The Story Of Reading Evenings

Pencil Portrait, Reading, 1986

Pencil Portrait, Reading, 1986

The pencil drawing above is a surviving sample of the life drawing work that I did at sessions in Reading during 1986-7. If you understood the word “Reading” here as referring to the reading of a book, then the title and first sentence of this post must have seemed quite meaningless.

In fact, Reading in this context is the name of a town in England, about 40 miles west of London, and it’s pronounced “Redding”. Reading forms the hub of an area known as the M4 Corridor, where huddle many of Britain’s remaining electronics technology industries. That was also true in the 1980s, when Britain had many more such industries than it does today.

Reading was perhaps first made famous during the nineteenth century by Oscar Wilde, who was imprisoned in Reading Gaol, and wrote a lengthy poem called The Ballad of Reading Gaol. In that poem, he wrote:

In Reading gaol by Reading town

There is a pit of shame…

I’m glad to be able to say that the hours I spent in Reading were definitely not in any “pit of shame” (except perhaps for certain pubs…).

More recently, of course, Reading has again achieved fame as the birthplace of comedian Ricky Gervais, who wrote a movie named after an area of the town: Cemetery Junction.

A New Venue

In an earlier article, I described how I attended Life Drawing classes in Andover during 1985-86, while I was living there and working for Link Electronics. Unfortunately, despite having created some brilliant products, Link turned out to be just one more failing British company, with the result that I was laid off in June 1985, when their management decided to shut down the design and manufacture of television cameras.

After searching for suitable alternative employment for a few weeks, I accepted a Design Engineering position with a small digital video equipment company called Questech, who were based in Wokingham, Berkshire. (As you may have guessed, because it has become such a repetitive theme, Questech is also now long out-of-business.) Although I was still living in Andover, I could no longer attend the sessions at Cricklade College, so I looked around to find something similar in the nearest large town to Wokingham, which was Reading. I eventually found a suitable class at a branch of the University of Reading, on Bath Road.

Just to demonstrate that life drawing models aren’t always female, here’s an example of one of my drawings from Reading that featured a male model.

Male Nude, Reading, 1986

Male Nude, Reading, 1986

However, those drawing sessions were not by any means the first time I’d visited Reading, because I’d had a somewhat ambivalent connection to the town since 1978.

Revisiting Reading

I had actually first traveled to Reading in 1978, while living in Coventry. While at school in Scarborough, I had had a crush on a girl who had gone on to study at the University of Reading. Had I been more mature, I would have realized that my crush was futile, but I was just another irrational teenager…

Thus one day—her birthday, in fact—I had the “bright idea” to go to Reading and seek out her room in the beautiful Wantage Hall.

Wantage Hall, University of Reading, 1996

Wantage Hall, University of Reading, 1996

I don’t think that I was really intending to try to meet up with her during that visit, but in fact I did, along with her new boyfriend! Fortunately, it all seemed to go fairly amicably, which perhaps was partly because she was still half-asleep during our unplanned meeting! It turned out to be the last time I ever saw her, which was probably just as well for all of us.

I did spend some time wandering around the town. One of the first features that struck me was the Town Hall, which, for people of my age, was very reminiscent of the building in the children’s animated series Trumpton.

Reading Town Hall, Following an External Cleaning, in 2001

Reading Town Hall, Following an External Cleaning, in 2001

Reading has some fairly pleasant footpaths along the banks of the River Thames. I took the photo below, of Caversham Bridge, while walking alongside the river in rain.

Caversham Bridge, Reading, 1979

Caversham Bridge, Reading, 1979

The arms below are those of the Borough of Reading, which used to appear on the sides of all Reading Transport buses.

Arms of the Borough of Reading

Arms of the Borough of Reading

The Equalizer Stops By for a Pint

When attending those 1980s drawing sessions, I rushed there straight from Wokingham, immediately after finishing work for the day. Once the drawing session was over, I was naturally hungry for dinner, so I would visit a local pub before beginning the journey home to Andover.

One pub that I frequented nearby was, and still is, called the Lyndhurst. Below is a modern Google Streetview of the location.

Google Streetview of the Lyndhurst, Reading

Google Streetview of the Lyndhurst, Reading

When I visited the pub in those days, one regular customer was a man who never offered anyone his name, but was known by the bartender as The Equalizer [warning: link plays video]. This was because he looked quite like Edward Woodward, who at the time was starring in an American TV series as the eponymous character. I still don’t know who the man in the pub was, so maybe someone will read this article and enlighten us?

As I said, the Lyndhurst is still in business today, serving good food, so probably worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Reading!

The Bizarre Demise of Ferranti

Panorama of Middleton, Manchester, 1981

Panorama of Middleton, Manchester, 1981

The photo above shows a panorama of Middleton, a suburb north of Manchester, one summer afternoon in 1981, while I was living there, and working as an apprentice at a famous British electronics company, Ferranti. For a few summers during my engineering training, I did indeed find myself working in some of the “dark satanic mills” of Manchester! I couldn’t have foreseen at the time that, within about 10 years, Ferranti would go out of business in a spectacular collapse, induced at least partially by an international fraud.

I mentioned in a previous post that, having decided during 1980 that I should try to obtain a degree in Electronics, I began searching for an employer who could sponsor me for what was called a “sandwich course”, which interleaved periods of industrial work with the academic study terms. My efforts to find such a position eventually paid off, and I was offered a Student Apprenticeship with Ferranti, commencing in July 1981, whereby I would work for the company each summer while at university. Thus, I lived and worked in Manchester for 3 summers, from 1981 to 1983, but, for reasons that I’ll explain below, I did not return there after graduating in 1984.

Live by the Sword…

In those days, Ferranti was, although not one of the largest electronics companies in Britain, certainly one of the best-regarded (the “Big Three” electronics companies were GEC, Marconi and Plessey). Ferranti had pioneered the development of computers in Britain.

When I received the offer from Ferranti, it caused some discomfort among my family and friends, because the company had a justified reputation for deriving much of its income from military contracts. However, not all of Ferranti’s work was for the military, so I was given the option to work for the company only in civilian product areas.

As things were to turn out, Ferranti did indeed “live by the sword and die by the sword”.

The Boys (& Girl) of Summer

Ferranti’s Student Apprenticeships were arranged so that we were employed by the company directly during each summer break from university. We then attended university for a normal academic year, from October through to the following June.

In July 1981, I presented myself at Ferranti’s Training Centre, at the so-called Avenue Works in Chadderton (sometimes referred to as the Hollinwood plant), to begin my apprenticeship. Most of my fellow apprentices were male, but there was (apparently for the first time ever) one girl in the group.

The first summer consisted of the “EP1” practical training, which was required by the Institution of Electrical Engineers. We learned technical drawing, soldering, welding, metal fabrication, machining, and many other practical skills. This was very intensive training; for example, we spent 4 weeks learning to solder, and were required to pass precision tests.

Our fabrication, welding and machining skills were tested by an assignment to build a toolbox from steel. The diagram below, which I drew in my Ferranti log book, shows how the toolbox was constructed. I still have that toolbox, which is far stronger than similar shop-bought items.

Diagram of the Toolbox I Constructed at Ferranti, 1981

Diagram of the Toolbox I Constructed at Ferranti, 1981

Wafers at Gem Mill

My second summer at Ferranti involved more uncertainty about what my assignment would be. Initially, I was told that there was actually no assignment for me, and that I should return to the Training Centre. After a short time there, several of us were assigned to a photoelastic stress analysis project at the Van Carrier manufacturing division of Ferranti Engineering plc, which was situated in the front offices of what had been the Avenue Works transformer factory.

The project was quite interesting, but obviously it didn’t have anything to do with electronics. I was thus relieved when, about half-way through the summer, an opportunity arose for me to be transferred to the semiconductor manufacturing plant at Gem Mill, Chadderton, to write some software.

Description of Silicon Wafer Test Software, from my Log Book, Gem Mill 1981

Description of Silicon Wafer Test Software, from my Log Book, Gem Mill 1981

Sadly, I took no photos of the Ferranti sites at which I worked, most of which have now been demolished. Therefore, I’ve used a Wikimedia Commons image of Gem Mill below.

Chadderton,Oldham - - 1547

Thanks, But I Won’t Be Back

As I discussed previously, my goal in obtaining an electronics degree had always been to get a job with the BBC. It may seem surprising that the terms of Ferranti’s apprenticeship did not impose on us any obligation to work for Ferranti after graduation. Similarly, Ferranti were under no obligation to offer me a job. Both parties were free to terminate the arrangement at any time.

During the Spring 1984 “milk round” (when employers visited universities searching for promising new graduates), I applied to the BBC and, after several interviews, I was hired.

As a result, I had to write to the Training Officer at Ferranti, to tell him that I would be accepting the BBC’s offer and thus would not be returning to Manchester. I expressed my gratitude for the “leg up” that Ferranti had given me when starting my new career. I wasn’t really expecting a reply, but, to my surprise, he did write back, indicating that he was very happy that Ferranti had been able to help me along.

I did feel a little guilty about walking away from Ferranti at that time. I was all too aware that this was the one company that had given me a second chance, at a time when no other engineering employer was interested in me. I had also gained some valuable experience in the electronics industry, which did indeed open the door to other employment opportunities later on. It turned out to have been a “wise” decision on my part, but few could have foreseen that at the time.

Like a Bad Spy Thriller

When I worked there, Ferranti always had the “big company feel”. Everyone was expected to slot obediently into predefined roles, and there was little room for individuality or special skills. (As an engineering student with artistic skills, I was always regarded as a very odd creature!) When I made the decision not to return, however, I certainly had no forewarning that Ferranti might not even exist much longer!

I heard the astonishing news of Ferranti’s demise only after I had moved far away to California, and, in my busy new life, I had almost forgotten that I’d ever worked there.

What I heard sounded so much like the plot of a bad spy thriller novel that I had to double-check the details to be sure that it was true. This story has been told in great detail elsewhere (particularly in the book Ferranti A history: Volume 3, by John F Wilson), so I will just summarize the main points here.

Cover of John Wilson's Book about the Demise of Ferranti

Cover of John Wilson’s Book about the Demise of Ferranti

It seems that, amid the Thatcherite business hubris of the 1980s, Ferranti’s management had become convinced that they needed to expand the company in the United States, and that the best way to do that would be to merge with a US defense electronics company. Unfortunately, when selecting a company, they made an appallingly bad choice. They selected a Pennsylvania-based company called International Signal & Control (ISC).

There were warning signs that ISC was a suspect operation, which Ferranti’s management and their auditors managed to miss. (For example, although nominally a US operation, ISC had chosen to register in Britain, simply to take advantage of relatively lax regulation of businesses in Britain.)

Soon after Ferranti merged with ISC, it began to become apparent that some of ISC’s major contracts actually didn’t exist at all, and that ISC’s management had engaged in elaborate deceptions to maintain their fraud. The CEO of ISC, James Guerin, was actually circulating money through front companies to give the impression that progress payments were being made on the fictitious contracts, but he couldn’t keep that up forever, so when he was no longer able to borrow more money, the whole fraud was exposed.

To be fair, though, the ISC fraud wasn’t the sole cause of Ferranti’s demise. This was the time of the end of the Cold War, when defense budgets were being slashed and contracts canceled. As Wilson mentions in his book, Ferranti had for some time been too dependent for its income on military projects, so these cutbacks exacerbated the company’s already-serious predicament, and led to its bankruptcy.

Look Back in Astonishment

It seems astonishing, and quite sad, to reflect that, that, only 35 years ago, I was working for a British company that was not only designing integrated circuits and computers, but also manufacturing them in Britain. Additionally, at that time Ferranti was designing and manufacturing many other kinds of engineering products, including some that I worked on briefly, such as telephones and van carriers. I’ll probably write more about those other products in future posts.

Whatever bad managerial decisions led to Ferranti’s demise, it still seems tragic that so much world-class innovation and effort came to so ignominious an end, and of course it was particularly disastrous for the all the highly-skilled and hard-working staff who lost their jobs when the company folded.

Return to Croydon Airport

Croydon Airport on a Rainy Day, 2001

Croydon Airport on a Rainy Day, 2001

The photo above, which I took in 2001, shows a unique building that still survives today, and was, at one time, perhaps among the most familiar structures in the world.

It is the terminal building and control tower of London Airport; the famous Croydon Airport that was the location of so much newsreel footage prior to the Second World War.

The Control Tower at Croydon, built in 1928, was the first at any airport in the world, and Air Traffic Control systems were pioneered there.

The photo below shows a model of Croydon Airport in its pre-WWII heyday, complete with passengers boarding an iconic H.P.42 Heracles class airliner.

Model of Croydon Airport during the 1930s

Model of Croydon Airport during the 1930s

Almost inevitably, the area around Croydon Airport, which had been open fields when the airfield was first opened in 1915, soon became covered with urban development. As a result, postwar expansion of the airport became impossible, so the decision was made to move operations to Heathrow instead. Heathrow replaced Croydon as London Airport in 1946, and then Croydon was gradually run down, finally closing in 1959. The runways at Croydon were all built over, and, in my ignorance, I thought that nothing was left.

Oblivious to the History around Me

During the mid-1980s, I worked for a while as a Technical Sales Engineer for an electronics distributor. An important aspect of my job was to liaise with the company’s Sales Representative for Surrey, and in order to do that, I would arrange to meet with her at a place called the “The Aerodrome” on Purley Way. The building containing the café is shown below, as it appeared during my 2001 revisit.

The Aerodrome Hotel in 2001

The Aerodrome Hotel in 2001

As I recall, my colleague’s primary reason for choosing that café was her enthusiasm for their garlic mushroom appetizer!

It wasn’t until decades later that I realized that this had been the Aerodrome Hotel, purpose-built in 1928 as prestige accommodation for London Airport. In my photo of the model above, you can see the hotel building at the top left.

As the hotel’s own web site shows, since 2001 the building has been renovated, and now proudly shows off the aviation heritage that seemed largely forgotten during the 1980s.

I Should have Looked Round the Back

Next to the building containing the café, there was what appeared to be a nondescript office block, and it never even occurred to me to take the opportunity to look around the back of that structure. Had I done so, I would have immediately recognized the famous apron of the airport.

Control Tower and Former Apron of Croydon Airport

Control Tower and Former Apron of Croydon Airport

(Since I took the photo above, replicas of the control tower’s masts have been added.)

By 2001, the terminal building had been renovated as the Airport House International Business Centre, so I was able to go inside and eat lunch at the Rayon d’Or Brasserie.

The lobby of the renovated building displayed fascinating relics of its history, as shown below. Several of the items that are visible are original features, such as the “Winged World” sculpture.

Lobby of Airport Terminal, in 2001

Lobby of Airport Terminal, in 2001

The display above included the model of the airport in its heyday, as shown in my photo. The Rayon d’Or Brasserie is in the background on the right.

At that time, the aviation memorabilia display was still under construction, as shown by the view below of the rudder of a Swissair DC-3, a model of an SE5a hanging from the ceiling, a Sabena logo, and some period luggage (without wheels, of course).

Aviation Memorabilia in 2001

Aviation Memorabilia in 2001

Unfortunately, my visit didn’t occur on the first Sunday of the month, so I wasn’t able to avail myself of the tour of the old Control Tower. If you’re in the vicinity on the appropriate day, you may be interested in taking that tour. Full details can be found here, and this is the latest Google Streetview of the location.

A Modern Museum

It’s great to see that efforts are being made to preserve what is left of Croydon Airport. I hope to be able to visit the site again, next time I’m in the area.

A Short Stay in San Francisco

Embarcadero Wharves, San Francisco

Embarcadero Wharves, San Francisco

The photo above shows part of San Francisco’s famous Embarcadero, which was once a busy docklands area (with rows of wharves on the right), and was a major embarkation port during World War II, but is now mainly a tourist attraction. My wife took the photo yesterday, while we were staying for a short time in the City. When I first visited this location, about 30 years ago, there was a railroad yard on the left (which had been part of the State Belt Railroad), but all that is now gone, and the only tracks are those for Muni streetcars.

Mary and I had gone to San Francisco so that I could attend my US Naturalization interview. I’ve been a US Permanent Resident (always legally, of course) since 1991, and, following many years’ procrastination, I decided that, instead of renewing my “Green Card” again, I’d apply to become a US citizen. Part of this process involves an interview with a CIS officer, who tests you on your English language skills and your knowledge of US history and government. In addition to passing an FBI background check, you have to undergo these tests to have your citizenship application accepted.

Given that my interview was scheduled for early morning, we decided that, rather than try to rush through the morning traffic, we’d stay overnight nearby the night before. We chose the Galleria Park Hotel, partly because it was close, but also because it’s pet-friendly, and we wanted to bring our cats with us! The photo below shows the hotel building, on the corner of Sutter and Kearny streets.

Galleria Park Hotel, San Francisco

Galleria Park Hotel, San Francisco

Whenever Mary and I arrive at a hotel, we try to remember to take a “selfie” on the bed in our room. The photo below shows us just settling in at the Galleria Park.

Arrival at Galleria Park Hotel

Arrival at Galleria Park Hotel

The hotel building dates back to 1911, but has recently been renovated, while retaining many of its Art Nouveau features. All of us (Mary, the cats, and I) had a very enjoyable stay there, and can recommend that hotel if you need to stay in San Francisco’s financial district.

The photo below shows a twilight view from the window of our room. The skyscraper in the center background is the former Bank of America building at 555 California Street.

View of the Bank of America Building at Twilight

View of the Bank of America Building at Twilight

Ginger in the City

The photo below, taken by Mary, shows one of our cats, Ginger Tom, arriving in style on his first visit to San Francisco.

He was riding along Van Ness Avenue in our car, and was intensely curious about everything around him.

Ginger in the City

Ginger in the City

Return to an Old Haunt

During our stay, we took the opportunity to revisit a very long-established restaurant that we last ate together at about 30 years ago, while we were dating.

Sam's Grill, San Francisco

Sam’s Grill, San Francisco

The restaurant in question is Sam’s Grill, which has what is, by California standards, a truly ancient history, all the way back to 1867. We had a very enjoyable meal there, sitting in one of the private booths. Many of the other eateries that we frequented when dating are long gone, so it’s nice to find one that is still going strong.

Status: Approved

Fortunately, I passed my citizenship test, and my application has been recommended for approval. I anticipate that the next step in the process will be that I’ll be called to a swearing-in ceremony, where I expect to receive my Certificate of Naturalization. I’ll write about that experience when it happens.

Ally Pally


Alexandra Palace, London, 1982

I took the photo above, of the remains of Alexandra Palace (colloquially known as “Ally Pally”), while I was a student in London in 1982. I’d seen the Palace from a distance many times before I actually visited it, but eventually I was prompted to go there, partly by a connection to my intended future career.

This immense building in North London is hardly a major tourist attraction, having had a rather unfortunate history and a wide variety of uses since it was built in 1873 (ostensibly as a counterpoint to South London’s Crystal Palace). Nonetheless, the structure remains usable to some extent, and there are currently plans for a major renovation.

The reason that I’d seen Ally Pally so many times before is because it stands prominently on a hilltop, where it can be seen from the East Coast Main (Railway) Line. When traveling between York and London by train, I frequently caught a glimpse of the structure through the carriage window.

I mentioned that the Palace has had a rather chequered past, having burned down on at least two occasions. In fact, there had been a major fire in 1980, just before the visits during which I took these photos. Despite the partial dereliction of the building itself, the grounds are still worth visiting, because of the spectacular views they offer over much of Central London.

The World’s First HDTV Transmitter

Thanks (presumably) to the building’s prominent position, it was chosen in 1935 by the BBC as the site of their first television transmitter. Studios were inserted into the building immediately below the transmitter tower. When the television service first began in 1936, there were alternate transmissions of Logie Baird’s 240-line system and the Marconi-EMI 405-line “High Definition” system.

At the time of my photograph above, the rooms below the transmitter mast were still in use for the broadcasting of Open University programs. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I was studying Electronic Engineering in London because I wanted to get a job with the BBC (which I eventually did), hence my interest in the history of Ally Pally.

Public Events at the Palace

On another occasion when I visited the Palace in 1982, a public festival was underway, and several historic buses from the London Transport collection were ferrying visitors between the Palace and the nearest railway station.

London Transport RT 1 at Alexandra Palace, 1982

London Transport RT 1 at Alexandra Palace, 1982

One notable vehicle that was operating that day was RT 1 (shown above), which was the prototype of the highly-successful AEC RT class of London buses that preceded the famous Routemaster. RT 1 was built in 1939, and was the forerunner of what eventually were 4674 buses of that class, some of which continued in service until 1979.

RT 1 waiting for Custom, Alexandra Palace, 1982

RT 1 waiting for Custom, Alexandra Palace, 1982

RT 1 is seen again here, hemmed in by cars, and earning its keep by shuttling visitors to the nearest railway station. The TV transmitter and studios are visible in the background.

Rails to the Palace

In earlier days, there had been a much closer railway station. To coincide with the opening of the Palace, a railway branch was built from Highgate to the site, which terminated in a station just north of the palace building. The station building still exists today as a community centre, but should not be confused with the modern Alexandra Palace station on the main line.

The line was built by the Muswell Hill Railway, which was eventually taken over by the Great Northern Railway and finally became part of the London & North Eastern Railway group.

Tubes to the Northern Heights

During the late 1930s, London Transport developed major plans to extend its tube railway services in North London, as the so-called “Northern Heights” extensions  of the Northern Line.

Some portions of these lines were to be entirely new, while others were to be electrified sections of existing steam-operated lines. The Alexandra Palace branch became part of the plan, and work to electrify the line began in 1939.

This excerpt from the published 1937 London Underground diagram shows the planned Northern Line extensions, including the branch from Highgate to Alexandra Palace. The line from Edgware to Elstree was to be entirely new, and I mentioned my visit to the “Arches Field” that formed part of the works for that line in an earlier post.

Excerpt from 1937 London Underground map

Excerpt from 1937 London Underground map

Unfortunately, the start of World War II intervened, bringing to a halt all work on the extensions.

After the war, development priorities in Greater London had changed, and it was eventually decided not to complete some of the extensions. British Railways, which had taken over the LNER’s lines, continued to operate passenger trains from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace until 1954, when the service ceased.

Ghost Trains of Highgate

The London Transport station at Highgate has its own unusual history. As shown below, due to the cancellation of the Northern Heights extensions, part of Highgate Station ended up as a “ghost” which is still standing unused today.

Things to Come... But they Never Did. Abandoned Highgate Station, 1982

Things to Come… But they Never Did. Abandoned Highgate Station, 1982

The surface-level station was rebuilt in Art Deco style at the same time as the new tube station was constructed beneath it. The tube station remains in use today, which accounts for the bizarre survival of the disused platforms above it.

At the time of my visit to the “ghost” station, it was little known, and was extremely overgrown as shown in my picture, but it has now become quite famous as a “Hidden London” site.

How Mary and I Met

Mary & David in Scarborough, 1990

Mary & David in Scarborough, 1990

The photo above, which is one of the earliest of my wife Mary and me together, was actually taken in Scarborough, England, in 1990, during the occasion of our first joint visit to my family there. At that time, we weren’t yet married, or even engaged, but that all was to change within a year following the visit.

Given that Valentine’s Day occurs this week, it seemed like an appropriate time to post an article about how we came to meet. Since posting previous articles about how I emigrated from Britain to California in 1987, there seems to have been some interest in how Mary and I got together. One event definitely did not follow immediately from the other, and I certainly hadn’t come to California with any expectation of “finding love”.

Resources for Dating

In a previous post, I described how, having moved from Britain to California to live and work, my new answering machine message began to attract completely unexpected attention from anonymous women, who apparently liked to call and hear my “cute accent”. I’d never really considered my accent to be of much interest to anyone, although my original Yorkshire cadences had changed somewhat as a result of having lived for a few years in Southern England.

Those expressions of possible romantic potential eventually led me to think that it might be worthwhile to try dating again, which was something I’d given up on several years previously. However, that was easier said than done in a new country, because I had been sponsored to come to California by my employer, and I knew absolutely nobody in the state except the people I worked with.

Although there were some young women working for my employer, most of them seemed to have the (probably wise) attitude that they didn’t want to date men with whom they worked. For their dates, they seemed to rely on their own family contacts, or friends with whom they’d grown up at school, and of course none of those resources were available to me.

I began to look at various “dating agencies”, but in general these seemed overpriced and of questionable value. Some seemed to be outright “rip-offs” that tried to employ high-pressure sales tactics to get what they seemed to regard as “losers” to part with their money! (I’m pleased to say that such tactics didn’t work on me.)

There was, however, one relatively cheap service that, in my case at least, produced a spectacular result, albeit via a rather roundabout and initially unpromising route.


There was no internet dating in those days, of course, so I eventually found and joined a San Francisco-based telephone dating service called Yellowphone (now long defunct). When using this service, I called in to a central number, entered my personal ID, and then listened to voice messages from prospective partners who were “compatible” with me. (Mary said that her experience of using the service was different, but that was what I did.)

You couldn’t see a picture of the person speaking (which might actually have been a good thing, since it prevented people from making snap judgments based on looks), so all you had to go on was their voice and their descriptions of themselves.

I did contact several of the women whose messages I listened to, and, although I had some pleasant dates, I felt that I just didn’t have enough in common with any of them to make a successful relationship. I’ve sometimes wondered whether I may have been giving too much emphasis to that factor, because my experience of the opposite sex at that time was very limited (and spectacularly unsuccessful). On the other hand, maybe my emphasis was correct, because when I did finally meet someone who seemed to have some views and interests in common with mine, it worked out well.

Not a Match

One morning in early 1989, when I would normally have been at work, I was instead lying in bed in my apartment with some kind of flu. The phone rang. It was the lady who owned Yellowphone, calling to tell me that she had a client who would like to meet me, but was not really a match for me, so she wanted to get my permission before giving out my details.

The problem, apparently, was that Mary was a few years older than me, which wasn’t considered a match for my preferences. Nonetheless, her description otherwise sounded interesting, so I agreed that we should meet.

It turned out that Mary had been told the same thing; that I was not a match for her! She had been a member of the Yellowphone service for a while, without any particular success. Finally, the owner asked her if there were any particular types of men she’d like to meet. She mentioned that perhaps a British man would be interesting, because she’d visited England a few times and liked their sense of humor. The owner responded that I was a member of the service, and offered to contact me to see whether I would permit my details to be given out.

A Great First Date

Mary and I did exchange details, and we got together for a first date. It all seemed to go very well; we went for afternoon tea at the King George Hotel, then to the Champagne Bar at Neiman-Marcus [Edit 3/1/18: Mary tells me that the Champagne Bar was at Nordstrom rather than Neiman-Marcus; I don’t remember!], and finally ended up going to see a particularly appropriate movie (“A Fish Called Wanda”).

I mentioned in a previous post that I had interviewed one of the stars of that movie—Michael Palin—while at university, and of course I told Mary about that at the time.

The Scene of part of our First Date, much later in 2014

The Scene of part of our First Date, much later in 2014

I think that, by the end of our date, we had both decided that we’d like to see each other again, although I think we both had some reservations. One very good sign was that, during our date, conversation didn’t seem to lapse, as it had often done for me on other dates. The two of us seemed to have many experiences and pastimes that were of interest to the other.

The photo below of me was taken in a famous (albeit foggy) location by Mary, during one of our early dates.

David at the Golden Gate Bridge - with hideous Mullet!

David at the Golden Gate Bridge – with hideous Mullet!

We dated for over a year before deciding to get engaged, and we were married in early 1991.

We chose a date in early January for our wedding, which I realized in retrospect was a poor choice, because it was so soon after the holiday, and the weather in more northerly climates was too severe for some of our family members to be able to attend.

Making It Last

So that was the start of what has to date been a twenty-seven year marriage.

Of course, it hasn’t all been “smooth sailing”, and we’ve had our share of problems. Nonetheless, through it all, not only have we both continued to love each other, but we are also friends, and I think that those factors have helped to preserve our relationship during difficult times.

Lessons to be Learned?

Incidentally, I’m not offering this article in any way as “Dave’s Tips for a Lasting Relationship”! My experiences of relationships are quite limited, and my personal history has been relatively unusual, so I doubt that my concerns and decisions would be applicable to the personal situations of others.

However, one thing that has become obvious to me, in retrospect, is the importance of not being too restrictive in advance about who may or may not be a “match”. In our case, not only was the owner of the Yellowphone service wrong about our suitability, but I myself would have had serious reservations, earlier on.

I explained in a previous post that, if someone had accurately predicted the course of my life when I was a teenager, I would have laughed at them and dismissed their claims.

Similarly, if someone had told that young undergraduate engineer entering Imperial College in 1981 that, within 10 years, he’d be marrying an “air hostess” (as they were then called) who lived in San Francisco, he’d have laughed at that too! After all, engineers just didn’t do that, and what would we have in common anyway? (Mary would probably have felt the same way about the idea of marrying an engineer!)

Happy Valentine’s Day

I hope you have an enjoyable Valentine’s Day this year, wherever you are, and whomever you’re sharing it with!

Another Balloon Landing in the Park

Hot-Air Balloon Force Landed in Village Green Park

Hot-Air Balloon Force Landed in Village Green Park

The photo above shows the view from our bedroom window at about 9am yesterday morning. Once again, a hot air balloon had just made a forced landing in Village Green Park. When it first came down, the balloon was actually much closer to the trees in the foreground. By the time that I’d fetched my camera, its occupants had maneuvered it to the car park near the church.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll know that this isn’t the first time this has happened; I reported a similar incident last year. Fortunately, this time they managed to land the balloon without hitting anything, and began deflating it as soon as it had been moved to a recoverable position, as shown below.


Deflating the Balloon

There was actually a second balloon, which didn’t land, but hovered for a while behind the houses, as shown below.

The Second Balloon between the Houses

The Second Balloon between the Houses

The balloon operators are required to report these unplanned landings to the FAA, so I trust that they will be doing so again in this case! Given the number of people who were walking in the park at the time, there were certainly many witnesses to the landing.

I assume that the reason they like to make these landings on Village Green is because there’s a car park next to it, which makes it easy to bring the recovery vehicle up to the balloon. After all, there’s an abandoned Naval Air Station just a few hundred yards away, which would make a much clearer landing ground, but I suspect that access to that is more difficult!

Hot-air balloon rides are a popular attraction in Wine Country, so I’m certainly not against them. However, I am becoming concerned about the number of apparently unplanned landings, such as this one, and the fact that they choose to land so close to buildings (which seems obviously unsafe).