Michael Anderson’s earliest memory stretches a long way back.
‘I can recall my nanny lifting me into my pram for my afternoon nap,’ he says.‘She never married and stayed with the family in Hampshire until she died. My father, a Sapper who retired as a Brigadier, said: “It’s not me or your mother who runs this house, it’s Nanny.’”
During the war Michael, who turns 84 in June, went to a boarding school in Padstow, Cornwall which was bombed one night. ‘We ran to the cellar in pyjamas. None of us was injured but we weren’t allowed out in the grounds the next day as they were littered with bodies from nearby houses.’
He later spent one term at his sister’s school – ‘being horribly bullied by the girls’ – but loved his years at Rugby, excelling in modern languages and music, both still great passions today. Before National Service he spent some time in Madrid with a family whose matriarch was a Spanish Civil War widow. ‘I became infatuated with an English girl with a bad reputation. Finally, my father’s friend, a military attache in Madrid, gave me a talking to, saying she wouldn’t do me any good.’
At Oxford he moped over other girls to no avail. ‘I followed one around when I should have been working. What with that and all my rowing, I ended up with a poor Third but I’ve never been ambitious.’ He drifted into several sales jobs flogging plastic and formica products. ‘Finally one boss sacked me as I was costing the company more than I was making.’
When he became a volunteer for The Samaritans he realised he was good at befriending people and had a successful 22 years with the Bristol Probation Service. ‘I stayed on the basic grade because I wanted that contact with clients.’
He met his wife-to-be on New Year’s Eve 1960. ‘I had a cooling off period in the expectation that I’d be rejected anyway but then I heated up again. My father was right when he said it’s the woman who gets the man to propose as that’s what happened.’ They married ‘with all the frills’ in mid-1963 and their daughter was born the next year, with identical twin boys following two years on.
‘The marriage didn’t work as my wife was hooked on psychic matters which I thought phoney and exploitative. Finally an old boyfriend reappeared. She said they’d been together in a previous life when I’d been the vile seducer and she left me in 1982.’
Ten years later Michael began ‘the most successful relationship of my life’ when he met Deborah, a former English teacher. ‘She’d fantasised about finding an eccentric professor in a cottage with roses around the door and I was near enough to that. We had a wonderful 22 years together when she suddenly got cancer. We’d just been given the news that they’d found secondaries when she asked for a glass of water, said: “Knock me out” and died which was a miracle as she had been praying to the almighty for release.’
Michael will be moving into Wadswick Green from Box, Wiltshire. ‘My daughter saw the complex first and said: “Dad, it’s time you had a bit of luxury.” She loved it so much she’s going to be working at Wadswick, organising social activities.
‘I’m looking forward to lots of walks and expanding my friendship group and social life.’ How about romance? ‘There have been women in recent times that I’ve kidded myself I’m in love with. I always think: I wonder…”