In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
The Lost Decade
6th July 2008
On Thursday 3rd July 2008, I celebrated, to misuse the word, my 70th birthday. Three score years and ten had elapsed since I first appeared on the scene, yelling and screaming I have no doubt, to the uncertain delights of a pre-war Belfast. I felt no surprise on the big day; after all, I had been anticipating the event for a long time, nearly seventy years in fact. Nor did I feel elation, or sorrow. It was a day, like the day before and the day after. As Neil Diamond sings ‘Another day that time forgot.’
My former wife was petrified by the prospect of getting older. In vain did I suggest that the alternative was not remaining young, but dying. It made no difference. I can think of many former friends and colleagues who would have welcomed the opportunity to have a 70th birthday. In the Police there was Billy Nicholson, aged 21 when he came off his motorbike at 5 am in Nottinghamshire. Robert Lasker, near the end of his thirty years service, had a heart attack in Scotland Yard. Scott Mackenzie died last year at 68 after a long and painfully wasting illness.
In the RAAF, Grady O’Loughlin, who played left back to my right back for the station team. His Mirage fell into the Pacific Ocean, as did Wg Cdr James Brummond’s. James was a member of the station Philatelic Club, of which I was President. Then there was Plt Off Bill Goddard, whose Sabre crashed in flames on the city of Newcastle in NSW. So, I had fared better than these. Why? God alone knows.
So, I have now completed seven decades and am embarking on a eighth, all beginning and ending in the figure 8. Will I be here in 2018? Who knows, but at least I can look back to the other seven with mixed feelings.
In 1948 the invincible Australians, led by the legendry Don Bradman, were in England. One day in August I came in from playing in the street, where we all played, to hear loud applause on the radio. The radio, or wireless, as we called it in those days, was almost new. We had recently had ‘the electric’ installed and Dad had replaced the old accumulator set with this new bells and whistles outfit. “What’s happening?” I asked. “Bradman has just come in to play his last innings in Test cricket,” the pater advised. Well, young as I was, even I had heard of the Don, and I settled beside my pipe smoking father to listen. The Australian god was out second ball, without scoring.
“He’s not very good,” I remarked as I headed back into the street. In time, I would learn and ask God for forgiveness for my ill chosen comment. I have hated the bowler, Eric Hollies of Warwickshire for the rest of my life. In 1948 I was young and stupid, but at least I was too young to realise that I was stupid.
1958 found me in London, as a policeman with one year’s experience, still dripping wet behind the ears. I would marry, in much the same condition, later the same year. I was still young and still a bit stupid. Well, naïve may have been a better description.
In 1968 I was serving in the RAAF in Sydney as a flying officer and a year away from being posted to Penang in Malaysia. My daughter, Jenny, had been born a month before my 30th, to join her five year old brother, Rory. I thought that I knew it all.
By 1978 I was back in England, with the family, and working for Mobil Oil. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this would be my last permanent job, and would last for twenty three years. I saw Sinatra in concert for the second time, and Neil Diamond for the first. A couple of weeks ago I saw Diamond for perhaps the seventh time; he is better than ever. In 1978 I was ambitious, unsettled and beginning to realise that I did not know it all.
I became fifty in 1988. It was a momentous year for many reasons. My patch was the UK and Ireland. I became divorced and my daughter got married, for the first time. I also wrote the first of my five novels, each one as successful as the others. I was, in some ways, even more unsettled in my personal life but totally confident in my business life. I thought that I knew it all, and probably bloody well did.
It may be usual to say that when I was sixty, in 1998, I became aware of my own mortality, but I have, in truth, been so aware since I was thirty. Professionally, I was probably at the top of my game, with security responsibilities for Mobil’s operations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Former Soviet Union. I was as familiar with Kinshasa as I was with Moscow or Almaty, the latter two being infinitely preferable to the former. I was respected in my job and not only among Mobil people. I was a recognised as an old ‘Africa hand’, accustomed to talking to Government Ministers and Chiefs of Police in some pretty awful places. Big deal.
And so here I am at seventy. In the last decade I have been made redundant, thank you Jesus, and have worked freelance for myself. I have lived and worked for six months in South Africa, a time of blessed memory. My work has taken me to Beirut and Petra, to Algiers and the bandit country of Northern Nigeria. I have owned and sold a house in France, and during those five years spent perhaps fifteen months dans la belle France. I have hugged a tiger, the lovely Tessa, and after trekking for five days at 11,000 feet in the Himalayas, met her wilder cousin face to face.
My daughter and son have both divorced. In her case, it was a messy painful business, during the course of which she lost her home and her business, before becoming bankrupt. My former wife, after many years of ignoring my existence, decided to send Christmas and birthday cards, and we have even met on three or four occasions.
I bought the third, and probably the last of my three Jaguars; a four litre convertible XJS. The big cat was a mere kitten when we met, with 27,000 miles on her whiskers. She is now an adult pussy cat and we have travelled a further 105,000 miles in the last eight years.
I have followed my hobby of exploring battlefields and have been to South Africa, United States, Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and to my favourite, Waterloo in Belgium.
I have holidayed in Australia, India, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Turkey and God knows where else. I have been on two cruises, one to the West Indies, the other to Greenland and the Artic.
Ten years ago, Tony Blair was telling us that ‘Things can only get better’. Ten years on, Liar Blair, he of the illegal Iraq war, is history. His successor, Bottler Brown is a charisma bypassed, bumbling, incoherent incompetent. And this is better, boys?
No surprise then, in light of the previous observation, to reveal that I have stood for public office three times since 2003, as a Conservative candidate, twice for Epsom and once for Surrey Council. I got two silvers and a bronze.
I have traced my family back for nearly two hundred years.
The Government of Australia, in its wisdom, awarded me the Australian Defence Medal and the Australian Service Medal with South East Asia clasp, some thirty years after I left the RAAF. I suppose that belated recognition is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
In summary, this has not been a bad, or unsuccessful tally for a decade.
And yet, and yet, what has the last decade really brought me? To be truthfully and painfully honest, mostly an overwhelming sense of loss, lost happiness and lost chances. I have lived these ten long, lost years without Jeanne, who was the love of my life. When I think about it, and I do, she is still the love of my life and, as best I can call it, she always will be. Ten years ago, the loss was a sharp, constant pain which now and then subsided into a dull ache. Now it has reduced to simply a dull ache with occasional kidney stone like pain, a pain that clichéd platitudes about fish in the sea and buses along in a minute, did not relieve. I grew tired of being told ‘I understand’ by people who clearly did not. You have had to be in that place to understand. It is like childless people talking about having children. If you haven’t been there, you haven’t a clue.
If it was possible, I would exchange all the experience and success of the last, lost decade to be with her now.
Written by my Father B.M