A few days after the 30th Annual Garden Party of the Manor Trust, whose patron was the Duke of Wellington, I received a letter from Cynthia, giving me a big thanks for my efforts.    She claimed that the record money taken on our ‘Silver and Shiny’ stall was due to the excellence of our polishing session.   Indeed, it was a great effort, for all the time and effort put in by her many helpers had raised £2,312 just £300 short of the previous year’s total, despite the continuous rain throughout the afternoon.

Those few who have followed my life’s trail over the past 82 years, including those who started and fell by the wayside, will have wondered when it is going to end.   This account, ‘It Happened To Me’ started as part of an exercise in the Creative Writing course at The Grove, where Stuart Olesker enrolled both myself, and Harry for painting, for the less advantaged students.   Stuart, who was the Portsmouth University Co-ordinator at the centre, has stayed with me, although his role had changed, as did the title of the centre, which changed to The Belmont.

Throughout these pages I have not only had a Guardian Angel, but Pat, a Fairy Princess, who has kept my spirit alight.   These preceding passages could equally be a forward to my account, but I wrote them as they occurred to me at the time of typing, lest I forgot to record my tributes.

I am also indebted to Peter Bradley, secretary of the Royal British Legion branch, Hayling Island, who arranged my two week stay at The Somerset House, Royal British Legion Convalescent Home at Weston-Super-Mare.   The mystery of life where the Almighty had chosen Mother Earth for human beings to live will always be beyond the understanding of human mortals.

If Earth has existed for four billion years without any real evidence of life on other planets, we should be proud to be chosen as one of its residents.   Those are just the thoughts of one of its human beings, who had recorded his experiences on this planet.

During this period, there have been two world wars, where millions of lives had been killed.   Added to this total, were millions of Jews, slaughtered by the Nazis during the Hitler regime.    That was a testimony to the human race, rejecting the Ten Commandments given to Moses at Mount Sinai, as he led his people out of Egypt.

Had no such charter been passed on to the human race, maybe it could have been excused from those horrific crimes.   Less easy to understand why people should be born handicapped throughout life, with blindness, deafness and physical deformities.   There are others, like Harry, who cannot be easily diagnosed, and suffer from phobias that drugs cannot cure, but only contain.

These were some of the reflections I was able to record at this convalescent home for ex-servicemen during 1997.    Hearing other veterans’ experiences comforted me, with the knowledge that my joys and sufferings were shared by many more in their lives.

It was fitting that each morning before breakfast, the appointed Captain of the Week recited the following verses to the lucky ones who had survived, with their loved ones in a number of cases. 

They Shall Not Grow Old,

As We That Are Left Grow Old;

      Age Shall Not Weary Them,

Nor The Years Condemn;

      At the Going Down of the Sun

      And in the Morning, We Will Remember Them. 

When You Go Home, Tell Them About Us,

For Our Tomorrow, They Gave Their Today. 

In the Foreword of the Somerset Legion House handbook on the history of the home, written by the manager, I was able to confirm his claim.   Here is an extract from this Foreword: 

It’s impossible to give you the feeling of warmth and friendship experienced by our residents, you have to be here to get that feeling.   The friendly welcome, the smiles of friendship from our staff, the care we take of our less fortunate colleagues, the whole ambience of the Home. 

This cannot be conveyed in a history of Somerset Legion House, but the fact that it exists makes me proud to be the manager and proud of the people who help support this Home and the Royal British Legion. 

I had been her with Ella, and knew the contents of this Foreword to be true, and a bonus to my basic needs.   This was to have a break from household chores, and to have meals served to me, without the necessary washing-up to follow.

Another bonus of coming here was that I should see both Barbara and Janet at Dunster, an hour’s car drive from Weston.   It was indeed a surprise to have a message waiting for me that Barbara would call to pick me up on Friday and take me to the local indoor swimming baths.    This was one of my priorities that I had hoped to do, for it was not wise to swim in the sea, due to the muddy shore at Weston.

Barbara arrived as promised, and having already been taken to Rushmoor Leisure Centre the previous day on the Royal British Legion mini-bus by Julie, I was able to direct her to the swimming pool.    This was of Olympic size and the water was crystal clear, making it ideal for me to test my swimming capability.    I could claim that I had swum 64 lengths, equivalent to one mile, non-stop, taking less than two hours.   Normally in the Havant baths, I swam for 20 minutes, covering a quarter of a mile, regarding the 20 minute stint to be adequate for routine exercise.  The reason for swimming the mile was that I had a two-hour wait to be picked up by Julie with the mini-bus.   I had self-satisfaction in knowing that I had achieved the longest swimming distance in my life, as an octogenarian.  

Barbara again visited me before I returned home, leaving her security job at Hinckley Point Nuclear Power Station each time on completing her shift.    She was pleased to tell me that her son, my step-grandson, Andrew, a Portsmouth University student, had obtained work at the power station for the summer vacation.    I took Barbara for a walk along the promenade to a café sited in Madeira cover where we devoured a Devonshire ice cream cornet.  

It was a very sunny day and we were like children with ice cream melting and getting it all over our faces and clothes.    She hoped that with Janet and myself, we could visit her mother’s grave at Ludlow, where Ella was buried in the Parish churchyard.     She would be coming to Portsmouth when Andrew’s university winter term started and hoped to call on me.

On Barbara’s first visit to me at Weston, she left a book for me to read, entitled ‘This Stranger, My Son’ by Louise Wilson, whose doctor’s wife gave a moving account of living with a schizophrenic child.     This was the day that I had made my record swim, which was also the day, that for the first time, I completely read a book of over 200 pages in one session.   her description of her son, Tony’s, behaviour pattern was almost identical to Harry’s.    He would not make friends with other children and was always in fights with them and those in the family.   

Although the mother was also a doctor, the parents had difficulty in finding a competent psychiatrist.   Those that they were referred to suggested that it was a fault in the rearing of Tony by his parents.   This brought a sense of guilt on the parents, just as we had always had.

To further complicate their problem, Tony, like Harry, was an avid reader, who, when attending school summer camp described it as ‘hell’.   Not dissimilar to Harry, who also read a great deal as a child, and when a member of a canoe club was asked to leave, for upsetting other club members.

Tony’s parents eventually found a home for him, run by a psychiatrist, where he was able to complete his education at college and find a job.     His history ended at this point, but it did emphasise that they had managed to avoid Tony’s hospitalisation.    In Harry’s case, he had already been identified as schizophrenic in his early teens and was treated in hospital.  It would make interesting reading to have an account of the rest of Tony’s life, how he had coped, and the treatment he had received.

During the second week, Janet’s husband joined her while she was at their holiday cottage in Dunster.   He gave me a lift on his way by calling at Somerset House, informing the office staff that I would be staying two days with my step-daughter.     I was impressed with Bob, an alcoholic, who, when we arrived at the cottage parked his car and took me to his local pub and smiling, said, “That car stays there, for I never drive the same day as I have had a drink.”  I was glad to know that he had learned his lesson, having lost his driving licence for driving whilst under the influence of drink. 

Janet gave me a greeting, as did Andrew, my step-grandson, who as a little boy, always said to me, “Come on, Alan, let’s cut the grass.”    This would occur immediately Janet’s family came to stay with me, after travelling from their home in the Midlands.

Janet had great pleasure in showing off her skill in handling her Range Rover Discovery, by driving me through narrow country lanes, in many cases with only enough room for one car to travel.   She told me she regarded this as her toy, which Bob had bought her when she returned to the family homestead, after her stay with alcoholics anonymous.

Dunster village has a peaceful environment, where visitors enjoy strolling around, looking at quaint cottages with their well-kept gardens, in which their owners take great pride.    Janet’s garden had been neglected, having lost their local neighbour, who kept the garden neat, but had sadly died.    I found great pleasure in setting about trimming the shrubs and removing weeds that had grown over the front wall and paths.   Not only did I get enquiries as to what I charged per hour, but I heard they were upset that, having paid their poll tax, the Council had failed to send along their workmen to tidy up their lane.   Both Janet and Barbara would have something to remember me by when they entered their gardens.    I too, would have the satisfaction of contributing to the neatness of this old-worldy village of Dunster when I returned home.    

I returned to Somerset House by public transport, making sure I arrived before 10.45 pm, when the residence was locked up.   I was told one could have difficulty in gaining entrance if the night staff were out of the office attending to a visitor.    Then, Adele, the duty receptionist, added that they put your luggage outside to collect in the morning, just to make sure that the guests didn’t keep late hours.    All the staff had a great sense of humour, and one felt that you belonged to a big happy family.

On my first Sunday, I attended the Parish Church nearby, whose rector was Rev Barry Irons, the Chaplain of Somerset House.    I chose the right day, for the Canon and his wife were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in the presence of the Bishop of Reading, who had come to bless their marriage.    He was also able to welcome me on this day, with all the pomp that a bishop displays, wearing his regalia.

The church, St John the Baptist, was most impressive although modern architecture, it was brightly decorated with large stained windows and a large balcony, where in past years schools in the area had their sections of the balcony allocated to them.    The choir had a full compliment of choir boys and girls, supported by adults, whose choir master was in evidence conducting from time to time.

Once the organist commenced to play, I thought I was in the Albert Hall, which I used to attend regularly on a Sunday night when living in Teddington.     The whole service was equivalent to a musical concert, with relatives of the Canon’s family giving vocal renderings of well-known classical pieces.   It was the organ playing that brought back memories of my father playing, as I sat by him as a child in Urmston Wesleyan Chapel, and sometimes helping the man pumping the organ at the back.

I liked the Bishop’s sense of humour as he started with a story about his missionary friends, who settled in an Indian village close by a river.    Each time they went to have a swim, an increasing number of villagers went out to watch them.  The missionaries could not understand why they were so interested in watching them swim.   They decided to ask the head man of the village, why the interest?  “Ho, it is because the English have such beautiful white skin, that the crocodiles in the river do not eat them, like they do us.”

At the end of the service, I joined the members in a glass of wine and Golden Wedding slice of cake, provided by the Darby and Joan couple.    I told the Bishop he was the nearest I had been to the rank of a Bishop, since I was confirmed at Manchester Cathedral, as a youngster by the Red Dean, Hewlet Johnson.   The vicar laughed, and commented that this was long before the Bishop’s time, he would not have been born then.   This vicar, too, had a sense of humour, for when I attended the next Sunday service, he welcomed me by saying, “Here again?  You are a glutton for punishment.” 

I joined them on a parish outing to Fyne Court, a wildlife centre close to Bridgewater, later that day.   In the evening, we joined Broomfield Open Air church service, a short walking distance from the wildlife centre.   It was the first time I had sat on a bale of hay for my pew, making this a real country scene.

Not many preachers can be seen delivering their sermon amongst trees and removing branches being blown in their face.   The only edifice visible was St Mary’s Church in the background, otherwise we were surrounded by green undulating Somerset countryside.  

In my short time at Weston, I felt that I had become a member of Rev Barry Irons’ congregation, and that one of its members, who was both a bowls and bridge player, would welcome me as a participant next time I stayed at this resort.  

My sojourn at Somerset House gave me plenty of opportunity to reflect on my own life during the evenings, whilst the bingo and raffle sessions took place each night.   To help those thoughts, I had the bible alongside the bed, provided for each guest to read in their quiet moments.   It would be interesting to know how many have derived peace of mind in reading this guide on the purpose of human-kind, in accordance with the Christian faith.   Although the book of Genesis consists mainly of folk-lore, nothing has been discovered to refute that God breathed life into mankind, who He created in His own image.

The life of Jesus Christ further enriched the Old Testament in the Bible.  His rising after his crucifixion served as a testament to the Christian faith for the betterment of mankind.

I am grateful for the human love and kindness which I received from Gladys, Ella, Harry and Andrew and his family, also my Fairy Princess, Pat.    I include Stuart Olesker, who I would choose as my nearest image on earth to Jesus Christ.

In closing my account at the age of 82, who can predict what the Almighty still has in store for me?    For sure that after each sunset, there follows a new day, and each one witnessed is a gift from Him.

I have mentioned just a few who enriched my life, but there are many more, with the qualities that Paul the Apostle wrote about in his Epistle 1, Chapter 13 Corinthians - Living Bible. 

13 - If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them, and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn’t love others, I would only be making noise.

If I had the gift of prophecy and knew all about what is going to happen in the future, knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would it do?   Even if I had the gift of faith, so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, I would still be worth nothing at all without love.     If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever.

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude.   Love does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable or touchy.   It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.

It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.  If you love someone you will be loyal to them no matter what the cost.   You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever.   Someday prophecy, and speaking in unknown languages, and special knowledge - these gifts will disappear.

Now we know so little, even with our special gifts, and the preaching of those most gifted is still poor.   But when we have been made perfect and complete, then the need for these inadequate special gifts will come to an end, and they will disappear.

It’s like this: when I was a child I spoke and thought and reasoned like a child does.   But when I became a man my thoughts grew far beyond those of my childhood, and now I have put away the childish things.   In the same way, we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror, but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face to face.  Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.

There are three things that remain - faith, hope and love - and the greatest of these is love.

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© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: February 04, 2001