On October 4th, 1978, Mary and I flew out to Bombay or Mumbai as it is now known. We spent a couple of days there staying at a cheap hotel situated a short walk from the Gateway of India. The room had no bed, just a mattress on the floor.
My first meal in India was memorable. Iíd eaten Indian food previously, but I didnít like it too spicy and having just arrived I thought I would have something plain. I ordered some tomato soup thinking that would be safe, but the first taste of it nearly blew the roof of my mouth off.
Our plan was to do our travelling and go to the places that we wanted to see, then visit the Ashram. The first part of our journey was an 800-mile, 24-hour train journey to New Delhi. We went first class and got a carriage with bunks as I had seen the conditions of travel in the ordinary class.
We spent a couple of days in New Delhi then moved on to Delhi. We didnít really make the most of our visit and didnít see some of the sights that really, we should have seen. That was a lesson I was to learn for later life. Always make the most of any situation that you find yourself in. I feel that I missed some opportunities.
It was a time of spiritual discovery and by the time we reached Delhi I had become quite placid and easy going, until I needed to purchase our next Railways tickets. We wanted to go to Agra, as no trip to India would be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal. We were told which queue we needed to be in and prepared ourselves for a long and arduous wait. It was hours before we got to the window. When we got there, we were told that we needed to be upstairs where we joined another queue. Several hours later, we got to the front to be told we needed to be downstairs. My calm evaporated. I found the biggest office and marched into it, and politely, expressed to the person sat at the desk my displeasure at the events of the previous few hours. I never lose my temper or shout. I fixed the person behind the desk with my eyes and was offered a seat. Shorty, a member of staff appeared with two tickets to Agra.
We spent a couple of days in Agra and the Taj was certainly well worth the effort. Although, I missed the opportunity of visiting the Red Fort. I visited Agra again in 2010 and made amends for that omission. The Taj is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and breath-taking in its beauty. Itís a must for anyone who loves history and architecture.
Generally, we travelled first class, except for a short journey from Bombay to Poona (Pune) where I wanted to experience travelling as the locals do. The trip was three hours, and we did manage to get inside the carriage, but we were jammed up against the wall and couldnít even sit on the floor.
We were now on the final leg of our journey and the reason for our trip to India, which was to visit the Ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. I had read a couple of Bhagwan's books and heard him speak on cassette. There seemed to be something extremely spiritual about him and you could have an audience when you arrived at the Ashram and then again when you were leaving. On arrival, we visited the Ashram office and arranged our audience. The nice thing about him was a feeling of acceptance and how he incorporated all religions and philosophies into his teachings. I feel that that period was another significant stage in my development as a person.
Over the weeks, I grew my hair and a beard in keeping with my new image. Mary and I did a number of the meditation and self-development workshops. We both discovered a great deal about ourselves and what we wanted from life. We found that we wanted different things. We were growing up and growing apart.
India is a place you either love or hate. I loved it but after two months I got food poisoning and wanted to go home. Mary wanted to remain, so I left her there and returned to England.
Once home, it took me a few weeks before I was back to myself health-wise. Then I started thinking about making some money. I still had some properties, so I started doing them up and selling them. One thing I learned from my previous problems in the property market was always to ask myself before doing anything Ďwhat ifí. If the answer was the potential of having serious problems, then I didnít proceed. That is something I have continued throughout my life.
During the subsequent years, I found myself getting into other businesses as well - curtain and soft furnishing manufacturing and retail, a hair and beauty salon, an entertainment agency, a building consultancy. I should incidentally say that I was suitably qualified as I was a Chartered Builder, Chartered Surveyor, Chartered Building Engineer, Corporate Building Surveyor, and Chartered Manager by that time.
The military is good for enabling a person to gain education qualifications, so while on Intrepid I had attended formal classes and although I didnít get any formal qualifications it did give me something to do and kindled my interest in knowledge and education.
When I started my business, I needed to know how things were done, so I would read up on the type of work that I needed to do, then put the knowledge that I had acquired into practice. That served me well, as I had had experience in most of the trades through my work with Stuart, plus Iíd served the electrical apprenticeship before I joined the Marines. The only skill that I didnít know about was plumbing, so when I saw an advert for a government training scheme for plumbers, I decided I would apply for that.
The scheme application involved an interview and some tests, and I got through those and was accepted so attended my local college to qualify as a plumber. It also involved obtaining a City & Guilds Craft Certificate in plumbing, which was to become my first formal qualification. I was surprised how easy I found it to get. I thought that it was going to be difficult, but the instructors led us through it a step at a time; something that I was to remember when I got into education and training in later life.
As I found the Craft Certificate so easy, I decided I would go back and do the Advance Certificate the following year. From then, I had been bitten by the education bug and continued my studies, returning for subsequent years to do National and Higher National Certificates and then numerous related qualifications before applying to do a full-time Degree in Building.
I managed to get a grant to do my degree and, because of the qualifications I had, I was allowed entry directly to the second year. I was 36, the oldest student on the course, but that wasnít a problem for me. I did find a couple of the subjects to be difficult, such as ĎStructural Analysis and Statisticsí, as I had missed the first year, but one of the other students helped me through it. In turn, I was able to help him with a couple of the areas that he was struggling with, so it worked out perfectly for both of us.
The third year of the course was a year in industry, but since I had already worked in industry, I was given an exemption, which meant I was able to go directly into the fourth and final year.
My introduction to teaching was through an old school friend who taught guitar at Lincoln Prison. I mentioned that I fancied teaching and loved Do It Yourself (DIY). He said that they were always looking for new subjects and gave me the name of the education officer at the prison. I started to teach the prisoners one evening a week on how to look after their homes; they taught me how to break into them, break into cars, and crack safes! I hope that what I taught them was as useful as what they taught me, as one time I locked myself out of my car and was able to get back in without any problems.
It always amused my wife if someone phoned me when I was teaching and she could say that I was in prison. I learnt a lot about teaching and class control and getting on with students. Most werenít there to learn but to get out of their cell for an hour, and if you accepted that and were prepared to have a joke, they behaved themselves. I never had any problems and most importantly, I enjoyed the evenings, as did they. No matter how I felt when I went into the prison, when I came out, I felt great.
During the final year of my degree, I talked to the deputy head of the department about lecturing. He said that, once I had completed my degree, that was something we could talk about. I completed my degree in June 1987 and started as a visiting lecturer in October the same year.
Mary at the Taj Mahal 1978.
Graduation ceremony portraite for my first degree. 1987.