“It’s a dynamic and diverse place”
I was born in South East London in 1977 and moved to Thame when I was 18 months old. The M40 was being constructed at that time, and my father had a job as a sales engineer for a company that made air conditioning equipment in Birmingham. His sales patch was London, so Thame was between the two. I grew up there and went to Lord William’s School.
After school, I went to university in Bristol to study Applied Chemistry, with the view of being a teacher. But I met so many disillusioned student teachers during my time there that I decided against it. I’ve not been blessed with knowing what I want to do, it’s all been a bit haphazard, but I have been lucky.
I bummed around for about a year, did a bit of travelling, went to America for a month, and then got a job as a recruitment consultant in the medical industry, first in Chinnor and then in Marlow. I was living in Oxford, on the Cowley road. I met Sarah during that time. I worked behind the bar at the Wheatsheaf pub in Chinnor, and Sarah’s parents were regulars. Sarah would come in the occasional Saturday night and I thought she was nice. Then one day there was a wedding reception at the pub, and we got talking and got together. We’ve been together for twenty years now, and married for seventeen.
One day, after we’d been together for a while, we were looking for a house and we went on a drive to look for places. The M40 cuts Oxfordshire in half, and is a bit of a psychological barrier. When we went under the motorway bridge, it was like coming into a different world that we’d not really explored before.
We liked Watlington. We thought it had a bit more about it than other places. We didn’t think we’d be able to afford anything, but luckily we were able to get enough money for a little house on the Marlbrook estate. It was our little place together. That was in 2001.
It’s very friendly here. On the Cowley road, if someone says hello to you, you think they are going to nick your wallet. But here, everyone says hello. The other thing I had to get used to was the quiet. After the noise of ambulances and traffic in Oxford, it was the birds that woke me up for the first week. The birds, and the church bells. It reminded me of where I’d grown up.
In 2006 I left recruitment – I got bored of it. I found it formulaic, and lost the fun of it. It was good money, but life is not all about money. One day I had lunch with my father and he suggested I came and worked with him in the air conditioning industry. Again, I have been lucky, and just fallen into things. So, I started with him, working on the service and maintenance side and I’m now a director. My father is gradually retiring and I am transitioning into running that business. Our clients include the National Portrait Gallery and Lloyds of London and I really like going behind the scenes of these places.
I didn’t know many people in Watlington initially. I played rugby in Wallingford and socialised there. Then, when our daughter, Tilly, came along and the two up two down became too small, we had to decide whether to stay here or move to Wallingford. It was Sarah who insisted we stay here. She says Watlington doesn’t have everything you want but it has everything you need, and I think that is quite apt. So we moved to Paul’s Way in 2011 and it was fabulous, just what we were looking for.
At the end of our first week here, I went across the road to The Chequers pub for a pint, and that’s when my life in Watlington changed. I got speaking to the landlord, Andy Stokes, and some of the others, and that’s how my attachment to Watlington really started to develop. I got a group of friends, and was roped into playing Aunt Sally for the cricket club, and before long I was running the pub quiz. We do that once a month, in aid of various local charities and organisations. I hope we will be able to rekindle that after Lockdown. I fear for things like that, and hope that Lockdown strengthens our community spirit. It’s the community spirit that is ultimately what makes Watlington such a special place.
Because of my ample size and big personality, one year I was asked to be Father Christmas at the Christmas Fair. I wasn’t really keen on it, but then it was suggested that I take on the role of Town Crier. I have to walk up and down the High Street, stomp about and be loud, which is easy for me. I love it. I’ve been doing that for about five years now.
Then last year, it was brought to my attention that the council wanted to ban dogs in the playing field because of the problem of dog poo. Having played a lot of rugby over 25 years, it’s not nice when you are playing sport. But I also thought it would be a real shame if we couldn’t walk our dog, Tommo, there. So, I went to the Parish Council meeting. I said maybe people in Watlington who use that space could also look after it. As I said, I’ve got a big mouth.
Watlington is such an interesting place with many people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. People come to live here from all over the country and the world. It’s a dynamic and diverse place, when you get to know it.
Watlington Folk is a documentary project by photographer Nicola Schafer. Watlington is blessed with pretty buildings and beautiful countryside, however it is the people who live here that truly make the place. This project aims to capture that through a series of portraits of the people who live here together with their “Watlington Story”. For more information, please contact Nicola through her website http://www.nicolaschafer.co.uk