Age difference

My wedding anniversary, yesterday, brought me to pondering how my dad must have felt.

My father was born in 1901. A different era to ours. He remembered the first cars, which had men carrying a flag to warn the pedestrians it was coming. He did not have to pass the driving test, none had been invented! Early planes: the First World War; telephones with live telephonists to handle your call and phone numbers which named your town and a simple two or three digit number.

He was a gent of a peculiar kind. He had slight difficulty saying a breathy ‘h’, but was well spoken. He always wore a suit, usually with a waistcoat, even when sitting on the sands at Scarborough, where we went on our annual holiday.

He rarely played with us as children, read stories with no expression at all and we knocked to enter his bedroom. I remember asking for a raise in pocket money about 10 years old.
“Why do you need it?” he asked quietly.
“I’d like to buy a weekly magazine and this will mean I can.”
Having explained my need there was no question about the raise!

A gentle formality! Lovingly remote!

Dad was a publican in London, mostly around the East End. He did not marry until he was in his forties. My mum was only in her twenties. What must people have thought?

I had never realised the age gap until I was a young teen and he had his seventieth birthday. I knew other friends had parents in their fifties and I was horrified! He did not look that old!

I never considered the age gap of twenty years anything other than normal. They seemed perfectly matched.
“Age is a quality of Mind,” he declared, quoting the title of a poem by an unknown poet.
If you left your dreams behind,
If hope is lost. If you no longer look ahead,
If your ambitious fires are dead –
Then you are old.
But if from life you take the best
And if in life you keep the jest,
If love you hold –
No matter how the years go by,
No matter how the birthdays fly,
You are not old!

All the family plans led to him dying before my mother. So it was inconceivable that she should die first- but she did!

My dad was a sentimental man, with such love for her. A shrewd businessman with a head for figures. Whilst a product of his age, he seemed happy to be in a world with younger people. I wonder how much he coloured my own attitude to age?

Wedding anniversary

Thirty-nine years ago today! I married, at the age of 19, a man I had known for eleven months!

My dad was not very happy about it but he did us proud! There seemed so many factors against us and dad gently shared some with me, yet he still supported me in my decision, once I had listened.
John must have come across badly. He had left university to be a steel work crane driver in Sheffield. When they made him redundant he had come to London to enjoy his redundancy money and eventually ended up on the dole. Then he met me.

None of us looked good in the 70s. My dad found it hard to overcome the long hair and beard. “You hardly know him!”

My mum had died just a fortnight before I met John; my dad was still in trauma, but we went ahead.
A simple registry office. My aunt picking roses from her garden at the last minute and wrapping the stems in silver foil for a bouquet.

My best friend couldn’t make it through illness, so we had to find another witness. My brother missed it, but made it in time for the photos. We had smoked salmon for our first course, and John had never eaten it before, but it was dad’s favourite. I guess about thirty people attended at most, but I felt like a queen. When the champagne ran out, the waiter came discretely to inform my dad. “Don’t you have any more?” he asked. The shamefaced man nodded and we drank nothing else.

The whole thing was organised in about a month. A week before the wedding John and I went to camp in Paris, just to wait out the arrangements! No wedding list, so we got three toasters and a whole heap of hideous stainless steel serving dishes.

My geography was so poor, I had no idea that a honeymoon in Windsor meant a simple commuter ride from Waterloo. Me all dolled us in my special going away outfit.

Most years we go back to Windsor Great Park to drink champagne and eat smoked salmon. Wherever we are in the world, we find the same key ingredients. Today we sat beneath a canopy of trees sipping champagne, waiting for the phone to ring, with news of the exchange, which never came. My elder daughter came over for a meal in the evening to say goodbye to the house.

Thirty-nine years! I neither feel it nor believe it. I am not old enough!

Oh yes, now I remember, this blog is all about being retired, so perhaps I am!

Turned out all right though, Dad!


Christchurch – Wednesday 29th February 2012

Walking round Christchurch NZ city centre is a sobering experience. The outskirts appear to be thriving with all the usual suburban indications of traffic, garages, corner shops. What if there is a little boarding over in places? It seems, at first glance, to be few in number: we have derelict houses in parts of London.

But stop and look at these more closely. At first, I don’t like to pry. It’s disrespectful and as John raises his camera, I frown and move him on. But he is right- look again!

See how the lintel over the door is cracked, the glass in the windows shattered, one whole wall missing. This is way beyond mere dilapidation.

Just down the road, whole sections are laid bare waiting for re-newal. It’s strange to see the houses on either side in tact, unharmed, perhaps.

Here is a wooden house, crumpled. Someone has tried to salvage it: windows stacked this side; bundles of similar wood slats tied in an effort to regain order. By there is no order. The task was hopeless, overwhelming. Someone was forced to leave it.


Churches lost their steeples; their walls. Shops have cracks gaping. Office blocks stand empty with earth-movers demolishing them, systematically, methodically.

The casual phrase “the city centre is closed” transforms into harsh reality. The core of the city is encaged. The noise of bulldozers, pneumatic drills perpetuate. There is no bird song. A few scruffy sparrows show the same determination as the citizens of Christchurch to pull through and find some crumbs of comfort.



In contrast to the busy suburbs, the centre feels deserted. Huge swathes of offices and shops had gone. No work, no youngsters. They are re-locating to Aukland. Rents are rocketing, motels are full of business people. It’s a massive tragedy. We drink coffee in a street cafe, the owner says it is not safe for customers to come into the premises, but she has set up bright chairs and tables and has made incredibly good soup, smoked salmon bagels and a wide range of other treats. We et opposite the noise of builders working on the casino.

Around Cashel Street, clothes stores had burst through the rubble. Bright containers, two stories high with modern verandahs, made for iron girders, create a shopping centre. Banks, clothes and shoe stores and cafes predominate. Today there seem few people, apart from tourists keen to support and see.


It’s a brave statement. It’s amazing what has already been achieved. The infrastructure required, the methodical organization, the money! I’m in awe!
But I’m also desolate! Christchurch posed a huge dilemma for me. I oscillated between an empty hollow shock and sadness, an empathy and a warm disbelief of how indestructible the spirit of Christchurch is. How incredible the people who live there are.


Rain and reflection – 14th February 2012

So, I’ve just completed my first book of travel notes. How exciting to be beginning book two! That lovely leather bound book, presented to me by fellow colleague headteachers, is full.
Full to overflowing with the daily doings of a retired pair who live in London but currently travel, at will, round New Zealand.

And what a brilliant time we are having! Our last working day was July 21st, but we actually retired on 1st September 2011, due to the anomaly of school holidays. I totally advise for couples to retire on the same day, if at all possible.

We are becoming more adventurous, less care worn, more relaxed. I have added some reflections to my page of introduction “how travel enlightened my views on retirement!”. I would love to hear your views on this. You may be younger than us and therefore not able to retire so young!

We are more able to take the rough with the smooth.

The rough today:
Rain, rain, rain! You cannot see the mountains. You cannot see the end of our garden! It’s cold enough to put on the heating – oh, and did I mention the rain?
John has a cough – and it is raining!

The smooth today:
We chose to book our walk on the glacier tomorrow. We have enough food, so we do not need to go out!

So, it’s raining! So what?
We have memories of wonderful times!


Last few days in Melbourne – 5-8th January 2012

There are so many small jobs to conclude before we go to New Zealand. The difficulty with our car hire: Hertzt not knowing that we have already paid a comparison website for the car, getting a refund on the nightie I had removed from the first flat we stayed at in Sydney in October, doing washing and researching in preparation for New Zealand.

It does not make for good reading but it is very much part of travel! There are hours on the net, completing this blog and trying to get up to date!

However, we cannot restrain from a visit to see Melbourne’s art gallery near Federation Square. In Brisbane we had seen precious few aboriginal art, including two wonderful pieces on bark.

In Melbourne there is a brilliant exhibition of modern aboriginal artists and a more permanent 1970s exhibition. Both are wonderful and we are lucky to have a tour to explain some of the background.

Aboriginal art grew from the dot patterns which adorned body art. It tells stories from the dreamtime and from the culture. While being painted the artists sing. Many paintings are created by groups who sing together, telling the stories of old. The exhibition was good at explaining the dreadful, catastrophic effect of European development, not least the A bomb testing in the desert which relocated many tribes.

The older bark paintings, such as the one I have uploaded, describe in detail the ceremonies, not a line is wasted. Every detail records important aspects. Not all tribes can read each others stories. Today aboriginal art is highly commercial. Modern painters have the confidence to take the old stories and reinterpret them in their own style. Their colours are incredibly vibrant.

I was overwhelmed by the life of this art but had not brought my camera! How could I?

Our last day at the house was devoted to cleaning. Just about everything we could, was moved, dusted, hoovered or scrubbed.

A last BBQ ended our day, and we went to bed exhausted but pleased with our results.