I had requested an overseas posting, stating a preference for Hong Kong or other far-flung areas.
The request was granted: GERMANY.
A tad disappointing - but at least it was to a foreign shore.
The "cold war" with Russia was still on. I would be 'on active service' as the RAF mentioned in my travel instructions, sailing on a noisy and very cramped troopship, sailing from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. I was quite excited.
After the North Sea crossing, I travelled by train, through Holland and into a place in Germany, the name of which is long forgotten. A transit camp, in an old castle, a Schloss, where I stayed overnight.
Next morning I received my travel papers to RAF Hospital Wegberg. A brand spanking new building opened a few months earlier, not far from the town of Moenchengladbach.
I spend time thinking of all those I've known and loved, many of whom are long departed from this increasingly hazardous world of ours. Sometimes I look back at some of my earlier posts and it's good to be able to remind myself of a few things about 'old friends'. A chap called Alan Parkes was a man I read about in "The Times" Diary column some years ago. He and I met after I wrote to him via the article in the newspaper above. Here's the link to the post in question: http://bit.ly/1MkZmqx Hope it works OK.
This lady is one of my absolute favourites. She's stunning. Talented is not quite strong enough to describe her. She speaks quite a few languages, performs with such deep emotion it makes me well up as I watch and listen to her. This song, Je suis Malade, needs no sub-titles to understand how bad she feels about what she's going through. I think it's truly fantastic the way she puts everything, every ounce of feeling, into her rendition.
Above snapshot is of our tiny front garden, after I had spent nigh on a grand having all the grotty weedy grass dug out and replaced by plastic stuff. At my age I was fed up with trying to make the REAL grass look like grass, so I decided to make my gardening less strenuous. We were pleased with the result. The two chaps who did the job were excellent. Well pleased and grateful for their good workmanship. A couple of nights ago we discovered that some junkie bastards had paid us a visit during the night and stolen the right-hand piece of astro turf. They seem to have made a start on the other side but were either disturbed or too weak to lift it. It was ripped up at one corner and they gave up. When notifying our brave boys in blue on the 101 phone line (999 being for emergency only) the person taking my call said something to the effect that "Oh, never heard of anything like this before! Yes, hanging baskets and plant pots, but a lawn ... never!" Seemed like a bit of a joke to the police but they made a note, said to hang on a mo while I get you a crime reference (AC2256552/2017) and that was it. Didn't expect any more. Just another statistic for their growing list of minor crimes in Grimsby. Oh well, not to worry. Worse things happen at sea, etcetera ... Wonder if the low-life scum will try to finish their nefarious night-time job some time soon? I am getting CCTV installed and hope I can get these bastards on camera. Not that the law will do much other than slap them on the wrist ... ooh no! They mustn't touch them or the do-gooders will be up in arms. Happy Days. Below, grass-less part.
As this 'festive' season approaches, far too soon, I am frequently harking back to those days when love and excitement made life so precious. I have so many memories and yet so few that are glued to my memory bank as strongly as music, dancing, and romance. My first girl-friend is still ever-present in my mind, even though she no longer lives in this world. Her name was Stella. Stella and I became very close. We danced together, went on long country walks on unforgettable Summer afternoons. Went to many cinema shows and, most of all, spent rapturous hours saying 'goodnight' as the witching hour quietly melted into the next day. Then a very long walk home, for me!
She was twenty-two-and-a-half years old; I was a little over 16. New Year's Day 1952 was our last day together. Next day I wrote a 'Dear Stella' confessing that I'd lied about my age and I could not see her again. A cowardly act on my part, one which has never left my heart and mind. This song is one of my eternal favourites. It is by a crooner called Dick Haymes, exquisitely performed and perfectly backed up by a superb band. The tempo is perfect for a slow foxtrot, my favourite dance of all.
I'm worried. It's Clare, my artistic and hardworking young daughter. She has had major eye surgery on her left eye and minor surgery on her right eye, just over a week or so ago. She had to go to Sheffield hospital for this operation as our more local hospitals don't cater for detached retina jobs apparently. Blindness is guaranteed if this type of eye problem is not speedily dealt with. Thankfully Clare still has fair to middling vision in her right eye but not much in her left eye which, apart from the retina being detached in two areas, a 'hole' was discovered. This hole needed to be dealt with too. Pat and I have been with Clare each day in her house, trying to keep her mind off her worrying thoughts and to take her some lunch. I am so glad we are now nearby and not in Scotland! Yesterday when we arrived at Clare's place she was looking unhappier than ever. She's suffering from a scratchy left eye as a piece of one of the tiny stitches is protruding and I'm as scared as Clare. Sheffield hospital is contacted by 'phone. Go to A&E, the say; the stitch may need to come out. I take her to Grimsby hospital and check into A&E. We wait and within fifteen minutes explain the problem. The nurse contacts the eye clinic and half an hour later Clare is examined by the ophthalmologist. He assures us that there is no need for any action on his part and that Clare should see the surgeon in Sheffield on Monday. I am relieved and Clare is now happier than earlier. It is not a solution to the pricky-scratchy stitch discomfort but Clare will soldier on until Monday morning when hubby Andy will drive her to see the surgeon in Sheffield hospital. Every time I arrive to be with Clare her two big doggies, Bob and Molly, go wild with delight as I walk in. Molly has her squeaky pink toy in her jaws and is impatient for me to try to grab it from her. Bob is bustling her away from me and strives to get to me, tail swinging wildly and madly. These big babies are wonderfully welcoming and just want to play. It's lovely to see them each time I go there. The photo below was today, Friday 7th Oct, Molly has bagged a space close to me and Bob is patiently waiting for his turn! I just love 'em both so much.
My granddaughter, Sarah-Sophia, now lives in Mauritius with her husband Biljan, a barrister. They met during Sarah-Sophia's uni years at Cambridge and after their wedding in Manchester a year or so ago they left to live in Biljan's birthplace, the island of Mauritius. They recently had a short holiday in Colombia but the homecoming was a real "Tales of the Unexpected". Here is her account of what went on.
The USA is having a big vote soon, the Brits are also soon to have one: European referendum. Each is an important vote. The US Presidential is important because some of the candidates seem, to me, to be uniquely 'odd' - no names, no pack-drill, eh Donald? The UK's vote to stay in or leave the EU is a tricky one too. Do we continue to be governed by Brussels or revert to the British Parliament? Lots of scare-mongering as to what will be the outcome if we depart the EU, including advice from Mr. Obama and many others. I admit that I'm unsure of which way to jump. I detest the interference from the EU when they over-rule some of the British legal decisions and wish they'd keep their noses OUT. I also think that the vast majority of Brits think the same, but is that a good enough reason to exit? Probably not. Then there's the continuing expansion of the EU. It started with about seven member states. General de Gaulle always objected to Britain's entry but he's long gone. Now it's 28 members and the prospect of Turkey joining! All with unlimited entry to the UK. Yoiks! I think I'll decide soon: probably LEAVE EU. OK, I've decided. Voting to say LEAVE. Thank you for helping me decide. Thanks!
My poor old minces aint wot they used t' be, even wiv me new bins to 'elp me out. You may not understand as my vernacular is of the ducking and diving south London genre.
'Minces = mince pies = eyes. Bins=short for binoculars=glasses.
Recently finished "A Staffordshire Lad" written by Harry Titley. I bought this because of his RAF spell at West Kirby and in Germany. He is a year or so younger than I but his journey in the 1950s was almost identical to mine. Remarkably similar, except he makes no mention of any girlfriend(s) during this time. He must have started down Lover's Lane after demob as he is now married and has a family. Perhaps I'll buy his newer book "A Staffordshire Man" as I'm fairly certain that his post-RAF story will tell of his meeting his wife and other adventures.
Now reading a small book by Joyce Grenfell: "George: Don't do that!" which is part of one of her marvellous monologues. I have always had the greatest respect for Joyce and still do. I read her book about her travels all over the middle east and Europe during WW2, entertaining the troops along with her pianist friend Viola Tunnard. They were so courageous and dedicated; the men at the battle-fronts really adored Joyce and her friend. She came from a well-to-do family; one relative, an aunt I think, was Nancy (Lady Astor) and Joyce's background resonates in her voice pattern. But she was so down-to-earth in all I've seen, heard and read about her. This little book is quite charming, and typical.
She wrote this funeral poem, so very 'Joyce' in my opinion.
If I Should Go Often Called - If I Should Die
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.
And I cannot end the Joyce Grenfell mention without offering one of her loveliest and funniest little songs, via Youtube:
I'm also reading "Stand by Your Beds" by David Findlay Clark, again about the 1950s National Service episodes. The title is, of course, the command that was bellowed out whenever an officer or NCO entered one's billet or tent. Well known by all conscripts, RAF and Army, although usually pronounced as Stand by YER beds!
Another current book that I'm trying to read is "The Heart Speaks" by Dr. Mimi Guarneri who is an American cardiologist. Subtitled: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing. It is very well written and interesting to me because it may help in some way with my own cardio problem. She recounts how she was on the ward rounds during her training some years ago, led by a silver-haired cardio consultant. He told the group of trainees that his best advice was to listen to the patient. This extract is what is written in her book:
"There's one thing I want to tell you before I leave today, a lesson you won't learn in medical school. If you let patients speak and tell their story, and you REALLY listen, they'll give you their diagnosis. But if you keep interrupting them and they don't get to tell it, you'll keep ordering tests and lab work and you'll miss the answer that's right there in front of you"
Later she goes on to tell of a young man who had been diagnosed with an incurable problem, Lou Gerhig's disease, which paralysed this chap from the neck down. It is a fatal disease. Dr. Mimi was simply taking his vital readings and she asked him about his earlier life. Briefly her story says: He told me that he was fine before his accident. She was puzzled. There was no mention of any accident in his records. He said he was hit from behind in his car and had to go to A&E and was told he just had a mild whiplash and it would wear off. A few weeks later he couldn't move. Back in hospital he was diagnosed with this fatal disease! Dr. Mimi thought his paralysis might be a disc causing the problem but her suggestion to her senior neurologist was dismissed; he refused to order a CT scan. She then discussed her thoughts with her chief resident. He listened to her and said he was willing to risk the wrath of the head honcho and carried out a CT scan in the middle of the night. A disc problem was disclosed; a small operation was performed and immediately the patient was cured of this 'incurable' disease. I hope to come across further heartening passages, no pun intended.
I've two Lancaster bomber heavyweight books to read soon. Plus a book, fiction, called The Secret of the Old Clock, by Nancy Drew. Never read any of her stuff before but it was said to be quite good by a blogger friend of mine.
My final book-in-waiting is Biggin on the Bump, the WW2 RAF fighter station Biggin Hill in Kent. One of the most famous Spitfire and Hurricane stations of Battle of Britain fame. This book is full of superb photographs of many brave men and women, the aircraft and buildings there.
I dunno what's got me so reflective of late. Getting older I guess. Whilst hopping through Twitter this evening I came across an item asking what was a favourite song of parting. I had no hesitation in putting my details and choice onto this site. This song is very old (like me) and tells the story of someone dying in hospital who has written a note to his beloved ... saying that he could not bear to have her with him as he dies. There are many artistes who have recorded this song but none as well as Matt Monro. Forgive me for being so ... err sad.
Only three years ago we, Pat and I, were living in a stunningly beautiful area of Britain - the Scottish Borders. We moved to take up a post in Mellerstain House, the home of the 13th Earl of Haddington and his family. Our home was in the east wing of this stately home, which was built in 1725 by William Adam. The west wing housed the Earl and family. The main central house wasn't built until about 40 years later by the son of William Adam, Robert - one of the best architects ever.
This is the southern aspect of Mellerstain House with the formal gardens in the foreground.
Here is the Stone Hall, which is the first room that visitors see when they enter the east wing. On the extreme left, through the archway, is a centuries old stone spiral staircase which leads to where our home was. A wonderful and spacious apartment of some ten rooms, two bathrooms and large kitchen. It was just amazing.
This is the music room, originally the main dining room. During the year there would be some wonderful musical events, followed by a supper in one of the lower rooms. Classical music given by some truly superb artistes. I used to love assisting with these evenings, greeting the musicians and singers and the audience. There would be approximately 80 guests at these evenings.
Here is a view of the superb library. This is probably the best room in Mellerstain House. The beautiful plasterwork designed by Robert Adam was inspired by his visits to Europe which depict various historical and mythical themes. A truly amazing room.
South of the house is a large lake, home to two lovely swans who give birth to a family of cygnets annually. As and when these baby swans grow large enough they leave their Mellerstain lake home and leave Mum and Dad swan to enjoy their peaceful existence. Hence the term 'empty nesters'
We left this idyllic part of the Borders in September 2012 to be closer to our daughter Clare and our two grandchildren. It was lovely to be able to see them more often without the long and tiring drive south each time. But it was so very sad to leave Mellerstain and all those we had come to know and love. In this parting photograph Pat and I are seated in the front. To the right of Pat is Isobel, youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Haddington. We first met Isobel when she was five years young. Just behind me is the lovely Countess Jane Haddington and behind her is Lord John Haddington, the 13th earl. Beside John Haddington are the housekeepers and, on the right, Gordon, the gardener; he does a remarkable job in tending these award-winning gardens.
I am in a reminiscent mood, hence this posting. We shall, one day, return to Mellerstain for a nostalgic visit. May have to go by train or plane. The long drive may be a tad too much for this aging old couple. We do miss this lovely place. We really do.
All the photographs are courtesy of Mellerstain House of course.
Hello there, if you ARE there. As you may or may not know I am the supreme Champion of Gardening Club International, but even we experts are, now and then, seeking help and advice.
OK ... can ANYBODY tell me what these are? Yes, I know they're some sort of FLOWER. Why wouldn't I, the Champion, know this ... err, well, maybe, perhaps, or possibly I might be embellishing the truth to say that I'm the Champion. In fact it would be more truthful to say I'm NOT really the Champion, of anything. So, ignore the dahlias and concentrate on the clump of greenery with quite a few little white and pinkish flowers. Any ideas? When I first saw the green leaves popping up all over the place I thought it was the dreaded GROUND ELDER. But though I pulled a good few of these 'weeds' out I left some to develop as I am NOT a champion gardener at all. And it seems I was right to leave some in. Other greenery turns out to be what I call the Chinese Lantern flowers, which I quite like, so they can stay. But the much taller greenery and its small blooms are a mystery to me. I quite like them. They will remain in place. What might they be, that's the question. Aye, there's the rub, I've no blooming idea! HELP!
Sunday, 6th September 2015. A beautiful sunny day. Perfect for a day of remembrance at Wickenby Airfield in Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire: Bomber county during WW2. Bomber Command created RAF aerodromes in this historic county of England. Huge swathes of farmland turned into concrete runways, huts for airmen, control towers, hangars and all the necessities for the RAF to prosecute the war against Hitler, the Nazis and all who aided and abetted that regime in the early 1940s. RAF Wickenby, home to No. 12 Squadron and No. 626 Squadron and all who served there during the war. Average age of the Lancaster bomber crews: 22. Of all who flew on operations many were injured. Many died: 1146 was the total death toll. Religious belief is not for me. But I attended this tribute to those gallant young men who never made it back to Wickenby in those dark and dangerous days. It was an emotional time for many, and I was one of them. I listened to Anne Law speaking of a crew who made it through 31 operations but on their 32nd the dice rolled against them. All seven crew members died when a night fighter shot them down. After Anne's reading of that one operation and the 'Last Post' was played I know that many a tear fell as that mournful last note faded out. I made another very amateur video, drastically cut down to a few minutes of the hour-long memorial service. After the closing tribute a lone Tiger Moth made a couple of fly-pasts to end a memorable afternoon, the weather adding its own tribute by staying just perfect.
I've moved on from Arthur Horton's bookie office and gone to Albert Cook and Son, 801 Wandsworth Road, then later into betting shop work. Along the way I met quite a few 'interesting' characters, the most famous, or infamous, being Reggie and Ronnie Kray, known by most simply as 'The Twins'.
I'll start with these two chaps; it was some time around the early to mid sixties.
A Croydon bookie, 'Beat Chapman' was a lady whom I worked for her in Tamworth Road betting shop for a while. I was the only male working in her office; a first for me, sadly.
Beatie asked me if I'd help her son-in-law, Brian, to learn the betting game. I agreed.
Met Brian and his aim was to add another string to his bow, he being a used car trader at the time. He thought betting shops were a licence to print money. Not always true, but 'the bookie always wins' was burned into his brain I think.
Firstly we had to find premises. He bought a corner café in Purley Way Croydon, with many factories just opposite. Looked a good site to me.
Applied for a bookmakers licence and it was, surprisingly, approved. Set about gutting the café and turning it into a plain and simple betting shop, complete with Extel broadcasting installed.
I was the 'settler/manager' with two girls as counter-hands. They took the betting slips and paid out any winnings. I settled the bets and kept control of things. Brian often helped out during the afternoon.
At about 1.30 one afternoon I was sorting through the early morning slips with my back to the counter. Brian came to my desk and sat on the corner, looking a bit anxious.
He whispered : "Get on the blower and tell Charlie and Bomber to get here now! The Twins have just come in."
I went to look round; Brian hissed "Don't turn round, just get on the blower now!"
He was obviously very tense. I made the call. I said: "Brian wants you now - the Twins have turned up." The line went dead.
Four minutes later the door bursts open and four of Brian's 'acquaintances' came striding in.
I knew Chas and Bomber, but not the other two. I was now able to witness what all this kerfuffle was about.
Very smartly dressed in blue mohair tailored suits; pristine collar and ties and expensive looking shoes - that was the Krays. Their Mum would have been proud of them, which, as we all know, she was!
Chas went straight over to Reggie Kray, hand extended and they shook hands - as did Bomber, and then Brian joined the mob. There was much back-slapping and "How you doing?" small talk.
Chas asked Ronnie: "Wotcha doing round these parts then? Bit out of your way, innit?"
He answered: "We're on our way to Brighton but we're gonna miss the first race or two. Just wanted to have a couple of bets, that's all."
Brian's face regained some colour; he'd gone quite pale.
There was a bit more general chit-chat and the Krays, plus their associates, left and went on their way. Chas, Bomber and the other two heavies also departed.
Brian was obviously relieved when they'd all gone.
He told me he'd been convinced the Krays were coming to 'protect' his new shop!
The Krays knew Brian and his Dad as they'd often supplied cars for them.
That's all I knew about his dealings with them. That was all I wanted to know too. My business was to look after the betting shop; any other business was nothing to do with me, and that's the way I liked it.
The Twins laid out about £50 on a couple of bets. They lost. No doubt they could afford it!
I met them on a couple of other occasions, when I went to a couple of boxing events in London with my next bookie employer, John Parry of Streatham.
The Twins were great boxing fans and were once very well thought of as boxers themselves.
They also liked to contribute to 'good causes' - donating plenty of cash, often in a very public way.
One evening at a boxing match in Shoreditch town hall there was a 'charity auction' of a few things from the ring.
Tommy Trinder, a well-known comedian (You Lucky People being his catchphrase) was the auctioneer.
The Krays bid for everything, often bumping the bids up between them!
The final item was a huge bouquet of flowers. The Krays were again the highest bidders.
After the applause died down, they passed the bouquet back to Trinder and said: "Give this to the nurses home, with our compliments".
Yes, they were villains. They terrified their victims. Not the kind of people one would want to associate with normally.
However, in many people's eyes they were generous 'businessmen', running clubs, giving to charity and doing good things generally.
They were no angels, but there were and still are worse people in this wicked world.
Next time I'll write a bit about my time with a Streatham bookie who started life as a sort of 'minder' for a London crook...
Lara Fabian. A vision of beauty. Beyond compare. This is something I posted a few years ago and think another outing and listen is due. The song is highly emotional. Not to watch if you're in a sad mood, unless you're very brave. At one point she sings with NO orchestral backing and if you don't have a tear in your eye as she takes the huge applause then you're stronger than I. Watch in full screen if you can. Lara is emotionally drained at the end of this powerful song.
That's a strange title, what the heck does it mean? Well, seeing as it's you, I'll explain. Fram Actual, one of the few Bloggers I keep an eye out for. He's a darn good writer which, I suppose, is because of his profession. Always has such an interesting and stylish way about him. And he usually includes a song or two as a 'bonus' at the end of his article. In his current posting he writes about a sort of 'lost love', a girl he knew. This struck a chord with me. And I doubt that I am alone in this kind of memory. Thus it's HIS fault that I'm writing this odd piece, and why I am including two of my favourite 'oldies' courtesy of Youtube. I wrote a letter of goodbye to my very first love. I really did love her then and, in a way, still do - even though we shall never meet or speak or write to each other again. It's impossible. So, my first song is Billy Eckstine singing 'I Apologize'
The second song makes me think of the recurring dream I kept having for many years after I left her. Her name: Stella. No, it's not Stella by Starlight, although I love that song too. My dream was always the same. I'm walking along Croydon High Road, passing my favourite store, Kennards. Stella is walking towards me, wearing her dark green coat. She comes close to me but just walks past me, not even glancing at me. She melts into the people as she disappears. I can see this now, so clearly. The second song is, of course, Passing Strangers, a duet by Billy Eckstine and the wonderful Sarah Vaughn.
Jack of all trades, master of none. Left school at age 14. RAF at age 18. Back to civvy Street in 1956. Went to work as a trainee settler in Sth London credit office, then onto betting shop management in early 1960s. Left to join Customs&Excise in 1972, mainly London, Wales and Southend on Sea. Took early retirement. Moved to the Scottish Borders in 1995 and have loved it!