LIFE OF A SECOND-TIME WIDOWER
When all the post-funeral matters had been attended to, there came a time when I suddenly realised I was on my own, with no-one in the house to love, to blame, or to keep me company.
This happened, when I lost Gladys, who was so house-proud. I panicked as I lay in bed, thinking about how I was going to cope with the house. I got out of bed and spent most of the night walking the bedroom floor, trying to sort who might like to take me on, and the house.
I immediately thought of my bridge partner at Cosham Court Lane Bridge Club. I had not taken into account that she was a headmistress at a junior school. The next day I had phoned her and invited her out to dinner; I did not expect the guarded response that I received, Yes, I would be delighted, Alan. Provided there were no strings attached. I did not remember if that dinner had taken place. Another factor I had to remember was that I had a son which many would hesitate to take on board as well as me, this time following my second bereavement.
I panicked again, but I did not phone someone to take out to dinner, I phoned an estate agent to value the house. I had in mind to go into sheltered accommodation, either privately or run by Havant Council. No sooner had I made this call, a representative from the estate agents was round to measure up the premises.
I explained that the object of his visit was to give me a guide as to how much I should receive for the sale of the house. He was smartly dressed, in a dark suit and spoke with a public school accent. He convinced me that I lived in a much sought-after locality, and that the current price for houses in this road was £70,000. Before the slump in the housing market, the going price for this property was around £80,000. I told him I would think about it.
He wished to complete his dossier by taking photos of the house and garden, which I agreed to, not realising that he wished to have it in the local News by the weekend. This was mentioned when he asked if I would call at his office the following morning to sign papers when an agreed sale price could be decided. I was taken aback with the suddenness of this statement, and more or less ignored it by saying Cheerio to him.
Whilst walking round the house, he recorded measurements and paid compliments about the attractive lounge and garden. He could have been called a slick salesman but it did have the effect of bringing me to my senses. In no way was I in a fit mental or physical state to make any major decision regarding my future modus operandi. The next day he received a call from me, telling him to put the sale of my house on ice.
When talking to my friends about the loss of Ella, it generally finished with this remark, Ah well, life has to go on!, implying, Alan, get on with it as would be quoted by members of my last office. Provided I continued to carry on with the Stroke Club driving and my bowling and bridge participations, I would not have a lot of time to dwell on my loneliness.
Perhaps, above all my personal concerns, Harry should receive top consideration when dealing with where I should live, such as moving to Andrews at Shropshire. Harry was not asked to attend Ellas funeral, lest he became mentally disturbed, as was the case when his mother had died.
He did enquire whether I would be moving, and where to. He also mentioned his sadness at losing his step-mother. He had not stated any future actions, which could cause alarm, and I certainly intended to be on my guard not to give him reasons for acting in an unbalanced manner.
Two matters which I had to handle with great care were that both Joy and Harry had asked to come and live with me. Harrys interest had only come about when talking of Joy to Harry, when I foolishly mentioned that Joy had to leave her accommodation in the trainee nurses quarters. She had pleaded with me to allow her stay here, at Wigan Crescent, Bedhampton.
How do you refuse shelter to a devoted granddaughter? Particularly when she has been hard at her studies, and then told that she had written too many pages on a midwifery subject in her test papers, and would lose marks if she did not reduce the number of pages to the prescribed number. There had been tears in her eyes when she had told me this. It was the first time that I had heard of a pupil being censured for giving too much in the answer to an examination question. This smacked of the tutor ensuring that there was not an excess of papers to inspect.
My response to Joys request to live with me was that she should exhaust all other possible accommodation locally before living a distance away from her work place. I too, was not certain of my future here at Wigan Crescent. This did not please Joy, but she understood my reasoning. Having no transport and the fact that there was no direct bus service between her hospital and Bedhampton, she could have major problems coping with nurses shift hours. During my working life, I have always endeavoured to be within cycling distance from work, or have public transport available.
Harrys request to live with me was a matter of testing my loyalty, for he had many times confessed tome that he had been lucky to have found accommodation at this present address and to have Sylvia as his house-keeper. He did not worry me further when I told him that I might go into sheltered residence, since I had already obtained accommodation information from the council.
My grief at losing Gladys and Ella was ever-present, no matter how hard I tried to shake off their memories, to think my life afresh.
During the D-Day anniversary celebrations at Southsea Common, I visited the war veterans marquee, hoping that I might locate a member of one of my former units, without success.
Although I had served in France at the start of the war and remained in the ack ack unit in England until the end of the war, I never saw a war casualty, apart from one member of my own unit, who failed to apply a mis-fire drill correctly. This also applied to war damage, even though I served in the London area during the doodle bug period, apart from the damage caused by my rockets when firing at a daylight raider in the north-east. The rockets had hit Dorman and Longs newest and tallest chimney stack, whilst a second rocket had hit Eston Council offices. In spite of my dismal war achievements I felt I should make use of my war veteran status.
I wished to repeat my stay at the British Legion residence at Somerset House, Weston-Super-Mare. My purpose was to get away and seek friendship at an ex-servicemans residence. The local Soldiers Sailors and Airmens Families Association (SSAFA) branch, at Havant arranged for me to stay at The Lord Kitchener Memorial Holiday Centre, Lowestoft during the last week in June. Somerset House was fully booked for several months ahead.
During my visit to the SSAFA, Patrick Hill disclosed that they had a need to supply a stair-lift to an applicant in the area after I told him I had one at home for disposal. Its presence always reminded me that I should have obtained one so much earlier for Ella, who took to it like a fish takes to water. This was indeed a bonus for the SSAFA found a new home for it and I recovered the £500 I had paid for it. I was also able to reinstall the wall heater in its original position.
I had a most pleasant trip by coach to Lowestoft, passing through the centre of London, which I had not seen for a number of years. This was followed by driving through Suffolk, where we had views of such places as Newmarket.
I was met at the door of the Holiday Centre, Lowestoft, by the secretary-warden, P Hoult, and shown to my front bedroom on the first floor, facing the sea front. Although there were other beds in the room, the warden told me I should be the only one to be accommodated in this bedroom. However, I had not bargained for the noise of the through-traffic at night. The warden gave me a hand-leaflet of what was available, times of meals and what was expected of me during my stay.
During the evening meal, I noted there were around a dozen guests, of whom several were Chelsea Pensioners, in their red coats. Apart from two or three who were on their own, the rest were couples, who seemed to be doing their own thing. I immediately missed the organised evening entertainment that was provided at Somerset House.
After the meal, I became friendly with an ex-serviceman, a widower like myself, who was living in sheltered accommodation and had found this to be ideal for him. I revealed my domestic situation to him and in view of both Harry and Joy vying to live with me, he suggested that I should let them know I intended to sell the house and live in sheltered accommodation. This I did, that evening, although I personally was not completely sold in the idea. One does not surrender independence, unless there is no alternative.
Inwardly, to me, the visit had already been worthwhile if my message to them made Harry settled in his abode, and convinced Joy to acquire lodgings. This proved to be the case when I returned, for she had been invited to join other students to rent a house in Milton.
I went along with the warden to the Seamens Mission, where he was a sort of deacon, and took his place alongside the preacher on a platform, their equivalent to an altar. It was an impressive mission, spotless, with many tablets around the walls. There was no doubt that this building had witnessed many services for lost seamen, when attempting to save the lives of others. Like Lowestoft, this mission was regarded as the most easterly sited church in the country.
I found that Lowestoft had a fine sandy beach to match any seaside resort in the country. Only a few ventured in the cold North Sea, along this east coast. Each time I strolled along the promenade, I hoped that I would not get frozen, as I experienced when stationed in the north east. On the Monday, I discovered a small park at the southern end of the promenade, with a bowling green. The greenkeeper informed me that the local Probus Club met most mornings to play bowls, and guests were welcomed. This proved to be the case and I was supplied with the necessary equipment. Again, another bonus, particularly when I was invited to their monthly meeting, being held during the week I was there.
This gave me company, as did the local Labour Club at the end of the Holiday Centre Buildings, where I was staying, for those who were resident there had automatic membership. This proved useful at night, when bingo was played. This was a contrast to my bridge sessions, and I enjoyed the light relief. Even this can be stressful, waiting for the last number on your card to be called out.
The last words the warden uttered to me, as I left to return home were, Do not forget to apply for hearing disability pension from the War Pensions Agency, Blackpool.
On the mini-bus, returning from the Seamens Mission, the warden sitting alongside me noticed I was hard of hearing. He then asked, Do you get a pension for loss of hearing?
No, although I have had this since I retired, for I did not hear every word the deputy director said on my retirement day.
He then asked, What branch of the service were you in?
The Royal Artillery. I replied.
He responded, You should make your application as soon as you return home, for you certainly will be awarded some form of compensation.
I had been averse to worrying the Health Service or making claims on the state throughout my life, I certainly would never let a cold keep me away from work. Maybe, Alan, you can leave it too late when you have no options at all!
On the first opportunity after I returned home, I attended an appointment at the Hearing Aid Clinic at Queen Alexandra Hospital. It was confirmed that a hearing aid was required and a moulding impression was taken.
Without further delay, I made an application to the War Pensions Agency for a hearing disability pension. I attended the BMI Audiology Services at Winchester for an assessment on behalf of the War Pensions Agency. The final question I was asked was, How long have you had hearing difficulty? I referred to my retirement occasion in 1980.
I was finally awarded a twenty per cent disability pension from the date of my application, without back pay. I considered it to be immoral not to grant me back pay, and referred this to my MP, David Willetts, who took the matter up on my behalf. My pension award payments came through prior to Christmas, amounting to £20 per week. I suppose I should have been grateful, and quote, half a loaf is better than no loaf at all. My trip to Lowestoft had paid dividends, as was the case when I visited the SSAFA Branch, Havant.
Late August, I had a dose of shingles, covering my chest, armpits and the back of my shoulders. This was an outcome of the recent bereavement and other family stress matters. I received treatment at the Havant Health Centre, where Sue, the nurse, was most specific that I did not scratch them. I was told that this skin rash occurred at the nerve senses in the skin, and could leave scars, particularly if scratched. I was fortunate that after three weeks, the shingles started to heal and I was clear of any scars. This was a success story for the nurse, giving me the correct treatment and for the patient for not scratching the skin.
Old Bedhampton, located on the south side of the main Havant through-road, had retained the historic heart of Bedhampton village, thanks to the Charitable Trust, which acquired the Manor House in 1967. This Trust had set itself three main objectives:-
a) To enhance the environment,
b) To care for the retired,
c) To encourage a community spirit.
The founder Trustees, Mrs C D Hoy and Mr B J Stanley, had later purchased The Elms, at 2 Lower Road, Old Bedhampton, in 1970. Attached to The Elms is the Waterloo Room, built for the Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire to entertain the first Duke of Wellington.
It was in this fine Gothic style building that our Monday bridge club met, following the failure of the Bedhampton Bowls Club to allow us to use the new brick pavilion. The members of the bridge club had the trustee, Cynthia Hoy, to thank, together with the remaining Trustees, for granting us the use of their property. The bridge club charged table money and this was donated monthly to the Trust, very much like the arrangement at Doyle House on Thursday nights. Cynthia Hoy and Bernard Stanley continued to play an active role, not only in the management of these two ancient buildings, but also in activities to raise funds for the Trust.
This charity, where Cynthia played a leading role, provided a weekly luncheon for retired people living alone, at a very small charge. I wonder what the Deputy Lieutenant would have said if he had known that his impressive building for the Duke of Wellington was later to be used for common people to have their dinner. However, had he known that his Waterloo Room was also used each Spring Bank Holiday for an art display, where paintings were sold to raise funds for the Trust, I am sure he would have given an approval nod, especially had he known I would be a member of a team hanging up the paintings on the panelled walls. Had he known that there were paintings done by both Ella and Harry, who knows, he might have given a further two nods of approval!
At the time I had the shingles, I had already pledged myself in support of the Manor Garden Party. Thankfully, the shingles were not too painful and I was able to assist in assembling stalls, followed by distributing items for sale among the stall holders.
The whole of the walled garden fete layout of the Manor had been developed over the years, and Cynthia was like a General, directing her troops on the battlefield, and overseeing the total final arrangement before the opening ceremony. This remarkable lady, who had also helped carry items to the stalls, now in her 70th year, donned a broad brimmed hat, taking her place alongside the guests for the opening ceremony. Those who were in the fashion world would have recognised Amanda Wakeley, making the opening address. She was well-known for designing dresses for Society, including royalty, such as Queen Norr of Jordan and former royalty, namely Princess Diana.
We heard in the address that the Manor, a grade II listed building faced demolition 28 years ago, but Bedhampton campaigners, including Cynthia Hoy, fought to save it as the house was an important architectural feature of the village. She was backed by her friend, Sir Cecil Wakeley, who was a naval surgeon and Amandas grandfather.
The weather was kind to those who attended this fete, which I enjoyed, drinking cups of tea and watching Cynthia doing her rounds, greeting the supporters of this fund-raising event, some who had made this an annual occasion for many years.
While the garden party was in full swing, carrying my cakes I had bought from the cake stall, many of which had been made by the residents of the Manor, I made my exit, not wishing to be involved with the clearing up party. I was sure that my presence from the start of the day at the Manor could be accepted by Cynthia as an adequate token of contribution by the Elm House Bridge Club.
I followed the stream flowing through Brookside Road in the heart of Old Bedhampton, which led to the Mill, in Mill Lane. Was this the fulling mill which had been built in Bedhampton to process cloth as early as 1260?
The numerous springs and brooks in the Bedhampton and Havant area are fed by hard water, percolated through the chalk and gravel of the South Downs. It was the plentiful supply of this special water that gave rise to parchment making, glove making and watercress growing in the area. A ninety year old lady, Elsie, who sat with us for dinner before Ella had passed on, told us a lot of the local history and that the Magna Carta in 1215 had been prepared on Havant parchment. She then handed me a sample of this parchment. This took place at the Age Concern Hall, Fraser Road, Bedhampton.
Continuing my stroll along Mill Lane, with fields on either side, I reached the Old Mill House, where the Poet Keats had stayed in January 1819, and made a rough writing draft of his poem, The Eve of St Agnes, with scenes from Chichester and Stansted Chapel. A plaque outside the Mill House, inscribed with this information also stated that he had spent his last night in England there.
I have always thought that I was lucky to be living in an area full of character. As I returned to my abode in the Belmont Estate, which although on the other side of the Havant through-road to Old Bedhampton, was still amongst history, for Queen Anne had stayed at the Belmont Manor, before it was demolished to make way for this modern housing estate. There is a Queen Annes Drive in the estate, to mark her visit. There are also Norman and Roman Ways in the estate, to display their visits in days gone by.
Word came through at our bridge session on the Monday following the Manor garden party that close to £3,000 had been raised, with the prospect of a further £300 when the jumble sale had been held, disposing of the items left over from the garden fete. This sum would make Cynthia pleased with the result of this money-raising event, as other members of the Manor Trust also, including the stall-holders.
On the morning of this event, I became friendly with Cynthias daughter, Angela Maxwell, who came over from Bracknell to take over a stall. I told her that I had lived at Teddington, and was familiar with her part of the country. She gave me her business card, which revealed that she was a consultant, dealing in state benefits and retirement. I responded, Thats interesting, you can take up my back pay claim with the War Pension Agency. It was agreed that we would discuss this matter later, as there were more immediate items of the garden fete to be dealt with.
With the end of the indoor bowling season coming to a close, I had reduced my weekly involvement to two games a week, Friday afternoon drive and the evening combination league games. I had no wish to have any further involvement when Ella had suffered her stroke.
The treatment I had been receiving for a cancerous prostrate gland from September 1994, had caused me to have side-effects. In general I was listless, vomiting, and at times disoriented, causing me to struggle with the car when reversing out of the garage. At my next appointment with Mr Warmsley, my treatment was changed to taking Flutamide tablets. It was explained that the purpose of these tablets was to reduce the male sex hormones, upon which the cancer was feeding.
For me, this was a new era, where at the age of 80 or thereabouts, I was dependant on the Health Service for my survival and well-being, making me no different from ordinary people. I was vain enough at the age of 69, when told by Ella to pack up playing hockey, to imagine that I could continue playing infinitely.
There was another aspect of my life which I had not come to terms with since Ellas passing. The quietness of the house with no-one to care for, or being cared for, caused me to be very depressed and not wish to mix in company where the question could be asked, How are you?
When I became a widower, my domiciliary support was reassessed by the Community Care Services, SCA, based at Emsworth House, Havant Road, Emsworth. With my weakening condition, it was essential I received weekly domestic help to keep the house in a reasonably clean condition. There are two factors that govern the need for a regular visitor of some kind when elderly and living on your own;
a) if you fall down and are not able to sound the alarm, some regular visitor will hopefully come to your rescue.
b) with a regular visitor, one is able to have some conversation - albeit not too long, or no housework would be done.
I had several different domiciliary workers, who became very important to my maintaining my independence. Without exception, each one would greet me with, How are you? To try to kill this greeting, my standard response was, Rotten. With this reply, they would give me a look of concern, and then I would try to soften the remark by saying, Im breathing, I cant complain. This then reproduced their original smile.
Their headquarters in Emsworth was near my Emsworth Bridge Club house, where I played occasionally on Thursday afternoons, whilst I waited for the stroke people I had taken to the Emsworth Stroke Club.
I took the opportunity to call into Emsworth House, which was a community rest home. I had some difficulty in locating the SCA office, where I wished to speak to Diana Brown, the lady in charge of my helpers. It was an education for me to observe the sad cases of humanity in this home. I saw no-one speaking, all were sat on chairs around the rooms, mainly with their heads down, for many were having their afternoon nap. I became fearful that I might have to join in at some later date. It could be likened to shock treatment, for I was resolved that I should remain independent as long as I could.
Just before reaching Emsworth House from Havant, the Brookfield Hotel could be located, for it was there that Bill and Vi Yeoman hoped to hold their diamond wedding anniversary.
Little had been seen of Bill, our Bedhampton Bowling Club Godfather, for he had had a number of stomach complaints, including his water-works, which were operated on during the time I did hospital car driving. On a visit to him, he was sat on a high chair, as if he were the Lord High Chief. He was narrating how he wanted his diamond wedding celebration organised, at the Brookfield Hotel. He had nominated me to be the MC, later to be referred to as his best man.
I was flattered to be chosen for this role, as Bill had many friends who belonged to the Freemasons, holding high office, as he did those in Havant Borough Council and bowlers in the top echelons of their bowling clubs.
I was asked to go along with them to the Brookfield, to help them arrange the format for the nights procedures, with the head of catering, Amanda Thomas. An appointment had been made with the Brookfield for 19th September. Whilst with Bill and Vi, a number of suggestions were made on how to use the evening after the meal. Bill wanted a sing-song with old-time music and, to Vis and my surprise, Bill broke into song.
Well, we already have a chorus leader, all we want is the music to go with it. I remarked. I told them I had some connection with Age Concern and that I would approach them to give me contacts who play music for the oldies. The theme later developed into a This Is Your Life for Bill and Vi had many friends at Cosham, who they had known twenty years or more. They had kept up their friendships and played in a beetle drive once a month in each others houses. Between each song, one member of this group with close relations could reveal Vi and Bills past secrets, such as playing tennis before they started work in the City of London.
At this time, Bill was very dependant on Vi and both complained of lack of sleep. Vi was very remarkable for her age, around the mid-80s, for she was still winning cups at bowls and claimed that she had never taken any pills. Again, Alan, there is a need to get on with it! there is much to be arranged.
My loneliness at home was linked to the non-committed time I had. Wherever possible, my aim was to fill every day with a distance run. A very kind lady, of small stature but with a big smile, called on behalf of St Thomas Bereavement Visitors Group, to see if they could give support in any way. After revealing my weekday schedule of bridge, bowls, stroke club driving, swimming, gardening and maintaining the house, with the support of a cleaning lady for one hour, she had little to offer!
Her name was Anne Armstrong, who told me that she had a friend, Viv, who had taken up playing bridge, and that I might like to give her some tuition.
Viv and I met and it was possible to make a foursome with Ted and Carole, who had become my personal friends. Another newcomer, Graham Tucker, was referred to me to teach bridge, who like Ted and Carole, joined the Doyle House and Elm House clubs.
Viv Mathews, a university lecturer took nurses on the subject of old age, and any complaints of my health I told her about were all due to my old age. I ceased to tell her any more, but she was of great help to Joy, who she met, on the subject of the nursing profession.
Joy had gone into private accommodation in Milton, but was not happy with the standard of cleanliness, which her Dad took up with the landlord, with a big improvement being effected.
In spite of the foregoing, I was very depressed whenever on my own. I could never come to terms with why it was in Gods plan to take both Gladys and Ella, who each suffered physically and mentally in their own way.
© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: January 20, 2001