Dalbeattie has been his home for almost half of his 76 years – and for former globe-trotting engineer Geoff Allison, there are few better places.
Originally from North Yorkshire, Geoff landed in Galloway in the mid-eighties to oversee construction for ICI at Cargenbridge.
He had grown up 150 miles away, in Carlton in the Cleveland Hills, not far from the North Sea coast.
The eldest of five children, as a toddler Geoff saw little of his father Thomas, firstly because of war, then necessity.
“My dad fought with the 8th Army in North Africa against Rommel,” recounts Geoff.
“Then he worked for Middlesborough Corporation as a mechanic and fixed the buses.
“He cycled 13 miles to work and 13 miles back every day.
“Being a large family, he worked a lot of overtime. I did not see much of him except part of the weekend.
“I was nearly three before he met me.”
Geoff had no intention of following in his motor mechanic father’s footsteps – but life’s realities intervened.
“I left school at 16,” says Geoff. “I had wanted to go to uni to study medicine.
“But being the eldest of the family, my siblings were all still at school.
“I left at my O-Levels and took a job because we needed another income.”
Geoff got a lab job with ICI at nearby Billingham – and soon got a chance to deploy his engineering skills.
“The company used to run discoverers’ courses for the workforce,” he says. “It was a weekend thing and I became an instructor.
“We built a camp up in the Cleveland Hills on land leased from the Forestry Commission.
“We had these huge wooden packing cases for mechanical equipment shipped into the country which we used as frames.
“Then we clad the outside of the packing cases with eight-inch-thick larch poles to make log cabins.”
After four years, ICI sponsored Geoff to go to university to do chemical engineering.
And his degree from Teesside Poly earned him promotion to the chief engineer’s design office at Billingham.
He became construction engineer at ICI Wilton on Teesside, then safety and contracts manager.
The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act had not long been brought in to reduce industrial injuries and deaths.
But in 1976, a horrific accident at Swan Hunter’s Wallsend shipyard on the Tyne, just 30 miles from Billingham, shocked the world.
“It happened when they were building HMS Glasgow,” Geoff recalls.
“There were a lot of piped gases on board and a cylinder of oxygen had been left open.
“The ship filled up with oxygen overnight then the workers went aboard the next morning.
“There was a huge explosion then a terrible fire below decks.
“The flames ignited oil and rags and eight men were killed. A lot more were badly burned.”
Meanwhile, Geoff’s safety role with ICI took him to Cargenbridge where he oversaw construction of a new film plant. The site lay midway between ICI’s other Scottish sites at Grangemouth and Ardeer in Ayrshire and its production and design facilities in northern England.
Geoff, by now construction manager for Scotland, flitted his family from Yorkshire to Dalbeattie in 1985.
“I needed to be at meetings on site fairly regularly whenever they needed me,” he says.
“And with a young family, I did not want to be living in a hotel.
“Working from Dumfries allowed me to do a one-day dash across to Northwich or the main design office at Billingham, or up to Ardeer and Grangemouth.
“I would be doing 40,000 miles a year by car.
“But staying in Dalbeattie meant I could come home every night and still see plenty of the kids.”
The move to Galloway meant not only different scenery – family holiday habits changed as well.
“Before we came to Dalbeattie, we were keen caravanners and would either go to Cornwall or up into Scotland,” explains Geoff.
“We stayed on sites at Hoddom Castle, Glentrool and the Three Lochs.
“But when we moved up here we stopped caravanning because it was just like being on holiday.
“Galloway was very peaceful and picturesque and it was a much more relaxing area.
“I did not build up a lot of connections in the area mainly because I was travelling so much. But my family very much became part of the community and liked living here.”
Life rolled on but Geoff’s horizons darkened under two life-changing events.
First, aged 54, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells. “It slowly destroys your immune system,” he explains.
“That means you have to really watch any illness to avoid getting infected.
“Not long after my diagnosis, my son went to work in China and the SARS pandemic hit while he was over there.
“He could not come home to me and had to live in a hotel for six weeks.”
Geoff could have taken early retirement on ill-health grounds.
But he reckoned his slippers were best staying in the cupboard.
And straight away he did a post-graduate degree in energy auditing.
“I decided I was going to keep living and keep on doing,” Geoff declares.
“And that I was not going to sit at home and wait for God.
“Working was therapeutic for me. I wanted to keep busy and keep going.
“My answer was ‘right, the rules have changed, just get on with it’.”
And after DuPont took over at Cargenbridge in 1998, Geoff took over the engineering and environmental management of the site.
As a skilled employee of a multinational company, his role took on an international dimension.
“I was working in Luxembourg, Belgium, North America – wherever there were other similar film plants,”
“But then in the early 2000s, I noticed my wife was starting to become ill.
“Over time she began to suffer quite a bit from dementia.
“I retired because Ro was not managing and I became her full-time carer for five years.
“After I left work, I lost all my contacts and Ro and I led a very isolated life.
“I did not really know the area.
“And because of my wife’s mental health I did not get help until I could not manage any more.
“One of the things that pre-empted it all was that one day I just passed out.
“It was just stress and exhaustion but my daughter insisted that I go to the doctor’s.
“The mental health nurse came round and that’s when they said that this is not doable.
“What would happen if I became ill?
“My wife could not cook or do anything.
“She could also be very fiery and things were difficult.
“There was no escape from it – just the two of us in the house 24/7.
“Nobody told me how to cope.”
It was only when the NHS in Dumfries and Alzheimer’s Scotland got involved that Geoff found out how other people coped with dementia.
“Suddenly there were coping mechanisms that I wished I had known about,” he says.
“The University of the West of Scotland in Paisley produced a DVD for carers of people with dementia and about the sorts of things they need to be doing.
“This worked for me.”
Some of the things, Geoff admits, he learned the hard way.
“One of the most distressing things for me was that my wife was always saying that she wanted to go home,” he recalls.
“A lot of the time she would be really upset.
“But she didn’t mean a physical place like Skelton or Lincoln, where she grew up.
“She would never describe a place, it would be always a situation.
“All she wanted to do was to go back in time to when she would be looking after the kids and could do the cooking. It was that sense of wellbeing, of contentment and happiness, something she felt safe with – which was missing for her.
“And she could not get it back.”
Visiting Rosemary in care was not easy for Geoff – but that changed when four-legged assistance arrived.
“Sometimes when Ro saw me she would flare up,” he explains. “I think she saw me as the cause of all her ills.
“At that time my daughter was doing her masters to be a nurse practitioner.
“We bought a pug puppy which was meant to be for my grand-daughter.
“But when my wife saw Stanley, it somehow calmed her down when she held him and stroked him.”
With Rosemary safely in Munches Park House care home, Geoff found himself at home with nobody to look after.
“I was first responder to two old ladies who stayed nearby until they passed on,” says Geoff.
“I would help put tents up for Civic Daze and so on but I not really take much part of the community.
“Then in 2014, Dalbeattie Rotary asked if there was anybody interested in starting up a men’s shed.
“Five of us went along and I did not think I would get involved very much.
“I said I would help organise it and set it up and ended up as secretary.
“Soon I realised how much the shed was improving my outlook on life.
“For two mornings a week I had a whole new group of friends.
“I got drawn into the whole men’s shed movement and am now an ambassador for the UK Men’s Shed Association in Scotland.”
Geoff reckons getting involved in the organisation has given him a new focus.
And it wasn’t until he joined that he recognised how withdrawn he had become.
“I realised early on how many mental health benefits came with it,” he says.
“It gave me a lot more confidence and my feelings of self-worth back again.
“People can turn in on themselves.
“So to have a social situation and just have someone you can have a natter with can be make a big difference.
“It’s remarkable how that can help people and how much you can enjoy it.”
“I’m just happy in myself.
“I’m satisfied with the life I have – and there’s plenty to look forward to.”
Sadly, Rosemary passed away in July 2019.