After eight years in the job, I stood down in December as Chair of the Herne Hill Society. Hardly world-shattering news, I realise. It seemed a good time to step aside and let someone else have a go – if I could find someone to take it on (which I did, eventually). Membership is increasing, book sales are on the up, and Herne Hill magazine is thriving.

One of the best things I have ever done was to plan and carry out the Remembering Herne Hill 1914-18 project, to budget and on time. I started off knowing little about the war but I threw myself into researching the hundreds of local casualties. I was determined to make it a success. When I am interested in something I will put in the hours. It doesn’t matter whether I am being paid or volunteering my time. It worked out better than I could have hoped, and I was able to write a report to our Lottery funders that impressed even me!

I was elated by the turnout for our Armistice Centenary commemoration in 2018, and at the installation of the new memorial a year later. What a contrast with November 2020…

At the Station Memorial with Helen Hayes MP – a small turnout for 2020’s Remembrance Day

But then I realised that I had had enough

I felt like I’d climbed a mountain and could never climb as high again. I started to tie up the many loose ends so I could move on. So six years after retiring from the British Library, I’ve retired from my retirement job. But what now?


I now understand that no matter how hard you work, how clever you may think you are, or whatever you might have achieved, there may be very little to show for it a few years later. As I said on the subject of retiring from the British Library, that is just the way it is. It shouldn’t keep you awake at night, as long as you did your best. When I left the Library in March 2015 I made a list of things I wanted to do, and I have done all of them (it was a short and not very challenging list) apart from, predictably, taking more exercise.

  • I spent more time with friends and family
  • I wrote a little book, as well as this blog
  • I explored parts of London I hardly knew
  • I spent more time at our French house
  • I played more music, and even released a CD
  • I took long-haul trips to the Maldives, India, Guatemala and Cambodia – and would have visited Indonesia last year, if Covid-19 had not put the mockers on it.

But in the Coronovirus era it’s been difficult to plan ahead – or even to want to do so. Instead of thinking about some wonderful place to go or something exciting to do, I am saying to myself, “Well, we least we’ve seen Cape Town, Venice, Baalbek… we’ve been to Wimbledon, the Olympic Stadium, Wembley (both of them) … the Royal Opera House, the Shard, Westminster Abbey…” In other words, I had begun to look backwards rather than forwards.

But, as of last week, there is hope

I was invited, unexpectedly, to make an appointment for a vaccination. It was a sunny day; it was dry; it was warm (for January). Two hours later I was walking the three miles to Montgomery Hall at Kennington Oval. By 3pm I’d had my jab and was on my way home. It was only then that it struck me that I’d not been asked to show any form of identification! But anyway, it was cheering to see how well organised the temporary medical centre was and how many people were being vaccinated. At the time of writing nearly 12 million people in the UK have had at least one dose of the vaccine (the current figure for France, scandalously, being under two million).

I walked back in the unseasonable sunshine, stripped down to my T-shirt, feeling much happier with life. For the first time in an age I dare to hope that things really would get better, and in the foreseeable future.

Roll on Springtime

My pecker is most definitely up, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, I will settle for Scotland beating England at Twickenham and for Tranmere extending their streak of five consecutive wins. Oh, would you believe it!

Per ardua ad AstraZeneca

… would make a great headline, wouldn’t it? Except that I was Pfizered – and me an Oxford man too!

4 thoughts on “Per ardua ad…

  1. You can feel very proud of yourself and your achievements as Chair of the Herne Hill Society; the war memorial is testament to that and is going nowhere!


  2. Hi Colin

    I always enjoy reading your posts. Keep them coming! It’s like receiving a letter from a friend. And no-one writes letters these days, so it’s really welcome. I assume someone somewhere is preserving what we now use in place of letters put into envelopes and dropped into pillar boxes – or at least preserving some of it. If not, what on earth are the biographers, historians et al going to have to work on in centuries to come?

    I wanted to let you know that I have been listening to your CD. Not all in one go, but now and then, so have heard some of the songs several times. I listen where I sit in my very messy “study”, so my attention varies a bit, because I will usually be working on something. I’m not good at listening to music and writing something at the same time. But I can do it when drawing (though do almost none of that these days). I’m sure my brother would tell me different parts of the brain are involved! However, I have paused and stopped to listen properly to your album. For me music always comes first and words second, but I have found with your album it’s really worth listening to both. You do have a very gifted composer and writer. My knowledge of music outside classical mainstream is pathetic (putting aside my adolescent years), so I don’t know how to compare you with others (that fatal urge of liberal education – find the historic/cultural context etc). But put all that aside. I liked the sound very much and the songs I was particularly drawn to were in the middle ‘Cowboys and Astronauts’ and ‘Planet of our Dreams’.

    Per ardua ad astra – I seemed to recall this was the motto of my Oxford prep school. But was it? No, I’v e just looked, it was ‘arduus ad solem’ (did they warn us about Icarus? – I can’t remember them doing so) But you are right about increasingly thinking back, except that I was probably already doing that most of my life!



  3. I enjoyed this account Colin, as I always do. I’m glad you have been Pfizered. And congratulations on handing over as Chair after all those years, I know how you feel! You did a really excellent job and leave the Society in very good shape for the future.
    Zoom coffee sometime?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.