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January 23, 2008

An anniversary ....

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of my arrival in the UK to start work and settle my family. It is now exactly twenty years since I arrived tired, a little nervous and very uncertain of what the future held for us at Heathrow and walked through the Immigration line unchallenged, my Irish passport seemingly an everyday sight. I would soon learn that it was just that; that my Irish heritage would open more doors than my British one, at least initially.

Looking back, there is a lot to celebrate and some things that have not quite worked out. But then, that is life. Over these years my children have grown up, two into beautiful young women with a wide range of talents, and my son into a big young man with a list of achievements already. I will draw a veil over the debacle that is their education - the British education system is not good at dealing with bright pupils unless you have the money to send them to Public Schools and I didn't. And bored bright pupils are probably more creative in dodging school they find discouraging, boring or simply biased against them than any others. Perhaps I should write a book on that some time.

My mother retired (She was in South Africa) and it became obvious that her pension was not going to sustain her. We were struggling at the time, but the only option was to have her join us so we could both go out to work. The two years that followed were probably the most difficult I have ever experienced, for my mother and I were not the most comfortable pair to have under the same roof - and my wife and she were complete opposites. Conflict guaranteed, but we did find a small flat eventually for her and got Social Services to set up her pension and income support and soon she had her own establishment and a small circle of friends. My divorce followed and I moved from London to the Cotswolds where I could live and work at the establishment I would remain at for the next fifteen years. My greatest sdaness here, is that I missed the growing up of the kids. Yes, I saw them once a month at my home and once a month at theirs when I went down to see my mother, but it was all the bits that make for reality that I missed. It seemed almost overnight that they were all grown and no longer had time in the schedule to visit. That said, I am remarkably lucky in that we do have a very good and trusting relationship and they know they can call or visit anytime - and sometimes do!

My mother died suddenly in 1999, though her health had been deteriorating badly for a couple of years by that stage. It was a terrible moment, primarily because I was in the Philippines when she was rushed to hospital and did not get back until she had died. There are all those things you wish you had said, all those little things you have never really resolved or addressed. Her funeral was quiet, a very small group in a large church, reflecting the fact that she had never really built a circle of friends around her here and many of those with whom she had spent the last years of her life were, like here, so frail that they could not attend. Clearing her little flat was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and I confess that there are boxes in my loft that have not been opened since they were packed up then. I think that suddenly it was born home to me that I was now the oldest generation of the family .... And one of the strangest observations I can make is that I still, even after this gap of time, see something or hear something and think "I must phone Mum and tell her ..."

My second marriage was on rocky ground as well with my then father in law also in the final stages of a serious cancer. Gil died in the following July, quietly and with the dignity he had displayed throughout. His funeral was a complete contrast to my mother's.

So I now look back at a road that began inauspiciously perhaps in South Africa with my birth and a rather rocky path through the school system, then into work with a few deviations thanks to the then system. I learned of my Irish Citizenship on going through some papers following a major clear out of accumulated stuff and pursued it to get that status for my wife and children. Now I have reclaimed my British citizenship as well and I frequently respond to "Ethnic Monitoring" (Apartheid in disguise!) by ticking "Other" and filling in the box with "African Anglo Saxon Celtic Hybernian Norman". I became a Reader in 1982 in Bloemfontein, South Africa and Bishop Stanage is still my Spiritual Director. We migrated back to Port Elizabeth and then to the UK and I have maintained my Readership (Sort of "Lay" Deacon for non-Anglicans) and am now looking to seek ordination after many years of dodging that call.

Regrets? I have a few, but I think I have many more magnificent memories, friends, and a list of things I have achieved, among them Presiding at a formal Dinner held in the Signet Library in Edinburgh. For those who don't know this magnificent building is the home of the Scottish Legal Library and is used for State Dinners and functions. Most importantly though I have my friends and my kids. I am fortunate, though I have no idea why, to be able to say that I am still in contact with many friends in South Africa and even more scattered across and around the world. I have friends in Poland, Romania, Germany, the US, here in the UK, in Ireland, Canada and Australia. Even in the Middle East and some even more exotic places. My beloved grandfather was right - we ARE citizens of the world. Even more importantly I have my kids. I have to say I'm proud of them, I could wish that some things could have turned out different, but I think they have done very well - and will do even better once they have fully found their stride.

So, I look back on twenty years in the UK with a little pride and a lot of thankfulness. The UK has, by and large, been good for us. I don't like the direction our present government is taking the country and I am not sure it is even sustainable. I rather think the pendulum has swung too far and will swing back eventually, probably with a vengeance. But, as a voter, I have to accept some of the responsibility for it anyway. Do I regret coming to the UK twenty years ago?

Not on your life!

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 23, 2008 10:18 AM

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