June Create: The 20th Century: A Life In Snippets

1 Conversation

Rod reflects on the 20th Century and share his highlights.

Born in Liverpool (Liverpool, England, UK, that is - for those who didn’t recognise the accent).

Early 1940's:

  • First memory, from Wrexham, North Wales.
    Wailing sirens, (rare) bomber scare (what they had left over after laying their eggs on Liverpool Dockland)... under the stairs. Dog first then me...
  • (home was also a home-from-home for American aircrew from a local rest camp - and mother's sisters from Liverpool !)
  • Items of female under-attire from the washing, hung out of reach on the lampshade, by those huge Americans.
  • Bedtime, being taught to read (well before 5 years old) by one of those huge Americans ('Christopher Robin', ‘Pooh Bear’ ‘Peter Rabbit’, oh, and ‘War and Peace’ of course...)
  • Adopting an extra surname, Rodney Peter Edwards Warden, 'cos "Warden" was what it said on the gate.
  • Mid 1940s:

  • My father and my primary school headmaster were keen amateur dramatists and the headmaster was one Ronald Hadlington (how come that's stayed with me?), who wrote children's plays:
    I was the first, the very first, the truly original "Hare with the red tail"
  • .

    1950: Still in Wrexham.

  • Age 11, after one term at secondary school, mother gathered me up...
  • Flying to East Africa on a double-decker seaplane piloted by one 'Cat's Eyes' Kelly.
  • Overnight stops at Ghent (should have been somewhere in southern Italy), Alexandria, Khartoum and finally Entebbe on Lake Victoria, Uganda.
  • Father waiting for us, to take us to our new home in Kampala by car ... a Car Of His Own!
  • I used to think the 'plane was a Princess flying boat but it seems more likely to have been a converted Sunderland bomber.
  • Cat's Eyes Kelly was apparently credited with finally sighting the Bismarck (hmm, among others, eh?).
  • How many of you remember the days when travel bags were handed out FREE with the company's logo on them?
  • Back to primary school in Kampala while waiting for a place at one of the two secondary (boarding) schools, both in Nairobi, Kenya, that had a catchment area of pretty much all East Africa - ‘The Prince of Wales’ and, of which we didn't speak- ‘The Duke of York’.
  • The journey to & from Nairobi is some 500 km (300-odd miles) and was an overnight journey.
  • On those going-to-school train journeys, climbing down while on a routine stop on the rim of the Great Rift Valley, prepared with a penny (those pennies were big & had a hole in the middle for carrying on a string). Putting our pennies on the track. Waiting for the train to restart and run several wheels over it before scrambling back aboard - with a Big Penny.
  • On one such occasion, looking down on a pink lake (Naivasha) which suddenly lifted off as a whirling, swirling pink cloud – flamingos.
  • On parents' contractual home leave:

    One direction by sea (SS Matiana?)

  • The swimming pool was a makeshift wood & canvas job, wherein there were organised fun & games – including, for the children, diving to collect as many coins as possible. This lad was in trouble – late one night, a member of the bridge watch was sent down investigate suspicious movement – me, on a serious mission, in the pool (drained every evening) collecting pocket money. I think I escaped punishment 'cos all the adults were laughing so much.
  • The other direction by air

  • Flying on a Comet of the Queen's flight (it said so on a plaque), one of the last flights before they were all grounded because of potential metal fatigue.
  • Being sent back to UK to live in Northumberland with an Aunt & Uncle ... because of the Mau-Mau.
  • To school in Alnwick (Northumberland).
  • Meeting, on the school ‘bus, she who was to become my wife and lifelong partner, Ann.
  • Mid 1950s

  • Being sent out of class (nervous in the toilets) because I could not, Just Could Not pronounce "pharaoh". My mouth said “far-o-ah” every time, despite what I was telling it.
  • My pocket money was 2s/6d (half-a-crown), now 12 1/2p - about 30c, when my peers were getting 5/- (or in one case, 10/-) and it stayed like that until my first job, when my aunt wouldn't accept any more for my keep than my parents were paying.
  • Mid 1950s:

  • Leaving school (which I detested, so no university).
  • First job (a temporary job, while waiting to start with a chemical company), on the Duke of Northumberland's estate, working for the local sawmill. The site boss, a big man in his late twenties probably, teaching me to use one of those two-handed saws that was longer than me, making me keep up with him.
  • Cutting pine trees to make pit-props for the local collieries.
  • Trees snedded (branches off flush with the trunk with an axe, another training exercise).
  • Dragged out of the woods by an older man with his horse.
  • Three sizes (part memory, part guess): about 6 foot by 10 or 12 inches (1800mm x 275mm), 4 foot x 7 to 10 inches (1200 x 200) and little ones say 3 ft x 4 to 6 inch (900 x 125).
  • Being trained to use the bark-stripping machine, small props first then the medium. I wasn't allowed near the biggies before I left.
  • The sawmill offered me, via my uncle, a sandwich course (part work, part uni) as a tree surgeon. To my eternal regret my *integrity* turned it down 'cos I'd already accepted a job as laboratory assistant with a big chemical firm.
    What a fool (as my uncle told me!) - it was another several years before I realised my attraction to (love of) wood.
  • Thence to Redcar (near Middlesborough, Yorkshire) as a laboratory assistant at ICI, working on the Terylene production plant.
  • Day-school at the College, training to be a chemical engineer.
  • Not liking it too much then being called-up for the last year of conscription and not applying for exemption on educational grounds.
  • 1957: R.N.

  • Joining the Navy - the Real Navy (Royal Navy, that is) for a 9-year tour, in the Radio Electrical branch.
  • At HMS Collingwood near Fareham, Hampshire for initial square-bashing and up the mainmast to sit on the button.
  • A 9-month training course, for basic electronics and introduction to Radio / Radar / Sonar.
  • HMS Albion, aircraft carrier, Far East tour.

  • Suez crisis, patrolling, at action stations, for 29 uneventful days then moved on elsewhere - we'd have all got the Suez Medal had we stayed another day...
  • Sailing through the Suez Canal & hitting the side. No doubt the captain was in trouble - but what happened to the local pilot?
  • Sailing, we are sailing... to Singapore for repairs, shoring up the damage as we go. On arrival, six weeks in barracks.
  • Tiger Balm, the real McCoy, with opium - marvellous for strains &sprains. I had the remains of a (little) jar for years.
  • Tiger Tops (local beer with a little lemonade) and carrying buckets full of the stuff back to the mess at closing time.
  • Shivers down the back when passing Changi prison.
  • 1959: R.N.

  • Return to HMS Collingwood for more training.
  • Marrying boyhood sweetheart, Ann, who was then at Art College. (Not too long afterwards she changed her name again - to Ms Stress, later adding Yisdir).
  • To Whitehall as Tech-of-the-watch in the communications centre.
  • 1960/62: R.N.

    From Whitehall to Bahrain communication centre.

  • Flying out on a R.A.F. transport ‘plane with a few seats - facing backwards as (apparently) it’s safer.
  • Ms Stress flew out later with our son Stephen, not many months old, also by R.A.F.
  • Living in an apartment hired by the navy.
  • Young son was the darling of the locals (blond hair). Sweets & small gifts wherever we went.
  • 1963, Nov 22

  • Coming off watch about midday & joining the queue for a beer.
    Hush, shush, Kennedy’s been shot.
  • Hearing a great noise from Muharraq airport in the early mornings - TSR-2 (Tactical Strike/ Reconnaissance - 2) winding up, on its hot weather trials
  • Back to HMS Collingwood for the PettyOfficer training.
  • Drafted to HMS Aurora, an anti-submarine frigate, as king ping (or king ping), responsible for the reliability of all the ship’s sonar.
  • 1967: Back in civilian clothes

  • Working in Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, as a computer maintenance engineer - a roomful (a Big Room) of tickings, clickings, whirrings and lights.
  • 1969 July 20 Moon Landing

  • First man on the moon: Telling young son "Remember this, it's living history". Next day buying every newspaper I could find (only one of each!) and Ms Stress taking the front pages into work and photographing them (the price of no discipline was copies for her bosses) and bringing the negatives home. We still have them... somewhere
  • Ten years later, working (well, 'consulting') at the cape - Canaveral, that is - approaching the anniversary, the local newspaper didn't reply to my offer of free copies...
  • 1971:

  • The first house we could call our own, in Seghill, Northumberland, after changing jobs to a firm based in Bathgate, Scotland. Responsible for the maintenance, reliability and performance of the same model computer as before, but a bit smaller configuration, this time at the university of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
  • 1973:

  • New baby. Our daughter Andrea.
  • 1976 and on...

  • After closing down the - my - computer to make way for a shiny new IBM model, work in the area dried up & it was either move to London or ... I was made redundant.
  • Four difficult months later, moving south to Bracknell as a trials engineer for Sperry Gyroscope.
  • Based in Bracknell, doing field work at several sites around southern England, southern Wales and Western Scotland.
  • To Australia (Woomera) for a few weeks, two of us, commissioning some new trials equipment. Living in the range mess, with weekends in Adelaide - B&B &evening meal were paid for, so it was steak & eggs for breakfast and coffee for lunch.
  • A year or so later, to Cape Canaveral as Team leader, for the final year of trials before the project went into service. We lived in a rented apartment in Cocoa Beach, on the Banana River.
  • On again, to Greenock, Inverclyde, Scotland (by this time, Sperry Gyro had become British Aerospace). Ann couldn’t accompany me on that one, but we could have a return flight every two weeks, Heathrow / Glasgow.
  • I was company representative on HMS Challenger, the RN’s Seabed Operations vessel, responsible for work on TUMS (Towed Unmanned Submersible).
    After helping things to go UP at the cape, it was fascinating to be helping this, among the major projects for the ship, to go Down - 20,000 feet (that’s 6km) - on a length of electrical string.

  • Sadly, it was to become another cancelled British project.

  • Things were getting quieter by then, defence work was getting thin on the ground.
  • From then, it was a smaller marine project in south west Scotland for six months or so then filling-in back in the office. Eventually being made redundant again (with a generous severance package).
  • On, to more trials, for another defence company. This one wasn’t so good. Despite what they said, what they actually wanted was a yes-man to do the bidding of the design engineers, rather than taking a proper trials approach.
  • That lasted barely a couple of stressful years then we parted company under a mutual cloud. Redundant again, with the smallest package.
  • Starting up as an independent database developer, paying the bills through short-term contracts, then at a large company, writing a program to record employee benefits, prepare and submit the Inland Revenue returns - for three years.
  • Ann was working for them too, in their travel office.
  • Preparing my program for presentation to the Inland Revenue as a possible way for other companies to do that work, when the company was taken over by that !Bleep! American guy who drove a de Lorean car (that one with the wings, remember?).
  • Work gone, owed three months’ money.
  • During that time I was developing, patenting and trying to sell an invention. Just a simple thing, would never be a world beater but there was a niche for it. By the time I found a serious customer, the 80s recession was upon us. “We’re sorry Rod, too late. six months ago we would very probably have taken it on & it’d be still selling in worthwhile quantities, but now? we can’t risk it”.
  • That time, I didn’t recover. It was supermarket shelf-filling and kitchen pot-washing. We survived largely because of Ann working in sales at a department store then in a boutique shop, cooking at a golf club and as assistant manager at a conference facility.
  • Late 1990s:

  • My mother was then approaching her own 90s, travel over, peering through the mists at her end (though it was five years or more before her wish was granted).
  • Watching her making one final preparation: systematically going through her diaries (5-year ones for as long as I could remember).
  • Reading a page, tearing it out and shredding it. Nothing I could say persuaded her otherwise... She'd been in Uganda for 15 years or so, from 1950, as wife of a senior company officer. However much rubbish or personal stuff, there must have been gems in there ... the End Of Empire...
  • By now Ms Stress had progressed to Personal Assistant for the MD of a small but growing company involved in nano technology.
  • Eventually I gave up looking for my kind of work and went as a security guard - ending up doing almost all night work, until retirement.
  • It was a worrying time but it turned out to not be as bad as we feared. Ann was earning a fair wage, while me working the night shift meant a reasonable income. We had managed to pay-off the mortgage early, so all-in-all, things were tolerable.
  • Having by now realised my liking of wood, and having converted the second garage to a workshop, in better times, I did more carving.
  • 1997:

  • When a rather old lathe was advertised locally I bought it - and was hooked. Woodturning took the world from my shoulders - and still does.
  • So the next five or six years passed, uneventfully and not wholly unpleasantly.
  • Ann tells me it was in this period that I did my best woodturning work...
  • 2003: Retirement

  • We sold up in the south and moved back north to a small town not far from the villages where we’d lived previously and had met on the school bus.
  • A very pleasant town, smaller than Rangiora. We intended it to be our last move and made ourselves a good life there.
  • Mid/Late 2000s: New Zealand

  • Our daughter and her husband came here for a year, he working in Christchurch hospital, while she found a job as assistant librarian.
  • In a very few months we received word “This is it. This is where we want to be. When are you coming over?”
  • So, for each of four years (05, 06, 07, 08) we spent about three months in NZ while deciding that this is where we, too, would like to be.
  • We didn’t feel we could, yet, as my mother and stepfather were surviving (and both wishing they weren’t). They told us to go, saying they wish it had been earlier, as they’d have loved to visit.
  • Eating out in Hong Kong

    On the way to one of our NZ visits, along with the wife of a deceased friend and Ms Stress's brother - who hadn't travelled 'til then but had always wanted to go to NZ.

    After a little hum-ha, we ate from a street stall. Well, what a palaver!
    They scampered around grinning like idiots, found table and chairs, put us in the middle of the street “look! We got roundeyes!”... minor panic – not chopsticks, need forks! more grinning, more scampering, presumably to a cousin's high-class joint.
    The food was good too. I bet they had problems with how much to charge but I'll also bet both sides were well content.


    In the event, returned from our ’08 visit ... the parents' denouement ... daughter starting a family, we started proceedings for permanent residence - moving here in late January ’09 – and

    Here. We. Are. Loving it.

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