The seeds for Ken and Muriel Standing’s long and fruitful life together were sown a lot earlier than you might think.
Having first met as schoolkids in Sheffield before they even entered their teenage years, the couple were joined by several members of their family in celebrating their diamond wedding earlier this month with high tea at the Queen’s Hotel, Southsea.
‘It was fantastic and nice for all the family to enjoy,’ says Muriel, who lives with her husband at Widley.
‘Ken suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, so that was just enough for him.’
Born in Darlington, Ken moved with his father to Sheffield when he was 11. His and Muriel’s paths first crossed when he enrolled as a pupil at Nether Green Junior School.
‘My father passed away when I was seven, and Ken’s mother died when he was five,’ Muriel explains. ‘I went home that night and said to my mother that there was a new boy at school who didn’t have a mummy, and she said that we’d better get him round for tea.
She laughs: ‘His feet have never come out from under the table since!’
The childhood friends were separated a few years later when Ken was sent by his father to work in the mines in Tamworth, but in protest, Ken left to join the navy.
Although they were both in separate relationships, Ken would often visit Muriel, who was working as a post office telephonist back in Sheffield, when he was on leave.
‘I thought he was very lovely, but we didn’t start properly going out until we were about 18 or 19,’ Muriel recalls.
Muriel’s early dates with her naval beau are a reminder of charmingly simpler times – they would take trips to the cinema, or to their local milk bar, where they would drink shakes and ‘listen to the latest pop music’.
They even enjoyed long walks around the pleasant areas of green belt land by Muriel’s home, or the occasional game of tennis.
Muriel says: ‘I suppose we were very lucky with the childhood and the freedom that we had.
‘When we were young, you had be indoors at 10pm, but Ken was always allowed to stay out until 12. One night when he was walking back to his grandfather’s cottage in his navy uniform, the police stopped him and asked him where he was going, before taking him home and making sure that it was actually his grandfather he was staying with.
‘After that, the police would wait and take him home every night. You wouldn’t see the police doing that today!’
The couple married on June 15, 1957, at Ranmore Church, Sheffield. Muriel remembers it as ‘much of a family affair’.
‘It went really really well, we were very lucky for it to be so lovely.’
Muriel and Ken have gone on to have three children – Gary, Andie and Christopher – and through them they became grandparents to seven children, and great-grandparents to a further seven.
‘The knitting needles never stop!’ Muriel laughs.
Moving to Portsmouth almost immediately after they married, Ken’s commitments to the navy meant that Muriel was left to bring up the family by herself much of the time.
‘When you got married while you were in the navy, you actually become married to the navy, and your own marriage comes second.
‘You became quite independent, but that part of it was nice to an extent.’
As well as enjoying high tea at the Queen’s, the couple are still playing host to family visiting from Somerset and Sheffield.
Although Ken has developed Alzheimer’s, Muriel says that one thing has never changed about her husband of six decades.
‘His sense of humour is still there,’ she smiles. ‘We’ve always been really good pals, and he’s just so much fun and good company.’
So what has kept Ken and Muriel together all these years? What is their secret to a successful marriage?
‘Never ever go to sleep on a row,’ Muriel says. ‘You’re just harbouring it then and not fixing anything.’
‘A marriage is based on a friendship, so I guess you really have to be friends in the first place otherwise it’s not going to work.
‘It’s nice to get to 60 years...’ she says before giggling: ‘I think I should get a gold star for it!’