One or two of my Wednesday pupils, who took part in my evening teach-in sessions, such as Viv and Di, had formed a bridge group, and I was invited to join them on a weekend of bridge at the Midland Hotel, Bournemouth.

Early March, the hotel coach picked up our party of eight at various stopping places between Havant and Fareham, via Portsmouth.   It was at Havant that I met Steve and his wife, Joyce, members of our bridge party, for the first time.    Viv had already told me that he had been captain of the Southsea Bridge Club and warned me that I would be punished if I did any silly Alan bids.    He was good company, sporting a mischievous grin from time to time, acting as a good foil for Viv, who took on pantomime characters when in a playful mood.

On arrival, Viv introduced me to the leader of the bridge gang, Hildergare, of German extraction but very much one of us, having married an Englishman.   Alas, he had committed suicide quite some time ago, and since then Hildegare had acquired a partner, Bob, who was also a member of our bridge gang.   He had also attended my Wednesday teach-in session and turned out to be my star pupil, having had only a few lessons before he became an established bridge player.

Viv finally introduced me to the rich widow, Susan, who was a member of both the Southsea club and Southsea Community Centre. 

At the hotel, we were surrounded by herds of new residents, who had arrived by coaches like us, all of whom were ushered into the dining room and given refreshments.

It was here that a modus operandi was sorted out with Steve and I to form a reconnaissance party to locate the ‘quiet lounge’ as shown in the hotel brochure.   While we were on our assigned task, the remainder of the gang made their way to the reception to queue up to collect keys to their rooms.    We found the room quiet, containing furniture suitable for card play, which was nicely decorated and an organ tucked away in a corner.   This room was commandeered for our bridge sessions for the whole of the weekend.

During the period of my stay, I had to admire the hotel organisation, that coped with more than 200 guests, exchanging every Friday throughout most of the year.    Without much fuss, our luggage was assembled in the bar area and taken to our rooms, with the reverse taking place on our departure.   With only one sitting for each meal, there were no delays in being served with meals chosen from a menu supplied for each meal.    We had a Spanish girl to serve us, who I made laugh when I stood up doing arm and hand movements and banging my heals on the floor as if I were doing the flamenco.

Almost before we had finished our evening meal, the restaurant area became converted into the lounge and dancing, plus a bingo and entertainment area.    However, all this conversion did not concern the bridge gang, for once we had the quiet room organised, we were concerned that we retained the use of it by leaving our gear on the chairs and tables when leaving our hive.

By the time we were due to return, we had two bridge sessions on Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday morning, amounting to 120 separate hands and Chicago bridge.   This would be more bridge than would be played on some organised bridge holidays.

Not many bridge holidays could boast of having an electronic organ for its players to show off their versatility, as Viv and Steve were able to do between each session.    This musical equipment was suited for Viv’s extrovert character, acting like a puppet with her hands dancing along the keyboard, shaking her head like Victor Borge.

Steve took a different mode at the keyboard.   He had an enquiring mind, seeking out the use of each key or control knob.   If he got a pleasant sound of another instrument, such as the beat of a drum, he would look across to us and give us his mischievous grin.

Again, I was fascinated with how the hotel catered for 200 residents, all leaving and arriving on the same day.

Our quiet room suddenly became a storage space for luggage on Sunday morning, ready to load several coaches at the rear of the hotel.   Fortunately, space was left for us to continue our play.   At the front of the hotel, where the bar lounge was located, that too had been converted into a storage bay for luggage to be loaded at the front of the hotel onto coaches.

I marvelled how the young staff got on with their tasks cheerfully, seemingly without supervision.   To me, this was a fine example of the application of management and work study, throughout each function of the hotel.   I would have liked to have seen the kitchen layout and how they coped to serve over 200 hot meals in one sitting, without delays.

The consensus of the Hildegare bridge gang was that they would be back again as soon as there were vacancies.

Steve and Joyce, who returned to my house to pick up their car said their farewells, for I should not be seeing them before our swarm of bridge players took flight again to their Bournemouth hive.  

When Steve left Ferranti and took a job in the city with an international communication firm, he had to daily leave home to catch an early train at Petersfield for the city, and not returning home until around 8.30 pm.   This brought an end to his serious bridge play at the Southsea club, especially as he could be called upon to attend meetings in any part of the world at short notice.    The digital TV station will be using their carrier lines when it finally becomes operational.    This short break was a tonic for him, as indeed it was for most of us, taking us away for a short while from the daily routine.

I was pleased, on doing my first Tuesday rounds, that my postcards had arrived from Bournemouth at both Outram Road and at St Mary’s Hospital.   Harry pointed out the shelf with cards that had been sent mainly from Sylvia and myself.     Those from Sylvia were from Butlin’s Holiday Camps at Minehead and Bognor, where she had won numerous competitions, being selected as the most ‘glamorous grandmother’.   It was noticeable that there were only a few cards from the relatives and friends of the other residents.

As I entered Pat’s office, I was greeted by my Fairy Princess-cum-mentor, to hand in my script.   “We have received your Bournemouth card this morning, and it is already adorning my notice-board surrounds.   A few more cards and I shall be starting an outer frame.”

Although I called in to give my latest version of ‘It Happened To Me’ during her dinner time, the phone almost never ceased to ring, and members of staff called in.   I felt very much an intruder.     I told Pat that I had a large envelope under my arm each time I walked down Exton 5 manage-ment corridor, hoping to give the appearance of an official on an important mission.     I was now accepted by Pat’s local office colleagues, such as Helen, dealing in health care.   She was rather suspicious of me, and believed I was reporting back to top management on any failings I saw.

Usually, Pat made a small remark on my previous script as she handed it to me, as was the case this dinner time.    This then was followed by an enquiry on Harry’s general stability, which I was able to give, since I always called to see him on Tuesday mornings.      My visit usually ended with Pat playing the part of my mentor, “See you next Tuesday and don’t forget your script.”    I left with a smile and gave her a kiss.

Pat had so much to be admired for, giving me the motivation to keep writing and sparing her valuable time.   Her job as shared manager of the Public Relations office placed a great deal of responsibility on her, especially when dealing with the press or TV.     I saw little of Leigh, who shared the manager’s post with Pat, as she had been seconded onto a residential management course at Ashbridge College for most of the year.

My next port of call was to the third address I sent a postcard to from Bournemouth.   With Bill Yeoman’s silver wedding approaching fast in April, I had a need to get Bill’s agreement on certain matters.   I also had a need to learn if he still intended to go ahead with this celebration, as his health was in such a bad way.

Fortunately, Bill was sitting up in his high chair, in his dressing gown.   I had completed his format for this event and had names for the various items, such as Tim Williams to propose a toast to the couple’s future good health and happiness.   Tim had been Mayor of Havant whilst Bill served on the Havant Council.    He was also a President of the founder members of Havant Borough Indoor Bowls Club in 1985.     Bill, who had also played a leading role in the council to create this facility, became the club’s next President.    Tim also joined the trio, Ernie, Bill and myself, at the monthly meeting of Cosham Probus.    All our wives had met on Probus annual ladies’ day, and sat together for the meal.    I was very pleased that Tim, knowing so much of Bill’s background agreed to propose this toast, as was indeed, Bill.

I gathered from Vi he was having frequent visits from the nurse and doctors, and getting very little sleep.    This time there was no singing from his chair, rather the reverse was the case, as he was extremely quiet.    I tried to cheer him up with the news that I had obtained a pianist through Age Concern to play olde tyme music for the sing-along session.    I made my departure after a short while and assured him I would keep in close touch.

On most of my visits to Harry, he had been stable and given no reason why I should not take off on another Wallace Arnold short break.   His paintings were improving, although he was only visiting The Grove to see Lin on very infrequent occasions.   His paranoia, which plagued him throughout his life, still persisted and prevented him from going out of his residence, apart from when he had a need to collect his weekly allowance from the Post Office.    He had Donald, another former patient of St James’, in a half-way house nearby, who did his errands, such as shopping for his daily quota of lager and cigarettes.     He had permission to have some of his framed landscape paintings hung in the lounge.    It was noticeable that he had taken great pride in his hobby since he had Lin at The Grove giving helpful comments on his art.

Back on the Wallace Arnold short break scene, a Monday to Friday stint and not Friday to Sunday, as hitherto.   This had the effect that Tony, my usual driver on the pick-up coach, who had his quick whiff at each pick up point, was not on duty.   Strange, how one can miss a person’s idiosyncrasies, in particular the special greeting he received when the lady marshal gave him a big hug each time he arrived at South Mimms on the M25.

I chose to visit North Wales Holiday no. 4491L for the daily excursions on the coach, such as the Conway Valley and the Llanberis Pass, which retraced the trek I made with Sam in our early teenage days.    When I met Sam, after a lapse of many years at Canterbury, he was keen to remind me that I had rebuked him for using too much butter on his bread, when camping at Llanwrst.   This sounded as if I was the quartermaster for our trek.   I do remember I had only 12 shillings, including the trip St Tudno to Liverpool, and Llandudno, and vice versa.

I was also keen to stay at Evans Hotel, for it had organised entertainment each night, and matched the Midland Hotel, but on a smaller scale.     There was bingo on the evening entertainment programme each night, where the coach drivers had to show their hidden talents.    It would be interesting to know whether they were required to pass a bingo caller test before being taken on as a coach driver for Wallace Arnold.

On the last night, residents were encouraged to enter the fancy dress competition.    If I had a big night dress, I would have entered, as I had done on the Canberra cruise ship, and the indoor bowls, at the first Christmas party.    Everyone thought I made a good Nero.

Each morning, at this Victorian seaside resort, known as the ‘Queen of the Welsh resorts’, I explored its main cultural and scenic features, apart from the day when the coach driver took us on the Snowdonia trip.

We learned from the coach driver that Owen Williams replanned Llandudno from a cluster of fishermen’s houses in 1850.   He was a surveyor from Liverpool, who created a great promenade sweep and wide streets.    He transformed Orme’s Head by providing gardens and an overhead cable car that provided excellent views of the coastline and sea.

Although the cable car was not operational at the time I visited Orme’s Head, I made a note of the manufacturer of this cable car.   I have always imagined that if a cable car was installed at Portsdown Hill, it could exploit one of the finest panoramic views in the country.     I did write to Briton Engineering Developments Limited with a scheme, but they were not interested.   Neither was a group set up by Portsmouth City Council, dealing with projects for the millennium.  All I got from them was, “Have you got the Ministry of Transport’s permission to go over the M27 motorway?”  

On the half day excursion along the Conwy Valley to Betws-y-Coed and the Swallow Falls, I experienced the recall of certain vivid memories that I have kept over the years.   It was on reaching Conwy that I remembered setting up our bivouac in a field on our first night’s trek to Snowdonia.

Sam and I chose this spot to be near a farm, hoping to buy milk the following morning.   What we had not bargained for were cows, which had entered the field during the night.     One thought she would like to join us and gave us a fright, I thought that we heard the farmer, since we had not permission to camp in his field.   We decided to move off at first light and get our fresh milk further along the Vale of Conway.

Our coach, making its way along the Vale much faster than we did on foot in 1932, passed through Llanwrst.   It was here that we discovered a youth hostel, with the bare necessities provided for young walkers, such as  wooden double bunks and wooden trestle tables and benches.   The warden in charge, with a pointed beard, told us that he had been the captain of a sailing ship, plying to and fro between this country and Australia.   He got us singing sea shanties, no doubt he was recalling his seafaring days at the same time.   It was a great way to bring the dozen or so other hikers together and swap stories.

The coach proceeded to a well-known Welsh beauty spot, Betws-y-Coed, where we stopped for refreshments.   It was there that we diverted to join the Capel Curig road, as we did on our trek those years ago.   Now we faced all the mountain ranges, such as Snowdon and the Glyders, terminating our coach trip at the Swallow Falls, before returning back to the Evans Hotel.   

In 1932, there had been a very dry period, when the river water levels had dropped.   This was at the time we were on our trek to Snowdon and left the Capel Curig Road to scramble down the embankment to a viewing spot aside of the falls.   Both Sam and myself had studded climbing boots. 

We stood, staring down at the rushing water, hitting huge boulders, cascading on its way to the sea.    What was occupying our minds was whether to jump onto the exposed boulders that appeared at the top of the falls, like stepping stones, due to the dry weather.   Several other hikers had already stood on these stones, looking quite proud of their achievement as we arrived.   Having made their exit successfully, it was a case of Alan and Sam ‘get on with it.’     We had a warning in our minds that perhaps they did not have studs in their footwear.     Sanity prevailed, coupled with a guardian angel, who must have been watching and saying, “No, don’t do that on top of the falls with those studded boots.”

It was not easy for us, as young teenagers, to turn down the challenge and heed the warning of self-preservation built into our systems, with an additional guardian angel, if so lucky.    At the moment I turned to leave on the stone I had been standing on, I slipped and fell down, landing with my head over the side of the embankment, peering at the steep falls.    The maxim that ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ had indeed been proved right in this case!

I noticed there were no stepping stones to lure the inexperienced hikers, I said a little prayer of thanks to my guardian angel.   We had only a glimpse of the scenic beauty of Wales, compared to the excursion planned for tomorrow, when our coach was due to take us to Caernarfon and Snowdonia.

This trip, on which I was being taken to see Mount Snowdon was similar to the Islam pilgrims visiting Mecca, the birth place of their founder, Mohammed.    It would have been sacrilege to have visited North Wales and not paid our respects to Mount Snowdon, which dominated the scenery for so many miles around.   The route along the Llanberis Pass had very special memories to draw on, with the Glyder Range of mountains sharing the scenic view, and which were both conquered by Sam and I in 1932.

The proprietors of the Evans Hotel took great interest in ensuring their entertainment was attractive and popular with guests.    The range of activities included, bingo and quiz each night, followed by some of the other favourites, such as live cabaret, golden oldies party and ballroom dancing with a fancy dress competition on the last night.    I played a passive role in the latter event.   I did not feel that my pyjamas would have done justice to Nero.   I could, of course, have borrowed one or two larger ladies’ night-dresses, who were present!

My thoughts on the coach returning home dwelt on all that had happened in a matter of five days.   The high spot was when the coach took us through the magic scenery of Snowdonia.

I hoped Pat received the postcard of these scenic views, and it was displayed around her notice-board, with her existing collection of my cards for me to see each time I visit her.

I obtained this card from the Welsh Tourist Bureau, and while there, obtained a brochure of Snowdonia.    In this booklet was a coloured relief map, covering the whole of the Conway Valley and Snowdonia.   On my return, I intended to super-impose the route and base camp of our 1932 trek.   This could be enlarged and suitably titled for my future Rayment generation to marvel at.   It would be displayed on the wall in the conservatory, along with my battered hockey stick.     I returned home with my memories to think of that weekend, with the knowledge that I would have a further two weekend breaks to follow.     With each trip, I hoped to achieve a new objective.

My next break to Wolverhampton was planned in order to revisit Gladys’ relatives.   Sadly, I learned that Edna and Tony would be in Ilfracombe, and Brenda and John had other engagements.    However, the coach was scheduled to visit Shrewsbury on the Saturday excursion, so I would be able to visit Andrew and Linda, also the grandchildren.   This was of course my first reason for choosing this venue.

Our pick up coach arrived on time on Friday morning at 7am, with our Tony at the helm, getting his quick whiff of his cigarette between arrival and departure at Havant Bus Station.   With Tony achieving a quick whiff at each pick up point, I knew we would reach South Mimms safely, to change to our final destination coach.    This important whiff to Tony put him in a relaxed mood, especially as he would receive his customary hug from the lady marshal awaiting him in the exchange reception area.

RAC drivers are referred to as the ‘knights of the road’ and equally, so are the coach drivers who transport and are responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers weekly.   I was amazed how their nervous systems withstood coping with the density of traffic on all the motorways, as we experienced on the route to Wolverhampton.     

It seemed that the M25 had to be mastered on nearly all journeys for those travelling from the south.    It was part of my holiday to watch the drivers handle the traffic situations on these short breaks.   Going through the Midlands, there was ‘Spaghetti Junction’ to negotiate, where roads from all points of the compass meet.   While I sat in my chosen position two rows back on the nearside, I was able to observe both the driver and the oncoming traffic.   

On the day we left, there was a continual increasing density of traffic, resulting in long tailbacks, with lorries and motorists making their end of the week or going-away journeys.   I was sure each coach driver was glad to finish his day’s assignment, as ours was when we reached our holiday hotel, Goldthorn, an AA 3-star, with its indoor swimming pool and gymnasium.

Most people on these Autumn and Spring breaks were elderly Darby and Joan types.   Seldom, middle aged couples and certainly no children.   The Wolverhampton break proved to be an exception to this norm, for in the centre of the coach we had a bunch of giggling females, who could have been young wives on the loose.   One laughed, and then they all laughed, like a pack of hyenas.

My first priority, after sorting out my accommodation, was to sample the swimming pool, which was made available to the public.   I learned that visiting football teams stayed at this hotel, as was the case when we were there.

At the evening meal there was a long table set out, where a youth squad from Poland sat down with Puskis, their trainer and manager.   They were in high spirits, enjoying the night before their football match with the England youth team at the Molyneux football ground.  

I phoned my grandson, Peter, at Shrewsbury during the evening, about our Polish visitors, who wished he had been playing against them.

I talked to several local people in the bar, and was told that the Ever Ready, Canal Road Works had closed down.   I always regarded this firm as where my engineering career had started, and had a lot to thank Mr Terry for, who took me on and gave me the Production Controller post at the age of 23.   My old friend, Sam, also had Terry to thank for taking him on, for he was eventually given charge of the Efficiency Department.

Before retiring to bed, I took a short walk into the main shopping area, around Beatties, the main lead store in Wolverhampton.   Edna’s son, Derek had joined this store on leaving school, in the transport section, and had found them good employers.

When I left this town in 1950, there had been a trickle of coloured people into this area.  Their presence was noticeable on the trolley buses.   Making my way into the town centre, I seldom passed a white person, it was as if I was in a Jamaican town.   Any taxi I saw was driven by a coloured driver, so I assumed that this was one of the towns they had chosen, like Bradford, to form a coloured community, with their own culture.

I reached Darlington Street, where the main store was sited and lit up, but closed at the hour I was there.    Further down Darlington Street, towards Tettenhall, I recalled I attended the Sunday Men’s service in the afternoons as a young man at the Weslyan Chapel.    It was there that I had heard the Scottish Labour politician preach, in his broad native dialect, rolling his R’s, James Ramsey MacDonald.

The town is pleasantly situated, for at the weekends there is the undulating country of Shropshire on the doorstep to escape to.   Also, for many like me, there was Wales on the other side of Shropshire where a cyclist could reach and explore North Wales, as I did.   I seldom had a need to venture into the so-called Black Country of the Midlands, on the east side of Wolverhampton.

I returned to my hotel in time for a night-cap, before going to bed with my thoughts that I had seen Wolverhampton at its best, when the Wolves football was at its peek, with Billy Wright as their captain, and when they had beaten the Moscow Dynamos.

At breakfast in the dining room, I noticed the young Polish footballers were in a thoughtful mood, compared to their light-hearted spirit the previous night.    I assumed this was due to each one dwelling on their afternoon match against their English opponents.   Perhaps Peter might make the grade to play in such a match in the near future.   If he does not, it will not be for the lack of trying.

We gave these youngsters a cheer, as they left in their coach while we were about to board our Wallace Arnold coach for the day’s excursion taking us to Cadbury Village and then to Shrewsbury.   While in the coach, our young wives became referred to as the ‘Brighton Belles’ for they did all come from Brighton and were full of life, discussing the chocolate items they intended to take home for themselves and their children.

I had a chat with one of these ‘belles’ the previous night and was told that the youngest had six children and that her husband had left her.   She certainly was enjoying her freedom, and was usually the one to start them all laughing.     It would have been interesting to know where she had parked her young brood while on this trip.   Her husband had been cruel to her, according to her sister, who I was chatting with.  How sad that these children are being reared without the support of a father, as is the case in millions of homes today.

I received my usual Christmas card from Megan, the widow of Gordon, one of my colleagues at the Admiralty Research Laboratory.   On it, she stated that her two son’s marriages had broken up with one of the sons emigrating to Australia.   She described her life as ‘fallen apart’, as is indeed the fabric of our social structure.

Each time I visit Cadbury World, I think the Japanese must have also visited their factory and village before the start of the Japanese Industrial Revolution.   In passing through the village, the driver pointed out that the factory owners not only built the houses for their employees, but also the village church and hall.   It was as if the employee’s lives were controlled 24 hours a day by the Cadbury founders.   However, I was not aware that physical exercises for the employees were adopted as part of the chocolate making culture, which has been used by the Japanese factory workers.

The outstanding feature of that visit to see how chocolate is made was the museum, where life-like displays depicted the discovery of chocolate by the Spaniards in South American forests.   Another series of displays portrayed the Spanish court during the King Phillip II period, sipping chocolate.

Chocolate making in this factory was a bit of a misnomer, for the chocolate is made in Wales and delivered in tankers to that factory in the Midlands.    However, it is possible to see how it is processed into the end product, such as bars.    The tour round the factory terminated in the shop, where every chocolate article on the market could be bought.    This was where parents became harassed by their children.

My main commitments were to satisfy the hungry mouths at Shrewsbury.   That, of course, included Linda and Andrew, as well as the grandchildren.   I chose a large pack containing a mixture of all sorts to suit all tastes.   All prices were much below shop charges, and it was noticeable that our coach passengers had carrier bags with their presents of chocolates to take back with them.

On the way to Shrewsbury, I had plenty of time to reflect how blessed with good fortune Andrew had been from birth, compared to Harry.    Most important in Andrew’s life, however, is his family, where he has the support of a devoted wife, Linda with six healthy children to occupy his mind when away from work.   I knew when I arrived at Shrewsbury, that apart from Thomas, the youngest, aged 5, they would be engaged in sport, taking part in fotball matches, and in Elisabeth’s case this would be a hockey match.

I was able to spot Andrew’s white cavalier car parked outside St Chad’s Church, with its circular nave, where the coach stopped opposite a bus stop.    When leaving the coach, passengers had a view of Quarry Park, bordered by the River Severn and could also see the public swimming baths, where young Thomas had learned to swim.

In the car waiting for me was, as I had expected, just Thomas, with his parents, who was having a good old ding dong, not being taken to the baths, because there was weekend shopping to be done, and I only had a few hours to spend with them.  

Linda told me that she had high hopes of securing a local teaching post after her assignment terminated at the end of the summer term.     She remarked that her headmaster had only spoken to her once, and that was to tell her that her post was up for grabs.    Seems to me that this headmaster of a large comprehensive school in the Midlands had need to attend a course on management.    For his own information, one would have thought this was an opportunity for him to learn how both the teacher and the pupils were progressing.    Andrew and Linda were doing the shopping on the way home.   This was the only time they could get it done together, for it required both of them to handle their bulk supplies to feed the family for a week, plus Linda’s Mum, Joan.   This was not my scene, so I just wandered around the multi-stores car park, watching others getting on with loading their cars.

To enter or leave Shrewsbury, it is inevitable that you will have to go over a bridge spanning the River Severn, which surrounds this city, making it almost an island.    The bridge we passed over is called the English Bridge, which Andrew pointed out is en route to his housing estate.  

 It was when Shrewsbury’s tallest landmark was reached at the junction of Abbey Foregate that signalled we had almost reached his house.   This landmark can be compared to London’s Nelson’s Column.    It was erected in memory of Lord Hill, who succeeded Wellington as Commander-in-Chief of the army in 1842.   It is 133 feet high, the highest Greek doric column in the world.   I was reminded by Andrew that Shrewsbury could boast of having a number of famous men in the past, such as Charles Darwin and Clive of India.    In present times, their park superintendent, Percy Thrower, had become well-known on the television, as a broadcaster for his gardening programme.

Andrew used every opportunity to praise Shrewsbury in all aspects for the quality of service it gave, as did Linda, who did not have a good word for Portsmouth.  

It was also a surprise to learn that Joan, Linda’s mother, had settled down in Shrewsbury, after William, her husband had died.  She had lived in Devon for most of her life, but had no desire to return.   In a very short time, she had made many friends, playing whist most nights and going on short breaks with them.   Most of all, she was an important member of Andrew’s family unit, being able to look after the young ones, while the parents were working.

Peter, aged 17, was as I had expected, it being Saturday, playing in a football match.   What was not expected was, he was playing in a Welsh team at Llansanfraid, near Oswestry, in a Welsh football league.   He had passed his driving test and it would be interesting to learn how soon he had a banger.    With Joy having acquired a car, making a total of three in the household, Dad would soon have to extend his forecourt, if each member of the family owned a car on reaching the age for driving. 

Jonathan had already demonstrated that he could drive, although he was only 16, so he had already alerted his parents of becoming another driver in the family, seeking a banger.   He, like Peter, secretly aspired to become a football international.   Failing that, the second string to his bow was to become a policeman, which he made known, having size 12 boots to match his second career choice.   He had found himself a very rewarding part time job in Shrewsbury Leisure Centre, which did not prevent him from playing soccer every Saturday afternoon.

The third eldest son, Christopher, aged 9, was equally steeped in football - if not more so - than his brothers, for he had been made captain of his team.   The three had been mascots of Shrewsbury Town Football Club and had led the first team out onto the football pitch in front of the spectators, before a league match was due to start.    It must be that they took after their Granddad, since Andrew could only play rugby at school.

The few hours passed quickly, before I was due to return to my coach, but it was very useful to catch up with Andrew’s domestic and work situation.    He was so confident in his affairs, that it made me wonder how I had two sons so totally opposite in their make up.

He had every opportunity to practice his management skills on the home scene.   The four bedroomed house had been converted to provide a bedroom for each of the children, utilising the original garage to provide additional downstairs bedrooms.   It was like a rabbit warren, when a grandchild would disappear down a passage-way off from the kitchen, and another would do an exit from the playroom.     When alterations were done to the integral garage, a double garage extension was added to the main house.

Immediately we arrived at the house after shopping, I noticed Thomas sat on a high stool, tapping away, seated at a video, playing computer games.    It seems young ones are born to use computers from the cradle onwards.    A far cry from the days when I worked in Teddington, and saw the first computer being built at NPL, using valves occupying a large hall.   No-one foresaw the future use or the miniaturisation, using micro-chips in computers.

Elisabeth, aged eleven, appeared on the scene, with a cheeky face, challenging me to a game of chess, before she went off doing her paper-round.   She was always quick to take advantage of any mistake I made, and I had a high respect for her thinking power.   She had met people in the medical profession at Christchurch, Bayston Hill, like Joy, who had given her thoughts on becoming a doctor.

Andrew drove me back to the coach waiting at St Chad’s Church, feeling that all was well with Andrew’s brood.    In the car, Andrew mentioned that they had been approached by a church member to see if they would board a vicar’s student son, who would be working in a local hospital as part of his management degree course.    This appealed to them on financial grounds, and the fact that they had Joy’s bedroom vacant. I suppose that one extra to feed, when you already have seven, makes very little extra work!   

There seemed to be no limit to what they were prepared to take on, which has remained the same from the time they got married.   I was asked to help them decorate their lounge at Stamshaw in one evening, because some friends were coming round on the morrow.   

Back at the hotel, after the evening meal, I sat alongside the jolly ‘Brighton Belles’, who were playing cards in the bar lounge.   They asked if I would like to join, but I told them I thought their game was too complicated , but I would be prepared to play bridge.   To my surprise, one of the belles asked if I would advise her how to get started.   Before the evening was finished, we had exchanged addresses, with a promise that I would send a copy of the ‘Introduction to Bridge’.

Shortly after my return home, I received a letter from Joan, the sister of the young jolly belle with six children, enclosing a photo of me and ‘the gang’, as she referred to the Belles of Brighton.   I had no indication that they had started to play bridge.    She hoped that I had enjoyed their company, which I had indeed - having drawn a blank as regards meeting Gladys’ relatives.

My state of health was giving me grave concern, not being sure whether this was due to the side effects of the Flutamide tablets I was taking, or due to the cancerous prostrate gland.    I seemed to have had all those effects given under the warning notice with the box of pills.   This included, listlessness, vomiting and dizziness, which caused me to have difficulty in reversing the car out of the garage.   I started to have an afternoon sleep in bed.    On one of those sleeping periods, I had two phone calls at 5 o clock, enquiring about bridge in the evening.   I asked if they were unable to sleep, ringing so early in the morning?   It was, of course, 5 pm.    This caused me to ask to be changed off Flutamide, with the doctor requiring a blood test to be sent to Mr Walmsley.   The test identified that I had a damaged liver!

Thankfully, I was given new treatment, in the form of an implant placed under the skin of my stomach, lasting three months, which cost the health service £600 for each injection.    From what I saw of it, while the injection was being carried out, it was about an inch long and quarter of an inch in diameter!   So what is in it, to cost that money?   Although I had complained about the side effects I had with Flutamide, the treatment had reduced my cancerous measurement from 5.5 down to almost zero.

I had a weak right knee, and every now and then, I would get a message to ‘take it easy, Alan.’   I became very concerned when I joined a small group doing a walk-about in Havant, with a leader pointing out the historical features of the town.     Although we stopped when she gave a commentary, I was unable to continue the walk-about.  

This poor state of health had affected my bowling delivery, causing me to bounce my bowls.   This is acceptable for indoor bowls, but not for outdoors, where it causes the green to be damaged.   This came up at the Pre-season Meeting at the Bedhampton Bowls Club, where fingers were pointed at me, along with a few others.    I felt very upset, and for the first time I had no desire to continue to play.    This, coupled with the removal of our original pavilion, which a few of us had put so much work in to, without a comment on its passing.    I felt no wish to remain an active member.

I think this was all part of changing into a lower gear, as I got the years added on, to 80.    I spoke to Viv, my bridge pupil and university lecturer on old age to the hospital nurses.     I thought she would give me some words of comfort, but all I got from her was, “What do you expect at your age?    You are lucky to be alive.”     I think that I was missing Ernie King’s company, and was also saddened after I had visited the third member of our original Probus trio. 

 I did not seem to be able to finalise Bill and Vi’s diamond wedding anniversary with Amanda at the Brookfield Hotel on 24th May.   Like me, he was having trouble with his prostrate gland, causing him to be up all night going to the toilet, as well as being a diabetic.    Vi said she had no sleep for days, and that his operation on the prostrate gland a few years ago had been a failure.   I thought Bill and I were a couple of old bangers ready for the scrap yard!

The Bedhampton Bowls Club held their 13th Pre-Season Meeting on the 21st March, 1996.   It was at this meeting that members received reports from the officials of the club on the developments during the closed season, and the programme of match fixtures for the forthcoming outdoor season.

Only those who have held office can be knowledgeable of the work involved with each office.   It was the fixture secretary who could claim to have a full-time job, arranging match fixtures and friendlies with:- Men’s League, Ladies’ Mini-League, P & D Ladies B League, County Club and Reflex Trophy, also Rowlands Cup Competitions.    Something in the order of 150 matches have to be arranged with the opposite number in other clubs or associations.

It had been known that the venue had been agreed for a match for both teams, inadvertently, playing away on each other’s grounds, so that each team passed the other on the road.   This was, of course, an extremely rare case, generally clubs send a confirmation card to each other, with match details, prior to the match.

The President had the most responsibility during the time he was in office.   The expression, “The buck stops here” applied in his case, as I experienced when I held office and had to sort out legal advice.    The President in some clubs is required to purchase small prizes for members of the winning rink, for each of the friendly matches.   It was accepted practice that after tea had been taken, the Presidents of each team taking part  in a friendly match would give a warm welcome, a few words about the game, and would wish the opposing club success in their future matches.   This was a formality that I had not come across in any other sporting activity.

In the President’s address at the meeting, he referred to the poor state of the green and asked all members to keep standing and shuffling at the edge of the green to a minimum.    Also, there were a few who bounced their woods, and caused divots to be taken out of the green.  While the last remark was being made, I sensed the President was pointing in my direction.     This was confirmed later, and that while playing away, I had been charged with damaging the opponent’s green.    So, all my contributions to the club in the past had been negated and replaced by the charge of ‘the bowler who damaged Bedhampton Bowling Green’.

Frankly, with the side effects of the treatment that I had to contend with to control my prostrate cancer, I could not visualise improving my delivery.    All my body joints were in a semi-locked condition, preventing or restricting bending down, depending how I felt on the day.

This caused me to have a fear of damaging the green each I time I bowled when the season started.   I had been skip for several years, of a rink in the Portsmouth and District Combination League Division.   I found it prudent to hand over my role to Ken Wills,  a bridge player and extrovert, who enjoyed ‘firing’ whenever he had the opportunity to do so.  This term is used when a bowler sends his wood at speed into a bunch of opponent’s woods, close to the jack.

Before the start of the outdoor season for bowls, I had booked to go on the Indoor President’s Tour, commencing on 29th March to 2nd April, 1996, based at the Norwich Hotel, Norwich.   There were six matches to be played around Norfolk, all indoors, so I should have no need to worry about taking out divots, playing on an artificial surface.

Harry was improving on his paintings.   Sylvia had obtained permission to hang at least two in the lounge, when framed.   They were scenes from holiday brochures I had given to him.   He had painted some, where there were reflections on the water, and sunsets, one of which I had framed, and which had become the centre-piece over the fireplace.     Sadly, because of his deep-seated paranoia, he would not attend The Grove, but was prepared to show his painting efforts to Lin and accept her comments.

There had been some changes at Outram Road, causing Harry to be anxious.   This concerned Sylvia’s boss and replacements of two residents, one of whom had gone into a nursing home, whilst the other had to be re-admitted into St James’ Hospital.    It was pleasing to learn that both the new residents, had fitted in well with all other occupants.   Harry had a say in their acceptance.    Sylvia made it clear that Harry was ‘Head Boy’ and gave him responsibilities when she went out.

Not only did Sylvia have good looks, with a cheerful personality, but she was also blessed with sense.   At school, she had won certificates to enable her to go to university, but she was unable to do so for family reasons.   All the residents made use of her to sort out their money problems when dealing with benefits.

She and her husband frequented Butlin’s Holiday Camps, mainly at Minehead, where she had won the most ‘Glamorous Granny’ award.    They also visited countries of historical interest, such as tombs in Egypt.   They had recently returned from a visit to China on a guided tour, visiting Beijing Square and the Great Wall of China. 

It was not surprising that Outram Road is highly regarded by the Portsmouth Housing Trust as having the least problems with residents who were formerly long-term patients of St James’.   Both Harry and I, as well as the other residents owed her a great deal for not only being their housekeeper, but acting as a mother to them all.

I too, had a housekeeper one hour a week, supplied by the Domiciliary Agency.   She looked like a teenager, but had three children, one of whom was aged 15.   Each time she arrived on Thursday mornings at 10 am, she greeted me with a broad smile and asked, “How are you?”   Joking, I usually replied, for her sympathy, “I feel horrible”, and then watch for her smile to disappear, which it did not.

Her name was Tanya, and she had long golden hair, reaching down to her shoulders.   She had legs like sticks and a very thin body to match, with a weight of not more than 7 stones.    This sprightly figure was able to run up and down stairs and clean the bathroom and toilet, also the kitchen and toilet, and polish and hoover either the downstairs or upstairs in one hour.   The standard charge was £3.50 an hour, and I made sure she took home something extra, like a magazine and fruit.  

Equally important was that I had someone coming in regularly, in case I had a fall without being discovered.    This had never happened, but I had tripped up a few times in the house, and had managed to break the fall by holding on to a door or furniture.   

I joined the Indoor Bowls tour, which the General Secretary, Bernard James, had once more organised betwixt the indoor and outdoor seasons.     As a latecomer to join this tour, I had a seat at the back of the coach, alongside Bill, who was a resident of Doyle House, a widower like myself, which helps to discuss our mutual marital status.     I noted that most of the seats were occupied my married couples or their equivalent, giving me a reminder of when Ella and I had a SAGA bowls holiday at Llandrindod Wells.   Bowls was one of the few sports that both sexes can join on almost equal terms.     It became a great asset when husband and wife could join in the same activity and go away on holidays and short breaks, taking part together.

One of the main attractions of going on the tour, for me, was to make full use of the indoor swimming pool at our hotel in Norwich.    Another main attraction was that there were a number of bridge players who were prepared to play rubber bridge whenever the opportunity availed itself, particularly when not taking part in a match.

I missed the Wallace Arnold driver, taking his quick whiffs of smoke whenever we stopped and his brief commentaries on the places we were due to go through.   All routes to the South somehow eventually led onto the M25, where inevitably, road works were taking place on widening the motorway, causing the closure of lanes, resulting in traffic delays.   However, as we made the County of Norfolk in daylight, we were able to admire the glorious countryside and sleepy villages, as well as the busy market towns, such as Newmarket.    The many stables and the race-course circuit put its stamp on this market town, that it was also the leading racehorse capital of England.

It became dusk as we approached Norwich, which we could see from the well-lit roads, travelling on the ring road, after leaving the A11, until we reached the brightly lit Norwich Hotel.

Our captain, Peter Oliver, who had kept the coach party amused with his quips, told us to stay put until a member of the hotel had explained the routine for obtaining the bedroom key and the time of the evening meal.   Before the lady hotel representative had finished, we had received a briefing on the whole hotel facilities.   It was obviously geared for business people, having an executive meeting room, dining room, conference and business centre, meeting room, syndicate room, sunbed and sauna.     I would of course make use of the swimming pool and would maybe have a dip before breakfast.    I assumed that their normal clientele would not approve of such working class activity.

This did not disappoint me, for I was happy to retire to my room after the evening meal, to relax and do my own thing.

After the evening meal, on arrival, our leader gave us the order in which we would be visiting indoor bowls clubs during our six-day tour.  They were all mixed, ie gents and ladies playing.   This was the itinerary: 29th March - Lawson Park; 30th - Roundabout; 30th - Wymondhale; 31st - North Walsham, 1st April - Lyng; 2nd April - Riverrain.

Some of these places I had never heard of, nor could I find them on the map.   The driver could be excused for getting his routes mixed up when we went to play some of them.     A number were privately owned, and had been built in the country, where land was cheaper than in the towns.     This meant that our opponents were mainly of country stock and that our conversation concerned animals.     I played against a bowler who talked of his string of horses that he exercised and raced.

When not scheduled to play, as everyone had to take turns in standing down, I was involved with playing bridge with Eric, his wife, Pauline and Muriel, a bowler from my club in Bedhampton.

Eric was a very keen bowler, and had the reputation that he regarded the Havant Indoor Bowls Club as his second home.   Unknown to myself, he was a very dedicated bridge player, until this foursome got together to play bridge.   His serious approach and my light-hearted attitude to the game caused much comment, with the expression being used by Eric, after I had made an ‘Alan bid’, “You can’t bid that on those points.”  My usual reply was, “Of course I can, I’ve already done it!”    My unusual bidding, like my moving of the mat at bowls, upsets the orthodox player.   Much banter developed between us, causing Pauline to go into hysterics - nearly falling off her chair!    I think it was new for Pauline to see Eric not respected as a master player.    Muriel just did a snigger from time to time, thinking it wiser not to take sides.   She had learned her bridge play from me at Bedhampton Bowls Club bridge section.   

We played bridge at every opportunity, so much so that bridge became our main priority and bowls seemed to fade into the background.     From these bridge sessions, a new friendship was formed between Eric and myself.    Bridge is a great socialiser, it brings like-minded people together.     I had gained several new friendships from teaching bridge - such as Ted and Carole.   It is the elderly widows who form bridge friends, playing in each other’s homes almost every day of the week that gain so much benefit from this activity.   It also keeps the brain active, remembering each card that has been played.    The reasoning powers are continually tested in making the correct bid, when having knowledge only of the strength of your own hand to start.

I found great pleasure in teaching bridge and in learning that an individual has been able to join a bridge club as a result of my bridge teach-in sessions.    This was particularly true when such a person had later thanked me for the bridge tuition I had given, as in one case where the person became widowed and was able to join a ladies’ bridge circle.

What also gave me a boost to my ego when at Emsworth Bridge Club was that my partner, Alan Wagg, and myself still appear at the end of the season, winning the duplicate pairs cup.

Having started to play at the Ever Ready, during dinner times in my early 20’s, since before World War II, it was to be expected that I was among the cup-hunters at bridge.

My return home after the tour was similar to all my short breaks.   It was a return to an empty house, and household chores, including my own cooking and to feel that my batteries had been charged up whilst at the Norwich Hotel.

I now had two visits to make on a regular basis on my return, and I was hoping that my postcards would have arrived before I called on them.    One was Pat, my Fairy Princess at St Mary’s Hospital, and the other was Bill and Vi, who diamond wedding celebration was fast approaching.

I made my call on Bill, the first morning of my return, with Vi greeting me, “Thanks for your card, Bill is no better, he had been up most of the night, but is now sleeping.   Come in.”    We spent most of the time discussing whether to cancel the reception planned for the 24th May.   The doctor could not forecast an improvement in his health.   Bill still talked about the reception to Vi, which obviously gave him an incentive to make a recovery.

Within a few days following this visit to Bill and Vi, I received a phone call from Vi that Bill had collapsed onto his bed and had died from a heart attack.  So the Good Lord had decided that Bill had suffered enough and had sent for him.  His fight to the end had been no less vigorous than his fight at local election time to retain his Bedhampton Ward seat in the Havant Borough Council.

He served in the Council from 1976 to 1988, when reaching the age of 80.   Those who knew him in the Council knew that he was a very hard worker for his ward, particularly on housing matters.    He felt for my son, Harry, of whom he had heard me speak, about being in the half-way house.     He had claimed that he had problems in getting neighbours to accept a local halfway house in Havant Borough.

Bill visited Harry on several occasions, and sent presents and cards on his birthdays.   As Bill had never referred to having a family, I assumed that this kind gesture to befriend Harry was a form of substitute.    I believed that the greatest joy he obtained from his Council work was in playing a major role in the creation of a bowling club for Bedhampton in 1984, followed by supporting an indoor bowling club for the Havant Borough.    Although neither he nor Vi were bowlers, and despite being in their mid-70’s, they took to bowling like a duck takes to water.   He became President of both the indoor and outdoor clubs, and for the latter club I liked to refer to him as our ‘Godfather’, for he was still in the Council at the time when the club was formed and could provide a voice for us in Chambers, when appropriate.

At his funeral, on 15th April, 1996, the Bedhampton Bowls Club provided a Guard of Honour, with players wearing their club’s blazer and badge.    Present were former Councillors who had served at the same time as Bill, one of whom, Tim Willliams, had joined us at Cosham Probus Club, for our monthly meeting.

There were only a handful with Vi in the family group, including a youngest couple from Leigh Park.   Later, Vi told me that he had been an adopted son, with whom they had almost lost touch for various reasons.

In the Priest’s Obituary, prepared by Tim Williams, it was mentioned that Bill had been a representative for a drapery warehouse in London, and had many connections in the drapery trade, who were very dependant on these representatives for the latest designs.    This was long before the multi-stores came into being.    On the odd occasion, I had mentioned that my father had also been a representative for S J Watts warehouse in Manchester.    Bill, on his travels, had met them from this firm, and had regarded them as one of his main competitors.    Small world, who knows he might have met up with my father years ago.

Bill donated the chain of office worn by the current President of the Bedhampton Bowls Club.   I was the last of our trio of Ernie, Bill and myself who were members of Cosham Probus from our bowls club.   I mourned their passing and had lost interest in remaining a member of the Cosham Probus Club.

It would be unfair to Bill if I failed to mention that he was also a bridge player, who I had taught at the bowls club bridge section, again another achievement, considering he was then in his early 80’s.

Like Bill, Vi was remarkable, being of a similar age.    Although she had only taken up bowls in her mid-70’s, she was still amongst competition winners.   Besides her many bowls friends, she was still in a group of Beetle-Drive players, from the days when they had lived in Cosham, more than 20 years ago.    These Beetle-Drives took place on a monthly basis in each other’s homes.    It would be extremely doubtful that she would ever be in need of friendship.     She had a remarkable record of good health, and claimed she never had the need to take pills and was still able to drive and do her own housework and shopping.   Another of her activities was pottering about in the garden and greenhouse, where growing tomatoes was one of her specialities.   With these qualities, I was sure that like so many others who lose their lifetime partners, Vi would cope very well.

With the approach of the outdoor bowling season, I had difficulties in getting down low enough to deliver my balls smoothly, without damaging the green, which was already in a very poor condition.   At the start of the season, to safeguard against bowlers like me, and also because the green was very soft, mats were pegged down where bowlers delivered their woods.

It was in the first few weeks of bowling outdoors when my right knee gave way.   I managed to hobble off the green, not feeling very happy, for I knew that I would have to attend the fracture clinic at Queen Alexandra Hospital, to see Mr Richards, who had given me keyhole surgery on my left knee.    I had been warned that this could happen at the time that I had X-rays done on both knees.     This was confirmed when I saw the consultant, and I was surprised to only have to wait a matter of a few weeks for the operation, rather than months for the operation.    I was, however, able to walk about with the aid of a walking stick, which permitted me to join the bridge gang, going to Bournemouth on the weekend prior to entering hospital on Friday 10th May.

This was my last short break I had scheduled, which Hildegare had organised for the gang at Boscombe in a small private hotel, being unable to book at the Midland Hotel.   Our usual nurse tutors, Viv, the lively one, who always took the leading pantomime role at St James’ Hospital, and Di, the caring one, now retired and looking after the elderly for Age Concern, were in the gang.

Our party of eight had to make our own way to Boscombe, not having a coach laid on, like at the Midland Hotel.   Steve and his wife provided a lift for me in their car.   Steve, having been captain of Southsea Bridge Club, had no difficulty in spotting any disruptive bids - my friends preferred to call them ‘phoney bids’.   Whenever that happened, he would give a wry grin, and punish me by making a penalty double.   

Bob, a Scotsman living in Cornwall, who was on a visit to see Hildegare, also joined us.   Although retired, he had never played bridge until he visited my house with Viv and her gang to practice bidding.   Once shown the bidding crib sheet that Bert Corbin devised, he was able to join in with the others and the minimum of back up.   

A lady friend of Hildegare, and a member of several bridge clubs came along too.   I was told she was a widow with lots of money.   I now had two of our gang to watch, each for a different reason.

Unlike the Midland Hotel, Bournemouth, where we had to carry out a reconnaissance of the premises, for a room which we could take over for our bridge circle; once inside this Boscombe residence we had seen all that was to be seen.

One single room served as the dining room, bar and saloon.     The young proprietor, showed us around on our arrival and told us that we may use the dining room tables to play cards, since there were only two residents beside ourselves.    This solved the problem of where to play bridge, and avoided the limitations on the amount of bridge play that there would have been if this small hotel had been full.   In all, there were only around six dining tables.

This room, no more than twenty feet long, had the bar and drinking area alongside the dining area.   Our first bridge session took place immediately after the meal.   During the evening, six local residents used the bar and did not disturb us in our bidding, so we were able to play the same amount as we would have, had we been at the Midland Hotel.

The following Saturday morning and early afternoon, we did our own thing.   Most walked along the seafront to Bournemouth Pier and back.   My walk consisted of strolling down Sea Road to Boscombe Pier, where I found a pleasant spot to watch people go by and families playing with their children on the sandy beach.   I had brought a few sandwiches, which I ate whilst sitting there, before returning to do battle at the card table.

All returned to our residence, most were boasting of the distance they had walked along Under Cliffe Drive.   With my weak knee joint, all I could do was envy them.   Viv did not go in for that sort of activity, she preferred a sedate interest, such as looking at bookshops!   One great asset of bridge is that it is a sitting-down activity, using mental facilities.   This makes it complementary to playing any physical activity, such as bowls, tennis or any similar sport.

By the host reserving us two tables for playing bridge, we were not lumbered with taking cutlery and table-cloths off the dining table either before or after our evening meals.  It could be claimed that the walkers were resting their legs while playing.  This smacks of work study, where the whole body system is both employed and rested in turn.   Like Mr Rose at Bath, who had to be trained to sit down, making full use of his draughtsman’s work-place unit, so that his work rate would not be slowed down at the end of the day, due to body and leg fatigue.

Few took their bridge seriously, with each trying to relate their day’s events.   We played ‘Chicago’ and could obtain a result on completing each four hands, Hildegare, our organiser, kept the score cards at the end of the day, and announced the day’s winners, who each received a small prize, maybe a Mars bar!

During the session before lunch, we had the room to ourselves.    However, when we came down from our bedrooms for a drink, a number of regulars were seated.   Alongside them, was a strange looking person, who if he had feathers in his head could have been taken for a member of the Mohawk tribe.   On taking a closer look, he had horns sticking out of this head.   I now pictured him as delayed Viking, with a possibility that there were further members of his raiding party waiting outside, from his sailing ship moored along the coast.   In today’s terms, however, I suppose he could have been described as a ‘punk’.   What made him look so weird were the holes where his eyes and mouth should have been visible.

It was noticeable from where I was seated, waiting for my table to be made up to play bridge, that the regulars in the saloon were very quiet and glancing at this freak.   My thoughts were about how the owner had allowed him in, and were there any more of his pals outside?   Eventually, my table was just waiting for one more player, whilst the other table, which I was also facing, was made up but not much bridge was taking place as they were busy glancing at this object.

To my horror, after he had been staring at us constantly, he slowly stood up and moved across the room to our table, where he sat down on the vacant chair.   Now, it had gone totally quiet, with everyone glancing at us.   I was thinking of all manner of things to say to him, such as, “Why don’t you clear off somewhere else?”.    Viv, on my left, appeared perfectly calm.   She was used to stressful situations in her work, having to lecture more than 200 nurses at a time, and occasionally, by visual and sound transmission, to nurse students in the Channel Islands.

It was now possible to see that the mask he was wearing was a silk stocking with things attached to safety pins, making him look as if he had scars over  his face.     Suddenly, Viv asked, “Do you play bridge?”   After a few moments, he nodded his head.   Even close to him, it was not possible to see his eyes, or any facial features, through the slits in the mask.

Viv picked up the pack of cards, shuffled them, cut them (a bridge term) and passed them to him, and said, “Now get on and deal them.”   Slowly but surely, he dealt the cards correctly, giving promise that his tribe did play bridge, but what system, we would have to wait and see.

I watched him pick up his cards, and do some sorting out, which was the accepted procedure.   Viv glanced at me, before she asked the all important question, “And what system do you play?”    Up to this moment, he had not uttered a word, so how could he tell us without speaking?    The game was up, he could no longer go on with his act, so he pulled of his mask, with all of us giving one big howl of laughter.   It was Bob, our Scotsman, with only Hildegare in on the act.

This Scotsman with a funny sense of humour, Bob, I had only met on a very few occasions.   He came to the house with Viv and Hildegare, with whom he had been staying on one of his regular visits from Cornwall, where he had a son who was severely disabled and was in care.    Their visit was to improve bridge play, while Bob watched.   Before the night was out, Bob had a grasp of the game and soon became a regular player.   I had never known anyone who took to the game with such little tuition.

Bob was full of smiles during our play, and each time I questioned him what the smile was about, he told me a different incident of when he had played this mystery person act.   He had done it from his youth, and had lost his fiancée through doing it at her house at a party.    Her parents banned her from seeing him any more and would not allow him in their house.

It was not Bob to blame for this practical joke, but Hildegare, the German lady who had become one of us and was our organiser.   She and Bob had an affair going on, with both having a good sense of humour.  Perhaps with no entertainment provided by the hotel, she gave Bob just that job to do.

Our leader assured us that she had no more Vikings moored along the coast.   She promised to obtain the 1997-98 Midland Hotel brochure as soon as it was issued and to make advance bookings for the bridge gang.  It was tribute to this hotel that their short mid-week and weekend breaks, catering for 200 to 300 at a time were fully booked almost before the start of the Autumn to Spring period.

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© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: February 04, 2001