How we met: ‘My dad was a docker and her parents were very middle class. People gave us three weeks’

·3-min read

As a teenager, Alan was the first to admit he didn’t know anything about girls. But after many years at a same-sex school in Chingford, in 1974 he went to sixth form, where they had mixed classes. When he arrived at his history class, the teacher sat him next to twin girls. “One of them was Janet,” he says. “She turned around and gave me a great big smile and I was smitten straight away.”

Although Janet thought him “very interesting and knowledgeable”, she also found him irritating because “he butted in all the time”. They got to know each other better when they starred in a performance of The Mikado together. “I was playing Yum-Yum and Alan was playing Ko-Ko,” says Janet. “He was talented and he had a beautiful voice. He was also very friendly and kind to other people doing the show.”

At the end of term, Janet suggested Alan come to see her new puppy. “I thought it was a signal but he didn’t get the hint,” she laughs. “She could have gone out with any boy in school,” says Alan. “It never occurred to me that she would like me.”

Over the summer, Alan went to work in a local factory. One day he heard the doorbell, followed by his dad shouting to him from downstairs. He rushed down, bare-chested, to find Janet there. “She described it as a DH Lawrence moment, where Lady Chatterley sees the gamekeeper,” he says, laughing. “Bearing in mind it was 1974, it was very courageous of her to come round.”

Janet asked if he’d like to go to a church youth-group event with her and he agreed. A few days later they walked her dog in Epping Forest. They soon became an official item.

When they returned to school in September, nobody believed they were together. “My dad was a docker and my mum was a cook and cleaner. Her parents were very middle class, a teacher and a clergyman. People thought we’d last three weeks,” says Alan.

Before Janet went to university, Alan proposed. “I told him, ‘If I still love you as much as I do now in three years, then I’ll marry you,’” she says. “He asked every year after that until I said yes, always under the same lamppost.”

They married in 1979 and Janet started her teaching career the same year. In 1980, they moved to Kent and had three children: in 1982, 1984 and 1986. After their third child was born, Alan made the decision to become a Methodist minister. He went to college for theological training and was ordained in 1991. They moved around for many years because of his work, living in Ilford, Cornwall, West Bromwich and Pembrokeshire.

Janet taught for many years before changing career to become a Methodist deacon in 2005. “In 2013, I set up a day centre for the homeless in Clacton-on-Sea that I run,” she says. They moved to Colchester the same year and now have six grandchildren and two dogs.

In 2018, Alan was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma and took a year off work. “Janet was looking after me and still running the day centre,” he says. “I’m in remission but I will never be fully cured because I was in the advanced stages when it was discovered.”

Alan loves his wife’s determination. “Janet knows what’s right and wrong and she’ll always do the right thing. She has a really strong sense of justice. She always tries to see the upside of things.”

Janet, for her part, appreciates her partner’s honesty. “Sometimes it gets him into trouble but I admire it. He has a great sense of humour and he makes me laugh. In the evening, Alan likes to play guitar and he always sings my favourite song just before he comes up to bed so I know he’s coming,” she says. “I love that he’s always there to help people, whatever the situation.”

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