As a child in the 50s the wireless was the most significant source of information and entertainment for everyone in my family.  We sat together by it and listened  to Two Way Family Favourites, Educating Archie, Take it from Here and the Billy Cotton Band Show. We made daily visits to the Archers and Mrs Dale’s Diary, and laughed at Hancock’s Half Hour and The Goons.  On Sundays, following much knob twirling and high pitched whistling, we’d tune into Radio Luxembourg for The Ovaltineys Club – a highlight of the week.  More years on than I care to believe I still remember the words of all the Ovaltiney songs.  For anyone similarly afflicted – they have a Facebook page. ….

By the 60’s we had television, a Dansette record player and a transistor radio now ‘demoted’ to the kitchen.    As a young teenager my passion for music had kicked in big time, and for that off shore (pirate) radio ruled.  My father didn’t approve of it so I did a deal with my mother which meant I could listen before school in the mornings provided I ate some breakfast.  Any mention of Radio Caroline will forever carry the taste of hot buttered toast and a memory of the morning struggle to back comb my hair over as much of the school beret (wear compulsory) as possible.

A decade later and I’d moved overseas, first to North Africa and then the Middle East.  Radio was a life line, a link to the world of home, we tuned in to  BBC World Service for accurate information, for plays and quizzes, for  Lily Bolero on the hour leading in the World News and marvellous Paddy Feeney on Saturday afternoon sport.  Local radio in Tripoli finished at 10pm each night and once it had gone off air we could, provided atmospheric conditions were right, just about pick up Radio Luxembourg – such excitement when reception was good!  Although primarily an Arabic service Tripoli radio did, at that time, broadcast a very small number of programmes in English. Liable to cancellation if the station had anything more worthwhile to put out I remember them with great affection, especially one of ‘popular music requests’ presented each week by JL, in ‘real life’ an expat engineer.    This was a programme that was dreadful to the point of being entertaining; for a start the station didn’t have a music library,  so JL played his own small collection of Rod Stewart albums repeatedly and otherwise begged and borrowed vinyl from friends. We had several hundred LPs so saw quite a lot of him and – since his knowledge of music was limited we could often persuade him to use stuff that might not have got air time elsewhere.  JL didn’t have much of a clue about the technical side of presenting either and on/off buttons on microphones seemed to present a particular challenge.    I asked him once, after a few beers, why he did the show and he said it was in the hope of getting laid – something he’d not to date managed  but he thought a DJ would have better opportunities in that direction than a sewage engineer.  It was a fair point.  His hopes had not been realised when our turn came for the ‘departure request’  – my dear dear friends Mary and John …. silence, crackle, muttered oh shit … leaving on a jet plane tomorrow so just for them it’s Rod Stewart and Sailing.   A year or so later, however, relocated in Bahrain, we received a postcard which simply said ‘The Old Grey Goose has Flown. JL’

Through five years  of living in the Gulf World Service remained important but we also had  the magic of Radio Dharhan – aimed at expat oil workers it played non stop music round the clock with a very short news bulletin and weather forecast (usually hot ) on the hour.  We used to run a reel  to reel tape  for hours at a time then select and mix the stuff we liked on to cassette (see our Christmas 1979 set up above!) – the only problem was no track listings were ever  given so we’d have to guess at title and artist.  Visitors were regularly asked – just listen to this, any idea who it is….?

Returning to UK in the 80s radio helped me during my (few) ‘housewifeandmother” years to retain a sense of myself as part of a larger community, particularly when completing an OU degree.   Despite good intentions we did acquire a television set -it was slightly embarrassing to have weekend visitors bring their own portable set (Wimbledon finals weekend)  but very consciously over the years refused to let it dominate family life.  Juggling children, house, social life, studies and work  as long as I woke  each  morning to the Today programme, and even if the news was sad or bad, things felt more or less under control.

Now, once again I have time spare for listening and radio is a continuing joy in my life.  The range of stations and programmes available is breathtaking and I love the advances of digital and online radio, iplayer catch ups and podcasts which free one from the tyranny of the schedule.  It’s been quite a journey from the days of tuning in to the Light Programme to sitting on a holiday hotel balcony in California listening to R2 on my laptop secure in the knowledge that even should the modern world go pear shaped, I’ve got the wind up radio to revert to and there’ll be someone broadcasting something somewhere.


View from Selworthy village

I really enjoy group walking holidays –so much so that  I’ve been on four in the past 15 months.  The Cotswolds, Isle of Wight,  Northumberland coast and just recently to Selworthy in Exmoor.  I’m not a strong or fast walker so the list doesn’t include any walker’s heavens such as the Lakes, Snowdonia or Scotland. Much of the delight of walking for me is in the anticipation and memories,  the bit in the middle can vary so enormously.   Nothing beats the immediate pleasure of a good walk in lovely countryside in clear dry conditions equally there are few things more miserable than being miles from shelter in heavy rain and high winds.

Picnic lunch

Walkers are a sociable lot (well – those who do group holidays are). There were 50 or so of us staying at the Exmoor house, a great mixed bag of people from their late 20s to over 80, couples, friends and singles, from different places and backgrounds.   Some came from overseas: an Australian writer, two bankers from Toronto, a couple who live on a ranch in New Mexico and a German psychiatrist. The UK contingent included an actress, a medic, a couple of civil engineers, a research fellow, a statistician, a professional pianist, a retired pilot, a couple of missionaries (not active), two or three IT people and several semi-retired teachers .

We  all enjoyed our free time in a comfortable house with excellent food (dinner at round tables further encouraged socialising) and laid back activities in the evenings – quizzes, board games, a well stocked bar and quiet corners to sit with a book . The only place not to linger was the boot room – 50 pairs of cooling walking boots at the end of the day create a miasma that would not have been out of place in the Old Nichol.

The walks on offer each day are graded  – easy (7/8miles) medium (9/10miles) and hard (11 – 15 miles) – with varying ascents/descents and conditions underfoot.  Walks start at different drop off points but finish at the same place for a coach pick up. There’s a little bit of competitiveness early on, but the gung ho walkers very quickly find each other and suss out the shamblers.  I’m an unashamed ‘easy’ walker: the pace is gentler, you have enough breath to talk, there’s time to stop and look at things and for tea or a pint at the end. I did, however, score a few brownie  points when I casually mentioned to a couple of the uber hardy types that I’d walked on the Pembrokeshire coastal path –  I didn’t of course let on that I did most of the rocky narrow bits,  which are edged by a sheer vertical drop, on my hands and knees.

Spot the leader

Walk leaders are ‘trained volunteers’ who receive free board and lodging in return for taking out different groups and organising social activities in the evening. They are enthusiastic people, immediately recognisable by their well worn in, top of the range, gear – Rohan shorts and Driza-bone hats. They boast the biggest back packs (maps, books, whistles, survival blankets, hydration systems) and amazingly muscular brown legs and have no nonsense names like Geoff, Cath, Jean and Phil –  people you can rely on to get you safely home.   They are also, without exception, fanatical about their ‘special interests’ and it’s as well to find out what this is early on in the week.  Country dancing – avoid in the evenings, real ale – walks will include and finish in a pub.  Birds and flowers are a no go (far too much stopping and naming in Latin) hedgerows & boundaries, ancient field systems, churches, fungi –can lead to oddly interesting conversations on walks.  My all time favourite, however,  remains the sheep expert who took  great delight in informing us:  “with rams it’s not just about the size of their bollocks, though of course a judge will always give these a feel”.

Sheep taking evasive action

Each time I’ve walked I’ve come away from the week with new friends and new enthusiasms .  OK usually bruises, insect bites, damaged toenails, tangled hair and skin crying out for an Elemis treat too – but the glow of achievement outlasts  these minor niggles. It’s always proved a great reminder not just how lovely Britain is but how nice and interesting and varied and unexpected people are when you have the time to walk with and listen to them.

To anyone thinking of taking a  group walking holiday I’d say give it a go – start with a long weekend if you don’t want to commit to a week, go with an
open mind and be honest with the leaders about your capabilities. Fot when you are out there walking  I’d offer just three pieces of advice:

  • Streams and mud are always deeper and/or stickier than they look
  • Walking in the middle of a group ensures you don’t have to open and close gates
  • Remember the risk of ticks before lowering your bare bum into bracken.

Perfect walking weather

Old friends, old friends ……

How friendships are formed, why unlikely ones last and promising ones fall by the wayside has always fascinated me.  I’ve moved around a lot – in one 15 year period living in Hertford, London (Hackney, Lancaster Gate and Shepherd’s Bush), Essex, Libya, Bahrain, Gloucestershire, Kent and Essex again –the friends I’ve made on the way are very different, rooted in and reflecting changing circumstances and places.

One of the real delights of this ‘gap summer’ has been spending time with people who, by reason of geography, work  or family commitment, I’ve seen far too little of in recent years.  I hope this doesn’t sound like nostalgic wallowing – we can’t live in our past and I do look forward to and embrace change; however the past shaped and moulded us and old friends are an integral part of that personal growth.

Last week I ‘caught up with’ three very different individuals; a classmate, a house mate and a long term work colleague.  They don’t know, aren’t even acquainted with, each other and I suspect if they did meet they would find little in common.

I was at school with K,  Sybourn Street Juniors off  Leabridge Road in Leyton. We weren’t friendsat that time but, being in the same class for 4 years  we do remember each other.  K was active, sporty and co-ordinated, netball captain, country dance team leader, first one to the top of the wallbars; I always had my head in a book, played the tenor recorder and excelled at tests. Throw a ball at me and it would either hit me or I’d fall over trying to catch it.  We met again in 2001 through a then new website ‘Friends Reunited’  and we didn’t just re-find each other but around half of Class 1 – Mr Nicholson’s 11+ class


Reunions, lunches and even weekends away have taken place since that time and it’s been absolutely fascinating learning of the experiences of my one time classmates, the diversity of their lives and fortunes and achievements is extraordinary. When I’m with K or others from the class a small part of me reverts to being the beanpole kid who always had her hand up.

I met J, a work colleague, in the early 90s.  We were both juggling –  work, homes, husbands, children, activities, social lives and, in my case, completing an OU degree.  I think we each thought the other so organised but the reality (for me at least) was very different – that sinking “oh shit I’ve got to pick up two children from different places at the same time” feeling was all too frequent.  We had no common past but in the years since then we’ve been through a great deal together including illness and bereavement. Although we see the future differently, I’m sure our ‘parallel’ years will mean the friendship continues.

My third friend – C – I’ve been in regular contact with since the early 1970s, when I answered an  ad in the Evening Standard for a flatshare.  She was a pharmacist by day and musician by night; I worked as a production secretary in documentary films, long hours, late finishes and a good bit of travelling to locations around the UK.  We had two rooms k & b at the very top of a tall house in a garden square in Lancaster Gate for the then quite princely sum of £10 a week.  London was still swinging at the time (although the news was getting gloomier by the day) and we made the most of it, strutting out in our hot pants and high boots.  The boots suffered a little from being worn all day and so we aired them on the window ledges over night!.  An animator friend, responding to a party invitation, saw us like this – I’m the booted one on the right

C. married and moved to Northolt, I boarded a VC10 to Tripoli for a holiday with an old friend who was working for there.  The holiday turned into marriage and 10 years of expat living – but we stayed in contact and met up for many shared family meals and celebrations over the years.  It delights
me that our grownup children keep in touch with each other via Facebook, and also now we are again on our own  – that C and myself have some great , if generally more sedate, times out together.

Twitter led me to PAD* (thank you Sarah ) – such a simple idea;  take, post and share, a photograph, via Flickr, each day,  every day,  through the year.  Absolutely no rules as to what,  when or where other than the usual requirements of common decency.

PADS seemed to meet that New Year itch to start something different.  I was a tad unsure if the enthusiasm would last into February but – compared with the scrapbooks, diaries and resolutions of previous years it did seem a straightforward, potentially interesting and  relatively non-demanding  option.  I’m out and about a lot, I carry a camera –easy peasy.

And here's my very first PAD

Well it hasn’t been quite that easy but it has been enjoyable.  Most days are fine but carrying a camera isn’t the same as using it  – potential PAD
moments  have passed me by because I’ve been too engrossed in something else (usually involving talking) to spot their potential or because a photograph would have been intrusive or inappropriate. I don’t think the gentleman with the four cans of Strong Brew lined up at 10 in the morning would have appreciated a camera being produced – but the expression on his face as he opened the first of his haul was a memory to treasure.  There’s been many a last minute scramble to find something at home to photograph – as the shot of my bedside clock at 11.59pm testifies (quite proud of this one)

and I became more than a little envious of group members with animals and small children who can usually be relied on for a pose or two a day.  Fortunately I live in a house full of memory-objects, clutter and books and so the evening search for an ‘emergency’ pad was always productive – even if the air was occasionally blue.

I have hugely enjoyed seeing the postings of my fellow group members;   the glimpses of different lives and outlooks these offered, the humour, artistry
and skill they demonstrate.   I also realised, as the year moved on, that I was enjoying making an ongoing recordfor myself of odd moments and things which I wouldn’t previously have thought to capture. Quite a few of these were food related …….

……..   others were swiftly passing phenomena

Sadly in the last few weeks I’ve succumbed to ‘Undisciplined PADiness’ and the major sin of not-posting-regularly. This  has led to a significant PAD fail– I’ve taken all the shots  but they are variously saved, on my camera,phone, desktop, netbook, 2 memory sticks and assorted SD cards, so I’m now on a mission to sort them all out and get them posted. Meanwhile  I’m feeling quite nostalgic for the days of popping down to Boots with a 36 exposure 35mm film.



*Photograph A Day

Four years ago I was in a midlife comfort zone –  fit and healthy, married, house paid for, children grown and decamped, absorbing full time job, adequate income, good friends, many interests  and no time for half the things I wanted to do.   There are always matters and people to worry about but life seemed more or less sorted, highly organised, and generally predictable. It wasn’t a bad place to be and there wasn’t too much time for wondering quite how I (late 60s flower child turned 70s feminist) got there or whether ‘this was it’.

Then, in September 2007 my husband died very suddenly and shockingly following an aortic aneurysm.  Life had to be re-ordered, so I did just that
– and in less than a month was back at work telling myself it was fortunate that I’d always been independent (or ‘bloody independent’ if you had lived with me), good at making decisions and had no concerns about the practicalities of living, travelling or simply being alone.   Of course the tigers came at night but they were easily chased off come the daylight.

Two years after John’s death I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was stunned – but not overly surprised given a close family history of the disease. After surgery and radiotherapy the outlook was good and, having worked part time through treatment I was back to work with a vengeance through the cold hard winter of 2010.  But what I did become aware of – as that year wore on – is that life, although very busy, very full, lacked moments of real
joy.  I’m a great believer in the pleasure of small things, sometimes they just happen, sometimes they need to be sought,  but for me the effort to  see them or seek them had become just too great.  I though ok –  blame age, medication, the weather, job demands, need a holiday….will be better in spring… or autumn – but it wasn’t, and I didn’t know quite how to deal with this.

I’d worked for a social research institute for 20 years and, short lived periods of dissatisfaction apart, leaving or changing my job hadn’t been on the agenda.  Two things changed in early 2011, a massive restructuring at work meant a large number of redundancies were being sought – and I had a very minor shunt in my car (the first EVER) because I was driving while running a temperature and full of ‘fluand my reactions weren’t as fast as usual . Why? I ‘needed’ to get to work to attend a meeting.  Forgive the pun – but it was a real crunch moment.  I have a big thing about personal responsibility which recognises the risks arising from people doing things such as driving when they are not fit to do so (whether it’s alcohol, health, tiredness, eyesight or whatever) and I was ashamed and very cross with myself to think I’d taken such a risk.

In the dark and cold of February the idea of not ‘needing’ to go to work took hold,  and with the daydreams about what I could do in the months or years ahead a glimmer of joy came back.  I applied for and was given redundancy and, on April Fool’s Day, became a free agent.

I’m not seeking work and  I dislike the term retired;  eject-a-granny-chairs, stairlifts and mobility aids are wonderful things but (hopefully) still decades away. When people ask  “what are you planning to do? “ I tell them I’m taking a gap summer, no commitments, no limitations, no constraints.  Time out.  It may extend to a gap year, a gap two years or a gap as far as it goes – we’ll just have to wait and see.

Right now, I can’t imagine I’ll ever want the commitment of working full time again – but freelance or part time or voluntary…well, possibly.  The
itchy feet from my fairly nomadic younger years have never completely gone away so travel is definitely on the cards.  I may yet invest in the split screen VW camper I’ve silently lusted after for years and just go, or stick to the comfort of decent hotels and the spare rooms of friends. And then there’s the Masters I was always intending to do – but didn’t because I was told with first class honours  you must go on to an MA.  It’s all still very much
a case of let’s just see where time takes me and what the summer brings – for the first time in many, many years there is nothing on my ‘urgent to do’ list
and that, so far, is a very special joy.