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.

An Alphabet Of My Life: H


Some of my earliest memories are of going on our annual summer holidays when I was a child. They were always in Britain, and usually by the coast, or an easy drive to the sea. I was constantly car sick as a child, and with no motoways then, the trips from London to Cornwall took so long, we stayed overnight on the way. Cornwall was favoured, as we could stay with one of my dad’s relatives in Penryn, a man I called ‘Uncle John’ who was in fact my dad’s oldest cousin.

It always seemed to be sunny and hot in those days, and our two week holiday consisted of sand castles, ice cream, and huge beaches like Praa Sands, and Newquay. Evening meals would often be fish and chips, or the famous Cornish Pasties.

Then when I was 11 years old, I went on a school trip to France. That gave me the bug for foreign travel, and I eagerly went back on more organised trips to places further south in France, like Biarritz and Royan. Those trips were always by sea ferry followed by train-travel, and I loved how everything seemed so different to England, and more exotic.

By the time I was 14, I considered myself far too old to go on holiday with my parents, and they travelled without me. But as my mum had no desire to leave the UK, they continued to holiday there. As a result, I spent a considerable time not going anywhere on holday, and just stayed at home.

When I met my first wife, she was incredibly well-travelled and had already been to every continent except Antarctica. She was eager to introduce me to places she knew, as well as those she had not yet visited. I went on an aeroplane for the first time at the age of 23, to travel to Tunisia. Once we were married two years later, we could afford to take two holidays every year, and my travels really began. We went to Greece, Crete, Turkey, the Soviet Union, (Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev) France, (three times) East Germany, West Germany, (Berlin) and Kenya.

After we split up, I lived with a much younger woman for a time. She was also interested in travel, and we took a long trip to Soviet Central Asia and a part of Mongolia, including Tashkent, Samarkand, Dushanbe, Ulan Bhator, and Alma-Ata. With the holiday starting and ending in Leningrad, I got to go back there too. We also visited the WW1 battlefields in Belgium and France, staying in Ypres and Arras.

Then I married again, and with my second wife I visited Egypt, taking a Nile cruise. We also had a long weekend in Amsterdam, and a week in Paris. Other holidays were closer, including the Cotswolds and Pembrokeshire. We also went back to Cornwall, but had a rain-soaked holiday in Looe. One highlight was a trip to Northumberland, taking in Seahouses, Alnwick, Holy Island, and Bamburgh. Whitby provided another holiday location, and we explored North Yorkshire from there.

Following a second break up, I travelled with a girlfriend to Bruges, Normandy, and Edinburgh. Then I went to China alone, to visit a friend who was living and working there. He lived in central Beijing, and that offered me a memorable stay in and around the capital of China, where I finally got to see The Great Wall.

Once I met Julie, we had to consider her children. We took two of them (the younger girls) on enjoyable holidays to Somerset, Bulgaria, and Turkey when they were still at school. But we were also able to get away alone later, going to France, (Carcassonne) Morrocco, Singapore, Malaysia, Barcelona, Ghent, Rome, and Prague.

That trip to Prague in 2011 was the last time I left England. I retired the following year, moved to Norfolk, and we got Ollie. Holidays were now something to also accommodate our beloved dog, and since then we have returned every year to the Lincolnshire coast, save for one year when we rented a cottage in Kent.

I had finally lost the urge to travel abroad, and allowed my passport to expire in 2016. We didn’t want the hassle of airports any longer, and the problems of car parking and dog-kennels. We had seen some great places, and were now content to stay in England.

My holidays had finally turned full circle.

Tangible memories

Do you ever get struck by memories that you are sure you can feel, or even taste? Perhaps it’s an age thing, but I find myself experiencing these a lot more these days. The following examples are all real events or moments from my life and they keep returning to my thoughts, often stopping me in my tracks, as if I am going through them all over again.

The heat of a summer pavement through a pair of shorts. I am seven or eight years old, sitting on a kerb in London, and I feel hot. The warmed stone is like perching on the top of an oven; the heat on the back of my legs is bearable, but I feel the need to stand up.

In a class at school, perhaps twelve years old. I know the answers to the questions the teacher is asking, but I am conscious that many of my classmates do not. I hold back, not wanting to appear smart, or to be a know-all. The teacher gives up, and turns to me. “I know you know” she says, “why don’t you answer?” Some of the other kids look at me. My ruse has failed.

In a Wimpy Bar, in a South London shopping street, aged around fourteen. The smell of onions is almost overwhelming, and the rasp of the machine that froths the coffee drowns out conversation. I take a bite from the burger, and I can taste the unfamiliar meat, and the burnt sections at the ends of the onion. The food leaves my lips greasy, in a good way.

Almost eighteen, and had far too much alcohol to drink. I am staying at the house of a friend, and when I go to bed, the room spins, and I keep sitting up, afraid of what might happen. I feel that I have no control over my mind or body, and it is a very disconcerting thing indeed.

Thirty-three years old. I am in a car, asleep in the passenger seat. We are returning from Scotland, and my ex-wife is driving. Something makes her leave the motorway at speed, and the car hits the bank and overturns. I wake up, upside down, and screaming in fear. The car impacts with the road, and turns over again. The noise of the crash, followed by the scraping sound as it slides along the carriageway. Then silence.

Perhaps a year later. I am in an unfamiliar bedroom, working as part of an emergency ambulance crew. The woman on the bed is naked from the waist down, and about to give birth to a baby. Her husband, mother, sister, and another child are also in the room. I have the equipment laid out around me, and my colleague has gone to collect a midwife, as no spare vehicles are available. She starts to bear down, and the baby’s legs come out first. Everyone in the room looks at me. They are certain I will know what to do, and unconcerned about the fact that anything could go wrong. It all worked out OK, but I can still smell that bedroom.

I am alone in my flat in London, it is March 2012. I have not long returned from visiting my Mum in hospital. The flat is full of boxes, as I am moving to Norfolk soon. Sitting up late, the phone rings. It is a nurse, telling me that Mum has died. He asks me if I want to come back and see her. It is past 1.30 in the morning, so I say no. I had a mixture of feelings, hovering between heartbreak, and relief.

These and many other moments can return at will. Sometimes they are accompanied by tastes or smells, usually just the feeling I experienced at the time. They can hit you with some impact, or just make you feel uneasy. I have only noticed them since living here. Maybe I have too much time to think.