Monday, 15 July 2019

A speech by our children at our 50th wedding anniversary

I wanted to take this moment to say a few words about Mum and Dad on this most special of occasions. Afterall, Rob got his chance to make a speech on their actual wedding day, so it’s only fair.

We’re here tonight to celebrate such a special, eternal love, a love that Rob, Helen and I have always known to be selfless and unfailing. And it’s so wonderful to see that 50 years on since the last time they hosted a room similar to this, they both still look so amazing. Mum, dressed beautifully as always, and Dad, dressed by Mum, as always.

Growing up, dad always told me that he married his best friend. Theirs has been a lifetime dedicated to their family, pursing shared interests, taking care of each other, providing for one another, rarely arguing, often compromising, and always putting each other first.  Mum has learned to never stop dad from taking on yet another volunteer role, and Dad has learnt that his standard of domestic cleanliness will never be good enough, he will never choose the right clothes to wear, and he should under no circumstances, cook food in mums’ pristine kitchen without thoroughly covering it to avoid a potential disastrous splattering of food in the clean oven scenario.

Dad first clocked mum as she got out of her car in the works car park at Presteel Fisher in Birmingham in the summer of 1968. Ever since I can remember, dad has always told me that he knew straight away that mum was the woman of his dreams. Being the sixties, Dad decided to play it cool and waited at least seven days before he proposed. Mum, being a little more cautious, used her family contacts in the Personnel Department at Presteel Fisher, to check out his eligibility. Having been reassured of his strong work ethic and future promotion prospects, she agreed to marry him.  My grandmother, ever the sensible one, and naturally cautious of an ex copper, persuaded them to slow down a bit, so 9 months later they married, on the 15th March 1969, and after a lavish honeymoon in the tropical seaside resort of Bournemouth, they moved into a flat above a shop in Acocks Green. In a matter of months, mum was pregnant with Rob, and concerned about him growing up with a brummie accent, they purchased their first house in Polesworth, where two years later, Helen came along.

They lived in Polesworth for the first few years of their married life, making great friends on the street that they lived on, friends that several years later, got them so drunk and a holiday in ****, that nine months later, I arrived. By this time, mum and dad had made the move to what became their beloved hometown of Lichfield.

Talking of Lichfield – Rob, I think you have a few words you wanted to say about their life here?

Growing up Dad always used to tell us to fight fire with fire which turns out was the reason he joined the police force and not the fire brigade.

Lichfield has been hugely important to both Mum & Dad and it’s fair to say that this is where they’ve truly built their lives.

It’s just 16 miles from the mighty Villa Park and 28 miles from the underwhelming St Andrews which always pleased Mum.

For as long as I can remember (and there are a few years in the middle that I can’t) Dad has been totally committed to the Talking Newspaper and during that 40 odd years Mum has been fully involved, totally supportive and always beavering away in the background.

Lions has been a big part of life in Lichfield too, Dad must surely have been President about 15 times now and he went on to become District Governor and has had multiple national roles supporting young people with a focus on health and drug education. Lions recognised this and awarded him the Melvin Jones Fellowship and the International Directors Award.

Most of you will know that Mum is also a Lion now so no doubt the club is a lot tidier and more organised.

St Peter & St Paul’s was central to a lot that we did growing up, the school didn’t open until 1972 so it was in its infancy when Helen and I started there, but the friends that Mum and Dad met there have remained immensely important.

It was however Rocklands School where Dad was Vice Chair of Governors for nearly 30 years and being a governor of a school myself, gives me newfound respect for all he’s done there.

The Church has spawned all sorts of fun and friendship in Lichfield which I know are dear to both Mum and Dad. I know that Dad is a big fan of the knitting club in particular.

There are lots of things that Mum and Dad have been (and still are) entrenched in in Lichfield, The Staffordshire Neurological Alliance is another of those which has been prominent in Dad’s monthly newsletters for about the last 10 years.

There’s one day that I will always cherish, and I think it suitably illustrates just how integral Lichfield is in Mum & Dad’s life and indeed how much a part of Lichfield they are and that was the 30th June 2012 the day that Dad ran through the streets of Lichfield carrying the Olympic Torch.

I was joking when I suggested to Seb Coe that he did it but nevertheless I was immensely proud to see the love and support for both Mum & Dad from all quarters that day. It was a chance for supporters, friends and family to share their feelings and family are key to Mum and Dad as Helen is going explain….

When Rob, Dan and I talked about what we wanted to say to Mum and Dad tonight, we knew instantly that we had to say something about their phenomenal dedication to the family.
I sat down to write about this and I was overwhelmed with all the happy memories and feelings from our childhood and how I could possibly convey that in one small speech.

Their dedication as parents was, and still very much is a beautiful thing. As children we always felt safe, we always felt loved, we always felt encouraged and nurtured. We were supported in our hobbies, we were encouraged to develop our strengths, and we were always reassured that if we tried hard but didn’t necessarily achieve what we had hoped for, that was ok, life had a plan and we would soon understand.

Dad has sometimes said he wishes he could have provided more for us in our childhood. We can tell you now, the three of us wanted for nothing, we had all the important things that money simply doesn’t buy.

So, home was our haven, but Mum and Dad also had a great capacity for involving us in their grown-up world. All three of us enjoyed getting involved with the Talking Newspaper, with the Lions social events, with meeting their work clients who we sometimes got to host, with church events and the many many dinner parties that Mum and Dad have always been so good at. We did however avoid Lichfield Old Time musical due to the trauma caused by seeing our Dad dressed up as a fairy, and there’s a few of you here tonight who will remember and understand that!

Whilst balancing home life and community life, Mum and Dad took the brave decision to leave employment and set up a new business when we were all quite young. I’m not going to talk about the details of the business idea, but I do want to just take a moment to verbalize how I(we?) see that time from a family point of view. That decision showed bravery, it showed trust, it taught us about risk taking and hard work, but the most amazing thing was seeing how Mum and Dad worked together – something a lot of couples would avoid at all costs. What we saw was how Mum and Dad had different strengths, and at the risk of sounding very corny, how they really do complete one another. The hard work reaped it’s rewards for many years and whilst the hours were sometimes long, family meal times remained sacred. The effort behind keeping this time commitment nearly every day was very much a conscious decision made by Mum and Dad and one that kept us all on track, all together and another example of their commitment and wisdom.

In time, we’ve all grown up, some more than others, and have all moved to the south east as a result of work and our own marriages. Mum and Dad have remained as committed to us in adulthood as they were in our childhood.  Family parties are always a source of excitement, times together relished, and we are always moved to see Mum and Dads beaming smile and enthusiasm when we pull onto their driveway (sometimes accompanied by a glass of something cheeky to welcome us home).
Whenever we’ve needed extra support, they’ve been there in a flash and have certainly been a tower of strength to Dave and I over the years.

And so now mum and dad are grandparents, and my goodness they’re good at being that. Seeing mum and dads parenting skills being applied to their grandchildren is beautiful to watch. They always show interest, they’re always ready with a cuddle and always happy to get involved. Grandma so often has come armed with a new little treat that she doesn’t just hand over but is happy to sit down and play with or demonstrate, getting our children sewing, knitting or reading, whilst Grandad will be playing cards with them or doing magic tricks or telling stories and jokes. On top of this there is the occasional pearl of wisdom that they share with us in order to help our own parenting, which has frequently left me wishing I had that wisdom.

So, Mum and Dad, thank you. Thank you for falling in love with each other, thank you for the way you love us all and thank you for giving us an amazing example of marriage.

Pauline and I were very, very touched.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Chipping Campden - Gloucestershire

Chipping Campden is a quintessential Cotswold town. Located towards the northern edge of the region it nevertheless has all the beautiful Cotswold stone buildings. It boasts a wide main street lined with shops, hotels and eating places. We had passed through on numerous occasions, and even met for a family occasion some 10 years ago, but this was the first time we spent enough time there to explore.

The impressive church of St James turned out to be well worth a visit. It attracted quite a crowd on the day we were there, and the church's guide book states:

"There was a Norman church on this site before AD 1180, though it was 
much smaller than the present one. It consisted of a squat tower, a nave
about the same length as today, but without aisles, and a lower, shorter
chancel with a pitched roof. Around AD 1260 the Norman church began a
slow transformation that was to last nearly 250 years.

The chancel was rebuilt, the North aisle constructed with arches to
balance the Thirteenth century south aisle and the south porch was 
added together with the windows and battlements of both aisles.  About 
AD 1490 the nave was reconstructed with its magnificent arcading built
on the foundations of the old Norman nave.  The great window over the
chancel arch was added, a rare feature of church architecture, which 
provides wonderful light for the nave. 

Around AD 1500, the noble West tower was built, adding much grace and 
proportion to the whole. At 120 ft. in height it ensures that the Church is a 
landmark from whatever direction Campden is approached.

There is a peal of eight bells, whose dates vary from AD 1618 to AD 1737, 
they were recast and rehung in 1987.  The clock mechanism, dated 1695, 
is now stored under the arch of the tower, having been replaced in 1962."

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Hidcote Gardens - Gloucestershire

Hidcote Gardens was a big surprise. 

Situated at the Northern edge of the Cotswolds, Hidcote became the home of Lawrence Johnston. He was an America, born in France. His mother remarried and moved to Britain, buying a manor house and large park in the Cotswolds. Johnston became a British citizen and enlisted in the Army. He served with distinction in both the Boer War and WW1. When he was injured he returned to Hidcote to convalesce. Whilst there he began to develop his love of landscape gardening and turned a large area around the house into what we see today.

Hidcote is under the control of the National Trust, and they have maintained it impeccably. It rivals the best that the Royal Horticultural Society can offer, and that is saying a lot. Hidcote is worth a visit at any time, and certainly more than once a year, so that the changes of the seasons can be appreciated.

GL55 6LR

Friday, 17 May 2019

Athena Pallas Village - Greece

Despite my extensive travelling in Europe, we had never taken a holiday on mainland Greece, only on the islands. The only reason we chose this one was because the offer was too good.

Our flight from Gatwick landed at Thessaloniki and from there it was a 90 minute journey south and then east to Elias Nikiti on the Aegean coast. We travelled passed fields and hedgerows abundant with wild flowers, plus there was the odd vineyard and hundreds of olive groves.

Everything about the Athena Pallas was better than we had expected. Every aspect of the village was pristine. The facilities were first class and the service and attention from the staff was excellent.

Guests stay in apartments spread over the complex, separated into three sections, each with an attractive swimming pool with bar service. The hotel offers more than most people could experience in a week, especially if the sun is warm and encouraging of a stint by the pool, with the ever eager bar service on hand.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Botanical Gardens - Birmingham

The Botanical Gardens are one of those places that you can visit any number of times and always find something different. Designed by J C Loudon in 1829 it took just three years to establish and open to the public. It was intended to serve as an attraction for local people and an education centre for the universities and schools.

The gardens cover 15 acres close to the centre of Birmingham. A range of exotic plants are featured in the four main glasshouses: Tropical, Sub-tropical, Mediterranean and Arid. In all, there are more than 7000 different plants in the glasshouses and across the flower borders in general.

There is also a large lawned aviary that houses many exotic birds, but some are also allowed free range of the gardens, and tend to stay there.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

B15 3TR

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Aston Hall - Birmingham

Sir Thomas Holme commissioned the building of the impressive Aston Hall in 1618. John Thorpe was the chosen architect and it took 17 years for the house and grounds to be completed, though Holme moved in in 1631.

There were moments to regret, especially when the Parliamentary Troops attacked in 1643. Some of the damage caused by cannon balls is still evident today.

In 1817 the Holme family sold the hall and parkland to James Watt Jr, son of the famous James Watt. In 1858 he could no longer manage to hold on and the hall was sold to a private company in 1858. They also struggled and in 1864 it was bought by the Birmingham Corporation.

Part of the parkland was hived off and is now the site for Aston Villa Football Club. Later a lower stretch of the parkland was taken to allow the construction of the A38 link road between the M6 motorway and the Birmingham City centre.

The hall in now a museum. For a while it housed most of the exhibits now in the new Birmingham Museum but now there are different themes on view. The hall is open to the public during the summer months. The gardens are ornate and well maintained.

Aston Hall

Aston Hall Gardens

B6 6JD

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Dinton Pastures Pleasure Park - Berkshire

Some parks go a step or two beyond the norm. That is what you will find at Dinton Pastures.

Apart from the boating lakes and wildlife trails, plus the extensive play areas, there are also activities designed to suit all ages, from toddlers, through teens to adults, mature or otherwise. There is organised swimming and boating, playgroups and well structured courses on a wide range of rural subjects and pastimes.

Worth a visit if you have an hour or two to spare.

Dinton Pastures Pleasure Park

RG10 0TH