Denise here... welcome to my world.
I was born into a military way of life, as Dad was in the army until I was 16. No brothers or sisters, but one very special cousin, Suzanne, who was also an only child. We spent a lot of time together as kids - Suzanne would come to us in the summer for several weeks, and then I'd spend time with her and her parents when we got back to England. I was lucky enough to live all over England - Dorset, Shropshire, Newcastle, Essex, Woolwich - and in Malacca, Malaysia and Dortmund, Germany, before Dad left the army in 1972 and we came back to Nottinghamshire. I went to numerous primary schools and three secondary schools, meeting lots of fascinating people. I only wish I had been old enough to really appreciate it...I do have memories of many places, but I'd love to go back to see them now.
When we were in the process of moving back to Nottingham in 1971, I was invited out by my aunt and uncle. Their son, my cousin Mark, was playing in a schoolboy band called Pegasus at a local club, and they knew I enjoyed music and dancing..... Steve sums up our first meeting on his page. I remember that cousin Suzanne was there at this momentous occasion, and I do remember the Creedence. I also remember a bit of fooling around with a door key.
Try to put yourself in my position....I had realised long ago that I didn't like doing what everyone else did - I had started hanging around with a small group of hippies in Woolwich, and loved the eccentric clothes, makeup etc etc. My parents have always accepted what ever I chose to wear and do provided it didn't actually harm me, so I was pretty extreme. I'd spent the last 15 months in a girls' grammar school in Greenwich, which I'd detested, doing all my O levels from scratch, and had been bullied because I didn't conform to the skinhead norm. Instead I wore home made flares and t-shirts and liked Curved Air and Led Zeppelin. The culture shock of coming to Nottinghamshire was amazing. This little club with the schoolboy band positively reeled under the impact of this strange person who loved to get up and dance and wore the weirdest things, but they accepted me. People stared, but it was with an acknowledgement that I was just as entitled to do as I did as they were to do their own thing. And here was a keyboard player, as I was, who spoke the same language and liked the same music. Suddenly ELP, Rick Wakeman, Yes were not dirty words but musicians to be admired and emulated.....an intelligent discussion could be held at last.
Two years of A levels in Mansfield, during which our relationship grew, and I had decided I wanted to teach. Despite my experience in Greenwich, I loved school and my motivation for wanting to teach was that I wanted to pass on this love of learning.....it sounds grandiose now, but at the time it made sense.
College - Health Issues Appear
I was accepted at Dudley College of Education and started my course in September 1974. By the end of my first year at College I had sung the lead in the College production of Gluck's Orpheus and revelled in choir and band and orchestra...HEAVEN. All it needed to complete the picture was Steve who joined me there in 1975.
Then, out of the blue, my health started to deteriorate. I was diagnosed as having a prolactinoma, a benign tumour, on my pituitary. It was growing into my optic nerve and I had started to lose my sight in my left eye. The only solution was to operate to relieve the pressure, in the hope that my sight would recover. Up to that time, the only route to the pituitary was through the front of the skull, just inside the hairline at the top of the forehead. It was decided that they would try a relatively new route through the bone at the back of my nose. In June 1976 I was operated on at the Royal Hospital in Sheffield. Within ten weeks I was doing my final Teaching Practice at College, and the tumour seemed to have gone.
Teaching And Marriage
On leaving college in 1977 I took up my first teaching job at a middle school in Mansfield. Here I met some really nice people, including one of only a few headteachers I really respected. I went on to another middle school in Mansfield, as the first post was only a year's maternity cover.
Steve left college in July '78, and within a few weeks we found a little house in Mansfield for rent. We decided to get married and move in. The house was small, with the tiniest kitchen you can imagine, and the only heating was an open fire in the living room. Of course, we had married in late December during the coldest and snowiest winter for decades - we froze! However, despite the weather, we were happy.
During a routine annual check-up at Sheffield in May 1979 it was discovered that my pituitary tumour had regrown. This time the only answer seemed to be radiotherapy. This meant that I spent four weeks of June in Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield. Steve rode up to see me every night after work, on a clapped out old Honda 50 we'd bought from my dad. We decided we had to have a bigger bike and acquired a Suzuki B120 which was far more suited to the 30 mile trip to Sheffield. The radiotherapy left me feeling very washed out and tired, and knocked my immune system for six for quite a while, but it worked. For the following six years, my consultant kept asking me when we were going to try for a family, as my having a baby would be the final proof of the treatment's success.
The Impossible Happens
In the meantime, and having taken umpteen children away on skiing trips with another couple who were as mad as us (Ali and Paul), and enjoying field visits, I moved on to another school in Mansfield before being promoted to teacher responsible for music in a primary school in Worksop. We decided to try for a baby in late March 1984; by May I was pregnant and going through the morning sickness routine, but really pleased. The pregnancy can only be described as text-book, and Jenni was born a week late on January 17th 1985. I had a really easy labour and Steve was with me all the way through..in fact, I think he was probably more physically responsible for delivering Jenni than the midwife was! We were a family, cats and all.
I took about five weeks after Jenni was born as maternity leave, and went back to work leaving Jenni in the very capable hands of Cheryl, our child minder who did a marvellous job. The house seemed to have contracted when Jenni moved in, and having considered -and rejected- moving, we decided to have our loft converted. The company who did it made a fantastic job for us, and through them we met another family who were interested in having their loft converted. We established a really good relationship with them, and had loads of fun and games together, before they had another baby and we drifted apart.
My final career move was to a junior school only four miles from home. Steve was by now Head of department in a secondary school about sixteen miles from home, and he was becoming increasingly stressed. One of my routine trips to hospital had revealed that although my pituitary was fine, my thyroid had become overactive and needed treatment. I accepted redundancy in April 1994 at which point Steve became really ill and he eventually spent several weeks as an in-patient. I looked after Steve whilst he was very ill, and he came out of teaching because of this in March 1995.
At this time, several attempts were made to control my thyroid with medication, but nothing worked properly and so in October 1994 I had radioactive iodine treatment. By the end of December that year I felt awful but put it down to stress with Steve being so ill and our way forward unclear. Steve was still too ill to work, and I was too, and we didn't know that we could both take medical retirement from teaching. As far as I could see, and Steve was too ill to even think about this, there was no prospect of either of us ever returning to teaching, we had no experience other than teaching and the prospects of finding a job or jobs that would allow us to keep paying our mortgage and bills were bleak.
Then, out of the blue, I found out about medical retirement from teaching and discovered that we could both apply for what turned out to be a pension that would not keep us but would at least give us some income until one or both of us could go back to work. Prospects were not so black, Steve was getting better albeit slowly, and it had been realised that the reason I felt so awful was that my thyroid had been totally destroyed by the radioactive iodine therapy and I would need to be on thyroxine (thyroid hormone) for life. I was also put onto antidepressants because apparently, depression is very common with thyroid problems and at that time, I had quite enough to worry about! Since then, I've had all sorts of bits drop off - figuratively speaking, of course - ranging from a diagnosis of microcolitis, surgery to correct my nose which was broken during my pituitary surgery...and which took 20 years to be noticed, to carpal tunnel surgery, and most recently, a very successful op to cure tennis elbow in my right arm (brought on by cleaning windows, so I'm told!)
All through the really bad times Jenni was a tower of strength; we had decided very early on that there was nothing to gain from not telling her the truth about what was happening; it might be frightening to know that Daddy is very ill and has to have some pretty drastic treatment, but it's not as frightening as finding out that your parents lie to you. A good friend at that time was Chris, who we had met through Steve's music making. Chris was making corporate videos, and Steve was supplying the music. Chris emigrated to Mallorca in very early 1995 and we've been to stay with him a couple of times since.
Steve found a job with a computer helpline service; my health picked up slowly although I was putting weight on and no one could explain this.
Jenni continued to do well academically at school but was having to cope with a lot of psychological bullying. She takes after her parents and refuses to do things that everyone else does just because it's trendy. Steve took up a job with a new company as a technical author, and then became quality manager with the same company.
Jenni was ill with tonsillitis and an ear infection over the October half term in 1998 and seemed to be unable to pick up afterwards. I took her to our smashing local GP, and to cut a few weeks down, she was diagnosed as having M.E. in January 1999. She had home tuition for a few weeks, and then it was decided that she should try to do just a few hours at school every week just so she didn't lose the company of people her own age. We investigated a few schools locally, and eventually we found the Dukeries College at Ollerton, which is about eleven miles away. She started there in May 1999, and loved it because everyone was treated as an individual and respected for what they were, not what they looked like.
In March 2000 Steve was made redundant by the software company he was working with, and we were back to looking for a job for him because I was still not well enough to work and Jenni was only doing three hours a week at school and needed someone at home to be with her. Steve applied for well over a hundred jobs, and started work in July 2000 at a College only ten minutes drive from home, lecturing in computing. He took up a new appointment in September 2001, teaching ICT at a new school in Nottingham, but has now retired from teaching due to ill health.
Jenni is soon to leave home, sharing a house with her friends only a few miles down the road from us. She's still not over ME, although she is on the mend; and spent some time on the national ME Helpline as an advisor. She's done a lot of voiceover work on Tomb Raider spinoffs - Lara Croft to the tee - and she's currently researching going into voiceover work seriously. She did really well at school, with a handful of GCSEs and an excellent A level in biology; she's subsequently started an OU degree and had a Distinction in her first purely biology course - I'm dead chuffed because it's the descendant of the course I took in the 80s before she was born!
So - what do I do besides being at home, housekeeping etc.? My interests are very varied - my college training was in music, so I play several instruments and used to enjoy making arrangements of classical pieces using the studio here. I've been a member of a local choir - Mansfield Choral Society, and we put on a concert every term; the Easter one if usually at Southwell Minster. Singing there was a fabulous experience - we have an orchestra and "bought in" soloists and the acoustics in there are amazing. A pity that some people spoiled the experience, so I left.
My favourite pastime is to design and make jewellery. I've had an exhibition of my work in the local library, and do a lot of community teaching workshops. Kids seem to take up the skills so quickly, it's very chastening for us grown-ups, but it's great to see them achieving success in something new. I do "specials" for wedding jewellery as well as the things that you can see elsewhere on the site. Most of the pieces are made to order; my ethos is that jewellery should be fun, accessible and sensibly priced. Some of the things I make may not be worth a huge amount in materials but time is also a factor - one of the sets I make takes over an hour to complete, so I try to put a reasonable price on it, though not even Minimum Wage as far as labour's concerned. I don't do it to make my fortune- it's a bit late in the day for that! - but for the pleasure of making and seeing people's faces when they receive. I've had some delightful feedback on eBay as you can also see on this site.
You can view and buy my jewellery by clicking here.
My Open University degree is science-based, and I have a huge interest in all things medical. When I accepted redundancy from teaching, I was very unsure of myself and needed something to bolster my confidence - my last head had made me feel a complete fool and waste of time - so I decided to see if I could get into MENSA. I've been on the TV several times, on 15 to 1, 100%, Gridlock, and most recently, One to Win. I love computers and the associated technology and have a great weakness for games, especially Lemmings in all its forms. I also enjoy cryptic crosswords, Sudoku (sorry) and logic problems, although the latter tend to be very anti-social!
I'm an avid reader, being particularly fond of science fiction and fantasy, particularly the works of Anne McCaffrey and Terry Pratchett. I'm a (Star) Trekkie and a Lord Of The Rings fan.
I love cooking and trying new recipes, and also like DIY....I bought the drill and the circular saw, fitted the bedroom wardrobes and put up all the shelves.
I also like to have plenty of plants and flowers in the house and love the garden.
I've just launched my Blog 'DenniMakes', that will cover all things that I make and design.
I hope eventually, when I'm completely well, to be able to go back to work, although that will not be in teaching bar a miracle! I miss lots of things about teaching - mainly just being with children - but there are many things I miss like a hole in the head - paperwork, overbearing headteachers, marking and preparation all evening, every evening. I'm trying to keep my computer skills up to speed - I took a City and Guilds course - in the hopes maybe that I'll be able to use this in some work situation somewhere down the line. Steve and Jenni both seem to think I should write, but I wouldn't really know where to start. I'd like to go into proof reading or translating, working from home, maybe - I speak and write French and German and have a smattering of Spanish and Italian, but again, I wouldn't really know how to get into this. To prove to myself that I'm not over the hill with regard to learning new things, I took an OU course in reading classical Latin and managed somehow to obtain a Distinction. The choice of this was down to being something I'd never done at all, plus the added incentive of wanting to know what I was singing about, as we did a fair amount of Masses and such for choir.
If you've enjoyed reading this, perhaps you'd like to see what the horse looks like (having heard the story from its mouth).... One last addition - since my experiences with endocrine problems, several really helpful support groups have appeared. I particularly recommend PitPat, which is the Pituitary Foundation, and the British Thyroid Foundation. Both organisations are helpful and very approachable.
The Milward Story... So Far
Denise being a hobbit!