Chapter Seven - Start of the Family Years
Moving to Hethersett proved to be a master stroke. We couldn't have found anywhere better. And when we outgrew our relatively small chalet we only discussed one option - buying a bigger property in the same village.
I continued to largely enjoy my job on the newspaper - although at times got frustrated that my attempts to increase the coverage of local sport were thwarted by some negative thinking. I did, however, seem to manage a decent balance between writing and sub editing and also covered Norwich City for the News of the World who seemed to pay well for weekly match reports.
Two of the most important days of my life were February 24th, 1982 and January 10th, 1984 when my sons Christopher and Matthew were born. There was never any doubt in our minds that we would have a family and we were both delighted when Anne announced on three separate occasions that she was pregnant. Unfortunately first time around she had a miscarriage, but the second and third pregnancies went well apart from some low blood pressure that saw her pass out on a couple of occasions when she ate food too late. One of these occasions was in a restaurant in Greenwich. The owners were really concerned but we had got used to the situation: "Don't worry, it's not you food, she's always doing this."
Another occasion was in a Norwich restaurant in the middle of a snow storm when we had to have the windows open. I don't think summer pudding was on the menu that night!
I vividly remember the birth of Chris. I was training at the time to run the Bungay Black Dog Marathon. Running a marathon was one of two things I really wanted to achieve - the other being appearing in a drama on stage. I had achieved the latter whilst working at Cromer. Now I was trying the former.
So virtually every night I ran round the village. I tried to go the opposite way to other joggers who tended to run in a clockwise route. I went anti clockwise as passing them and exchanging a few quick words gave me something to look forward to (how sad was that). It also gave me an aim as I could look forward to passing a certain person in say another 25 minutes. You can imagine the disappointment when I didn't pass them again as they had gone home.
My circuit of the village was 2.4 miles (its' quite a long village) and so a training run could consist of anything from a light jog (one circuit) to a full blown training run (something like seven or eight circuits).
The idea was to step up training as the race approached with the aim of reaching something like 21 miles. The problem was some nights long distances came easy, but on others I suffered problems (both mental and physical) and tied up after a few miles. Then there was the fact that I passed two pubs on my route and it was all too easy to go in "for a rest."
On 23rd February, 1982, I planned a long run. I was nice and safe as the baby's arrival wasn't due for a few days and my view was if I get the long runs out of the way now I will be able to have a break for the birth (big of me I know).
So on this evening I was planning 17 or more miles. So I ran and ran and ran and must have been out for well over two hours and felt good at what I had achieved. I went home, had a long soak in the bath to stop my joints seizing up and then had a drink and went to bed. In the early hours of the morning Anne announced that she had "rotten indigestion." Now why is it that when women go into labour they announce that they have indigestion? Isn't it jut a smidge of a co-incidence that they have terrific pains around the time they are due to give birth?
Anyway after a time the pains (contractions) calmed down, only to build up again. Being intelligent people we soon decided that it might be a good idea to contact the hospital. So we did and they told us to take our time but to go in when we were ready - cue panic!!!
Of course there was no need for panic as first births do tend to take a long time. But to us this was an emergency. I envisaged having to deliver the baby in the car. Thankfully being the middle of the night we had no traffic or parking problems at the hospital in Norwich.
This was the old hospital before they built a brand spanking new one in Colney outside Norwich. The maternity unit of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was on floor 9 of a tower block just a minutes walk from where my grandmother had lived in Rupert Street.
I never could work out what possessed the authorities to have the birthing rooms on the ninth floor. What happened if the lifts stuck and you had to drag a heavily pregnant woman up nine flights of stairs or even worse if the lift stuck with the heavily pregnant woman inside. And what if it was the middle of the day and the lift kept stopping at every floor for people to get in and out. For a start the size of the pregnant woman would severely restrict the number of occupants and secondly what about all that moaning and groaning and pain. Three of them and the lift would be full. But I digress.
There were no such problems and it wasn't until 18 hours later that Chris made his bow into the world. The staff were kind and professional. They said I had been one of the most laid back fathers to be they had ever seen. It's quite easy to be laid back after running 17 miles and then getting up in the middle of the night. Comatose would probably be a better word.
"Would you like a nice cup of tea and slice of toast" asked the midwife.
"Yes please," I replied.
"Not you. I meant your wife!"
So I left Anne to the tea and toast and drove home to make a number of very happy phone calls. I felt elated and an emotional wreck as I drove home. Short of food and sleep and unbelievably happy that two of us were now three.
Two years later we did it all again. Again it started during the night, but this time the birth was quicker and I remember much less about it. I know I hadn't been on a marathon run and I remember Anne going into hospital the previous day, but it turning out to be false alarm. This time Matthew was born to complete our family.
As for the marathon. Well after Chris' birth my training regime went to pot and I struggled to keep going and took an awfully long time to complete the course. But complete it I did despite the efforts of an ambulance to pick me up when they thought I was one of the stragglers. The pint of milk I drank at the end was the best pint ever. For all the effort I received a small medal. It may have been cheap and worthless but the sweat and tears that had been put into gaining it made it feel like the crown jewels.
I continued working as sports editor for the Norwich Mercury Series until February 1989 by which time the boys were five and seven and both at school. It was at that point that my working life took another twist as technically I left journalism to become "poacher turned gamekeeper" to become Norfolk Constabulary's first ever civilian press and public relations officer.
I still enjoyed the sports editor role but realised at the age of 36 that if I was going to make a change I needed to do it sooner or later or risk being stuck in a rut. I could have stayed there for the rest of my working life but the job had become rather repetitious and I felt I needed a new challenge. The person who succeeded me is still doing the job some 17 years later.
So when I saw Norfolk Constabulary advertising for a press and public relations officer I decided to apply - particularly as I knew that my boss would be Superintendent Brian Butcher who lived in Hethersett and whom I knew socially from church and other events.
During my time as sports editor and writing Eye on City I had got to know a few senior police officers through a short series of articles on policing football at Carrow Road. I still remember a comment which I used from Superintendent Colin Bunn. These were the days of football hooligans and many more problems at games than there are today.
I asked Colin how he felt at the end of a match expecting an answer along the lines of "pleased that everything had gone according to plan". Instead he gave a wry smile and said "Happy that it's one match nearer the end of the season."
During my work on that I teamed up with Inspector Roger Sandall who looked after me during the matches. Roger later turned up on the interview panel for the police job and went on to reach the rank of Chief Superintendent. He is now retired but someone I had the utmost respect for as both a first class police officer and a first class human being.
So with Roger and Brian involved in the appointment you might be forgiven for thinking the whole thing would have been a breeze. Not so. I think six candidates were shortlisted for interview. Those that weren't included a former MP who felt that he would be good at pr!!!!
All six candidates had journalistic backgrounds. I felt I had a good chance, but initially heard nothing for some time (usually an indication that you haven't got a job). I then found out that the job had been offered to a young lady who had turned it down through illness. I'm not really sure why she applied but possibly this could have been before she realised what the job entailed.
The second choice definitely turned it down on the grounds that he felt it would be too much work. So on a morning on a month late in 1988 or early in 1989 I received a phone call from the personnel department of Norfolk Constabulary offering me the job and inviting me to attend a medical. I think I accepted there and then and, after talking it over with Anne that evening, put my resignation in the following day. I started work with the police on February 9th, 1989.
In the meantime family life continued. The boys grew as boys do, Anne trained at the UEA to become a teacher. Chris and then Matt started school at Woodside First School and I continued my association with local football by becoming a committee member of Wymondham Town Football Club.
Every other Saturday I took the boys to matches with me and they enjoyed a drink in the clubhouse and then kicked a football about whilst I watched the match and sent over reports to the Pink-Un - the Saturday sports paper in Norwich.
I well remember promising the boys that "one day if you are good enough you will be able to play for Wymondham Town." That was probably the day Matt went and sat in the goalmouth during the game and I had to rush onto the pitch to haul him off.
Needless to say threats or promises sometimes come true. At the time of writing Matt has almost completed a season with Wymondham Town and is close to completing 50 appearances for the club. He is now an established first team regular and I am back watching them on Saturdays. Chris never did play for them. He moved to the South of England and has played at a relatively high level (but that's for another chapter).
Both boys went on to get degrees in physical education (again this will be covered later) and I take the blame/plaudits (delete as necessary) for standing in the road outside our house in Buckingham Drive teaching them to kick a football. It soon became obvious that Matt was left handed and left footed but Chris was right - so that gave a good balance.
For many years I was obviously bigger and faster than the boys, but then we came to that period when they were about the same size and the same speed and then to the point where I slowed down, they speeded up and the rest, as they say, is history.
Just before joining the police we moved house. There was never any discussion of leaving the village. Anne was very much involved with the Methodist Church and we had numerous friends locally. I was in round table in Wymondham, although I eventually left this thanks to disillusionment with an organisation that prided itself on its caring nature but then threatened to throw me out as I had missed three consecutive meetings. The problem for me is they never bothered to ask why I had missed the meetings - they were simply following the rules. Following the rules is something that I think blights modern day life, it has taken all the spontaneity out of our society. I accept that there have to be rules, but there also has to be an element of initiative built in.
When I told them that the reason I had missed three meetings was because 1/ I had been in hospital to have a hernia repaired 2/ My mother had died and 3/ My wife had suffered a miscarriage they tried to apologise and invited me back. But it was just too late.
It often annoys me in life that the people who make the most noise get on because somebody somewhere believes their boasts and claims. Quiet people who get on with things in a professional and competent way are often ignored. It's all wrong. In various roles I have adopted since those times I have always looked for the quiet competent ones - very often they are the people that are the true leaders and gain respect.
So we made the decision to go for a larger property and increase our mortgage. W looked at numerous properties, a number of which were in the St David's Road area. This is a sought after part of the village and at the time properties went very quickly.
We managed to sell our chalet in Buckingham Drive virtually for the asking price which I think was about £47,000. We had had alterations to it including a new dining room and a fourth bedroom. We sold to Angela and Bill Farrington. Angela eventually began work at Hethersett Middle School - a place that I was to have a long and fruitful association with at a later date.
Eventually we found a new property. Anne thought it ideal with plenty of potential. I thought it was old fashioned and didn't give it a real inspection. But in the end I bowed to her superior judgment (as always) and I think we paid something like £87,000 for the four bedroomed house and eventually moved in. I have to say we have been extremely happy with the property and still live here today although we have made numerous improvements which have included turning the car port into a large second lounge, building on a conservatory and completely re-fitting the kitchen and landscaping the garden.
Two doors away from us in Buckingham Drive lived the Haversons. Neil worked for Eastern Counties Newspapers on the advertising side. I think he was a frustrated writer - as well as being a very amusing one. Whilst I was sports editor of the Norwich Mercury Series Neil wrote a weekly light-hearted sports column which exuded charm.
This was the pre-cursor to the launch in the Eastern Daily Press of the Fortress H column which has chronicled the trials and tribulation of his family over many years. A number of Fortress H compilation books have been printed and they really are very amusing. I don't know how he keeps the humour up week after week after week. All I can say is that from my experience of his family, everything he says is true (now sue me).
I used to make guest appearances in Neil's columns. I remember one n particular where he laid into me for not being able to repair a radiator. For a time I became the character Radiator Man. When we sold our chalet and Angela went to live there she became GBH (as in Grievous Bodily Harm - don't ask why). When I moved a mile or so down the road I instantly became and still am Posh End for obvious reasons. The only problem is nowadays I'm not featured very much and practically have to plead with Neil to put me in the column. For a number of years Mrs H worked at the Middle School where I became chair of governors. A threat to sack her often got me into the column for a couple of weeks or so.
So to sum up at this point I am now employed by Norfolk Constabulary and have moved house. The boys are growing up and Anne is back to work. Please read on .....