When I was slowed right down with fatigue, there were activities that brought me real satisfaction that I didn’t have the strength to do any more.
I had to let them go and find new things. One of those was the rediscovery of my gift of painting.
I had two art teachers at school and they both put me off. In junior school I accidentally tipped over my water pot and the teacher caned me in front of the whole class. In the next school the art master was a tyrant and intimidated us rather than encouraged. This left me believing I just could not do art.
It was years later when a colleague and I attended an evening class for portraiture in oils, that my eyes were opened. Our tutor was not just a good artist, he tuned in with us and was very encouraging. He told me that I had taken to painting “like a duck to water!”
Painting was put on hold for a few years because of family, work pressures and general busyness, until I looked in at a local art gallery. I was fascinated by the landscapes on show and thought to myself “I could do that!” I had a go and I did. Eventually I even exhibited at the same gallery.
The painting above was a first for several reasons. The first time I’d done inland water or boats or architecture. It was too big for our home – it’s four feet long – so it’s now hanging in our local hospital.
This probably wouldn’t have happened without the encouragement or without the illness.
My employers were having yet another reorganisation and all the new jobs were up for grabs. It seemed like disorganisation to me, as I couldn’t see anything I identified with and felt I had reached the end of the road. I spent the weekend tramping Bodmin Moor to decide my response and came to the conclusion that I wanted out. Three years later that’s exactly what happened.
Early retirement seemed like a dream come true, it was like being on honeymoon. I had the freedom to follow what I had always wanted to do, although I wasn’t exactly sure what that was.
I celebrated with a few days of hill walking. I never felt more stimulated than when amongst the hills and mountains of the Brecons, the High Peak and especially the Lake District Fells. My wife and I followed this up with what we called ‘our trek,’ touring up the west side of Great Britain as far as the Isle of Skye, across to Edinburgh and back down the west side via Lindisfarne, Nottingham, Cambridge and calling at friends on the way. Thirteen different beds in six weeks! We both became involved in Christian voluntary work, especially me. I found it very fulfilling and thought it was what I was made for. Year by year, the involvements grew and snowballed until it was almost like working full time again. Then things began to change.
I suffered a heavy bout of ‘flu and just when I thought it was over, I was hit with another virus infection that just wouldn’t go away. Eventually I decided to go for a walk with a local group of ramblers to work it off, that had always worked in the past, but came back absolutely and totally exhausted. Our doctor examined me and after blood tests said he thought I had post viral syndrome. I asked how long does that last? He smiled – I like our G.P. – and replied with just the hint of a shrug, “a year?” I was handed a leaflet on my way out. I felt numb and realised I was own my own.