My interest in international relations and relationships probably stems from my fascination with the German language, which began at the age of 14 when we had a chance to take up a second foreign language at the grammar school. A year later I found myself involved in an individual exchange visit with a boy in Solingen. At that time such visits were rare and I must admit to having found the experience something of a cultural shock for someone like me, brought up in the suburbs of a provincial city, Manchester. But it certainly established one important idea in my mind: that language is the key to personal, cultural and social contacts across frontiers.
After school I was fortunate enough to attend a university where “combined courses” were popular and well planned. I studied economics alongside German. This reflected my interest in political and social matters and enabled me to study the concept of “social market economy” of the Federal Republic with real interest. During my two terms of study at Cologne University, I found it a delightful experience to “soak up” the atmosphere of another country and culture. What a privilege!
At the end of my first year at university (in Reading, near London) I had already had the opportunity of attending a German university, if only on a summer course. This had been provided by the DAAD and took place in Stuttgart. What a wonderful experience it was, being given the opportunity to improve one’s competence in German during morning tuition and then having afternoon and evening events and visits to enrich one’s experience of the German way of life. Above all, there was the fun of meeting young people from all over the world whose only common language was German.
After university, in 1969, I became a civil servant and entered the service of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – at a very junior rank! This reflected my interest in international affairs and keenness to use my knowledge of German (and Germany). But after two years I decided that this career was not for me: I needed something where my contribution was more direct and less desk-bound. So I decided to become a teacher! That was in the early 1970
I’ve sometimes had my doubts about whether this was the best career move I could have made, but, on balance I have found it a rewarding one, in particular because of the exchange links with which I have been involved.
At my first school, I helped establish a link with a school in Gütersloh. In the late 1970’s I moved to a school in Gloucester, Sir Thomas Rich’s which had just established a link with a school in Göttingen. I was actively involved with this exchange for nearly 25 years and made many friendships with staff at the school there. I came to appreciate highly the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, which seems to characterise grammar school life in Germany. (But I cannot judge how things are in other types of school!)
My contact with Aachen stems from a visit with sixth-formers on a sixth-form initiative with the Pius grammar school, which I made towards the end of my full time teaching career. It was a very pleasant surprise to have the opportunity, some years later, of re-establishing contacts through the visit of a big band, of which I am a member, to the Pius grammar school. Which goes to show how unexpected the spin-offs can be from such inter-school links.
A few more personal details, I am married to Mary whom I met at Reading University. We have three grown up sons, two of whom work in public/political/media affairs and the other son is a lorry driver, currently considering moving to Germany for reasons of (hoped for) improved quality of life!
Our interests: we like walking in the lovely Gloucestershire countrywide, occasional visits to the theatre. We spend increasing amounts of time (willingly) with our granddaughter. I have always been interested in politics and am a member of the Labour party. I think it has moved far too far to the right. I favour greater equality and believe we in the UK are infected to a serious degree by consumerism and don’t give enough time and resources to developing community, social and cultural frameworks; not to mention supporting family life! I play in two bands and get a lot of pleasure out of this - more from playing than I would do out of being in the audience, I have to admit.
On the issue of helping communities in other countries, my wife and I give a modest amount each month to Water Aid and also to Practical Action (based on the “Small is Beautiful” principle of appropriate technology) as well as to Christian Aid for which we help collect money once a year.
I am a keen environmentalist and gain much inspiration from observing the scene in Germany. I am very critical of my own government’s performance in this field. I absolutely oppose our possession of nuclear weapons and was proud to be the organiser of a public debate about this issue last year, which showed that the majority (of those attending) were also opposed to our retaining nuclear weapons.
Recently I acquired an allotment. “Back to Nature” is very therapeutic and will help reduce our shopping bills.
The position of developing countries gives rise to much concern. Good governance in those countries must be a key to improvement over time; but more pressing is the role of the USA and the EU in agreeing fairer trading terms. I also believe that it may be necessary to strengthen considerably our commitment to UN peace-keeping resources.