Sunday, 30 November 2008


I first saw Elise on the beach of Heist-aan-Zee on the Belgian coast. I knew immediately that I would marry her, even though we were unable to speak to each other: she knew only Dutch and I spoke only English and a smattering of French. Still, the sand made an excellent writing and drawing surface and we communicated through that sand, together with signs and wonders. Elise was in Heist as a monitor for a group of children on one of the only occasions that her parents had allowed her to go somewhere by herself.

That was 1966.

Elise was born in Aalst in 1949 and grew up in the small village of Denderleeuw. Although small, it was quite important as a railway junction and attracted quite a lot of attention during WWII. Elise was an only child and was somewhat dominated by her parents, particularly her mother, who seemed to regard her as an investment for her old age. When I came on the scene, things were not pretty: apart from being a distraction of the opposite sex, I was a foreigner and, even worse, the son of a coal miner!
Still, Elise was made of sterner stuff and maintained contact with her "foreigner" for several years; we communicated by letter and the occasional phone call. Elise's parents would not allow her to travel, so we only saw each other once or twice a year, when I was able to get enough money to pay for the fare to Belgium and the hotel costs (I was rarely allowed to stay at the house).

By 1970 we had decided that I would move to Belgium: Elise would then be old enough to be able to legally defy her parents and we would be able to get married, whether they liked it or not. Finding a job and making all of the other arrangements in order to get a work permit took longer than expected and I was only able to move to Belgium in August 1971. We married at the end of October. The day after our wedding (a simple civil service), Elise travelled abroad for the first time, when we took the ferry from Oostende to Dover.

When Elise left school in 1967, she worked for the Ministry of Education in Brussels. A year or so after we married, a position of receptionist became available in Samsonite, where I was already working, and Elise filled it perfectly. She remained there until 1982.

Elise enjoys all sorts of sewing work and can turn her hand to anything in that line: patchwork, crocheting, knitting, dressmaking, teddy-bear making… whatever, and she's good at it, too. She also loves cooking (rather unfortunate, as I am not enamoured of food) and eating even more: she is willing to try anything and likes almost everything.

Elise's health has not always been wonderful. The biggest problem occurred in the mid-1990s, when she was found to have a large brain tumour. An operation was quickly performed to remove the tumour and a second operation was carried out a few of months later to place a skull prosthesis about the size of the palm of a hand. Fortunately, there has been no recurrence of the tumour. Some years ago, test revealed that Elise was suffering from diabetes. Now she must be careful what she eats and is able to maintain the diabetes under control through diet and oral medication.

As I write, Elise and I have been married for just over 37 years. We have seldom been apart during that time. We have done and still do everything together and that is how we like it. I wouldn't want to be with anyone else.

Who am I?

I was born in black and white. It was 1948 and the coal-mines of the Rhondda Valley were still in full flow, spewing out their black gold (the most beautiful coal you’ve ever seen, not lumpy and matt, but finely chiselled and shiny). Unfortunately, they were spewing out lots of other black stuff—coal-dust that covered and coloured everything, from the river that ran through the valley, a black ribbon with equally black muddy edges that would suck the unwary child into a vise-like grip, to the washing hanging in the back gardens of the seemingly endless rows of miners’ terraces (now quaintly referred to as “cottages”—I ask you!), to the anything else you can think of. Black, black, black. The white? The occasional cloud that passed overhead that was not blackened by its load of rain that fell with an uncommon regularity, washing ever more coal-dust into the river.

More black and white entered my life in 1953, when my unusually progressive father bought a television. Not only did my father spend what must have been a massive amount of money back then on this wonderful machine, he also spent a great deal of money on records and equipment on which to play them (and cars, but that’s another story). As a result, I was introduced to all sorts of music through a disorganised but fascinating collection of extremely breakable 78 rpm recordings. With the advent of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the collection was extended with the latest hits and so my particular interest in that form of music also developed.

Meanwhile, things at home were not going so well and my parents split up. I left Wales with my mother, staying in a number of places and eventually ending up in Yorkshire, in England, where we lived with an aunt for a year or so, before moving to London and settling for some years in Charlton. There I took the Eleven-Plus examination and was offered a place at Woolverstone Hall, an experimental state-run boarding-school near Ipswich, in Suffolk.

Following Woolverstone, with numerous O- and A-levels, but with no wish at all to go to university, I played safe and went to work for a bank. That was in late 1967 and after about a week, if it took that long, I knew that I didn’t want to work for a bank. At Woolverstone I had read about computers and had come to the conclusion that that was where the future lay. I therefore decided to risk a move into computing (this was still the 1960s remember) and became a trainee programmer with Elders & Fyffes (later to become The Fyffes Group).

In 1971 I decided it was time to move to Belgium to marry a girl I had met in 1966 on the beach in Heist Aan Zee. Her parents wouldn’t allow her out of the country so it was a case of mountains and Mohammed. The UK was not part of the EEC (as the EU was known at that time), so moving to Belgium was no easy task: medical examinations, work permits (find a job first), certificates of good conduct, special visa…, but on 28 August 1971 I “emigrated” and two months later Elise and I were married in a civil ceremony.

I soon found a more suitable job than the one I had taken in order to get a work permit. This in turn led to an offer to work for Samsonite Europe, for whom I designed some major systems, installed some of the first personal computers (though they weren’t called that then) and developed early telecomms data exchange applications. After being the successful candidate in an open competition, I worked as a computer specialist for the EU from 1982 until 2002, when I was placed on invalidity pension because of severe osteoporosis.

The inclement weather of the north of Europe seemed not to help my condition and my doctor advised me to try the milder climes of southern Spain. Elise and I therefore tried several extended stays in the area and these seemed to prove his point. We therefore decided to buy a house here and try a more permanent move. We moved to Guardamar del Segura, near Alicante, in July 2006.