Category: Lifestyle


Saddling up: postcards No.5

 

Great riding country: Sheepscombe, near Painswick.

As the saga of the postcards continues I have at last struck some sort of common thread.

And it’s all about horses. Not all that deep and meaningful but at least it is a consistent theme extending over several of these messages of long ago.

For once during my trawl through these newly discovered mementoes, I have little difficulty in recalling time and place which, in itself, is a great relief.

The first card depicts a white horse looking out over its stable door. “Man’s friend” is how I captioned it on the reverse.

The accompanying message is equally succinct: “Have arrived. This is great. There are 15 of us and it’s an all-male week.”

No hint was given as to whether I thought the all-boys-together situation was good or bad. Maybe on this occasion I preferred the absence of distractions for we were lodged at “the only place of its kind in England” – the home and riding centre established by the legendary Pat Smythe, Britain’s golden girl of the 1952 Olympics.

A week of mucking-out, tuition and riding beckoned.

The location was a dot on  the map labelled as Camp, set in the midst of the Gloucestershire countryside.

As I recorded on a second postcard, also bearing a horse’s head on the front, it was seven days of “plenty of good food, excellent company and fine weather.”

The highlight was doing duty as stable lad at  a day of polo matches, walking the mounts to and fro, cooling them down, giving them feed, making sure they were fully ready to go again and generally being fully immersed in the whole horsey business.

I loved it. And it is one memory that has remained bright and clear down the years. An idyllic time. Rural England at its very best. Something to be treasured, although I fear it is becoming less and less understood, appreciated and valued by succeeding generations.

Postcard home: a good companion

Those seven days at Camp, Painsnwick, Pitchombe, Sheepscombe and other nearby villages set in train a love of horses and riding that remains to this day, although time in the saddle has become almost non-existent.

Throughout my travels I have ridden whenever the opportunity was offered – on an Israeli beach, in the Canadian Rockies, across the Hungarian plains, to the summit of an active volcano and on Lipizzaners at their home in the former Yugoslavia.

Like so many young girls, my daughter caught the bug. School holidays were spent immersed in the whole horsey thing, lodged at a riding centre in the Macedon Ranges.

So we acquired horses of our own: loveable former pacer Brandy, the lively Donna and thorougbred Gypsy. And I had to lug a horse float hither and thither – a cumbersoome and scary task I never truly mastered – as proved by the time the car and float parted company on a sharp uphill bend in a long line of Sunday traffic.

Twice during my double life as a travel agent I devised and acted as leader for an eight-week world horse-riding tour.

The itinerary  included (inevitably) the Spanish Riding school, tuition under a master of the horse on the Esterhazy estate, pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons, lessons at the Fulmer Riding School, tuition and daylong gallops at the Lipica stud plus show-jumping at Aachen, Hickstead and the Dublin Horse Show.

Trying  to control and corral sixteen young Aussie women on what for most was their first  overseas trip added a memorable dimension over which a veil has long been discretly drawn.

So many memories from a clutch of postcards.

**To be continued….

 

More memoir surprises

Family history never ceases to surprise and delight.

It is an endless journey into the unexpected.

Skeletons leap from cupboards and sudden contacts from hitherto strangers breath life into people who so far have been mere names clinging precariously to the family tree.

This week, emails from out of the blue have unearthed another bag of surprises and added further grist to the memoir that is becoming an ever-expanding work in progress.

Overnight I find I am related to two sisters who met prematurely early deaths; one was an alcoholic, the other a drug addict.

A third relative from this same Welsh ancestral cluster spent years in a mental asylum after undergoing cross-examination in a sensational society murder trial.

From cursory reading it appears that Aunt Eva was employed as a nursemaid for the murdered woman and was accused of somehow having access to the arsenic used as the killing agent.

The common thread here is that many of their male line served in the Great War and either came back maimed, often in hidden ways, or simply never returned, in some cases their bodies not even found on the battlefields where they fell.

Their wives and families were left to struggle on tbe best they could.

Happily, more recent descendents have become absorbed into suburban respectability with not a black sheep to be found among them. At least, so far.

But one cannot help wondering what the next generation of family historians might eventually dig up.

 

 

Weekends in Beirut – Postcard memories No.4

On the tarmac at Beirut International Airport: a Comet 4C of MEA

So, moving right along …
The next postcard to take my eye among my recently discovered trove of long-lost messages home was another bog standard picture of an aircraft. This one is dressed in the livery of MEA, or Middle East Airlines, the national carrier of Lebanon.
It is a Comet 4C, the workhorse of many airlines back when mass tourism and package holidays were beginning to hit their post-war stride.
In the message on the back I briefly inform my sister that it is being posted during a 45-minute stopover en route to Beirut and that I have enjoyed “superb weather and the smoothest of flights”.
I add, jokingly I can attest, that I had a bullet-proof vest in my baggage “ready for Jordan” which, on this occasion, was my final destination.
However, it was not that somewhat adventurous trip that I was first reminded of on finding this postcard.
At that time, plentiful overseas travel was one of the perks of my job as a reporter and feature writer on Travel Trade Gazette, a publication that owners and staff alike proudly proclaimed as the world’s first weekly publication for the travel industry.
We reported on the politics, finances, management and products of this rapidly expanding industry business. Not merely from a UK aspect, but globally.
The world was ours to investigate and explore, not from the view of the holidaymaker but from that of those who created the products.
New hotels had to be inspected, resorts checked out, marketing plans examined, each new air route flown. There were tourism chiefs to be interviewed and international conferences to be attended and reported on. The world, as the saying goes, was our oyster.
And a very tasty mollusc it proved to be for a bunch of young journalists, most of them yet to see their thirtieth birthday.
An occasional weekend in Beirut was thus routine. It began with the trip out to London Airport (this was in pre-Heathrow days) where our hosts saw us into our first-class seats for the MEA dinner flight to Beirut.
Check-in to the luxurious waterfront Hotel Phoenicia Friday was followed by an exploration of a city that had no trouble justifying its tag of “the Paris of the Middle East”. It was a golden sparkling vibrant city where few could have imagined the carnage and devastation that was to come.
After breakfast, cars whizzed us off through the famed cedars of Lebanon and into the awesome Beka’a Valley.
A dominant feature of this vast plain is by the Temple of Jupiter, (pictured right), one of the wonders of the ancient world that, down the centuries has been frequently vandalised, usually in the name of religion until only its six towering columns remain amid the city’s expansive ruins.
Such unfathomable destruction as has been wreaked on Baalbeck and its spread of ancient building and monuments continues to sadden as my postcard stirs memories of starlit nights attending performances amid the temple’s towering columns.
Sunday – after a luxurious and bibulous Saturday night dinner – was usually a day of much-needed rest and recreation; exploring the souks and alleys of Beirut, sampling the Phoenicia’s pampering, or water-skiing and swimming in the Mediterranean off the hotel’s deck.
It was all good preparation for a flight that departed in Monday’s wee small hours and got me back in London in time to stumble into the office and start another day’s work.
A tough life but, as the saying goes, someone had to do it. And as I gaze at this old postcard I’m thankful it had to be me.
It was a world and experience never to be recaptured.

Postcard memoir from snapshots of the past

Postcard home from Belgrade in 1963. ‘A week back in London, then to Lebanon, Jordan etc’

We all know about the past being a foreign country [LP Hartley, The Go-Between] and in recent days I have come to realise how true that oft-quoted phrase can be.

A large handful of well-worn postcards, wrapped in a torn plastic bag, have taken me back down the years and stirred memories that until now have remained stubbornly dormant.

As one who can hardly recall the detail of events from last month, those of my much more youthful years have long been a blank sheet.

I still remember where I lived, which of the many schools I attended, the places where I was employed. But that is mere outline, the rough sketch drawn before the picture is painted. The details have long gone – dates, names, events, conversations and so much else are almost all non-existent in a brain that otherwise still functions at a satisfactory level.

But now I have my postcards, mostly in my own handwriting to the folks at home, and they are doing a better job at stirring the memory than any expensive session on an analyst’s couch.

Like a SOCO team’s “enforcer” they have battered down a previously unyielding door into the past.  Only a few words on each, but enough to trigger a name, raise a smile, answer  a mystery and, of course, raise a host of many more.

For example, when did I live in Carvoza Road, Daniel Road or in Hatfield Crescent? All are locations in Truro, the city where I transformed from schoolboy to employee. They are addresses that appear beneath my name on  postcards sent by my parents while, so it seems, they were on holiday trips around England.

But the family home was in Falmouth and to the very best of my knowledge it was there – and only there – that I lived throughout the three years of my time working in Truro.

Thus a window into my past has been thrown open but the view it presents is a total puzzle. Was I a boarder? Was the Miss Ditton to whom several of the cards were addressed as being “care off” a family friend, a boarding house owner, a B&B operator?

Postmarks and two separate addresses indicate I “enjoyed” two separate Truro sojourns during July and August 1955 while the rest of the family was tripping around Stratford-on-Avon, Birmingham, Sidmouth, the Lakes District and our wartime home of Fleetwood.

And not a jot of this exile remains in my memory.

Nor does my namesake, another Tony who signs off on two of the postcards sent to Corporal Berry at RAF Abingdon during my two misspent years of National Service.

In one he talks of being halfway through “my grand tour of England” and regrets that “we’ll not reach Cornwall” and in the other he reports  the food and weather  in Conway are excellent and urges me not to worry as he’ll be back next week.

Fine, but who the hell is/was this other Tony?  Why Conway? Why should I be worried at his absence?

Churning over the old grey cells unearthed not a jot of him but his postcards help revive other memories and confirm forgotten details.

Flip through the pack – choose a card, any card, says the conjurer – and  I realise I have a random, higgledy-piggledy  Reader’s Digest version of my forgotten life.

“Hello from 250 miles behind the Iron Curtain” I write in one. So much was left unsaid.

On another: “Can’t resist sending a card from the most primitive place I’ve ever seen. Just returned from the ritual killing of a couple of sacrificial buffalo, a funeral and a three-day festival.”

From what was still Yugolsavia: “Been driving a car across a lake, it’s that frozen. Spent a whole afternoon on my backside in the snow – it’s called skiing.”

Feeling the heat in Israel: “A temperature of 108F should be enough to give me a tan, and have I got one! Phew, it’s hot. Am the only Englishman is a party of  20 French journalists.” Which could be the reason I detoured home via Paris. That and the El Al air hostess.

From Newcastle: “Awa’ hinnie. Passing the night here for a dinner-dance.” Don’t ask …

The nascent foodie in Barcelona: “Had a meal the like of which you’ve never seen. Paella it is, consisting of prawns, shrimps, mussels, squid in a rice dish plus chicken. The way these people eat in unbelievable.”  Well, we were still emerging from food rationing.

And so much more; this was the quick contact pre-Twitter, as many words as you could squeeze into a space rarely more than two-and-a-half inches wide and deep.

Enough to prod at the dark screen clouding my memory and let in some welcome shafts of light.

And this handful  is only the beginning. There are many more promised to come. So many memories  to revive; so many stories to relive, and perhaps even to tell.

Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baffled by this topsy-turvy (running) life

Relief:  another 10,000m race completed

Dilemma upon dilemma.

Indecision resolved by decisions, which next day are quickly reversed. Back to square one.

Is this the mental turmoil that all sportspeople face as the body slows and energy fades?  The deciding when to quit.

Common wisdom says the clever ones know when to stop. They accept the situation for what it is: the closing of one door and the opening of another. Not a dead stop but simply a change of direction.

Or, in running terms, the passing of the baton to those who can still go the distance with comparative ease.

The question would appear to be a simple one: is it time to quit?

Last weekend, after weeks of internal debate, it was answered by wimping out of a ten-mile race along Cornwall’s hilly country lanes.

The body heaved a grateful sigh, the brain poured scorn upon such weakness. And so another day of debate ensued that made even the Brexit dialogues look constructive.

In the end, a bottle of bubbly was put to chill, a chook was marinated ready for the oven and dinner became a boozy celebration of the past alternating with commiseration for what was to come.

By bottle’s end, the decision had been made. After some seventy years  of competitive running (give or take a break or two) I had hit the final hurdle, and mind and body would simply have to cope.

After all, I had quit before. Several times. The Nellie Melba of running, said some.

There were those f**k it moments when the pressures of family, work and a job that offered an excess of five-star living put paid to any athletic activity.

And it was “no contest” when the choice lay between a long weekend freebie in Beirut, Barbados or Beirut, or churning out the wintry miles on the South Downs of Sussex.

Finally there was the promise I made (to others as well as to self) to quit when I could no longer run a sub three-hour marathon – a deadline that occurred in my sixty-seventh year on a tropically hot and humid day in Brisbane when I staggered home in 3:16.30.

But, like all addictions, the running habit was too hard to kick. It provided too much of a high to be able simply to say “No more” and walk (or even jog) away.

So here I am, sixteen years on from my last “retirement” and still battling  the voices that say enough is enough.

Judged purely by comparing times posted by fellow addicts in the same age bracket, I can still be considered in my prime, an elite.  Those times, however,  ensure my finishing place is way down the bottom of the results sheet.

They also mean I have probably walked, or even stopped, somewhere along the route.

That’s not running as I have always known it. And is it something I really want, or need, to do?

Would the body not be better served by a good brisk yomp along the ever-enticing wonder of the coastal path or high up on the moorlands of Bodmin or Dartmoor?

All too often the older competitors in masters’ athletics are portrayed by the media as oddities and curiosities; wizened bags of bones staggering towards the tape, hoping to get there before their heart shuts down.

It’s not a photo-shoot I wish to be a part of.

And yet I am still looking at the race calendar for 2018 and sending in my entry fees. The dilemma persists.

These words were begun with the intention of saying farewell and thank you to my immediate running community, and also to all those far and wide who have provided support, encouragement and companionship through the running years.

But, as I write, I find they also give voice to my inner turmoil, setting out the pros and cons, and the  dilemma others will face, whether through age or injury or other circumstance. And I still cannot bring myself to make the decision that is demanding to be made.

So it seems it’s not quite the intended goodbye after all; but I’m afraid it’s getting close. Very close. How many more hills can I climb?

Keep running, and enjoy it while you can.

 

 

Old bones fail to make the grade

Okay folks, I hear you. The hint has been made loud and clear. As the Walrus famously said: “The time has come …”

Your message was writ big and bold in the sands and shingle of Marazion this past Sunday (and earlier in the year at St Levan): there is no recognition for geriatrics who persist in pushing their frail frames in pursuit of athletic success once past the age of 80. Or even 75.

While others of lesser years seek out and celebrate their rankings within their peer groups, such simple gratification is denied those of more senior vintage.

We are simply lumped together in a single catch-all category that ignores the rankings that have long existed in Masters athletics, nationally and internationally.

Down here in Cornwall, we are simply the Oldies who flaunt their withered bones and bring shame to the many youngsters who trail in their wake.

There is no glory to be had in battling against an icy wind through sand, shingle and the surging tides of a sloping pebbled shore.

Fellow club-mates fill Facebook posts with requests for details of their placings within their various grades, keen to see their progress and success. They swap congratulations and encouragement. It’s heady stuff to see the enthusiasm and that is growing within the club.

But for this old dodderer it is as if I wasn’t there. No ranking for me – beaten by three runners in their early 70s, some ten years younger.

Nor does constant competitor Norris receive acknowledgement for ploughing on through that ankle-twisting terrain. His age grade, too, has been wiped and he also has to accede to those many years younger.

Bitter? No, there’s no place for that. Simply sad and deflated in the face of bureaucratic decisions which, as so often happens, ride roughshod over the human element.

Saving on trophies and medals, they say. But those – not even the bottles of wine – are not why we run. Scrap them, by all means.

Simply acknowledge we were there, ignoring the armchair and slippers in favour of pushing our bodies over several miles of unforgiving terrain for some inexplicable reason.

We are often embarrassingly tagged as “inspirations” and encouragement for younger and less active members of a community that is growing lazier and more obese by the hour.

It is a role we are happy to play if it is going to lead to a healthier community and ease the unwarranted pressures on the NHS.

But it won’t happen if our efforts are to be ignored and hidden.

Close to 500 dogged people completed Sunday’s run and more than half of them finished behind me. Statistically, that shouldn’t happen but by acknowledging that it did, perhaps a few more sloths will be encouraged to get active and healthy.

And that hard slog will have all been worthwhile.

But by refusing to give such results their due place, it does nothing but create depression and dejection. Which, until now, is not what running has provided.

No more MTR for me; lawn bowls, here I come.

Just remember this …

As I was saying before …

Before what? Before when?

Why did I come into the kitchen? What am I doing here?

Well, as I was saying …

What was I saying? Something about … er …

Hell, let’s start again.

There’s this problem I’m having with memory. I hear mention of such terms as

Victory for older drivers

Let’s have three cheers and a quick spin of the Zimmer frame for Ms Justice Simler.

The High Court judge has decreed that age alone is not a reason to remove a person’s driving licence.

It is a decision for that rare quality known as commonsense. There has never been any understandable logic behind the restrictions imposed on drivers simply because of their age. It suggests that a person who is in the best of health and in possession of all necessary faculties suddenly, on a single day, becomes gaga, uncoordinated, hard of hearing and devoid of sight. By having a birthday  they are determined as having lost all ability to control a moving vehicle.

Justice Simler’s landmark ruling reversed a decision by  the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to revoke the licence of a 78-year-old woman after a road accident for which she was held responsible.  Without any supporting medical evidence, the DVLA had asserted that the woman had been rendered unfit to drive by “age-related cognitive impairment”.

The judge said the DVLA had acted solely on a basis of age – that the woman was an older driver. It had ignored clear medical evidence that the woman did not, in fact, suffer from cognitive impairment.

Licensing authorities are not alone in applying this inflexible age-based ruling. Car rental companies are equally restrictive. Until a certain date, I was able to hire a car and enjoy the freedom of self-drive mobility. The following day, I was confined to barracks as it were.  It was as if my ability to drive had  evaporated overnight.

Fortunately I found one company http://www.enterprise.co.uk/car_rental/home.do that has the sense and business acumen to go against the flow without fuss or question or excess charges.

There is no logic in such draconian age-based rules – especially when one regards the lack of driving ability daily displayed by those many years younger. Driving skills, road sense, reaction times and general awareness of other motorists are what need to be assessed rather than  assuming there is a line in our lives beyond which we immediately become senile and decrepit.

At the moment I am fortunately in rude health and in possession of all my faculties. Many others several years (even decades) younger are less blessed. Yet they are the ones who have the freedom to drive without question or impost.

Here’s hoping Justice Simler’s decision will be more than “considered” by the DVLA (and rental companies)  and that regulations affecting older driver – or at least attitudes – will change for the better.

Drive on …