PRESENT V PAST
Those recalls of my flaws in my behavioural manner, did come about as a result of Harrys caring for my welfare in recent times. In each case, I was able to adjust and hope to become a better person. This applied to all, except where I had ignored my parents in my early war days, the memory of which was brought alive each time Harry phoned to ask, How are you, Dad? It would be pleasant to know that I had their forgiveness, as I was always a rascal as a small child, according to my sister, Edith.
In retrospect, this would not be the first time that Harrys actions had affected my thinking, from which Andrew, his younger brother gained the benefit, as he did by obtaining an equivalent to a public school education by being sent to Bearwood College. This had occurred at the time that Harry had been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, which was having a disturbing effect on Andrew, then aged eleven.
Andrew had always been cheerful, and had never given his mother or myself any form of worry, so it was one of the saddest moments when he asked me, Dad, how soon can I go to boarding school? Although he was not an eleven-plus boy, he did obtain two A-levels at Maths and Further Maths at Bearwood College. On leaving boarding school, he obtained an apprenticeship in electrical engineering, with the London Underground Railway. It came as a shock when he told me that he was not happy with his work, and would be leaving it at the end of the month. He did not attempt to give me the reasons for not finding an interest in his work. I had always regarded him as a level-headed boy, and had trusted his judgement. Having had difficulties with Harry, I prayed that I would not have trouble with my other son. I held back what I wanted to tell him, and that was to stick at what you had started. He had made up his mind to go to Bath University, to take computer science. Of course, I was pleased that Andrew had decided to further his studies in a subject for which he had a natural calling. After his first year, he made noises at home, during the summer holidays, that he found it hard-going and would probably drop out of the university.
As his father, it was natural for me to be deeply concerned that he should terminate his studies so soon. My advice to him was to give the matter very serious thought before taking action. He arrived home at the end of his next term, at Christmas, with all his books and personal gear. And what do you propose to do now? I asked him.
I have got a part-time Christmas job over the holiday period, and then I shall apply for a post at the local Inland Revenue office.
I responded gently, May I suggest that you apply for the Inland Revenue post first? Again, I acted with great restraint and could not afford to disturb my second son. I am sure that if it had not been for Harrys condition, I would have insisted that he returned to continue his studies. In this case, he had Harry to thank for allowing him to make his own decisions, for years later, Andrew found his niche in project management, within the Inland Revenue.
Life is very much like a game of bridge, which when the wrong bid has been made, your partner holds an inquest after all the cards in the hands have been played and seen. This can also apply when a partner has played the wrong card. Fortunately, Gladys did not take part in bridge, so there were not domestic upheavals on that account. Ella did, and she never failed to remind me of a player at Emsworth, at a Christmas bridge drive, who virtually destroyed her for not giving him the correct response. This was another lesson I learned, in not making sure that the player partnering her was a social person, as against a fanatical competitor.
During separate periods in my younger days, there had been major conflicts involving fighting between nations or a major social up-risings through lack of food or work. I was born during World War One, when it was claimed by my elder sister, that I did so much crying that it prompted my father to volunteer for the armed forces. No-one had foreseen that the assassination of Arch Duke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Hapsburg throne at Sarajevo would trigger off a four year war, from 1914, in which the major countries of the world took part, and which killed millions of soldiers and civilians.
In the early 1930s there was mass unemployment, with people going hungry, causing demonstrations, such as the Barrow dock workers marching to London to voice their feelings. At home at this time, my father talked of his concern, of whether he was going to keep his job. I was at school leaving age, and my priority was not getting a certificate, but getting to work.
Hitlers emergence on the world scene, leading the German nation as their dictator, put all their neighbours in fear. Mussolini also became dictator of Italy and attacked Abyssinia. On the other side of the world, Japan started to conquer China. This was the world scene during the latter years of the 1930s. Our domestic affairs seemed very secondary to the threat of these dictator war-mongers.
My action in joining the ack-ack unit in early 1938 was to avoid being called up in the infantry. Should I have to fight for my country, I preferred it to be in the weaponry of my choice, so by volunteering, it enabled me to fight for my King and Country in weaponry which attracted me. This was the predictor, which controlled the direction for the guns to be pointed. The decision to join the ack-ack unit kept me away from the bloodshed that followed in World War Two, and I was even spared the civilian sufferings experienced in the German bombing raids. The only casualty that I witnessed was when there was a mis-fire on a rocket weapon, which caused the gunner to suffer from burns due to the delayed rocket take off. That I was able to relate the foregoing was by the grace of God and having a Guardian Angel, to keep a watch on my life. I look at Joy, my grand-child, and compare the world today, with that when I was her age.
It could be claimed that there are no Hitlers about now, and that the main enemy to our survival is global warming, generated by car fumes and other gasses emitted from industrial furnaces and power stations. There are other pockets of conflict, more especially in the Third World, consisting of the poor countries. Where there is tribal warfare, such as in Rwanda; it is the women and children who suffer most, relying on the relief agencies from abroad to obtain food.
Joy sprung a surprise when she asked, Granddad, will you sponsor my three week stay in Pemba, Zanzibar, to assist charity workers from Action Health of Cambridge, who specialise in midwifery? I was only too pleased to assist Joy to raise money to pay for her flight, and all other expenses, including her keep and inoculations. This action was not unlike joining the forces, as I had done, to fight the common enemy, this one being different from the one which I had fought against.
Joy, her younger sister, Elisabeth and university friends, did a sixty-mile cycle ride through the New Forest, collecting sponsors. That effort, as well as approaching the University, Hospital and other bodies such as Rotary, enabled her to collect in the region of £1,000 to cover all her expected expenses. She promised that she would prepare a pack after her return to Zanzibar to list those institutions and bodies that had responded to her appeal, for those who wished to do similar charity work. This, I thought, was very adult thinking and whenever I spoke to my friends about her many activities, I generally finished with, What can you expect, when she takes after her Granddad?
Joys difficulty in obtaining an immediate flight home after her project finished in Zanzibar gave her the opportunity to extend her stay on the African continent. She intended to stay a further three weeks, back-packing to Tanzania, and then returning home via Kenya, by plane. This idea may have been sparked off by Wendy, her cousin, the daughter of Joan, one of Gladys sisters, who had taken up activities there, because it was different! However, she might have had this back-packing from Tracy, the daughter of Brenda, who had back-packed in Australia, travelling extensively.
One could question the wisdom of a young lady of 20 years undertaking a similar experience in the undeveloped parts of Africa, where she intended to travel. This fearlessness may be a trait in the Walkers blood, which Gladys had displayed from time to time. It would be of interest to hear about this adventure on her return. This trend, of young girls of today going off alone would have been unheard of in former years, but then the whole of our social structure of family life is changing rapidly.
The percentage rise in broken marriages, coupled with the rise in single families was changing the fabric of family life. Both my neighbours, either side of me, as well as the house opposite, have daughters with a family, where each of the fathers have left their homestead. In all cases, the grandparents have provided support to their daughters in looking after their grandchildren, to enable the mothers to work or carry on with further studies. These daughters are the lucky ones, for many others are left to fend for themselves, and in many cases their children suffer from neglect.
There has also been an increase in youth crime, related to the increase in broken homes that youngsters have come from. In my early days, it was the exception for a person to be divorced, and marriages were the norm within families, in accordance with Christian teaching. It was also an occasion where relatives came to attend marriages, in their bright clothes and hats, and to have photographs taken to put in the family album.
My marriage to Ella, three years after Gladys had died, was the only one I had attended since my sons wedding in Combe Martin, more than 20 years previously. It was with great joy and delight that I received an invitation to attend the wedding of Tracy and Robert at Canterbury, to be held on the 28th June. My son and Linda also received a similar invitation, which meant that we could travel together in a one car to Canterbury and back, in one day. This was important, with my not being able to drive out of the local area. I, of course, would have to ensure that I had the correct gear for this occasion, and it would involve wearing a dicky-bow tie, as was my custom in the past.
Before the wedding, I asked Tracys mother, Brenda, what kind of wedding present would be suitable. She told me that a list had been given to Knight and Lee department stores throughout the country. The wedding gift scheme which large stores operated was new to me, which I found to be an excellent idea. Instead of buying a wedding present, which you hoped would be suitable for the marriage couple, you referred to a list of items that they would like to receive for a wedding present, which the couple had handed to the stores operating the wedding gift scheme. This was very convenient for me, as Knight and Lee had a branch in Southsea. I chose from the list, a Marrakesh oval dish and also a matching divided dish. Once an item had been purchased, this was removed from the master list held at the Canterbury branch, which avoided duplication of presents.
I obtained, from the RAC, the best direction to go by car to Canterbury on the morning of the wedding, which I handed to Andrew, when he and Linda arrived on the Friday evening. It was like old times, for he knew the best way, without my telling him. Strange that he did not take the coast route, which he claimed was the quickest, and took the route that the RAC had recommended. This ability that he has had for a lifetime of knowing a subject that somebody had intended to tell him, must have impressed his bosses from time to time.
The wedding, due at 1.00 pm, required us to allow a minimum of four hours, according to the RAC. Andrew considered 3½ hours be adequate, but thankfully he increased the travelling time, by starting off at 8 am. Linda was given the task of driving, while he followed the directions that the RAC had given me and conveyed the route to Linda. With Linda driving and Andrew navigating, it could be claimed I had an easy ride.
Our arrival at Canterbury at 11.30 am, gave us time to find a public car park in this cathedral city, which was chock-a-block with foreign tourists. By the time Andrew and Linda had viewed the cathedral from the outside, it was time to return to the car. I returned on my own, and had time to obtain directions from a policeman how to reach All Saints Church in Military Road.
I gave this information to Andrew, who looked at his street map and replied, Yes, I know, I have it here on the map! we motored past the first turning on the left, which was Military Road, to do a mini-tour of Canterbury, before finally coming to rest at the appointed church for the wedding. This, of course, was another case of his claiming he knew all the time where to go, and also being fortunate in finding a parking place overlooking the church entrance. A number of cars were also parked along the roadside, and it was interesting to watch the occupants alight and wander across, with the ladies holding on to their broad brimmed hats.
The weather had been foul all week and had prevented play at Wimbledon, but today the Good Lord kept the weather fine, and arranged for the sun to come out after the wedding ceremony, while photographs were taken.
I spotted Joan first and later Edna, with Tony, and her daughter, Rosemary, with her Alan. We went into the church in a group on the left had side of the main aisle. Mike, Joans husband, arrived and sat with her and was followed by Brenda, all of whom sat on the front row. The bridegrooms contingent sat on the opposite side of aisle with him and his best man standing in front, awaiting his bride. The waiting began to cause murmuring, and reminded me of when Linda was delayed by twenty minutes at her wedding, due to traffic congestion. Eventually, Tracy appeared, with little bridesmaids following the long trailing gown of her wedding dress.
It was delightful service, with the vicar looking and acting as if he were the Archbishop of Canterbury. The church had a modern layout, with a stage and table and a number of chairs for participants of the service to sit on. It reminded me of Andrews church at Shrewsbury, as well as Kings Church, at Southsea Community Centre. Each had done away with the altar, leaving space for projector screens to be erected for the words of hymns to be projected onto the screen.
During the last decade, we have witnessed a new style of church edifice built, resembling more a hall that could be used for various functions. St Albans Church, built on the lines of a small cathedral during this century at Teddington, had become too expensive to maintain and had been put up for sale, whilst the smaller church on the other side of the road was still thriving. Our cathedrals will become some of the greatest architectural treasures that Britain possesses, and will remind the present and future generations of the craftsmanship of the past stone-masons and carpenters.
After the wedding service, we followed in the wake of other cars making their way to the wedding reception at Howfield Manor, Chartham Hatch, Canterbury. Amongst the 72 guests, we were seated alongside Brendas friends, who referred to Brenda as Mandalin. This name was given to her when John gave his after-dinner speech as the Brides father. Habits die hard, and as I had always known her as Brenda, for 50 years, she would always be Brenda to me.
Both food and drink were plentifully supplied, with the wine glasses being continuously recharged and, as I was not driving I kept the wine waiter busy. I had an opportunity to chat with Brendas son after the meal. Philip explained that he always thanked me for teaching him chess and giving him a chess set.
Brenda, like Gladys at Andrew and Lindas wedding, was wondering what had happened to her son, Philip, who should have acted as usher at the church door at the start of the wedding. He told me that he lost his way when he left his digs in Canterbury. However, he made the reception, unlike Harry at his brothers wedding, who went back to his digs in Coombe Martin immediately the wedding service started.
I brought tears to Brendas eyes, when I commented that Gladys would have loved to have been here today. Then, neither were her three brothers, one of whom had died during recent years, another died as a boy, killed when hit by a cricket ball, and the third had died in Australia around twenty years ago.
I have and will continue to cherish the happy memory of this wedding day, where in meeting Gladys remaining three sisters, we had the chance to recall the past times, particularly my cycling companion, Edna, when working at the Ever Ready, Wolverhampton. She had enticed me to make a date with her sister. When I told Edna that we were due to meet Sam after we left the reception, who was now living on the outskirts of Canterbury, she did a wry grin, having experienced his soft spot for the ladies during the time he was in digs at her grandmothers in Heath Town, near Wolverhampton.
Had Edna come with us down narrow lanes to reach the back of beyond, Sappington Court, where the lane terminated, she would not have expected to have found this solitary figure, dressed as a retired French professor. Taking a closer look, she would have noticed that this wrinkled face, wearing a black beret, slightly bent, was no other than the amorous Sam of years ago. This was the first time that Andrew and Linda had met Sam, who greeted us by saying Welcome, Monty, how nice to see you and your family. Come inside and have a cup of tea.
During our brief stay at The Cottage, formerly part of the farmstead, seated in the living room on an upper level, overlooking the kitchen, we were given the reason for his being on his own. Kathrin, his second wife, had joined a party visiting Holland, and Tobias was back in America, assisting in a home for disabled children. It was evident that Sam had some concerns about Tobias career, since he had not yet started his university studies, which were in the pipeline for him.
This could have been repeated by many parents who had the same concern as Tobias. I was sure that Sam could have held his small audience all night, talking about his family and Sappington Court, which to me was some very old farm building around a cobbled yard. The journey home, via the coastal route with Linda driving again, and Andrew navigating, allowing me to ponder on the days events on the back seat. It was a morale booster to be welcomed again into Gladys circle of relatives and to share in the wedding to Tracy and Robert, with all their guests.
On the morrow, I attended early communion, whilst the driver and navigator slept on. They made their departure to pick up Thomas and Christopher at Joys digs, all of whom returned to devour my speciality, spaghetti bolognese, before returning home to Shrewsbury. Their memories would be the richer, as would mine, for our visit to Canterbury, meeting relatives and guests at the wedding, with Andrew and Linda sighting Sam for the first time, wearing his black dicky-tie, and black beret.
The period of this wedding would also be remembered for two very important events that had taken place. On the 1st July, Hong Kong was returned to Chinas rule, after coming under the control of the Crown Colonies since it had been a small island, known mainly for its trading in Opium off the Kowloon Peninsular. This took place in 1841, when the British flag was first raised there, as a gateway to China for trading purposes.
Since the Second World War, this small island with very few natural resources had become a thriving colony of six million people, exporting clothing, toys, electronics and watches and was referred to as the last Jewel in the Crown after India had gained its independence in 1947.
A great display was made of the handing over of Hong Kong to the Chinese leaders from Beijing, with the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Governor taking part in the ceremony.
The second event occurred a few days later with the landing of Pathfinder on Mars. There were celebrations in the mission control room at Pasadena, California, when the first signal from this unmanned space probe were received. It had landed 12 miles off its target, after its epic journey of 309 million miles, lasting 7 months. The signals confirmed that the petals of the probe had folded back, and that the air bags had cushioned the landing impact to release the Sojourner, a six wheel rover, the size of a microwave oven. After a few days, there were more cheers at Mission Control, when pictures were being received and that the rover was responding to signals sent to it. The main object of this exploration of Mars was to analyse the rock structure, to assess any evidence of past or present living Martians! This exploration mission was considered to be the greatest achievement in space, since the manned space craft landed Neil Armstrong on the moon on 21st July, 1969.
Photographs of the Mars surface and the Bermuda Rock, were received in a matter of days, together with the rock analysis from samples obtained by the rover probe. Scientists at Pasadena, compared their findings to the oxide-rich material of the Andes Mountains, which could have existed at the same period - 4 billion years ago. Those early discoveries about Mars had heightened the manned space programme, which had been underway at the NASA research laboratories.
Many formidable problems would have to be resolved using hundreds of guinea pigs to solve the problems of the weightless state during the two-year journey to reach Mars. Another major task to be overcome would be the design and making of a return capsule, to bring back the human Martians. Who would declare that this was an impossible mission for those clever scientists to accomplish? Those who were involved with a manned landing on Mars would carry a big responsibility, as did those who launched the Russian spacecraft, MIR, a manned satellite.
A faulty docking of its space supply craft had caused MIRs power supply to be reduced by half, making life very difficult for the three astronauts aboard. When one of them unplugged an important cable in error, it set off a chain of malfunctions, causing MIR to spin out of control. The crew men were forced to retreat to Soyuz escape capsule, where they had to sit with their knees hunched up against their chins.
This is a period that could be linked to the adventurers of the 15th Century, who discovered new lands and oceans, and who produced charts of their discoveries. Many lost their lives in the process, such as Captain Cook, who was killed by Hawaiians in 1779.
Back on earth, while scientists were engaged on Mars and MIR projects, Alan Rayment was trying to cope with the strong arm of the law at Southsea.
He had been called out of a fish and chip shop by Harry. He was sitting in my Bluebird car, parked illegally close to a pedestrian crossing near the Kings Theatre. This occurred on a Sunday morning, when I intended that we would sit on Eastney Beach and eat fish and chips for our Sunday lunch. The following week I would be starting a two-week period at the British Legion Convalescent Home, Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset. Unfortunately, a police car passed at that moment, and stopped, with the driver questioning Harry, if he was the owner.
On returning to the car, leaving Harry to collect the fish and chips, this representative of the local police force, no more than around 5 feet tall, braced himself and asked, Are you the owner of this car? If so you are parked illegally. I immediately responded to this dark-coloured constable, I am not parked, I merely stopped to get fish and chips. He did not appear to be impressed with my reply, and then commenced to enlarge on the fact that my tax disc could not be read, and that it was also incorrectly positioned on the window screen.
I was then asked to remove it and to show him the tax disc. He glanced at it, and after returning it, I placed it on top of the instrument panel, since I had to reposition the tax holder on the passenger side. I was then asked, Do you have your log book? and, If not, because it is at home, is it signed? I just remembered that I did not have a log book until that morning, when I had it replaced, on losing the original. I had no hesitation in replying, Of course it is signed.
A small gathering formed, as I was to be interrogated further by this over-efficient policeman, who held a mobile phone close to our mouths. He reminded me of a cat, who was enjoying the capture of a live mouse, when he subjected me to a barrage of questions, nothing to do with my alleged parking-cum-stopping offence, but more appropriately, as if I had committed a crime. Inter alia:-
What was my date of birth?
Where was I born?
Where did I live and what was my postal code?
What was my employment?
Suddenly his mobile phone burst forth with a voice confirming that I did live at the address I had quoted. I realised that this was fair cop, caught in the act, and for the benefit of the spectators, who had grown in number, I put both arms up and yelled, I surrender, I surrender! I was immediately awarded a piece of paper headed, £40 fixed penalty, to be handed in at my nearest police station with my log book.
Twenty minutes had passed before Harry and I were able to devour our, what turned out be, cold fish and chips on the beach.
Returning home on the M275 to Bedhampton, I had the car windows open on either side of my driving position. Suddenly, a piece of paper was blown off the instrument panel, which I failed to locate when I arrived home. It was, of course, my tax disc, which I assumed had blown through the car window opening. By the time I had paid the cost of its replacement, those fish and chips proved to be very expensive - in the region of £150. Needless to state, fish and chips were off the menu for some time!
I only had a single tooth remaining, all the others had been replaced with a set of dentures. This tooth, a wisdom, had severely decayed, which I had removed by Mr W J Davies, a dental surgeon, before my visit to Weston-Super-Mare. This took longer than expected, leaving me a matter of a few minutes to join a team at The Old Manor, cleaning old silver for a stall at its garden fête at which Cynthia Hoy had asked me to assist. I was pleased to give her support, being the founder member of the Manor Trust, particularly as our Monday bridge group were given free use of The Elms, belonging to this trust.
When I approached the level crossing in Havant, on Fairfield Road, a long queue of cars stretching back to Waterloo Road were waiting for the level crossing barrier to be lifted. A further wait took place, of several minutes, while three more trains passed through, before the barriers were lifted. I assumed that as the cars moved forward across the level crossing, I would be able to follow through with safety. To my horror, the car crossing close to the other side suddenly stopped, when I was on the railway lines behind him. As I pulled to a halt, I was aghast to see the level crossing warning lights were on, followed by the barrier commencing to be lowered. In a matter of a second or two, I would be trapped and would have to jump out of the car and run for safety. I had noticed that the delay in the movement of the cars in front had been caused by a Wessex skip lorry, which had been allowed to enter the column of cars from its depot, adjacent to the railway lines. At the precise moment as the barrier reached the lowest angle to allow me to move forward, the car in front started to go forward, allowing me to escape being trapped.
That must have proved that my Guardian Angel had not deserted me, she had come to my assistance, as before, when overtaking a lorry down an incline, facing an collision with an on-coming lorry in my Ford Popular. On this occasion, with my young family in the car, I had no options, as the car was travelling at over 60 miles an hour, until the Guardian Angel caused the lorry driver I was overtaking to slow up, and opened a gap which allowed this angle to steer me safely past the lorry. These are moments never to be forgotten, and I truly believe in miracles, for on that occasion I had given up and was awaiting the impact, still hoping that the on-coming vehicle would leave the road, since it would be travelling at a much slower speed. It was no surprise that the car driver who had witnessed our escape, as he came down the dip in the opposite direction, raised his fist at me as he passed. Perhaps my Guardian Angel thought I had not reached my best-before date, and that there were still surprises in store for me. Maybe I should count my blessings, having a Fairy Princess and my family, with Harry, who had only me close to him, to whom I gave support at weekends when Outram Road was deserted.
My affairs were of little significance, while in outer space, events were taking place. Also, it could be claimed, we had witnessed the demise of the British Empire in the last fifty years, with the last jewel, Hong Kong, returned to China.
By the time I arrived at the Manor, Cynthia, with two other helpers, were engaged on cleaning an assortment of silverware and other shiny items, making my bottle of Brasso, my contribution to this Aladdins table of treasures, look a bit sick. I was not admonished for failing to make some kind of contribution, but merely instructed to get seated on the vacant chair and start applying metal polish to items nearest to me.
Cynthias key role was identifying items with silver markings and applying her valuation prices, some of which seemed over priced, according to Bernard, an elderly gentleman with bent shoulders, a bit like Sam, who was the named stallholder during the fête.
An elderly lady on my left, rather small with her hair tied at the back and busy with her polishing, was asked by Cynthia to show me the bedroom which was shortly due to be vacant. She was very chatty, and revealed that she had played bridge many years ago. She was at once given an invitation to join our Monday bridge club at The Elms. Liz suddenly took an special interest in me, and began to extol the virtues of being a resident of The Manor House, having lived there now for several years.
So now, for the second time of asking to join these ladies at The Manor, I still remained a prime candidate to fill this vacancy. When the occupant of this room returned to go upstairs, Liz instructed me to follow Edward, a very tall, elderly gentleman, whom I had seen the previous Sunday at St Thomas Church. Liz knocked on his door, and asked if I could view his room, which he was vacating. He agreed to this, requesting that she left us on our own.
This was ideal, for Edward was able to speak freely on the reasons for his imminent departure. Although he had only been at The Manor two months, his physical condition had deteriorated and he was now returning to his former residential home in Cambridge. He also alerted me that there were only lady residents, beside himself, one of whom acted like a sergeant major, making life at The Manor very unpleasant. This may have been his main reason for leaving, particularly as he told me he had been a bank manager during his working life, and used to giving the orders.
Whilst he was passing his experiences at The Manor, I gave his bedroom a good look over. It was a typical bed-sitter, just room for a single bed and arm chair, small clothes cupboard and a toilet. Its chief good feature was the view of the spacious well-kept garden, which Jim Hammond, our former green-keeper of the bowls club, maintained.
I was shown the communal bathroom, minus a shower. Thoughts were whirling around my head as to how I would fit in this beautifully sited Manor House, surrounded by ancient dwellings and a village setting, containing The Elms, where our bridge group met each week.
On returning to the silver cleaning work party, the house-keeper, Vicky, invited me to join the residents for dinner and asked if I liked gammon. I smiled to her and nodded, being surprised by this invitation, which was a repeat of my last visit to The Manor, when I had also been a prime candidate for becoming a resident. It looked as if, by being invited to join this silver cleaning party by Cynthia, she was killing two birds with one stone. I should not complain, this is also my forté.
Over the dinner period, this lady referred to by Edward had twice admonished him. First, for throwing unfinished devoured sandwiches through his bedroom window, and second for making a mess on his table mat. Although this was a factor to consider when making a final decision on whether to become a resident, I too, had been a sergeant and knew how to cope with my own kind.
After dinner, we dispersed with Bernard agreeing to meet at 1.45pm the following Wednesday, prior to the opening of the garden fête, when a Coronation Street actress, Denise, would be the principal guest.
Before the opening day, Cynthia had much to organise and to ensure that all those involved carried out their annual tasks with this very popular event attracting a large gathering of local residents and those from surrounding districts.
The gods were not kind to Cynthia, for we had continuous rain during the whole of Wednesday, and on arriving it appeared that those who had managed to obtain coverage had used up all the shelter, both outside and inside the Manor House, leaving the picture and silver items stalls without coverage.
Cynthia was busy elsewhere, attending to her guest of the day, and no-one would make any decision to put our trestle table up in the dry, out of the garden, which had become soaking wet. Bernard was at a loss where to put our old silver stall. This, to me, was an initiative test, for Cynthia would be too busy to deal with the small-fry like us when she finally did arrive to attend to the official opening.
In the main corridor at the entrance to the house, the raffle stall had been set up, leaving half the length occupied with furniture, which if moved could just allow our table, and space behind for Bernard to stand, and also his helper. This decision was agreed upon and immediately we had cleared this space, the picture man started to claim our pitch. It was a two-to-one situation, and the majority won.
This position proved to be a winner, and could be likened to a kasbah bazaar, for the rain drove the people inside the house, with those entering from the front of the house, or leaving, having to pass close to our stall. Whilst Bernard, and a lady assistant took up stations behind the trestle, I sat at the end close to the door. Whilst my companions behind the table were trying to sell the main items, I was left with the knick-knacks. I suddenly found myself adopting the role of an auctioneer. This seemed to react on the many people passing by making me reduce any reduction I had already quoted. Some found it quite amusing to finally finish by saying, I dont want it anyway, because it has to be dusted or if it was an ashtray with We dont smoke, anyway. At the close of the event, our silver and shiny stall had received around £100, which was a record for this stall.
Bernard Stanley, a stalwart of the Manor Trust and Cynthias right hand man, referred to my selling ability at the close of the fête. He wanted to know whether I had sold the silver plated rose bowl that I had reduced from £12 to £5, and held up my hand for about half an hour. Yes, it had eventually sold, when Bernard, the stall holder, let it go for £2 to a small group of ladies, who I noticed had returned to our stall several times. Each time, they had items further reduced, as was the case of the rose bowl. Maybe they were in the car boot sale business. They had some small children with them, one gave me a pleading look as I tried to sell them an attractive ornament, which had a donkey with big ears standing on a round silver-plated disc. How about buying this for your little dear, now priced at £1.50, you can have it for 50p. The child continued to give me a pleading look, having noticed that my reduction did not effect a sale. Alright then, I will reduce the price by a further 50% and buy it myself, for your little darling and passed 25p to Bernard. This brought a smile to this little child, whose piercing dark eyes reminded me of Pats dog, Gemma, when eating at the barn on my birthday.
This selling ability that Bernard Stanley had noticed, was the second time that this had been mentioned to me. This occurred on an ack-ack site at Tang Hall, York, where we had slept in bell tents and got to know each others private lives. One elderly soldier had married a much younger lady, who was disappointed with his performance, and was greatly distressed. In the same conversation he told us that he had a furniture business and would like me for his salesman. I was not sure how he could assess my selling ability, or maybe it was for other reasons, such as omitting him for guard duty.
It was on this site that one of my squad had deserted, and when he was brought back, he complained that his sergeant kept getting on to him. Unfortunately, he came from the same home town as the Officer in Charge, and I got a roasting from him. This action took place despite the fact that I had given this deserter an ounce of tobacco to prove to myself that I could break the smoking habit.
The site had other special memories, going back 55 years. It was here that a cook had his false teeth removed from his bell tent by rats, which were discovered under the boards. It was also here where soldiers visited the local pub and came back with more money than they set out with - so I was told. That did not include myself, for I did not visit pubs then, nor have I since made a habit of it.
© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: February 04, 2001