When I was 19 years old I went to England to live there for a few years. Ever since I returned the people I lived with there have a special place in my heart and I will never forget them.
Judi Arnold, now Judi Dale, Annette Francis, now Annette Thorpe, Liz May (where are you now Liz?), Anzio Cabrini, Simon Parsons, Nick Bowman, Elliot Stevens, Ruth Wilkinson, Anne-Louise James, Darrin Fox, Stuart Ingram, Rod and Sue Townend, Gordon and Nancy managing the Social Club, Sue May, Lawrence Swerlinck (now in Heaven, forever in our hearts, RIP), Sarah Blake (Blakey), Mark Blazeby, Joe Toehill, Tim Bryant, Norman Allen, Sue Harris, Margaret Jackson (Maggie, my ‘surrogate mother’), Stephen Eyers, Jean Ringwood, Susan May (Liz’ mother) and so many others were an important part of my life. And in case if I have forgotten your name, you too.
My rooms were in the Old Hall, an old but beautiful mansion, built in red stone with a large lawn in front of it. Here is a picture of it from around 1930 when Major Ashley lived there.
And this is how I like to remember it:
Ever since I was twelve and had English as a subject at school I was magically drawn to England, you can call it an obsession (which it wasn’t) or strange (but it was neither that), but I could not resist thinking about going there and live there. And I did. It was the most beautiful experience in my life and even now, 23 years later it still has great influence on my present life. It has made me what I am today: a peculiar and slightly eccentric person, but also intelligent and broad minded and always an eye for other people’s interest. I have adopted their feeling for class and decorum and made it my own. It gave me creativity and imagination, love for people around me and most of all: it made me proud of myself.
There was Anzio, who taught me how to cook properly and up to today I still use his techniques to feed my family. And Rod, Allen, Sue, Jean and others taught me many wise life lessons. And there were friends, dear friends. They made me feel special, loved and wanted. Where I grew up lonely and left aside by most of my peer, here it was entirely different. This was the place where I experienced love, I found God again and got saved. I remember going on my pushbike to the railway station in Norwich and spent Sundays in Cambridge in a lovely church community.
In 1991 I went back to Swampyland. Why I didn’t really know myself at the time. I remember I was sad for a really long time and it took me years to be happy again. And I found new love again and got married. We spent our honeymoon in Norwich and Cambridge so I could show her places that were so important to me. Only after fifteen years I was strong enough to go back and see England again.
Call it obsession, fixation, weird or eccentric, but in my opinion you do not throw away what is good just because you found something new. Past is part of all of us and has made us to what we are now. I am Leendert, some call me Leon, and I am proud of myself for what I am today. And you had a part in it. Thank you.
Related: The Grey Lady