Bloggers Books: Chaya Ubhayakar

I am very pleased to announce that Chaya has had her first book published. It is a nicely-illustrated book for chidren, ‘Different and Similar’.

This story is about the friendship between Missy, a Golden Retriever, and Billu, a cat, and their love for Jai, a ten-year-old boy.

Children will discover how Missy and Billu show love and kindness to each other by respecting their differences and appreciating their similarities.

Illustrated by Andrea Benko, the book explores how in a world where everyone is unique, similarities can always be found.
This is a tale of Jai and his dog Missy welcoming a new friend, Billu the cat. Follow how Missy and Billu discover the differences and similarities between each other.

Here is an Amazon link where you can find out more, and buy a very reasonably priced Kindle copy.

This is a link to Chaya’s blog, where you can read more about her and her work.

“Old Man! Old Man!”

As I was finishing the walk with Ollie yesterday, I was heading past the small playground on Beetley Meadows in the direction of one of the exits.

Two young mums were sitting on a bench inside, watching their children playing on the swings, roundabout, and climbing frame. The children were aged around four and five, and very noisy. Ollie was trailing behind me, sniffing and marking the rows of shrubs along the wooden fences of the houses that back onto the playing field.

Just as I got past the playground’s wire fence, a little boy shouted out to me at the top of his lungs.

“Old man! Old man!”

I turned to see him up at the fence, obviously wanting to say something to me. So I smiled at him, and walked back.

“What is it?”, I asked him. He pointed at Ollie. “I like your dog”. I grinned, and asked him a question.

“How did you know my name?”

He didn’t get it, but his mum smiled.

A Nostalgic Image

For my birthday on the 16th, my lovely cousin Sue sent me an e-card that contained an old photo of us together.

She suspects it was taken in a very early type of ‘Photo Booth’. I look to be around six years of age, making her almost eight at the time.

That dates it to sometime in 1958. But looking at it now, it looks more like it was taken in 1928. I can only vaguely remember having white-blond, curly hair. Sue and I lived in the same house, her mum was my mum’s older sister, Auntie Edie. We remained very close throughout our lives, and still are today.

I am sometimes criticised for excessive nostalgia, but I freely admit that I adore this old photo.

Dunblane: Never Forget

Today marks the 25th anniversary of a mass shooting that occurred in the quiet town of Dunblane, Scotland on Wednesday the 13th of March, 1996.

A man named Thomas Hamilton walked into a junior school at 9:30 that morning carrying two Browning 9mm pistols and two Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers. He also had around 740 rounds of spare ammunition.

The guns and ammunition were held by him legally, under UK gun laws that existed at the time.

In the school gymnasium, 28 very young schoolchildren were assembled for a gym class, being supervised by three adult teachers. Hamilton walked in, and began firing immediately.

Less than five minutes later, Hamilton had shot 32 children and staff, killing 17 of them. He then killed himself, by firing a gun into his mouth.

Here are the names and ages of those he killed.

Victoria Elizabeth Clydesdale (age 5)
Emma Elizabeth Crozier (age 5)
Melissa Helen Currie (age 5)
Charlotte Louise Dunn (age 5)
Kevin Allan Hasell (age 5)
Ross William Irvine (age 5)
David Charles Kerr (age 5)
Mhairi Isabel MacBeath (age 5)
Gwen Mayor (age 45) (teacher)
Brett McKinnon (age 6)
Abigail Joanne McLennan (age 5)
Emily Morton (age 5)
Sophie Jane Lockwood North (age 5)
John Petrie (age 5)
Joanna Caroline Ross (age 5)
Hannah Louise Scott (age 5)
Megan Turner (age 5)

Britain was stunned by this mass shooting. The shock extended far from Dunblane, affecting every corner of this country.

As a result, the laws on legally held firearms were changed.

In response to this public debate, the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Major introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which banned all cartridge ammunition handguns with the exception of .22 calibre single-shot weapons in England, Scotland and Wales. Following the 1997 general election, the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, banning the remaining .22 cartridge handguns as well. This left only muzzle-loading and historic handguns legal, as well as certain sporting handguns (e.g. “Long-Arms”) that fall outside the Home Office definition of a “handgun” because of their dimensions.

Never forget why that happened.

Christmas Past

I didn’t always dislike Christmas.

As a child, I would ask to go to bed early on the 24th, so I could wake up and get all my presents when it was still dark. I am an only child, and though not spoiled, I was never short of a pile of presents from my mum and dad, as well as my extended family of uncles and aunts.

By the time my parents were awake, I had already read my Christmas Annuals books, and all of my toys and other gifts would have been opened and examined. Like most kids then, I dreaded receiving ‘sensible presents’, like clothing. But I will never complain about my childhood Christmases, as I can still remember the thrill of them. And I appreciated every gift, however small.

Then it was off to my maternal grandmother’s house, for a massive family Christmas lunch at 2 pm. Everyone would be there, and trestles would have been set up for a huge table top to rest on. Then every chair in the house, mismatched or not, would be crowded around so that everyone had a seat at the table. Before that happened, all the men would set off for the lunchtime drinking session in the nearby pub, while the women and older girls took on the mammoth task of preparing all the vegetables, and laying the table.

And all of this cooked in a single small gas oven, with a three-ring hob above.

The men would return just in time to sit and eat, still merry from too much beer and whisky. Then in the afternoon, they slept off the booze, while the exhausted women washed up and cleared away, ready to serve up the ‘Christmas Tea’. Assorted shellfish, bread and butter, lots of cakes, and anything sweet.

The evening would see a huge Christmas party. Crates of beer lined up in my grandmother’s parlour, the ‘good rug’ rolled up and stored away, and my aunt Edie exercising her skill on the piano as my dad and my uncle sang popular songs of the day, as well as wartime melodies. Everyone over the age of sixteen smoked, so the blue haze in the room would sting my young eyes as I sat enjoying the seasonal show.

When it got too late for me, I would sneak into my grandmother’s bedroom, and creep under the pile of coats laid on her bed. They included ancient furs that smelled of mothballs, and huge wool overcoats that had the aroma of tobacco.

I never really remembered my dad lifting me up to take me out to the car.

But I always woke up in my own bed on Boxing Day.

No children

Someone recently mentioned in a blog comment that they didn’t know I have never had any children. That has prompted me to re-post this, from 2012.


I have been married three times, and yet I have never had children. Some who know me, might think that this is a good thing, others have encouraged me to procreate, believing that I would be a ‘good father’. As I get older, and my nature becomes more reflective, and less reactive, I often think about this. No-one will ever call me Dad. Daddy, Father, Pops, or any of the other names associated with being a male parent. When I am dead and gone, there will be nobody to continue my ‘line’, and carry my name through the ages.

I recall a conscious decision not to have children, taken even before my first marriage. We were 25, had good jobs, excellent prospects for buying houses in nice areas of London, and the opportunity to travel abroad on holidays. There were two good cars, everything we needed, and a social circle…

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Mister Wilfred: A Story For Children

This is a fictional short story, in 1475 words. It is my first attempt at a story for children. I have never had any children, so I hope it works. 🙂

Daniel and Tommy were best friends. They sat next to each other in school, and played together every day in the holidays. If one climbed a tree, the other would follow, and when Daniel learned to ride a bike, he helped Tommy when he got his. Every day when they rode home from school, they would always stop at the old house, the one with the driveway that was overgrown, and the funny windows sticking out from the roof.

“I think a vampire lives in that house. It looks dark, and the curtains are always closed”. Said Daniel. Tommy shook his head. “I think it’s not a vampire, but some other sort of monster. Maybe a demon”. Daniel thought about it for a while. “Well I say a vampire”. They rode off together, one shouting “Demon”, the other “Vampire”.

On Saturday, the boys filled their water flasks, and packed cereal bars into their pockets. It was going to be a long day, out riding in the woods, and around the lake. They tried to jump their bikes over logs, and fell about laughing when they crashed. Around the lake, they raced each other, building up great speeds along the paved path. Out of breath, Tommy panted. “That was so fast, I reckon we were doing at least one hundred miles an hour”. Daniel nodded, his face red. “Easily”.

It was still too early to go home, so they just cycled around the familiar streets, left, left, and left again. When they stopped to drink from their flasks, Daniel turned to his friend, a wicked glint in his eye. “Let’s go to the old house, and see if we can see the vampire”. Tommy grinned. “It’s a demon, but I don’t think that now is a good time. Maybe next weekend”. Daniel stood over the crossbar, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me you’re scared. Not a scaredy-cat double scaredy-cat?” Tommy set his jaw. “I’m not scared, it’s just that there’s not time before we have to go home”.

Daniel sat back on the bike, and began to pedal in circles around his friend. “Scaredy-cat, scaredy cat, I double-treble dare you”. Tommy swallowed hard. A double-treble dare was not something he could overlook. If he refused something as serious as that, it might never be forgotten. He glared at Daniel. “OK then, let’s go”. When they got to the driveway, Tommy rode straight in. He was very scared, but he knew if he stopped on the street outside, his courage would fail him. But when he was close to the dusty front door of the house, he turned to see that Daniel was still at the entrance to the driveway. Pleased with himself, Tommy shouted, “Now who’s the scaredy-cat?” His friend rode slowly to join him. “I was just adjusting the bike chain”. They both knew it was a lie, but let it go.

The house had all of its curtains closed. Two old planters stood either side of the door, both full of weeds. The gravel drive was overgrown too, and thick dirty white paint was peeling off the stonework, hanging down like old bark on a tree. Tommy turned. “What now? What shall we do now?” Daniel smiled. “Well knock of course. Get off your bike, and knock”. Tommy gulped. He didn’t want to do that, but was afraid of getting another double-treble dare. So he jumped off and ran to the door, lifting the heavy black iron knocker, and letting it down hard. The sound echoed through the inside of the house, and sounded like a thunderclap.

Nothing happened, and the boys smiled nervously at each other. No vampire answered, and no demon appeared. Daniel feigned bravery. “Shall we look round the back do you think, Tommy?” Just as Tommy was about to reply, the door opened with a creak of the rusty hinges. Without waiting to see who was there, the boys kicked up their pedals and started to ride away fast. But Tommy crashed into Daniel, and they both fell onto the gravel. Tommy looked up to see an old man standing over them. His shiny head was fringed with untidy white hair, and his chin and neck were combined into one, wobbling like a turkey. Daniel stepped over his bike, intending to run away and leave it there, but the old man smiled, and shook his head. “Have you boys hurt yourselves?” His voice was harsh, like the gravel Tommy was still lying on, but his tone was kind.

“Are you a demon?” Tommy asked. Daniel put his hands on his hips, and shouted. “I think you must be a vampire”. The old man lifted his head back, his neck wobbling even faster as he chuckled. “I am neither of those, boys. I am just Wilfred”. Tommy stood up, realising there was nothing to be afraid of. Closer now to Wilfred, he could see that the man’s eyes were milky and wet, his back bent, and his nose and ears very large. “You have got big ears like a demon” Tommy stated boldly. Wilfred looked down at the grazes on the legs of the boys, which were studded with gravel. “Come on in, and I will let you clean up your legs. I might even have some orange squash for you. No demons or vampires, that’s a promise”.

Daniel walked forward, refusing to show any fear. So Tommy followed him inside. The wide hallway led into a huge room. It had a bed, a table and chairs, and two armchairs, all crowded together in one corner. Pictures hung from the walls, covering every inch, and more were stored in photo frames, placed on every ledge, and any flat surface. Tommy looked over at Daniel and wrinkled his nose. There was a funny smell inside, like nothing he had ever smelled before. Wilfred pointed at the armchairs. “Sit yourselves down boys, I will just be a minute”. They sat down, and looked around. On a small table next to Tommy was a row of medals attached to coloured ribbons, and a faded old photo in a wooden frame. It was of a young man in uniform, probably an army uniform. A larger frame sat on the side table next to Daniel. It contained a wedding photo, also black and white. A smiling young girl, and the same man from the uniform photo.

Wilfred came back into the room, walking slowly and carefully. He was holding a tin bowl, and had a towel draped over his arm. He placed the bowl on the floor between the boys, and had some trouble straightening up. Reaching into the pocket of his crumpled jacket, he produced a dusty-looking bottle, handing it to Tommy. “That’s disinfectant. Wash your legs, then rub some on those grazes. It will sting a bit, mind”. As the boys did his bidding, he sat himself on a hard chair, resting his arm on the table. “So what did you boys want, anyway?” They looked at each other, then Tommy spoke. “We were looking to see if a vampire or demon lived here. It looks like a house where one of those would live”. Daniel pointed at the wedding photo. “Is this you, Mister Wilfred?”

“Yes that’s me, a very long time ago. I went off to the war soon after, and my wife died having our baby. The baby died too. Since then, I have been alone here”. He stared down at his unlaced shoes, lost in his memories for a moment. Then his head came up, and he was smiling. “So, no demons, and not a vampire in sight. Just a tired old man, in a house that’s too much to cope with. How about that squash now?” The boys nodded, and he shuffled off to get their drinks. As they gulped down the cold orange and water, Wilfred told them something about his life. He had won medals, but returned sad and unhappy. He had worked as long as he could, but now spent his days alone. The woman who came into clean and get his shopping was unreliable, and most days he never saw or spoke to anybody.

Tommy and Daniel exchanged a glance, and Tommy nodded.

As they set off on their bikes on the first day of the Easter holidays, Daniel’s Mum called from the front step. “Where are you two off to today?” Tommy turned and smiled. “We are going to see a demon”. The lady smiled, and shook her head. As they rode away, she heard her son shout. “Not a demon, a vampire!

And the boys laughed.

Let me know if you think this works a a story for children. Any criticism will be welcome, as this was just an experiment. Thanks, Pete. 🙂

A Game Of Two Halves

As part of my community volunteering, I have just spent the last two weeks training Cycling Proficiency courses, at the local school. The first group was ten in number, the second thirteen. I should have given credit to the second, unlucky number.

It involves four sessions, amounting to just under 25 hours a week, including preparation time. Like me, they are all volunteers, with no compulsion to attend; each group is aged 10-11 years, soon to leave for secondary school, after the summer break. These were my first full groups with me in charge, with the assistance of parents, monitoring safety. They have to turn left, turn right, and show a reasonable knowledge of road signs, safety, and the curriculum. Bikes have to be roadworthy, helmets worn, and some element of discipline adhered to.

My part in this process involves a lot of shouting. I have to ask the children to keep quiet, and fend of lots of irrelevant questions. They are obsessed with who passes, and who fails. I have to assure them that all participate, and that is the most important aspect of the course. They are not fooled. They understand the concept of pass and fail, and are completely aware of the reality. I check their consent forms, and make sure that they all have serviceable bikes, safety helmets, and a basic understanding of what is expected. A practice session in the playground initiates me into who needs work, and who has already got the idea.

Once on the road, in real traffic conditions, I am soon exhausted. I spend my time running backwards and sideways, making sure that no child kills themselves, or endangers or confuses other road users. I go over the requirements time and again, eventually watching each candidate perform the same element time after time, until am happy. I quickly tire of shouting, and of trying to get them to be quiet, and behave. After all, they are very young, and excited as well as being somewhat nervous. We repeat the parts of the test over and over, until I am satisfied that they all understand what is expected of them. I fend off questions, some relevant, most pointless, and plug away about what is required, over what is usually done.

Two weeks later, and their assessments have arrived. The first session goes well this morning. There is time to go over old ground, and the man from the Council is firm but fair. Out of ten candidates, seven pass well, and the three that fail have made glaring safety errors, which they accept with good grace. The afternoon session arrives, with the larger group of thirteen. I had expected that three, maybe four, might not reach the required standard. But it all goes wrong from the start. In a light drizzle, most of them make errors immediately. The assessor has changed from this morning, to a much more serious female examiner. She is taking no prisoners, and is adamant that even the tiniest protocols must be adhered to. I am rebuked for allowing talking, and sitting on the grass, and she berates the group for their lack of attention, and constant chattering.

By the time it is over,and we return to the school for the results, it is obvious that is has gone badly. I have apparently missed many salient points of instruction, and they have all decided to more or less throw the match. Few of the group pass, and I become frustrated, leaving the process as soon as I can, as I have other plans for late afternoon anyway. The resolution is that a second chance will be offered to those that did not make the grade. Time and place to be arranged.

It is Cycling Proficiency. Not much, in the grand scheme of things. Small children, trying their best to get a mediocre certificate. Are you with me? Is it any wonder that I am a bit miffed this evening?

Third time lucky: Part Four

The non-marriage.

That night out with my friend was to see the start of something that would consume the next two and a bit years of my life. I should have stayed in.

Standing at the crowded bar, I was chatting to colleagues, and having quite a good time, despite the noise. I was not drinking much at all, as I had to drive back to Harrow that night, and turn up for an early shift the next day. I felt a tug at my sleeve, and looked down at a table nearby. There were three nurses seated there. I knew them all very well, and was on first names terms with each of them, as we had all been around the same casualty departments for many years. One of them was pointing at her mouth, indicating that she wanted me to give her a cigarette. I was in a playful mood. ‘Do you want a kiss?’ I asked, speaking loudly above the hubbub in the bar. She shook her head, and made a smoking motion, also pointing at the chest pocket of my shirt, where she could see the outline of the cigarette packet. ‘Is it my heart you want?’ I continued, ‘Are you trying to tell me that you love me?’ I gave up the teasing and sat down, proffering the cigarettes. ‘I will expect a kiss though’, I persevered, and she reluctantly planted a peck on my cheek.

She had recently returned to the hospital where we took most of our patients. After starting there years earlier, she had moved around, left to get married, and had recently had a child. She was now back in a senior role, managing nurses, and not always in the same department. Armed with with a University Degree, a Masters Degree, and a qualification in teaching as well; her sights were firmly set on a serious career. We had been friendly enough a few years earlier, but no more than that. I had never really talked to her outside of work before, and saw a very different side to her immediately. At work, she was confident, assured, almost brash. That evening, despite the social atmosphere, she seemed vulnerable, and unhappy. Very soon, we were talking just to each other, and ignoring the crowd around us, and those we had arrived with. She was 12 years younger than me, but that did not raise any issues, as we chatted easily, relaxed in each others company. I told her what had happened to me since we had last met, keeping it brief, and trying to add irony and humour. I even said that I envied her the marriage to her teenage sweetheart, and the birth of the son she had hoped for. It wasn’t long before she was telling me that her life was far from enviable, and that she was desperately unhappy.

This wasn’t how I had planned to spend the evening, and I looked for a exit strategy. However, something was niggling me about her, and I couldn’t leave. In fact, I felt compelled to stay, to hear her story, and to spend more time in her company. Some time later, I brazenly said that I would have done it all different, if it had been me that she had married. I told her that I thought her to be too intelligent for the man she had chosen, and that she had drive and ambition that he could never hope to match. She was from Ireland, and that background was stopping her from moving on; the Catholic guilt would not allow her to consider divorce, and her family would not countenance it either. I reminded her that it was 1998, not 1898, and that she could do as she wished, and to hell with the consequences. When it was time for the bar to close, she left with her friends, and thanked me for the chat.

I drove home, and found myself unable to stop thinking about her. As I got into bed that night, I had the uneasy feeling that I might well be in love with this woman. I discounted this idea as complete nonsense. I did have trouble sleeping though.

The next day at work, I was as busy as ever. Late that morning, I turned up at the hospital, and saw a colleague waving to me, from across the parking area. He had a message for me, written on a piece of paper. It was a phone number, and I was to call it when I got into this particular hospital. He had been sworn to secrecy, and entrusted with this delicate task. I never really knew why he was chosen, though I suspect it was because he was from an Irish Catholic family. I rang the number, and it was her of course. Could I meet in the coffee bar, main entrance, in ten minutes? I asked my crew mate to cover me for a while; if anyone asked, he was to say that I was ringing my elderly mother. I went to the meeting, for some reason, expecting to be reprimanded for cheekiness, or talking out of turn. I was convinced that I had gone too far, and that the friendship would be dissolved forthwith. I could not have been more wrong. Back in the work environment, she was in possession of her confidence once more. She asked me not to interrupt, as she had something to say to me. Then, to my complete surprise, she told me that she had been thinking about me all night, and had been unable to sleep. She had been imagining  a life with me, something that would normally never have occurred to her. She asked me if I was serious about her too, and if I had meant any of the things I had said the previous evening. I told her the truth; that I had also been thinking about her, and amazingly, considered myself to be in love with her, although I could offer no sensible explanation as to why this had happened. She wasn’t outraged, or even surprised. She simply said, ‘What are we going to do about it then?’

If I had a Time Machine, I would go back to a few minutes before that moment, and then not go for that coffee. I had no idea what we had set in motion, and no concept of the heartache ahead of me.

She was still living with her husband, in the marital home. Despite her telling him that she wanted to split up, he was hanging on, hoping it would all go away, and understandably reluctant to leave his son as well. The one good thing about this, was that she had a baby sitter, which meant we could meet in the evenings. She would not throw it in his face, but pretend to be out with friends or colleagues, a frequent occurrence anyway. Thus began a series of encounters, not always sexual, but invariably intense. Sometimes she would come to mine, having to leave early, other times we might stop at a hotel. We even managed a short break away one weekend, miraculous considering the circumstances. She wasn’t comfortable with the situation though, and eventually succeeded in getting her husband to move out. He rented a flat in the same area, and they came to an informal arrangement about childcare. We were now suspected to be an ‘item’ at work, and she feared the day when she would have to tell all, both to him, and her family.

This was also my first experience of having a partner who had a child. He was also a very small child; not yet at school, but attending a nursery when she was at work. I had no game plan for children, and simply treated him as an adult, expecting him to respond accordingly. Naturally, that was destined to fail. Before too long, I had adjusted to hours of mindless, repetitive, kids’ TV, along with the same games, played over and over, without a trace of boredom, at least on his part. I occasionally collected him from nursery, and took him to play at the park, if she had to work later than expected. The other parents around the sand pit just presumed that I was his grandfather; after all, I was old enough to be. He readily accepted me stopping over in the house, and being around a lot. Another lesson learned; kids are incredibly adaptable. I found myself choosing restaurants with a kids menu, where previously I had chosen them because there were no kids inside. I was getting used to the little terror, and I was beginning to grow very fond of him.

She faced the demon of breaking the news to all and sundry. A weekend trip to Ireland, followed by a ‘showdown’ meeting with her husband, on her return to London. The reactions were very strange, and both unexpected. Her parents only concern, was that I had been divorced before. In their eyes, that meant that I was still married, to my first wife. Apparently, my second marriage had not counted at all, as it was not in a church. This was my first experience of this medieval Irish viewpoint, held by many I encountered then, and since. They agreed to meet me though, and said that I could be invited over to the house, the next time they visited London. As for her husband, he was fuming. Not because she had a new boyfriend. He had already found solace in the arms of a young East European girl, who later had his child. No, his anger was directed at my age, and the fact that I was spending time with his son. He did not want some ‘old fella’ treating his son as family, and that was that. Although she put a brave face on it all, she was consumed with guilt. Thirty-four years of Catholicism had left its mark, despite her move to England, and progressive attitudes in other areas.

I finally met her parents, and her sister, a couple of months later. I dressed very smartly, kept my opinions to myself, and behaved impeccably. We met at the house, and went out to a restaurant, as a large group. Later, I made my farewells, and was naturally interested to hear what they had said to her. I got the news a couple of days later, after they had returned home. They thought that I was a ‘nice man’, but far too old for her. I would never be welcome overnight at their home, as I was still married, as they saw it. If I ever wanted to visit her in Ireland, I would be expected to stay in a hotel. Should we ever decide to get married at some time in the future, they would never recognise the legality of it, as she had married in church, in Ireland. I found all of this too farcical to take seriously. We had only been together a few months, and it was like coming up before the Spanish Inquisition. I was sure that they would come around, and that my loving girlfriend would not let these archaic attitudes spoil things in the long term.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nurture 1. Nature 0.

With Christmas coming up, we decided to go very public, and appear at the hospital Christmas Party, as a couple. To enhance the mood of celebration, we even booked a night at the outrageously expensive Tower Hotel, on the river in London. The party was a smart affair, at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and we arrived arm in arm, telling the world. They already knew though. Our big reveal was a damp squib, and nobody could understand why we were making such a fuss about it. The only real downside, was that the casualty staff I saw every day, were now much more careful about what they said and did. After all, I was going out with their boss.

I then had an opportunity to move. One of my friends at work had married a nurse from Belfast, and he was joining the Ambulance Service in Northern Ireland, and obviously going to live there. He wanted to keep his flat in Hertfordshire, as it was rented very cheaply from a Housing Trust, and he might later have the option to buy it. He asked me to take it over, pretend to be staying with him, if anyone asked, and just pay the bills. It was good news for me, as the rent was less than half what I was paying in Harrow. In addition, the flat was well-decorated, warm and bright, and much bigger. I had also applied to rent a property from the Crown Estate, as they had subsidised rent flats available, for government workers. The waiting list was notoriously long though, so I took the offer of the Hertfordshire flat. I moved in during the spring, and looked forward to a better way of life, and being able to enjoy the large garden. Although it was a lot further out than Harrow, it took no longer to commute to work, as the route was less congested.

That was a good summer all round. My girlfriend had finally agreed an amicable set-up with her husband, and I was becoming tolerated, if not accepted, by anyone who mattered. We tentatively began to talk about the chance that we might buy a house together. She could sell the family home, and with both jobs, we could afford a very nice house in the Thames Valley area, this side of Oxford. There was nothing concrete, but favoured areas were discussed. That would all be a long way off though. For now, we enjoyed life, and had nice times together, as well as with her son. One thing worried me. She was visiting Ireland a lot more. As well as missing her family, and taking her son to see his relatives, she was also working out there, attending Nursing conferences and seminars, and recruiting for the hospital in London. On her return, she stopped over less and less, and although we both seemed to be as much in love as ever, no future was ever discussed, or even hinted at. As the end of that year approached, we were static. I was still in another bloke’s rented flat, and planning to spend Christmas pretty much alone, as she was off to Ireland for two weeks. When she returned in January, she came round to see me, and we had a massive argument. A lot was said, by both of us, and she left without stopping the night, with the pair of us raging, and unrepentant.

The following week, I received a letter to say that I had come up on the waiting list for a Crown flat, and would be interviewed the week after. The situation I was living in was ideal for this, as I could truthfully say that I was staying with a friend, and had nowhere to live otherwise. At the same time, my girlfriend’s house sale went through, and she moved with her son, into a hospital flat, a stone’s throw from her work. She had put all her personal stuff into storage, until deciding what she was going to do. I visited this flat sometimes, and they occasionally came to Hertfordshire. However, every part of me knew that she was ‘off the boil’, and things were not right. My flat came through, with a moving date of 1st March. It was going to be in Camden, and priced almost the same as the current rent I was paying. It was ideal, and I was really pleased. I arranged the move, and she arranged a trip to Ireland, an early Easter visit. Very early.

When I saw her again, it was almost April. We had chatted on the phone, but she had been evasive, non-committal. I could tell immediately that the news was not good, as her face was flushed. However, she suggested a trip to Brighton the next weekend, which threw me completely. As a fan of the seaside, I readily accepted. Her son was going to stay with her best friend, all was arranged. I should have realised, the condemned man always gets some treats before sentence is carried out. Maybe I was blinkered, or perhaps I just didn’t see it. I hardly remember now. The first night in Brighton, we went to a very good Chinese restaurant on the front. I was babbling on, all good-humour, seaside excited, and pleased to be with her again. She said that I should listen for a while, as she had to talk. I ordered a second bottle of wine. I had a feeling that I was going to need it.

What she told me was much worse than I had anticipated. I had thought that she was going to just break up with me, and that was that. But it was more painful than that. She was going to buy a house in Ireland, and had accepted a job there. It would be good for her son, as he would go to better schools, and get a more disciplined upbringing. Although her husband would stay in England, with his girlfriend, and new baby, her son could come over for visits, and it would all work out for the best. He could have more space, go horse-riding, and be brought up near his family. Her parents were getting old, and it would enable them to see their grandson, without travelling; they were delighted at the news. I would not be able to visit her at this new house, if her son was there at the same time. This had been agreed with her family, and her husband. She would still come to London at least three times a year, and would be happy to see me on those occasions, and to stay at my flat. She did not want to end our relationship.

It took a while for that to sink in. She did not want to end it, but was going to live in another country, and only see me three times a year. Had I got it right? She said that was about the size of it. I found myself getting upset, as it suddenly dawned on me that I would never see her son again. The small boy that I had befriended, and loved in my own way, for almost three years, was gone to me now. I looked across the table at someone I no longer knew. I felt the affection drain out of me, replaced by tiredness, and the familiar weight of failure, like a heavy overcoat, wet from the rain.

We went home the next day. I did not accept her deal, but wished her well, and told her that we would never meet again. We did speak a few times on the phone after that, but we never did meet again.

It was the year 2000, and I had a fresh start, in a flat in Camden, with all my life ahead of me. Well, not quite. I was 48 years old, and alone once more.

No children

I have been married three times, and yet I have never had children. Some who know me might think that this is a good thing, others have encouraged me to procreate, believing that I would be a ‘good father’. As I get older, and my nature becomes more reflective, and less reactive, I often think about this. No-one will ever call me Dad. Daddy, Father, Pops, or any of the other names associated with being a male parent. When I am dead and gone, there will be nobody to continue my ‘line’, and carry my name through the ages.

I recall a conscious decision not to have children, taken even before my first marriage. We were 25, had good jobs, excellent prospects for buying houses in nice areas of London, and the opportunity to travel abroad on holidays. There were two good cars, everything we needed, and a social circle of friends, all in similar situations. Children would spoil all of this, we believed, and would not fit in this world we had created for ourselves. They would come later, we told each other.

Of course, they did not come. We got used to the life, and could not imagine small intruders in it. What did come was eventual stagnation, growing apart, and ultimately, separation followed by divorce. By the time I got married for the second time, I was 37, and my new wife 35. We thought that we were too old to even consider starting a family. Besides, we had both been through divorces, followed by periods of loneliness, and we wanted to enjoy our time together uninterrupted by the burden of bringing up demanding children. Instead, we bought a bigger house in London’s Docklands, enjoyed some nice holidays, and ate out a fair bit. What followed, with weary inevitability, was stagnation followed by separation, and eventual divorce.

By then, I was 45. Surely, I had reached the point where children could not ever be considered to be a part of my life? I met someone, a separated mother, who had a small boy, and soon discovered that there was potential joy in the company of a child.  Taking the toddler to play in the park, reading, and enjoying toys together, I learned that there was indeed another side of me. I also learned that you are never too old to learn new things about yourself. Sadly, this was also not to be. Age differences and family problems, dictated that this relationship would go no further also. When we broke up, I realised, to my complete surprise, that I was going to miss this three-year old as much as I would miss his mother. I experienced the loss of a child that I had never had. It was one of the strangest feelings I have ever known.

Some time later, I met my present wife, Julie. I sincerely hope and believe that she will be my last wife, and somehow I think that this will be the case. By the time we married, I was 57, and she was 48. We were both happy with the fact that we would never have children together, more so as she already had four from her first marriage. I had known her children for 9 years, so had seen them grow from early teens, into their 20’s. I get on well with them, and they all tend to deal with me more as an older friend, than as a parent. They still see their Dad, and of course, Julie, so they have their parents and do not need an extra one. As Step-children go, I am sure they are fine. As Step-Dads go, I like to think that I am too.

Nonetheless, nobody will ever call me Dad. No grandchildren will ever call me Grand-Dad, and sometimes I feel that a huge part of me was never explored; like the vast areas of the brain that are never used, it makes you wonder what they are there for.