I found a book in our local library based on genealogical research undertaken into the life of a local man who migrated from Ireland to the USA in 1985, aged 19. After several jobs on the East Coast, he travelled to the North West, following the gold rush via Dawson City in Canada to the Klondike in Alaska. Like so many others he lived a precarious existence, never making a fortune but always making just about enough to live on.
It occurred to me that this would make the basis for a historical novel and began work on what would become my first self-published novel “Honest Hearts”. I discovered a group of local aspiring writers and joined them in the summer of 2010. I have remained a member ever since. We share examples of our work and offer encouragement and feedback.
In the spring and summer of 2010 we began a serious search for a bungalow. We looked at several in various parts of the county. We were aware that the value of our house had reduced substantially as a result of the collapse of the property market following the banking crisis of 2008. This was not necessarily the bad news for us that it might seem. The value of all properties had fallen, meaning homes that were previously out of reach were now within our price range. Some that we looked at required a good deal of work in order to bring them up to an acceptable standard. The thought of taking on a renovation project at our advanced years wa attractive but daunting.
We found a group of bungalows, designated ‘retirement village’, in part of a larger development. These were already occupied but some were being sold by their current owners. The interior layout of these did not please us. Freda, especially, dislikes ‘open plan’, or any arrangement that connects the kitchen with the space in which to relax and entertain. She prefers to keep cooking smells in one place. Then we discovered another retirement village. This one was close to a nursing home, part of the same development. The nursing home was almost complete, as were a small proportion of the bungalows, ones the council had purchased.
Sales of the remaining properties had stalled with the crash but a show-home was furnished and a renewed marketing effort underway. There were about a dozen identical detached bungalows, along with a similar number of terraced homes and an apartment block. Walking around the sloping site we spotted a home at the top of the hill that appeared to be larger than the others. Also, it occupied a larger plot. How much did the developer want for that one, we wondered. When we were told it was the same price as the others we were amazed and delighted.
We paid our holding deposit in August, accepted an offer on our house the following month, and took possession of a rented property on a six month lease. By February no work had been done on the home we thought we were buying. My inquiry revealed that the developer was awaiting instructions from us. We quickly swung into action, choosing kitchen and bedroom fittings and floor coverings.
We had to be out of our rented property by the end of April and the owner was reluctant to extend the lease. He wanted a tenant who would be willing to stay for a long period and feared he would be less likely to find such a tenant later in the year. I got our solictor to include a clause in the contract to the effect that, if we were unable to occupy the house by the end of April, the contract would be void. What we would have done had that happened I have no idea – we would have deliberately made ourselves homeless! In the event we were able to move in on April 29, 2011, although our power supply came via a portable generator for the first three weeks.
As you will have discovered if you have been following my ‘Monday Memories’ series I have, throughout my adult life, done stuff other than paid work. There are hundreds of organisations without which much of what we take for granted in our communities would simply disappear. Every one of them depends on people giving their time and talents free of charge. So I was delighted to see Sally Cronin’s blog post yesterday in which she extolled the virtues of volunteering. If you didn’t see it on her site, here is a link.
Sally included a link to the website that acts as a ‘clearing house’ for voluntary organisations in the UK. My ‘Monday Memory‘ yesterday included one to Volunteer Ireland. Wherever you live in the world, entering ‘volunteering’ into a search engine will take you to a host of opportunities from which you can choose one that suits you.
The person we appointed as manager of the Services to Elderly People Project was due to commence work at the beginning of September. In August he notified us that he would not be able to leave his current employment as soon as he had originally supposed. As manager of a group of insurance collectors he was engaged in the process of winding down the operation which was transitioning to telephone and internet.
Completion of the process was not going easily and was now expected to take until December. He would have to withdraw his acceptance of our appointment. The steering committee met and decided that, rather than go through the whole recruitment process again, we needed someone to fill the gap as temporary manager, until our designated appointee was available. Delaying the start of the project would mean losing a significant element of the funding. I was asked if I would be willing to fulfill that temporary role, subject to a successful interview?
The upshot was that I found myself in full time paid employment once again, albeit for a short period. I took part in the recruitment of the first employees, each of whom had experienced a long period of unemployment and would be engaged part-time so that they could continue to receive welfare payments whilst also working on the project. I purchased tools and equipment, prepared and distributed a publicity leaflet, set up a task recording and scheduling system and, at the end of February, handed over a fully operational service to the new manager.
Late in the summer of 2009 I received a call from the manager of the community development organisation telling me she had nominated me to take part in a course being run by Volunteer Ireland. At the end of it I and the other man she had nominated would be qualified to deliver the same course to community groups around the county, the aim being to enable them to better manage their volunteers.
One of the participants on the first course I delivered, in January 2010, was manager of a cancer support charity. I asked her about the work that volunteers undertook at the centre they run. “Right now I’m looking for a gardener,” she said. When I told her of my interest in gardening she suggested that I arrange to meet with her in the spring to talk about it. Nearer the appointed date I suggested to Freda that she come with me. Maybe there were some tasks she could undertake as a volunteer there.
As a result of that meeting we agreed that I would work in the garden twice a week and that Freda would run a weekly knitting and crochet session for clients. Thus began an association that would last until the present day.
Meanwhile my efforts with the paint brush were continuing. The group held annual exhibitions and I sold a few paintings. I mostly painted landscapes, working from photographs, sometimes my own, sometimes from published images, especially from calendars. I had also taken tentative steps toward my other proposed activity, writing. Sometime in 2007/8 the local council offered a series of writing workshops which I attended one evening a week for 8 or 10 weeks.
Later in 2008 they appointed a writer in residence. Although I did not attend her workshops, I did answer her call for submissions for stories for inclusion in an anthology she was to publish at the end of her term of office. To my surprise and delight the story was accepted and duly appeared in print.
Then late in 2009 I saw an advertisement on the internet for an organisation offering opportunities for would-be writers. I e-mailed a sample piece and was instantly accepted. In hindsight that should have flagged a warning. Over the next year or so I submitted several articles with varying degrees of success.
The business model was what has come to be known as a “content farm”. Articles are produced with the deliberate intention to attract advertising. People clicking advertisements produce income for the organisation, some of which is shared with the writer. Articles are peppered with key words targeted at specific readers thereby attracting advertisers who also want to appeal to those readers. The research required can be time consuming and the business model was earning a bad reputation.
There were several attempts to change the model but eventually the business collapsed. The principle benefit for me and many others was the opportunity to “talk” to other aspiring writers via the forum. I have since been able to watch as the careers of several blossomed following the demise of the company.
In the run up to retirement I was repeatedly asked “What are you going to do with your time?” I was in no doubt, and told anyone who asked, that writing and painting were things I’d always wanted to do. Colleagues very kindly presented me with retirement present consisting of a selection of artist’s materials – acrylic paints, pastels, an easel and a pad of art paper.
The first weeks in the new house were taken up with creating a garden in the small space at the rear, shopping for furniture, and carrying out various DIY tasks to provide features that the developer had not covered. My daily routine included an hour walking to the town centre to purchase a newspaper and returning. This took me past a new senior school still under construction. By January 2007 the school was open and offering a range of evening classes for adults.
I joined the art class, Freda the flower arranging group. By the time the 10 week course was over I felt I was not learning anything of value. A brief item in a local newspaper indicated that a local group of amateur artists, who met weekly, were looking for new members. I contacted the lady whose number was provided in the article. I became a member of the group and remained so for the next 5 years.
I also wanted to resume providing my services as a volunteer. In April, in Ireland, a “Clean up week” takes place, the idea being for volunteers to participate in the collection of litter and a general tidying up of the local environment. Freda and I joined in with this event and were thereby introduced to the “Tidy Towns” group. Evenings during the summer were then spent planting up, and maintaining, various containers and hanging baskets around the town.
Tidy Towns is a movement not unlike the “Britain in Bloom” initiative in UK. Groups of volunteers in every community work hard to improve the appearance of their town or village through the use of planting and the clearing of weeds and rubbish from all those untidy corners; streams, lakes or canals. An annual competition is held to award certificates to those communities deemed most successful in these activities.
As keen gardeners we enjoyed both the physical activity involved and the camaraderie (the “craic”) that accompanied it. We would often end an evening of hard work with an hour of relaxation in one or other of several pubs. We continued as active members of the Tidy Towns group for the next 4 years.
Also that summer, 2007, a music festival, grandly entitled “The World Fleadh” (pronounced flaah), took place in the town. They appealed for volunteers with the offer of free entry into some of the concerts due to take place. I offered my time and was assigned the task of looking after the festival camp site. This proved to be not very onerous as there were only a handful of caravans, motor homes and tents.
The atmosphere around the town during the festival was electric, with stalls selling street food, cheap jewellery and clothing lining one street. The music on offer majored on Irish traditional music but included some mainstream popular genres also. I remember watching Katie Melua, for example, as well as a Manchester based Irish folk Group I had first seen, and been very impressed by, in UK a few years before – Flook.
All of this activity took up the summer but autumn and winter loomed with little by way of daytime activity to occupy us. Then, in January, a newsletter was distributed around the town by a semi-state organisation involved in community development. They were responsible for several projects, all described in the leaflet, which also indicated that some of those projects needed volunteers. I contacted the organisation and, after a brief interview in which I pitched my background and skill set, I joined as a volunteer administration worker carrying out various tasks over 3 hours each Wednesday morning.
The organisation had applied for funding for a new project, this one concerned with helping elderly people with simple tasks in their homes. The application had been rejected because it included certain activities which were already within the remit of the national Health Service Executive. It was necessary to submit a revised application with that element removed. This meant completely re-working the financial justification and cash flow predictions. This task was assigned to me.
In the summer, with funding for the project approved, a steering group was established to kick start it, recruiting staff and finding premises. As a member of the target demographic I was co-opted to that committee as chairperson.
In the summer of 2005 we planned a long weekend visit to Ireland to check out the housing market in towns near to where Ian was living. We picked the weekend immediately preceding Mum’s birthday and arranged to bring our grand daughter back to England with us, taking her to Kent to visit Mum on her birthday the following Wednesday.
The day we were due to travel, Thursday 7th July, I had arranged to leave work early. I had been at my desk barely 30 minutes when I took a call from Freda. She had heard on the radio that there had been terrorist attacks on transport in London. Victoria Station was mentioned.
Freda wondered should she ring Mum who could be worried about my sister who commuted daily from Kent to Victoria Station. I said it was best not to – if she had heard the news she’d want the line clear so as to receive a call from my sister. If she had not heard, best not to worry her. A few minutes later Freda rang again. My sister had rung to say that she had arrived safely at work to be told that Mum had been taken ill. She was now on her way back to Kent.
Now, instead of travelling to Ireland that afternoon, we drove to Kent. Mum had been found by the warden of the apartment block, collapsed in her bathroom. She was in a coma in hospital in Canterbury. She remained in the coma until the Friday evening when her breathing ceased.
A month later we did undertake our trip to Ireland and looked around several new estates under construction. We thought that a bungalow would suit us best as we aged. We found, via the internet, an estate where there were a few bungalows included. On site we were told the bungalows had all been sold – they were in phase 1. The developer was now selling phase 2, due for completion in the summer of 2006. That would be ideal, since I was due to retire in the autumn of that year. We placed a deposit on a small house in the centre of a block of three which, on plan, seemed to have a decent outlook, on the edge of the development.
My retirement date was the last day of the month in which my birthday occurred – November. That was the date from which my pension would be payable. Of course, the state pension and a couple of small annuities were paid from my birthday onwards, and I was already receiving my Courtaulds pension.
The company mandated 26 days leave during an employee’s final year before retirement. These were supposed to be taken as one day per week over a sixth month period and used to prepare for retirement. The company even offered courses to help with the transition from work to retirement. I arranged with my manager to add those 26 days to the 5 weeks annual leave to which I was entitled.
We’d need a couple of weeks in the summer to make arrangements for taking over the new house, shopping for furniture and so on, but it would be possible for me to leave on the first Friday in October, 8 weeks before my employment officially ceased. The following Monday we were on the evening ferry from Hollyhead to Dun Laoghaire.
Two novels with the same premise, one British one American.
An adolescent girl is raped by her violin teacher. The victim then murders her abuser. What happens next forms the substance of each of these novels. In both the murder takes place some time after the rape and is part of a desperate attempt to save a potential future victim.
In Diane Chamberlain’s The Silent Sister the rape victim is still a teenager at the time of her crime. Faced with prosecution she escapes to a new life by faking her suicide. Years later her much younger sister uncovers this and a series of related family secrets as she tackles the task of settling her father’s affairs following his death.
The novel alternates between the younger sister’s discoveries and the older sister’s new life. In the background are a couple who know the truth and threaten blackmail and a private eye who doesn’t believe the suicide story.
The protagonist in Christobel Kent‘s What We Did is older at the time of her crime. She has spent 20 years building a “normal” life after the abuse when the perpetrator reappears in her life. The book explores her feelings as she now has to conceal the body at the same time as preventing the secrets of the past tearing her family apart.
Meanwhile a hardened female journalist believes she is on to a scoop, aiming to reveal the violin teacher’s secret life as a paedophile.
I read both books recently, unaware until I began the second, of the similarities between the two. Both were page turners, hard to put down. There were passages in The Silent Sister that I found quite moving. I was certainly rooting for both sisters as the possibility of the murderer’s exposure came closer. Similarly, as the level of threat to the rape victim’s family in What We Did increased, I was in her corner, hoping that she would succeed in her poorly thought out quest.
Of the two, it was Kent’s novel I found most engaging, for the way it portrayed the inner life of the protagonist. Perhaps this was inevitable since writer, protagonist and I, as reader, are all British. Hiding our true feelings are common traits for us Brits. A character that does that and starts to fall apart as she faces the possibility of having to reveal the truth seems all to real to us.
There is also a strong sense of place in the (fictional) small university town in East Anglia with its cobbled lanes and looming towers.
Only after reading both books did I start to question the underlying assumption in each – that a victim of rape deserves to get away with murdering her abuser. The law, in the USA and the UK, does not excuse murder in cold blood, although the punishment may be reduced in circumstances such as these. Both books, however, rely on the murderer successfully evading the forces of law enforcement. And, as readers, we applaud.
Should we? I wonder. What do you think?
After listening to the village church bells ringing in the new millenium, I joined their team and began once again to learn the art.
From our arrival in East Yorkshire onwards I continued to help at elections. We got to know the Liberal parliamentary candidate in the area, an elderly woman who occupied a large house where she held the occasional garden party to raise funds.
Following boundary changes, a new candidate was selected for the newly created Howden and Haltemprice constituency. Diana Wallis was a successful solicitor and I recall attending several meetings at her home ahead of the 1997 general election and the 1999 European election. In 1997 she came second to David Davis, in 1999 she was one of several MEPs elected for the Yorkshire Region. She was re-elected to the European Parliament in 2004 and held several important roles there. She has since left the Liberal Democrats, becoming a founder member of the Yorkshire Party.
In 2001 and 2005 the Liberal Democrat candidate was a young man called Jon Neal and in 2001 he succeeded in reducing Davis’s majority. A young PR manager from the local Independent Radio station stood against John Prescott in the Hull East constituency. Because this seat was regarded as safe for Labour, very little effort went into the Liberal Democrat’s campaign.
Howden, however, was regarded as a Liberal Democrat “target” and that young woman worked hard for Jon’s team. Her name? Jo Swinson. Last week she was elected leader of the Party, having secured election to Parliament in 2005 in her native Dunbartonshire. Jon Neal stood again in 2010 but has since moved to Suffolk where he works for the mental health charity Mind.
In the early noughties we took our summer holidays 3 times in Cornwall and contemplated moving there after retirement. The verdant countryside and spectacular coastline were very tempting. House prices less so – especially when compared to values in our part of Yorkshire. So, when, in 2004, we began seriously to consider our retirement options we rejected that idea.
We could, of course, stay where we were. However, we were a long way from Freda’s relatives in Hereford, my mother who was now in Kent alongside my sister and her family, and our son in Ireland. We decided to investigate the possibility of moving to Ireland. We had our house valued and discovered that it had increased by over 150% since we purchased it in 1991. There had been a period when house prices were static through the early ’90s so most of this increase had taken place over about 10 years.
During that time there had been many changes to housing finance. When we purchased we were paying 13% or 14% interest. As time went on, interest rates fell. The chancellor took advantage of the falling interest rates to reduce and, eventually, eliminate tax relief on mortgage interest.
Of course, falling interest rates meant that the returns on the investments backing the endowment policy were reduced and providers began issuing warnings that the final payout may not be sufficient to repay the outstanding capital. Borrowers were advised to maintain the level of payments as the amount required to cover interest reduced, so as to chip away at the outstanding capital.
We were able to do that and, by the time our 15 year endowment mortgage matured, in April 2006, we had a small cash surplus.