I met Val, who was to become my wife, at an evening course in Psychology. Later she told me that she didn’t like me when we first met as I was very opinionated, but if someone asks my opinion then I will give them it. These days I have toned that down a lot. After the course each week the group would call in at the pub and have a drink, where she realized that I was actually quite human. After a while we went out and the rest, as they say, is history.
Val was divorced and had three boys from her previous marriage, although one of them lived with her ex-husband. Of the two that were with her, Mark was five and Matthew was seven. Matthew was a bit of a rebel, but I got on well with him.
I met the boys on my first visit to her house. We were having tea when Matthew asked if I was married. I replied that I wasn’t. “That’s a good thing”, he replied, “I don’t think your wife would be happy you seeing my mum.” Within six months, I moved in with Val and the boys and we married in March 1985.
Me and Val with our mothers on our wedding day
I was 36 years old when I got married, I had lived with Val for about two years before we did decide to “tie the knot”, and it did seem like the next step in our relationship, and one which I was quite happy about. She would always support me in everything that I wanted to do, like joining the Reserve Forces and going to get my degrees. Although after my second master’s degree when I started talking about doing a Doctorate she did question if I had done enough studying.
The boys would spend time with their father and even go away with him for holidays so that enabled Val and I to travel. Val didn’t like flying so that did make things a little difficult, although I did manage to get her to Portugal, though the thought of having to fly home did spoil the holiday for her. We had talked about a cruise down the Nile, so I decided that I would book one as a surprise, I wouldn’t tell her where we were going but did give here an idea of the clothes she would need, although that did mean she would have to fly. A few days before we were due to go, I had to tell her exactly what the trip was as she thought we were just going to a seaside resort, and she wasn’t prepared to fly. The fact that we were going on a cruise along the Nile did sway her into forcing herself to make the flight.
This was the first time I had been on a cruise since I left Intrepid. We really enjoyed it so decided to book a sea cruise. Cruising became part of our holiday norm as we both enjoyed unpacking only once and then waking up to a new place every day. It also meant that Val didn’t have to fly. The other thing that Val liked about cruises was that it got me totally away from work, as in those days you didn’t have the ability to email and communicate so readily. One of the cruises that Val and I did was to the Baltic, which included St Petersburg in Russia. The previous time I went to Russia was during the Soviet era, when it was the USSR. I went for a two-week tour in 1979, which including visiting Moscow, and Leningrad - which is now known as St Petersburg – then we went down to Uzbekistan to visit Samarkand and Tashkent.
I remember well my admittance to the country; at the airport the man who was checking passports was most unfriendly. He was sat behind a large desk, and I had to stand in front of it. He took my passport by just holding out his hand. When I gave him it, he did not move, just looked at me for what seemed an age. He had the most piecing eyes. Eventually he opened my passport and starred at it. He then looked up and starred at me, back down to the passport for a prolonged look and back to me again, I remember thinking that I hope my passport is in order. He then closed the passport and thrust it out to me. I took it and with a wave of his hand, he gestured abruptly for me to go. I told Val of this as she would have been likely to laugh, and I didn’t think that would have been a good idea. This time however, we had a lovely young lady who looked at out passports and then with a smile said she hopes we enjoy our visit.
Certainly my second visit was different from the first, on the first the people were very distant and unfriendly. Whereas my subsequent visit I have found the opposite. The ques in the shops had gone and people were now smiling, something we didn’t see on our first visit. Although I did enjoy my first visit, particularly to Uzbekistan, which I remember vividly.
When we got to Samarkand our official Soviet guide warned us not to take photos of the people as they did not like having their photos taken, and he implied that the locals were not the friendliest of people. During our visit we had some free time and Jo - the lady I was travelling with - and I decided that we would go off on our own and see the local market. While walking from our hotel we found ourselves walking past a military base and we saw two soldiers walking towards us. It was then that I realised that I had my camera hung around my neck. It flashed through my mind of the news headline – British couple arrested for spying. I decided that I would be better off leaving it rather than trying to remove and hide it. As the soldiers got closer, I was waiting for them to stop and question me, but fortunately they didn’t give us a second look. After they had past, I discretely put my camera away.
When we got to the market, I wanted to take some photos so very careful not to get any people in my shots, I did take a few. We then decided that we would have a cup of tea and went to purchase a couple from one of the vendors. We couldn’t speak the language, but Jo had a phrase book and conveyed what we wanted, which we were presented with, I then held out some money, but he wouldn’t take it, he just smiled and went to his next customer. We looked around for a seat, but they were all taken. We found a small wall at the side of the seating area and sat on that. Just in front of us was a family consisting of several generations, on seeing us one of them got the children to stand up and offered us their seats. We were reluctant to take them, but he insisted so we sat. A form of dialog then commenced with Jo using the phase book. I wanted to take their photo as one of the older men was what you think of when visualising people from that part of the world. I managed to convey my desire and he and his daughter posed for me to do so. I have that photo framed in the hall of my home in England as it reminds me of how nice people are despite the image that is often painted of them.
After the boys had grown and left home Val started talking about getting a dog. I had managed to dodge the issue for some time but one Saturday when we woke up, she suggested that we should take a drive out to the rescue homes and see if they had anything suitable. She was quite specific in that she wanted, she wanted a bitch (I will resist the temptation to make any comment there) of medium size and something that was no longer a puppy. I thought that having something that would meet all her requirements was pretty slim, so I agreed to go and have a look.
There were two rescue homes near where we lived so we called in at the nearest. On entering Val told the girl there what we were looking for, the girl informed us that one meeting our requirements had been brought in the day before and that she would take us to see it. On arriving at the pen where it was, we saw a lurcher-type dog shivering in the corner. It was a bitch, medium size and even had the same colouring as Val’s hair. Quickly I was looking for something to justify not taking it there and then. I suggested that we go to the other home and see what they had, which we duly did. Fortunately, they had nothing at all that met Val’s criteria and I counselled against making a snap decision, so we went home.
The next morning when I woke, I was greeted by “Let’s go back to the rescue home and see is we can take Maisie for a walk and see how we get on with it”. The fact that it now already had a name meant I had problems, but I knew it would be pointless arguing.
When we got to the home, I suggested that we go into the pen and see how it reacts. The girl there agreed and so we went in, Val pushing me to the front. It was still cowed in the corner but as I entered, it looked up at me. I walked slowly forward, stopped a few meters from it and squatted down holding out my clenched hand to gauge its reaction. It slowly got up and waddled towards me and started licking my hand. I stayed there a minute of two then got up. “Well take it” I said, much to Val’s delight.
We couldn’t take it then as it had only been brought in the previous day and they had to give it a week in case someone claimed it. We pointed out the state of it, as it was all skin and bone, but the girl said they had to. We informed her that we would be back the following weekend to collect it, and I and left a deposit. We were given a receipt which stated that it was for one scruffy mongrel.
It was a long week, and we were concerned that someone might claim it, but the day came to us to collect her, and off we went. She was still there and was to become an important part of our family and our lives. When Val and I separated I joked that I missed the dog more than I missed the wife.
The end of my marriage came as no surprise. Val and I been drifting apart for some time. We found that we wanted different things from life and from each other. She wanted me to retire and spend all my time with her in leisure activities. I had tried retirement to please her when I left the TA at the age of 53 but found that I didn’t like it. I like a challenge and to have a purpose for getting up in the morning. I loved my work; in fact, I have always maintained that I have never worked, I have had hobbies that people have paid me for. Fortunately, I was able to get back into the work world without any difficulty. I like to be busy. Being a workaholic did create problems, Val would complain that all I wanted to talk about was work, so I stopped talking. Problems also started in the evening as I didn’t want to sit with her and watch Coronation Street; I was happier in my study on the computer so that brought problems. Eventually she asked me to leave. Fortunately, I was in a position where I could. I had a flat that I let out and fortunately my tenant was talking about leaving, so subject to getting possession of that I had somewhere to go to. In the meantime, I phoned my friend Dave Hallgath, who owned a block of flats just along the road from my place, he still remembers the telephone call from me asking him if he had anything, fortunately he had just had one come vacant. He was about to go off on holiday so he said I could call around in a couple of weeks. “I need it now” I responded, so he told me to call round and pick the keys up; so, I was able to move into that. Within a few weeks my tenant moved out which meant that I was able to start work renovating it and converting it to what I could call home. The plan was to completely renovate it and live in it until I had finalised my divorce, but once I had moved in, I liked the place and, with it being in the centre of town, I liked the location, so I decided to stay there.
Our separation started off quite amicably, although I had moved out we would still see each other, in fact, we even went away together on cruises. The relationship was to change when she suggested that I move back in with her. I had by that time decided that I liked my life style and being on my own, so I declined. It was then that her attitude changed and I received notice from her solicitor that she was pursuing for divorce.
Having been in business I knew a number of solicitors and one, who specialised in divorce I had known since I first started buying property. She was articled to my solicitors when she first started her training. Having checked on her work ability in that area I called to see her and appointed her to act for me.
She was ideal as she wasn’t trying to push my bill up. On one occasion Val’s solicitor wanted some information and my solicitor said that she could produce it but that would increase my bill, whereas she felt that I was equally able to produce it and it would not cost me anything. Later when it came to attending court she suggested that although she could attend the hearing but as I had a barrister she would not be contributing anything, but that I would be paying for her attendance. Val had a barrister, her solicitor and a solicitor’s clerk with her.
One of the things I remember most about my court hearings was how good my barrister was and the final words of the judge which were “I think the husband has been more than fair”. The result was to my liking.
Val and I had been married 23 years, so suddenly finding myself single again did come as a bit of a culture shock. However, I have always been quick to adapt to situations that I find myself in, so it wasn’t a problem. I had the work on the apartment to keep me busy both physically and mentally, and other challenges were to pop up. I was also working at the college; in fact, I remember well having to brush the dust created by my work on the property off my suites and shirts before I could get dressed each morning. I would then have to walk across the exposed floor joist.
Apart from having the work on my apartment to occupy me I had also met Anne, a lady who worked in a solicitor’s office. She too had been through a divorce and was therefore able to provide me with useful tips, not just with respect to legal requirements but also from a personal viewpoint. We also found that we had many interests in common, one of which was travel so we started to to date and then see the world and visit places that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had still been married and she wouldn’t have done if she were on her own.
It is strange now writing a book as I have always looked at events in my life as chapters. I saw starting out again as a new chapter. I have never seen anything as a problem, always as a challenge and an opportunity. If you can do that there is always something that can be got from every situation; if you have a positive attitude, positive things will happen.