrued life knowledge of 70 years, I have come to a conclusion. I have been unhappy for others, which is probably better called sympathy or empathy, depending on the circumstances. I have been miffed about something, fed up with something else, and have definitely felt sorry for myself on numerous occasions.

The good news though is that I have never been truly unhappy.

An Alphabet Of My Life: T


It is impossible to fully describe the impact of technology since I was born. I was initially brought up using an outside toilet, and a tin bath filled on Friday nights. The television had one channel, if you were lucky enough that it was working properly. There was the wireless, (radio) and records played on a ‘gramaphone’.

Cars were unreliable, and constantly broke down. Heating was a coal fire, and nobody had heard of deodorant.

By the time I was 12, there was gas-fired heating, and the first cassette recorder. Cars began to work properly, and we had three channels on the TV, which was also (amazingly) available in colour by the time I was 17. Ballpoint pens had replaced bottles of ink, labour-saving devices had replaced hand-washing and preparing food, and there was a new thing called a ‘Freezer’, which froze food for later use.

I was living in the ‘Golden Age’, undoubtedly!

Things just kept getting better. When I was 18, I had a cassette player in my car, later changed to an 8-Track. Transistor radios had replaced the old wireless sets, and the TV actually worked without being constantly adjusted. Cheap jet travel had made foreign holidays possible for almost anyone, and people who had never left Britain were holidaying in exotic-sounding places like Benidorm, and Lloret Del Mar.

By the time I was married at 25 in 1977, there were VHS video recorders. A complete marvel at the time. Watch a propgramme while you taped something on the other side. It was like a magic trick!

It didn’t end there. I received a plastic card to allow me to spend money on credit without having to carry any cash around, and in 1999, I bought my first mobile phone. I could make a call from anywhere, at anytime. No need to queue outside a phone box ever again, as long as I had enough balance left on the SIM card. By 2002, I had a laptop. It was like something from a spaceship to me, and I had to spend all day at a friend’s house so he could show me how to use it.

But I still only had ‘dial-up’ Internet, and it took 15 minutes to download a photo sent to me on an email. That didn’t matter, because to me it was like a miracle unfolding in front of my eyes.

Just 20 years ago. Hard to believe now, isn’t it?

In the meantime we got CD, DVD, Broadband, Fibre Optics, Social Media, Streaming, Internet TV with 200 stations, Netflix, even more reliable cars, and we could travel the world for a fraction of what that cost previously.

Technology is an ever-developing monster of our own creation. It can do good. But it can also do bad, as we know.

An Alphabet Of my Life: S


This S is about the applications of science in my lifetime. Things that were unimaginable when I was born are commonplace now. Some of those are materials; things like Teflon, Polyurethane, Velcro, Waterproof Fabrics, Memory Foam, Polyester. They have provided advances in comfort, ease of use, preserving and cooking food, and in safety wear for those working outside. Unfortunately, they have also contributed to landfill, the pollution of the oceans, and even microparticle contamination of human bodies.

Everything we invent comes with a price, it seems.

Medical science has exceeded all expectations since my birth in 1952. Birth control, In Vitro Fertilisation, Open-Heart Surgery, Genetics, DNA, Artificial Valves, Pacemakers, Organ Transplantation, and Micro-Surgery. The eqipment and expertise to care for a premature baby that would previously have died. Drugs to control Diabetes, Epilepsy, and many other life-changing or life-threatening conditions. Add to that the advances in Scanning, Medical Lasers, the ability to operate on babies in the womb, and an adult from 1952 would find it hard to comprehend the amazing possibilities 70 years later.

Life expectancy has extended significantly since I was born. Average life expectancy in 1952 in Britain (male and female lifespans combined) was 69.17 years. 70 years later, it is now 81.65 years. That has brought with it a huge number of problems. The increase in elderly people with Dementia. The problems of caring for the elderly and disabled in their own homes, or in dedicated old people’s homes. Hospitals full of old people who cannot be easily discharged after breaking bones or having major surgery. The cost of paying pensions to so many more people who lived much longer than expected, and the reduced birth rate failing to supply enough working people to pay the National Insurance and Taxation required to fund such an ageing population.

Back to everything we invent coming with a price.

There are other scientific achievements in my lifetime that were less desirable.

Atom bombs were replaced by nuclear bombs, and those in turn replaced by thermo-nuclear bombs. Military weapons became more advanced, and the ability to kill more people from a greater distance is the darker side of ‘progress’ during the last 70 years.

(Technology will be dealt with in ‘T’.)

An Alphabet Of My Life: R


When you reach the milestone of 70, you must surely have a few regrets? I know I do.

I would have liked to have been better prepared for my first marriage, that’s for sure.

It would have been nice if my second marriage had worked out better too. But it didn’t, so hey-ho.

As much as I enjoyed my long service as an EMT, I wish that I had gone into that job years earlier, when I was 21. I seem to have wasted a lot of time on pointless, unrewarding jobs before deciding to do something useful. But I did earn a great deal of money during that time, so perhaps any regrets are tempered by that fact.

There is no point regretting not visiting America, or many of the other countries I never got to see. I could have gone to those but chose different places instead, when I had the time and money to do that. So, no regrets where that is concerned.

For all of my life, I have tried to be kind, and to do the right thing. But I do regret times when I could have tried harder to do that, in certain situations.

There are many things I do not regret.

Not having any children
Marrying for the third time.
Moving from London to Beetley.
Getting Ollie.
Leaving my EMT job for a role in the police.
Never contacting my dad after he left the family home, and refusing to go to see him when he was dying.
Starting a blog.

On balance, I think the non-regrets outweigh the real regrets. So I am ticking that box as a win!

An Alphabet Of My Life: Q


One good piece of advice my dad gave me was, “Pay more for quality”. I took that to heart.

A handmade bespoke suit can last a lifetime.

Loake shoes may cost four times as much as a high-street brand, but will last you ten times longer.

A Sony Colour TV was three times more expensive than other leading brands in 1977. But the picture quality was outstanding, and it never went wrong.

A good cashmere overcoat, carefully-stored and regularly dry-cleaned, will be the only overcoat you ever need.

Don’t be tempted by cheap, badly-made cars. They will break down all the time, go rusty, and lose almost their entire value in under five years. Buy a more expensive car, and it will last you for a very long time.

Cheap clothes are a false economy. I have shirts that I paid £50 for in 1990, and I still wear them today. They are as good as new.

You get the idea…

An Alphabet Of My Life: P


From an early age, I became interested in left-wing politics. I was very aware of social injustices, and also inspired by studying the Spanish Civil War, and the International Brigade soldiers who volunteered to go and fight in what was a ‘just war’.

In my teens, I joined far-left political parties, and moved to other mainstream ones throughout my life. I also attended many public protest demonstrations, including one against the Vietnam War. Later on, I became heavily involved with the unions in the Ambulance Service, when I was an EMT. We supported the miners during the strike of 1984-1984, and showed solidarity during other strikes by different workers.

I became used to public speaking, addressing large numbers of people at meetings, urging them to join unions and to be a part of the process of seeking fairness in the workplace. When the country-wide Ambulance Strike began in 1989, I was at the forefront of the protest, turning up every day to help organise things in my area, along with like-minded colleagues.

But by the time I was 50, union power in the UK was decreasing; beaten down by changes in the laws, and worker apathy. And as far as politics was concerned, I no longer had a left-wing party to support. By the time I was nearing retirement at 60, my inner fire had gone out. I was not in a union, and was not a member of any political party.

Now all I have left are the memories of a very political past, and my political blog.