Born Muswell Hill, London, England, 13 June 1954, the last in a spread-out family of five, our one sister being the eldest.
Family moved to Cowden, Kent when I was 3 years old, into the house my Dad had been building. He carried on finishing it as I was growing up. We were High Church Anglicans, though Holy Trinity Mark Beech was ‘lower’ than that which my parents were used to.
In 1959 I started at Hever CE Primary school, 60 pupils, leaving in 1965 having “passed” the 11-plus examination (when I was 10).
This led to my entry into The Skinners’ School (don’t forget the apostrophe), a Grammar school for boys in Tunbridge Wells; ‘Twigs’, the Tunbridge Wells County Girls’ School (apostrophe remembered) was just over the road. I never did find the tunnel under the road, being less interested than some, I suppose.
During this time I had what is known as “an evangelical conversion”, though I called it “becoming a Christian”. This awakening of faith had a huge effect for good in my life, though it did little to reduce the narrow-mindedness ingested at home, and little to draw me out of my shell in more public situations.
Teens were difficult, leading to confusion and uncertainty after two moderate A level passes. Eventually I went to an evening Bible College in London and worked for British Rail – Sealink at Victoria station. IRA bomb scares in London were frequent.
Later I worked as a full-time volunteer in St Mark’s Church, Kennington, then ended up in the ubiquitous “P&D” – painting and decorating – from where I branched out into other skills in house renovation, doubtless assisted by what I had unknowingly picked up from Dad’s efforts at home.
In 1978 I joined what became Roehampton University, taking a combined degree in Education and Environmental Studies (ES) with the aim of teaching. TP (Teaching Practice) in Inner London schools finally persuaded me that I should give up on that idea so I dropped Education and took up Sociology, finally graduating in 1982, and celebrating with a trip to the Soviet Union – my first time to fly, at the age of 28.
In 1982 it was hard enough to get any job, let alone one using my interests and qualifications in ES. I did apply for some jobs in housing management to no avail. Needed money so back to the housing renovation.
I believe I imbibed my interest in the less fortunate from my mother, who was a keen supporter of the Mothers’ Union work overseas, and collected money from friends and neighbours for Oxfam. From my dad I got my love of both the natural world (though often unable to identify different species), and indeed the built environment.
I got the call to work in Africa and left in January 1984 for the Anglican Diocese of Karamoja in the wild north-east of Uganda. Administratively, I was a volunteer for a missionary society who asked me if I could supervise and organise the construction of small single storey buildings – houses, offices, clinics, etc. I was reasonably confident I could, so I did. The bishop at the time was an ex-architect so that helped. Aside from that, knowing what you don’t know, and knowing where to look were the keys, as well as trying to acquire the necessary management and people skills.
The Karimojong are a semi-nomadic, cattle-keeping people with similar lifestyle to the Masai. Since 1979 they have been defending their cattle with machine guns. I learnt all the names for such, but no other details. Yoweri Museveni’s take-over in January 1986 was interesting, and a little ‘hairy’.
Mother died February 1986. I left Uganda end of same year, did a year’s Missionary & Cross-cultural study, and went back to the same job in Uganda in September 1988. Stayed for 3 more years, informally adopted a son, got engaged to be married.
1992, went to Kampala (Uganda’s capital) to take up one of two jobs I thought had been offered. Both fell through: there followed the (mostly) dark years, the long night of the soul, which included a marriage begun and ended, the (happy) birth of a daughter, a finding of myself , and, slowly and painfully, the loss of my evangelical faith.
A new dawn of understanding has contributed to the ongoing process of re-building – myself. Meanwhile I dossed around, the odd contract in building- or development- related work, a year and a half as the maintenance officer of the international school. In 1997 I set up a small company – renovation and installation. It helped us survive and eventually covered the cost of building a semi-detached pair of houses as settlement for my wife. In 2005 I came back to UK with ten-year-old daughter and have settled in Bangor, north Wales. I am now a part of Bangor Friends Meeting (Quakers).
Dad died in 2006 at the age of 94.
Back to housing renovation for a while, becoming increasingly difficult for my back. In early 2009 I began studying and easing myself into copy-editing and proof-reading.
Also part of: Bangor and Ynys Môn Peace and Justice Group, Bangor Community Choir, the Steering Group of Trawsnewid Bangor Transition, and a French conversation group.
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