The need for decent people 

As we grow old, the beauty steals inwards”. Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth”. HL Mencken

For Proust, it was the lime blossom tea and the madeline, that set off a stream of consciousness, reaching direct to the past and remembrance of a long forgotten time.  My Proustian moment came recently on a crowded National Express coach that had just left Victoria Coach station at 3am, on the way to Stansted airport & Moldova, when I suddenly saw the familiarity of streets in the St John’s Wood area of London that I hadn’t seen since I was 12. 

During the year long Miners’ Strike in the UK of 1984-85, this significant moment of the Thatcher era had a direct and profound impact on me as a young boy because my father was a striking coal miner fighting for his job and his community. The contrast between a working class council housing estate for coal miners and families in the old East Shropshire mining town of Madeley, and the leafy, urbane London suburb of St John’s Wood couldn’t have been more stark.  Especially with my time there in the summer of 1984 and again in the cold February of 1985, towards the end of that bitter strike finale and defeat of the Miners.

One of the most significant moments of my childhood, certainly known and understood to me now as a man but even understood back then as a child, was the time spent with a very decent couple, John and Kate, in their garden flat in St John’s Wood for a break and vacation away from the strike, to see and experience London and to also give my parents a rest.  My two younger brothers also took part in this wonderful act of solidarity & kindness as families in London offered a summer holiday to striking miners’ children in that summer of 1984. (see my contribution for a Guardian piece on the 30th anniversary of the strike): 


Looking out through the coach windows and seeing streets and places from these childhood moments reminded me of the person I have become, the journey I have been on, in more than one sense, and more importantly, the impact of decent people in my life. People who are there because they are in your pathway. Kate and John were certainly two such people and I know my trajectory, my aspirations and future changed because of this experience. I certainly wouldn’t have been on a coach to Moldova, back to my schools and life in Chisinau, without this influence as a child.

The same goes for those teachers who have come into our lives and one of the most troubling aspects of the current recruitment crisis in schools in the UK and across the World, is that those positive influences are not going to be there as they were for people like me when I desperately needed good guidance and role models as an 11 year old boy. 

I am very fortunate that I have a teacher and mentor who has been a profound influence on my life for a number of decades and that is Les Jones. Les is now approaching 90 and enjoying a well deserved retirement in the hills of Wales. This autumn, my family, who have become his family, spent time together, appreciating the simple things of life, and the shared moments as we need to do in a very turbulent, harsh and unpredictable decade the 2020s is showing itself to be.  

Les still gives much needed advice and calm in a storm but on this recent visit I loved that he was able to combine my two Worlds of Wales and Moldova in his splendid shirt and hat given to him as a gift by my dear friend and colleague, Tatiana and her very decent family. We sat in the Welsh sunshine today, with a glass of Reverend James and talked and enjoyed life, deep love, friendship and the moment. 

I should also add how wonderful Tatiana and her wider family have been so decent to me over the last 3-4 years in Moldova with their friendship, support and hospitality. The best of Moldova. Like so many Moldovans, a place and people who are very much part of me because of their decency and my wish is always that Moldova is allowed to grow and prosper in these times and in peace. The October wine festivals, autumn festivals and events like Chisinau city day, are alongside the corrupt exiled politicians paying their demonstrators 20 Euros a day to come to the capital and just destablise and delay a tide of history looking to Europe, modernisation and responsible servant civic duty. They are very much on the wrong side of this historical tide in the 2020s. 

The decency of the Moldovan people is plain to see in 2022, and the small country with the big heart, this year faced not only the attempt to become forcibly part of the great USSR comeback tour, but welcomed so many scared and frightened Ukrainian people into their country, schools and homes, in a defining act of solidarity that will be a positive shaping force for the new eastern Europe. 

I wrote a recent article for the TES on the not so exciting but very vital topic of school safety and how the events of the war in 2022 have changed the approach to crisis management planning in our schools:


The latest act of state terror from the Kremlin is to use Iranian drones, much as the Nazis did with the V1 and 2 rockets on London in their desperation at a futile and inevitable lost war, as Kyiv is now suffering indiscriminate and mindless terror. The decency of Ukrainian people is humbling as much as their courage right now. This year, I keep coming back to the lines of Anna Akhmatova in her “Poem without a hero”:

“...she loves, she loves droplets of blood, this Russian earth”.

Part of the Moldovan decency I admire so much is the resilience to just get on with the day to day of life. I see this in Heritage daily and this October, the brilliant autumn sunshine each morning on Dacia Boulevard or in the countryside in and around Orhei, has been such a balm for the soul. In school, we have celebrated the second Cambridge IGCSE graduations this autumn, this time with wonderfully proud parents looking on in our school quad for the ceremony. Physical sports competitions have returned, the unique Founders Lectures series, now on our 4th series and we had the honour of HE. Kent Logsdon, US Ambassador to Moldova speak to our students and those across Moldova, from our Eminescu Library at the end of September. Ambassador Logsdon is a shining example of a decent man working hard for peace, development and the future prosperity of Moldova.  As all the international community are doing here for a hopeful future. The autumn celebrations, approaching the much needed break, are another part of normal school life and much needed. 

Aristotle’s ancient words that we are political animals still rings true for me.  How could it not be having been brought up in such a political household?  There is a huge part of me wants to live as long as Les just to see how the 2020s, 2022 to be precise, will be taught and what the outcomes will be.  The historic “London bridge is down” codeword was finally announced on the 8th September, with the death of Elizabeth II at the grand age of 96 and as the longest reigning British monarch at 70 years which seems very unlikely to be beaten any time soon. 

What came out in all the comments, reports and eulogies was Queen Elizabeth’s decency summed up in her sense of duty, the respect she had and selflessness as she served her country.  We lowered our school flags at Heritage and signed the book of condolences at the UK Embassy in Moldova and it does feel like we have moved on from one age.  The Queen’s death rightly opened up a debate about Britain’s colonial past, the role of monarchy and empire and it certainly isn’t “woke” to have this debate as a country at such a moment. 

I wish I could say that Britain has entered the new Carolean age of Charles III with confidence but the worsening cost of living crisis, the decimation of public services like health and education, the fear of the coming winter and the energy crisis doesn’t help ease the fears for anyone.  The “decency” of the UK government under the former PM, (cannot believe I am writing this after a brief, historic tenure of only 44 days) Liz Truss, can be summed up by her first Home Secretary, a daughter of immigrants, describing her dream as returning people seeking asylum and refuge back on a plane.  How I am so proud of Moldova in these moments in contrast for their decency and humanity towards people in need. 

My journey this month also took me back to Shropshire to see my father. If there is a God, he/she/it has a strange sense of humour or likes to test us in a variety of ways. This time last year, me and my wider family discovered my mother had tumours in her lungs and the prognosis was a possible 2-3 years. Come December, I just about managed to fly back to the UK to be with my family, my father and mother as she died peacefully days before Christmas. It seems we are now living with a sense of deja vu as my father has been diagnosed similarly adding to his Parkinsons and pneumoconiosis after a career working underground cutting and inhaling rock dust into his lungs for nearly 4 decades.

My dad is one of life’s decent people. Not only as a father, grandfather, great-grandfather and a husband to my late mum, but to his colleagues, the people he helped through his trade union and how he served his community. My dad has led a long and good life.  He adores football and his love of Manchester United, the Busby Babes is central to him still. I think those young lads being killed at Munich in 1958 was one of the seminal moments of his youth.

He was a brilliant footballer but there was no money in football and much as he achieved amateur success with his local side, Shifnal FC, at 15 he went underground to work in a coal mine. I looked at the 15 year old boys I coach football to each lunchtime here at Heritage and tried to imagine this fate for them as my father faced. 

My father’s belief in his community was demonstrated in the bitter and divisive Miners’ Strike and after their defeat as a union and industry, the UK was never the same again. My father retired early and suffered from a breakdown in his mental health due to the loss of his status and purpose. He worked hard to get through this and got good mental health support and I am as proud of him for this as I am for his trade union leadership. 

He took up painting, as many retired miners do, especially the need for light and colour, and found peace here, in his garden and his growing family. My wife Gen and I took him and my mum to the US and all over Europe. To see him in a French cafe or at the top of the Empire State Building meant everything to me as a son to a father who is a decent, kind, gentle and caring man.  Who taught his children decency. And this will be the greatest legacy of my dad. He is one of the last of the Shropshire coal miners, a link to this historic Marcher county going back to coal mining in Madeley first recorded in the Medieval era.

I read the line recently about the need for more people with strong and gentle hearts in a cruel World. I thought immediately about my dad, about Les, about my wife’s grandfather, Cliff, our dear neighbours and friends like Mildred and George. I looked at the boys playing football at Heritage. No other thoughts in their head apart from scoring a goal, getting one back and when would the bell go to signal afternoon lessons. The 12 year old Rob, still with me, longed to be there with them, just for the moment, not having to worry about the World we seem to live in now. We do need a kinder, peaceful, hopeful World, east and west, north and south, but we need the decent people, like my dad, to make it so. 

Postscript: James Edgar Ford, born 19th September 1940, died on 9th November, 2022. RIP Dad. The link to the article on his life in The Shropshire Star is here: https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/2022/11/15/one-of-the-last-of-the-shropshire-coalminers-dies-aged-82/

Listen to Rob talking about writing in an interview with America House Chisinau: https://www.facebook.com/AHChisinau/videos/write-here-write-now/545369984256537/

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