About Me

Update: December 14th, 2010

Let’s start with the simple and the obvious … my name is Ian Claytor. I am British and was born on 8th March, 1953, in Malvern, Worcestershire.

Ian is a Scottish name, (it’s the Scottish equivalent of John, or “God’s Gift”), although there is nothing Scottish about the family. There aren’t that many Claytors around … and it seems that the Malvern branch of the family originally came from Nottinghamshire. There’s a family legend that tells that we are descended originally from a family called Clayton, who were local squires and landowners, but there was a scandal involving a gypsy girl and a curse placed on the “seventh son of the seventh son” … they seem to have gone in for big families in those days … and in an attempt to overcome the curse one of my ancestors changed his name by replacing the final letter, an “n”, with an an “r”. (An attempt to create an “alpha effect” with an “omega change”, as Arthur C. Clarke put it in one of his short stories.) I am not sure I believe the account, but it makes for a good story.

Actually, Ian is what it says on my Birth Certificate and in my passport – so it is my official name – but according to Canon Law, (Church Law, that is), it’s not my name at all. When I was born my mother had Tuberculosis – it cost her a lung and my father once told me that they “pulled the curtains”, (meaning that they thought that she was about to die), not just once but twice during this period. Anyway, when I finally made my appearance, they were so concerned that I might not survive that the doctor christened me then and there. Apparently he named me Royston and, as I said, according to Canon Law, once you are christened, then you have been given a name and that is your name. Full Stop! So, how come I am now Ian Claytor and not Royston Claytor. My mother explained it me like this: my older brother, Tony, had trouble saying my name – even in the short version, Roy. Apparently, he kept calling me “Boy”. “No son of mine is going to go through life being called “Boy””, she decided, and so when it came time to officially register the birth with the authorities, she changed it to Ian.

She thought she had solved the problem because no-one could shorten the name … but she was thwarted by Richard, my best friend at primary school, who would insist on calling me “Ee”. I think that, at times, she felt that she could have throttled him.

In answer to one of the questions that I am most often asked here, I have to report that I am single and have never been married and so, no, I am not divorced and no, I have no children – although I do have a number of cats. You can read more about them here.

As I said, I have an older brother, Tony, who is married to Christine and they have two teenage sons, Dominic and Lawrie and live in Hertfordshire.

For the first two and half years of my life when my mother was ill with TB, I had been passed from relative to relative eventually ending up in a children’s home in Stourbridge in North Worcestershire. One of earliest memories is of playing on the swings at the home. Another is of sitting in the backseat of the car my parents had borrowed when they came to fetch me and, looking out of the back window seeing a big bright “Midland Red” bus turn the corner behind us.

Malvern, where I grew and went to school, was a small town of about 30,000 but it was originally a number of villages, (Great Malvern, Malvern Link, North Malvern, West Malvern, Little Malvern, Malvern Wells and a number with names that don’t contain the name Malvern), which grew up around the Malvern Hills.

My father was a postman for all his life, except for the war years when he served as a tank driver, driving a Churchill tank in North Africa and up through Italy. He was also a Trade Union official, serving for many years as the local branch secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers), an example I was to follow later on in life. My mother was a housewife for most of her life, but did spend some time working a shorthand typist and secretary. She was very fond of handicrafts and I think she would have found the traditional crafts of the Kyrgyz very interesting and would have enjoyed making Shyrdaks, Ala Kiyiz, Kurak and Saima embroidery.

I wasn’t a particularly good student at school. In fact I still have my school report where one of my teachers commented: “Ian works well when he can’t avoid it” … and I still wonder why he couldn’t have stuck with the traditionally tried and tested: “Could do better”, but it was at least original and showed that I wasn’t just “one of the crowd”. My schooldays, of course, did much to shape my future career, but there’s more about that here. Anyway, I must have done reasonably well because I ended up with three A-Levels and a place at Teacher Training college and the backdoor into Oxford University and an Oxford degree, and there’s more about that here.

Oxford was an adventure. Up until then I hadn’t traveled much and my horizons were very much limited to Malvern where I had grown up. I had been to the seaside at Weston-Super-Mare, (or Weston-Super-Mud as we called it because when the tide went out, the sea retreated so far that there seemed to be nothing but miles and miles of wet sand), and to Cornwall with the family of my best friend … they later moved there and he still lives there and now runs a number of hotels in the area – so we’re colleagues. Oxford, however, was different … it wasn’t a holiday, just a week or two … I was on my own, and I made the most of it.

I made some good friends in college, and we kept in touch for a while after we finished our course. When it came time for everyone to leave and go make their own way in the world, one of my friends, took my address but said: “I don’t promise to keep in touch … maybe I will, but think how many friends you had at school that you’ve lost touch with – and that was only three or four years ago … people move on, and I don’t like making promises I don’t know if I can keep.” It’s sad, but she was right – and I have always remembered that … especially the bit promises – after all, an Englishman’s word is supposed to be his bond!

After college it was a question of finding a job … and I got thrown in at the deep end. I became the Teacher in Charge of Religious Education in a large school in Thame in rural Oxfordshire. OK … “teacher in charge” … the only teacher of Religious Education, as it happened. Being the only one, however, I couldn’t take every class and there were a couple of people to help me … but basically I was left on my own devices.

It was in Thame that I started to follow my father’s footsteps and joined a union. It wasn’t exactly what you would think of as a Trade Union … or at least what I thought of at that time as a Trade Union. Teaching isn’t exactly a “blue collar”, working class, profession, and the union that I chose was not militant by any means. Some people referred to us conservative, or even “right wing”, but that wasn’t really true. We preferred to call ourselves the “moderate” teachers’ union. Normally, I “don’t do things by halves” and guided by the principles that although “membership has its privileges” it also has its responsibilities, so I found myself taking an active role in Association affairs. After the move to London, this grew year by year and before I know it I was branch secretary, and in the course of the next seventeen years I also took on the roles (at different times) of Branch Treasurer and Chairman as well as a conference delegate and Branch representative, negotiating with employers, local authorities and, on one occasion, a Minister of the Crown. As it happens, this experience taught me an awful lot and helped me a great deal when I came to Kyrgyzstan and I found myself attending meetings (and sometimes arguing) with government officials, Ministers and even Prime Ministers and Presidents and two British princes of the realm. (Yes, two … strange isn’t it, I traveled half way around the world to meet two members of my own Royal Family!)

The Headteacher in Thame had a basic rule of thumb … the first year a teacher worked in the school, especially if they were a probationary teacher like me, (that is they were newly qualified and new to teaching), then they were basically “taking” from the school – gaining experience and additional “on the job training”. Everything is a new experience. During the Second year its a case of “fifty-fifty” … they are still learning, but they are also putting into practice that they learned in the first year. By the time they get to the third year, they are “giving back” to the school. Now, it seemed to me, (and still does), that that’s a bit crude, but there is a lot of truth in it and it makes a lot sense in a school situation where there is a clear annual cycle. Anyway, I did my three years and and then started looking around for the next step in my career.

I applied for a job in London … returning to my “first love”, Mathematics. In fact, I didn’t get it … at the interview we were told that someone else had been appointed, but “it was a close decision and thanks for applying”. So, I got quite a surprise a few days later when I got a phone call saying that the successful applicant had to withdraw and asking if I was still interested in the job. Yes, I was, and so I made another of the big decisions in my life and moved to London.

Having been, nominally at least, my own boss as “Teacher in charge of Religious Education”, I now joined the rank and file as ordinary classroom teacher. I had fewer groups to get to know and was teaching a subject which, even if it wasn’t popular with everyone, was thought to be useful and not just a “necessary chore”, a statutory obligation. I got on well with the classes – although, yes, there were “ups and downs”. I was there for seventeen years. That’s a long time, but although it was seventeen years in one school, I actually had several different jobs during that time. After a few years as a classroom Maths teacher, I took on classes in Statistics and then Computing, IT and vocational courses as well as taking on various administrative roles within the school. There’s more about that here.

I also took on a role as an examiner, (in both Maths and Computing). My first experience of working in the examination system was as a student when I got a holiday job as a “checker” for one of the exam boards. It surprised me how many so-called “intelligent” people couldn’t add up the marks they had awarded a candidate – and as a result this was something I paid great attention to when I eventually became an examiner. Later as a with the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE), which was the equivalent of a school leaving certificate, and the system involved using class teachers as markers and examiners. When my career moved into computing I applied for several jobs as a assistant examiner in Computing, (without any expectation of success – hey, my degree was in Theology, not computing or any other related subject), and to my surprise and amazement I was accepted – for all of them! Every year, from May until August, I spent many long hours marking scripts and coursework projects, and attending meetings. It was a hard job, carrying great responsibility but it was a great experience which helped me immensely in many different ways. I would strongly recommend it to any teacher as being both rewarding and worthwhile. (There’s more about my experiences here.)

As I said before, I didn’t travel very much when I was young. Now, during those seventeen years I really got the travel bug. I traveled to various places around Britain, visited France two or three times every year and also lots of other places in Europe, (Albania, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Greece, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Monaco, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Yugoslavia, …). I went to the States four times, New Zealand, French Polynesia, Pakistan, Thailand, China (Hong Kong) and several of the Caribbean islands. I even visited Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan … but little did I know at the time that I would end up living here! I regret that I never made it to Africa or South America (… ever since I studied South America as part A-Level Geography, I have wanted to go to Brazil – especially the Amazon). I always enjoyed visiting new places, seeing the sights and being able to point to something and say to myself, “I remember learning about that in Geography, or History, or … whatever, and now I am seeing it in real life”; meeting new people; trying new food; learning about different cultures. One thing I didn’t really like was sitting on a beach, sunbathing. I was prepared to do it occasionally if my friends on holiday wanted to do so, provided we split the holiday and did some “”exploring” as well. I felt that it was wasting too much valuable time. As the Beatles put it: “Life is very short and there’s no time for …”, well they said (sang) “fussing and fighting, my friend”, but as far as I was concerned it should have been “sitting around idle”. I suppose it was the “Protestant work ethic” which had been instilled in me by this time.

In fact, I like being busy and I kept (keep) myself busy in many ways. I also have an obsessive personality and tend “not to do things by halves”

As well as teaching, examining and my work with the union, another way was my involvement in Rugby. Although I have tried my hand at many sports I have never been a great sportsman. In my schooldays, however, I played Rugby for the school team and the local club. I was never very good at it … I joke that my position was seventeenth man (for those that don’t know – a rugby team consists of fifteen players!). Even when I stopped playing as the result of an injury, I continued to coach one of the school teams and to referee some matches … although I can’t say that I really enjoyed either.

Another thing I undertook was “in-service” training. I am a great believer that education is a lifelong activity. We are always meeting new experiences, and the world is constantly changing with new facts being discovered and new technologies being developed and so we need to prepare ourselves for the challenges of tomorrow … and not rely on what we learned in the dim and distant past. When I went on my first “First Aid” course, for example, we were taught that the way to deal with a nose bleed was to pinch the bridge of the nose and put the patients head back with the nose in the air, but a couple of years later at the refresher course we were told to pinch the bridge of the nose and bend the patient forward with the nose down. As it was explained to us, if the head is back then there is a chance for the blood to flow through the nasal cavity into the mouth and then into the throat … causing all sorts of complications. It wasn’t, however, just a case of keeping up-to-date. I’m a bit like a sponge in learning new things. I loved playing Trivial Pursuits! I once included an obscure fact in a history essay at school and the teacher circled it in red and added a comment “Where did this come from?” I took great pleasure in telling him it was a book that he had told us we all ought to buy. I had done so, and showed him the reference. There was nothing he could say in reply apart from: “You remember the strangest things!” As a result I also took a number of courses which had nothing to do with work and my favourite was “Looking at Paintings” from the Open University. I don’t know if they still offer it … but it was very enlightening in many different respects. Attending courses is something I miss here … but the internet is a great tool and I feel very fortunate in being able to research almost any topic.

The next big decision in my life involved the move to Kyrgyzstan. In fact it wasn’t one decision, it was a series of at least three during the course of just over a year: to come here; to stay and what to do once I had decided to stay.

Tony, a friend whom I had known since my days in Oxford, worked as a lawyer for a large international firm based in London. His first visit to Kyrgyzstan was in the early 1990′s as part of his work – and he fell in love with the country and the people. On his suggestion I came here on holiday in 1994 and although I liked the place I never really thought that much more about it until he told me that he had landed a job here, wanted to open his law firm and needed help to set up the office. Would I come and help him? Yes, OK. I originally came for one year, but things never quite go according to plan and as the year was coming to an end there was still lots to do, so I stayed on to finish the job. I could have gone back home. I had a job waiting for me and staying here meant saying goodbye to that and a career that I had been developing for twenty years. To be honest, however, I was ready for a change and I looked forward to meeting the challenges of starting something new.

Once I decided to stay, and the office was up and running it was a case of “what do I do now?”. We looked at several options and eventually decided that the most perspicacious was Tourism … and so, together with another friend from the UK, we started the Celestial Mountains Tour Company, and two hotels. We would have liked to open more, but, (as I keep saying), things don’t always go according to plan.

As before, I keep myself busy. There’s never a dull moment. If ever I seem to stop and be idle, it’s not because I have nothing to do … it’s because I have so much to do that I don’t know where to start. I am involved in a number of projects here in Kyrgyzstan. I am an active member of the International Business Council (IBC) and the Kyrgyz Association of Tour Operators (KATO) – in fact I am the president of the Association, which always raises an eyebrow – an Englishman as the President of a Kyrgyz Association … but then some people say (jokingly) that, after fourteen years here, I am almost half Kyrgyz anyway. (I have actually taken out official “Residence” status but, no, I am not looking to take out Kyrgyz citizenship – to do that I would have to give up my British passport, and I am not keen to do that.) Some people even say I am more enthusiastic about all things Kyrgyz than most of the locals. I have even been thanked by locals for telling them things about Kyrgyzstan that they didn’t know … or for showing them a part of Kyrgyzstan that they haven’t seen before.

So, that’s my story … or, at least, part of my story. There’s obviously a lot of details missing but it should help to give you a feel of who I am, where I am coming from and why I say some of the things I do in these postcards.

Thanks for reading this far …

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