THE GOOD AND THE BAD 

One of the benefits I derived from my miracle in the recovery of my general health was that I was reinstated in the indoor bowls league.  My position of lead in the team was restored, allowing me to move the mat to the furthest possible position up the green.   This confused most opposition bowlers, who could bowl automatically onto the jack from a set position, close to the edge of the green.   Once they had to bowl from a different position, they had to think how much allowance they had to make, for the shorter distance.   It could be compared to the driver of many years experience, who went through his gear-changing automatically.    However, when the experienced car driver took on a learner driver, there was a thinking period to explain all that was taking place.

It was claimed that my return to the team resulted in winning the triples bowls league, winning all our games for the rest of the indoor bowls season.   Ken Oliver, our President of the Bedhampton Outdoor Club, who played in the final league game with me, said, “Alan, you won the game for us, you will be playing in the Bedhampton Outdoor 1st Team.”   Inwardly, I knew he was being very generous with his praise.    I had never reached the 1st team and was content to remain in the 2nd team, where I enjoyed playing as skipper with the members of my squad.

The climax to the indoor bowling season was when I received a cup, along with the other members of our team at the Award Presentation Ceremony.    

In those joyous moments, when my ego was given a boost, it was easy to forget that not long ago, I could not step down onto the green, nor hold a ball.    The cup took its place on the shelf, along with other bowls club cups, including one which I had received at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington.    These cups, I kept on the side-board shelf, separate from the bridge trophies that I had received at the Emsworth Bridge Club.    These awards kept my morale afloat during some of my lonely spells.   In truth, as an Octogenarian, I did not expect to further charge my ego by winning cups.

With the advent of new blood into the outdoor bowling club, many of whom lived outside the Borough of Havant, which was something that the founder, Bill Yeoman, had never intended, there was a new committee, which contained many new faces.     It could have claimed to have as its policy, ‘Out with the old, and in with the new’.   Many bowls players who had formed the three league teams, like myself, who played in the 2nd team, failed to have their names included in these teams for the 1997 summer season.    The fact that I was a past President, as had been the case in two instances, counted for nought.    Even the President found himself on the reserve list, and would not have told me that I would be selected for the 1st team on winning the cup, had he known the future.  This omission, without any explanation, caused some hurt, particularly to those who had given much service to the club in its early days.   

Even more hurt had been done to the Club’s vice-captain, Bill Dracket, a former 1st league player for the Water Company, who was not included in the 1st team, and failed to appear as skipper in the 2nd team.     He was without any say with regard to team selection, although holding the post of Vice-Captain.    I had difficulty in remaining loyal to the club which Ella and myself had worked so hard for, from the its embryo stage.

There were, of course, those that liked the new regime, with others, like Viv, who did laugh when I told her my troubles, and would give her standard reply to me, “What can you expect when you are an old man.”

Although I missed the competitiveness of league matches, I was also pleased that I was not playing at night in the league, which allowed those who went to work to take part.   I could devote Wednesday to giving bridge lessons at home to more beginners, especially nurse tutors, Enid and Anne, friends of Viv at Portsmouth University.

My short breaks at the weekends, with Wallace Arnold had given way to my trips to the Midland Hotel, Bournemouth, with the bridge group, apart from one weekend.    This was a trip to stay at the Hotel Burstin, Folkestone, where a 500,000 face-lift had been given to the public areas.    I had chosen this venue because it had an indoor swimming pool, and there was entertainment at night.    Unfortunately, I had chosen the wrong time on both these counts.

The swimming pool was out of action, due to repairs that had to be done.    It was the season for the sequence dancers to take over the ballroom, and when the resident entertainers had their break.    However, I did see Sam on the Saturday trip to Canterbury, where we had a pub meal together, him having met the coach I arrived in.   He still wore his French beret, which seemed to be his favourite head gear, and which gave him an appearance of a retired French professor.    Their son, Tobias, was due home from America after serving a period in a handicapped home, with plans to go to university to complete his education.   

He referred to the coloured map of Snowdonia, which I had sent him, showing our trek in our early teens, and which was displayed for all to see.    Our nostalgic chat came to an end in time to catch the Wallace Arnold coach, to take its passengers back via Dover, to the Hotel Burstin.

On the coach, sitting alongside me, was an American lady, who was quite talkative, and lived near Eastbourne.   We spent the evening chatting away in the lounge bar, after the dinner.    We had a common interest - bridge; unfortunately we could not find another pair to make a foursome.

I gleaned from the conversation that she had parted from her husband after spreading her wings before deciding to settle in this country.    I knew another American lady, in one of my bridge clubs, who had done the same thing.   Strange, also, that my Fairy Princess from Australia had also decided to stay here, and won herself a Fairy Prince.    Perhaps I should take advantage of prospective ladies from overseas, looking for an English gentleman!

My lady companion for the evening was happy to relate that she worked for an estate agent, selling houses on certain days of the week, operating from two branches and giving the impression that she was quite busy.    I was surprised to hear this, as the housing market had generally remained depressed.   She was of pleasant appearance, having fair hair, about middle-aged, but a heavy smoker.   It was refreshing to have someone to talk to and learn something of the life in America.

Like me, the following day, she returned on the coastal route with the National Express, avoiding returning via South Mimms on the M25, reaching our destinations in the evening.    She arrived at her destination in the morning, and I was able to arrive home in the afternoon.    Before saying our goodbyes, she gave me a Bournemouth hotel, where she would be playing bridge in the summer, and asked me to join her.    I was flattered to be invited to join this much younger lady, but failed to take up this splendid offer.    I suppose this could be described as ‘cold feet’ on my part, for I could not face the possibility of losing a third wife.   I had my previous last two hours indelibly impressed on my mind.

This trip with Wallace Arnold became my last for that Spring period, and I began to want company with me.    There was a void left by the passing of Gladys, followed by that of Ella, and no matter how I occupied myself, this void remained firmly fixed.   I was lucky to have Pat once a week, to ensure I was occupied on the typewriter, and that my tutor would have plenty of ‘It Happened To Me’ to vet.    Likewise, I had been fortunate to have received a one-to-one tuition from Stuart Olesker, who was no longer permanently based at The Grove, but had several University buildings in which to tutor his students.

My typewriter developed a fault, which I continued to use, causing some difficulty for my readers to decipher my typed gospel.   Tom Cauldwell, the proprietor of the Printline shop in Havant, who was a bridge pupil, attending my teach-in sessions on Wednesday nights, took the typewriter away with him to clean and repair, if possible.   This action was as if he had taken my best friend away from me.    For more than two years, whenever I had a spare moment, I went to my typewriter, to lose myself in the past.

I did not have long to wait, for Tom, fortunately was able to repair it, by replacing the dolly wheel and giving it a good clean.   Yet another friend I had, who was prepared to come to my aid whenever he could.    Like Ted and Carole, and Viv with the other University nurse tutors, my bridge school had rewarded me with sincere friends.

Thanks to Viv and her bridge partner, Hildegare, I had been included in their gang of eight to stay the weekend again at the Midland Hotel in Bournemouth.

It was always a pleasure to meet Steve, a former captain of Southsea Bridge Club, who had the measure of my ‘Alan bids’.   His wry grin before he doubled me always foretold disaster, and would produce laughter around the table.

There was some difficulty, this time at the Midland, in obtaining the necessary chairs for us all to sit down in the quiet room, which we generally commandeered when we first arrived.   It was an amusing sight to watch Viv scrounge chairs from the lounge bar, after failing to get the staff to do this for us.    Once we had installed the necessary furniture and ourselves in our rooms, it was to battle at the bridge tables.

I found this venue and company more satisfying than most of my Wallace Arnold weekend breaks.    I once again took part in the late night dancing sessions, and again remained on the dance floor to the final dance.    This could not possibly have taken place without having had that miracle, shortly after Christmas.    When not playing bridge, I visited the International Centre for a swim, followed by a walk on the cliff, before returning via Durley Chine Road.

Another asset with this venue was that the hotel provided transport, using their coach to collect from the Portsmouth area and return on the Sunday mid-afternoon.    I even had Steve order a taxi by mobile phone on the coach, in order that it would meet us at Havant, and take us to my address, where Steve left his car while we were away.  

Those breaks to the Midland Hotel were a great stimuli, filling my weekends enjoying lively company, being waited on at the hotel, and taking part in what I enjoyed most - bridge.    With transport provided also, it was the equivalent of icing on the cake.   Alas, not all thought the same in this bridge gang, with some of the ladies dissatisfied with their accommodation.    This could mean that Alan would have to create his own bridge gang to take there.   It would be a matter of waiting to see whether Viv’s gang came up with an equivalent bridge venue!

Harry had become more dedicated in his water painting and he would give me a daily account of the progress he was making on the current one he had on the kitchen table.   This occurred in spells, and a week could go by without a phone call on the subject of painting.     Each time he wanted to ask me for ideas on his next theme to paint, I would prod him to attend The Grove, where his art tutor, Lin, thought he had talent in this direction.   His deep-rooted paranoia, which made him think that everyone was looking at him, stopped him from attending her art classes regularly.     Whenever possible, Lin would provide a separate room for him.

With the onset of the Manor Trust Art Exhibition, I encouraged Harry to have framed several of his paintings, and these became framed by John Tautz, the Vice-President of Bedhampton Bowls Club.   The art exhibition held annually took place in the historic Waterloo Room of The Elms in Old Bedhampton, where we had permission to play bridge on Mondays.   This year it was the 30th Celebration of this exhibition, to raise funds for the Manor Trust.

The Waterloo Room was specially built onto The Elms for the County Lieutenant to give the Duke of Wellington a reception.   The room had maintained its elegant appearance, with a high ceiling, supported by tall columns.   It must have been the practice during the early 18th Century to build large edifices for national figures, for Wellington’s successor, Lieutenant General Lord Hill was built the tallest column, it is claimed in the world, at Shrewsbury, which provides a useful landmark when motoring to visit Andrew.

A week prior to the exhibition, all local artists were required to take their artistic work along to this famous room to be booked in and logged in, so that a list of art work could be available on the opening day, with their respective prices.    Around 70 exhibitors submitted paintings totalling over 230 items.    It was a proud moment for Harry to have his four paintings accepted, and read his name against 167 amongst the list of artists.   It was an even greater joy to learn after the exhibition that he had sold the Lake District Scene, priced at 25.

Gordon Vlies, the art tutor for Emsworth Stroke Club, also submitted a line anecdote painting of the Big Lad on the sofa, priced at 60.   It was he who purchased Harry’s painting, claiming that it attracted attention because of the strong colours he used, making it a positive attractive work.   He thought it stood out on the wall, above the many alongside it, and he advised Harry to continue painting in that positive manner.

Shortly after this exhibition, I had a visit from Barbara, my step-daughter from Dunster.    She spotted, in the house, the paintings Harry had not sold, plus a painting Harry had brought home from Outram Road, while major alterations were made to the premises, which involved their transfer to Waverley Road, once the work got underway.

Barbara asked Harry, who came home at the time she stayed for the weekend, if she could take back with her the Sardinia Coastal Scene and a collection of small pictures of flowers in vases.   Those had been his main subject a year or two before he became hooked on the scenic views, taken from travel brochures.    We joked about his ‘HR’ signature, which could become famous one day, making Barbara’s collection priceless.

Barbara, who regarded me like her real father, brought Terry’s son, Rod to stay overnight here, while they made contact with Barbara’s son, Andrew, who was a student at Portsmouth University.    He would shortly be 21 years of age, and I was sure there would be a celebration when he returned to Dunster.  

In the meantime, we had a get-together at The Churchillian for a meal and to watch both Rod, a 6-ft giant, and Andrew knock the pints back.    This amused Barbara, for this was something Andrew had acquired with his fellow students since coming to Portsmouth.     I was interested in their conversation on what Andrew intended to wear at the University Ball at the end of term.     That term ‘ball’ was also used by Joy, who I ribbed for not calling this event a ‘dance’, which obviously meant that the turn-out for men required a black evening suit with a long tail, and a white shirt with a dicky bowtie.    To match the men’s attire for the female students required long gowns.    What better way of growing up and showing off to your opposite sex, during the adolescent or early adult stage.

Barbara had not yet recovered from an internal stomach operation and had been on extended sick leave from her security job at Hinckley Point nuclear power station.   Her cheerful demeanour gave no hint of her ill-health.    Another operation had to be carried out in a London hospital.

I came across a savings book of Ella’s, with a small amount of money, which had avoided being redeemed in the will.    As the beneficiary of Ella’s will, I informed the executive of the will, Barbara, that I wished it to be paid to her Andrew, as a 21st birthday present.   I joked to Barbara, when stated he could buy the road tax for his first car, which no doubt his Dad would buy for him.

By good fortune, the Royal British Legion had secured a place at Somerset House, Weston-Super-Mare for the last two weeks in July, giving me an opportunity to get away from the house domestic chores.    As a bonus, Barbara had promised to collect me in her car to stay a few days in her oldy village of Dunster.   It would also be an opportunity to walk around her garden, which I had helped to shape in the past.   This would be the period when Dunster put on an opera at the castle, and the County Fair, in which the locals liked to take part, in their ancient costumes.

I should have to ration my stay in Dunster, in case I was charged with making Somerset House a stopping place for Dunster.   It was not surprising that this jewel of Exmoor, where Janet and Bob had a holiday cottage, attracted the Lidsey’s most weekends from the Midlands, and was the reason, no doubt, that Ella’s daughter found it difficult to visit me, with also having a teacher’s post.

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Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: February 04, 2001