HARRY AND DAD DISCOVER THE GROVE
I received literature from Portsmouth University, giving details of learner support and adult education programmes held at The Grove, Southsea, off Elm Grove. Some of these programmes were geared for less able persons, with physical disabilities. Subjects covered art and creative writing.
Harry had always had a tendency to draw when in a stable state, as he did in St James. This he was doing quite often at Outram Road, so I suggested to Harry he might like to join their art class, since The Grove was only 15 minutes walking distance away. He was very hesitant and gave no positive answer. His concern was that people would be looking at him if he joined. I had no alternative but to visit the Grove Centre on my own.
I learned quite a lot from my visits to this centre, where less fortunate members of the society, many in wheelchairs, were being cared for by the staff, to enable them to take part in their further education. This was the first experience where I had witnessed an educational body, like the University of Portsmouth setting out its stall to assist these unfortunate people to develop whatever abilities they may have, such as writing or art.
My main personal contact was the head of the centre, Stuart Olesker, who not only finally enrolled Harry, but also myself.
He seemed a bit dubious as regards Harrys ability to adapt himself to classroom life and this proved to be the case. For Harrys phobia about people looking at him could only be solved by providing a separate room, where he could do his painting with Lynn, the tutor, visiting from time to time.
I told Stuart that he had performed a small miracle in retaining Harrys interest.
I had been encouraged to join the Creative Writing course, after Stuart had heard that I had written a short article for the Journal of the Spiritual Healers Association. Although the English subject was his forté, he would only be sitting in from time to time, while Sue would be taking the Creative Writing course.
The course I joined was made up from people from different age groups, from around 20 to 50, with two in wheelchairs, one of whom had written his biography. For me, he took pride of place for overcoming his handicap to produce his young life in writing. He was in his early twenties and needed a carer, who sat by him during class periods. It was interesting to watch Sue make contact with him, as his head rolled to and fro, with his eyes looking upwards. As soon as he produced a smile, one knew that Sues comments had registered, which were followed by some slurred remarks, which Sue understood but the rest of the students, like me, had not a clue. Much of his work had been reproduced to read and make comments on during their workshop period.
I received the tutorship of Stuart Olesker in writing It Happened To Me for most of the time I remained at The Grove and came to admire him for the dedication that he gave to each of his pupils and their carers, when they came to collect their charges.
I often said if I was choosing a person to play Christ in a film or stage play, it would be Stuart Olesker. He was a slender man, about 40 with fair hair and a short beard to match, and during the time I had dealings with him, he always asked how Harry was. He gave me much criticism for not giving graphic accounts of the people and scenes I was involved with, whereas I was concerned to record the events that had taken place, particularly during the war years. However he was generous with praise for my recall of events which had taken place in my early childhood days, more than seventy years ago.
By becoming an undergraduate of Portsmouth University, my ego had been given a boost. I never failed to remind my friends that I had joined the ranks of the intellectuals, and that there were not too many around at my age.
I had acquired an editor, who every now and then thought fit to remind me that written material was awaited for the next edition of the Journal for the Spiritual Healers Association.
Whilst in hospital for my relatively minor operation in Queen Alexandra Hospital, I was impressed with the various voluntary organisations helping out in different ways. Their work, I felt, would make a good subject to write a short article for my editor, under the heading Helping Others. Mr Brereton had suffered four major heart attacks in three weeks. He was in no doubt that the medical staff at Queen Alexandra Hospital had saved his life. As a way of saying thank you, he became head of the League of Friends, based at the hospital.
When I approached him for material for my article, he suggested I made contact with Mrs Jackson, Co-ordinator of Volunteers at St Marys Hospital, Portsmouth.
On a Tuesday, after I had visited Harry, I chose to seek out Mrs Jackson, whose office, I was told, was at the rear of the hospital, in a temporary building. I found this office, as directed, and knocked on the door before entering. Amongst the many papers and journals was a young lady with auburn hair and a roundish face, wearing a flowery blouse. Sitting on a swivel chair, she turned round to me and said, How can I help you?
I am looking for the co-ordinator of the hospital volunteers. I write short articles under the heading, Helping Others. I am seeking material on the role of the volunteers from Mrs Jackson, to prepare a short article on the League of Friends. I then showed her a copy of one I had written on my grand-daughter, Joy, who had done a parachute jump at the age of 15 for charity.
With a pleasant smile, she said, Mrs Jackson was formerly in this office, but her name has not yet been removed from the door. She is now resident in Exton 1 offices, just further along the passageway. I used to be a journalist, before becoming a hospital Public Relations Officer. I can see from what I have read, from this short article, you are a writer. I found it very difficult not to blush after this complimentary remark, and in very little time, I was explaining about my morning visits to The Grove. When I said that I had joined the Creative Writing course, and that I intended to write under the heading It Happened To Me, she requested that she should be given a copy to take home to read in bed.
So now there was no way I could disappoint my newly found lady-friend, who had seen fit to adopt me almost like a mother and child relationship. Her eyes sparkled as she told me her name was Pat Forsyth, and had been born in Australia, coming to England in her early 20s. She had married Nigel, who belonged to a financial syndicate, which had acquired the National Physical Laboratories. During the week, Nigel was based in the Richmond area, and as a result, Pat often stayed in the Thames area at the weekend. Pat frequently wandered around the Royal parks, such as Bushey and Richmond.
My visits to her office followed a regular pattern each week on a Tuesday. As always, I made a point of visiting Harry on a day that Lynn held her art classes, so that I could take him along to join them, should he feel so inclined. I too, would join Sue, should she be taking her Creative Writing course where Mark, in his wheelchair generally held his dialogue with her, moving his head around with his eyes looking upwards from time to time.
My written work received attention from Stuart Olesker, who I always thanked for given me his personal attention. I had a shock one day, when he challenged me about what I had written, concerning the presence of Tommy Steele at Teddington, during a period that Stuart had lived in this area, during his school days. So now there were both Pat and Stuart who had lived in the Teddington area while I had lived there. This taught me to check and double-check before putting into writing something that I think is true.
Taking Harry along to The Grove became very indefinite, and eventually, Harry would choose to take a taxi. The fear of other pupils persisted, so that to remove his fear, a small room was provided for him by Stuart.
These regular visits to The Grove would be followed with a visit to my earthly Guardian Angel, Pat, who would always greet me with a kiss, regardless of who was around. Staff along her corridor began to recognise me and give me a small grin. My thoughts were that Nigel could be waiting with a small gun, somewhere along that corridor. My greeting, after the kiss was, What have you brought me this time to read? followed by comments on what she had read. In my early writings, I had stated that Harry had worked at Smiths Clocks, Kings Cross, London. In returning my script, she remarked, I too, had worked at Smiths Clocks, around the period that Harry was there. It seemed as though fate would continue to play its part in our lives.
Whilst I could not understand why a very intelligent and gorgeous lady, half my age should show so much interest in me, I started to ask the same question about the second lady, Leigh, who had returned to this public relations office after being sick. She too, had taken an interest, and was asking the sort of questions about my personal affairs as Pat. To state the least, all this treatment was uplifting, where depression was mainly the order of the day back home, where Ella seemed to be getting weaker.
Whilst making my weekly visit to these two ladies, I took on the role of a visiting consultant, studying their activities and procedures. I noticed that their phone never ceased ringing, for they were answerable to both management and the public, particularly the press. I asked if they had quantified the time spent answering the phone, for if it was shown to be too excessive, it could justify an additional junior clerk. Another important task that fell on their desk was the Annual Report for the Portsmouth Hospital Trust. This important document, setting out the Trust accountability for the expenditure of public money, in providing an efficient health service, involved a great responsibility on the shoulders of Leigh and Pat.
Perhaps my experience at the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establish-ment being of a similar nature, they found my visits beneficial from their job point of view. Truly, I found it difficult to explain why these two ladies showed so much interest and kindness in my life story and my family, particularly Harry.
Leigh became seconded at a later date to a Management Course, lasting 12 months, with Pat holding the fort on her own. To me, I never noticed her lose control when under pressure, she always retained her calmness. I took great notice of her comments on my writings and was glad that she agreed with the comments that Stuart made from time to time.
Both Harry and I continued with our separate interests, visiting our tutors. For Harry, this would be when the mood suited him and he had paintings to show Lynn. In my case, I had little option in the matter, since Pat had to be supplied with her ten pages of script, which had been vetted by Stuart.
Sadly, our visits to see my sister, Edith, were becoming extremely rare, due to Ellas lack of mobility. We had to turn down several invitations from the farm, including my brother-in-laws 80th birthday party, Ediths granddaughters 21st and my sisters 80th birthday party in 1992. Edith had very bad rheumatism in most of her joints and it was made worse by living in the damp climate of Cheshire, on the farm at Whitegate, Windsford.
Edith and Les lived in a farm labourers cottage, close to the farm cottage, with a lane separating the buildings. Illness struck Les after our last visit to them in 1989, causing him to have both legs amputated. He lived with this disability for a few years, and amazed all who were around him, for his insistence that he should help on the farm, such as grading the potatoes. This handicap meant that Les had to sleep downstairs with suitable toilets being installed.
Their inability to travel was even greater than ours. He had pain in varying degrees in his wheelchair, until he died at the age of 87. Regrettably, Ella and I were not able to attend the funeral, but we did receive a eulogy, giving aspects of his life unknown to us.
© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: January 20, 2001