I met Val, who was to become my wife, at an evening course in psychology in late 1982. Later she told me that she didn’t like me when we first met, as she thought I was very opinionated, but if someone asked my opinion then I would give it to them! (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 began to realise that I was actually quite human. After a while, we went out on a date, 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 was not. “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.
I was 36 years old when I got married. I had lived with Val for about two years before we decided to “tie the knot”, and it did seem like the next step in our relationship and one which I was quite happy about. She always supported me in everything that I wanted to do, like joining the Reserve Forces and working on my degrees, although after my second Master’s degree, when I started talking about a Doctorate, she did question if I hadn’t done enough studying.
Val and I with our mothers on our wedding day
The boys often spent time with their father and would go away with him for holidays, so that enabled Val and I to travel. Val was terrified of flying though, which made things a bit complicated. I did manage to get her to fly to Portugal once, but the thought of having to fly home spoiled the holiday for her.
We had talked about doing a cruise down the Nile someday, so I decided that I would book one as a surprise. I wouldn’t tell her where we were going but did give her an idea of the clothes she would need and that she would have to fly to get there. 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 refused to get on an airplane. When I told her that we were going on a cruise along the Nile she forced herself to make the flight.
This was the first time I had been on a ship since I left Intrepid. We really enjoyed it, so we 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, as we took cruises that embarked from British ports. The other thing that Val liked about cruises was that it got me totally away from work, as in those days one didn’t have the ability to email and communicate so readily.
Our first sea cruise was in the Mediterranean with us picking up the ship in Venice, although we got to Venice by coach, not an airplane. So, in fact, we had two holidays: a coach trip through some European cities and then a cruise around the Mediterranean.
As soon as we got home, we started looking at other destinations for our next cruise and selected one to Norway, where we went several times to see the beautiful scenery, the Midnight Sun, and the Aurora Borealis.
One of the cruises that Val and I took was to the Baltic, which included St. Petersburg in Russia. As I wrote in Chapter 8, I had visited Russia once before during the Soviet era when it was still the USSR. This time the atmosphere was very different. I remember well my admittance to the country and the scowling man checking passports who was most unfriendly. I warned Val of this experience, as she would have been likely to laugh if she received such treatment, and I didn’t think that would have been a good idea under the circumstances. This time, however, we had a lovely young lady who looked at our passports and then, with a smile, said she hoped we would enjoy our visit.
Certainly, my second visit was different from the first in other ways as well, the first time the people were distant and unfriendly, whereas this time I found the opposite to be true. Now the long queues in the shops had gone and people looked happy which was a real change from my first visit.
After the boys had grown up and left home, Val started talking about getting a dog. I wasn’t too keen on that as I believed that it would be me cleaning up after it and taking it for a walk each day. I had managed to dodge the issue for some time but one Saturday morning she suggested that we take a drive out to the dog rescue homes and see if they had anything suitable. She was quite specific about what she wanted. She wanted a female, of medium size, and not a puppy. I thought that finding a dog 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 and she informed us that one meeting our requirements had been brought in just the day before and she would take us to see her. On arriving at the pen where the dog was being kept, we saw a lurcher-type dog shivering in the corner. It was a female, of medium size, and she even had the same colouring as Val’s hair. Quickly I was looking for some reason to justify not taking her 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 on the dog we had seen previously, so we went home.
The next morning when I awoke, I was greeted with “Let’s go back to the rescue home and see if we can take Maisie for a walk and see how we get on with her.” I realised that the fact that the dog already had a name meant I had a problem 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 she reacted to us. The girl there agreed and so we went in, Val pushing me to the front. She was still cowed in the corner but as I entered, she looked up at me. I walked slowly forward, stopped a few meters from her, and squatted down holding out my clenched hand to gauge her reaction. The dog slowly got up, waddled toward me, and started licking my hand. I stayed there a minute or two then got up. “We’ll take her,” I said, much to Val’s delight.
We couldn’t take her then as they had to give it a week in case someone claimed her. We pointed out the sorry state she was in, as she was all skin and bone, but the girl said it was their policy. We informed her that we would be back the following weekend and I left a deposit. We were given a receipt, stating that it was for ‘one scruffy mongrel’.
It was a long week, and we were concerned that someone might claim her, but the day came for us to collect her, and she was still there. She became an important part of our family and our lives. When Val and I separated, not having Maisie around certainly made a big gap in my life.
The end of my marriage after 22 years really came as no surprise. Val and I had been drifting apart for some time. We had begun to want different things from life and from each other. She was pressuring me to retire and spend all my time with her in leisure activities.
I was only 56 years old and had tried retirement once at her suggestion four years before just to please her but found that I wasn’t happy. I had wound up my property development company and got rid of all my other business interests. The problem was that I like a challenge and a purpose for getting up in the morning, and I loved my work, in fact, I have always maintained that I have never worked: I have had hobbies that people have paid me to do. Fortunately, after two months of “retirement”, I was able to get back into the work world without any difficulty. I like to keep busy and confess to being a workaholic. Val began complaining that all I wanted to talk about was work so I stopped talking. Neither did I want to spend the evenings watching TV programs like Coronation Street with her. I was happier in my study working on the computer. Eventually, things got so tense that she asked me to move out. This was in July 2004.
Fortunately, I was in a position where I could move out without too much difficulty. I still owned the flat that I had lived in after my return from London. When I married Val, I had rented it out and it just happened that my tenant had decided to move out soon. In the meantime, I phoned my friend Dave Hallgath, who owned a block of flats just along the road from there. He still remembers the telephone call from me asking him if he had anything available. Fortunately, he had just had one come vacant. He was about to go off on holiday and said to call around in a couple of weeks, to which I responded, “I need it now!” He told me to pick up the keys and I was able to move in right away. Within a few weeks, my tenant moved out, and I was able to start work renovating and converting the flat into my new home. My plan at the time was to completely renovate it and then live in it until I had finalised my divorce, and then move somewhere else. But once I had moved in, I liked the place and its location in the centre of town so much that I decided to make it my permanent home.
Our separation actually started off quite amicably. Although I had moved out, we still saw each other often. In fact, we even went away on several cruises together over the next couple of years. Our relationship changed dramatically however when, in the summer of 2007, she asked me to move back in with her. But, by that time I had decided that I liked my freedom and my lifestyle, so I declined. It was then that her attitude changed radically and in August 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, having been articled to my solicitors when she first started her training. Having checked on her ability in that area, I appointed her to act for me. Unfortunately, our solicitors were not able to reach an agreement, so the matter had to go to court, which necessitated a barrister.
My barrister was excellent, and the final words of the judge were: “I think the husband has been more than fair”. The result was to my liking. The divorce was final in December 2007.
Val and I had been together for 25 years and married 22 of those years, so suddenly finding myself single again did come as a bit of a culture shock. But, since I’ve always been quick to adapt to new situations, I adjusted without difficulty. I had the work on the apartment to keep me busy both physically and mentally, and I was also working at Lincoln College. I remember well having to brush the work dust off my suits and shirts before getting dressed each morning, and then having to walk across the exposed floor joists to get out of the apartment.
Apart from having the renovation of my apartment to occupy me, I 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. Anne and I also found that we had many interests in common, one of which was travel. We started to date and then began to see the world. We visited places that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had still been married due to Val’s fear of flying, and that Anne wouldn’t have wanted to do on her own.
It is strange now, as I write this autobiography, to realise that I have always looked at periods of my life as chapters in a book. After my divorce, starting out again was a new chapter. To me, these life changes were not problems but challenges and opportunities. If you can look at life that way, there is always something that can be gained from every situation. If you have a positive attitude, positive things will happen to you.
Chapter 10 - Educating Myself & Others