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A life in optics part 1

Part 1 the very early years

When World War 2 broke out mum ended up working in the local munitions factory helping fill the ordinance. Liquid explosive was poured into each shell.

One of her colleagues was busy yacking and overfilled one of the shells which quickly set and then tried to remove the excess with a hammer and chisel.

The subsequent BANG or at least one of them brought Dad, who was by all accounts a bit of a swot and therefore in charge of the facility onto the scene and rather circuitously to where we find ourselves today.

So if you want someone to blame for making you read this I have offered a few candidates above but personally would be more inclined to point the finger at the reader who suggested I put what started life as some disjointed jottings into some semblance of order

(You know who you are)


The social mores of 50 years ago were far different from what they are today.

Initially I tried to accommodate modern sensibilities and also toned it down (a lot) under threat of death (or worse) from SWMBO but life simply wasn’t like that half a century ago. I have still tried to remain true to the narrative and the times.

Anyone easily offended would be better off looking away now.

If on the other hand you’ve ever wondered the psychological damage it does to what once might have been a rational mind sitting in a dark room for 40 years asking the same questions over and over (and over) again then dear reader, you need look no further.

Mum was a schoolteacher who needed someone to practice on and I was the ideal candidate. Mum’s philosophy ran along the lines of Children should be seen but not heard, Grown up’s were always right and the only haircut was a short back and sides, though my dad did step in to save my sister from that particular fate on several occasions.        

“Nothing but a bunch of long haired yobs”


Nothing sums up my early childhood better than mum’s pithy dismissal of these fresh faced young wannabe’s who had recently burst onto our TV screens.

As a kid my first TV memory was watching the Lone Ranger, even at an early age I realised that Tonto always got the pooey end of the stick and also did all the work.

All Kimo Sabe seemed to do was sit on his horse and cry “Hi Ho silver!” before riding off into the sunset.

Whatever strides we have made in today’s world there’s no doubt that way back then it was most definitely a white man’s world.

Even at an early age I could see that Mr Punch was not a nice man and probably not a good role model for fatherhood or future generations.

My Granddad oft opined that Daddy Woodentop was having it off with Mrs Scrubbitt and spotty dog definitely exhibited personal hygiene issues probably induced by the trauma of shacking up with a family living such a bohemian lifestyle.

I might have had a bit of “thing” for LoobyLoo.

My generous offer to buy Stella a striped onesie was greeted with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

I have no idea what those two stoners Bill and Ben were in to but I think it’s no more coincidental that their best friend was called “weed” than the random naming conventions employed for Captain Pugwash’s crew.

Anyone doubting that final statement could seek gainful employment in jury service, apply in the first to D Trump esq, I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.

So by the time I turned five I had witnessed domestic abuse, racial inequality, extramarital shenanigans, the sin of coveting another man’s girlfriend, a weird dystopian drug fuelled nightmare, whatever gentleman of the seafaring bent did to keep themselves amused on those long lonely sea voyages and a dog with PTSD

This was all part of “Watch with mother”     I wasn’t allowed near grown up TV

Did my parents send me to therapy?  Nope they sent me to school instead.

My first school (note the operative word there)  was rather sniffily described by Mum as “Modern” meaning it was built last century rather than the century before that.

Mum was equally unimpressed with the teaching methods.

My early recollection was being given a large dice, a bunch of sticks and a pile of elastic bands, we were expected to roll the dice and count the number of spots and put a band around that many sticks. Whilst the other kids seemed quite happy with this I quickly grew bored and began exploring other things to do with the tools to hand. Attaching two sticks to form a cross using an elastic band then with other laccy bands you could make a very serviceable crossbow.

The other kids soon began to follow suit and we began shooting sticks at the girls who quickly cottoned on and began to fire back, it wasn’t long before all out warfare broke out in the classroom.

From then on a kind of arms race broke out trying to make bigger and better crossbows, the ultimate goal to launch a projectile the length of the classroom.

My other recollection was at playtime which was normally out in the large field that surrounded the school with the cool kids wearing their coat done up at the neck like a cape. We formed into two “armies” facing and throwing stones at each other, how anyone didn’t lose an eye is anyone’s guess.

The teacher meantime was nowhere to be seen, probably having a well-earned fag in the staff common room.

Just outside the school was a new playground, a concrete affair with a slide, swings and a roundabout.

The slide perpetually had at least 20 kids clinging on for dear life around the top until they fell off, broken limbs were surprisingly rare.

Favourite was the roundabout where the big boys would whiz it around as fast as possible until the centrifugal forces built up and everyone went flying off.

Grazed knees, elbows, hands and chins were the order of the day.

A modern health and safetyist would have had a dickey fit.

Our parents collectedly didn’t give a stuff.

It wasn’t long before I was “invited” to move schools, mum sold this as a positive but the new school was over two miles away and whilst maybe not Dothaboys hall was still far more “Dickensian” in character than my first school.

The dress code in this school was different, the height of sartorial elegance being to run around the playground with your coat on backwards with extra style points if you had all the buttons done up down the back.

It was here that I got my first taste of competitiveness and I was the proud albeit briefly holder of a school record involving a wall….

Historical disclaimer, my “proofreader” wishes it to be recorded that of ALL of this narrative this is the bit she finds least credible, #hashtag : emoji : grumpyface

Discipline in infant school was firm but nonviolent, that quickly changed when we moved up to big school. My first experience of this came surprisingly quickly, we were all assigned our own desks, an ancient sloping affair with inkwells and dippy pens.

This was real ink, no detergent or chemical in the know universe would shift it.

The teacher warned us not to put a finger up inside the desk and pop the inkwell out otherwise the ink would spill. Almost trance like I immediately demonstrated this was indeed what happened.

I never really scrutinised that desk but I’m pretty sure I’d have come across

Chaz Darwin woz ‘ere” in finest copperplate penknife if I’d know what I was looking for.

Discipline in big school was predominantly sitting in the corner for minor misdemeanours and a ruler across the knuckles for anything worse, I don’t know whether the teachers were simply sadistic by nature but all my school reports included phrases like “can do better” or “must try harder”

Phrases almost guaranteed to press all my parents buttons.

Break times were largely spent playing “touch” or tag as some knew it, as most of the girls idea’s of tagging normally left a bruise I quickly became quite nippy on my feet and adept at dodging, a skill that was to save my bacon many times in later years on the rugby field and even later in life dodging expertly wielded frying pans.

It was also in this school that I first fell in love, we will meet the object of my affections later in the narrative.

Back when I was aged 2 my favourite uncle (Mum’s side but the more refined end of the family, something Mum never quite came to terms with) bought me a red pedal car, this was great apart from one  teeny weeny flaw, it was massive.

Sitting on the seat the pedals would literally have been in the next postcode (or would have been if postcodes had been invented)

Every year on my birthday I was promised that this was the year I’d finally grow into it. By the time I was 11 I could just about reach the pedals at which point they announced they were selling it to buy me a suit for my cousin’s wedding, a bloody suit,  I was not best pleased.

I didn’t blame Pete (said cousin) who was a bit of a childhood hero and a terrific musician, he played guitar and I often sat enthralled as he described watching Hendrix (amongst others) play live and figuring out how they did it.

Although I do think the bit where he played his guitar with his teeth was more for his wide eyed audience rather than historically accurate.

Later Pete taught himself to play keyboards etc and ended up owning several music shops and a recording studio with pride of place taken by the mixing desk featured on the Beatles Abbey Road album.

The story runs a rich widow got herself a toy boy who was bought whatever he asked for, unfortunately said Lothario had a bit of a problem with his pants randomly falling down, said widow caught him at it and ordered him to sell everything.

Pete was in the right place at the right time and picked it up for a song.

It was around this time that I learned a little more about my ancestry.

On Mum’s side my Granny had died before I was born and my Grandad was regarded as a bit of a rotten egg and had been disowned by the family. Mum often regaled me with tales of a notorious pirate captain who she reckoned was distantly related and how we’d be in for a cut if they ever found his buried treasure.

I suspect with hindsight this was more an attempt to big up her side of the family.

My Dad’s side I knew far more about, my Grandad was a painter & decorator and part time chimney sweep so I assume Dad’s brains came from Grandma.

They came originally from Cornwall, think Poldark without all the bodice ripping and smouldering, but there again who knows, maybe there was plenty of smouldering and bodice ripping? 

After all without Ant & Dec or t’internet I assume they had to find some way to keep themselves amused again no doubt interspersed with a bit of smuggling and associated skullduggery on the side.

Without digging too deep it appears my ancestry is liberally peppered with various cutthroats, criminals and ne’er do wells.

So no real surprise there then.

Perhaps the daftest bit of family trivia was found by accident.

Before the war a Mr and (heavily pregnant) Mrs Andrews spent time lodging with my Grandma, possibly Dad who would have been early teens at the time made quite the impression as many years later mum was reading a Sunday supplement article which mentioned older brother Donald, the article featured the younger and somewhat better known sister Julie.


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