For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory. I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here.
I’m conscious of how much luck plays a part in how one’s life pans out. Unlike 1977/8 when I started hunting for a place to do my 2 years practical training to be a lawyer – what we called ‘articles’ then and now ‘ training contracts’ – which was during a ferocious recession and at a point when the legal press said we already had too many lawyers, qualifying in 1981 was a different bundle of (legal) briefs. Timing is often what makes a difference and the upcoming deregulation in the City of London created a need for lots more legal hands. Suddenly getting a job wasn’t so hard after all.
I’m not kidding myself – hard work and a modicum of the right sort of grey matter count too – but often there can be an ingredient without which the opportunity might not present itself. I can cite many of these in my life and their eventual outcome – a broken casserole dish and marriage; being gazumped twice and buying my dream home; ballroom dancing and writing my first book – but I want to consider two others here.
The first I’ve written about before at some (many would say my usual) length. This is how a Bear called Paddington saw me on my way to, first, a grammar school, then university and finally a career in the law. Rather than repeat myself, if you’ve not seen this before and are interested, please click here.
The second is how my journey to university was dependent on being a boy scout. Yes, it’s true that is meant to make you ‘be prepared’ but it’s more than that. It’s about helping others and back in the early 70’s when I was twiddling a woggle and earning some badges the best way we helped was Bob a Job week.
At the time this took place, that title was already passé. We ceased to have the ‘bob’ or shilling as legal tender in 1972 on accession to the EEC, now EU but, after WW2 this idea of offering to do some useful job for a modest payment took hold. Of course inflation had had an impact so in 1973/4 a bob, or five pence in what we liked to call new money was nothing like as generous as when the idea took shape. Oh and the money wasnt for me but for the scouts. Just so you know!
That of course wasn’t the point. And often, as I trailed around the streets near my home I’d been given jobs and be paid a lot more that a bob. A local doctor got me to creosote his paddock railings and paid me £2 – that was mostly because I managed to tip the creosote over my head and he nearly died laughing as he watched me do it, via the expedient of an involuntary cartwheel round the top bar of the paddock fence. Equally I was asked to scrub the mould off a caravan that quivered with a green slime and was paid the bob I’d asked for – dad wanted to go round and tell said caravan owner what he thought of him but sense prevailed – he was huge.
But the best gig came via my mother and her best friend locally – a flighty and yet formidable woman called Iris Gostling. She owned a wonderfully rambling house with a huge garden and always needed help with it. Her gardener had been there for fifty years and had difficulty bending which was something of a limitation for a gardener. So I was asked to do 2 hours weeding which pleased her. It pleased me as I earned a better rate than any other job and was fed tea and home made shortbread too.
A few days later Mum told me that Mrs G, as I came to know her, wondered if I wanted a regular job, 2 hours at the weekend. Did I? Pocket money in those more straitened times was almost non-existent so cash in hand in this way was too good to pass up.
It was nearly always fun as Mrs G liked to garden with me – or maybe she was watching me – and regaled me with many anecdotes of her time in the London Theatre before and after the war. Her husband – a bluff, plummy-voiced giant of a man with a disconcerting list caused by a stroke – sought to discuss rugby with me and rather irritated Mrs G if that meant I was kept from my work. But the best part of this new found employment to my 14/5 year old self was their son, David.
He wasn’t around when I started but appeared one late summer day, berry brown and smiling. He’d been on some extended travelling in an old VW camper van with his then girlfriend and had wound their way across Europe and ended in Israel where they had worked on a kibbutz. I think they split up there but David didn’t seem to mind much. He had qualified as a lawyer before he went travelling and now had another job and a flat in town, as we called living in London.
At weekends though, he would travel to the New Forest, partly I expect because it was cheaper to be fed and watered at home but mostly so he could work on the then love of his life which was restoring a Triumph TR4.
Initially I saw him at a distance, passed pleasantries with him and got on with my work but one foully wet day when even the greenhouse was out of bounds Mrs G suggested I ‘go and hold a spanner’ or something.
In truth I wasn’t much use but somehow I made him laugh and he fascinated me. He talked of university and the law, of travel and kibbutz life and sex, lots of it. God alone knows how much was true and how much fabricated but, to me, the rural bumpkin that I was with aspirations to be anywhere than where I was it sound like a combination of Willy Wonka’s and Nirvana.
David had gone to Bristol, to university, in 1967 to do a law degree. He admitted he barely did the minimum and scraped his degree. He partied hard, but during his time he somehow found the money to get across to the States in 1968 and hitched across country to San Francisco as the Summer of Love took hold.
He also told me he wanted to do pretty much anything except be a lawyer but until he had worked out what and made a bit of money, he intended to stay at the legal front line and tough it out.
He sounded noble, brave-hearted, curious, multi talented and interesting – everything I was not and would never be where I was then, on the edge of a bog surrounded by pesky ponies and zero social life.
I wasn’t totally gullible and I realised there were some things about him and me that would never be the same – he relished cocking a snook to authority whereas I didn’t and never have. But something of those pictures he painted somehow marinated an idea in my head – go to university, go to Bristol, do law and there’s an escape, a way out, forward. And if there’s a smidgen of sex on the way, well, that’s all good then.