I was born in a village on the east coast of England in January 1939. The sound of bombs and 'doodlebugs', bombers, and fighters soon became part of my life. My father was away at war in the Royal Navy on HMS Warspite in the Mediterranean, so I grew up in the company of women, mostly young mothers. I was cute, very cute, with blonde curls, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks, and learnt to manipulate my audience very early on.
Then three things happened which totally discombobulated my life. My father returned home from war, which was a good thing, but I didn't know him. I couldn't relate to him, and to his great concern no doubt, didn't love him. Do you see? I was a Mummy's boy!
Then, a new sister arrived on the scene to take over the spotlight that I had been so used to.
And then, my parents sent me away to boarding school! In truth, I got a scholarship, which has been earned on the misinterpretation of one word in an interview, I discovered many years later.
The school I went to was in an Elizabethan Manor House of great architectural beauty, which passed me by at that age—11 years old. Most pupils were sons of rich farmers and had no shortage of self-esteem. The class system was well entrenched, and my father, who worked in the local Gas Company, was not up with the Gentleman Farmer's status. I was also the only Catholic in an Anglican school, so the potential for bullying was built in.
I think I used a personal interest in individuals as my defense, as others used humour or wit. As a village boy, I was not quick-witted, nor did I know much about anything beyond the village. Fear became my everyday companion; fear of failure in my parents’ eyes, fear of failure at sport and/or academic achievement, and fear of pain in punishment and humiliation. Going home four times a term for a day on Sundays only enforced the need to succeed.
Then there was the big school, Framlingham College. My, we were busy! Latin, French and German, a little Greek, Biology, Physics and Chemistry, History and Geography, English language and literature, and Maths one and two. Every afternoon was sport or Combined Cadet Force army training, and every evening homework.
I found two niches to hide in. One was that I played the violin rather well and led the school orchestra all the time I was in the big school. The other was that I became quite a good shot and went away on competitions against other schools. Looking back, my ideal career should have been that of an ‘Orchestral Assassin!’ However, I left school with 9 ‘O’ levels as they were known in 1956.
I had been a waiter at a hotel, had been a casual worker at a Market Garden, and my dad had got me a job at an Insurance Company, none of which ‘did’ anything for me.
An advert for a pharmacy apprenticeship with Boots the Chemist in Ipswich caught my parents’ attention. I applied and got it.
Imagine my fear and confusion at having to work in a shop with 50 women, from teenagers to grandmothers, having spent the last seven years in an all-male boarding school! Nowadays, we talk glibly of challenges, the discomfort of growth, but I didn’t know what to do, how to behave, or how any of it worked. By the time I became a pharmacist, six years later, I was totally comfortable in their presence, obviously having regressed back to my war years!
At 23 years old, the thought of a lifetime career in a small branch of Boots didn’t stimulate me I needed to spread my wings, so I applied to several pharmaceutical manufacturing companies to see what they had available and secured a job as a Medical Representative for Parke, Davis & Co, based in Hounslow. The challenge of this was that my territory was Northwest London, in a word ‘Urban’, and I had no idea what a Medical Representative did, except that they had weekends off and a car.
After three years of dense traffic and fumes, visiting the same little pharmacies for the same little orders, and no woodland for me to delight in as a country boy, I decided to branch out. An advertisement in the Pharmaceutical Journal led to an interview with Roche Products near Oxford Street, in some very posh offices.
Ten days later I got a large fat envelope to say I had the job, in the West Indies! I had to look up where in the world that was, to know where I would be going. Eight weeks of training, seen off at Heathrow by a handful of friends, and a huge, wide, international world opened to me, full of mistakes, social faux pas, far too much alcohol, and five filled passports in seven years saw the boy become the man. I visited Canada and the US, as well as circling my huge territory from South America to Bermuda over those seven years.
I got married to Anita in Trinidad in 1968, left my job in 1972 for many reasons, and we emigrated to Australia in 1973, coming directly to Cairns. I had got used to the tropical heat and Anita knew no different.
I probably set a world record for my walking from London to Singapore round and round a Boeing 747 with our colicky three-month-old son, Shean. When I walked onto the top of the steps at Changi Airport, it was 11 pm., 330C and about 90% humidity. There was a perfume of turmeric, sesame oil and frangipani hanging in the air, and I spontaneously said, ‘I’m home!’
We spent three days in Sydney that nearly killed us with the heat and no air-conditioning, ten days in Brisbane in a cool motel, and arrived in Cairns. No job, no contacts, and just a little bit of money. I do love the foggy curtain, the cutting edge when you are alive to all and any opportunities.
I went to see a pharmacist whom I called Mr Treacy only to find out that in Far North Queensland first names were de rigeur. I was appointed locum Chief Pharmacist at Cairns Base Hospital for five weeks, which was interesting since I had never worked in a hospital, and it was ten years since I had done any dispensing. Then I was manager of the After-Hours Pharmacy for a year before buying the smallest but busiest pharmacy in town in a large medical centre, in partnership with another pharmacist. That was a learning tree!
After three years the bulk of the doctors moved on to explore other disciplines in medicine, and I so nearly went broke. I bought out my partner, we imported some more doctors, but I had to sack some of my staff, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Another ten years saw me opening a new pharmacy at Trinity Beach, near our home at the northern beaches, which was yet another learning curve. I did some courses to improve my management skills, and I wrote a couple of papers that I presented at conferences, one on the management of Stinging tree stings, and the other on the treatment of Otitis externa or Swimmers’ Ear.
In 1990, the wheels fell off my marriage, and I found myself in court, having no understanding of how or why I was there. There followed three years of PTSD, during which time I met Rebecca and we were married in 1991. Thirty years later we have had no cross words and no arguments, but we talked out a million words of exploration because we had both seen the frying pan and were not at all keen on the fire!
I did locum pharmacy management work around Cairns, overseeing one bankruptcy, and a very significant change in professionalism. The year 2001-2002 we spent in UK, with me working as a locum pharmacist, partly in H.M Prisons, which was new. The idea was to spend some quality time with my elderly parents at 96 and 94 before the chance was lost. I had been away from them for most of my life. Rebecca and I saw innumerable castles and stately homes, enough to satisfy Rebecca’s thirst for British history in general, and Tudor history, in particular.
Between 2002 and 2009, I had two failed business ventures. One was to sell a cough mixture of my own design to chemists around Queensland. It was called Far North Queensland Rattlesnake Root Cough Mixture, and I found out that 90%+ of modern pharmacists have no sense of humour, and that entrenched brands with large TV advertising budgets were difficult to compete against. I won prizes in the UK for my sales of a branded cough mixture and found myself competing against what seemed like my ‘alter ego’ a quarter of a century later. Sadly, there was no one else to see the joke.
I also tried to bring Venalink as a brand of individual blister-packs for drug distribution for elderly and hospitalized patients, into Australia from the UK. That failed because the current brand was so well entrenched that its brand name became the description everyone used. My losses were limited and looking back I can see the mistakes I made. Carve a new market niche first, then expand. Don’t try to tackle entrenched products head-on.
My pharmacy career ended in 2009 with a whimper. By now I had written a couple of books of short stories and found I really enjoyed the process. In 2010, I sat and wrote 100k words of a novel in 10 weeks, and because I wasn’t looking after my health, I had a heart attack in the same week that Rebecca retired. Two stents and a pacemaker later I was as good as new but did a bit more gardening and walking.
That book, ‘The Imposter: A Norfolk Romance’, was published in 2019. It was followed closely by ‘CounterPunch’, a story of a boxer’s quest for a world championship, which was interesting since I know nothing about boxing, either at the rank amateur level, nor the professional level. However, I began to appreciate what my muse was capable of.
On April 25th, 2020, I attended a Dawn Service for Anzac Day, which inspired me to write a story of a young Aussie from Winton who went to Gallipoli and died there. It was August before I realised that his Mum and Dad would have been devastated by their loss, so I wrote their stories too. Then the Kiwi stories followed. I became aware that there were ten countries involved with the Allied forces at Gallipoli and that their stories all needed to be written. That took a full year and when I had finished, I had a dream of marketing the book, which I called, ‘Echoes of Gallipoli: For those left behind,’ as a very special presentation. I hoped the cost of it would give a sufficient return on my investment to donate some to the veterans who were suffering what I had experienced in my PTSD episode of divorce.
Out of the blue, I remembered that Ocean Reeve had come to Cairns about five years prior, to talk about his support for authors, and possibly had the expertise to help me market my book in a particular way. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m still at the cutting edge of that foggy curtain that is so challenging, still learning but now in book marketing and all that entails. I’m so grateful to Ocean saying just one thing when I phoned him. He said he was behind me all the way and would give me his full support.
Writing is a lonely pursuit, and when the result of your sweat and tears does see the light of day, it’s then a hard road to get your book to market. The relief of having someone who knew what they were doing in that marketplace was liberating and quite emotional.
I now find myself in a new career mode and will be happy to keep writing to the end of my days, hand in hand with my Rebecca with her Tudor history. I’m blessed with the love of our beautiful family striving for their own goals. Rebecca and I are living stress-free but needing just a little more financial security.
I’ve come from a rural village to a retirement village.
What a roller-coaster!
But wait! There’s more!