Upon being asked how it feels to be married for six decades, Jean Baker is nonchalant and humorous in her response.
‘You suddenly think, “oh my goodness, life is getting tedious,” she giggles, sitting across from her husband Edwin at their home in Gosport.
Edwin William Baker, who turned 86 last month, is the oldest of two sons and was born on Malvern Road in Hardway, not too far from where he lives now.
Jean, on the other hand, now lives a fair distance from her birthplace of Malta, being the daughter of a sailor in the Royal Navy.
Born Jean Patricia Marsland, it wasn’t until she was two years old that she and her family, including her three younger sisters, moved to Gosport, just around the corner from her future husband, on Hill Park Road.
They first met in 1950 at the now-demolished Garrison Church at HMS Siskin, where Edwin sang bass in the church choir and Jean, who turns 83 next week, was a Sunday school teacher.
So what did the two think of one another when their paths first crossed?
‘Not a lot!’ they say in near unison before Jean bursts out laughing.
She adds: ‘It was an activity clubhouse that we went to every week as juniors, and Edwin was one of the leaders there, teaching people how to dance and play ping-pong.
‘Life was just very simple really.’
Soon after they met, Edwin took up an apprenticeship at Fleetlands in Gosport, working the first three of his five years as an apprentice in Portsmouth Dockyard.
He then went on to work for the merchant navy and then P&O, where he ‘went back and forth’ to Australia. Jean, meanwhile, says she ‘always had something to do’, primarily working at the town hall in the treasurer’s department after she left school.
When they had the time for dates, Jean and Edwin would go to the cinema, as well as on coach trips to London organised by Edwin’s father, who was also in the church choir as a tenor.
While they’ve always loved their time together, it has always been important to the pair to maintain their independence.
‘We did our own thing sometimes,’ says Jean. ‘Edwin would play cricket, while I would go swimming in Stokes Bay.’
With Edwin away from home for long stints in the merchant navy, there wasn’t so much of a proposal as getting married was ‘an accepted thing’ between him and Jean.
‘Three months away was a long time,’ Jean says. ‘There was a lot of letter-writing back and forth, but I wasn’t going to sit at home and wait and do nothing, because I liked going out and enjoying myself.’
‘I asked Jean’s father for his blessing, and he had no objections,’ Edwin chuckles. ‘He was pleased to get rid of one of them!’
When Edwin came out of the merchant navy they finally married on the morning of February 15, 1958 – the day before Jean’s 23rd birthday – at St Mary’s Church, Alverstoke.
Edwin had his late friend, Terence Mortimore, as his best man, while Jean was joined by her three sisters, Sue, Jennifer and Pauline, as well as her neice Ann Marchant as her bridesmaids.
‘It was hectic,’ says Jean. ‘When we were planning the wedding we didn’t think 11am was too early in the day, but we had people coming from places like Southampton so it was a bit of a panic. There wasn’t much time to worry, but I think that was kind of my idea when I was planning the day.
‘We were pleased to get married and try to get our lives sorted out.’
There was, however, one more urgent order of business on the newlyweds’ big day.
‘I got my passport in the church,’ Jean explains. ‘Because they wouldn’t let you have your passport until you got your name changed. We were going to Paris on our honeymoon, but I had to wait right until the last minute to get it.’
After they got married, Jean and Edwin started a family and bought a bungalow in Fareham. They have two children, 52-year-old Sharon and 47-year-old Alan, but the Bakers were quick to return to Gosport after ‘feeling cut off’.
‘It’s nice to be able to go down the road, sit down and just watch the world go by,’ says Edwin, pointing in the direction of nearby Stokes Bay.
With their daughter living in New Milton and Alan living in Bristol, it’s not often that Jean and Edwin get to see their family – which now includes two teenage grandchildren – but they always make the most of family gatherings and half-term holidays.
The couple are eagerly anticipating a meal with Sharon and their friends in New Milton on the week of their anniversary, but this week they’re enjoying a quiet break on Hayling Island.
‘It’s all about tolerance, very much so,’ starts Edwin on the key to a long and prosperous marriage.
Jean agrees: ‘Tolerance and understanding, and being able to read the other person.’
Are they good at doing so?
‘Well, I am!’ Jean giggles while Edwin reluctantly accepts: ‘She’s better at it than I am.’
Jean takes a slightly more sincere tone as she says: ‘We just understand each other, we can sit and talk easily and we don’t have to row or argue.’