Sylvie Nickels, writer
Writing the last chapter
When George, my husband and best mate of nearly four decades, died suddenly in February 2013, the world became a very alien place. Because he more or less dropped dead, everything had to be done in a hurry. There became an urgent need to down-size, my depression returned, there were some family problems and there really seemed no point in being here. But here I was. Two of my stepsons were helpful in sorting their fathers belongings and taking over quite a lot of them to facilitate the down-sizing. My niece and nephew hotfooted from Australia and help with the actual move. I kept telling myself that, after all, I'd spent nearly half my life alone but after such a long period of great companionship it didn't feel very convincing.
It took a long time to adjust and the details are boring. Suffice it to say that I moved initially into a three-room flat in Deddington and three years later into a smaller one in Banbury. When you have no family, it is sensible to live somewhere where there are good amenities, and Foxhall Court was central, had a full-time manager and useful optional extras like an excellent dining room. My co-residents at Foxhall Court were congenial and there were good communal facilities and activities. Being in a sizeable small town, there was also the opportunity to join that excellent organisation U3A (University of the Third Age) run by its members for its members with groups specialising in anything from language courses and local history to local walks, philosophy and painting.
Being part of the philosophy group has been particularly rewarding, allied with my long-term interest in yoga. It is amusing to see how we are forever re-inventing the wheel: for example currently in a 21st century preoccupation with 'mindfulness', surely a development of meditation practised many millennia ago!
It seems appropriate to round off this summary of a long life with some pictures of my best mate whose life was even longer. After being shot down in 1942, George awoke to findhimself in a hospital run by Catholic nuns. He had a fractured skull and stayed some weeks until it was sufficiently healed for him to be sent to a Prisoner of War camp where he was held for three years until the Long March at the end of the war when prisoners were walked back and forth across a dwindling Germany, and finally released by British troops. He married soon after and had three sons. We met through our common interest in Finland around 1960, and married fifteen years later when the boys were all adult.
We had thirty-seven wonderful years together and the vacuum left by his death was huge. So, eventually, it made great sense to help fill it by writing about our time together. In the end this became my memoir 'So, what next?' and in the process of writing it, I realised that in fact I had lived through quite a lot of modern history, so I added the sub-title ' a look, with hindsight, at the modern world'.
The memoir was published as an Ebook in the summer of 2017 and as a paperback early in 2018.
I never knew George without a beard, though it has to be said he looks quite dishy without one. This was taken early in World War Two, when he went straight from school into pilot training. He survived 42 ops in Bomber Command, something of a miracle and would have been grounded for a while if it had not been for the huge raids planned by Bomber Harris which resulted in George being part of a scratch crew in one of the early raids. Designated as rear gunner, this probably saved his life as he was the only survivor when shot down.
George and his three sons: left to right - Adrian, Nick, (George), Julian
left: George was on one of several expeditions that mapped the Antarctic island of South Georgia: hence one of its glaciers bears his name.
left: in 1968 George was returning by car from Romania and was camping near Prague airport when Russia's allies invaded Czechoslovakia to 'liberate' it from a democratic government. He spent a couple of days there handing out freedom leaflets before leaving for home carrying messages requesting help from the outside world. Alas, not much came.
Right: George's fifth great grandchild and the latest in the Spenceley clan, 4-month-old Hazel daughter to Paul and Kim on her first visit to the U.K. in 2018
George with his guide in the Annapurna Sanctuary on his last trek in the Himalaya in the 2000s- where else would you go in your eighties!
This somehow seems a fitting 'last word' from George who, at 90, still had a lovely sense of humour