5 stages of my life; and looking forward to the 6th

I’ve just celebrated my 75th birthday and it’s given me time to reflect. It’s a nice multiple of 15 so it might be regarded as the end of some fifth stage. If so what are the five stages and as a construct does it make sense?

(Note the stages are rather approximate and the years given in describing them are rough indications only)

Stage 1, 1-15 years, childhood (c 1947-1962)

Fairly obvious I guess. I was born in South Africa and came to the UK when I was just two years of age (the photo above is of the boat on which we returned to the UK) but already my parents had separated and my mother and I moved in to live with her parents in Connah’s Quay. We later moved to our own house in 1958.

Given that one’s early years define you I got a good start in life. However not growing up in what was in those days a standard two parent family tested my imagination as I did my best to conceal this from my friends.

I went to Dee Road Infants and then Custom House Lane County Primary before passing my 11-plus and going to Hawarden Grammar School. I would have taken my O levels in 1962. I did well in school but would always have traded some of this academic success for a little more stature and sporting success.

Stage 2, 16-30 years, young adulthood (c 1962-1977)

Churchill College freshers in 1966

I stayed on at the Grammar School to do A levels, in Double Maths, Physics and Chemistry, and did well enough to be encouraged to apply, successfully, for a university place at Cambridge. The intention had been for me to stay for a third year in the sixth form but the admissions people at Churchill College encouraged me not to do so but to get some broader life experience. It was good advice and I took it.

To some extent that year, 1965/66, was the making of me. I got a job at Shell’s Thornton Research Centre and bought a car. And I was 18 and could legally drink in pubs. I had freedom and a little money. And at the end of the year took off with three friends for a holiday in the South of France.

I enjoyed life at Churchill (the photo above is of the 1966 freshers). I continued to do well academically, I guess I was just good at doing exams, but I’d grown a bit and acquired a little more confidence so I started my career of second team sport. I also coxed a number of eights in the annual University bumping races.

I stayed on after my finals to do a PhD but that was a mistake. I had little idea what I was doing and certainly didn’t know why so I quit early in 1970 and started job hunting. I joined Shell later that year to work in its Operational Research group which had me supporting LNG projects and visiting Japan in 1972 and 1973 which gave me a taste for travel which I’ve never lost.

I left Shell in 1974 to join Mobil Oil first in New York and then Indonesia  before moving to Dow Chemical in 1976 where I worked out of its Asia/Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong.

Throughout these early years of work I continued to develop my career as a second team captain. There were rugby teams at Shell (the Allstars) and in Hong Kong (Valley) and a football team in Jakarta (the Masters).

I met Juni when I moved to Jakarta and I guess we hooked up more formally when I moved to Hong Kong. We got married in 1978.

Stage 3, 17-45 years, building a family, and a career (c 1977-1992)

the Applied Chemicals team in Malaga, 1987

I stayed with Dow for 16 years and they were the years that shaped my career. For the first time I began to think about my job as a stepping stone to what I’d do next so from a position in a business economics function, I am good with numbers (!), I moved to distribution then purchasing and, in 1984, marketing. The first move also coincided with a move back to Europe. I moved to Dow’s European HQ in Horgen, close to Zurich, in Switzerland in 1979.

I had two other positions at Dow afterwards but my job between 1984 and 1988 was the high point. I was the Product Marketing Manager for a range of specialty chemicals at a time that the company didn’t really understand specialty chemicals given its strength in chlorine chemistry and commodity plastics. I led a team (the photo above is from 1987) which successfully transformed the business from loss-making to highly profitable and carry the scare tissue from the battles we fought to remind me of our success.

In parallel with building a career I was building a family. Clare was born in 1981 and Charles in 1983. Later they both attended the local school which meant that they grew up fluent in both English and German. And as if to confirm our commitment to working in Switzerland we bought a house in Rictherswil in 1982.

I continued to stay fit, I played rugby just twice in Switzerland, but around the turn of the decade I began to feel limitations in my left hip joint and as a result had a hip replacement in 1992. At the same time after my marketing success I made a couple, yes two, bad career choices before Dow ‘let me go’ also in 1992 albeit with a very generous package.

Stage 4, 46-60 years, chaos (c 1992-2007)

JDJ and Tercio Christiano in Sao Paulo (a recent photo)

I had expected to be with Dow for the rest of my career, and I’d imagined more promotion and bigger and better remunerated jobs, but it was not to be and early in 1993 I secured an apparently better job with FMC but that needed a move back to the UK. By contrast with my time at Dow when I’d been generally pretty happy I did not enjoy my time with FMC and in 1995 was not displeased that it made me redundant. My job search again proved fruitful and I joined Linx Printing Technologies as Sales & Marketing Director in May.

I enjoyed my time with Linx. For the first time I had a department to run and a global business to manage. We did well, I travelled a lot, at one time I had three airline gold cards, and I made lots of good friends (the photo is of me with Tercio Christiano of Nytek in Brazil). But then all good times come to an end and for some reason I fell out with the MD who sidelined me and prompted me to move to one of Linx’ competitors viz Willett where I became Group Marketing Director in 2001. Sadly Willett was taken over in 2003 and in the shakeout I was again made redundant but this time job hunting failed me so I set up i2i-management.com to sell my time to anyone willing to employ me.

My family also changed. First we moved to Wilmslow and then to Histon, ‘close to but not a part of’ Cambridge.

Clare went to Wilmslow High School, then Hills Road and on to Leeds University in 2000. Charles went to Ashdean Primary before Wilmslow High School and Impington Village college, then Long Road and on to Sheffield Hallam in 2002. Our house was now rather empty.

My time in Wilmslow added another dimension to my life. I joined the Lib Dems and was persuaded to stand in the district council elections of 1996. I lost out by just five votes after two recounts but it was just as well really because my move to Cambridge would have meant resigning my seat almost straight away.

Stage 5, 61-75 years, community leadership (c 2008-2022)

The Cambridgeshire County Council Lib Dem group in 2007

I’ve worked as a consultant as i2i-management.com continuously, except for a period from 2005 to 2010 when I worked under the umbrella of Qi3, and including three spells of interim management at Macsa in Spain. I earned enough to keep bread on the table, lots of it, and must have worked with 20 or so companies over this time. I am still active with i2i. Just.

When we moved to Cambridgeshire I signed up to help the local Lib Dems by delivering leaflets and then in 2005 they came along and suggested that I stand for election as a county councillor. I did and was elected as one member of a two member division.

As I’ve said many times I entered local politics with my eyes closed and it was a steep learning curve. I must have done OK because two years later I found myself elected leader of a group of 23 Lib Dem councillors (the photo above is from 2007). It was like herding cats. I was re-elected twice for the two member ward and a third time in 2017 when boundaries were redrawn and it was a more rational single member division. This time I secured over 50% of the vote but made it clear that it would be the last time I would stand.

I took a leading role in organising the 2018 district council elections in which the Lib Dems took all three seats. Then I made sure that my successor retained my seat in 2021 and that we repeated our 2018 success in 2022.

I did other things besides. I did four years as a non-exec at Cambridgeshire Community Services. I part owned two small businesses, viz Labfax and Gransden Packaging Products, I sold both at a nice profit, and I also invested £10k in Enhanced Hydrocarbon Technology which sadly fell victim to highly unprofessional and selfish management. I was a governor at Impington Village College and later became a trustee at the Morris Education Trust (later the Eastern Learning Alliance) and am now a trustee of local charity Histon & Impington Green Spaces. In 2013 I joined Histon & Impington Parish Council.

I served on the Parish Council from 2013 to 2022 and was its chair for four years. It was at times a frustrating experience and I could have done more but my big achievement was the delivery of a Neighbourhood Plan.

Healthwise I’d been doing just fine. I’d taken up running a little more seriously and run three 10k races (Histon & Impington’s Bonfire Burn) but then in August 2019 I felt some discomfort when using an exercise bike in the gym. That led to a GP appointment, a quick visit to A&E, a subsequent appointment with a consultant and a stent inserted a couple of days later. That changed my life and I’m now on daily medication and, because of a low sat fat diet my weight had dropped 5kg. But otherwise I’m felling fine.

And finally, the birds have flown the next. Clare is married and living in Wetherby with three children and Charles has emigrated and is a policeman in Western Australia. Our house really is empty.

So that’s it and I’m into Stage 6. I don’t want to tempt fate but I do plan on getting through this one. I’m just not sure what I will call it.

Photo of the Month: August 2022

Some photos are just pure serendipity as is this one. We’d just come out from dinner in Brighton and were walking back to the hotel down the narrow alley ways, this one connects Middle Street to Ship Street. I like the colours and the vertical stripes and the positioning of the couple just in a patch of light.

This photo was taken with my Samsung Galaxy s20 FE 1/25th at f1.8 ISO 1250 and a ’35mm focal length equivalent’ of 26mm. There has been minimal post-processing and a 1*2 vertical crop. Note that the photo has been taken using the phone camera’s ‘auto HDR’ option which ‘captures more detail in the bright and dark areas’ of my shots.

North Norfolk: 5 highlights

We’ve just had a week in Thornham, a little to the east of Hunstanton, in North Norfolk. We’d rented a house so that we could spend time with the Bradburies and Charles without the space constraints of our respective homes. I reckon it was a bit of a rite of passage, such ‘whole family’ holidays are something you have to test at least once and by and large this one was pretty painless. The weather was generally good, the house was well equipped and we had no major rows.

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30 years ago

The Guardian tells me that 30 years ago history was made at the Barcelona Olympics by the presence of the US ‘Dream Team’ competing in the basketball and setting standards which had never been seen before.

I remember those Olympics because that’s when I was in hospital having my hip op and although I had TV in my room the choice was essentially the Olympics on Swiss TV, we were living in Switzerland at the time, and the Republican Party convention on CNN.

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Photo of the Month: July 2022

We had such good pasta when we were in Italy in May I thought I should do my best to replicate it back home so this has become one of my signature dishes: linguine al salmone. The key to success is to be generous with the salmone!

This photo was taken with my Samsung Galaxy s20 FE 1/100th at f1.8 ISO 320 and a ’35mm focal length equivalent’ of 26mm. There has been minimal post-processing, just a slight lightening of the shadows, a medium contrast tone curve and a square crop.

I’ve done my bit for women’s football

I’ve got to confess that I’ve not been a whole hearted participant in the ‘the Lionesses won the European Cup so all’s well with the world’ orgy of celebration following last Sunday’s victory. I don’t want to play down the victory and I’ll certainly applaud the impact that it will likely have on women’s participation in football and sport in general but I suspect that even 1966 didn’t get the obsessive media coverage that we’re seeing today. We are inclined to overdo stuff aren’t we?

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