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Fear Not

My love, my dove, my beautiful wife, 

Fear not what time can do, 

Silver flecks of finite copper gold in your soft hair. 

With time I will change,  

But not you.  

In the arms of our dear Lord, will not grow old,   

I weep and weep 

no more. 

 

When we got married – we got married in Dulwich – we went to Australia for £10. It was about 1956 and the Australians wanted migrants. You had a free six-week boat trip, and we went through the Suez Canal, across the Indian Ocean to Perth, and we ended up in Tasmania – Tazzy – the little island to the south. We were both lady’s hairdressers. I bought a split-screen Morris Minor for about 25 quid. They're worth a fortune now! And I said to my wife, come on, let's go to Queensland, I fancy Queensland. We chucked our jobs in, got the boat to the mainland. I didn't realise Queensland was about 4,000 miles away!  


We drove, opened a business and did very well actually. Did too well quite frankly. I'd never been in business before, and what was I? About 22 or 23. I went bush to a place called Longbridge, about 600 miles from the coast, and they welcomed me with open arms. There were lots of posh ladies who wanted their hair done. Their husbands – they called them ‘cockys’ – owned vast tracks of land, merino sheep. They'd come into town, cowboy style, so we did quite well. I ended up with three salons. Eventually we moved down to the coast. They say we did rather well, but in business, if you've got a business as a core, once you open other ones, instead of doubling your profits, you're doubling your problems really!  


I didn't go bankrupt or anything like that, but we ended up back where we started, going to work for someone else. We had a couple of children, so we decided to come back to England after 10 years in Queensland. We opened a lady's hairdressing salon in Skipton. It's a lovely place. I had a client one day who was a geography teacher at the grammar school. She said, you'd make a good teacher. I said, do you think so? Yes, she said. I'll ask my husband. Her husband was a lecturer at the local education college. I had an interview. I said I've got six O-levels, two A-levels and I told him I'd been to Australia. He said, you're in! 15 minutes and I'm in, just like that! I went out and bought a pair of flared trousers like all of the other students. I made friends up there, and I’m hoping to go up in the summer, do a bit of camping, just a bit of fun. I’m trying to rebuild my life. 


When you get married, you become one. I've known my wife since the age of 16. And we became one. When that person goes, you lose half of yourself. And then you’ve got to rebuild it again. I've lost her just over a year now. I went on a cruise to South America to rebuild my confidence. It's worked in many ways, but I'm still not there. In fact, I'm beginning to think you never get over bereavement. I don't know. I felt I had to sort myself out. I get very lonely. I used to weep, still do. First thing I thought, I’ll sell the house. It’s too big. Then I changed my mind. I couldn't sleep. And I lost all my confidence, which is crazy really because I was a schoolmaster. I needed to see the doctor to get some sleeping pills and she suggested Jackie Robert's outfit. I said, no, I'm not going down that road. I'm just not interested. I’ve got to pull myself together and get on with life. But in the end, I did what the doctor told me. She gave me sleeping pills and Jackie Roberts came round. Jackie sat exactly where you’re sitting. And thanks to her, and my faith, I managed to rebuild my confidence. I couldn't talk to you six-months ago, no chance. 


Jackie arranged a visit for me and a group of bereaved people to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. It’s a super day out. I met different people. We were shown behind the scenes. You see the artefacts and they gave us tea and coffee and the professor talked to us. He said, I've got a friend, look, it's a tarantula! This big, hairy thing! He stroked it and said, anyone else want to have a stroke? One little old lady said, I will! And she did. So that broke the ice, that was good. We did another visit to Banbury Gardens. We went there and tittered around, a bit of fun. I've also been to football club meetings. I can see exactly what they're doing, they want you to meet people and come out. I've made a friend and he's covered in tattoos! Gentle as a lamb, but when you see him, you think you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of him. And last week I sat next to a lady of 95! A 'Bandbarian', and she was telling us all about Banbury when she first moved.  


When I was 18 I went out to Africa and sailed round. I met a Catholic priest. I've forgotten his name now but he was an Irishman. I'd never met sanctity before, or holiness. It flawed me, just like that, so I became Catholic. And it's my faith that helps me keep going. For the last 50 years I've gone to mass every morning. But I haven't done it lately. I go three times a week now. I drive to Oxford, to the Catholic Church because they have a Latin mass sometimes which I prefer. Prayer has really helped me through, but the world doesn't want to know that. 


I walk around, I think of my wife. I've got a family, they're very good to me. A son, two daughters, four grandchildren, six great grandchildren. We're a loving family. I'm 88 by the way, knocking 90 soon, so I won't be doing too many more cruises! I tell the children, work hard at school. Get the pieces of paper, you never know when it comes in useful. I've got a lot to be grateful for. I've got a home. I've enjoyed doing it up. I built the fireplace myself. That's local stone and I've built all my own furniture. Jackie says she was going to introduce me to a chap who was a silversmith. I hope she does because I did a course on silversmithing. Crazy as it might seem.  


I'd like to grow old gracefully. I volunteer at the hospice. I must get back to it actually. For 10 years I ran the arts and craft room for people who are dying of cancer, or not always cancer. Last night, lady over the road invited me for dinner. It's the third time since I lost my wife a year ago. I've been round and we've chatted, so neighbours are nice. I've learned to think as a woman! Because I've had to do housework and I never did housework, my wife spoiled me! I've learned how to use the washing machine, although I only know one setting. I do my own cooking. I live on fish and chicken really. And I can do spinach – that's easy! I’m never bored. I read books. Got wonderful countryside near here. Last year, two months after my wife died, I asked my grandson to modify my car. We took the back seats out and I drove to the Isle of Man and camped in it for a week. You’ve got to keep on doing things. I'm reliving my youth I suppose. 

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