After living at Great James Street for a year, the doctors in my house moved to a large flat in a converted house on Compayne Gardens, West Hampstead. They very kindly offered me a room, and I moved in with them. Well, the room didn’t actually have a door, so I hung a curtain up, bedouin style! However, it was warm, dry and still not expensive. Later Andy Rose also moved in.
I was working at the Church Mission Society, in Waterloo so I used to cycle everyday from West Hampstead to Waterloo via all Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Buckingham Palace – all major busy road junctions. You wouldn’t do this today with the amount of traffic on the road, but in 1982 I could beat the tube on a good day.
Donna had left her training at the Royal Free Hospital, and had started work as Secretary to the Telesales Manager at the Guardian Newspaper. She had been unhappy for a while at the hospital. She was 18 when she started there and it was altogether a stressful environment. Our friends the nurses had begun to vacate Great James Street, as the cooperative that owned the building had received a grant to renovate the property. It must be worth a fortune now! Sometime that year, Donna moved to Willsden Green, and lived in a flat with a number of other girls. We continued to effectively live together, but in two properties, one night at Companyne Gardens, one in Willsden Green. I felt that it was important that we maintained separate accommodation, as they may be times when we needed some space from each other, but Donna was very unhappy with this idea and felt quite vulnerable. She was wanting to get married and mentioned this frequently, and from time to time felt insecure believing that I wasn’t committed to the relationship.
February 1982 wasn’t a leap year, but that didn’t stop Donna putting an advert asking me to marry her in The Guardian when the paper published the valentine messages in the edition on Saturday 13th February. I didn’t react positively, so she realised that I had turned her down, as we had only been going out together for just over a year and she stopped talking about marriage after that point.
We spent as much time as we could out of London and often went on bike rides to the country. We went to the Peak District, the Isle of Wight and also walked much of the South Downs Way and cycled the London to Brighton Bike Ride. Perhaps we should have made more of the opportunities of living in London and seen more that London had to offer, but we certainly saw lots of the rest of Britain.
We also walked a lot, and when Lawrence and Eileen were on leave, Lawrence would take us on very long hikes over the moors. On one particular occasion, he said he would take us to his favourite restaurant. It turned out to be a roadside caravan that he and his cycling pals would visit. They made the best bacon sarnies I have ever tasted and decent tea in a big mug! Just right after a long walk.
In April, Donna and Lawrence ran the London Marathon. Although I didn’t run, I accompanied her on my bike when she went for a training run around the streets of London. When Lawrence came over Donna didn’t want him stay at Great James Street, she was too embarrassed at the state of the place. On the actual day of the race, Frank and I cycled round the course as there were only about 5,000 runners, it was quite easy to get around. We were all very proud of them and had a great day cheering them on.
We also saved up the money to go out to Kenya and see Donna’s parents, Lawrence and Eileen in the summer of 1982. This was a golden opportunity for us to show each other the parts of Kenya that were particularly special to each of us. It had been three years since I had left, and I was keen to see the country again. We had around three weeks holiday, during which time we visited Mombasa and I introduced Donna to Patsy and Geoff Weeks. (Patsy is my second cousin). It was strange seeing my old house and not living there anymore. We also went to the Rift Valley and hiked with Lawrence and climbed Mount Kenya, which I had never done when we lived there.
Donna had been out of nursing for about 18 months and had decided to resume her training. In August and September of 1982, she started to look around for a hospital which would allow her to resume at the second year, without having to do the first year again, and Redhill General Hospital offered her a place to start in the Autumn of 1983.
I was thrown into a crisis. It was clear to me that our relationship would deteriorate if we went back to living in two different towns as I knew instinctively that she would be meeting new people and developing a different social life to the one we had in London. I also knew I couldn’t live without her, and faced the prospect of loosing her.
We spent the first weekend in October in London sightseeing, as Donna knew she was leaving London very soon. On the Sunday afternoon (3rd October 1982) we decided to spend the afternoon in the British Museum. Whilst in the Egyptology section, I became very emotional and started asking Donna if we could go somewhere for a drink, I knew I was close to proposing if I wasn’t careful and I didn’t want it to be surrounded by Egyptian Mummies! We just got back to Great James Street, where she was still living, before I blurted it out!
That night we had a meal at our local Italian restaurant, the Cosmoba and talked over the details. Later when we got back to Compayne Gardens and told the doctors, they put on an impromptu party for us! We had been going out together for just under two years by this time. (21 months).
However, we wanted to tell my parents as soon as possible, so the following weekend (10th October) we went to stay with them in Hove. During a lull in the conversation, my father asked me what was new in our lives – whereupon I announced that we had decided to get married! There was a stunned silence for a second before we all stood up and hugged. My parents phoned David and Georgie who came over for a champaign celebration.
Later I phoned Lawrence and Eileen in Nairobi to ask Lawrence if I could marry Donna. Unfortunately I couldn’t get through and by the time I did some hours later. When I asked Lawrence if I could marry his daughter, in a deadpan manner he asked ‘which one?’ (He was joking, although he was more serious than I anticipated, and that was because I may have been a little worse for the champaign!) I had to ring him back the next day to check that he had understood, as I was worried I might have slurred my words!