February 4, 2014

Salutogenesis Factor #2e: My London Family

Terry (left), Richard (right): my London family

In AA meetings, people describe themselves as "grateful recovering alcoholics." I’m a grateful non-recovering anglophile. I love London, the British countryside, Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders, the Highlands and -- most of all – my London family: dear pals Terry and Richard.

Here's Terry . . .

. . . in November, 1977, outside a London pub right before I left England to return to Washington... and the hotel room my wife had booked for me. Diana decided that our separation – on which we had both agreed after my "coming out" right before I left for Europe – should begin immediately upon my return. It may seem harsh now, but her decision was right; her decisions usually WERE right. It was a tumultuous, emotional time for us, which I explained in an earlier post.

1978 brought many changes. I got sober in March. Diana died of throat cancer in May. My Dad died in July. Daughter Ann left for her freshman year at Northwestern in August (son Todd was already living on his own). After 20 years living with a wife and children, I was on my own except for our beloved golden retriever Sandy, who died the next year.

For about five years starting in 1979, I took three-week vacations in the fall. I’d start and end in London. In between, I’d use 15-day Eurail passes to explore the Continent. I loved the freedom of inventing my itinerary on the fly.

With My Family There, London Always Felt Like Home
Sometimes those solo travels got a bit lonely, but I always knew I’d soon return to my London family.

At first, I stayed at Terry’s place. It was a little like a fraternity house in those days: lots of people – and parrots – were always coming or going. Since I prefer people in small doses – and need plenty of “alone time" – I jumped at the chance when Terry’s friend Richard invited me to stay with him. His two-room flat above the garage at 39 Bathurst Mews became my regular new London digs. The small, quiet place was perfect for me, and I stayed there dozens of times.

I'd arrive in London on an overnight flight from Washington, take the express train to the Paddington tube station, and make the short walk to Richard’s place.

Turning into Bathurst Mews, here’s what I'd see. It looked more like a lane in a Cotswolds village than a street in the middle of the great capital city:

After a short rest, I’d head out on what I've described as "The Richard Cooper Memorial Walk". There was a riding stable at the end of the mews, and I’d often see schoolgirls getting on their horses for a morning ride through Hyde Park.

Here's a favorite picture of Happy Schappi in front of his London home.

Most weekends, we’d take Richard’s car and head out into the country -- adventures I loved. Richard frequently packed picnic lunches. Once well away from London, we’d pick a bucolic spot and pull in for our picnic. This particular day – with food and beverage spread across the car’s hood – was cold and blustery. Left to right -- Patrick (more later about him), Richard, Terry:

Here's Richard the Scarecrow on another outing:

Richard, Terry, and I enjoyed many memorable times together, in the UK and US.

Terry and I spent several weeks in Cuba, when Castro begun permitting Cubans to rent rooms and open small restaurants in their homes. I wasn’t technically a “legal” visitor, but Terry, with his British passport, was . . . so he could rent a car to tour the island. On earlier visits there, he had made several gay Cuban friends, who enlivened our adventure. In this picture, Terry and I are having breakfast at the Havana home of a retired Cuban diplomat. We stayed here for four days.

I was thrilled to attend 50th birthday parties a year apart for Richard in Newcastle – his home town – and for Terry in London. In this picture, you see that Terry’s ecclesiastic position outranks mine:

Richard's True Love: Scotland
Richard enjoyed our romps across the English countryside, but his real love was the Scottish Borders north of Edinburgh. A dissatisfied accountant, Richard really wanted to own his own business. And so, in time, he did: a chutney factory in the Borders. I'd see his products in fancy gourmet stores in the Washington area. But after several years, the business failed.

But we made a number of trips to Scotland. Here's Richard outside his favorite country inn:

Every trip north included a visit to a beautiful small glen known only to Richard. He could happily linger there for hours, listening to the falling water and – as this photo shows – restoring the small stone cairn (stone pile) he’d built there during an earlier trip.

When I retired in 1994, I had hoped to make many trips to Richard’s glen from our London base at his apartment in Bathurst Mews. Sadly, it was not to be. Richard killed himself in 2000 after another business failure. His ashes were scattered in his glen.

Once, Richard stopped the car at a spot overlooking the Tweed River Valley, said to one of Sir Walter Scott’s favorite lookouts. We sat quietly, soaking in the view and listening to this tape that Richard played in the car:

Segue to My Next Family . . . .
I spent a week in the UK for Richard's memorial service in Newcastle. Friends came from all over, including Patrick from Bangalore, India. Patrick – shown above in the car picnic photo  – lived in London for most of his early adult life. During that time, he and Terry became good friends. Eventually, Patrick returned to India to be with his elderly mother.

After our week of grieving, and just a day before we all headed home – Patrick back to Bangalore, me back to Washington – we had lunch together. Terry, Patrick and I decided to travel around India the following year . . . something to look forward to after this sad time.

And so it happened. A year later, here we are, together in India:

When my son Todd heard my plan to travel around India, he urged me to include a "side trip" to Nepal. I'm so grateful he did. My love affair with Nepal and its people began during that first visit long ago, and continues to this day.

I am now blessed with two Nepali families in my life; they’re the subjects of upcoming posts in this series about “salutogenesis," the origin of health.

No comments: