Wednesday, 18 June 2014

My Father: Derek Frederick Cook 1945-2014

At my masters graduation - 2009

Dad was born in Brentford on 1st October 1945, to Fred and Betsy Cook. He had an older sister, Daphne and enjoyed his childhood, particularly the beach holidays they went on to Chesil Beach with his aunts uncles and cousins. 

Cousins Dave & Ray with Dad in 2013
Dad grew up with a large extended family around him in West London and in his teenage years was very close with his cousins Dave and Ray. All three were keen athletes and all joined Thames Valley Harriers. Dad was a quick sprinter and his personal best for the 100 yards was an impressive 10.2 seconds * which he told me on many occasions, was “faster than any woman could run Steve” at the time. Why he was trying to run away from women is unknown. I’ll never forget how he leapt from his chair once when Linford Christie’s coach Ron Roddan was being interviewed on the television. Ron had also been dad’s coach.

Dad was a very intelligent man and earned a place at Grammar school where he performed well in his ‘O’ Levels. After school he started working in accountancy, a profession that he continued in until his retirement in 2010. 

On a night out at The Byron in Greenford when he was 19 years old he was approached by a mysterious 17 year old young lady who asked him for the time. Mum reports that his reply was a typical Derek response of “well if you have the inclination”. According to mum she had told her friend she was going to “speak to the next bloke who came around the corner”. The formidable partnership of Chris and Del and later Mum and Dad was formed. They courted for two years, were engaged for two years and in 1969 got married in Ruislip Methodist Church.

Mum & Dad 2012

Soon after they relocated to Shoeburyness and settled in Raphael Drive. I was born in 1973 and Debbie arrived in 1976. Dad worked hard to support mum, Debbie and I and was incredibly proud of Debbie and my achievements. Dad was always there for us with advice or help with anything. He also loved our friends and I remember Christmases so fondly especially Dad polishing off a bottle of whiskey with my mate Ricki when the rest of us had gone to bed. 

Mullets 'r' Us

He travelled the ‘misery line’ for nearly 40 years working for various companies in London. His final job was at ABTA – The Travel Association. For a while Debbie and Dad travelled together to London which they both loved and Dad was very handy when it came to tube strikes – he knew London inside out. Mum said he could probably have gone on mastermind with a specialist subject of bus routes in London, as could cousins Dave, Ray & Michael. On his retirement day I was able to arrange for him to sit in the drivers cab for his last day of work. C2C presented him with some flowers too.

In Spain 2001
Dad loved his holidays and was able to visit Australia with mum on a couple of occasions as well as a couple of family holidays with Jackie, Steve and Michael in Spain and in recent years Turkey and Centre Parcs. He also loved most sports but with the ankylosing spondylitis in his back in later years, he was purely an armchair fan. Before his back condition became too severe dad and I were able to watch an England rugby game at Twickenham and even walked on the pitch afterwards. I will always treasure that memory. As a family we watched numerous Olympics, World Championship Athletics and World Cups around the television. He also loved a quiz night and I remember team Cook being champions in many pubs from Southend to Leeds. 

Dad loved his music and in his youth played the piano. I understand the cousin’s had a band for family parties. I don’t think the Beatles were too worried though. Debbie and I remember a childhood of music, normally Cliff Richard or the Beatles. 

Debbie and I are so pleased that he was able to see us both get married in 2008. He revelled in his role as father of the bride for Debbie and was bursting with pride as he walked her down the aisle and gave her away. He also delivered a brilliant speech. 

In 2009 Mum and Dad celebrated their Ruby Wedding anniversary with a fantastic black tie do at the golf club. It is a great testament to their love that they celebrated nearly 45 years of marriage – something so rare nowadays. 

Ruby Wedding Party - 2009

In 2010 Dad became Granddad to Thomas and last year to Maisie. He idolised the children and was so proud to be their granddad. Dad loved doing puzzles & playing with lego with Thomas and reveled in his starring role as Father Christmas a few years back. 

With Thomas - 2010
With Maisie - 2013

Dad was a Christian and was strong in his faith. He was baptised at Shoeburyness & Thorpe Bay Baptist Church in 1987. While in hospital Laura and I were able to speak to him about his faith and I was so pleased that I was able to tell him that Laura and I will be a missionaries from September. 

Sadly, the last couple of years were not kind to him in terms of his health and if we are honest, 50 years of smoking caught up with him. He fractured his spine in a fall in May and although that surgery went well and he was talking positively about the future, unbeknownst to any of us, he had more serious health problems which ultimately defeated him. Thankfully it was quick and he didn’t know anything about it. It is so comforting to know that he is in a better place with our Lord. 

We have been overwhelmed with the love shown by our friends and family in the last few weeks. In his tributes the same words keep coming up, KIND – GENEROUS & FUNNY. Dad was a joker until the end. When he left for the hospital in May in great pain he still managed to joke “it’s a fair cop boys” as he was was helped to the car by neighbours Roger & Sean. When recovering from the spinal surgery he was so excited at the prospect of having mobility scooter grand prix’s with Brian from next door around the close. And on the way to intensive care just before his last operation he carried on joking on the way. 

As a family we are so blessed to have such great family and friends and I know you will all support mum and show her the enormous love you have for her in the coming days, weeks months and years. They were best friends for the best part of fifty years sharing a wonderful life together. 

But there are two more things that we should all learn from dad as well as being kind and generous to everybody he ever met. He never complained about his unfortunate health problems and also he never had a bad word to say about anyone. 

He really was a true gentleman until the end. As my mate Mike wrote on his facebook wall. 

We'll miss you terribly Dad. Until we meet again.

Derek Frederick Cook 1945 - 2014

* According to Dave and Ray, Dad was yanking my chain about 10.2 for the 100 yrds dash. A joker 'til the end. Good old Del-Boy! 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Sierra Leone: Success, Disappointment & Faith

Sometimes life doesn't quite go how you planned it and sadly our time at CBF came to an end in March. At the time it was difficult to see what the bigger meaning was for us and what God's plans were. 

Within two days of leaving however, Laura and I were offered new roles in Sierra Leone which are actually more in line with what we originally wanted to do in country. My new role will be as a school improvement consultant for two Baptist schools, one in Freetown and one back in Tombo where we had been while at CBF. We started to see God's plan.   

Back in England during April and May I delivered many GCSE Maths and Geography revision workshops for students from Southampton to Birmingham for a fantastic company called Twenty-Twenty Learning ( who I have worked for since 2010. It also enabled me to spend some valuable time with my family.

Dad and I at Greenwich for my M.A. Graduation - 2009  
This family time gained even more value as on Tuesday June 3rd we experienced the devastating loss of my father who died unexpectedly.  

Through the pain I have realised how thankful I am at the timing of our departure from CBF. It meant I had two extra months in England with my dad that I otherwise wouldn't have had. God's plan became clearer still.  


Professionally I enjoyed my time at the CBF Academy immensely and am very proud of the impact I had there as Head teacher. I'm glad to say that we are still in touch with some great people there. 

Student Achievement

We worked hard with our older students to get them 'exam ready' which included sessions on how to revise and general confidence building activities. I decided to enter two of our students into the January Maths examinations and they both achieved the first C grades or above ever at the Academy. It was a proud day. 

Enhancing the Curriculum

We did many things to enhance the curriculum and my favourite was 'Murder Mystery Day' which was planned from start to finish by Laura. It was so special because it was so different and the students loved it. I was especially delighted as all staff got involved in a tremendous way, accepting their starring roles with excitement and gleefully accepting the challenge of feeding a lot of rogue information to the boys through various underhand ways in the preceding days. 

Coach Dave Healey lies in a pool of blood. Who would murder him?

I was also really pleased to be able to organise ICT lessons for the second generation boys in Freetown every other week. It is so important to give as many skills to these young people especially as they are part of the global employment market.

Dr Abs shows the second generation boys the inside of a computer.

One of the things I am really passionate about is giving students opportunities to learn about happiness and emotional intelligence. At CBF I was able to design and deliver a well-being curriculum. The students loved it. The picture below is from one of my favourite lessons - Trust. Blindfolded, the boys had to trust their partner to get them safely through the obstacle course. 

I was also keen to get the boys to start practising speaking publicly and assembly on a Monday provided the perfect vehicle for this. The boys loved the messages from the assemblies and would always be asking for the quotes or stories that had been used. I'll never forget the standing ovation for the first students assembly, awesome stuff. 

In the week before we left, we had the opportunity to take the second generation boys to Tribe Wanted at John Obey beach. It was another excellent curriculum enrichment day where the boys played football and trained with some boys from a local school and in the afternoon helped to mark out a new tourist path through the rainforest. We returned back to John Obey in a boat which for some of the boys was their first time. Bless them!


Finally, with no qualified teachers to work with I was also pleased with the consistency we reached with lesson quality and how receptive they were to my methods, training and structures I put in place. 

Onwards and upwards, we look forward to our exciting new roles in Sierra Leone starting in September and fulfilling the plans that God has for us. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Watching the Mighty Spurs in Sierra Leone

One of the great benefits of living in Africa is that most Premier League games are shown live. This means that I have seen almost all of Tottenham's games this season which has had its' expected share of ups and downs so far.  

To a certain extent I live under the radar of care from the locals in Tombo as there are very few Spurs fans here. However, this has meant on occasion I have become a very minor celebrity when wearing my Spurs shirt in town. Actually what I mean to say is that I have often been the white man to humiliate.
Most people in Tombo support Manchester United, Chelski, Liverpool, The Woolwich Wanderers, Barcelona or Real Madrid which has been my experience in many African towns and cities I have visited over the years. Due to Manchester City's recent success they have won a few fans too which demonstrates the fact that these guys are the worst kind of glory hunters you'll ever find.

Our security guards on site are lovely fellows and mad keen on football like most men here. 

"Mr Steve - Tottenham" they shouted excitedly at me recently and followed it up with "Are they the best team?" to which my reply was "of course we're not". This perplexed and disturbed them deeply. I saw it written across their faces. The look said 'but why would you support them then?' This is a question which I am sure Spurs fans ask themselves over and over again along with 'why do we put ourselves through such misery?' We all know the answer, it's because we love them unconditionally but this made no sense to my Security friends. 

The journey to the local 'football cinema' comprises of a 15 minute walk, 5 of which are to get my from my front door to the main gate of our compound. Then you are into bandit country. Well not really, unless you count 6,7 & 8 year olds shouting "Oporto" (white man) as bandits. Recently I've noticed they've even gone to the trouble of translating their cries to "white man" or "white man give me 10000 leones" (approx £1.50) which is very kind of them although I knew what oporto meant. Maybe they are doing better in school.
As they try to verbally mug me I often ask them for 10000le instead which confuses them nearly as much as the security guards had been when questioning me about Spurs.

On the day of the Arsenal cup game, and after my first altercation with these young bandits I soon had another group to walk past, this time a group of 9 children. They didn't ask for money but rather took great pleasure in shouting "white man" at me. I tried to turn it into an impromptu English lesson by identifying them as "black boy" and "black girl" which just confused them and made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Disappointingly my normal 'cinema' was not open for the Arsenal cup game which meant I needed to walk a further 5 minutes down the high street to get to "BMX", the premier football venue of Tombo. 

Tombo High Street

On the way a topless middle aged woman with very droopy boobs tried to make me buy some of her wares but I passed on her kind offer and moved on. Finally I reached BMX, paid my 1000le entrance fee and trod on a number of toes as I tried to secure a spot on one of the wooden benches. 

'BMX' - Tombo's premier football cinema

Without another Spurs shirt in sight I felt this place was a little hostile so I did what every other Spurs fan would do and starting singing. As it turns out nobody sings in the cinemas except for me apparently so the looks I exchanged with locals suggested they thought I was stark raving mad. Eventually a few smiled at me mid-way through a long C-O-M-E... O-N... Y-O-U...S-P-U-R-S but it was too late, the floodgates had opened and the glory hunting Arsenal fans started to shout at me. "We will beat you today" (some offered a scoreline) to which I replied "yes I think you probably will". This of course caused more confused looks. 

There are many similarities between Arsenal fans at home in UK and in Sierra Leone, firstly that they obviously support the wrong team but also that they seem very uptight and lack a sense of humour. I batted away their aggressive scoreline guessing with many smiles and a few laughs. I did get some support from other locals though who turned out to be Man Utd or Chelsea fans who hate Arsenal too and were supporting Spurs. 

At half time I swapped the 35 degree heat inside for a cool 30 degree outside and started having some banter with a few Arsenal fans. These guys seemed alright and one happily posed for a photo with me.

Just before I punched the Gooner's lights out. Not really. Good natured fun outside BMX

I watched most of the second half and my heart sank when their second goal went in. I have to admit I nipped out of BMX as it got to injury time and couldn't really complain about the score. We'll fight to live another day I thought as I started my walk back up to the Academy.