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The genteman with Parkinson’s ceased attending the group. A couple of years later he came to me with plans for another book. He had been researching his ancestry in County Clare and had discovered that a female relative was among a group of teenaged girls taken from a workhouse and given an assited passage to Australia.
This took place during the great famine in the mid 1800s. Such girls were provided with a wardrobe of clothing and the ship’s captain was paid by the authorities and/or the benefactor who helped finance the scheme. The girls would find work – and in many cases a husband – among the male settlers establishing themselves as farmers in remote parts of the colony.
Patrick’s ancestor was one of the few who later returned. His discovery had sparked an interest in the famine and he had acquired a number of books about the period which he hoped to use to create his own book, for which he needed assistance. I agreed to look at his material after which I would indicate whether or not I was willing to assist.
I found the books enlightening, Patrick’s notes difficult to read. There were many repetitions, the pattern of his thoughts difficult to follow. Nevertheless, I agreed to interpret them and add my own thoughts on the contents of the books. Later I found other sources for the real life horror story of Ireland in this terrible period. The result was A Purgatory of Misery in which I sought to provide some context for the events, based on the history, geography and culture that underlies the relationship between Ireland and its larger neighbour.
Looking in particular at the effects of the famine in County Clare I came across the story of Arthur Kennedy, who was appointed Poor Law Inspector to the Kilrush Union with responsibility for ensuring the efficient dispensing of assistance to the people suffering starvation throughout the West of the county. He discovered and exposed the practice, carried out by many landowners, of evicting families from their homes in the most brutal and inhuman fashion. A story I felt compelled to write, trying my best to imagine how a man with a background as an army officer, who would later become a senior diplomat, knighted for his serices, would respond to the conditions he found.
That book took a long time to finish, in first draft. I am now working on improving it prior to publishing some time in 2020.
In the spring of 2015 a seurity contractor began installing temporary fencing around the empty houses opposite us. Shortly afterwards I discovered that a planning application had been lodged relating to the site. I examined the application at the county head quarters where I learned that all of the site, except the ten occupied houses, had been purchased by the proprietor of the nursing home. His plan was to extend and convert the apartment block to create a second nursing home.
At a meeting of the occupiers later that year he explained that he also intended to enhance the landscaping of the site and to complete and sell all of the unoccupied houses. This project was fiinally completed in the summer of 2018 and we now have a retirement village, fully occupied with an active residents’ committee of which I am a member.
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.
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.
A few days ago Stevie Turner posted on this subject, taking her cue from an earlier post by Colline Kook-Chun. It inspired me to think about some of the events that influenced the direction my life has taken.
- My father’s death in action in 1943. Had he survived the war, who knows what my life would have been like? I would probably have been brought up as a Londoner, since both parents were from there. I certainly would not have gone, at age 10¾ to a boarding school established for boys who had lost one or both parents. The school still exists, although the majority of pupils these days pay expensive fees. I shall be back there later this year celebrating 60 years since I left. Thanks to modern technology, many of my contemporaries communicate regularly with each other despite being scattered in different parts of the world.
- Meeting my wife in the summer of 1961. I was 19, she 16. I proposed in the early hours of December 27th, as I walked her home from the Boxing Night dance. We kept our engagement secret until her 17th birthday in June 1962 and were married in September 1963.
- Discovering, in the spring of 1965 as we moved into our first new house, that she was pregnant. We had not planned to start a family quite so soon but our son brought a new phase in our lives as a family unit and, as you will discover below, led to us coming to live in Ireland.
- Joining the staff at the Engineering HQ of a large corporation in the summer of 1968. That took me to South Africa and eventually to East Lincolnshire. Altogether I worked for over 18 years for that corporation and the pension I paid into now provides about 1/3rd of my annual income. It also led to:
- Being elected to Humberside County Council in May 1985. I was one of 4 Liberals elected that year. The other two parties had 35 and 36 members so we held the ‘balance of power’, able to veto any proposal from either of the other parties. I like to think we used this power wisely. It was certainly extremely time consuming because, in order to do the job, we had to be represented on every committee, sub-committee and working party.
My employer was extraordinarily generous with allowing me time off to do this, but after a year and a half I was offered the choice: cut down on your council activities or take redundancy. The redundancy offer was generous and I accepted, having visions of a new career as a writer and politician. After working, unpaid, for the party in the run-up to the 1987 General Election I needed to find some alternative source of income which takes us to:
- Our shop. We decided that, since Freda had worked all of her life in shops, latterly as manager of a charity shop, we should set up our own shop. I would look after the administration whilst she worked ‘front of house’. I researched the market and decided that Cleeethorpes could benefit from having a quality glass, china and giftware outlet. A unit was available in a building belonging to a kitchen design specialist who had his show-room upstairs. This seemed like an excellent fit. I talked to potential suppliers, put together a business plan and everything looked promising until the building went on sale. The owner’s plan to increase his income by creating and letting units had not worked out. Any thought that the new owner might still be interested in having us as a tenant was dashed when planning permission to open a fast food outlet was applied for.
The next premises we looked at meant a complete change of plan. It was a moderately successful food retailer. The owner, a chef, prepared a range of chilled ready-meals in a kitchen at the back which he sold in the shop, alongside the usual deli-type goods and speciality foods. His recipes had been so successful that he had taken a small factory unit in Grimsby and wanted someone to take on the retail business, with him continuing to supply the popular ready meals. We opened in September and did great business in the run up to Christmas. Then the chef lost a big contract and had to close the unit so we lost our main supplier. We struggled on for the next few months but the risk involved in food retailing is enormous and we just could not compete with the supermarkets who were starting to develop their own deli counters and chilled ready meals.
I got a part-time job writing business profiles for a regional business magazine but in the May 1989 election I lost my council seat and returned to my original career as an Engineer.
- Our son’s marriage in 1993. His wife is Irish and in due course they moved to Dublin with their daughter. So, when considering retirement options in 2006, moving to Ireland to be near them was a ‘no brainer’. More than eleven years on we are still here, enjoying life in a small Irish country town where we have met many new friends, some through the writing group to which I belong, and some through the support centre for people touched by cancer where we both volunteer.
At the end of Stevie’s post are two questions, originally posed by Colline. Here they are, with my answers:
- Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s… a Ryanair jet bringing home the owner of the Grand National winning horse and offering free drinks to all the passengers
- What music do you like: Jazz, Folk, Rock, Blues, Broadway/West End Musical scores.
Thanks, Colline and Stevie, for the inspiration. I wonder how many of my followers will be tempted to follow suit?