Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

April

September 13, 2017

 

I’d been trying to remember a quote I heard for someone dearly departed, which went along the lines of, “try not to be sad that they’re gone, but be happy that they were here”.  No words can ever really make you feel better, or cover how those closest must be hurting, but you know everything carries on, the unstoppable juggernaut of life relentlessly marches on. On Friday 8th September, Ma’s sister, April Weller, succumbed to her illnesses while in hospital, leaving Ma, (Lavender), as the last of the Courtney Bennett siblings. April had an accident while on holiday in the U.S a few years back, which needed surgery, with a wire cage being used to hold her leg together as part of the solution. Later down the line this wire cage caused complications, infections were becoming a repeated problem, eventually resulting in the leg having to be amputated. Despite all of this, April was ever upbeat and positive in her outlook, and her Catholic faith remained rock solid. She was determined that she would make this year’s pilgrimage to Lourdes, regardless of having lost her leg, and the Lourdes pilgrimage people made sure it happened.

April and Uncle Leslie were taken by ‘Jumbulance’ to Lourdes, Ma went with the medics charter coach and plane. Ma and April had been going on the Lourdes pilgrimage for some years, but this year it was looking as if it may not be able to happen owing to April’s ill health, her strength of faith, sheer determination, and the fantastic assistance of the Arundel/Brighton Lourdes Pilgrimage team, made sure it did happen.

Ma n April at Lourdes 2011

April and Lavender at Lourdes 2015

Only two weeks ago I saw a postcard on Facebook, and instantly recognised a very young April Courtney Bennett in a garden at St Martha’s Convent, Rottingdean. I printed it out, and when myself and Ma went to visit her next, took the photo along. April told us it was her first day at the convent school, around 1935, she would have been 5 years old, and the photo was staged for a postcard. She didn’t have a uniform yet, so they kitted her out in a borrowed one for the photo shoot. She also recognised some of the others in the picture, one of whom she recalled was Angela. Ma, (Lavender Courtney Bennett), joined the school sometime around 1938, with the threat of war looming, and it was from here that they both picked up their Catholic faith, which they have carried with them ever since.

April at St Martha’s convent, Rottingdean. (“2nd left) Circa 1935

 

The C.B’s:-Ma, April, David, Peter, and Jim at St Martha’s circa 1938

April and Ma were always very close, and I imagine their time at St Martha’s had a lot to do with that. They were at Southlands Hospital in Shoreham together in the 1950’s, training as nurses. In later years when they had both married, one of my earliest memories is of going by train to Hove with Ma, travelling in the guards carriage with the pram, then once at April’s, one of them would be taken for her driving lesson, while the other looked after all the children, and vice versa. I can still picture a sand pit in the basement, a faint memory of black and white tiled steps, and the concertina gates of the lift at Hove station. They both passed first time, and their driving instructor, Mr Doo, would go on to teach us all to drive many years later.

Further on, after a terrible case of seasickness while sailing to France in the teeth of a gale, I had to be farmed out to April and Leslie’s place in Hove Park Road whenever the parents went on boat trips across the channel. It seemed a very peaceful place compared to our noisy home, talking to Trevessa years later, she told me that April very rarely raised her voice, and taught them all not to raise their voices either. That has always been the thing about April, she radiates a kind of peace and tranquillity, and you can see that in her children, doubtless they have passed that on to their children too, all of whom April was so incredibly proud, and rightly so.

Leslie, middle of back row, April front left, Ma front right, Uncle Peter back right

As well as having a strong religious faith, April and Ma inherited their mother’s relentless industry with needle craft, knitting or sewing. Neither family has been short of jumpers, hats, or scarfs, and to that end, they began getting involved with friends in what we later laughingly called their, ‘Stitching and Bitching’ Tuesday’s, gathering at each others places alternately, to chat and make things. They all enjoyed a well told joke, so if I had come across something which made me laugh, often rude, I’d print it out and give it to Ma to take along. You knew it was a winner if you heard April laugh, not because that was unusual, it wasn’t, but she had a glorious laugh, her head would rock back, a kind of shriek would be the precursor to the following bellow of laughter, and it was totally infectious. The joke would never be read out loud, but passed around, so that one by one, the Sewing Sisters would wait their turn, and those that had read it already, would wait with interest to hear the ’pay off’. These sessions kept going until recently, but sadly with April’s illness, and other factors, came more or less to an end a while back.

While April was in the Sussex County hospital, Leslie was making the trip in everyday to visit, parking at Bristol Gate, and climbing the steep hill each time. Whether this had an effect or not, Leslie ended up in hospital himself, having suffered a stroke. On Friday, 8th September, came the worst of all news, April had passed away, with family around her. Ma had gone to visit, but got there too late. I don’t think we realised just how bad April must have been, but I’ll struggle with the fact I didn’t insist on driving her in. Ma had been visiting April by bus for so long, other than the couple of times when I drove her. I packed her off with some fresh pineapple chunks, as April had said she’d rather have that, than the tinned stuff they served up.  When I picked Ma up from the footbridge, she told me she had been too late. We drove back quietly, I know how close they have always been, and how devastated she must be, as will Leslie and the family. She will be missed, and greatly, but she will be remembered well. For now it’s the difficult process of becoming used to that fact, while trying to tap in to some of April’s quiet, determined, positivity.

 

May you rest in peace Auntie April.

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Going Going Gone

May 9, 2017

 

09-05-2017

Three weeks on since our dear ole Pa’s 90th birthday celebrations, and the time seems to have whistled past already, but the memory of the party is still bright. What a day it turned out to be, with friends and relatives coming from far and wide. There was a veritable small army of volunteers helping to make it happen, and on the day, Saturday 15th April, the decorations, murals, balloons, and guests, brought a smile to the old mans face that lasted a good week at least.

The mural of pictures from Squire’s life, was the master piece of Charlene, my brother David’s better half. I had given her a memory stick of photos to work with, and she worked through nights to produce through digital mastery, an eight foot by five foot banner, printed on acrylic material, a pictorial history the old boys life, with names printed on each photo. There were a few little typos, but we all agreed it added to the fun, and drew a wry smile from one family member who happens to be a proof reader. In fairness to Charlene, English is not her first language, she was working in to the wee hours on a tight deadline, and was also slightly mis-directed by her not insignificant other half when it came to some of the names.

Throughout the afternoon, Squire barely sat down as he enjoyed chatting to his many friends and rellies, not least of which, the second meeting between himself and his brother, Ian Ramus, and Ian’s lovely wife, Jill. I wasn’t there to witness the hug, I’d been conscripted to taxi duty, but my brother, Stig, described the moment to me later. Inevitably, Ian and Jill found themselves to be one of the star turns on the day. For those that don’t know, Ian is actually Squire’s half brother, they both have the same dad, Reg/Roy/Bob, some of the names he went by, but Ian had never been made aware of his other siblings existence. We as children had been told the story of this other brother, but knew nothing of his whereabouts, or even his proper name, Squire had told me he thought it might have been Ian, but he couldn’t be sure. He also believed Ian was a doctor. From grilling the old man, it turns out that his sister, Sheila, had maintained contact with their Uncle Nev, and he had kept her updated on her dads news, which was also how they found out when Reg died in 1967.

Squire(on the right) and Ian

I will tell this story in more detail another time, but suffice to say, it’s a great delight to have welcomed Ian and Jill in to the family since we first met in 2013.

The invite to Squire’s 90th party came with a proviso of no presents, just donations to the RNLI, and to add a bit of fun to the day, we chucked in an impromptu auction to try and raise a few more pounds to that worthy cause. My eldest brother, David, fancied being the auctioneer, so an hour or so into the party, he took the bull by the horns and got the auction going in typical David style. Bull in a china shop might be over doing it, but if you imagine his 18th birthday present from his mates was a beer tankard with the inscription, ‘He Came, He Saw, He Broke’, well you may get an idea. Item by item, he was briskly selling the lots, all the while, watchful cousins wondered on his behalf how he would remember who had bought what. Cousin Sam Ramus was soon on the case, writing down the names and amounts on a serviette, while cousin Nicola C.B, with beaming smile, jumped in as assistant to the auctioneer, handing him the lots, having noticed his difficulties in diving back and forth under the table to grab and unpack whichever item he was trying to get ‘knocked down’.

David the auctioneer

Stig the auctioneers assistant

While this barely controlled pandemonium was entertaining the crowd, we had other members of the family joining in the fun, my brother Stig, (Anthony), giving vocal support in case his elder brothers voice had not carried to the back of the hall, and also jumping in on the count down, ‘going once’, ‘going twice’, ‘sold to….’, all with great relish and embellishment. Then you had little sis, Lizbet, doing her best to bid for half the items going up, not least of which for the set of pewter model cars that Squire had donated, she paid £60 for the set. His still boxed collection of model trains were going for between five and ten quid each, a hundred year old book of cartoons that I picked up at a car boot sale for a quid, went for £30. The finale was a day with the Shoreham RNLI crew, which went for £60. I have to say I was a bit gutted about that one, I missed it, and would have bid at least £200, but there you go.

The overall figure for the auction came to £450, and just under the thousand for the RNLI on the day, with plenty of laughs all round. Towards the end, we realised the gorgeous maritime cake that Annie had made for the occasion hadn’t been cut yet, so what better way to bring up the final hour of the party, than to make a big deal of our dear old dads 90th cake cutting ceremony. Cousin Michelle it turns out, is a semi-professional cake cutter, and straight after Squire’s initial incision, she was up and slicing, notwithstanding Auntie Manuela’s comment that perhaps Ian Ramus, (who happens to be a retired surgeon), might be better trained for such a job. Ian caught the quip, and respectfully suggested his knives used to be on a rather smaller scale than sufficient for such an operation.

Squire cutting the cake

Michelle the master cutter

I can safely tell whoever might be interested, that both Squire and Ma had a wonderful day, and talk of it still. There was one last addition worth a chuckle to finalise the story. David had written out a cheque for the RNLI, for the amount he was told had been raised, or at least, he was told the figure was a fraction below the thousand mark, so he made the cheque out for the round grand, only to find that many of the donations were by cheque too, about 200 quids worth, so the total became £1200 donated to the RNLI on the day. Not a bad way for an old salty sea dog to celebrate his 90th.

Two days later, on his actual birthday, Monday April 17th, a bank holiday, Brighton and Hove Albion gave him his last present by securing promotion to the Premier League when they beat Wigan 2-1 at the Amex Stadium. Two weeks later, on May 3rd, Ma and Pa celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary, for which we had a bottle of bubbly left over from the party, so what better accompaniment than Shepherds Pie?

Negative Response

April 12, 2017

 

12-04-2017

Ma n Pa on their wedding day, May 3rd 1958

With our dear old dad, aka, Squire’, coming up to 90 years old, naturally we have arranged a big get together of family and friends for the occasion, but how do you go about something like that? I mean to say, you don’t come across many nonagenarian’s, and they must have seen and done so much during their tenure on this blue marble. First up, family pow wow to talk the idea through, and see who could do what regarding making the actual event happen, and who else might be called upon. Next thing was to make people aware, so I took the easy route, and set up a Facebook group for it, then started inviting everybody, family and friends, asking them to invite whoever I may have missed, or who they know doesn’t do Facebook. Luckily Squire is a popular old buzzard, and a reliable team were soon assembled, cake, decorations, and moral support are in hand. Location was a no-brainer, his beloved Sussex Yacht Club, of which he’s been a member since about Nelson’s time, although we nearly missed out as we’d left it all a bit late, but luckily got an afternoon slot for Saturday 15th April, 2 days before his actual birthday. They have an in house catering mob, so food was covered, all we had to do now was make sure people had enough advance notice, and keep the date alive in their minds.

Ma n Pa on honeymoon in Windsor, 1958

It had long been my intention to get an old box of family photo slides scanned in somehow, but lacked the technology to make it happen. Trawling the internet I found a slide and neg scanner which seemed to fit the bill, ‘DigitNow high resolution film scanner’, for £50, unfortunately it wasn’t fit for anything but the waste bin, so I returned it the same day as it arrived, and left a scathing review of the worthless product. I went back to the internet, checking the reviews more thoroughly this time, and found this ‘Ion Pics2SD’ slide and negative scanner on e bay, with great reviews. Having ordered the device it was now a waiting game, so when it arrived I was full of excited anticipation, this soon turned to further disappointment when I discovered this item was even less use than the first scanner. It did nothing, and looked wrong compared to the sales picture too, so I rattled off a message to the seller, informing them of my disappointment. After a number of messages back and forth, I sent the item back and awaited their verdict, which thankfully was swift, I had been sent a duff product, one they don’t even sell apparently. When the replacement arrived a couple of days later, I wasn’t going to get my hoped up, but within minutes all the previous let downs had been forgotten, and I found this little light box to be just what the doctor ordered. Slides that haven’t been viewed for getting on 40 years were revealing the past in glorious technicolour, saved to my laptop, and shared on the newly created Facebook group for the old mans 90th birthday. The images went back further than 40 years, some of them are from the 1950’s, including the parents wedding and honeymoon. After that I was like a kid in a sweet shop, finding one treasure after another as I downloaded the priceless photo-documents of our family, friends, and cousins.

Ma n pa on holiday in Cornwall with Uncle Mike, Auntie Manuela, and their kids, circa 1963

Having saved all these slides for posterity, I went to the cupboard where they had been gathering dust all these years, and stumbled upon 18 packs of black and white negatives, each pack with between 30 to 40 images. My new toy meant I could instantly check this rich new vein of photos out, and what a joy that has been. I have to say I’ve been very happily impressed with the quality of the scanned images, and not to mention the fact that the photographer, my dad, had done a bang up job with his camera work, with a very low rate of failures among these pearls of photographic family history. Since then I’ve been scanning and sharing this new found archive via FB, and if I were a Facebook ‘Like’ junky, I’d have enough to see me through to New Year 2020, and that’s only with 10% of the photos shared so far. What better way could there be to ignite interest in Squire’s forthcoming birthday celebrations, and give everyone something extra to chat about come the day, not that we really need any help, family gatherings have always been something to look forward to. There is also the not so small matter of Squire’s brother, Ian, who until a few short years back, believed himself to be an only child. I tracked him down while doing family tree research, and we have been in contact since 2008,  meeting for the first time in September 2013 when he and his lovely wife, Jill made the journey down to see us. The two of them will be making the trip down for Squire’s 90th, and meeting a lot of nieces and nephews for the first time, hopefully they will enjoy the newly found archive of family photos too. I can’t wait.

Our family, circa 1970. Dad the photographer

Life Goes On

February 12, 2017
Crown road days. Left to right, Self, Chud, Taylor, Billy Boy, Hannah Cabana

Crown road days.
Left to right, Self, Chud, Taylor, Billy Boy, Hannah Cabana

 

12-02-2017

 

Before recent events took over, I had been intending to write a blog about life with the parents, with its ups, downs, joys and worries, worries that you carry around through the days and nights, and joys, simple things such as hearing they slept well last night, or being sat around the kitchen table having cooked breakfast at the weekend, bacon and cheese omelettes today. With Ma and Pa being ill at the same time over Christmas, then Ma being taken seriously ill and having half her stomach removed a few weeks back, that was my real ‘Zombie Mode’ time, you feel so helpless, but do whatever you can to keep things going, keep busy at home, visit Ma at hospital every day, make sure the old man is fed and well, walk the pup. Dog walking, that’s when my mind relaxes and I rationalise everything to a state I can accept, the little fella keeps putting a smile on all of our faces, a priceless commodity.

The curtain has now been officially drawn on the court case, and my friends were hit by a bill for £13,500, comprising of £6000 damages settlement to the parasites that we had helped out by getting them away from living in a car, and in to a nice home. £7,500 in the legal fees for both sides. Purely because legal advice was to settle, despite the fact that these two sharks had invented a pack of lies to make their case, my friends were told it could get a lot worse. This still makes me feel angry at the outrageous injustice, basically, because they were on legal aid, they had on intention for settling for anything less than a decent sum, and doubtless their legal team knew only too well that the defendants would have to settle rather than rack up legal fees they would have absolutely no chance of recovering.

Since I had the phone call letting me know they had finally settled, I have actually found myself feeling strangely relaxed, glad this nightmare is over at last, and that it hopefully can’t get any worse. I say ‘hopefully’, mainly because, if this has taught me anything, it is that right or wrong can sometimes have nothing to do with anything. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to hear these two have done this before, and if they hadn’t, I’m sure they will have learned quickly what a useful little money spinner that scam is, and doubtless hit some other unsuspecting victim further down the line. And all of this from someone who should be behind bars already. Doubtless they’re strutting around like the cock of the walk now, boasting about working the system, and probably indulging in a drug fuelled celebration somewhere, but who can really say. Maybe they used their winnings to put a deposit on a nice little beach hut somewhere, and buying nice clothes to impress at the next job interview, looking forward to getting custody of their 6 children back from the people that have been raising them, who knows?.

 

Well, it’s 2017 now, and Trainspotting 2 is out at the cinemas, so to paraphrase one of the original films lines, I choose life, I choose not to be a victim, or as a good mate of mine is known to say in such situations, “move on, build a bridge, get over it”. It’s only money after all, no one died, and there are much more important things to consider in life, like my own family. My savings have taken a hit, but I know people that have been hit harder, much harder. So now is time to reset the clock, everything begins anew from here, concentrate on my new vocation of drawings for loft conversions and single storey extensions, but also try and make time for my favourite pastime, family historical research, and the stories which spring from this research. Obviously all of this takes second place to Ma and Pa, and the pup, Fred.

 

Me and a few old friends will be making the trip up to Wales for the funeral of Richard Miles Wilson next Friday, which also has a link back to the original Trainspotting. Richie was living at my place the year that film came out, 1997, and I was at college on a Film, Video, and Script Writing course, having taken a couple of years out from work to do it. Blur and Oasis were taking the music world by storm, but Richie’s preference was for Green Day, and he had discovered the old band, Procul Harem. He also introduced us all to the classic Welsh version of Trainspotting, Twin Town, which came out that year. Thinking back to that now, we had such a laugh at my place in Crown road, the crowd we had was extensive, eclectic, and close, how I wish I’d been blogging back then. I do have a lot of photo’s from the time, and they make me smile every time I thumb through them.

more-chud-at-the-cricks-1996

Richie’s sad passing is one more reason to get on with life, and try to make the most of the minutes, hours, days allotted. He took his own life for reasons we can never be sure of entirely, and in what state of mind?, but who knows when the time may come without warning. I’m going to try to make sure I get the things I want to do, done, or at least give them a shot. Trevor Hardy, an animator friend, has put the word out for set and prop builders for his short animations, so I’m going to give that a try and see how it goes, while keeping the drawings going, and as much as possible, keeping a happy, healthy household. Life goes on.

Well we didn’t see that coming.

January 17, 2017

17-01-2017

When Ma’s sewing sister buddies came round last Tuesday, they all mentioned how unwell she looked. I explained how despite the back problem after her fall, that it was the stomach pain causing Ma the most discomfort, but everyone had put that down to the medication so far. On Wednesday we went to see Dr McIlroy, who organised more blood tests, and urine sample to be taken, she wasn’t at all happy about the tenderness around Ma’s stomach, and she prescribed a different oral medication to compliment the slow release painkillers she was taking. On Friday we phoned the surgery to find out what the results of the tests were, and Dr McIlroy said to come in. She talked us through the blood results, high white cell markers, a few abnormal readings here and there, but nothing markedly out enough to explain the obvious pain ma was suffering. Given all the information available, the doc filled out a form for Ma to be looked at over at Worthing A.C.A, on Monday. A.C.A, (Ambulatory Care Area), is a kind of halfway between A and E, and actual admission, designed to free up beds while caring for those that could make the trips back and forth to the hospital. This was where Squire was looked after when he had his cellulitis, a fantastic set up with excellent staff. Dr McIlroy’s instruction were that if her condition deteriorated, Ma should go straight in over the weekend, but definitely get there for 08.30 Monday if not.

 

Ma was adamant she was ok over the weekend, and also apprehensive about going to hospital, worrying about what was going to happen, our first real sign from her that she was probably in more pain than she was letting on. It almost certainly didn’t help that she had a tumble during the night of Sunday/ Monday morning. About 4a.m I heard a noise, got up to hear Ma calling for help, she was laying on the lounge floor having lost her balance while on her way back from the toilet. I got her back to her chair, and settled with a dose of the liquid painkiller, OxyNorm, and went back for the last couple of hours before the alarm to get up.

Thankfully the fall hadn’t seemed to caused her too much extra distress, and having walked Fred and prepped the Trough for later, I drove us off to Worthing A.C.A. Checked in by 08.30, it was dormouse quiet, other than admin staff. As the morning wore on, they took more blood tests, asked a lot of questions, and organised an ultra sound, which they later decided to change for  C.T scan, a large doughnut shaped x-ray machine. More waiting after that, rigged up for three different powerful I.V antibiotics, during which Ma was flagging a bit, then the first indication of what was wrong by 15.30, a hole in her bowel which would need operating on later that night, she was going to be admitted. My brother, Ant, called David, our eldest brother, to take over from me so I could go and organise the Trough, our weekly family dinner.

 

David turned up with Charlene, and their arrival picked up her spirits thankfully. He called me later to tell me they had decided to delay the op until tomorrow, but were looking most likely to remove some of the bowel, and fit a ‘stoma bag’, although if the damage wasn’t too severe, they had the option to flush it out, put some drains in, and let it heal. The consultant made it quite clear though, that in his opinion, that option was a rather optimistic hope. We could tell Ma’s spirits were up though, when she explained to me over the phone, how ‘dishy’ she thought her consultant was, much to David’s amusement as her voice carried around the small unit for all to hear.

 

I phoned today, and was told she was taken from the ward to theatre at about 09.30, and to ring back around 15.00 to find out how it all went. Fingers crossed she will be out of pain at last, getting looked after by the best possible people at one of the High Dependency Units.

New Years coughs and wheezes

January 10, 2017

10-01-2017

 

A New Years Blog

 

A nasty cold has a good part of the populace in its grip right now, some recovering, others still in its vice like grasp, our house among them. In the run up to Christmas I had decided to dispense with my usual antipathy towards the festive period, and push the boat out as it were by making a bit of an effort. The first stage of this entailed clearing the decks at home, a long overdue task in fairness, as we have gathered a clutter-lanche of stuff which for one reason or another had been deemed either, too valuable to chuck, or might one day serve a purpose.

Tidying up, if it is to be worthwhile, needs a brutal approach, and has minefields laying in wait. I made a few mistakes, not least of which, turfing out a load of old glasses which Squire later informs me came from the Royal Albion Hotel about 40 years ago. His buddy, Pete Gretton, was working on the refurb there after a fire, and asked the Old Man if he’d be interested in these glasses which were destined for the tip. It’s painfully ironic that I have been researching Harry Preston within my family history, and it is now with dread that I think of the sound those glasses made as I tipped them into the glass recycling bin at Shoreham tip. Harry Preston entertained people from the top end of every walk of life at his hotels, the earliest aviators, drivers, inventors, millionaires, boxers, newspaper magnates, theatrical stars of the day, and royalty. I wonder how many of them may have sipped from the glasses I so callously, or carelessly, lobbed in to that container? I did save a few, so all is not lost, but a pang of guilt hits me each time I think back on what I’ve done.

Photographs on the other hand, I would never dream of throwing out, but getting past them is fraught with problems, how do you stop yourself thumbing through and losing complete mornings and afternoons as these priceless memories soon have you forgetting what you were in the process of doing in the first place. An iron will is required.

 

Eventually I had cleared space, after a good few days spread over a couple of weeks, the will proving not to be quite so iron, and hours here and there lost discovering old stories. Squire, aka, the Old Man, John, (our dad), has often told me of his time working with his Uncle Neville during the 1950’s, selling fire extinguishers, based in Stratton Avenue in Piccadilly. He’s recounted many times one of Nev’s favourite lines, reminiscent of Del Boy in ‘Only Fools and Horses’, Nev would tell the Old Man, “We’re on our way to a cool £250,000, this time next year…”. Squire also told me there ought to be one of his business cards from that time around somewhere, but we had never seen one. Imagine my surprise and delight when clearing out the computer room, having spotted a blank white card on the floor, I was about to put it in the bin bag, but when I turned it over, there was this pristine condition card which read,

GROsvenor 1669

Ramus Agencies. Distributor of Kwik Fire Extinguishers.

6 Stratton Avenue, Piccadilly, W.1

Represented by Mr. J.S. Ramus

 

This simple card revived memories instantly, but I’ll return to that in another blog. Once the house clearance had created the desired space, I began to think about the festive decorations. With the parents in reasonable health at the same time, coupled with their advancing years, I wanted to see 2016 out with a proper Christmas, and with that came the decision to make a nativity scene as a centre piece, along with the tree and decorations which have stayed unopened for a few years.

Funnily enough, having expressed our disinterest towards the entire Christmas bandwagon for so long, I was surprised how such a simple thing as a nativity scene could have such a positive effect on everyone, but especially on Ma, although that should be less of a surprise, as she is the self designated family god botherer. Sad to relate, the backlit barn scene proved to be her guiding light for an altogether unintended purpose, after she took a tumble around midnight a few days before Christmas, landing heavily on her backside. The result of the fall was that Ma couldn’t sleep in her bed, and has slept in her chair in the lounge since, using the barn light to navigate to and from her chair during night time bathroom visits.

 

Christmas dinner proved to be a roaring success, except for Ma’s discomfort. My sister, Lizbet, had called around a few days earlier with her son, Reggie, his girlfriend Stacey, and their 3 month old son, Alfie. They asked if it would be alright to join us for Christmas dinner, which of course it was, in fact it was the icing on the cake come the day, resulting in possibly the best 25th December we’ve had in years. Nothing elaborate, but the basics were there, stockings filled with mini Mars bars, Milky Ways, clementine’s, and mini crackers with shockingly bad jokes. Dinner was Lamb Boulangere a la Tom Kerridge, roast brisket, steamed and roasted veg, and heaps of home made gravy. No turkey, no Christmas pud. For the bubbly, we had three bottles of Fat Bastard, a perfectly pukka sparkling wine, and ten around the table, which incorporated four generations from little Alfie up to the octogenarian Squire, almost the entire family, with just David’s two, Jack and Hannah, unable to attend.

 

Unfortunately a particularly virulent cough and cold descended upon us shortly after, hitting Squire hardest, requiring a doctor’s visit, and a course of antibiotics. Then Ma thought she’d like to try sleeping in a bed for the first time since her fall, only to find herself in agony at 3a.m, calling for help. Squire heard her calls, and went downstairs to see what he could do, before realising she was in the spare room upstairs, so back up he went, puffing and wheezing, then back down again to wake me for help, by which time he was shaking like a leaf. After nursing him back upstairs and in to bed, he was in a shocker of a state by then, I then had to get Ma off the spare bed, with every move pure agony for her as her back twitched, and gently manoeuvre her downstairs to her chair, where she has slept every night since.

Next day we called the surgery, and the same doc that saw Squire the day before came out to see Ma. This was her third doc in a week, agreeing with the previous two that nothing was broken, but changing her medication again, as the co-codomol, and Oramorph, had both caused stomach aches, now she is on slow release Oxycodone, but her appetite hasn’t yet returned, having to be coaxed in to eating morsels with her pills. The Christmas dec’s are down, but the nativity barn scene with its handy LED light got reinstated to assist in her navigation during the night as she sleeps in the lounge.

 

Today, (Tuesday), Ma’s sewing sister buddies turned up unexpectedly, they don’t communicate famously well at times, this being one of those times, but it seemed to be a bit of a bonus, giving Ma some much needed female company to natter with. We’ve had friends come round, Annie, and Hel’s, checking up on us to see how it’s all going, which has been priceless, especially as they’re both nurses, giving very useful advice, and welcome friendly faces into the bargain.

 

General musings

(Written 30-12-2016)
There has never really been a point in my life where I thought ahead about what I might want to do, I’ve just blundered in to one situation after another without any kind of plan, arriving at 53 years old with no more idea than when I left school at 16. Before that I couldn’t have cared less, which I believe is the way any normal child should be, at least that meant I had a happy childhood. My first job was only meant to be a holiday job while I waited to go back to school to retake exams, boat building in a barn up at Coombes farm for Kingfisher Yachts, they raised my money and offered me a full time job. It didn’t take me too long to think about it, the work was enjoyable, and the weekly wage far too tempting, I was off and running.

Nearly four decades later, I’ve recently found myself at one more crossroads, as home life began to take up more of my time, leaving less hours to spend on the tools as a carpenter. As luck would have it, I had already begun delving in to the world of drawing plans for loft conversions, doing the scale drawings for friends on jobs that I also went on to build. With the help of my work mate, Neil Gilmour, I built my first loft conversion in 1989, at my first and only house, 18 Crown road, Shoreham. I also had my first taste of drawing then too, as the architect had made a mistake, which we duplicated when building. A letter from the council planning department followed, bringing the mistake to my attention, (after a complaint had been made), and I was instructed to reduce the front dormer in size by about 600mm off the width. At this point I was working as a site carpenter in Maidenbower, Crawley, coming home every night and working on the house, so the day the letter arrived, I read it, and made the alteration that night, phoning the planning department next day to let them know. I can still recall the surprise in his voice when I informed him I’d already done the work required, the next problem he hit me with was the necessity for revised plans to show the alteration. I asked if it had to be an architect that did the drawings, apparently not, as long as they were to scale, with the address clearly marked on the drawing. So that was that, I knocked up a 1:50 scale drawing on A4 paper, and posted in next day.

It certainly never occurred to me then that this might be a new avenue of work, I was earning heaps on site, in fact the main reason for buying the house was to find something to do with all the money that was coming in. It would be a few decades later that I thought again about doing drawings, this time mainly to save friends a few bob, but also to get some experience with a view to doing more in that field. In fairness, I found the whole process of corresponding with the planning department to be quite tedious, especially their attention to what I considered unnecessary nonsense. Having worked from plans often barely fit for purpose, it irked me somewhat to be forced to show minute details which had no bearing for the people who would be using them to build the job. I have since come to terms with the fact that there is a way that planning want things done, and it’s best to learn their way and resist the urge to fight against it. I’ve sent a few caustic e mails to them that I wish I hadn’t, and deleted heaps that definitely would not have helped my cause.

I’ve been doing more and more drawings, gaining valuable experience, and the jobs keep rolling in, courtesy of friends and work mates. But here I am again, finding something else I can do, with the added bonus of knowing the construction side of things to help explain the whole process to the customers, but already my mind is roaming. I feel like there is something out there that I would love to be doing, just have absolutely no idea what that might be.

Goodbye 2016, Farewell old Friends, Bring on 2017

December 4, 2016

Goodbye 2016, Farewell old Friends, Bring on 2017
03-12-2016

Cousin Nicola's surprise 60th birthday party

Cousin Nicola’s surprise 60th birthday party

2016 is coming to a close, and the year has shot by in a blur despite being filled with events, happy, sad, and indifferent. I’ve managed a pitiful two blogs this year, not because there was nothing to write about, quite the opposite, just that events and, more importantly, life have kept me busy. Mainly, I have at last made the transition from carpenter, to, ‘Building and Planning Consultant’, which basically means I now draw the jobs rather than build them. This transition means that I can earn money from working at home, which in turn allows me to keep Ma n Pa leading a reasonably decent existence, especially considering their health issues over the last couple of years.
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I can honestly say this is the first Christmas I’ve looked forward to in a long time, and that is down to a lot of things, but mainly because Ma n Pa are in good enough health to enjoy it this year, so I’ll be putting up the dec’s, which will doubtless amuse, delight, bewilder, and even horrify many of my friends. I’ve long been known as what the yanks would call a ‘Grinch’, referring to this time of year as ‘Shitmas’. All I can say is, people have the right to change, and I’m looking forward to being full of Christmas spirit. I would point out that we are a generally happy household all year round, but not insanely so, we’re not hopped up on happy pills.
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There are things that have passed without me having commented on, such as the heartbreakingly sad passing away of friends. Two well-known Shoreham characters, Steve Williams, and Jack McKale, went last year, (2015), and at the time everyone was shell shocked. Jack went in May, loveliest of men, ardent Celtic fan, cracking company, oft seen around town either in his scaffolding truck, or at the bar of one of Shoreham’s many pubs. I can still see his face, hear his lovely Scottish accent welcoming me, “all right Andy boy” in his Glaswegian brogue, doubtless softened by years of living dahn saff with us southern softies. He always greeted you with a big smile and a welcoming arm outstretched. He had bought a small motor cruiser with the idea of fitting it out and living on it at Brighton Marina, sadly he died while asleep on it in Sussex Yacht Club boat park. It’s a nice way to go, peacefully in your sleep, but he was only 68 and those that knew and loved the man were robbed of his eternally buoyant spirit.

Jack McKale, or 'Jack the Scaff'

Jack McKale, or ‘Jack the Scaff’


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Later that year, one of Jack’s great buddies, Steve Williams, died aged just 64, finally defeated by the cancer he had been fighting for so long, or related at least to the damage that dreadful disease wreaks upon the human body. Like so many others, I’ve known Steve all my drinking life, but by no means limited to pub life. He was one of those larger than life characters, always dreaming of the next big adventure, whether it be making good in the latest solar technology, or converting an old barn in France. When I first met him, he was a smartly dressed Dapper Dan, dealing in stainless welding supplies, and the Lady Jane was the drinking focus of Shoreham Beach. He was part of a crowd of wildly amusing young people, yet still stood out. Steve loved a good joke told to him, and when mobile phones came on the scene, he, like many others, enjoyed this new medium for sharing jokes quickly. As I was one of the ‘many others’, we’d often be swapping whichever unrepeatable effort was doing the rounds, there really was nothing quite so rewarding as seeing him crack up at some diabolically filthy, or unbelievably stupid joke.
To use an old term, Jack and Steve have, ‘gone to their great reward’, which would be apt for them both, as they richly deserve rewarding for the amount of smiles they put on others faces. I hope if I get a reward, they’re there to welcome me, with a Guinness ready.
Steve Williams, son, brother, father, lovely fella all round.

Steve Williams, son, brother, father, lovely fella all round.


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Squire bought a camper this year, in the hope we might make it along to see his half brother, Ian Ramus, in Taunton. When I first traced Ian, he had no idea that he even had a brother, or that his father had been married before. After confirming the family links for him, Ian and his lovely wife, Jill, made the trip down to see us in 2013, and it went like a dream. We were hoping to visit them a year later, not long after Squire had recovered from a bout of pneumonia. The trip was booked, but not long before we were due to go, Ma went down with Deep Vein Thrombosis, so hospital visits followed by home treatment, and a lifetime ahead of warfarin injections, put paid to that trip. Almost a year from the pneumonia, Squire went down with Cellulitis, the after effects of which left him with a left leg too painful to walk far. Despite all these debilitating ailments, they carry on in fine sprits, helped in no small amount by access to a local pool and spa a few days a week, courtesy of a lovely friend. We still hope to visit Ian and Jill, but it will have to be in 2017 now I guess, as this year just slipped away again. Next year Squire will be 90, so I’m determined to keep him and Ma healthy enough to enjoy it, and get them out and about in the camper as much as possible, including the trips along to Goring to walk Fred.
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One of the highlights of 2016 was the trip along to Robertsbridge, for our cousin Nicola’s surprise 60th birthday party. The Courtney Bennett’s are Ma’s side of the family, and Nicola’s birthday bash was the perfect way to make our inaugural trip in the newly acquired camper, in fact, it was the party that motivated Squire to step up his efforts and buy this one. Like all of our cousins, we get on easily in each other’s company, and as this had the added bonus of also being a camping trip, we could bring the pup, Fred, too. It took us a while to find the place, it’s up near Battle, but once there, we could unwind. Cousin Hannah has a lovely place with a field for a back garden, complete with horse jumps, stable, and plenty of room to set up camp. While we (me actually) were almost comically inept at setting up the camper, admiring glances and complimentary comments were made towards ‘Daisy’, the previous owners name for it.
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Fred loved the location from the off, although he was a bit apprehensive about the rough ground, but soon acclimatised to it. In no time he was with the pack of other dogs running free about the place. There were marquees, barbecue’s, tables, plenty of food and drink, and wonderful company, the theme being ‘Bright’, so a nice collection of vibrant shirts and dresses gave a colourful addition to the already brightly decorated everything.
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Fred C B had earlier put me right regarding the winding mechanism for getting the awning cover out, which gave us cause for amusement at my expense. Later that night I was filling the air with expletives as I failed miserably to locate the lighting switch. David found it in about 30 seconds, much to my simultaneous relief and irritation. The event went perfectly, rounded off by speeches from Nicola, her husband, Alan, and her daughter, Lorne, who was the driving force behind the idea.
The next day was tidy up followed by barbecue breakfast, I got egg duty, which is no mean trick, frying eggs on a barby, but I think I got away with it. It’s impossible to relate quite what a good time it was, but it meant so much to be able to get Ma n Pa up there for the occasion, and the camper meant we could do it in comfort, plus, any excuse that brings the cousins together is a reason to celebrate.
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It’s funny how I spend most of my waking moments thinking like a book I’m reading, yet as I sit here it’s hard to recall enough of those thoughts to share them again with whoever is checking this blog out. Which is testimony I guess to why it needs to be regularly updated, write it down while it’s still fresh in my mind. I hope that this new found vocation of drawing building plans will allow me to do just that. 53 years old, and starting out afresh, it feels quite exciting, in a subdued quinquagenarian kind of way.

Looking after the Parents

October 27, 2015
29-09-2015
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Back in 2002 I decided I’d had enough of the rat race, wanted to bugger off abroad somewhere, but didn’t have the resources, or at least not at hand anyway. I tried to get a loan against my mortgage, but apparently despite owning a house worth double what we’d paid, that counted for nothing in the credit ratings. If I had run up debts on a credit card, but kept up with the monthly payments, then hell yeah, they’d be all over me like a rash. Being in debt but keeping up with your payments was considered better than someone like me, who often paid late, and got stiffed with a £25 fine, plus interest each time, but always cleared the debt. So despite owing Barclaycard nothing, and having coughed up a tidy sum in late payment charges, I was considered bad for their, or anyone elses, business. This, plus many other irritations I had with the rat race in general, bills, direct debits, more bills, and an overwhelming desire to just fuck off out of it, finally culminated in putting the house up for sale. I hadn’t wanted to sell, but I had to get away, for my sanity, maybe even to save my life.
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Well I spivved the place to show house standard, sold it that year, then moved in with my parents while I waited for the money to get in my bank account, and decide what to do next. Life was pretty rosy by then I thought, no bills, other than housekeeping money to ma, no need to work for a while, and just a trip to organise, but no real idea where to go. As it turned out the decision made itself one afternoon, I was out trawling around Brighton with note pad and camera, and having stopped at a coffee shop in Duke Street, off Churchill Square, I spied Gav and Chris walking past. I called out and joined them, they were heading off to book their tickets to India, so I tagged along thinking nothing more than we might have a beer or two afterwards. It was S.T.A travel in North Street, and they seemed to be taking forever, so it was only a matter of time before the staff, thinking I was there to book something, called me over. I told them no a couple of times, explaining I was with these two lads, but eventually thought, why not have a look. The upshot of that was that I walked out with an around the world ticket, leaving in a couple of months, and before Gav and Chris would be going.
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Well, a year away became 18 months, and after travelling extensively, climbing mountains, descending into caverns by zip wire, jumping out of planes, learning to snowboard, boogy boarding down steep faced sand dunes, trekking, riding elephants, traversing rivers at high speed on longtail boats, or super slow on bamboo rafts or tractor tyres, getting drunk once or twice, tree felling, log splitting, digging holes, and plenty else as I travelled through S.E.Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, U.S.A, and Canada; the time had come to return.I hadn’t ditched the depression, it had reared its ugly head on a number of occasions, and I learned, if I didn’t already know it anyway, that you can’t escape your head.
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When I returned home, there was a big welcome at the local pub, and it didn’t take long to settle back in to the rhythm of life, but I knew one thing for sure, I had no intention of rejoining the rat race, or the home owning aspect of it at least. One hugely depressing fact was that my house had already been sold by the woman that bought it, and she had made 16 grand more in the one year she owned it, without doing a single thing to it, than I had made after turning it from a 2 bed bungalow, in to a 4 bed chalet bungalow, and owning it over 13 years. That is one damn good reason to hate the rat race, there is not the slightest hint of fairness to it, and no it isn’t the same for everyone, my case clearly proves that. Enough to convince me not to get involved with property again, and I’m a builder.
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At first, living back with the parents was easy, I was working, earning well, and contributing to the household budget. Over time though, I could see ma struggling with, or at least definitely not enjoying, the household chores which she had always managed. Bit by bit I started helping out, and eventually taking over the tedious tasks of shopping, cooking, and washing up, which was still no problem. Fast forward to 2014, and dad went down with pneumonia, which in your late 80’s is no joke, but thankfully he survived, after paramedic call outs, doctors, and finally an ambulance followed by a week in the acute medical unit at hospital. From that point on, looking after the parents shifted up a gear or two, because even if you recover from pneumonia at that age, the effects are lasting. I was already responsible for his pill pot, he had a collection to take throughout the day, everyday, all to do with his heart condition, pace maker, gastric issues, and glaucoma, now we had more pills. Pills to counteract other pills, then some of those gave him an internal bleed, so stop some, start others, monitor the situation, writing it all in a seperate pill diary.
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In between all this, we have a year old pup with training issues, but a little ball of furry happiness that brings light into the darkness. He can though, on occasion, be the cause of more worry, as we worry about him too, then it’s a head fuck, you think you’re going crazy, when will it all end, or where. When he’s ill, my life seems like a pill pot roundabout that never stops. The ma joined in, going down with deep vein thrombosis. It started with a slightly swollen foot, gradually working its way up her leg, so back came the paramedics, then house visit nurses to administer blood thinning injections. Later we had to attend a warfarin clinic, where after 5 hours of tests and scans, ma is told she’ll be on warfarin for the rest of her natural, and needs to have regular blood tests to check and regulate her warfarin dosage. She also has to wear a surgical stocking on the affected leg every day, we have a special contraption for putting it on which is quite clever.
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Did I mention that dad still wants to go to work every day?, We get up at 5a.m, he has his morning pills and puffer, and we have a cup of tea, then I’ve been driving him there and back at 5.30 each morning so that he can set up the company computers for the day ahead. I am his eyes in the dark too, and we bring Fred, so I can walk him around the block while the old boy is setting up, after I’ve emptied the bins mind. When we get back it’s cup of tea time again, and soon ready for Fred’s next walk, about 9-ish, which the parents occasionally join us for. We drive up to the local recreation ground, by the railway line, alongside the river, and on a nice day, this is one of the little highlights. Dad can’t walk too far, so has to take a rest quite often, but he’s determined to do it, but it drains him for a bit. Ma also has a bit of trouble with her DVT affected leg, but like dad, insists it needs to be exercised. When we get back, it’s round 2 for the old mans pills, which he has to have with food, so a couple of rounds of cheese on toast, or a toasted sarnie, and another cup of tea. He’s recently also been on eye drops following a cataract op, and eye baths, all of which I administer. The op went well though, despite two failed attempts, where we waited 5 hours at hospital only to be turned away at the last minute, once because some machinery failed, and the other time because an emergency patient came in. Since the op, his eyesight has improved massively, and we’re just waiting for the other eye to be done now, fingers crossed it won’t be too long.
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Monday to Friday that’s the drill, and in between, we have access to a swimming pool and hot tub, which I get them along to while one of my brothers looks after Fred. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, for one hour, dad can forget his many aches and pains, ma comes Weds’ and Thurs’, as she goes to her Sewing Sisters in Tuesday.
When we get back, it’s off to bed for dad, and his afternoon siesta. He gets back up around 4, and has a restorative cup of tea, check the crossword, and have a snuggle with Fred. Ma will be set up with her latest sewing or knitting project, wherever has the most sun in the house, and this is how we bumble sweetly along. My last duties for the day, are Fred’s evening walk, give dad his evening pills, and cook dinner, then wash up and tidy away ready for tomorrow. I shuffle off to bed by about 8.30, taking Fred, who sleeps on top of the duvet, and gets most upset with me if I’m late.  There are other things you find yourself doing, little things, like helping dad put his shoes, socks, slippers, boots, jackets, on, cutting his toenails, ma with her stocking, driving her about, cooking breakfast at weekends, keeping the garden neat, as much as possible. And while I have been told that they don’t need all this help, well, I don’t agree, but even if I did, I’m doing it to help them, make their late years a bit easier, and hopefully add a bit to their general quality of life.
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I know others that have done far more, struggled through unimaginable trauma’s, and without complaint. I’m not complaining, just letting off steam here, where I doubt anyone that even knows me, will find it. It’s a full time job caring for someone properly, and puts the mockers on any chance of working to earn a crust, so that side of things is something I will seriously need help with eventually, but not quite yet.