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Brian Heath

BRIAN ANTHONY HEATH

Born 6th August 1940 in Chapel Bungalow Figheldean

Parents:

Wallace Heath
Louisa Jane (Jean) Jacobs

Siblings:

Colin
Catherine

Children:

Adrian
Paula

Brian Heath – My Life (so far!)

I was born on Sunday 6th August 1940 at the grandly-named Chapel Bungalow in Figheldean. It was actually little more than a corrugated-iron shack, standing at the back of the graveyard of the Methodist Chapel and backing onto Pollens Lane. My brother Colin Vincent was also born there on 9th June 1942. My one and only memory of my earliest years (which may in itself only be a memory of something I was later told) was of standing alongside my mother, who had Colin on her knee changing his nappy, and picking up my own recently-used potty and emptying it over Colin’s face! Unfortunately I don’t recall ever having seen any photographs of our family during our time there.

When I was 5 I had just a few weeks at Figheldean School, because in October 1945 the family was finally given a Council house in Durrington, and we moved to 4 Larkhill Road, where my sister Catherine Margaret was born on 18th May 1947. We all lived there until March 1960, when my parents negotiated a house-swap with the family who lived at 20 Avon Banks, Figheldean – it’s still the last house before you get to the old driveway leading into the grounds of Ablington House, though the number has now changed.

On moving to Durrington I started attending Bulford Village C of E Primary School, which was actually a bit closer than the Durrington primary. I think maybe my Mum walked with me the first day or two, but after that I used to walk there and back on my own, or with other kids, and it was about a mile and a half each way! Wouldn’t happen now, would it? On one of these walks, in the bad winter of 1947 and not long after Colin, too, had started at the school, I distinctly remember ploughing through the snow, which came to the top of my gumboots, and thinking to myself that I never wanted to grow up, because grown-ups hated this stuff!

Brian after leaving school prob. 1968 or 69 location unknown
Brian and family late 1960s

I passed the 11-Plus and started at Bishop Wordsworth’s Grammar School for Boys in Salisbury in September 1951, some four weeks after my 11th birthday. I did reasonably well at Bishop’s School, becoming a Prefect and the School Librarian before leaving in July 1958 with a total of seven GCE ‘O’ levels and 2 ‘A’ levels, in French & German, plus a pass (rated as being equivalent to a 2nd Class Honours Degree from a University) in an external Open Examination run by the Civil Service itself for direct entry into the Executive Grade. Despite having majored in Modern Languages and having therefore expressed a preference for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or any other department which would make use of my language skills. I was eventually appointed to a post in the offices of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Taxes, Swindon 1 District, as a trainee Tax Officer Higher Grade, Inland Revenue Department! I started work there in October 1958.

I went into lodgings in Swindon Monday-to-Friday each week, returning home at weekends to pursue my courtship of Yvonne Giddings, whom I had first met when she started at Bulford Village school a year or so after I went there. In our early teens we both joined a church choir hastily put together by the Vicar of Bulford in preparation for a visit by the Bishop of Salisbury, and we started going out when I was just 17 and she was a few weeks short of her 16th birthday.

On 7th July 1960, on my way home for a mid-week visit to Yvonne, I had a nasty motorbike accident in which I dislocated my left hip and chipped my pelvis; I was on my back in Savernake Hospital, Marlborough, for seven weeks, with my left leg in traction, and on crutches at home for another seven or eight weeks. Yvonne, who suffered very badly from travel sickness, came up from Bulford to the hospital to see me several times a week, apparently spending much of the journey hanging off the platform at the back of the bus! Such devotion could not go unrewarded, and we got engaged on her 19th birthday in October 1960, marrying some sixteen months later on 17th March 1962.

When I was fit for work again after the accident I was transferred to a tax office in Southampton, which was only marginally better than Swindon; I never really liked Tax Office work, which mainly consisted of paper-pushing and telling hard-up pensioners that if they got a little job to supplement their pensions and savings they would have to pay tax on their modest earnings, their pensions and their savings interest! So I volunteered for secondment to the Immigration Service, meeting ships entering or about to leave the Port and vetting passengers. I found the work very interesting, but by sheer mis-chance my wedding and honeymoon took place right in the middle of the training course for new immigration officers, and once I had dared to take annual leave to get married, at the expense of my training, my face never really fitted afterwards, so at the end of the secondment period, while many volunteers were offered permanent transfers, I was sent back to the tax office!

I finally resigned in April 1963 to embark on a selling career – which was a disaster! Two years and two failed selling jobs later, and now with a baby son to support as well as a wife, I started work as an Accounts Clerk at the Plessey factory in Swindon. Eighteen months or so later the company advertised internally as well as externally for staff to join the new computer department it was setting up - the ads said that no-one over the age of 22 was likely to be suitable, but I was only 26 so I applied anyway! A total of 60-odd candidates took the company’s aptitude tests, and when I, the oldest candidate, came third overall they had to take me on, albeit only as a junior programmer! But this proved to be my ‘niche’ and I spent the next three decades and more doing most of the jobs associated with the software side of the computing industry, including some managerial roles. I got to see quite a lot of the world in the course of my work, and it was all at someone else’s expense!

One of my jobs took me to South Africa twice in 1971, each trip lasting six weeks or more; I fell in love with the country, and in 1974 finally accepted an opportunity to work down there with an associate company of my then UK employer. I was not very kind to Yvonne regarding this move: I told her at the end of January that I had accepted the job and was starting on 1st April! This gave her very little chance to object; but somehow we had rented out our house and made all of the arrangements in time to fly out on 23rd March 1974. We were perfectly happy out there, but of course we missed our families back in the UK, and Yvonne, in particular, never really settled. In June 1976 the growing anti-apartheid unrest in the native townships came a bit too close for comfort when we saw the smoke from a township school rising up over a ridge only a mile or two away, and we began to think that perhaps our kids might be safer back in the UK! We came back in November 1976, and after only a few weeks I was offered a programming job in Chippenham; we moved to Calne in January 1977 and have lived here ever since, even though I had a number of different jobs with a variety of companies over the next 23 years and more.

By 2001 I was a self-employed contractor and was doing OK until someone in the industry noticed that I was over 60. Word got around, and the assumption that at my age I must be “past it” seemed to spread rapidly; my work dried up, and my pensions weren’t due for another four years, so after a few months as a storeman in a pet-foods shop I ended up as a furniture salesman in a local family-run business. I could have gone on doing that job, which was boring and paid just over the minimum wage but just about paid the bills, for year after year, but the boss stuck to his policy (which he had never before had to implement) that employees should retire on reaching the age of 65, so the day before my 65th birthday, on 5th August 2005, I finished full-time work and the following week I started drawing my pensions.

But in that week, too, I was asked if I fancied a bit of ad hoc programming work for a company in Redhill. When I went to see them, I told them I could easily do what they wanted me to do, but didn’t fancy going 100 miles to Redhill to do it; so we worked out a deal whereby I worked in my office in the loft at home, linking into their computer network in Redhill via a laptop and a secure internet router, all of which they supplied and set up for me. By this means I worked between four hours and three full days a week for them until the economic downturn finally forced them to dispense with all outside contractors at the end of 2009, since which time I have described myself as “fully retired”.

I spend most of my time pottering around at home, or on my computer, with occasional holidays, short breaks and days out with Yvonne, and sometimes with her mother, who is nearly 93 but still going strong.

As I write, my 71st birthday is only weeks away, but I hope to go on for a few more years yet, and as long as keep taking the tablets (for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc.) I’m sure I shall be fine! I certainly hope so, because in March 2012 Yvonne and I plan to return to South Africa for a three-week holiday during which we shall celebrate 50 years of marriage with a two-day trip to Victoria Falls.

Brian and entire clan 7 Aug 2010

Brian and Family, 2010

HOW I SPEND MY TIME – Brian Heath

Since the end of 2009, when my last IT consultancy/programming work became a victim of the economic downturn, I seem to spend a lot of my time with my laptop on my knees! I do quite a lot of buying on eBay, and a little bit of sporadic selling now and then; much of what I’ve bought recently has been to do with setting up my new garden shed, running electricity to it and wiring up a striplight and power sockets – all time-consuming work in itself.

Before these jobs could be done, I first had to erect the new shed; and before I could do that (with the help of son Adrian and son-in-law Brian) in March this year, I first had to demolish the old shed, clear the site, lay a new base, buy, erect and fill four new raised beds for Yvonne to grow vegetables in (involving the shifting of five tones of topsoil from bulk bags on the front drive, through the garage and utility room and down to the bottom of the garden, as we have no rear or side access!) and lay paving slab paths all round the new beds so that they could be got at from all sides. What with bad weather, laziness and procrastination, all of that took most of 2010 and the first ten weeks of 2011 to accomplish! But the shed is now fully functional, with a workbench, shelving, tool racks and a potting table for Yvonne, and the vegetable beds have been very productive this summer, with winter greens already planted and looking healthy.

Other outdoor work included the erection of a miniature walk-in greenhouse and making and filling four raised flower beds, using planks from one of the decking areas we inherited when we moved in – and I also had to clean and respray the remaining areas of decking and sand and re-treat the teak patio furniture, after first repairing and refurbishing it!

You might think from this that I’m a keen gardener, but the truth is that I enjoy doing the design and construction elements of it and am quite content to leave the actual planting and nurturing to Yvonne. The one part of the work in the garden that I do undertake, and that I really hate, is the weeding! We have a fairly low-maintenance garden anyway: we inherited a paved patio area and a gravelled strip down one side of the garden, as well as the large area of decking and a grotty pond and water feature, which I have had to completely rebuild incorporating a new liner – that was in 2006, when I also laid two new areas of patio outside the utility room and around the new pond. Then I took up a strip of meadow grass masquerading as a lawn down the other side of the garden, and laid that to gravel as well – but even though I put down a weed-proof membrane first, we still get a lot of shallow-rooted weeds growing in the gravel, and every now and then I have to get on my hands and knees and pull them all out – a horrible job! Even worse, though, are the deep-rooted weeds which persist in growing in the gaps between the paving slabs on the inherited patio; these were laid just on sand, with no weed-proof membrane, and three times this summer alone I have had to laboriously grub out as many of the roots of these weeds as I can – mostly dandelions and grasses – before re-pointing between the slabs. Much to my disgust, though, the weeds have contemptuously pushed out my pointing cement and thrust their leaves skywards once more, and now the whole job really needs doing all over again. My plan, though, is to take up the whole patio, level it properly, lay down a weed-proof membrane, and then break up the slabs and re-lay the whole area on mortar as crazy paving – this should look better and be maintenance-free for the rest of my days, though it will take a while to actually do the job,

Reading through what I’ve written, I’ve clearly not been as idle as I (and Yvonne!) thought I had been! It is easy to gain the impression (or to believe Yvonne when she tells me) that I spend all my days sat on my arse with a computer on my knees, and it’s true that when I’m indoors that is usually what I am doing – if I’m not watching the telly, which I do for several hours each afternoon and evening, or reading a paper or magazine, which is not that often. The only real reading I do is for twenty minutes or so first thing every morning, in the loo! Then it’s usually fiction – in fact I’m still working my way through the library of man’s books collected in the 1960s and 1970s by my uncle Jess. He was a member of a couple of book clubs, and I’m sure he just went on paying his subscription without necessarily reading the books, as it seems to me that many of them are in absolutely pristine condition and that I am the first person to have actually opened them and read them. When Jess died he was living with Aunt Margaret in Figheldean, and although he had always said, in front of her, that I should have the books in due course, she wouldn’t let me take them because she said her bookcases would look silly without them! Only when she died did I finally get my inheritance from Jess, and although they are a mixed bunch and perhaps a bit dated, most of them are still a good read.

My main hobbies are my computer, photography and – of all things – croquet! I’ve had a stills camera and some form of cine or video camera for most of my life, and now, since my last birthday, I have a new pocket-sized camera which will take superb high definition videos, excellent stills and even panoramic and slow-motion shots. I’m still learning how to use its more obscure facilities, but it will do most of what I want to do when set to its Super Intelligent Auto mode.

I have worked with computers since I was 26 and they have always been more than just a job to me, especially since I was part of the introduction of Personal Computers in the late 1980s; the laptop on which I’m typing this has three gigabytes of memory, whereas when I worked at IBM in the late 1960s they had to build a large new room in order to expand the memory of their main in-house computer to ONE MEGABYTE! Similarly Plessey, the company with whom I launched my computer career, had a room full of large banks of exchangeable disk drives, the combined storage capacity of which was probably far less than one gigabyte, whereas the hard drive inside my present laptop holds 320 gigabytes of data and upstairs I have an archive drive which will hold 1024 gigabytes or one terabyte! It’s mind-boggling how computing has developed in the 45 years (this month) since I started in the industry in 1966.

It was during my spell at IBM Hursley (1968 to 1970) that I was first introduced to croquet. We worked in and around an old manor house, and its estate included splendid grounds and gardens, set among which was a croquet lawn – from memory probably one of the best I have ever played on! I was persuaded to join a group of colleagues who played croquet in the summer and table tennis in the winter or when it was raining – so I got pretty good at table tennis, but not very good at croquet! But I enjoyed the version of the game we played, even though I did not attempt to go on playing it after I left IBM. But in 1992 Yvonne and I had the first of many holidays with Ann Wallen (with whom Yvonne worked for several years) and her husband Jim; we went to Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest, and among the many facilities available to guests were two croquet lawns. I suggested to the others that we rent one of the lawns and some kit for an hour so that I could show them what little I remembered of the game I had played 25 years before at IBM, so we did – and we all enjoyed it so much that we spent several more hours on the lawn during our long-weekend stay. We had many more mini-breaks together at Center Parcs after that, twice at Elveden Forest in Suffolk and then always at the new site at Longleat, and every time we spent many hours on the croquet lawns. Looking back, the lawns were very poor and the kit provided was only very cheap garden-croquet stuff, but we loved it! So much so that we started going at weekends to a park in Chippenham which had a croquet lawn and some rather better equipment for hire – but often when we went over the ground staff responsible for handing out the kit were nowhere to be found, and the shed was locked and deserted. I got fed up with this and wrote a strong letter to the local paper, pointing out that there was no point in having the lawn there if no-one could get at the kit to make use of it. The Secretary of the only croquet club in the area saw my letter in the paper, found my address and wrote inviting us to their next AGM, and The Calne Four joined the Kington Langley Croquet Club in 1999. Jim, in particular, took to “proper” croquet (as opposed to our own Center Parcs version!) very quickly, and rose to become one of the Club’s leading players before his untimely death in 2009. The four of us became enthusiasts for Golf Croquet, a more active, more social and less tactical version of the game than Association Croquet, which Jim also excelled at. First Ann, and then Jim, became members of the club’s Committee, and in 2009 they persuaded me to join the Committee to take over from the Secretary, who had decided to retire from the post after 25 years’ service. And that is the job which now occupies a surprising amount of my time, especially during the playing season and in the run-up to each AGM. We play as often as we can, but usually we can only get together on a Saturday evening, and an annoyingly large number of those have turned out, over the past several seasons, to be wet and/or cold and miserable, so when we do play we are a bit rusty. Buts despite this all three surviving members of the Calne Four still represent the Club several times each season in the South West Federation Golf Croquet League, and Jim played in several other Club teams and tournaments up to the week before he died.

And that’s how I spend my time – apart from writing long screeds of rubbish like this one!

Brian, Kate, Dave on Jacobs Seat

Brian with sister Katie and Dave, on the Jacobs seat at Figheldean, after the Enford meeting

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