Sunday, 30 November 2008

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.

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