Stuart Crouch

26,280 days and counting

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26,280 days and still counting, I definitely fall into the oldie category.

As I sit at my keyboard and write these words, I am aware that in creating a website about myself, I might be judged by others to be egocentric.

Quite possibly I would come to the same conclusion if one of my family or friends had created a website about themselves. However I would most definitely look at their website as it would give me a much greater understanding of who they were in their early years and who they are now.

Mortality. Being aware of one's own mortality is part of being an oldie. I know that very few of us will reach 36,000 days and I am conscious that this website will be something for family and friends to treasure in the future.

So what I am going to do, is outline the seven different decades I lived through with pictures and text. The last page will have pictures and text of my eighth decade so far.

It is a work in progress, and as well as adding pictures and text as the years pass, I will occasionally go back, add more information, change the pictures and correct the grammar.

1944 to 1954

I had a very happy childhood. I was born in Hereford where my father was training people to be like him, a rear gunner / radio operator in the RAF. When he was demobbed we moved as a family to a council house in Barnet. My older sister Carole had a bedroom, I had a bedroom and Mum and Dad had the main bedroom. We had a big garden where Dad grew vegetables and Mum looked after the chickens. Dad was working as a printer and then a printing supplies salesman, Mum became the classic English cook and perfect housewife. My sister and I went to the Underhill infant school and then Underhill junior school. I did not like going to school, but in the summer we went on holiday to Essex and Cornwall and I thought it was wonderful.

1954 to 1964

The time from ten years old to to twenty years old is for all of us a time of great change. I began as a child playing in the garden and ended as an adult with a job and a motorbike. I did not enjoy the academic side of being at school I remember very boring classes, with stuffy old teachers who were totally uninspiring. On the plus side I really enjoyed art classes, woodwork classes and metalwork classes, which has been very useful in later life. At 15 I began a 6-year apprenticeship as a lithographic printer in a London factory. From eighteen to twenty one I worked in the same factory as the printer for Felix Topolski. Felix gave a new meaning to word "grumpy". We used one of the last lithographic stone presses in London, I mixed the ink, cleaned stones, carried the paper up and down the stairs and I loved it.

At the same time I became a petrol head, rebuilding motorbikes and old cars in a garage of my parent's new house in Beckenham. Very sadly Dad had a heart attack and died in 1964.

1964 to 1974

I look back on this 10 years and recognise that more things changed in my life than I could have ever imagined. I changed from motorbikes to cars but that was just a petrol head phase. In 1968 I worked in construction in Canada and as a scuba diver in Florida. But that was not the big change. The big change was meeting Sara. We met on a rainy night in London, we disagreed, she flounced, I was macho and walked off. Despite our very best efforts, we met again, we kissed - and next year will be our 49th wedding anniversary.

I worked as a printing ink salesman. I changed to selling theatre lighting and contemporary art, hence the Hockney picture, and I then had a couple of years selling financial services. Sara went to university for 3 years and became a teacher. We bought our first house in 1971, it was a very very tired old building in Fulham. We built cupboards by hand, we learnt how to rewire lights, fix plumbing and the house was always full of friends. At night we hosted spectacular parties.

1974 to 1984

In a decade things change and some transform your life. I am writing on the basis of what really changed for Sara and I. The biggest and best change was the arrival of our son Marc in 1980. Marc changed many things in our life and finally, we were adults.

In 1979 we moved to a larger house in Fulham. It was not quite as dilapidated as the first house but a much bigger ladder had to be bought. Later we were fortunately able to employ proper builders and we upgraded the lovely Victorian house we still live in. The very glamorous “Clerk of Works” had them at her beck and call.

Next was starting our own business. It was 1978 and with a pencil, a pen, a pad of paper, a free desk in a hotel in Earls Court, a phone and a telex we started a business as an incoming tour operator. We called it London Handling. Sara was absolutely brilliant. With her French education we quickly found clients in France. We went everywhere by car, firstly in our old Ford Capri and when that broke we replaced it with a Turbo Saab, a real Autoroute bruiser. I drove, Sara charmed them and when that did not work we introduced them to Marc. Marc came with us from Calais to Marseille and by the time he was five he had been to more business meetings than most people go to in their life. In 1980 we opened an office in South Kensington. It was very scruffy, so we applied our skills with paint and brushes to create a wonderfully quirky office over top of two old mews houses.

Marc started at the French Lyce which was just 100 meters away. Sara multi tasked as super business woman and mother. I travelled all over Europe and the USA contacting new clients and Sara managed our ever growing team of employees. I had not forgotten the smell of Petrol and I became a kart racer and we had our first Porsche. It was red and very flashy, I loved it.

1984 to 1994

In the office, we were busier than ever with clients from Europe and the USA. The technology was changing, our 1st computer was a Compaq Portable. It was so limited we could only use it to prepare a daily horoscope for the office. We changed from telex to fax and I had a very early mobile phone. Business travel became a way of life and to this day I do not like airports. Business is never easy and in September 1992 the UK crashed out of the ERM. Our business and personal costs went through the roof and several clients went bust. We had to make a very tough decision, we reduced the number of people we employed.

Family Crouch made the most of the the available travel trade deals. It was the plus side of working 12 hours a day. Our photo albums show us Skiing in Switzerland and Marc and I windsurfing and water skiing in sunny places. We also managed to fit in our very busy social life especially if music and dancing was involved. Sara was very busy at work and at home. It triggered a very balanced and quiet (ahem) discussion. I enthusiastically agreed to a new role as head cook. Marc had his first computers in the late 80’s and he was reading geek only books on how to code. Perl was one that comes to mind.

In 1992 my nephew Stephen was 28. Much to the amazement of my sister Carole and her husband Jeff, Stephen had joined the police force. Sadly, and that single word totally understates what happened, Stephen was killed in a road accident when he was driving home at the end of his late shift

To add a bit of complication to my life I became the Chairman of our trade association. The paperwork and the committee meetings were tedious but on the plus side I met the Queen, had lunch with Prince Charles and met John Major when he was Prime Minister.

But life is about petrol and noise. The red Porsche was replaced with a very sensible Ford Sierra. It was not what most people would call sensible, it was an RS500 Cosworth Sierra, a racing car for limited road use. It is probably best left to Sara and Marc if you really want to know how impractical it was as a road car. Personally, I thought it was fantastic.

1994 -2004

In the late 90’s we knew that technology was damaging our group travel clients overseas, they were losing market share to low cost airlines and on line travel agents. In 2000 we sold the business to a competitor. It was a very difficult decision for Sara and I, but it was the correct decision.

We kept Sportscar Tours and working from home we organised tours of the UK in Morgan cars. I was the the group leader for Sportscar Tours incentive groups. Sara also worked as a business consultant. At long last we had found time to devote to our slightly neglected but much loved garden. My kitchen skills improved and the new paint brushes were put to use.

Marc flew the nest and went to Leeds University to read pure English. It was strangely quiet at home and we missed the doorbell ringing at 2 am. Although in fairness he kept up the habit when he came back home for the holidays. Following university Marc successfully held down jobs that needed a shirt and tie. I was surprised, but I knew it was just a phase and ultimately his creativity would take him in a different direction. This happened, but I did not get my ties back.

By this time Sara had the increasing pressure of an elderly and frail mother. We spent many hours traveling back and forth to the Cotswolds. It was a good that we spent a lot of time with Sara’s mother and a sad to have to witness the decline that goes with age.

Petrol kept flowing and we travelled many miles in a very elegant Porsche 928. Dark glasses, a glamorous blond and a snooty look were all part of the image. On the track I was getting slower, it comes with age, but I blagged a wild card entry for 6 hour kart race in Monaco. It was a team effort, or to put it another way, it was a team of 4 old blokes from GB racing high speed karts on the Monaco motor race circuit. We had TV coverage and spectators. We were the oldest team by generations. We finished 21st out the 40 teams selected from all over Europe. It was time to hang up my crash helmet and race suit.

2004 to 2014

Most accidents happen in the home and in 2004 Sara added to the statistics. The accident was frightening, the 6 hour operation on her spine at the London Clinic was alarming and the result was life changing. It could have been far far worse, there was the talk of ongoing physiotherapy and wheelchairs.

It was not the time to start a new business. I became an employee of a company with hundreds of people on the payroll. Many years in business was telling me how fragile they looked. They had high fixed costs in an overheated business sector. At some point this sector would adjust and when the banking crash happened in 07/08 it all came to an end.

Elderly parents need a lot of support and it was my mother that was starting to show her age. My sister Carole and I made it as easy as possible for her and we took turns at being available. She died aged 93. It had been a full life, including the loss of her first husband at just 43, travel all over the world and many happy hours playing bridge.

As expected, Marc had by this time moved into the technology sector and although not living with us, we spent a lot of time with him. And to our great delight Roxy came into our life and became Mrs Roxy Crouch. I could write pages about Roxy but in brief she effervesant, clever and has a huge amount of time for friends. Roxy is family.

Sara and I started playing bridge. Cookery classes improved the catering at home, the garden looked great, DIY and paint brushes were always on the agenda and we were regulars at the cinema. We went to South Africa, France, Barbados, Spain, The Bahamas and Portugal. We ended up looking like those old people in pension adverts, white trousers and a tan

Medical scans are part of getting older. This time the result was not so good and Sara was back at the London Clinic for even more surgery. Life was put on hold for a while. After surgery we then shared a lot of time waiting for radiotherapy at the Royal Marsden. Thankfully, Sara has been given the all clear.

Hooligan cars have always been attractive and I was driving a Mini Cooper S. Living in London and just 2 miles distance from Big Ben it was ideal for scampering through the traffic. The blonde chided me endlessly, but I reminded her that the least used instrument in her BMW is the speedometer.

2014 and onwards.

The 8th decade started with my 70th birthday. I thought it might pass with a few drinks with family and friends. But the numbers increased and eventually I celebrated the day with a party. It was wonderful to have family and so many friends all together. As expected Marc gave them a different version of my life.

The house, DIY and painting. I am in my 8th decade and I have agreed to a request from Sara that I stop going up the ladders to paint the outside top floor windows. My cookery skills are slowly improving. My air dried roast potatoes, my rhubarb crumble and my Dijon Mustard salad dressing are always being requested. Sara and I play a lot of bridge, we must be getting better, but it is hard to know. The garden needs regular maintenance and every day come rain or shine the dog needs walking.

We keep traveling and so far in decade eight we have been to South Africa, France, Germany, Spain, The Bahamas and Portugal. Italy is already booked, Oman is being discussed and Barbados is a possibility.

I have been married for nearly 49 years to the same glamourous, demanding, clever and entertaining woman that I met over 50 years ago. We have a delightful son who is demanding, clever and entertaining (I wonder where he got that from) and we now have our delightful daughter in law Roxy. I have a really great relationship with my sister and we are always on the phone. I have no idea what we talk about but maybe that is the point of the conversation.

I still drive my Cooper S, the blonde passenger tells me I am still a hooligan. But nowadays it is most often seen in the carparks at Sainsbury’s and B&Q. Sara has a very special silver BMW. Small in size, but with a big fat turbo engine and darkened windows. This car is most often to be seen in Kings Road and Sloane Square.

This 8th decade is proving the most difficult to write. I will add more words as time passes, but this week, my objectives are to mend a kitchen drawer that is not closing properly and start painting the ground floor windows. After that I will come back to this keyboard and add pictures of family, friends, holidays, dogs and of course cars.