I was born in 1949, just another one of those annoying baby boomers who have greedily accepted a world with ever-rising house prices, and  many similar unearned advantages, but also had to compete for jobs when there were precious few to be had.  

My life seems to have been more like a travelogue, and it’s true that I’ve lived on four continents, and my career as an engineer has brought me much travelling.

Act I:

Up to age 5. Travel by train and flying boat from Aberdeen, Scotland to Calcutta, India at the age of 6 weeks. I can still recall the awful stench rising from the sewers whenever  it rained, and catching  huge toads which frequented the gardens during the  monsoon  season.  I definitely had a hint of the colonial, privileged, even pampered, existence during the first years of my life.

Act 2:

Schooling Private and Public: It was very common in those days to send one’s offspring aged  4 or 5 to a private school at home in Aberdeenshire; to experience the character-building cold baths and punishments varying from (for leaving  a single sock on the floor of the changing room) a whack on  the bare backside, to the dreaded midwinter cross country run supervised by a “games master” who we recognised at that young  age, as borderline psychotic.

Act 3:

In 1958 my Dad left India and got a job in Montreal, Canada; and the family emigrated (Mum and Dad plus 3 kids). My eyes were opened to what a great country it was, and l loved every minute of it.  But it lasted only 4 years and we returned to Aberdeen because my father had come across some illegal scams among his senior civil servant colleagues involving millions of dollars. And he was afraid of his family coming to harm. So back we came, with Mum swearing that she wasn’t moving anywhere else! I managed to complete my education with a degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University, and  immediately set off on my own adventure..... this time to South Africa.  

Act 4:

My first job was on a construction site, building a plant extension to an oil refinery. I found that even with my degree I had a lot to learn. This came home to me in a rather dramatic way when I was actually fired, for the first and last time in my life, for not following instructions.  Fortunately this was only a temporary setback, and I was transferred to manage  a very interesting project at the Durban docks which involved the designing  and  building of a huge (and unique) shiploading crane with a span of 30 metres across the wharf and 39 metres in height. But after 5 years I felt that construction work was not terribly interesting, and I got a job at a large sugar mill, situated literally on the shore of the Pacific Ocean,  as a Plant Engineer,. This proved to be a complete career change. Speaking of change, in 1977 I met and married my wife, Megan, who has been the delight of my life ever since. 

Act 5:

I gradually made my way at this sugar mill, Sezela, and after some 10 years of hard-won experiences, was promoted to the prestigious position of Group Mechanical Engineer providing a service from Head Office to the six sugar mills in the Group.

At about this time, both Megan and I had the urge to leave South Africa as we were unhappy with the political situation and the future of our three children was also an important consideration.

Act  6:

I didn’t know it at the time, but the move back to UK was to be the last intercontinental move for me. Work was quite scarce but I managed to get a job with a big consulting firm in East Grinstead who wanted me to start up a new division to provide an in-house M&E service to the company. After 4 years making this task a reality, the firm was “in deep financial difficulty”, as many were at this time, 1991. 

I wanted to return to my roots in Aberdeen and was employed by a consultancy there for about 12 months when they made me redundant. How are the mighty fallen! Very fortunately I found some contract employment to design some pipe work for a water treatment works near Inverness. 

Act 7:

June 1993 arrived with a phone call to our home in Aberdeen, asking if I was interested in a job in Derby with Fletcher Smith, which happened to be the only British company left which still designed and built sugar factories throughout the world.  The position was that of Engineering Manager. They insisted that I have a thorough medical examination as the job involved much travelling and fitness could sometimes be an issue. Well I’m very glad to say that I passed the medical with ease; there was no hint of what was to come.

Act 8:

The hint came when I found I could hardly sign my name on company cheques, and when I walked along the street my right arm refused to swing naturally. This was October 1995. Our GP was really on the ball and sent me straight off to a consultant who tested in the usual way at the time by walking me up and  down , and subjecting my right elbow to a sort of winding-up motion. The consultant  was extremely kind and understanding in explaining the implications of the PD, and he even gave me the phone number of the local PDS. I have been very grateful to those who introduced me to the disease and who wasted no time in prescribing suitable medication. I must admit I get very annoyed when I hear someone tell me they have had the classic symptoms for years and had only just been diagnosed, and it’s obvious that they could use medication to ease their troubles. 

My  progress was quite typical, and when one day I found myself freezing at the photocopier, unable to move at all, this single event, as well as numerous noddings-off during meetings, l decided to apply for early retirement which was readily granted.

I have had 19 years of this ghastly PD, but they have also been wonderful years.  I was privileged to be offered the Deep Brain Stimulation operation at Sheffield Hospital which turned out to be a great benefit:  The Dystonia in my neck had been  troubling me for many months but it quit my body overnight. And the surgeon cut my medication doses by about half without any effect on my performance.

I keep wondering about how my life would have turned out if I hadn't decided to return from South Africa when I did; and hadn’t joined Fletcher Smith in time to build up a half - decent  pension fund. And then experience a world class quality of care in Derby from a dedicated troop of medical practitioners, as well as enjoying all this free of charge thanks to the NHS. I couldn’t have been more fortunate!

Yes! I have surely been blessed with a great company of men and women – fellow-travellers on a very difficult journey – but one which is filled with good natured folk determined to make a positive difference in the lives of their companions.

JHD;  August 2014