Ray Proctor: “My hobbies are my lifeline – I couldn’t live without them!”

Caring for my wife with vascular parkinson's dementia

Ray and his wife Jacqueline have been married for 58 years.

After 54 years of marriage, Ray and Jacqueline Proctor’s lives were changed forever by a devastating health crisis. As they tried to adjust to the new normal where Ray became Jacqueline’s full-time carer and a house husband, the Proctors discovered their hobbies were more important than ever. Here, Ray tells us how his weekly activities and the friendships he’s made through them have been vital to his wellbeing.

Just before the first lockdown in 2020, my wife Jacqueline and I were busy getting ready for another adventure – Caribbean cruise for our 54th wedding anniversary.

We loved travelling together, having lived in Germany when I was in the armed forces and then been all over the world on fantastic holidays.

The pandemic put pay to our cruise plans, but one day, things got much worse when suddenly Jacqueline’s head dropped, and we had no idea why.

It turns out that Dropped Head Syndrome is a neurological condition, and it took another year for us to get the right diagnosis – Jacqueline had Vascular Parkinson’s Dementia.

Vascular Parkinson's dementia

Ray and Jacqueline's world was rocked by her diagnosis

Jacqueline’s ill health meant I had to quickly learn how to become a house husband and carer.

Thankfully, I’m a practical man, as I was a Mechanical Engineer in the army, so I applied the same approach to household tasks.

However, I had seen what being stuck in the house 24/7 caring for someone had done to people I knew, and I had no intention of letting that happen to me.

Ray is a man of many hobbies

Ray wanted to continue leading a life full of hobbies

Walking had always been one of my favourite activities, and I had formed a group of walkers from the WeightWatchers club I attended.

As soon as the Covid restrictions were relaxed, I started regularly getting out and about with some of the WeightWatchers walkers and clocked up 118 rambles around Norfolk, which I faithfully tracked on the app Komoot.

I soon noticed another walker was ‘liking’ all my routes, especially those in the local area. When I walk, I always say ‘hello’ to those who pass us because I like meeting new people.

I’d regularly traded pleasantries with a chap I often passed in my village. One day, I stopped for a chat and discovered that Ivan was the same person from Komoot!

We’ve been walking together ever since.

As I stepped up my walking, Jacqueline was losing her mobility.

She could no longer use the walker that I’d got her to take a short trip up and down our road, and I needed to help her with most of the basic life tasks we take for granted.

I was, and remain, in awe of how Jacqueline handled what’s happened to her. As we carried on and coped, my hobbies and friendships became even more essential to my wellbeing.

While walking got me out and about, I also wanted to find hobbies I could play indoors, which led me to Bridge.

In the forces, you play a lot of cards, but this was one game I wasn’t familiar with. I started taking classes to learn the game and began playing with Peter and Gillian, who were also being taught Bridge.

I enjoyed the mental challenge of the game and going rogue in how I played it!

I started meeting with Peter, Gillian, and her husband David to practice, and our Thursday afternoon Bridge sessions are now a staple in my calendar.

David and I also joined the local bowls club after I attended an open day and signed up.

We play every Saturday with three other men and two women, all of whom are better than me, as I can only play once a week.

I don’t mind because it’s the social interaction that I thrive on, and the club offers so much with events, classes, and outings.

I feel so lucky that I’m able to enjoy active hobbies like walking and bowling, as it would be my worst nightmare to be in Jaqueline’s shoes.

I’m not getting any younger, but my general level of fitness – which must be helped by all the walking – means I can still carry Jacqueline around the house when she needs me.

bowling at the local bowls club

Ray loves to play bowls every week

I’d do anything for Jacqueline – we never argue, and I still make her laugh.

I make sure she can still get to her craft clubs, and I’ve recently taken on a carer so she can have some companionship when I need to get out.

On Mondays, I walk 7.5 miles with my walking friends Ivan and Ernie and then play Bridge in the evening. Every Tuesday, I do another 5-mile walk, and Thursday is Bridge with Gill, David, and Peter.

On Fridays, I walk again for another 5 miles; on Saturday mornings, I play bowls. Those activities are sacrosanct, and I never miss them – they are my lifeline, and I couldn’t live without them.

Holding a photo of Jacqueline

Ray loves this photo of Jacqueline that he took during a trip to Kenya

This year, Jacqueline and I will have been married for 58 years, and it all started on a blind date.

I was on leave from the army, so I hired a Mark 1 Cortina and drove her to a local pub.

We’ve made a lifetime of wonderful memories together, and our marriage and relationship remain the same in many ways.

My attitude from early on was that Jacqueline had given me over 50 years of contentment, and now it was time for me to pay that back.

For Jacqueline’s birthday this year, we’re going on one last adventure – a midnight sun cruise to Norway.

We sail on the day she turns 80, and although Jacqueline might not be well enough to go ashore, I know we’ll enjoy our days on the sea.

When we get home, life will return to normal, so I’m glad I’ll have my hobbies to lift my spirits.

travel photos

Ray and Jacqueline went on many happy holidays together