All is very peaceful at Waggoners Wells today. I first found out about this place in 1978, when a girl I got to know called Sarah took me walking there. After 1980, I often went there with my Mum and Dad - on a Sunday, say. And once I'd met W---, we'd visit the spot with step-daughter A---, who was then a tree-climbing youngster. Here's A--- in 1982, aged eleven, draped exhausted over a bough next to one of the hammer ponds at the Wells:
And later that same day, in the back of Dad's car, looking into my lens:
A--- had an affinity for water. She was an excellent swimmer, and I don't know how many hours I spent taking her to the swimming baths in Wimbledon so that she could practice her thirty lengths, or whatever the current goal was. She loved getting wet at every opportunity - any bit of water would do. Here she is in 1983, sitting in a stream at a ford on Frensham Common, just a few miles away from Waggoners Wells:
And taking the plunge in a pond at Aldermaston in Berkshire, on a hot day out only two weeks later:
Happy days! They felt like a long carefree summer that could never end. But of course they did. Nothing is forever. Children grow up, and take their lives off in directions you can't follow. And adults get sadder, dragged down by back luck, bad choices, and their own weaknesses. Not many survive with hope in their hearts, a cheerful smile on their face, and ambitions still within reach.
Waggoners Wells seemed unchanged when I saw it again two days ago:
And then something else, that just for a second gave me a shock.
Things catch my photographer's eye all the time, and sometimes a picture will emerge as you walk along. Well, I was walking past a nearby tree stump, rotted and hollow, but like a million others. And then it took on a human-like shape, like a woodland demon rearing up out of the ground, and ready to roar at me:
It reminded me of another 'demon' up at Riseholm in Lincolnshire, in the grounds of the Agricultural College there. Riseholm - set in the countryside just north of Lincoln city - was once a country estate for the Bishop of Lincoln, and there is a fine house next to a lake - as seen in this old map, and this shot of mine from 2003:
I visited Riseholm several times in the late 1990s, and on into 2000. Although it did not involve promotion to the next grade up, nor any pay increase, I accepted the chance to become Deputy Officer In Charge of Sutton District in south London - in effect the District Inspector when the DI himself was absent or on holiday. Which meant covering for him (as 'the boss') for maybe two months of the year. It was a good deal. I got enhanced status with the Inland Revenue - the pinnacle of my career so to speak. I filled the role pretty well, too. At least, ably helped by Christine, the DI's secretary, and a host of other people, I fielded a lot of stuff that cropped up, signed for a few things, and made no dreadful blunders. No more was wanted.
And I had the chance to go on some essential senior management training at the Revenue's bespoke modern training centre at Riseholm. Named Lawress Hall, and opened only in 1993, it was a big, state-of-the-art training centre, essentially a very decent hotel with suites of training rooms, designed to give the people sent there a concentrated but enjoyable experience without outside distractions.
I went there again, sneakily and unofficially, with M--- in 2003, but not since. It's still in use in 2015, which is surprising - even a dozen years ago, in-house training venues were going out of fashion and being sold off, becoming regular hotels or apartments. But this one was always well-situated for Revenue people from all over the country to travel to. Still, I wonder if the sums still add up. The Revenue (now HMRC) may have saved zillions on older training facilities - which could now be discarded - and just as much on the ballooning cost of trainees' hotel accommodation. But that was offset by their often humongous travel costs.
Here are some 1996 shots of a model of Lawress Hall, the actual building from outside, and shots inside a training room, from a team-building week I attended. I was part of the newly-formed NDCIO - the fancifully-named North Downs Corporate Investigation Office. I had been head-hunted and persuaded to join. It was a huge mistake.
I had an unhappy time with the NDCIO. I put my foot in it from the start by not wanting to trek into London from Sussex at some shatteringly early hour, simply to travel up to Lincolnshire in the 'team car'. The chap in charge of the NDCIO was obsessed by his own brand of 'teamwork', and I was not minded to kow-tow and play his game. If you understand the NDCIO as a promotion-machine, in which you had to suck up to whoever mattered, say nothing about rather unconventional and doctrinaire (and, to me, inefficient) ways of working, and finally reap your reward, then you'll appreciate what I was up against. I kicked back at it all.
Within months, the man in charge and myself had fallen out big time. But I'd struck an agreement to detach myself. By then I was almost ill with high blood pressure. I was also the most unpopular person in Croydon. My well-known departure was seen throughout South London as a failure and setback for the NDCIO - a high-profile, flagship initiative, with myself cast in the role of sabateuse. Even though the people who had steered clear of joining would be thinking 'there but for the Grace of God I could have gone...' So I knew I had secret sympathy. But officially I was branded a maverick and a wrecker. I made the best of it.
And yet I'd stood my ground. I'd not surrendered.
And within four years I was, as I say, installed as Deputy OIC at Sutton - surely a strong sign of favour, of reinstatement, and of confidence in my fort-holding abilities. But the inevitable end-of-year 'failure to meet my performance agreement' cost me a jolly good pay increase for 1996/97 - and eventually lowered my pension by a few hundred pounds a year. Not good.
Well, it's just history now. Or is it a lurking demon, ready to rise again?
Back to that real demon at Riseholm. In the summer of 1996, students at the Agricultural College (also at Riseholm) constructed a frightening-looking 'demon' out of a tree stump in a small wood near the lake. It was made 'realistic' by having a grinning face, with mad eyes, pointed ears, and green leaves for hair; arms; and a thumping big hammer in its hand, raised to strike:
I saw it at its best. Within months, the ravages of wind and rain had tamed it, and two years later it was just a misshapen tree stump. A pity, for it was quite a creation. And in an odd sense, my only real friend during that uneasy team-building week. I'm glad I took a picture.