Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
The Bard gave us many things and not the least of them was his description of our lives as the Seven Ages of Man, from birth to death. I am not the first to use the description as a basis for a memoir and I am quite certain that I shall not be the last.
By most measures of modern society, I've had a very successful career and life and my memories are a collection of treasures, a smattering of calamities and a hoard of lessons that I have accumulated over my life, so far.
Inevitably, there are anecdotes and stories of my life that I have omitted, either deliberately or accidentally and I apologise to anyone whom I have omitted, mis-quoted or, perhaps, not remembered accurately. I have set out to provide a little entertainment, some small assistance in navigating this thing called life and not to hurt anyone. I am not proud of everything that I have done and, in some cases, have omitted details in order not to hurt someone,
I have lived in the belief that each day in which I have learned something, no matter how trivial, is a day well-lived and a day to be valued. I have always tried to make each day one of those days. In addition, I have never been shy of volunteering for new challenges. Little did I know, in my earlier years, that such an attitude might bring me some days that were very interesting, indeed!
Charles Kovess, a one-time advisor, said, “Your reward as a human being for solving problems is not peace, or happiness, or satisfaction, it is bigger problems! So, love your problems, because you attracted them, you deserve them, and it is only through solving problems that you grow and improve”.
So, grow and improve I did! Over and over and over again!
Now, as I sit in my “beautiful one day, perfect the next” Queensland home in the wonderful Noosa Heads hinterland, looking out through the trees and communing with the birds, I feel blessed.
I have been very fortunate. I was married to the mother of my two children, Margie, for nearly 28 years and I have been with my soul mate, Liz, for more than 13 wonderful years and very happily married to her for the last nine of those. I’ve enjoyed life at the most senior executive level of business, been the Chief Executive of many diverse organisations, received a real-life education, worked in many countries, with a wide variety of cultures, and been employed by many organisations in Europe, North America, Asia and, of course, Australia. I've travelled millions of kilometres to all continents in the world except Antarctica and that remains a fervent desire and one I'm determined to fulfil before I'm finished here. I have visited many cities and spent more nights in hotel rooms that I can count. I have fathered, biologically, two children and have had a major “fatherly” impact on two more.
Those are my treasures .
Some of the calamities that I have had to deal with in my life were quite small and, to some degree, insignificant. To other people, perhaps. To me, they started out being reasonably important, they grew to be substantially important and they culminated in being vitally important! Important to the way I live my life, how I treat others, how I expect to be treated by others and the meaning, application, giving and earning of respect. They are a fertile ground for my quest to learn and I have benefitted, greatly, from having to deal with them.
I have attempted to crystallise my lessons from each of those treasures and calamities, from which/whom I have learned so much, into a shorter list of the more meaningful ones, at the end of each chapter. I hope they give pause for reflection and consideration.
My experiences have taught me a huge amount about personal motivation, motivation in general, the importance of "mind-set", passion, self-discipline, living life to the full and “extracting the max” from from myself and those around me.
To no extent do I have right to complain. So, I won’t.
My father, who had faithfully served his King and, later, his Queen, was very English and had progressed through a British Army career to be a Major in the Royal Signals. In late 1947, having spent nearly 10 years in India, before and during the war, he was posted to Australia, to assist with the training at a new Army Apprentices’ school in Balcombe, Victoria. At the time, my grandfather was Commanding Officer of the school and, having served his country, Australia, in both wars, was by then happily married and the father of five daughters. You can imagine that, when my very British father arrived, he was perceived as an "officer and a gentleman” given that he had arrived from England with the attendant accent, rank and impeccable manners that one would expect of a British Army Officer.
In January 1949, my father Tom and my mother Judy were married in St Peter’s, a small church in Mount Martha, just near Mornington in Victoria.
1949 - Mum and Dad's Wedding Clipping
They honeymooned in, what was then, a very remote location on the far eastern coast of Victoria, in the delightful hamlet of Mallacoota. I went there for the first time in 2014, some 65 years later and, apart from a very large caravan park, I don’t think it had changed much.
By November that year, the newly-weds had moved to Toowoomba in Queensland, where Dad assumed his own command of Cabarlah Staff School the Royal Australian Army’s camp at Cabarlah, near Toowoomba and where my sister Lindley was born.
1950 - Tom, Judy and baby Lindley
Lindley has always been one of my greatest supporters and allies as, I hope, I have been to her. I love her dearly. A couple of years later, it was time for Dad to end his Australian posting and return to England so the family of three sailed for the UK and moved to Catterick Camp, north of York. They moved into a modest house on Almery Terrace, near a little town called Richmond in North Yorkshire. Situated, as it was, on the Yorkshire moors, Dad described the Camp as “Bloody Bleak”. He'd trained there in 1933, as a new recruit aged 17, and nothing had improved by the time he returned.
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
My first contact with a calamity was, more importantly and more appropriately, a calamity for my mother! It was my birth.
In 1952, I was born under the shadow of Yorkminster Cathedral at the Purey Cust nursing home and I weighed in at a generous 9lbs 7oz (4.3kg). I was a large baby and my mother commented often, to anyone who would listen, that her body was never the same, thereafter!
c.1953 - I was about 6 months old
Large size became the hallmark of my life from that very first day and has been ever since. I grew up as an army “brat” moving to Germany, France and back to England, during the next few years. I learned to speak German before I spoke English, courtesy of a German nanny who was, by all accounts, very pleased when I pointed to the sky and a passing aircraft and exclaimed “flieger, flieger!”. A smaller calamity occurred whilst riding my scooter, whooshing around a corner and losing my balance. My face fell onto the handlebars, which had no rubber protective handles and the end of the metal tube went straight through my upper lip and into my gum. I was off to hospital for stitches, inside and out. The good thing, from my point of view, was that my fat lip made me a “wounded soldier”. I was very pleased with myself and, as a special treat, I was only able to eat ice-cream. It’s still a favourite treat.
Some of my more unkind friends will tell you that this accident was the start of a pattern of behaviour that resulted in me being branded “accident prone”. This is simply unfair! It does seem to be the case that things around me are prone to break, like chairs, glasses, plates or other rigid items and I do seem to bump my head, legs, arms and other parts of my body into various objects, causing damage to both me and the object. I'm not clumsy, that's simply a function of my size.
Did I mention that my mother’s oversized baby grew, and grew, and grew until I reached my current dimensions of 205cm tall and 105kg (6’9” and 230 pounds)? At my peak, aged 30, I was 130kg (290 pounds) so you may appreciate the difficulty in manoeuvring such a large mass.
1960 - Looking quite at home on Uncle Peter's "Indian". I was seven!1960 - Just before leaving for Australia (from l-r) Tom, Pam, me, Mum, Grandad, ??, Peter, Gran, Lindley, ??
My parents had decided that the family would live in Australia, where Mum's parents lived, and Dad applied to migrate. Australia was encouraging migration from white Europeans (but not anyone else, since there was a White Australia Policy in place) and he was made to feel very welcome. So was Mum but, because she had married a Pom and lived outside the country for more than 10 years, despite having an Australian daughter, Mum also had to apply and pay the 10 pound fee. She was not amused!
1960 - The receipt for the "Ten-Pound Poms"
We travelled on the P&O ship, SS Oronsay, and were at sea for more than a month. For the younger set like us, it was an extended holiday cruise and very exciting, especially with the anticipation of the wonderful country to which we were moving. Of course, my mother was an expert on things Australian, and popular amongst the passengers. Seven-year-old me and my 10-year-old sister, Lindley, watched, wide-eyed as we sailed down the Suez Canal and on to Aden and then Bombay (Mumbai) in India and beheld the horror of the children there. Deformed by their parents to ensure their success, they were begging on every street. Some, minus arms or legs, others with misshapen limbs or missing hands, they were unavoidable. I recoiled and couldn’t wait to get out of there. It was squalid and left me with such a lasting impression that, despite my “wanderlust”, I have never had the desire to return to India, let alone travel around the country. I would have done so to take Dad back to some of his old haunts but he didn't want to go. We sailed on to Colombo and then across the equator, where I remember being smeared with ice-cream and thrown into the ship’s swimming pool as a “rite of passage for “crossing the line”. I fully expected to look overboard and see a big black line pass under the ship.
We were in heaven and heading to a “land of milk and honey”. Life was truly idyllic. One particularly beautiful day, sunny and warm, quite a harbinger of the Australian climate, we were playing on deck with a large red, beach ball. I mistimed my return and watched it go sailing over the side. We leant on the rail for ages as the large, red dot quietly drifted off towards the horizon, in our wake. The enormity of the ocean became a sudden reality and I have always shown the sea a great deal of respect.
Across the Indian Ocean we went, to our first sight of Australia, in Fremantle, outside of Perth in Western Australia, in May, 1960. That first exposure was quite disappointing, as there were no kangaroos hopping down the street and we couldn’t find a koala or platypus, anywhere!
Many of our shipmates disembarked in Fremantle as the first port in Australia and, to this day, there is a large population of such Pommy migrants in Perth. We headed east to Melbourne and then on to Sydney, where our journey ended and we settled into my grandparents’ house, in Mosman, a reasonably well-to-do northern suburb of Sydney. Not so long after that, my parents found a beautiful house, also in Mosman, built in the 20’s, solid as a rock, with enough room for a tennis court, had we wanted one. It was a short walk to Balmoral Beach, where we spent many happy days. We were very lucky. That house was to become pivotal to any later sporting prowess that I enjoyed, since the large garden provided ample space for any kind of sport, oodles of sunshine, extremely healthy living and a wonderful and healthy lifestyle. For my sister and me it was heaven. The beach was at our doorstep and I played cricket and rugby on the lawn with my friends, was scolded for damaging Dad’s garden on a regular basis and there was even enough room to practice golf shots! It was lifestyle that really knew no care.
By the second half of 1960, I was 8 and my sister was nearly 11 and we were enrolled in the local schools. I was happily at school in the beachside suburbs of Sydney, at Balmoral Infants School and Lindley was equally happy in the nearby Queenwood School for Girls. Both schools were walking distance from home and adjacent to Balmoral Beach. Mum rekindled many old friendships from her own childhood and, as a result, we had friends in an instant. One of those families was the Cornforths about whom you will hear lots! We were making new friends, daily, and I fell in love with all sports. I wasn’t ever very good but that wasn’t the point. Sport was possible, plentiful and a great social outlet.
We had freedoms that, unfortunately, youngsters today are unable to enjoy as we roamed around the suburb, from one friend’s house to another and the only rule was to “be home before dark”. Yes, nasty stuff happened to kids but it was rare and we had “don’t speak to strangers” drummed into our heads on a regular basis.
The following year was my first year in the local under 10 Rugby Union side, the Mosman Under 10A’s. I was only nine at the end of that first season, 1961, and the Under 10’s were the youngest age group available. Our coach was Roger Cornforth Snr and Roger Jnr and brother Tim, lifelong friends of mine, were both in the team. Being large, that was no issue for me and this first taste gave me a lifelong passion for the game and I have watched the Wallabies in many matches - in the wee hours of the morning, in a foreign pub or at a foreign ground and I still get a huge buzz from an Australian win.
1962 - Lindley in Queenwood and me in Mosman Public uniforms
I played in that same U10’s team for a second year, in 1962, since the cut-off date was to be under 10 by June 30 and my birthday was in September. I was, therefore, still entitled to remain in the team and was subjected to my next calamity. Imagine, if you will, being an intense nine-year-old who is excited to be on the field playing with his companions in a team which has shown some reasonable success when, from the sidelines comes a loud shriek from a female, screaming over the assembled noises of the game and the supporters of both teams, “That boy’s not under 10!”
Whilst I heard the comment, it meant little to me and we all continued the game and I wondered, somewhat idly, who she was talking about. I was very comfortable in the knowledge that I was only 9 and knew that she couldn’t be talking about me. Anyway, even if she was, she was quite wrong. I thought nothing of it but she continued with the tirade and, finally, the fact that I was considerably larger than all the other 29 players on the field suddenly dawned on me. That was exactly the point she was making! I was very self-conscious and rushed towards my teammates as I tried to blend in but that just made the size difference more obvious.
Fortunately, my mother was also present at the match and, I was confident, would be able to put things right, very quickly. My mother was, indeed, intent on putting things right. She wasn’t about to allow this woman to cast aspersions on her only son. So, to my total horror, from the other side of the field came an even louder and more piercing bellow. My mother screamed, “Oh, yes he is!
I tried to maintain some semblance of dignity and continue playing the game as if nothing happened but, being nine-year-old boys who really didn’t care about anything but the game, the situation disintegrated into a Pythonesque comedy as, from one side of the field came “Oh, No he’s not ” and from the other “Oh, Yes he Is ” until the players could not ignore the commotion and disintegrated into giggles and the game came to a halt. The referee was able to restore order, the parents quietened down and we continued with the game. I was scarred for life!
It was then that I appreciated, for the first time, that I wasn’t quite the same as everyone else. I was “oversized”. I recovered very well from the mental scarring and other indignities and we went on to win the premiership for the Under 10A’s for 1962.
1962 - Premiers
It’s interesting to note that, recently, Steve Wilson reported in the ABC News on Fri 16th February, 2018 (some 56 years later) that:
“Rugby Union has become the first major contact sport in Australia to bring in comprehensive weight and height grading for juniors.
The move is designed to protect the safety of children and allow them to develop skills against players of a similar size. Because when it comes to rugby, size does matter, as parents increasingly embrace sports like soccer over the rugby codes because of at-times huge differences in physical builds of junior players.
The Size for Age policy will this year be applied to players in the Under-10 to Under-15 grades, whereby an initial identification of 'outliers' based on weight and height is followed up with an assessment by an independent coach of a player's experience, skill level, overall fitness and maturity.
Players can then be sent down an age group or up to a maximum of two grades.”
I wonder what they would have done with me? I imagine that I'd have been playing in the Under 12s!! I was a change agent, something that I maintained throughout my life. This change took a little longer than most, that’s all.
I remain very proud of many, very important aspects of that premiership win in the Under 10A’s:
I was awarded "Most Improved Player"! (I started from a low base!).
Despite the fact that I have always been intensely competitive, it was the only sporting premiership win that I was ever a part of, as a player.
A number of the players in that team came to my 60th birthday party, 50 years later!
Life isn’t about being tall or short, fat or thin or pretty or ugly. Life is about enjoying your own persona and living in the enjoyment of being alive, being who you are and relating to other people.
You are who you are . Embrace it, enjoy it and radiate it! Despite the advertising and hype surrounding boob enlargements, labia correction, penis enlargements or botox, etc., etc., etc., it is not really possible to change your “essence”.