2017/18 Random Stuff
As I drove over the Norfolk Bridge this morning
As I drove over the Norfolk Bridge this morning, with Freddie on Pa’s lap, returning from the dog walk at Adur Rec, the sun was shining, with a keen breeze running and white cotton wool clouds in the sky, I said to the Old Man what a pleasant place we were in, compared to a few months back, and more especially since the miserable Baltic weather of just a week back.
Last week we had the bath taken out and replaced with a nice swish walk in shower tray, a result of Pa’s locomotive struggles in his autumn years. I joked that we should call him Spiderman, not because he has any super powers, but because he struggles to get out of the bath. My mate Si Wilson did a bang up job as always, with me doing all the carpentry work required, and the Aged P’s were chuffed to bits with the finish.
Si and James at work, changing bath to shower room. Feb 2018
Si nearly done with tiling
Shower tray done
This week I’ve made a start on the composite cladding that Pa has been keen to get done, as he puts it, “while I’m still about to appreciate it”. I had hoped to get a trade in to do it, but when the price of £10,000 was quoted, I decided I’d better do it myself. Ma has been enjoying the return of the sunshine, giving her the chance to get out in the porch and make the most of it. Next to her are the balls of wool she’d just spent a week unpicking from a jumper she had been making for me, it had proven to be too small unfortunately. I asked her when we got back from dog walking, whether she would be making a second attempt at the jumper, hopefully, as I really liked the wool colours. This is one of those points when you have to hang on and not let what you’re thinking give you away, she had no memory of having unpicked, or even knitted the jumper in the first place. The fact that she even knitted the jumper too small is a sure sign that things have changed, she could have knitted one perfectly, while blindfold, not long back.
Ma in the porch with Fred, and the jumper in progress.
Ma used to get quite irate over her memory letting her down, but these days she just smiles and says, “oh well, never mind”, or something along those lines. I’m pleased she doesn’t get upset, but also sad because I realise she’s changed a bit more from the person she was not that long ago. I didn’t jinx myself earlier when I said what a pleasant place we are in now, I allowed myself to forget momentarily that we’re only ever a heartbeat away from a possible backward step. Humour still keeps us sane, and there are far more smiles than scowls in the house, so we continue to bumble on.,
I must say, having been back on the tools for a few hours here and there after so long away from the toil of handraulic labour, my poor aging body is not at all happy about things! I’ve been enjoying seeing the fruits of my labour, and sleep well, (once the aches diminish enough to allow), but parts of me feel like they need oiling, and this after the sort of work I would have considered the ‘easy life’ when in full time employment in the building trade. I think a loft conversion would just about see me off now, so thanks be to pencil and paper that I can now earn an easier way, (physically at least).
For those that may be reading this who will be attending the Aged P’s Diamond Wedding anniversary on May 12th, I can’t tell you how much we are all looking forward to that occasion. Maybe everyone should have name tags for Ma’s sake, and perhaps a wheeled chariot for the Old Man. This will be the last big family get together until David’s 60thbirthday in March 2019, so let’s make the most of it.
Life is good
This will be the start of short blogging, to try and get back in to the swing of writing again. I’ll try and stick a few paragraphs up as often as possible, and chuck a picture or two to go with them. Just sharing a bit of our world here on Shoreham Beach.
Walking Fred along the beach front at 6 this morning, the world seemed a rosier place. Having written last time about how good it was to have our dad finally out the other side of a lousy few months of ill health, (see blog below), he promptly goes down with another illness, which also brought on another bout of debilitating hiccups. 12 days they lasted this time, and I hardly need to say how rough that must be for an unwell 90 year old! (From the 22nd December 2017, to 7th Feb 2018, he had a total of 23 days of hiccups in two spells, both in combination with an illness). The weather outside at the moment is lousy, blowing a gale, and lashing down intermittently with rain, and yet life again seems rosy, his health has returned, at least as well as it gets for him these days. Much like my brother, Ant, he doesn’t really have good days health-wise, just some days that aren’t as bad. Neither of them moan about their lot, but when they are in a poor state, you can see it etched in their faces when a movement triggers a pain inducing reaction.
Yesterday at the weekly Monday Trough, it was back to business as usual, with seven at the table, Fred’s favourite day of the week, as he gets to make a fuss of everybody, and a few scraps off the plates in to the bargain.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, or ‘Pancake Day’ as it’s better known. Ma is at her morning Sewing Sisters session in Shoreham Town, with the afternoon Sewing Sisters due to descend upon us later, so yours truly will be attempting to fill Ma’s shoes, and knocking out a few rounds of the eggs and flour recipe, courtesy of her old 50 year old Tricity cook book. I’ve tried before, my efforts would not have won any prizes, and what a mess! Up until last year, it would always be Ma making the pancakes, especially if it was a ‘home game’ with the Sewing Sisters, but as with so many little things that are disappearing from her memory, (names of things and people mostly, so far), the pancake recipe, but once she sees it happening, it will remind her and then she’ll guide me. We bumble on between us, using humour to make light of any problematicals, and Fred always lightens the mood regardless of the situation.
In between all of this, I have been getting more in to the world of planning design, hopefully on a steadier footing, and happily, work is coming my way, courtesy of some good mates pointing people my way. Next step will be to try and learn the software so that I can get away from doing it all by hand drawing. If there are any architectural bods willing to assist with tips regarding an easy to learn programme, I’m all ears!
Would you want to know?
I have written sparsely over the year just gone, despite the fact plenty had happened, but I jotted a few notes here and there, especially in recent months, so forgive while I try and make some sense of them now. Towards the end of 2017, Pa seemed to be going downhill health-wise, with visits to the doc raising more concerns, among them, anaemia, he’d been looking quite pale, as well as being ill rather too often. Blood tests confirmed an iron deficiency, iron supplements were prescribed along with antibiotics, but the Old Man, or, ‘Squire’, as we affectionately call him, reacted somewhat explosively to the medication and his condition deteriorated even further. His GP referred him to a specialist in gastroenterology, hoping to get to the crux of the problem. So up we went to Worthing hospital, not really having a clue about what to expect.
It just so happened that the old fossil was a bit wobbly on the day, and probably looked more fragile than usual. The specialist instinctively reached out as he saw the poor old fella stumble, got him seated, then talked through Squire’s recent medical history, the concern over his iron deficiency, and possible causes. He came across as quite serious, explaining the potential severity of the situation, before the unforgettable words, “if it were cancer, would you want to know?” arrived, followed by various reasons people do or don’t want to know, and about making plans in the event of the worst case scenario being realised. He went on to explain how, having now met Pa, that given his degree of frailty, most of the procedures to properly discover if any cancer existed might have serious consequences. He also added that even if a cancer were to be found, for the same reasons, they wouldn’t be able to treat it as his ‘functional status is too poor’, but a CT scan would be organised, which would give them some idea at least if anything major was going on. Squire told the doc he would want to know if it was cancer, and that at 90, he’d already had a good life, so let’s just see what turns up and take it from there
My head was a bit of a whirlwind by now, so I can only imagine what Squire must have been thinking. The ‘would you want to know’ part, was on a repeat loop in my head, while I was trying to make sure I remembered the rest. Towards the end, the doc said he didn’t want to put worry in our heads, I just said, “it’s a bit late for that unfortunately”, to which he apologised. I didn’t mean it as a sarcastic response, it just came out. Thankfully I had my wits about me enough to say how much we appreciated everything he’s said, and what a tough job it must be to be giving anyone this kind of news. As we said our goodbyes, having been told Pa would get an iron transfusion in the next week or two, and a CT scan as soon as possible, we turned in to the corridor to be met by a nurse handing us a questionnaire about, ‘how well we’ve done’, and ‘would you recommend us to friends’. It gave me and the Old Man a chuckle in the circs.
That was last November. The CT scan showed all organs looking normal, but showed a thicker stomach wall than they would like to see, so they wanted Squire to have an endoscopy to get a proper look inside. Owing to ill health, one appointment after another for the endoscopy had to be cancelled, including gout, a chest infection, and a bout of hiccups which lasted 11 days over Christmas and in to the New Year. Finally, on the 11th January, he had an appointment he was well enough to attend, and despite a few concerns regarding the procedure, it all went smoothly. They informed us there and then that they had found no evidence of any cancerous growth, but had taken multiple biopsies for further investigation.
I can’t think of a better present to receive than that piece of good news, and now we can plan for the year ahead, the parents 60th wedding anniversary on May 3rd, his brother’s 50th wedding anniversary a couple of months later. I don’t mind saying, I had some pretty dark moments worrying over this, and although the Old Man seemed quite philosophical about the whole thing, it must have given him a few sleepless nights.
I’d been trying to remember a quote I heard for someone dearly departed, which went along the lines of, “try not to be sad that they’re gone, but be happy that they were here”. No words can ever really make you feel better, or cover how those closest must be hurting, but you know everything carries on, the unstoppable juggernaut of life relentlessly marches on. On Friday 8th September, Ma’s sister, April Weller, succumbed to her illnesses while in hospital, leaving Ma, (Lavender), as the last of the Courtney Bennett siblings. April had an accident while on holiday in the U.S a few years back, which needed surgery, with a wire cage being used to hold her leg together as part of the solution. Later down the line this wire cage caused complications, infections were becoming a repeated problem, eventually resulting in the leg having to be amputated. Despite all of this, April was ever upbeat and positive in her outlook, and her Catholic faith remained rock solid. She was determined that she would make this year’s pilgrimage to Lourdes, regardless of having lost her leg, and the Lourdes pilgrimage people made sure it happened.
April and Uncle Leslie were taken by ‘Jumbulance’ to Lourdes, Ma went with the medics charter coach and plane. Ma and April had been going on the Lourdes pilgrimage for some years, but this year it was looking as if it may not be able to happen owing to April’s ill health, her strength of faith, sheer determination, and the fantastic assistance of the Arundel/Brighton Lourdes Pilgrimage team, made sure it did happen.
Ma n April at Lourdes 2011
April and Lavender at Lourdes 2015
Only two weeks ago I saw a postcard on Facebook, and instantly recognised a very young April Courtney Bennett in a garden at St Martha’s Convent, Rottingdean. I printed it out, and when myself and Ma went to visit her next, took the photo along. April told us it was her first day at the convent school, around 1935, she would have been 5 years old, and the photo was staged for a postcard. She didn’t have a uniform yet, so they kitted her out in a borrowed one for the photo shoot. She also recognised some of the others in the picture, one of whom she recalled was Angela. Ma, (Lavender Courtney Bennett), joined the school sometime around 1938, with the threat of war looming, and it was from here that they both picked up their Catholic faith, which they have carried with them ever since.
April at St Martha’s convent, Rottingdean. (“2nd left) Circa 1935
The C.B’s:-Ma, April, David, Peter, and Jim at St Martha’s circa 1938
April and Ma were always very close, and I imagine their time at St Martha’s had a lot to do with that. They were at Southlands Hospital in Shoreham together in the 1950’s, training as nurses. In later years when they had both married, one of my earliest memories is of going by train to Hove with Ma, travelling in the guards carriage with the pram, then once at April’s, one of them would be taken for her driving lesson, while the other looked after all the children, and vice versa. I can still picture a sand pit in the basement, a faint memory of black and white tiled steps, and the concertina gates of the lift at Hove station. They both passed first time, and their driving instructor, Mr Doo, would go on to teach us all to drive many years later.
Further on, after a terrible case of seasickness while sailing to France in the teeth of a gale, I had to be farmed out to April and Leslie’s place in Hove Park Road whenever the parents went on boat trips across the channel. It seemed a very peaceful place compared to our noisy home, talking to Trevessa years later, she told me that April very rarely raised her voice, and taught them all not to raise their voices either. That has always been the thing about April, she radiates a kind of peace and tranquillity, and you can see that in her children, doubtless they have passed that on to their children too, all of whom April was so incredibly proud, and rightly so.
Leslie, middle of back row, April front left, Ma front right, Uncle Peter back right
As well as having a strong religious faith, April and Ma inherited their mother’s relentless industry with needle craft, knitting or sewing. Neither family has been short of jumpers, hats, or scarfs, and to that end, they began getting involved with friends in what we later laughingly called their, ‘Stitching and Bitching’ Tuesday’s, gathering at each others places alternately, to chat and make things. They all enjoyed a well told joke, so if I had come across something which made me laugh, often rude, I’d print it out and give it to Ma to take along. You knew it was a winner if you heard April laugh, not because that was unusual, it wasn’t, but she had a glorious laugh, her head would rock back, a kind of shriek would be the precursor to the following bellow of laughter, and it was totally infectious. The joke would never be read out loud, but passed around, so that one by one, the Sewing Sisters would wait their turn, and those that had read it already, would wait with interest to hear the ’pay off’. These sessions kept going until recently, but sadly with April’s illness, and other factors, came more or less to an end a while back.
While April was in the Sussex County hospital, Leslie was making the trip in everyday to visit, parking at Bristol Gate, and climbing the steep hill each time. Whether this had an effect or not, Leslie ended up in hospital himself, having suffered a stroke. On Friday, 8thSeptember, came the worst of all news, April had passed away, with family around her. Ma had gone to visit, but got there too late. I don’t think we realised just how bad April must have been, but I’ll struggle with the fact I didn’t insist on driving her in. Ma had been visiting April by bus for so long, other than the couple of times when I drove her. I packed her off with some fresh pineapple chunks, as April had said she’d rather have that, than the tinned stuff they served up. When I picked Ma up from the footbridge, she told me she had been too late. We drove back quietly, I know how close they have always been, and how devastated she must be, as will Leslie and the family. She will be missed, and greatly, but she will be remembered well. For now it’s the difficult process of becoming used to that fact, while trying to tap in to some of April’s quiet, determined, positivity.
May you rest in peace Auntie April.
Going Going Gone
Three weeks on since our dear ole Pa’s 90th birthday celebrations, and the time seems to have whistled past already, but the memory of the party is still bright. What a day it turned out to be, with friends and relatives coming from far and wide. There was a veritable small army of volunteers helping to make it happen, and on the day, Saturday 15th April, the decorations, murals, balloons, and guests, brought a smile to the old mans face that lasted a good week at least.
The mural of pictures from Squire’s life, was the master piece of Charlene, my brother David’s better half. I had given her a memory stick of photos to work with, and she worked through nights to produce through digital mastery, an eight foot by five foot banner, printed on acrylic material, a pictorial history the old boys life, with names printed on each photo. There were a few little typos, but we all agreed it added to the fun, and drew a wry smile from one family member who happens to be a proof reader. In fairness to Charlene, English is not her first language, she was working in to the wee hours on a tight deadline, and was also slightly mis-directed by her not insignificant other half when it came to some of the names.
Throughout the afternoon, Squire barely sat down as he enjoyed chatting to his many friends and rellies, not least of which, the second meeting between himself and his brother, Ian Ramus, and Ian’s lovely wife, Jill. I wasn’t there to witness the hug, I’d been conscripted to taxi duty, but my brother, Stig, described the moment to me later. Inevitably, Ian and Jill found themselves to be one of the star turns on the day. For those that don’t know, Ian is actually Squire’s half brother, they both have the same dad, Reg/Roy/Bob, some of the names he went by, but Ian had never been made aware of his other siblings existence. We as children had been told the story of this other brother, but knew nothing of his whereabouts, or even his proper name, Squire had told me he thought it might have been Ian, but he couldn’t be sure. He also believed Ian was a doctor. From grilling the old man, it turns out that his sister, Sheila, had maintained contact with their Uncle Nev, and he had kept her updated on her dads news, which was also how they found out when Reg died in 1967.
Squire and Ian
I will tell this story in more detail another time, but suffice to say, it’s a great delight to have welcomed Ian and Jill in to the family since we first met in 2013.
The invite to Squire’s 90th party came with a proviso of no presents, just donations to the RNLI, and to add a bit of fun to the day, we chucked in an impromptu auction to try and raise a few more pounds to that worthy cause. My eldest brother, David, fancied being the auctioneer, so an hour or so into the party, he took the bull by the horns and got the auction going in typical David style. Bull in a china shop might be over doing it, but if you imagine his 18th birthday present from his mates was a beer tankard with the inscription, ‘He Came, He Saw, He Broke’, well you may get an idea. Item by item, he was briskly selling the lots, all the while, watchful cousins wondered on his behalf how he would remember who had bought what. Cousin Sam Ramus was soon on the case, writing down the names and amounts on a serviette, while cousin Nicola C.B, with beaming smile, jumped in as assistant to the auctioneer, handing him the lots, having noticed his difficulties in diving back and forth under the table to grab and unpack whichever item he was trying to get ‘knocked down’.
David the auctioneer
Stig the auctioneers assistant
While this barely controlled pandemonium was entertaining the crowd, we had other members of the family joining in the fun, my brother Stig, (Anthony), giving vocal support in case his elder brothers voice had not carried to the back of the hall, and also jumping in on the count down, ‘going once’, ‘going twice’, ‘sold to….’, all with great relish and embellishment. Then you had little sis, Lizbet, doing her best to bid for half the items going up, not least of which for the set of pewter model cars that Squire had donated, she paid £60 for the set. His still boxed collection of model trains were going for between five and ten quid each, a hundred year old book of cartoons that I picked up at a car boot sale for a quid, went for £30. The finale was a day with the Shoreham RNLI crew, which went for £60. I have to say I was a bit gutted about that one, I missed it, and would have bid at least £200, but there you go.
The overall figure for the auction came to £450, and just under the thousand for the RNLI on the day, with plenty of laughs all round. Towards the end, we realised the gorgeous maritime cake that Annie had made for the occasion hadn’t been cut yet, so what better way to bring up the final hour of the party, than to make a big deal of our dear old dads 90th cake cutting ceremony. Cousin Michelle it turns out, is a semi-professional cake cutter, and straight after Squire’s initial incision, she was up and slicing, notwithstanding Auntie Manuela’s comment that perhaps Ian Ramus, (who happens to be a retired surgeon), might be better trained for such a job. Ian caught the quip, and respectfully suggested his knives used to be on a rather smaller scale than sufficient for such an operation.
Squire cutting the cake
Michelle the master cutter
I can safely tell whoever might be interested, that both Squire and Ma had a wonderful day, and talk of it still. There was one last addition worth a chuckle to finalise the story. David had written out a cheque for the RNLI, for the amount he was told had been raised, or at least, he was told the figure was a fraction below the thousand mark, so he made the cheque out for the round grand, only to find that many of the donations were by cheque too, about 200 quids worth, so the total became £1200 donated to the RNLI on the day. Not a bad way for an old salty sea dog to celebrate his 90th.
Two days later, on his actual birthday, Monday April 17th, a bank holiday, Brighton and Hove Albion gave him his last present by securing promotion to the Premier League when they beat Wigan 2-1 at the Amex Stadium. Two weeks later, on May 3rd, Ma and Pa celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary, for which we had a bottle of bubbly left over from the party, so what better accompaniment than Shepherds Pie?
Ma n Pa on their wedding day, May 3rd 1958
With our dear old dad, aka, Squire’, coming up to 90 years old, naturally we have arranged a big get together of family and friends for the occasion, but how do you go about something like that? I mean to say, you don’t come across many nonagenarian’s, and they must have seen and done so much during their tenure on this blue marble. First up, family pow wow to talk the idea through, and see who could do what regarding making the actual event happen, and who else might be called upon. Next thing was to make people aware, so I took the easy route, and set up a Facebook group for it, then started inviting everybody, family and friends, asking them to invite whoever I may have missed, or who they know doesn’t do Facebook. Luckily Squire is a popular old buzzard, and a reliable team were soon assembled, cake, decorations, and moral support are in hand. Location was a no-brainer, his beloved Sussex Yacht Club, of which he’s been a member since about Nelson’s time, although we nearly missed out as we’d left it all a bit late, but luckily got an afternoon slot for Saturday 15th April, 2 days before his actual birthday. They have an in house catering mob, so food was covered, all we had to do now was make sure people had enough advance notice, and keep the date alive in their minds.
Ma n Pa on honeymoon in Windsor, 1958
It had long been my intention to get an old box of family photo slides scanned in somehow, but lacked the technology to make it happen. Trawling the internet I found a slide and neg scanner which seemed to fit the bill, ‘DigitNow high resolution film scanner’, for £50, unfortunately it wasn’t fit for anything but the waste bin, so I returned it the same day as it arrived, and left a scathing review of the worthless product. I went back to the internet, checking the reviews more thoroughly this time, and found this ‘Ion Pics2SD’ slide and negative scanner on e bay, with great reviews. Having ordered the device it was now a waiting game, so when it arrived I was full of excited anticipation, this soon turned to further disappointment when I discovered this item was even less use than the first scanner. It did nothing, and looked wrong compared to the sales picture too, so I rattled off a message to the seller, informing them of my disappointment. After a number of messages back and forth, I sent the item back and awaited their verdict, which thankfully was swift, I had been sent a duff product, one they don’t even sell apparently. When the replacement arrived a couple of days later, I wasn’t going to get my hoped up, but within minutes all the previous let downs had been forgotten, and I found this little light box to be just what the doctor ordered. Slides that haven’t been viewed for getting on 40 years were revealing the past in glorious technicolour, saved to my laptop, and shared on the newly created Facebook group for the old mans 90th birthday. The images went back further than 40 years, some of them are from the 1950’s, including the parents wedding and honeymoon. After that I was like a kid in a sweet shop, finding one treasure after another as I downloaded the priceless photo-documents of our family, friends, and cousins.
Ma n pa on holiday in Cornwall with Uncle Mike, Auntie Manuela, and their kids, circa 1963
Having saved all these slides for posterity, I went to the cupboard where they had been gathering dust all these years, and stumbled upon 18 packs of black and white negatives, each pack with between 30 to 40 images. My new toy meant I could instantly check this rich new vein of photos out, and what a joy that has been. I have to say I’ve been very happily impressed with the quality of the scanned images, and not to mention the fact that the photographer, my dad, had done a bang up job with his camera work, with a very low rate of failures among these pearls of photographic family history. Since then I’ve been scanning and sharing this new found archive via FB, and if I were a Facebook ‘Like’ junky, I’d have enough to see me through to New Year 2020, and that’s only with 10% of the photos shared so far. What better way could there be to ignite interest in Squire’s forthcoming birthday celebrations, and give everyone something extra to chat about come the day, not that we really need any help, family gatherings have always been something to look forward to. There is also the not so small matter of Squire’s brother, Ian, who until a few short years back, believed himself to be an only child. I tracked him down while doing family tree research, and we have been in contact since 2008, meeting for the first time in September 2013 when he and his lovely wife, Jill made the journey down to see us. The two of them will be making the trip down for Squire’s 90th, and meeting a lot of nieces and nephews for the first time, hopefully they will enjoy the newly found archive of family photos too. I can’t wait.
On Wednesday night I was wondering how to organise the following day, with Ma’s hospital appointment at ENT, 10.20, Squire’s dentist check up at 09.45, could we still fit in a swim, and the Devil going back in the water around 14.00. When I woke up Thursday morning the answer was simple, cancel the appointments. Ma’s was a year later follow up for her balance issues, so they gave us a new date in May, Squire’s dental check up, they said we can reschedule when we like, all good, and now we could fit the swim in too.
For a while now, Squire’s balance has been more of an issue than Ma’s, and before, during, and after the swim he was all of a wobble, but no actual tumbles thankfully, so we make light of it, me informing him that if he’s going, it’ll be me pushing him, to which he replies, “I do like a bit of ambition in my boys”. On return from the swim, David’s car was in the drive with a flat tyre, apparently he’d had to take evasive action to allow an ambulance past, kerbed the car and punctured one of his boy racer low profiles. Then, in his inimitable style, broke a few tools with his Popeye arms while trying to remove the particularly stubborn wheel nuts. After a good search I found a decent enough socket and handle for the job, then we discovered we had no means of inflating the damn thing. After trying out the neighbours, David ended up walking back to his place to grab a handraulic stirrup pump for the job, and eventually got away to prep the Devil for the drop back in the river. No dramas really, just a typical Ramus affair of finding obstacles throwing themselves in the path of what ought otherwise be a smooth transition of events.
The boat movement went far more smoothly, with club Bosun showing some nifty control with the boat hoist, pulling off a 38 point turn in the yacht club car park before dropping the Devil down the slipway in to the Adur, and we could then mosey off up the river to Aldrington basin, back to the mooring. We were luckier than a later boat owner, who had his scheduled movement ambushed by an incident at sea. Ben also happens to be a member of Shoreham RNLI, and the ‘Shout’ had gone out, so he had to answer the call.
Later that afternoon, having walked Fred, I popped out to buy some milk, and while there, discovered I had enough money to buy a Magnum ice cream too. Having treated myself, I thought I’d nip up to Widewater Lagoon to eat it there and watch the wildlife, discovering to my surprise, the reason for the lifeboat call out. Widewater was swarming with police, coastguards, firemen, and paramedics, with their vehicles blocking up the road in , and a good deal of the car park. Asking a fellow dog walker I recognised, he told me a plane had ditched in the sea, with no casualties luckily. It was high tide, and his engine having died shortly after take off from Shoreham Airport, he glided the stricken plane to a safe landing on the water, then calmly the two occupants stepped out on to the wings, and swam ashore to the amazement of onlookers.
As well as the lifeboat, a helicopter was called out too, in case of casualties needing an airlift to hospital. Once they knew the pilot and passenger were ok, the lifeboat and helicopter left the scene, but the lifeboat were again scrambled later when they realised the plane was floating out to sea on the tide, so Ben had another ‘Shout’, and they towed the flying machine back to shore, where the various members of the services set about dragging it up to the top of the beach. Later that evening, the story was local headline news on TV, and a new tourist attraction had presented itself to enquiring eyes.
This morning I went along to check it out, it’s behind the beach huts, had tape around the area, and security guards watching over it. Apparently they will try to remove it today, although quite how was not yet known. Our neighbour, Sarah Parker, is a flying instructor, and her husband, Brent, told us she’d seen the flight consul, and estimated the plane had made it to about 300 feet before the engine cut out, and the pilot would have had little time to play with. From all I’ve heard since, he did a bang up job of gliding the old bird safely in to the briny without any serious repercussions. The plane itself looks in pretty good nick considering what it’s been through. Film crews are hanging around to document the removal of the aircraft from the beach, so I guess Shoreham/Lancing will be getting another mention tonight.
Close up of the damage
We’ve had more than our fair share of nasty plane incidents here in the last few years, so it’s a very pleasant change to have one with a happy ending.
For the best of reasons, for the worst of reasons, old friends gathered to celebrate the life of an old friend, Richard Miles Wilson, or ‘Chud’ as he was known to a certain crowd that long since grew up and became sensible. To revert to the names we used when we called Crown road home, P Dog, Billy Boy, Roly, Monetta, and the Wolf, aka Ramdog, drove up to Wales together, among many others that had made the trip from far and wide to pay their respects. P Dog being the only one not to have lived at number 18 Crown road, but spent as much time there as any that had. Chud had the box room during his tenure at that happy bungalow, around 1996/97, and at the time I was a tad restless about my lot in life, and took a psychometric assessment to see where it might lead. When I got the results, Chud suggested a media course he’d been reading about, at Northbrook College, Goring. I went along for an interview, and got on the course for the 1997-98 terms. Britpop was all the rage, with Blur, Oasis, Pulp, The Verve, Ocean Colour Scene knocking out classics, the film Trainspotting, and it’s Welsh version, Twin Town came out. Music, films, and computer games played a major part in our lives, studying the subject seemed to validate the importance of watching as many movies as possible. The computer games and cards brought out the competitive child in all of us, PGA Golf, Wrestling, or Worms, on the Sega Mega Drive, and Sega Rally Championship, Sega Knights with its clown ball, on the Sega Saturn, all played in a highly animated fashion, to the great amusement of the rest of us waiting our turn.
The card games are probably what defined Crown Road above all else though, and Shithead for Tea was ‘The’ game. A game of deviousness, deception, cunning, and from certain quarters, cheating, you didn’t want to lose at Shithead for Tea, because there were generally as many as 13 players, and that’s a lot of tea to make. Not every game was for tea, but when the call went up, there would be chewing of nails, and furtive glances around between the established cheats, namely, Roly and Guzzi, but others were not averse to the occasional sliding of an unwanted card down the side of one of the sofa’s. The game of Shithead is not designed for finding a winner, it’s all about the loser, and trying not to be the last one standing, and Chud, like me, loved the fact that you could actively work towards stitching someone up, even delaying your own exit so you can have fun sealing someone else’s fate, especially when it’s for tea. The Horse Racing card game was the liveliest, as the banker would give commentary on the progress of the Aces as they race to the top depending on whether their suit had been drawn from the pack. All the penny jars came out for Horse racing, with bets limited to 20p, and occasionally raised up to a pound, should the banker permit. Imagine looking down on a round rug, with 3 sofa’s, and two armchairs, ashtrays all over the place, the stairs acting as extra seating for a big attendance, and everyone cheering on their ace, or holding heads in hands as their ‘horse’ struggles to get off the mark. These were the things that amused us all at 18 Crown Road.
Of the many things that Chud introduced us to, was the word ‘cutch’, or ‘cwtch’ as it’s spelt in Welsh apparently. We all liked a good hug, especially on one of our many excursions into Brighton, to the Escape Club, so when Chud informed us this hug would be called a cutch in Wales, it stuck, along with silly Welsh accents, sayings, and whatever else childish word play we could think of. A cutch wasn’t just a hug though, it would be a form of bear hug, a deep feeling, hold on tight, let that loving out, full on way to let the recipient know that they’re better than all right.
I have a tape recording somewhere, of Chud, Billy, Zac, and Roly, after a pub session at the Cricks one weekend. As was their wont, they would often come through the door play fighting, normally Roly and Zac, but now and again anyone else in the immediate vicinity could become involved. As they bundled their way through in to the lounge, smashing in to the phone table under the stairs, I happened to have my camera at the ready, taking snaps of these precocious youths, unbeknown to all of us at the time, the voice recorder had been activated, so I have this priceless moment recorded for posterity. All I need to do now is find a way to get it digitised, and upload it. I remember one line from Billy, like, ‘Zac’s got his finger up my nose’, you couldn’t help but laugh at them.
As we drove up to Swansea, story after story being recalled, a good deal of them unrepeatable here, the journey seemed to zip by. On arrival at the Travelodge, we began seeing old familiar faces from that bygone era, and knew that the memory of Chud had weaved its magic, but for the worst possible reason. This day was to be a celebration though, so no sour faces, just walk around, share your stories, and listen to the others. When Chud’s brother, Si, asked me if I would be a pall bearer, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so honoured, and of course I took up the offer without hesitation, if not a little concerned as to whether they would have someone else as short as me to line up with. P Dog had told me of his uncle’s funeral, where he had been a pall bearer, but was a foot taller than all the others, so he had to bend himself in to shape for the job, top hat and all. Needless to say, it went fine.
Next to his picture on the front of the Order of service was:- Richard Miles Wilson: 6th June 1974 – 21st January 2017. Star sign: Taurus, with Mars ascending, although he believed astrology to be utter nonsense.
The service was a masterpiece by Chud’s family, beginning with his 13 year old daughter, Sophia, reading, ‘He Is Gone’, some lines of which were,
‘You can shed tears that he is gone, or you can smile because he lived.
You can remember him and only that he is gone, or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.’
His brother in law, Matt, read the most wonderful eulogy, which still has me smiling at the massage episode in the taxi. I’ve never met Matt before, but as he spoke, with every word we could understand he knew Chud so very well, and ‘got’ him, summed up so perfectly the loving nature he carried with him. Si and Chud’s 90 year old Grandad addressed us all, to thank everyone for coming, and what a testament it was to Richard, that so many, from so far, wanted to come to pay their respects. When it came to Si’s turn to give us his own tribute, by way of an amusing anecdote, we were hit with the harsh reality of the crematorium business, they were telling him to wrap it up and move along. But Si took this in his stride, determined not to let anything deter us from keeping it a happy affair to celebrate his brothers life, he did so amazingly well on what was probably the hardest day of his life. I hope to get the story he couldn’t tell from him at some point, and share it here. As the coffin disappeared to the tunes of Surfin’ Bird by the Trashmen, smiles broke out, which I know would have made the Chud of old grin like a Cheshire cat, he never let go of the irrepressible child within himself, and that was something that endeared him to all who knew him.
Later that day, having partaken of a beverage or two too many, I nodded off at the wake at the Buck Inn, Pontlliw, and as a nod to times past, the boys naturally took advantage of the situation. I should consider myself lucky to have kept my eyebrows, but they decorated me with whatever came to hand, the pictures had been circulated around Facebook far and wide by the time I got back to Shoreham. Next week we will be celebrating Chud’s life again, at the Cricketers pub, Southwick, where we met him, Si, Gill and Kev all those years ago, and hopefully raising a few pounds towards the children of Chud and Rachel.
The physical presence is no longer with us, but our memories of him will live on, so Richard Miles Wilson, cysga’n dawel cariad bach.
Sleep peacefully dear friend.
Life Goes On
Before recent events took over, I had been intending to write a blog about life with the parents, with its ups, downs, joys and worries, worries that you carry around through the days and nights, and joys, simple things such as hearing they slept well last night, or being sat around the kitchen table having cooked breakfast at the weekend, bacon and cheese omelettes today. With Ma and Pa being ill at the same time over Christmas, then Ma being taken seriously ill and having half her stomach removed a few weeks back, that was my real ‘Zombie Mode’ time, you feel so helpless, but do whatever you can to keep things going, keep busy at home, visit Ma at hospital every day, make sure the old man is fed and well, walk the pup. Dog walking, that’s when my mind relaxes and I rationalise everything to a state I can accept.
The curtain has now been officially drawn on the court case, and my friends were hit by a bill for £13,500, comprising of £6000 damages settlement to the parasites that we had helped out by getting them away from living in a car, and in to a nice home. £7,500 in the legal fees for both sides. Purely because legal advice was to settle, despite the fact that these two sharks had invented a pack of lies to make their case, my friends were told it could get a lot worse. This still makes me feel angry at the outrageous injustice, basically, because they were on legal aid, they had on intention for settling for anything less than a decent sum, and doubtless their legal team knew only too well that the defendants would have to settle rather than rack up legal fees they would have absolutely no chance of recovering.
Since I had the phone call letting me know they had finally settled, I have actually found myself feeling strangely relaxed, glad this nightmare is over at last, and that it hopefully can’t get any worse. I say ‘hopefully’, mainly because, if this has taught me anything, it is that right or wrong can sometimes have nothing to do with anything. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to hear these two have done this before, and if they hadn’t, I’m sure they will have learned quickly what a useful little money spinner that scam is, and doubtless hit some other unsuspecting victim further down the line. And all of this from someone who should be behind bars already. Doubtless they’re strutting around like the cock of the walk now, boasting about working the system, and probably indulging in a drug fuelled celebration somewhere, but who can really say. Maybe they used their winnings to put a deposit on a nice little beach hut somewhere, and buying nice clothes to impress at the next job interview, looking forward to getting custody of their 6 children back from the people that have been raising them, who knows?.
Well, it’s 2017 now, and Trainspotting 2 is out at the cinemas, so to paraphrase one of the original films lines, I choose life, I choose not to be a victim, or as a good mate of mine is known to say in such situations, “move on, build a bridge, get over it”. It’s only money after all, no one died, and there are much more important things to consider in life, like my own family. My savings have taken a hit, but I know people that have been hit harder, much harder. So now is time to reset the clock, everything begins anew from here, concentrate on my new vocation of drawings for loft conversions and single storey extensions, but also try and make time for my favourite pastime, family historical research, and the stories which spring from this research. Obviously all of this takes second place to Ma and Pa, and the pup, Fred.
Me and a few old friends will be making the trip up to Wales for the funeral of Richard Miles Wilson next Friday, which also has a link back to the original Trainspotting. Richie was living at my place the year that film came out, 1997, and I was at college on a Film, Video, and Script Writing course, having taken a couple of years out from work to do it. Blur and Oasis were taking the music world by storm, but Richie’s preference was for Green Day, and he had discovered the old band, Procul Harem. He also introduced us all to the classic Welsh version of Trainspotting, Twin Town, which came out that year. Thinking back to that now, we had such a laugh at my place in Crown road, the crowd we had was extensive, eclectic, and close, how I wish I’d been blogging back then. I do have a lot of photo’s from the time, and they make me smile every time I thumb through them.
Richie’s sad passing is one more reason to get on with life, and try to make the most of the minutes, hours, days allotted. He took his own life for reasons we can never be sure of entirely, and in what state of mind?, but who knows when the time may come without warning. I’m going to try to make sure I get the things I want to do, done, or at least give them a shot. Trevor Hardy, an animator friend, has put the word out for set and prop builders for his short animations, so I’m going to give that a try and see how it goes, while keeping the drawings going, and as much as possible, keeping a happy, healthy household. Life goes on.
This is possibly the hardest blog I've ever had to write, because it lays bare my pathetic weakness for all to read.
Zombie mode, going around like a walking heart attack, not because of the workload, not because of financial problems, unable to really see what you have actually achieved, but weighed down with the worry for others, even, or especially, when you’re not there. Then just as you think you’re getting through it all, seeing light at the end of that never ending tunnel, a cluster bomb is dropped on you from a great height.
Back in September, while walking Fred along the seafront, I began to notice a couple sleeping in their car at Widewater Lagoon in Lancing. After a couple of weeks, and gradually declining temperatures, I knocked on their window to ask if everything was all right, and they told me they had been living in this car for a year. Gradually over the following weeks I would speak to them, bring them a flask of hot water with coffee, tea, milk, and sugar, and Freddie would jump on their laps, they seemed like a humble couple, fallen on hard times. I began looking for advice on how they might be helped, phoning the YMCA, asking my friend, Tim Wall, who works in social services, but discovered this wasn’t an easy issue. A friend, who it’s best not to name at this point, told me of rooms they managed, and that if one came up, they might get them in there, the upshot being, after a couple of months, we got them moved in by 4th November, and they were ecstatic. They didn’t have the deposit, so I said I would loan them the amount required, and duly transferred the money.
Over the following weeks, I would receive texts from this couple, telling me how amazing the new home was, how great the other tenants were, and how thankful to me and my friends who run the place they were. At Christmas they sent me a long text saying how happy they were to be spending Christmas in such a happy, comfortable environment, “all thanks to you Andy, and …., and …..”. They went on to tell me they wanted to start repaying the loan, but I told them I had other things to worry about at that point, with Ma and Pa being ill at the same time. I was glad they were settled, and not worried about when I was repaid.
Christmas came and went, and then I heard there had been a falling out at the house they were staying, and the humble couple had turned Jekyll and Hyde, having massive rows, and intimidating the other residents, culminating in a bust up that resulted in one of them throwing the others belongings out on to the rear lawn. My friends were called, and on arrival were threatened by the man of this couple, while bemoaning the fact that his other half had left to be with another man. He then told them he was leaving, and shot off. As a result, they decided it best to change the locks for the safety of the other residents, and moved the couple’s belongings to the front lawn, in the bin liners that they had been stuffed in already.
A week later my friends were served with a law suit, claiming damages to property and unlawful eviction, and the couple had legal aid. They invented a pack of lies, saying they had been turned out, and claimed they had property worth £10,000 in those bin liners, this from a couple who had been living in a car for a year, had no work, other than an occasional day here or there, and had only been at this place for just over two months. When I got the phone calling telling me all of this, I felt physically sick, and still do.
I went as a witness to the first hearing, believing that justice would be done, and their case ought to be thrown out. When I arrived, these two were sat in the same waiting area. Everything about them seemed different, unrecognisable from the couple I remember at Widewater car park. They were talking wildly, making little sense. After talking to the barrister, I went to a lower floor to avoid further contact with the couple, but could hear them talking about cocaine, how he had a record, and hoped it wouldn’t come up, and her saying how her cocaine habit was the reason she didn’t have her 4 children, her mother raising them.
The following morning, one of the other residents, a taxi driver, found all of his tyres had been slashed, we can of course only speculate whether this was payback for his witness statement. He lost a days fares while organising replacement tyres, all of which was reported to the police.
This week the news got worse, my friends have now been told, after two offers of settlement, £1000 plus costs, then £2000 plus costs, were refused, they have now been advised to pay up £6000 damages, plus costs. This advice is from a barrister, who says it can get an awful lot worse if they don’t settle quick. I really just cannot believe that this is how a justice system can work. Not only because of the ridiculous nature of the claim, but it has alao been discovered that the male of this couple, has an outstanding warrant to recall him to prison, he had been serving a sentence for burglary, released, but recalled for, presumably, reoffending. It turns out he has a long record. This accusing couple had also managed to buy themselves another car during this period, however, they are on legal aid, so it costs them nothing to make their allegations, while the innocent party are drowning under the legal costs, none of which they have any chance of retrieving, even if they win. They have to settle, or face an ever spiralling legal bill, which they simply can’t afford.
I felt like a zombie before, I no longer know what I feel, just numb inside. I have no legal recourse to contribute, but I have a moral duty to my friends, and so far this has cost me £4500 towards their legal bill, plus the £450 deposit I paid for these two excuses for human beings, all from my savings etched out over the years. How on earth do you maintain any belief in a legal system that can allow vermin like this to not only flout it, but make a totally unreasonable profit from their lies and deception, probably ruining my friends business in to the bargain. I had got to the point where I was feeling more positive about life with Ma and Pa recovering, but it was just the lull before the storm, with wave after wave of injustice trying to finally sweep us off the decks, while a couple of drug addled vermin laugh and wait for their payout.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
To be brutally honest, I’d like to drop kick 2017 in to the dustbin already. I’d made an effort in the run up to Christmas to banish my previous antipathy towards the festive bandwagon, and give us a cheery kick start to the new year coming with a happy, Christmassy house. Well that didn’t turn out too well did it. Admittedly, Ma is recovering well in hospital, and Squire is making slow, but decent progress from the virus that hit him, requiring anti-biotics to stave off another bout of pneumonia.
All these things however, pale in to insignificance when you hear an old friend has been driven to despair enough to take his own life. Richard Miles Wilson, Richie, or Chud, to a lot of us, was one of the nicest people you could have the privilege of knowing, better still to call a friend. We lost contact a while back I’m desperately sorry to say, and like many others I’m sure, I wish so hard I could have been there to wrap an arm around him and tell him things would get better over time. But life isn’t like that, and in this case, there is no second chance, so now we’re left with just the memories to try and find some solace, and a belief that we were lucky to have known him.
I first met Richie when his mum and dad, Gill and Kev, ran the Cricketers pub in Southwick, and we hit it off pretty much straight away, the Welsh family from Gorseinon, Swansea, or ‘Go Sign On’, as they laughingly referred to it. My place was the smokers version of a pub, the Shithead card school capital of Shoreham and Southwick, for a small group of us. Richie and his brother Si, were soon a major part of our social circle, and for a few wonderful carefree years we all knocked about together. They were both good looking boys that turned the girls heads, great fun to be around, and with their pub upbringing, more than up for a party, always ready to put in the effort to make things go with a bang. Thankfully I have a myriad of memories which put a smile on my face of both Richie, and Si, and everyone that knew Chud, will have their own, but that will also make it that much harder to take when they realise those memories can never be added to.
Richie was a sensitive soul, he cared, I think he even went to an orangutan sanctuary to help over in Borneo if my memory serves me right. But he cared about others, had a great sense of humour, always up for a laugh, even at his own expense, and was one of life’s lovable softies. He met and married Rachel, and they had three children, moved away, came back here, and moved away back to Wales again, and as so often happens, you find yourselves having less and less contact for whatever reason. Facebook allows you to see what they’re up to, drop them a line on birthdays and Christmas, comment on pictures uploaded, but not the same as meeting up and saying, ‘hi, how are you?’. I need to think about this fact.
He and Rachel had split up two years back apparently, and his dad Kev died last year. Chud and Si had a close bond with Kev and Gill, so Kev’s death will have hit them hard, it’s not something you can prepare yourself for. All four of them had tremendous character about them, but if one hurt, they all hurt. I don’t want to even think about the pain Gill, and Si must be in right now, but I do know the people they are, and that there will be people around them that they trust and love, who will be trying to help them through this bloody awful time. Rachel and the children must also deal with the dreadful aftermath, hopefully with loving friends and family to cope, and time, the last great healer.
Finally, I hate the fact I’m writing this all in the past tense, that we’re never again going to be blessed by that lovely face, amusing company, silly voices, and everything that went in to being Richard Miles Wilson, a beautiful human being, gone far, far too soon. Shine on you, you crazy diamond Chud, although, given one of his favourite bands was Green Day, maybe ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ would be more appropriate. Thank you for being my friend, and please forgive me for losing contact.
Well we didn’t see that coming.
When Ma’s sewing sister buddies came round last Tuesday, they all mentioned how unwell she looked. I explained how despite the back problem after her fall, that it was the stomach pain causing Ma the most discomfort, but everyone had put that down to the medication so far. On Wednesday we went to see Dr McIlroy, who organised more blood tests, and urine sample to be taken, she wasn’t at all happy about the tenderness around Ma’s stomach, and she prescribed a different oral medication to compliment the slow release painkillers she was taking. On Friday we phoned the surgery to find out what the results of the tests were, and Dr McIlroy said to come in. She talked us through the blood results, high white cell markers, a few abnormal readings here and there, but nothing markedly out enough to explain the obvious pain ma was suffering. Given all the information available, the doc filled out a form for Ma to be looked at over at Worthing A.C.A, on Monday. A.C.A, (Ambulatory Care Area), is a kind of halfway between A and E, and actual admission, designed to free up beds while caring for those that could make the trips back and forth to the hospital. This was where Squire was looked after when he had his cellulitis, a fantastic set up with excellent staff. Dr McIlroy’s instruction were that if her condition deteriorated, Ma should go straight in over the weekend, but definitely get there for 08.30 Monday if not.
Ma was adamant she was ok over the weekend, and also apprehensive about going to hospital, worrying about what was going to happen, our first real sign from her that she was probably in more pain than she was letting on. It almost certainly didn’t help that she had a tumble during the night of Sunday/ Monday morning. About 4a.m I heard a noise, got up to hear Ma calling for help, she was laying on the lounge floor having lost her balance while on her way back from the toilet. I got her back to her chair, and settled with a dose of the liquid painkiller, OxyNorm, and went back for the last couple of hours before the alarm to get up.
Thankfully the fall hadn’t seemed to caused her too much extra distress, and having walked Fred and prepped the Trough for later, I drove us off to Worthing A.C.A. Checked in by 08.30, it was dormouse quiet, other than admin staff. As the morning wore on, they took more blood tests, asked a lot of questions, and organised an ultra sound, which they later decided to change for C.T scan, a large doughnut shaped x-ray machine. More waiting after that, rigged up for three different powerful I.V antibiotics, during which Ma was flagging a bit, then the first indication of what was wrong by 15.30, a hole in her bowel which would need operating on later that night, she was going to be admitted. My brother, Ant, called David, our eldest brother, to take over from me so I could go and organise the Trough, our weekly family dinner.
David turned up with Charlene, and their arrival picked up her spirits thankfully. He called me later to tell me they had decided to delay the op until tomorrow, but were looking most likely to remove some of the bowel, and fit a ‘stoma bag’, although if the damage wasn’t too severe, they had the option to flush it out, put some drains in, and let it heal. The consultant made it quite clear though, that in his opinion, that option was a rather optimistic hope. We could tell Ma’s spirits were up though, when she explained to me over the phone, how ‘dishy’ she thought her consultant was, much to David’s amusement as her voice carried around the small unit for all to hear.
I phoned today, and was told she was taken from the ward to theatre at about 09.30, and to ring back around 15.00 to find out how it all went. Fingers crossed she will be out of pain at last, getting looked after by the best possible people at one of the High Dependency Units.
A New Years Blog
A nasty cold has a good part of the populace in its grip right now, some recovering, others still in its vice like grasp, our house among them. In the run up to Christmas I had decided to dispense with my usual antipathy towards the festive period, and push the boat out as it were by making a bit of an effort. The first stage of this entailed clearing the decks at home, a long overdue task in fairness, as we have gathered a clutter-lanche of stuff which for one reason or another had been deemed either, too valuable to chuck, or might one day serve a purpose.
Tidying up, if it is to be worthwhile, needs a brutal approach, and has minefields laying in wait. I made a few mistakes, not least of which, turfing out a load of old glasses which Squire later informs me came from the Royal Albion Hotel about 40 years ago. His buddy, Pete Gretton, was working on the refurb there after a fire, and asked the Old Man if he’d be interested in these glasses which were destined for the tip. It’s painfully ironic that I have been researching Harry Preston within my family history, and it is now with dread that I think of the sound those glasses made as I tipped them into the glass recycling bin at Shoreham tip. Harry Preston entertained people from the top end of every walk of life at his hotels, the earliest aviators, drivers, inventors, millionaires, boxers, newspaper magnates, theatrical stars of the day, and royalty. I wonder how many of them may have sipped from the glasses I so callously, or carelessly, lobbed in to that container? I did save a few, so all is not lost, but a pang of guilt hits me each time I think back on what I’ve done.
Photographs on the other hand, I would never dream of throwing out, but getting past them is fraught with problems, how do you stop yourself thumbing through and losing complete mornings and afternoons as these priceless memories soon have you forgetting what you were in the process of doing in the first place. An iron will is required.
Eventually I had cleared space, after a good few days spread over a couple of weeks, the will proving not to be quite so iron, and hours here and there lost discovering old stories. Squire, aka, the Old Man, John, (our dad), has often told me of his time working with his Uncle Neville during the 1950’s, selling fire extinguishers, based in Stratton Street in Piccadilly. He’s recounted many times one of Nev’s favourite lines, reminiscent of Del Boy in ‘Only Fools and Horses’, Nev would tell the Old Man, “We’re on our way to a cool £250,000, this time next year…”. Squire also told me there ought to be one of his business cards from that time around somewhere, but we had never seen one. Imagine my surprise and delight when clearing out the computer room, having spotted a blank white card on the floor, I was about to put it in the bin bag, but when I turned it over, there was this pristine condition card which read,
Ramus Agencies. Distributor of Kwik Fire Extinguishers.
6 Stratton Avenue, Piccadilly, W.1
Represented by Mr. J.S. Ramus
This simple card revived memories instantly, but I’ll return to that in another blog. Once the house clearance had created the desired space, I began to think about the festive decorations. With the parents in reasonable health at the same time, coupled with their advancing years, I wanted to see 2016 out with a proper Christmas, and with that came the decision to make a nativity scene as a centre piece, along with the tree and decorations which have stayed unopened for a few years.
Funnily enough, having expressed our disinterest towards the entire Christmas bandwagon for so long, I was surprised how such a simple thing as a nativity scene could have such a positive effect on everyone, but especially on Ma, although that should be less of a surprise, as she is the self designated family god botherer. Sad to relate, the backlit barn scene proved to be her guiding light for an altogether unintended purpose, after she took a tumble around midnight a few days before Christmas, landing heavily on her backside. The result of the fall was that Ma couldn’t sleep in her bed, and has slept in her chair in the lounge since, using the barn light to navigate to and from her chair during night time bathroom visits.
Christmas dinner proved to be a roaring success, except for Ma’s discomfort. My sister, Lizbet, had called around a few days earlier with her son, Reggie, his girlfriend Stacey, and their 3 month old son, Alfie. They asked if it would be alright to join us for Christmas dinner, which of course it was, in fact it was the icing on the cake come the day, resulting in possibly the best 25th December we’ve had in years. Nothing elaborate, but the basics were there, stockings filled with mini Mars bars, Milky Ways, clementine’s, and mini crackers with shockingly bad jokes. Dinner was Lamb Boulangere a la Tom Kerridge, roast brisket, steamed and roasted veg, and heaps of home made gravy. No turkey, no Christmas pud. For the bubbly, we had three bottles of Fat Bastard, a perfectly pukka sparkling wine, and ten around the table, which incorporated four generations from little Alfie up to the octogenarians, Ma and Pa, almost the entire family, with just David’s two, Jack and Hannah, unable to attend.
Unfortunately a particularly virulent cough and cold descended upon us shortly after, hitting Squire hardest, requiring a doctor’s visit, and a course of antibiotics. Then Ma thought she’d like to try sleeping in a bed for the first time since her fall, only to find herself in agony at 3a.m, calling for help. Squire heard her calls, and went downstairs to see what he could do, before realising she was in the spare room upstairs, so back up he went, puffing and wheezing, then back down again to wake me for help, by which time he was shaking like a leaf. After nursing him back upstairs and in to bed, he was in a shocker of a state by then, I then had to get Ma off the spare bed, with every move pure agony for her as her back twitched, and gently manoeuvre her downstairs to her chair, where she has slept every night since.
Next day we called the surgery, and the same doc that saw Squire the day before came out to see Ma. This was her third doc in a week, agreeing with the previous two that nothing was broken, but changing her medication again, as the co-codomol, and Oramorph, had both caused stomach aches, now she is on slow release Oxycodone, but her appetite hasn’t yet returned, having to be coaxed in to eating morsels with her pills. The Christmas dec’s are down, but the nativity barn scene with its handy LED light got reinstated to assist in her navigation during the night as she sleeps in the lounge.
Today, (Tuesday), Ma’s sewing sister buddies turned up unexpectedly, they don’t communicate famously well at times, this being one of those times, but it seemed to be a bit of a bonus, giving Ma some much needed company to natter with. We’ve had friends come round, Annie, and Hel’s, checking up on us to see how it’s all going, which has been priceless, especially as they’re both nurses, giving very useful advice, and welcome friendly faces into the bargain.
There has never really been a point in my life where I thought ahead about what I might want to do, I've just blundered in to one situation after another without any kind of plan, arriving at 53 years old with no more idea than when I left school at 16. Before that I couldn't have cared less, which I believe is the way any normal child should be, at least that meant I had a happy childhood. My first job was only meant to be a holiday job while I waited to go back to school to retake exams, boat building in a barn up at Coombes farm for Kingfisher Yachts, they raised my money and offered me a full time job. It didn't take me too long to think about it, the work was enjoyable, and the weekly wage far too tempting, I was off and running.
Nearly four decades later, I've recently found myself at one more crossroads, as home life began to take up more of my time, leaving less hours to spend on the tools as a carpenter. As luck would have it, I had already begun delving in to the world of drawing plans for loft conversions, doing the scale drawings for friends on jobs that I also went on to build. With the help of my work mate, Neil Gilmour, I built my first loft conversion in 1989, at my first and only house, 18 Crown road, Shoreham. I also had my first taste of drawing then too, as the architect had made a mistake, which we duplicated when building. A letter from the council planning department followed, bringing the mistake to my attention, (after a complaint had been made), and I was instructed to reduce the front dormer in size by about 600mm off the width. At this point I was working as a site carpenter in Maidenbower, Crawley, coming home every night and working on the house, so the day the letter arrived, I read it, and made the alteration that night, phoning the planning department next day to let them know. I can still recall the surprise in his voice when I informed him I'd already done the work required, the next problem he hit me with was the necessity for revised plans to show the alteration. I asked if it had to be an architect that did the drawings, apparently not, as long as they were to scale, with the address clearly marked on the drawing. So that was that, I knocked up a 1:50 scale drawing on A4 paper, and posted in next day.
It certainly never occurred to me then that this might be a new avenue of work, I was earning heaps on site, in fact the main reason for buying the house was to find something to do with all the money that was coming in. It would be a few decades later that I thought again about doing drawings, this time mainly to save friends a few bob, but also to get some experience with a view to doing more in that field. In fairness, I found the whole process of corresponding with the planning department to be quite tedious, especially their attention to what I considered unnecessary nonsense. Having worked from plans often barely fit for purpose, it irked me somewhat to be forced to show minute details which had no bearing for the people who would be using them to build the job. I have since come to terms with the fact that there is a way that planning want things done, and it's best to learn their way and resist the urge to fight against it. I've sent a few caustic e mails to them that I wish I hadn't, and deleted heaps that definitely would not have helped my cause.
I've been doing more and more drawings, gaining valuable experience, and the jobs keep rolling in, courtesy of friends and work mates. But here I am again, finding something else I can do, with the added bonus of knowing the construction side of things to help explain the whole process to the customers, but already my mind is roaming. I feel like there is something out there that I would love to be doing, just have absolutely no idea what that might be.