An Alphabet Of My Life: I


I have never been to India, but that country featured significantly during two very different periods in my life.

My father was a regular soldier. He had joined the British Army in 1936, and served in the Royal Artillery. When war broke out in 1939, he spent some time with coastal defence artillery. Then when Japan entered the war in late 1941, he was transferred to India. It was believed that Japan would try to invade India, and my dad’s job was to train Indian Army soldiers to use combat artillery weapons.

As we know, India was not invaded. As a result, my dad enjoyed a happy war. With the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major, he lived a comfortable life as a Warrant Officer. He travelled around many parts of India, living in style in his own bungalow with servants looking after him. He played Cricket and Football for the Army teams there, and went on many hunting trips, shooting almost every known animal in that country.

When Japan surrendered, he stayed on in India becuase he was a regular, not returning to England until after the partition of India in 1947.

Once I was old enough to understand, he would talk to me about India constantly. He taught me about the different cultures and religions, gave me his opinions on the soldierly qualities of Sikhs, Punjabis, and other ethnic groups. He spoke about the wonders of the ancient temples, the extremes of weather, and also the poverty and caste system. Using the big map in my atlas of the world, he traced his travels around India, describing each different region to me in great detail. He also spoke highly of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and how he would dearly loved to have settled down there.

To accompany his talks, he used four albums of black and white photos he had taken whilst living there. They were small prints, carefully attached into the albums using ‘photo-corners’. They showed snake charmers, temples, dancers, festivals, numerous animals, and photos of my dad and his comrades doing all kinds of things. He also gave me some of his souvenirs, including a Gurkha Kukri battle knife in its leather case. Other souvenirs were animal skins from Antelopes of some kind, and a deerskin. They served as rugs for many years.

Pride of place was for a stuffed leopard’s head, and its full skin. That trophy was in front of the fireplace. I am talking about the 1950s here, so at the time such things were admired, and there was no talk of how bad hunting was or how cruel it was.

Because of those years being enthralled by his descriptions of this exotic land, I resolved to visit India as soon as I was able.

Fast forward to late 1984. I had been married for 7 years, and I was living in Wimbledon. I was an EMT in London, and my wife was a University Lecturer in Biology and Ecological Sciences. She came home from work one day and told me she had been asked to go on a trip for the British Council For Overseas Aid, leaving in a few months. She would spend six months in India as part of a group of lecturers, taking along a large amount of used school scientific equipment, including microscopes and soil analysers. The team would tour India helping trainee teachers learn how to use the equipment in schools, later donating it to them. She added that she had accepted.

I was excited. The destinations reminded me of many places my dad had told me about. Bangalore, Lucknow, Kashmir, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur.

For the next few weeks, I spent all my free time doing research. I bought detailed maps of India, checked on necessary vaccinations, purchased travel guides for each region,and even bought a large zoom lens for my camera. I went to my Area Headquarters and asked my Ambulance Service manager for time off. I was told I could use all my paid leave, then be unpaid for the remainder. But I could come back to my job as long as I was not away for longer than six months.

My wife was aware of all of my research, and she also knew about my dad spending all those years in India, and my lifelong anticipation of visiting that country. We were quite well-off financially, and a few months unpaid leave would not affect our situation. Besides, she would be getting paid by the British Council, in addition to her University pay. It was considered to be something of an honour that she had been asked to go.

One evening as I sat surrounded by maps of India, she told me that it was not considered to be ‘appropriate’ for spouses or partners to go. Hotel accommodation and flights had already been arranged, and she would be working up to 10 hours a day. I saw no problem in that. Hotels were cheap, we could easily afford my return flight, and I would not need much money while I was there. I could get a hotel nearby, and meet up with her when she was free. Meanwhile, I could explore the area, and take photos.

When I explained that, she seemed exasperated. She said she did not want me to go, adding that it would be ’embarrassing’ for her husband to keep appearing. I was surprised that she had not mentioned that from the start, saving me the preparation and anticipation. I felt incredibly deflated, and her best answer was “I knew you wanted to go there, and didn’t know how to tell you that you couldn’t come”.

So I never made it to India, and we split up in 1985 just before she was due to leave England.

I suppose I could have gone on my own later in life, but my heart was no longer in it.

An Alphabet Of My Life: D


When I got married for the first time in 1977, I expected it to last my lifetime. Divorce never entered my mind, even though my parents had split up the year before, and had gone through the divorce process earlier that same year.

Eight years later, and my wife had other ideas. She wanted more out of life. She was unhappy with how our marriage had turned out, and wanted us to separate. Even so, divorce was not mentioned. I agreed to move out, and we remained friendly, and in regular contact. There was occasional talk of us getting back together, selling both houses, and moving somewhere out of London for a fresh start.

Then she met someone. A man who had an executive job at the BBC, earned a huge salary, and seemed to have similar views on life to her. He was also interested in having children, something she had decided she wanted. So she phoned me at work, and told me all this out of the blue, adding that she wanted a divorce. It is not in my nature to pursue a lost cause, so I gave her my blessing to go ahead with it.

She did it all. There was no property to divide, no children to consider, and neither of us sought to stake a claim on either property, savings, or future pensions. The justification for the divorce was given on the Court papers as ‘Irretrievable Breakdown Of The Marriage’. I didn’t have to go to Court, I didn’t even need to employ a solicitor. All I had to do was sign the paperwork when it arrived, and send it back in a pre-paid envelope.

Nontheless, it was a sad day when I slipped that envelope into the postbox.

In 1989, I got married again. Once more, I had no intention that this might lead to a divorce later. We had both been married before, there was only a two-year difference in our ages, and we felt we had already overcome any mistakes or concerns that had broken down our first marriages. Eight years later, and it was me that was unhappy and dissapointed. It was my turn to ask for a separation, and to move out of the house. (It was soon sold, so we both moved out.) Again, we remained friendly. We occasionally went out for dinner together, and even attended events like weddings as a couple, even though everyone knew we had separated.

It carried on like that for a few years, until she met someone at an art exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London. They got on well, as he had also been divorced, but he had been offered a job outside London, close to the Welsh borders. This would mean them either splitting up, or buying a house there together. To give her some security, he suggested they get married. She phoned and told me the story, and asked if I would agree to a divorce. Naturally, I did. By that time the law had changed, and after one year apart, it was easy to get a mutually-agreed divorce. She was able to do this very cheaply, so it cost me nothing.

I went to see them before they left, and we parted as friends. We are still in contact to this day.

As regular readers will know, I got married again.

Fortunately, I am still married.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Post – #Marriage – I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now! by Pete Johnson (Beetley Pete)

On the 23rd, I was delighted to be featured on the blog of the lovely Sally Cronin. A nostalgic piece from me, and a warning to others not to make the same mistakes.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

I am sure like me, there have been times when you have wondered what difference might have been made to your life, if your younger self had been gifted with the experience and knowledge you have accumulated over the years.

I invited several friends from the writing community to share their thoughts on this subject which I am sure you will enjoy as much as I did.

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now – Marriage by Pete Johnson

When I was a teenager in London, I took it for granted that I would get married. After a long relationship that started in my early teens didn’t work out, I started seeing someone else when I was 22, and that developed well. We got married in 1977, when we were both 25. We had good jobs, sufficient disposable income, and bought a nice flat in a desirable area…

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10 Years Today!

I cannot let the day pass without mentioning that today is the tenth anniversary of our marriage.

Julie and I were married on this day in 2009, though we have been together since 2000.

Unfortunately, she is away on holiday with her daughter and grandson, so we celebrated early, with a meal out last Sunday.

At least we were able to speak on the phone this morning, and wish each other a happy anniversary.

This is a milestone indeed, as both of my previous marriages only lasted eight years!

So, Julie is now officially the longest ever Mrs Pete Johnson. 🙂

Guest Post: Cheryl Oreglia

I am pleased to publish this guest post from Cheryl. She is an American blogger, and her own site can be found via this link.


We were married less then a year when Larry walked through the door of our small apartment in Beaverton, Oregon and announced, “we’re moving back to California, I quit my job, start packing.”

“Shouldn’t we discuss this first?”

Oh the hell with it, I wasn’t sure what I thought about the pool freezing over in our complex, or the nonstop rain, and I was sort of homesick. I started folding, wrapping, and stacking our life in cardboard boxes. That’s when all our belongings fit in a U-Haul trailer and our need for stability was minimal.

“So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s going to be really hard; we’re gonna have to work at this everyday, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, everyday.” Nicholas Sparks

It was the second anniversary when we realized we cared for each other even more than last year.

Three years in we gave birth to our first child, a mini me, and she became our world. Larry presented me with a beautiful Lladro figurine, something he would repeat with the births of our successive children, and those figurines still live on the mantle in the family room, sparking joy in my heart whenever I pass. #MarieKondoThing

I think it was the fourth year, right after we moved to Kansas, when our beloved child split her chin open on the edge of the bathtub. We were in the recovery room when I realized I was wearing a nightshirt covered in blood, no bra, and bright pink sweats, but more importantly we learned how unified we could be when our child was in distress. We cried, we held her, we spoke words of comfort, and we no longer cared if she slept with us for the rest of our lives.

Six months later we welcomed our second beautiful baby into the world, there’s two things we know for sure, they were sent here from heaven, and they’re Daddy’s little girls (Bob Carlisle adapted). We decided being a parent was so damn hard, except for the butterfly kisses, morning snuggles, and the patter of little feet on the hardwood floor. My prayers were completely redirected, all I could feel was enormous gratitude, and sheer exhaustion, but God had my back.

Year seven we moved back to California, I was eight months pregnant, and four weeks after moving half way across the country we welcomed our third child into the family, our hearts were on fire, and although outnumbered we learned to multitask. At this point in time I’d been pregnant or nursing for six years, hadn’t slept though the night in ages, and really had no business driving.

We didn’t get the seven year itch, we got promoted, Larry moved from medical into high tech, and suddenly our lives were immeasurably easier. We installed a car phone, put up a play set in the backyard, and discovered fine wine. Our house and hearts may have been in full bloom but every now and then the weeds took over. You know what I mean? Bad seeds get mixed in with the good. It happens.

Larry doused that shit with roundup.

I think it was the ten year mark when I realized I could not change the dude I married, it was the same month all of our children came down with the chicken pox, and suddenly his travel schedule was unusually packed?

Hallmark does not make a card for this type of occasion.

I called my Mom, “S.O.S., I’m sinking, send in the fu*king coast guard.” She was on the next flight and walked in the door just as I was throwing a shoe at the traveler for no reason. She caught it midair. Damn handy woman.

It’s not a moment I’m proud of but I tell you this because I’ve learned it’s okay to ask for help. As most of you know I would rather pull my fingernails out one at a time then admit defeat, but as if a card game, you have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run screaming to your Mama.

We took our first vacation without the children during our tenth year. Mom flew in to guard the nest. I wrote out a complex daily schedule, loaded the refrigerator with food, and left the insurance cards on the counter. When we returned everyone was alive. A taxi was waiting in the driveway?

She couldn’t get on that return flight faster.

It was year twelve, let’s call these the difficult years, when I realized I could survive just about anything but not on my own. Our fourth child arrived, traveler dropped me off on the curb, with the child still in the car seat, a sign on the front lawn welcomed the baby home, and he headed to the airport for a week long business trip. I was trippin.

But Mom was there waiting for me. She had the older children dressed in the matching sibling shirts and the kitchen floor was recently swept. For some reason this made me inordinately happy and I sat down in the living room and cried.

That night without a single word Mom heard my silent anguish, walked into the room, took the cranky baby out of my arms, and put me to bed. Then she crawled in next to me, rubbed my back, while she rocked the baby in her other arm, put us both to sleep. I would one day do this for my own child, but this is how I learned, her hand on my back, her heart holding my son.

One evening around year thirteen traveler called from a swanky bar in downtown Boston, he said, “what did you do today?” I thought he was kidding, we have four kids, a dog, a cat, and high maintenance fish. They all need to be fed, clothed, taxied all over town (except the fish) and he wants to know WHAT I DID TODAY? Yeah, I hung up on him.

No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — till next time. Madeleine L’Engle

I decided it was time to go on strike (I may have overreacted a tad) but there is nothing worse then a women on a diet, premenstrual, and perimenopausal. The combination can be lethal, especially for husbands, poor guy had no idea what sort of storm was brewing at home.

I did absolutely nothing for four days and could hardly wait for him to walk in the door. When he did I was ready, a beer in hand (I never drink beer but it was the perfect prop), Magnum P.I. on the television, children running amuck, with no surface in the house visible. In fact we had to create a path in order to get around.

He stepped carefully over all the rubble, leaned in to give me a kiss, and without a word rolled up his sleeves, and started cleaning. Thirty minutes in I asked for a cold beer and if he could hold off vacuuming until the commercial break? He was ever so accommodating.

I married a good one.

By year thirteen we expanded the house. It was as if I could breath again. This was a good year.

During years fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen, we had the time of our lives, sporting events dominated the calendar, our neighbor Brighton was officially adopted, the teens took over the house, messaging became a thing, the front yard looked like a used car lot, we needed more chaperons, because preaching abstinence seemed futile, and as everyone was learning to master their own lives, I was learning to let go. It hurt like hell.

We survived, we thrived, we maybe even matured.

One evening I glanced around the patio, gathered at our ample table were some of our closest friends, sipping wine, laughing, singing along with the Eagles. It was a cool evening after a warm summer day, when Larry was turning on the patio heater, I remember catching his eye and smiling, because we both knew the rarity of true friends. It was these who picked us up when life won the round and they did it with such grace we hardly noticed.

“Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?” Betty Friedan

I applied to graduate school somewhere around year twenty, got accepted, even graduated, but more importantly I developed my critical thinking skills, and landed a day job with a paycheck. When we looked at each other from across the almost empty nest and we deemed it as good. I think we started dating again. (Update: my sister just called, she wanted to know who the hell I was dating? Hello, each other!)

Our first trip to Europe with those same good friends marked our twenty-fifth year and we got bit hard by the travel bug. Italy rocks, I decided I didn’t want to change him after all, and we both became frequent flyers.

Year twenty-seven we lost my Dad to an array of health issues, I had to learn to live with a gaping hole in my heart, I felt rudderless, so I just gave into the waves of misery, and we learned how grief ebbs and flows, but more importantly how to value the rapidly dwindling years.

Before long daughter number one married the love of her life, we gained an incredible new son, the morning of their wedding Larry handed me a gift with my coffee. I said, “what in the world is this?” It was a Lladro, something to mark this momentous occasion, just like he did after the births of all our children. I sat in bed with this little boy figurine in my hand and cried. He so gets me.

By year twenty-eight we bought a lake house in a desperate attempt to bring the family into one zip code. A place we could call our own, a way to stack up memories as if logs on a fire, and hope those embers would keep us warm in the winter of our life.

By the way, we’re toasty.

Was it year thirty when one of our children decided to move to Australia? He took a piece of my heart with him, I had to stop myself from chasing his taxi down the street, I hate good-byes. There, I said it.

I’m still waiting for him to come home, but slowly learning home is where he makes it, I’ve had to let go of the idea that home was exclusively my place. Tissue please.

Less than a year later we welcomed our first grandchild into the family and our hearts grew three sizes that day. She lit up our world as if the fourth of July. We looked at each other with new eyes, we saw how love inflates, stretches, and repurposes everything we know to be rare and true. “To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous,” says Elizabeth Gilbert.

Somewhere during year thirty-two twin grand daughters came into our lives. It is not possible to understand how they doubled our joy, and just when I was learning to tell them apart, my beloved Mother went off to be with Dad. Did I mention I hate good-byes?

Larry was my rock, but the pain of severing the umbilical cord from mother to child is indescribable, Nancy (my beloved sister) and I clung to each other as if our lives depended on it. As it turns out it did.

And we clung even tighter when her husband lost his battle with diabetes, left us in the middle of the night, and suddenly my sister became a widow. There are no words at a time like this, just presence, tears, and love. The family flooded in as did friends and neighbors, a beautiful tribute to the way David loved the people in his life.

He would have said, “It’s all good,” because early on he learned to trust in something much bigger than himself.

Life, ever a mixture of devastation and delight, we set off in celebration of daughter number two who said yes to the ring last February, and Tim finally joined the family slack channel. We looked at each other on our second flight out to Boston in one week, my foot still in a boot, and deemed us ever so lucky, my soon to be son-in-law pulled everything off without a hitch. Love is in the air…

I think it was year thirty-six when we bought each other cards and forgot to give them to each other. It’s the thought that counts.

“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.” Dave Meurer

The things we have collected over the years no longer fit in a U-haul but the things that matter do not take space, money, or go on strike. I’ve learned that real love forces you to weed out the rubbish, and embrace the good in each other, because as we know love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres as if figurines on a mantel, sparking joy in the lives of our beloved. (adapted 1 Corinthians)

I still love watching him walk into a room, I love when he pulls me into a warm embrace, and when he kisses me slow. As Kahlil Gibran notes to love is to melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully.”

I end with these wise words from Shannon Alder who says, “When you find a guy who calls you beautiful instead of hot, who calls you back when you hang up on him, who will stand in front of you when other’s cast stones, or will stay awake just to watch you sleep, who wants to show you off to the world when you are in sweats, who will hold your hand when your sick, who thinks your pretty without makeup, the one who turns to his friends and say, ‘that’s her’, the one that would bear your rejection because losing you means losing his will to live, who kisses you when you screw up, watches the stars and names one for you and will hold and rock that baby for hours so you can sleep… marry him all over again.”

This is what happens after you say, “I do.”

I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, bring your wedding album.

Let’s engage in the comments! What has life taught you?

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” Khalil Gibran
I love his good smell and his body that fits with mine as if they were made in the same body-shop to do just that. Sylvia Plath
“After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.” Mark Twain

Please check out Cheryl’s site, and bring her into this community.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Weddings, and Marriage.

I suppose because Spring is soon upon us, and the wedding season will begin in earnest, I woke up thinking about the subject of weddings today.

I have considerable experience of the process of course, having been married three times, with two divorces behind me. But those failures also imply I may not know what I am talking about.

I get that.

So the following is just a personal opinion, and as always, just ‘thinking aloud’.

Things to think about.

Just because you get on really well now, don’t expect that marriage will just make that even better. In many cases, it changes relationships beyond all comprehension. You can wake up the day after the wedding, and wonder who that person next to you really is.

Just because you might have been cohabiting happily for a long time, perhaps even already have children together, don’t expect marriage to seal that deal, and add a certain something to what you already enjoy. There is a very good chance that it will have the opposite effect entirely.

Don’t spend a fortune on your big day. People can spend thousands, as much as £40,000, even more, on a wedding these days. That one day is just not worth it, believe me. That money could have been put to so many better uses. And within a few months, you will probably never watch that expensive video again, or even look at the photographs. (This advice is undoubtedly too late, as by now you will have almost certainly booked everything)

Seriously consider not getting married at all. There are so many different reasons why people get married. Commitment, security, tradition, excitement, stability, and more. But if you already have all of that, then that one day in a church, registry office, or a nice hotel won’t make any difference at all. Whatever you think now.

But you are going to ignore my advice, I know that. You will get married anyway, because it will be different for you. You won’t make the same mistakes others did. You have a fresh approach to marriage, and you will make it work. Yours will never end in divorce. You will have 2 point 4 children, be happy and fulfilled, and you will celebrate your Diamond wedding anniversary surrounded by your family and friends. I hope that’s true, and I wish you luck with that.

Some tips.

If you are determined to carry on with the plans to marry, take it seriously. It’s not a game, and will change your life in ways you never anticipated.

Don’t just think about compromise, be sure to compromise. If you don’t, it will end badly.

Remember that you don’t exist just as a couple. You are two people, very different people. Never forget that.

If you are going to bother to get married, don’t put your family before the person you marry. By marrying him or her, you have made them the most important part of your family, even if you didn’t realise that was going to happen.

I wish you all well. Bride and Groom, Groom and Groom, Bride and Bride. Whichever combination works for you.

Just don’t expect miracles. Because they don’t exist.

Thinking Aloud On a Different Day


I have been getting on with some housework this week, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when I woke up with that on my mind this morning.

Most people just do housework without thinking about it. Others know it should be done, but don’t bother with any, until they can’t stand the sight of their own surroundings. It’s a mundane subject for a blog post, I know. But bear with me, as it had a huge impact on my life, resulting indirectly in the failure of two marriages, and the loss of a huge amount of money too.

I was brought up in a very different time to what we have grown used to in the 21st century. From my earliest memories and life experience, I soon became aware that only women did housework. And they did a lot of it. Washing by hand, boiling the clothes in a huge pot on the stove, then scrubbing at them using a serrated metal board. Taking the wet washing across to a mangle, and turning the handle constantly, to wring all the water out before pegging up the items on an outside line. They scrubbed or polished front steps of houses, and struggled with ancient, ineffective vacuum cleaners to remove bits from the floor. Carpets were taken outside to have the dust beaten from them, using specially-shaped devices made just for that purpose.

They swept using stiff brooms, then swept again using soft brooms. When the washing was dry, they ironed it, using feeble irons plugged into light fittings, laying the clothes flat on any handy table. There were no proprietary branded spray cleaners, polish came from a tin, and it was hard like soap. Baths and toilets were scrubbed with scourers until they gleamed, and windows washed with a combination of water and vinegar, then polished later using newspaper. It seemed that almost every woman I ever saw, of any age, was wearing either an apron or a housecoat, and doing some chore or other. And when all that was over, all they had to look forward to in the evening was getting a meal on the table, and washing up afterwards.

Men and housework were two things never mentioned in the same sentence. Men just didn’t do it, full stop. Furthermore, they were not expected to, and many women would send them out of the house, to get them out from under their feet as they carried on cleaning. Sons living at home were not expected to do much more than to occasionally help carry in some heavy shopping bags. Husbands were expected to do ‘Man jobs’. This involved anything to do with ladders, general repairs, clearing drains, changing light bulbs, and fixing electrical items. If anyone was lucky enough to have a garden, the man would be expected to mow the lawn, and grow any vegetable there was room for.

So I got to get married at the age of 25 without ever having had to do so much as iron a shirt, turn on a washing machine, or run a hoover around the carpet. I didn’t see anything bad about that. After all, I was a product of my environment and upbringing, and I genuinely knew no better. I didn’t even consider it. It never once entered my head. And I am not talking about ‘the old days’ here, oh no. This was the late 1970s. Eight years later, when I was 33 years old, my first wife approached me and told me she wanted us to separate. I was naturally shocked and upset, especially when she told me that one of the reasons was because I had never done any housework. I had to admit to that charge, even though I found it unusual that any woman would even want me to clean the house, or iron my own shirts.

With the benefit of hindsight, I confess to being very stupid. But I suppose you ‘had to be there’, to understand where I had come from. Society and married life were changing, and I was failing to keep up.

I learned my hard lesson though. By the time I got married for the second time, in 1989, I was a housework demon. If I used a cup to drink some coffee, I went straight into the kitchen to wash it, dry it, and put it away. The same with my meals. Knife and fork down, food eaten, washing up done immediately. If I noticed a mark on the coffee table, I would get the spray polish, and give it the once-over. I was so clean and tidy, you could have eaten your dinner off the floor of my small house, with no need for a plate. Mirrors shone, furniture oozed the smell of polish, and carpets were spotless. And how I could iron. In one session, I would happily iron all thirty uniform shirts required for a month at work, as well as anything else on the ironing pile. Everything had its place, and it was all put in it.

Bringing someone into that world, in this case a new wife, was possibly always going to end in disaster, I should have seen that. My regime was set in stone, and carried out with military precision. She did her best to adapt, taking over the chore of ironing, thereby saving me a lot of time. But other obsessive aspects of my housework routine were less attractive to her after a long day at work, or during the precious two days off at the weekend. I carried on though, refusing to slip back to my former ways. And as I did so, I grew to resent her lack of involvement in the process. Eventually, I decided to split up with her, and one of the reasons I gave was that she didn’t do enough to help around the house. My life had turned full circle.

Many years later, I am 66 years old, and living in the countryside. I am no longer physically capable of keeping up such a manic routine of housework, and less bothered about what is considered to be acceptably tidy. I still get down on my hands and knees to clean the stone tiles on the kitchen floor, but it’s more of a struggle, and takes me a lot longer than I would like. Once it’s done, I have little enthusiasm for more, at least until tomorrow. I don’t wear many clothes that need ironing these days, and I don’t polish a surface every time I see a mark. Ollie makes small messes with his biscuits or stuffed toys, and I am content to leave them until the next time I have the vacuum cleaner out.

I went from nothing to everything, then back to something else in between.

Thinking Aloud on a Sunday


I saw a report this week stating that over 50% of marriages in the UK end in divorce. As I have been divorced twice myself, my own strike rate is a little higher in that regard. But I woke up today wondering if the institution of marriage is something that may one day be consigned to history.

In 1970, I was Best Man at a close friend’s wedding. The bride and groom (and me) were just 18 years old, and some people suggested that they were too young to get married. They defied the odds, had five children, and are still together today. They are the only couple I know from that time who didn’t separate, or get divorced.

I don’t suppose any of us get married believing it won’t last, or intending to just ‘give it a try’. For most people, it is a huge emotional commitment, as well as an expensive day. I didn’t get married in 1977 expecting it to last only eight years, that’s for sure. I anticipated raising a family, retiring outside of London, and celebrating my silver wedding anniversary with family and friends.
But that was not to be.

When I married again in 1989, I was perhaps more cautious and realistic, but still felt the need to show the commitment by having a proper wedding. No prenuptial agreement, and no talk of children by this time. We were both mature, and with both of us working in well-paid jobs, we could afford to live in a nice house, and enjoy a very comfortable life. But that didn’t work either, mostly because I became disillusioned with life in general, and marriage in particular. I had tried marriage twice, and failed both times. But I still believed in it as an institution, perhaps because of my background.

Even an amicable divorce can be emotionally draining. Despite having no children to consider, I had to lose half of everything I had built up over more than a decade, as well as some mutual friends, and a family I had come to think of as my own. And that happened twice. But by 1997, divorce was much easier. Some claimed it had become too easy, and couples no longer tried to work out their problems, taking divorce as an easy option. But as anyone who has been divorced can tell you, there is nothing easy about it.

In fact, I was all for the laws changing to make it easier to get divorced. When I was young, it was very difficult to obtain a divorce, and people went to great lengths to get one, including pretending to spend the night with another person, to provide grounds of Adultery. In so many cases, this left women being physically or mentally abused for much of their marriage, as they didn’t have the support, or the finances, to get divorced from husbands who treated them shabbily. Men suffered too of course. Living with domineering wives who nagged at them until any love that existed was not even a memory. So the change in the law was to be welcomed, as far as I was concerned.

When I got married again in 2009, I had learned my lesson, so took my time. We were together for nine years before we married, and both ready to share the same plans for the future. Meanwhile, the whole idea of marriage was changing around us. People could now get married almost anywhere, no longer restricted to a church, or the offices of their local council. And they could also marry anyone they liked. Men married men, and women married women. In some cases, transgender women married transgender men. Some married people that they had met online, and some from countries on the other side of the world.

It seems that marriage has never been more popular. So perhaps I have answered my own question.
But then divorce has never been so popular either…

An unofficial anniversary

Although we were married in September 2009, Julie and I generally celebrate the 4th of November as our anniversary. It’s because this is the date we first met, fourteen years ago today, on a blind date.

In 2000, my life was in something of an upheaval. My friend and crew-mate decided that he would sort me out. He told me about a woman who worked with his wife, and said that he was sure we would hit it off. I was far from keen on this sort of dating. As he had also told me that she was nine years younger than me, I was convinced that she would not be interested. He insisted that I take her telephone number, and give serious thought to contacting her. I gave it a while, and eventually phoned, mostly apologetic to be bothering her. I need not have worried. We chatted easily, and for a considerable time. Understandably, she said that she would prefer to meet me in the company of our mutual friends. We lived almost thirty miles apart, so it made sense for them to visit as a group. The arrangements were made, and in the meantime, we chatted on the telephone, on a regular basis.

By the 4th November, we had already found out quite a lot about each other, but still had little idea what we looked like. They decided to come to my flat in Camden. My friends also brought their three children along, so I decided to just offer pizzas and snacks, to make life easier in the small flat. When they arrived, I was very happy to see that Julie looked very nice indeed. She looked younger than I had expected, and she was immediately very friendly, and easy to talk to in person. It was quite a hectic evening, with the kids playing, and making a lot of noise. At one stage, I decided to go across to the shops for something, and asked my friend to accompany me. On the way, I told him that I was convinced Julie wasn’t very interested. She was chatty, but hardly looked at me, spending time with their small baby, and occasionally glancing across. He said that he had asked his wife, and she had told him that Julie did like me, and thought that I was a nice bloke. It was like a scene played out in a school playground, and I felt very silly. Mind you, I was 48 at the time.

Later on, we got some time alone in the kitchen, and relaxed into easy familiarity. It was soon apparent that we were going to get on very well, and arrangements were made for a second date soon after. Fourteen years later, we are very happy, in our new life together in Norfolk. Married for five years, and having endured life’s ups and downs; new jobs, family bereavements, and all the usual dilemmas that modern life has to offer. From that awkward blind date all those years ago, we have cemented a relationship that will endure until one of us dies, and I cannot imagine ever being without her. We are going for a meal tonight, to a recommended local country pub. Following that, we can look forward to the next fourteen years.

Significant Songs (6)

Don’t Speak

In the previous post in this category, I wrote about a significant song that makes me happy, and has romantic connotations for me. In the comments, Jude mentioned that many songs can have the reverse effect, and remind you of break-ups, and bring sad memories. She is correct of course, and I agree that these songs can be far more profound than the romantic type, as they bring back feelings and recollections that you would sooner not experience, as opposed to those that you openly seek, or welcome. They also have a tendency to catch you unawares, heard on car radios, played in bars, or drifting out of a neighbour’s window. You are unlikely to ever seek them out, and you will avoid compilations that contain them, and will definitely not play any copy you might still own.

I have been lucky in this respect. Despite two divorces, and many other break-ups over the years, I have never really associated any particular song with any single event of that nature. I consider this a lucky escape, as so much music played and enjoyed over time, can definitely be ruined by any untoward connection with unfortunate times, or acrimonious separations. There is an exception to this, though the song had less of an effect on me, it had a huge impact on my ex-wife. In 1996, the band No Doubt, fronted by singer Gwen Steffani, released the single ‘Don’t Speak’, a track which had appeared on their album, the year before. I liked this rather sad love song, written about the singer’s break-up with another band member, and bought a copy on CD single. It has some nice guitar, and very meaningful lyrics, which did not really concern me much at the time, as I just liked the powerful vocals, and the overall production.

In 1997, I had been married, for the second time, for eight years. I was forty-five years old that March, and a combination of dissatisfaction in my life, and what is probably best described as a ‘male mid-life crisis’, led me to the conclusion that I did not want to stay in the marriage. I broke the news to my wife, who was very shocked, unhappy, and reluctant to end it. She wanted to try a bit longer, and asked me to reconsider. I had set my mind though, and rightly or wrongly, went ahead. The house was sold, and I moved into a small flat, across the other side of London. As there was nobody else involved, and neither of us had done anything awful, we stayed friends. Even to this day, we are still in touch. I went to visit her, in her new flat in the South London suburbs. She had coped well enough on the surface, and was getting on with her life. However, she did confess that she often played ‘sad songs’, and this one in particular. It was only then, that I realised what my determination to move on in my life, had cost her.

I can never hear this song again, without thinking of her, sad and alone in that flat. I am happy to say that she has since re-married, and has a pleasant life in the west of England. Here are the lyrics, as well as a clip of the band performing the song.

“Don’t Speak”

You and me
We used to be together
Everyday together always
I really feel
That I’m losing my best friend
I can’t believe
This could be the end
It looks as though you’re letting go
And if it’s real
Well I don’t want to knowDon’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me cause it hurts
Don’t speak
I know what you’re thinking
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me cause it hurts

Our memories
Well, they can be inviting
But some are altogether
Mighty frightening
As we die, both you and I
With my head in my hands
I sit and cry

Don’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me cause it hurts (no, no, no)
Don’t speak
I know what you’re thinking
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me cause it hurts

It’s all ending
I gotta stop pretending who we are…
You and me I can see us dying…are we?

Don’t speak
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me cause it hurts (no, no, no)
Don’t speak
I know what you’re thinking
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me cause it hurts
Don’t tell me cause it hurts!
I know what you’re saying
So please stop explaining

Don’t speak,
don’t speak,
don’t speak,
oh I know what you’re thinking
And I don’t need your reasons
I know you’re good,
I know you’re good,
I know you’re real good
Oh, la la la la la la La la la la la la
Don’t, Don’t, uh-huh Hush, hush darlin’
Hush, hush darlin’ Hush, hush
don’t tell me tell me cause it hurts
Hush, hush darlin’ Hush, hush darlin’
Hush, hush don’t tell me tell me cause it hurts