life begins again...
Life is never dull, the only constant really is the element of change, and
everything constantly changes. The job I had planned did not work out as
expected. Does anything? It was time to start looking around for new
It was whilst I was out of the
country, drumming up business, that Val decided to visit her brother, who
was living in Chertsey at the time, and whilst she was there, they all
decided to visit the Windsor and Eton area.
By a huge coincidence (and for me a
stroke of good fortune) whilst walking around Eton, Val happened to spot
the name of our mutual friend from Singapore days; Colin Edwards, written
on a sign outside a small manufacturing company. She called in, and
discovered he was in the USA on business, so she left our phone number and
he contacted me upon his return to England.
He was now the owner of a group of
very diverse companies, from import/export to manufacturing and he was
actually looking for someone he could trust, to keep an eye on things in
England whilst he went abroad to further his interests. It appeared to be
a good opportunity for both of us and we came to a rapid agreement.
It was now that my courses and
experiences in administration whilst with the army came to fruition. Of
course there was a downside; we had to move house again.
exciting and very hectic, so hectic indeed that (about 1972) I suffered a
We moved into an apartment
overlooking the High Street in Eton and that kept us together until I was
able to put a deposit on a house in Slough, ah yes, yet another move. It
was a very interesting time, with quite a bit of traveling to and from a
factory in Huntington that the company purchased and to other interesting
places. We took over an old brewery building in Chiswick and converted it
into offices. I was required to travel to Switzerland, the USA and Canada;
places that I never imagined I would ever be able to visit and life was
exciting and very hectic, so hectic indeed that (about 1972) I suffered a
brain seizure which incapacitated me for about six months.
It was very bad timing. Not to think
that such a thing could ever be good timing I suppose, but what compounded
the situation was that Val was already in hospital having had an operation
to rectify problems on her feet. The good news was that my mother was
paying us a visit the weekend it happened, so when I woke up one morning
to find myself completely paralysed, unable to move or speak, but able to
see and hear, it was comforting to know that I was in good hands, well, I
thought I would be as soon as someone found me! My immediate concern being
that I wanted to get to the bathroom!
Angela came into my room and was
obviously a bit startled to see me not moving, she left to get my mum who
came in all hustle and bustle, she placed her hand on my forehead and
almost passed out!
Apparently I was so cold she thought I was dead. Mum got the ambulance,
and that turned out to be a bit of a giggle, because, as I was stuck in
the fetal position, the men could not get me straightened out for correct
placement on the stretcher! They strapped me to a chair and carried me off
On the way I overheard the ambulance
radio giving warning of the imminent arrival of someone else who was being
taken in as an emergency case due to a burst appendix. I was not too
interested at that moment but I did get a bit worried later on, when,
after wheeling me into the reception area, all curled up on a trolley, the
men just pushed me into a corner and left me to mull things over for a
while. They did not realise I knew what was going on, just because I was
unable to communicate they must have thought I did not know what was
happening around me, they (obviously) decided that I would not be in a
position to complain if they left me alone for a bit, they were right, I
...she had me
mixed up with the burst appendix chap... What a surprise they were in for
when they cut me open, I thought.
It was not long before a young nurse
came along and said, “Mr Armstrong try not to worry, we have everything
set up for you and we will soon have you out of pain and put right
again”. She noticed my hands were clasped on my lower stomach and tried
to move them; she was unsuccessful and probably thought I was in too much
pain to cooperate. It didn’t take me long to work out that she had me
mixed up with the burst appendix chap. She was such a pleasant girl, and
she appeared so concerned for my feelings that I almost wished I could
produce a diseased appendix for her. What a surprise they were in for when
they cut me open, I thought.
Fortunately, just as she was having
me wheeled down to the operating theatre, and at almost coinciding
moments: first; the ambulance guys discovered I was missing, and secondly;
a senior Nurse came up to check my identification bracelet, this good lady
soon sorted things out and I got placed in a small ward and injected with
some relaxing medication. A few hours later I was beginning to get
straightened out and able to talk in a mumbling fashion and was placed in
a main ward.
Val was in the same hospital, she was informed of my situation and they
wheeled her around to my bedside.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she cried
“Why aren’t you home with the kids?” she went on.
Poor Val was all upset and frantic with worry.
tried to answer but it all came out jumbled. In retrospect it was all
rather funny but at the time I was somewhat aggravated at not being able
to make myself understood. When I started recovering we both insisted on
going home, Mum was getting fractious and it was clear Val was not going
to be happy propped up in Hospital when the children were without our
supervision. Upon our arrival home it took my mum about two minutes to
pack her bags and leave us saying; “I am not being put on like this
hobbling around through having both legs in plaster casts and me tottering
around like a movie style Zombie the whole scene started to take on a
We ‘phoned Val’s mum but she said
she was too busy to help us, so we just got on with the situation. With
Val hobbling around through having both legs in plaster casts and me
tottering around like a movie style Zombie the whole scene started to take
on a nightmare quality, we were fortunate that the two children seemed to
understand the situation and were well behaved and thoughtful in their
The most redeeming things to come from this period was the friendship of
my employer Colin and his wonderful wife Judy. We also received a lot of
support from our good friend Joan Butler who lived just around the corner
from us. Without Colin and Judy’s help checking on us to make sure we
were coping and Joan’s helping us on a practical note by assisting with
the shopping and meals, life would have been very difficult indeed.
After about six or seven months of
living in a stupor, I have a recollection of one particular day, whilst
sitting on the sofa looking at nothing at all, and I began to realise that
the situation was not going to improve on its own, I straightaway
determined to take charge of my own health. Very similar in fact to the
time I had Diphtheria.
“I am not going to live like this any longer”, I said to my ever
The next day I went to visit my Doctor and told him I was planning to
reduce and eventually stop taking the medication he had prescribed and
that I was determined to be walking properly as soon as possible. He
warned me not to be too hasty, but I thought there wasn’t a lot to lose
and that there was a great deal to gain, just by making an effort. It was
easier said than done, just walking as far as the end of the garden was a
big expedition, and the thought of going outside my immediate environment
was quite traumatic for I was scared I could collapse again and be without
help. But, with the help of my friends, it was not long before I was able
to function reasonably well and soon was able to drive a car, Colin gave
me a job that did not entail too much stress and by the following year I
was almost back up to being my old self and life was good again.
It was New years Eve 1975/76 and the (home-made) wine was flowing, our
friends and neighbours were packed into our small living room, the music
was loud, we were all shouting to make ourselves heard over the music and
each others voices, as usual in these situations no one was paying
attention to whatever anyone else was saying, the kids were trying,
(unsuccessfully) to get to sleep, all was well with the world. I had a
good job; the sailing boat I had been working on for the past three years
was almost completed and ready for launching. I shared the home I lived in
with the mortgage company and I was fully recovered from the brain seizure
of just three years or so ago, what more has life to offer?
It was approaching midnight and things were getting warmed up.
“I am sick of the immigrants moving into the neighbourhood, the whole
character of the place is changing, so why don’t we emigrate?”, spoke
up my darling wife, apropos nothing at all, and apparently, to the world
It all went quiet.
you like to go?”, I made the mistake of enquiring...
“Let’s go to Canada” she said.
The subject was immediately picked
up, and it was generally viewed by everyone present that she was speaking
an element of truth in the way the community was taking on a new
character, no one seemed too bothered about it and it caused a bit of a
laugh. They thought she was joking. I, on the other hand, realised that
she was serious. I was just far enough under the influence of my own
potions to take it a stage further.
I had already been approached, by Colin, (the owner of the company I
worked for) to consider taking up one of two available positions within
the group. The first was in Montreal, the other one in New York. I had
rejected both of these offers, as I wanted to settle down and bring the
children up in a ‘Stable’ atmosphere, (pun intended).
‘Where would you like to go?”, I
made the mistake of enquiring.
“Let’s go to Canada” she said.
I gave it a moment’s pause then, without thinking straight, I opened my
“It just so happens there is a job in Montreal that is available, my
love” said I, compounding the error.
“Let’s do it”, she hiccoughed.
I tottered over to the ‘phone,
dialled through to New York and announced that I was ready for Montreal.
“You are drunk” (maybe he used a different word here) “aren’t
you?”, came the accusing voice in my delicate ear.
“Well, yes that’s true”, I had to admit.
“OK, book yourself on the British Airway’s flight on Tuesday afternoon
to Mirabel” (The air terminal for Montreal) “and if I see you there”
the voice continued, “you can have the job”.
I informed Val and the present
company, but only Val believed I had actually made the call, the rest
thought I had faked it and was pulling their legs, they truly thought I
was joking. I was not.
There were a few times over the next
six months that I began to wish I had been joking. It was such a hassle
filling in documents, getting health checks, arranging to sell the house,
and furnishings, the boats. The boat I was building, and my small dinghy,
proved the largest problem, all the time commuting over to New York and
popping up to Montreal to check the job over and make arrangement for our
accommodation and the takeover as soon as possible.
I took every opportunity to take the
children around as many historical places as I was able to fit into the
time available, I thought it was a good idea to let them see as much of
their heritage as possible. It was good for me too for these are things
you would not perhaps do unless encouraged.
Val, of course was once again
displaying her talents at packing the personal items and keeping the home
running, I happened to be at the American side of the Atlantic when Val
got the documents giving us ‘Landed Immigrant’ status. It
was arranged for me to meet Val and the kids in Kennedy airport New York,
and then enter Canada as a family group from the USA.
impression of the wonderful country of USA for Paul and Angela was the
amount of ‘stretch’ limousines that were lined up outside the terminal
building. They thought they had arrived in Hollywood.
Because they would be tired I planned
to stay a couple of nights in Colin’s house, which was in Oyster Bay on
Long Island, he was in England at the time, but he arranged for it to be
open and available. I left in good time but unfortunately ran into some
very heavy tropical-style rain, there was about an inch of water on the
road surface and cars were aquaplaning like a set of ‘Dodgem’ cars. I
had to reduce speed to the point where I began to wonder if I would ever
get to my destination. I just got inside the airport terminal when Val and
the kids were coming out of the customs department, it was perfect timing.
The first impression of the wonderful country of USA for Paul and Angela
was the amount of ‘stretch’ limousines that were lined up outside the
terminal building. They thought they had arrived in Hollywood. We stayed a
couple of nights, then journeyed up to Montreal via the Taconic State
parkway, a most wonderfully unspoiled scenic ride and a pleasure to drive
Our new home was in Pierrefonds, a suburb to the West of the city of
Montreal. We soon settled down, made some good friends and started
thinking of putting down roots. It was September 1976 and winter was fast
approaching, I tried warning Val to be extra careful for I knew that her
experience of extreme cold was absolutely zero. It took a day when the
temperature dropped to minus thirty centigrade, and Val had decided to
visit one of our new friends, to really put Val into an understanding
situation regarding the cold.
She dressed as she would in England
whilst visiting friend’s: skirt and pantyhose, light shoes and raincoat,
she got about two hundred yards down the road when her nylons started to
crack, and her fingers started tingling, it was then she realised her
error. She arrived at her friend’s house very much distressed and lucky
not to have frostbite. I
got a phone call in my office to pick her up in time for the Angie and
Paul arriving home from school.
our arrival. New laws were quickly passed making the use of the English
language illegal. Added to this was a new bureaucratic nightmare
comprising of ‘Language police’.
Unfortunately our timing for
emigration to Canada was very poor. A politician named Rene Lévesque, a
‘Freedom for Quebec’ rabble rouser, (to be honest, a most charismatic
person) the leader of the Quebec separatist party; the ‘Parti
Quebecois’, was voted into office just shortly after our arrival. New
laws were quickly passed making the use of the English language illegal in
public and in the workforce. Added to this was a new bureaucratic
nightmare comprising of ‘Language police’. A confidential telephone
line to enable individuals to (secretly) report offenders became activated
and publicised. Worse, it was, (and still is) made use of.
I received two certificates giving permission for our children to continue
attending an English language school. From now on all emigrant children
would attend French schools, and this includes people moving to Quebec
from other Canadian provinces. To my regret, I angrily tore them up and
ritually burned them. I knew it was time to go.
The funny thing is that I had just enrolled in the local High school to
learn French so as to participate in the local culture. Naturally, I
cancelled that straight away. I think what emphasised this situation was a
‘phone call I received from a friend and working colleague who could
trace his (Francophone) roots back to the sixteen hundreds.
“Brian”, he said, “you aren’t
going to believe this but I have just had the language police in here and
I have had to take my calendar off my wall because it is not written in
French”. He was so angry, even more so, when he realised I was the only
person he could immediately bring to mind, with whom he felt comfortable
to let off steam! He kept apologising and admitted he was unsure if he
would be reported to the authorities if he spoke of his anger to anyone
else. It was like the Nazi party taking over control all over again.
Arrangements were made to move the company, and as many staff as wished to
go, to Toronto in Ontario.
I rented and moved into house in Acton, a small town just west of the
city, where we once again started making a new life for ourselves.
the next installment: Ontario