Inside The Shed, the centre of my world

‘How old are you my dear?’ said an elderly woman to my small granddaughter. ‘Two old!’came the proud reply. Two old – too old – why is age so important? When is it too old to start a new way of life?

My mother’s ambition for me was to train as a hotel cook. It was then that I rebelled for the first time in my life and said I would go to agricultural college and learn to be a pig keeper. Instead, on the night of my eighteenth birthday I became engaged to a submariner, ‘You can’t keep a man of twenty five waiting,’ said my mother and my adventures began. With a growing family we travelled the world living in Australia, New Zealand and Italy as well as naval bases in the British Isles. Instead of pigs, I met blue tongued lizards and enjoyed a face to face meeting with a very large and dignified goanna when camping in the Australian bush. On the way back across the Pacific to England in December 1962 we sat in the sunshine on a black sand beach in Tahiti, before facing reality in Tilbury docks, our ship having steamed through ice flows on the Thames. In 1980 I returned to the land of my birth and took the ferry through the Yangtze Gorges before they were tamed. A couple of years later, in an over crowded local bus half way up the mountain road to Ooti in the Nilgri hills, we came to a sudden halt, because the road was blocked by a panther confronting a python.

I left school with six O levels and for years had a recurring nightmare of opening an exam paper quite unprepared. I would wake sweating and terrified because I didn’t know a single answer. The nightmares came to an end when I became one of the pioneer alumni of the Open University and was elected to the first OU Association Council. In those days there were so few of us that I chaired the combined Education and Welfare committee. My first job after graduating was to set up Student Services in the Vauxhall College of Building which I enjoyed for two years and only resigned because I found a muddy front door into a small pottery in Nottinghill Gate. There I began life as a potter, a life of grown-up mud pies which lasted for the next thirty years. At the same time I served as a Lay Chaplain in an Immigration Holding Centre, then a Naval Hospital and also a JP. All of this became possible not only through the Open University academic opportunities but also the experience of being a member of the Open University Student Association Council, negotiating with politicians and education authorities on behalf of our members.

As Shakespeare said ‘All the world’s a stage and all men and women merely players. . . we each play many parts. Writing for me is the next. . .’