THE AUTUMN COACH TRIPS
I decided upon a Modus Operandi for the weekends, going away on short coach breaks, scheduled to take place every other week. Whilst making my lists of short weekend breaks, using the Wallace Arnold brochure, I had a Mature Thymes paper along side, advertising a Hyland Fling Arrocker holiday from October 6th to 8th. This, then would be my starter to my short breaks. I would be retracing my trial days of forty years previously, when at the Admiralty Research Laboratory, Teddington.
The coach company was hired by a lesser known tour operator, as was the driver and courier. It was only a matter of a couple of days that the passengers were notified of the dawn pick-up time.
While waiting for the coach at Havant, I met two other passengers who kept me company. They were elderly and keen to tell me that each had lost their lifes partner and had now remarried, to each other. Before this happened, he had been so depressed that he had considered suicide. Little did he know that he was talking to someone who had experienced the trauma of losing two spouses. I wished them well and hoped they would have many happy years together.
From information we gathered once we had joined the coach, this coach would continue to pick up passengers along the south coast, before making its way to Bath, and then on to Scotland. The passengers, who were mainly retired couples, seemed to accept this journey in their stride, with very few comments about the length of the journey in one day. One of my pleasures in taking a coach trip was watching the driver do all the driving, mainly in traffic, while I sat back, taking it easy!
The route along the M5 and the M6, after leaving Bath, passed many places where I had lived or spent holidays, that brought back a flow of memories of days of yore.
The coach arrived at Glasgow during the evening peak traffic hour. It was not until we reached the sight of the Kilpatrick Hills, following the Clyde Estuary out of Glasgow, that I had a taste of the Scottish scenery to come.
When I did this trip from Teddington, travelling on the Fort William railway scenic route, it would be about sunrise time, which I watched as the train approached Arrackar. Alighting at my destination, I felt I had landed in another world, it was so quiet and peaceful compared to the bustling cities and motorway traffic that we had to endure before we arrived there.
Our coach driver missed the hotel where we were due to stay at Arrackar. It was set back from the main road, which clung to the banks of Loch Long. As it was dusk, this was not surprising, since the hotel sign was not illuminated and the drive entrance was not visible in advance, due to a bend in the road. The driver was unable to do a U-turn on this narrow road, and had no alternative but to reverse into the drive. It was a very hazardous manoeuvre, with all the tired passengers after their 400 miles, only too eager to alight and get freshened up.
At our meal time, the courier announced details of the following days coach excursion around the Lochs. There were not many rushing forward to give their names, for most were, like me, only too keen to use their legs in exploring the beauty of the local setting.
After spending the night in a very narrow bedroom, best described as a cell, it was refreshing to observe from the hotel the peaceful loch, surrounded by hills and wooded country.
On my own, taking my folding chair, I sauntered along the road, towards some dwellings about half a mile away, looking for the policemans house and traces of the torpedo range I remembered when here forty years previously.
When exploring new areas, it was my practice to take my haversack, with flask and food, and have a sort of picnic at midday. This was the case today, using the dwellings as my base, for their was a village store in the middle of a handful of houses. To keep me company, a group of fishermen on a days jolly had their fishing lines supported in a row, with the floats clearly visible, should a fish have a nibble. This to me, seemed to be their total effort, fishing in the loch. The rest of the day was emptying and replacing full bottles, to quench their never-ending thirst. I left my portable chair to have a word with them. This was a regular outing for them, from Glasgow, where they could be in an environment away from the noise and pollution of the city. If they caught any fish in the loch, this was a bonus for their wives.
When asked about the torpedo trial site, they had no knowledge of it. This sounded as if the famous Mark 8 Torpedo, guided torpedoes, were being designed and made, requiring something more sophisticated than a loch to carry out trials.
When at ARL, Teddington, the Portland Underwater Weapons Establishment building plans were prepared, making use of the gunnery range. Little did the powers realise that when the Establishment was completed, guided weapons had almost replaced guns, and it was difficult to allocate the gunnery range at Portland.
In the afternoon, I reversed my steps and explored the centre of Arrackar, where the A83 road from Inverary passed through to Loch Lomond. I never did discover the policemans house, where I had stayed years ago!
The following day, Thursday, our coach took us along the bonnie bank of Loch Lomonds southern end, where it is studded with small islands. Our trip took us through the spectacular scenery of the Trossack and visited one of the oldest and smallest whisky distilleries in Scotland. I found that the whole process of whisky making was very clinical and it gave me no wish to become one of its customers. It would not do for everyone to think this way, for whisky is one of Scotlands chief sources of income, particularly from exports.
Once back home, I was pleased to have done this five-day trip. It had satisfied my nostalgic memories and I had food prepared and served to me, as well as watching the driver and the others doing the work.
Thankfully, my future short breaks took place from Friday to Monday, and I only had to cancel bowls on Friday morning and bridge in the evening. I received a back-lash from the organisers of my daily commitments, which over the weekdays amounted to four bridge sessions, two stroke club driving, and three bowls sessions, where I had to be replaced.
I felt a little guilty about not being available on Friday nights at the Langstone Conservative Club to partner George Mellows, who had Parkinsons Disease and regarded bridge as his main interest. No-one seemed to know his age, apart from the fact that he had been a naval officer during World War II.
On the 20th October, I caught the Wallace Arnold feeder coach at 7 am from Havant, and later I picked up my coach at South Mimms service station on the M25 to go to Harrogate. I found the driver of the pick-up coach, Tony, cheerful and amusing as he got a quick smoke outside his coach when picking up passengers and putting their luggage into the luggage compartment. How sad that one should become addicted to the smoking habit, resulting in the death of so many people.
At South Mimms, switching from the feeder coach to the final destination coach was carried out in a sort of military operation, without any fuss, enabling most passengers to get refreshed at the food services and be away by 11.30.
I chose Harrogate to stay, hoping to make contact with Bob and Ana Wilson, whom I had known from my Teddington days, and who had now retired in the Yorkshire Dales. My former bridge partner, Wilma Killean, was also based at Knaresborough and had agreed to meet me at the Cairn Hotel on my arrival, and join me for a meal. My young ladies, who I saw weekly with my writings, Pat and Leigh, suggested that I arranged for flowers to be delivered to Wilma during the meal. They thought that because Wilma was now living on her own, she might welcome my company. I took up their suggestion, not to disappoint them, at this welcoming meeting with Wilma.
Arriving at dusk at our hotel in its acre of ground, I had the feeling that the Cairn Hotel matched many we had passed in the town. It had large windows and lounge, which was being refurbished, as were other parts of the hotel. By the time I had sorted myself out and checked that a table had been prepared for us, I was shown the flowers the restaurant manager had ready to hand over to Wilma at the table.
She arrived on time and looked cheerful when Wilma spotted me. She had ginger hair and was anxious to learn of our former bridge friends. At the dinner table, she spoke of family matters and that she still did Johns accounts, who was living in Wales. His book business had been sold in Knaresborough and was replaced by trading in rare books by post.
Then the waiter came in and presented her with flowers. She was overwhelmed with this sudden present, while I was thinking how I had misjudged the situation. I would be taking my young ladies to task when I visited them at St Marys for involving me with the cost of flowers. I should present them with the flower bill!
Wilma was very involved with Harrogate Bridge Club and had held office. It was discussed that I might go along to her club and partner her, but this did not come about, due to the time factor. Later in the evening, after Wilmas departure, I phoned Bob and Ana, who were pleased to hear from me, but although less than an hours drive away, they were very much up to their eyes in decorating their premises, which they told me had four bedrooms en-suite, for their future bed and breakfast business!
My exploration the following morning started with a swim in the local public baths, in a road adjacent to the hotel. This road had a steep slope and proved to be one of many that Harrogate centre was endowed with. The treatment that I was taking for my cancerous prostrate gland was giving side effects, including listlessness. This caused me to stop walking for a rest whenever I reached the top of an incline. It could be claimed that after I had a snack in an ancient church, fairly central of Harrogate, I took advantage of every seat I could find.
When walking into Harrogate after the swim, I was horrified to pass a huge glass-faced building, in contrast to the many dignified hotel buildings built in the days when Harrogate had become famous as a spa town, with its pump room. My mind switched to Bath, where the character of this spa town had been preserved by ensuring that all new buildings had similar Bath sand faced stone. There was little chance that I would be moving to this northern spa town. Not even the Harrogate Bridge Club nor its associates could have lured me to this resort of many steep roads. On that score, I was glad that Wallace Arnold took me there and back.
With my normal full weekday programme and with my weekend breaks every other week, scheduled for most of the winter period, my Friday absences became upsetting for those I played bowls and bridge with. It was not too difficult for Arthur Todd to replace me in the Lagonda rink on Friday mornings, but not so for George Mellows, my ex-naval bridge partner, who regarded Friday nights bridge as a high spot of the week, as he was semi-housebound.
Packing for my weekend trips became a matter of routine, making certain that I had my haversack, with folding umbrella, flask and container with sandwich. This having been done, I was now charged to commence my third short break, to Cadbury World and Shropshire, staying at the Goldthorn Hotel, Wolverhampton, where I would make full use of their indoor swimming pool. For £75 the itinerary was superb, for not only would I be meeting Gladys relatives at the hotel, but on Sunday, I would stay a few hours with Andrews family at Shrewsbury on the days excursion after visiting Cadbury World, before we reached Shrewsbury. For icing on the cake, the coach took us to Warwick Castle for a few hours, before we returned to South Mimms services on the Sunday to board our return coach.
My pick-up coach arrived promptly on time at 7.20 am at Havant, with Tony at the helm again, ensuring that he got his few wisps of smoke before he returned to his saddle. I noticed he was always greeted with a hug from one of the lady marshalling stewards at the interchange, followed by a short chat, both smiling, before they got on with their routine of renumbering the coaches for the passengers final part of their journey.
The last time I had visited Wolverhampton, had been over ten years ago, when I had driven with a broken clutch. Memories of this began to haunt me as we were approaching Wolverhampton on the same route. Our time of around 4 pm when we arrived at the Goldthorn, gave the passengers plenty of opportunity to visit the leisure facilities, including the indoor heated swimming pool. I need hardly state the writer was the first in this coach party to take the plunge.
During my meal, my thoughts were occupied by whether Gladys sisters would wish to see their brother-in-law, who had re-married and they had not met for many years. The sister who lived nearest to the hotel was Brenda, the youngest of the Walker family, and who had been in her pram at the time I had first courted Gladys.
Whilst sitting in the lounge and chatting to a local resident, I learned that my old firm, the Ever Ready, had closed down at Canal Works. Memories came flooding back of the people to whom I had to be so grateful for developing my career, as did Sam, who had become a lecturer at the Wolverhampton Technical College. Another member, Roy Surry had done the same as Sam, and gone on to become a professor at the Loughborough University.
My wait was rewarded for Edna and Tony, her husband, arrived both giving a huge smile and shaking hands. Somehow, I felt very close to Gladys, for had it not been Edna who had set up the meeting, when I went into their kitchen, seeing Gladys for the first time. She was on her knees, wiping the floor tiles, with no shoes on and her hair straddled all over her face. When she raised her face and said, You are too late, I have already got an Alan. I knew she was going to be my Gypsy Queen. The odds were against me at that time, for this Alan had showered presents on her. Should he be alive, he would be surprised to learn that the model of a Spanish galleon that he had given Gladys was now on a shelf at Andrew and Lindas house in Shrewsbury.
Edna and Tony told me how they had met at the Guildhall, Wolver-hampton, on a blind date. Tony still had the stamp of a Guardsman, and was very proud that he had taken part in the Changing of the Guard on Horse Guards Parade. During our chat and drinks, their daughter, Rosemary and her husband arrived, making this a real get-together.
While in the lounge, there was a gathering of smart young men in the bar, and it was obvious that they were taking part in some official occasion. Whilst I waited to be served at the bar, I asked one of them what event was taking place. It was a reunion of my old TA Regiment, that I had left when posted in 1940 at Catterick Barracks, and as far as they were concerned, I had gone into space.
It was comforting to learn that all Gladys brothers and sisters marriages had remained intact, against the present trend of one in four breaking up.
With Ednas family group meeting me and making me feel I was still part of the Walker empire, my visit to Wolverhampton had already been worthwhile.
The following morning I managed to get a quick swim before breakfast, and then boarded our coach to make our way first to Cadbury World in the morning. It was the Shrewsbury visit in the afternoon I was mainly interested in.
However, I was mostly keen to know how Cadbury had developed a whole village for their employees to live in, making their lives part and parcel of the Cadbury World 24 hours a day, which the Japanese Industrialists had acquired a taste for in their country!
The visit to the factory was geared for family groups, with many temptations for the children to pester their parents to buy, at the entrance, and the departure of what was mainly a packing process factory. The making of chocolate was done at other factories and it was delivered in bulk containers.
On completion of the tour of the museum, showing the Spaniards in South America discovering the cocoa plant, then through the different areas, making up a variety of products, our coach was ready to depart, with passengers loaded with their chocolate Christmas presents. My presents, of course, were for ready consumption by my grandchildren waiting for me at Shrewsbury.
Our coach was scheduled to arrive early mid-afternoon at St Chads church, famous for its circular nave. This spot overlooked the Quarry Gardens, the location of the civic baths. I did not expect to see another quarry garden so soon after Harrogate! The coach passed Percy Throwers Garden Centre, alerting passengers that we were on the outskirts of our final destination, which had Percy Thrower to thank for his gardening and TV programmes, for his many references to floral Shrewsbury.
Andrew had explained that only Thomas would be with them, as the rest of the grandchildren were engaged in sport. This being Saturday afternoon, I would wish it no other way.
The coach stopped at the nominated bus stop, with Andrews white cavalier car parked on the opposite side of the road. Thankfully, I had only a few strides to walk with my haversack, before getting in the car. Thomas greeting was Granddad, can you take me to the baths?
Oh yes, I replied, If you can get the coach to stay an extra two hours, but I know this is not possible, not even for Thomas. Linda pointed out that there was shopping to be done, to feed the many hungry mouths at home.
Andrew named the different clubs that Peter, Jonathan and Christopher played for at football and the hockey team that Elizabeth played in. After the shopping had been dealt with, we arrived home at Kingston Drive. Thomas sat on a high stool, operating a video game in what was a games room, with masses of toys that Andrew had never had as a boy. Andrew had plenty of experience in managing their financial household and family budget, to back up his project support role at work, in the computer field.
To meet the finance budget, Linda travelled to and fro daily to her teaching post at Willenhall, covering a total distance of 80 miles. The teenagers also played their part. Peter had an evening job as a waiter at Mini Chef, where his Dad would take him and bring him back, whenever he was on duty. Elizabeth and Jonathan took a paper-round each, in areas that they had paid for - a bit like having an insurance book.
My stay came to an end too quickly, leaving Andrew very little time to drive me to catch the coach back to Wolverhampton. My thoughts, going home in the coach were all about my family which I had left behind. The grandchildren were well clothed, given support in all areas, such as religion, education and sport, for which they had to thank both their parents. This was a fine example of keeping the tradition of family life going.
This family story would not be complete without mentioning Lindas mother, Joan, who lived a few doors away and could take Lindas role while she was teaching.
The trip home, via Warwick, was another bonus in that time was provided to visit the castle and gardens. Madame Tussauds company had bought this historic castle and had set aside several millions to refurbish the whole of the interior and external embattlements. Much work had already been done, for I was able to see my hero, a model of Winston Churchill, on a visit in the past. To make the most of the visit, including the gardens, the best part of a day needed to be set aside. I did manage to have a short stroll in the gardens, where I had a peacock to keep me company. After my return home, my head was full of memories for several weeks of this excellent three day coach trip.
Harry and Sylvia were always pleased to hear an account of the most recent short break I had been on when I called on my weekly Tuesday morning visit. If they had not received a postcard from where I had been, I would be threatened that I would not have my customary cup of coffee. Our chat usually included points of interest on the latest sketch that Harry had been working on in his studio - the kitchen.
My next port of call after Outram Road was a visit to St Marys Hospital where I had an early lunch in the staff restaurant before making my way to render my latest script to my gorgeous mentors in the Public Relations office during their midday break. In truth, I never remember their phone not ringing, no matter what time of day I called.
It was a requirement that their reporter at large sent a postcard of each tour destination. These had now been placed around the office noticeboard, as if it was sprouting scenes of my weekend get-aways. I was reminded by my two heart-throbs that in a fortnights time my eightieth birthday would be due and that I was to be escorted to a place of their choice for a birthday lunch. I was at a loss to understand my good fortune in being adopted by two very intelligent ladies, very charming, half my age and both married. As I was too old to be their sugar daddy, I had to liken myself to how a waif and stray must feel, when adopted.
I had Tony again to start me off on the Wallace Arnold short weekend trip to North Devon and Exmoor, having first to change at South Mimms to board the final destination coach. As usual, Tony had his frequent puffs of cigarette smoke at each pick-up stop, and was given a hug by the lady marshalling each coach as it arrived at the interchange off the M25.
The main attraction of Lee Bay Hotel, where we were due to stay for the weekend, was its indoor heated leisure pool. I had not realised that it was not in Ilfracombe town, but in a quiet bay several miles from the holiday resort.
The Saturday full-day excursion travelled via Lynton, Lynmouth and Minehead to Dunster, returning through Exmoor. The stop at Dunster was not long enough to knock on Barbaras door to see if she or Sarah were in.
I had little to remember this break by, not seeing any of my relatives or friends. I was familiar with most of the country we passed. However, I had no cooking or washing up to do, not did I have to do the driving, so I did have a benefit in this direction.
On the 21st November, the week of my eightieth birthday, I was commanded by Pat and Leigh to join them in their car at St Marys, where I would be driven to the Still and West at the Portsmouth Harbour quay and be given a birthday lunch. Leigh told me that this was one of Johns and her favourite eating places for lunch. The restaurant was sited high up over-looking the harbour entrance.
The waiter gave a discerning look at this threesome. Was I the father of these two grown-up daughters, which seemed unlikely with one having dark hair and the other being fair-haired. It was unlikely I was their sugar daddy, for it is not usual that he is shared. A closer look at their fingers would indicate that they were both married and that they were having a lunch-time fling with a harmless old man.
Both their partners were highly placed in society. John Spiers had been Chairman of one of the largest NHS hospitals in the countryside, also a broadcaster and journalist. He had recently published a book entitled The Invisible Hospital and the Secret Garden. Pats husband, Nigel, could be classed as an entrepreneur, as a member of a syndicate taking over Government areas of work, such as the National Physical Laboratory.
Whilst eating, my mind kept wandering as to what I should say if one or even both of their other halves entered the dining room. These two public relations officers were well matched to their counterparts, from what I had seen and heard at their workplace. It had enabled me to take counsel from their observations, when bringing in my weekly script on Tuesday dinner times.
I was given a winter scarf for my birthday present, which I would wear on my Tuesday morning rounds.
As we passed the waiter, who still had a puzzled look as much to imply, How does he do it? I could equally have asked him how to thank them enough for befriending an old lonely man by dining him out on his 80th birthday. They helped me to fill a void in my life, following the loss of Ella. God does indeed work in a mysterious way, he taketh away in one hand and giveth with the other.
Tomorrow I would be visiting St Marys Hospital, I had no wish to alarm my benefactors about my cancerous prostrate gland. My consultant, Mr Walmsley, had been informed of my vomiting, severe loss of energy and, at times, mental confusion, as a result of the treatment I had been prescribed. From the blood test carried out, he stated that the treatment had reduced considerably the cancerous state. However, in view of the side effects, he would prescribe Zoladex tablets in place of the previous tablets. Both types of tablet are taken to destroy the hormones that the cancer feeds on.
My son Andrew and family had arranged that on my 80th birthday, Saturday 25th, at the end of this week, I was to spend the weekend with them at Shrewsbury. I travelled by train on the Friday, via Newport.
It required two extending tables in an extended room to seat the family gathering of six children and six adults, for the birthday party on Saturday. Edith and David came over from the farm at Whitegate, Cheshire, to join in the celebrations.
Prior to their arrival, while Linda prepared the tea, helped by Joan, her mum, Andrew took me with Christopher to his Colts football club. He had been singled out as a future captain of his team, now making my three grandsons, including Peter and Jonathan, all aiming to play for England. Strange that their dad never played soccer at school. It was good to know that they were encouraged to develop their natural skills.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Edith, my eldest sister by three years, and also her son, David, the farmer. He had matured in his mannerisms, and I felt that his involvement in the Farmers Union at national level in London had given him a thoughtful look when making comments on any matter. Certainly, the mad cow disease had occupied his time on joint meetings with Government departments, causing repeated visits to London. He still had a Roy Castle smile, though, whenever he wanted to crack a joke.
It was, to me, a feat of organisation, for Linda to cope with these dozen mouths, but then she seemed to cope with any demanding situation, as she did when travelling daily to her teaching post in Willenhall. Andrew and Linda had done me proud in arranging this get-together to celebrate my 80th birthday, and I returned home with memories of this occasion.
I was challenged by the grandchildren to a game of draughts and a game of chess afterwards, by Elizabeth - they won of course! I attended Sunday morning church service at Christ Church at Bayston Hill with the whole family, including Joan, Lindas mother, before returning home by train.
Andrew played an active part in the church activities. As their youth leader, he had taken parties on adventure courses, to Outward Bound schools in Wales on mountaineering, canoeing, where trained instructors were present. Fortunately, all his parties returned safely, without any casualties.
Christ Church had been enlarged into a modern style, and lacked the features of a Church of England, having no chancel. The altar was a table on a platform, where the service was conducted without the use of a pulpit.
The members of the congregation were involved on the stage, with conducting the service, where those present seemed to get carried away, waving hands above their heads during hymn singing. After the service, most of the congregation stayed behind and intermingled, drinking tea and coffee.
I had quite a task in reminding Andrew that he was required to take me to the railway station to catch the Newport train. It was important that I make all my connections on time, in order that I could organise myself for my short break the next day with Wallace Arnold, staying at the Burstin Hotel, Folkestone, from the Monday to Friday.
In scheduling these short breaks, I had failed to take into account my birthday, and that I would be at Shrewsbury with Andrew and his family. By the time I had unpacked and repacked , and I ensured I had phoned for a taxi to catch the pick-up coach, not a lot of time was left to steal some sleep. With Tony at the wheel bang on time at 7.30 am, who greeted me with a quick smile, while bringing his cigarette case out - I suddenly felt relaxed in his care, after he had taken his first puffs.
The routine had not changed at South Mimms on the M25, for Tony was greeted by his marshalling lady and given a hug. This interchange was ideal when travelling north, but no so when the destination was on the south coast, as in my case, for the distance had almost doubled when we had picked up passengers in such places as Staines.
As we arrived in Folkestone, we could see the huge edifice of the Hotel Burstin, as if it were a ten-deck liner that had reversed into dock and was firmly emplaced on terra firma, facing seaward. We were quickly allocated our rooms when we arrived, with time to sample the indoor swimming pool facilities, before our evening meal.
When on your own, there is no-one to discuss your itinerary with, having only yourself to consider. Tuesday was spent exploring the quay and fishing village and narrow, cobbled pub-lined streets. On the west side of Folkestone, a cliff road passed some well-built hotels, like in Harrogate, which smacked of wealthier times. During the day, I contacted Sam, and arranged to see him on the morrow.
My journey by taxi from Canterbury to Sams address, Sappington Court, Garlinge Green, took me through winding and undulating lanes, finally arriving at a handful of mixed dwellings. Amongst these was Sams cottage, which to me, was a converted barn that had been very attractive in this rural setting.
Not having seen Sam for at least 20 years, I did not know in what physical shape I would find him. Before I reached the cottage door, there was Sam, wearing a black beret, looking more like a French professor in retirement. He was his usual self, thin and wiry, with a pointed chin. He gave me a whimsical smile, as he greeted me with, Hullo Monty. Im glad you managed to find your way here.
I responded, Well that is not quite true, for it was the taxi-man who brought me to your retreat. How do you survive when you have your usual quota of Kent snow?
We close the doors and dont go out, and stock up with food before the snow arrives. He explained that Kathryn, his wife, would join us shortly, after she had finished giving music lessons at the local special school. He pointed in the direction of these scattered school buildings, a few hundred yards away. He explained that when they retired from Wolverhampton Technical College, they wanted their son, Tobias, to be trained at this school, which practised the cult he belonged to at the time Ella left.
I never did understand what this cult was about, all I did know was that Sam obtained refuge in their sect when he left the family nest, with a wife and three daughters. My attempt to save the marriage was met with a rebuff. He was now more than grateful that, by fate, I had taken over the role that he had started, for by chance I had rescued at least two daughters, and sadly, nursed Ella before her passing.
Kathryn soon joined us, and I had a tour of their dwelling, being shown the gallery overlooking the living room, where Kathryn played her string instruments. Their son, Tobias, was in America, training in helping disadvantaged children, at a special school.
Sam was grateful for the relief map of Snowdonia, showing the route of our trek from and to Llandudno and Snowdon Peak, via Glyder Fawr and the Llamberis Pass, when in our early teens.
I was pleased that I had made this trip to Canterbury and retraced the fortune of each other, knowing that I had played a leading part in Sams life when I had got him a job at the Ever Ready, Wolverhampton. Maybe Ella would think the Ever Ready post was the worst thing that could have happened, since this experience enabled him to get the lecturers post at Wolverhampton Technical College, where he met Kathryn, who was also lecturing at this college.
Whilst in the car, being driven back to Canterbury, where I hoped to board the coach to Folkestone, many thoughts were flashing through my mind. How strange to be leaving a place where there was a sort of cult, with a school whose address, Sappington Court, Garlinge Green, could not be located on any of the road maps I possessed. I knew not whether it was north, south, east or west of Canterbury, only that it was a few miles out from their cathedral city.
Then, Sam had always been different, even Tobias, his son, was involved with a special school and here we had Sam wearing a close-fitting black French beret. Perhaps it had something to do with youth, when living with his grandparents, who had insisted that he wore a camphorated linen cloth around his stomach each day. The aromatic smell was alleged to keep any form of infection away. Sam would try to visit me in the summer, when Tobias was back from America, during his holidays.
In the coach returning us to our hotel, the elegant cathedral, soaring above to the ancient dwellings, made an impressive sight and was bidding me to visit on the morrow.
Our Thursday coach party, mainly made up of elderly couples, was full of Darling Buds of May country, where the coach was destined to visit the scene of the famous TV series, after leaving Canterbury, where I would hopefully say farewell to the coach passengers, and make my own way back by bus.
Once inside this historic cathedral, I could not take my eyes off the arched ceiling, when standing at the start of the centre aisle. I asked myself how did they build that, without metal scaffolding, as they did the whole of the roof structure, including the bell tower.
When visiting the Cistine Chapel in Rome, I admired Michelangelos ceiling paintings, with a coverage of around 6,000 square feet. The same sort of question was being asked then, How did he do that painting?
In my tour inside the cathedral, I latched onto a number of groups, where the guide was giving an account of a particular interesting feature. I was fortunate, by joining the nearest group at the start, for they were standing around a spot where Thomas à Beckett was martyred by four knights of the reigning King Henry II in 1170. He had been Chancellor, for it was accepted during this period, that statesmen became Archbishop of Canterbury. The feud that existed between the church and state was not unlike that which took place between Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey, nearly 400 years later. Becketts shrine, built behind the altar, became a place of pilgrimage for many years.
Another party I joined, standing around the tomb of the Black Prince, were told that it was customary for knights and noblemen to have their body armour worn on their effigy, and the one that they were looking at was a shining example. The cathedral became the resting place for English monarchs, and also for their crowning, with Archbishop Bourclieu performing this function for three kings in succession - Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VIII.
Entering the Norman crypt, a guide with his party pointed out that this crypt was the largest in the world. Its main feature was the Chapel of our Lady, whose fine screens were a gift from the Black Prince, who had intended that the chapel would be his last resting place. The Black Princes chantry, is an early Norman chapel, once used by the Huguenots; it took its name from the same alterations made by the Black Prince. Opposite the north transept are the two oldest chapels, of St Magdalene and St Nicholas, in the great east crypt is another superb chapel of Our Lady.
In my haversack, I had a picnic lunch and a flask of tea, with which to enjoy and digest the history lessons, thanks to the cathedral guides. There was something hallow about sitting on a bench eating my lunch in the sanctuary of the cathedral, surrounded by ecclesiastical buildings and members of the church passing to and fro.
In leaving this walled city, with its cobbled streets and ancient overhanging dwellings, I took back with me memories of its involvement in becoming the seat of the Christian religion in England, from before the 5th Century.
I arrived back in the Hotel Burstin in time to have a swim before joining the hotel guests in the lounge, waiting for the dining room doors to open. I enjoyed being waited on, as much as eating the food, about which I had very little to complain - apart from the carrots being underdone. Could this be that they had not been defrosted enough?
Most nights, some form of entertainment was laid on, made up of their own artistes, as well as guest artistes. The question of whether you enjoyed what was on the show, depended on the individuals taste. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a singer unknown to me, render songs from Lloyd Webber shows and other popular classical pieces, such as Nessum Dorma. After the concert, our singer, Mitchell Armstrong, offered tapes of songs he had sung during the evening, which I purchased.
The show being over meant that I had to do some packing before the morning, for this was our last night at the Hotel Burstin. I had planned to return under my own steam, along the coast, using a Rover ticket with National Express, costing less than £4, which would enable me to arrive in Havant much earlier than travelling back with Wallace Arnold.
Returning by the coastal route by bus, I would be passing for the first time, stretches of most historical coastline in the country. As the bus I was travelling on approached Hastings, there were residents who lived and were buried around 1066, who could have given witness to William the Conqueror, with his French forces, defeating King Harold.
Further east, on Deals shoreline, natives now buried but living around 55 BC, could have claimed they did battle with Julius Caesar and his invading legionnaires forces.
It is doubtful if any person would wish to claim that they witnessed Alan Rayment making his first journey from Folkestone to Portsmouth by bus. All I hoped to achieve was that when I reached Brighton and changed buses at Queens Road, I would have time to make myself comfortable in a decent manner.
I had my usual packed lunch in my haversack, which I devoured on the bus at a convenient moment, for on my route buses did not stop for passengers to swallow their snack. Before reaching Brighton, I was informed by a passenger where to go for my wash and brush-up, etc, close to Queens Road.
Every now and then, we had evidence that the Romans had used this route, when they were resident, for on leaving Chichester, a sign pointed to the Fishbourne Roman Palace. Little did I know then that I had a detailed map of the Roman Way to Winchester and, had I followed it by foot through Havant I could have reached the drive between my house in Wigan Crescent, Bedhampton, and next door
© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: January 20, 2001