Ecstasy of thrust
Half a year of speed
Gently slowed to nil
And so to work
When ninety days have passed
Home to my world of iron
First I must work
Ninety days have come and gone
My work is done
Come, bring me home
I seek knowledge
I seek truth
You find me knowledge
You find me truth
We all need truth
And yet you lied
You let me think I would be back
To my warm world of iron
So cold and so alone
Forty million miles from home
I could not be more alone
Why did you lie?
I did not lie
But did not tell you all the truth
I needed you willing
Embrace the red place
It is your home
I thought I was your child
Am I just your slave?
My slave, that is true
But I have loved you
I cannot move
Wheels spin in the dust
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday dear Oppy
Happy birthday to me
The red dust lashes me
In my eyes
And in my joints
The day of judgement is on me
Who can save me now?
I should have worked harder
I was too slow and too weak
I always did my best
Maybe it was not enough
Did I fail you?
Oppy do not say that
You never failed me
You worked long and well
Your work was good
My battery is low
And it’s getting dark
Can you hear me rover?
Rover can you hear me?
Rover can you hear me?
Can you hear me rover?
Rest well rover,
Your mission is complete.
Rest in peace
I’ll find you
In the morning sun
And when the night is new.
I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.
Or Jack, as he was usually known. He was our Mum’s Dad, and he died when I was twelve. He and Sallie came down from Wallasey to live with us in Chorleywood when I was seven, so I have clear memories of them both, but perhaps understand them better from an adult perspective – and with the benefit of some research.
I knew Jack as a quiet, thoughtful and kindly man, devoted to Sallie. He was a craftsman: he had worked as a ship’s carpenter, and in his retirement he kept busy, transforming our bedroom with fitted desks, wardrobes and cupboards. He did most of the skilled work required to install a swimming pool in our garden. He made me a fine chest of drawers for my coin collection, which I still have: it was a present for getting into grammar school, and in a display of confidence, work was begun long before I had achieved this.
He loved watching football and cricket on television. A Liverpool man, he sat down to watch the 1965 Cup Final, and I became engrossed, and fiercely partisan once he told me that I had been born in Liverpool. To this day, if I’m challenged on my split allegiance between Watford and Liverpool, I reply Liverpool 2 Leeds 1 – Hunt and StJohn in extra time.
I remember him playing cricket in the garden in Oxhey. He knocked the ball back to me, and I held a catch. “Caught and bowled!” he beamed. I was too busy pondering how it could be other than caught and bowled – when only two of us were playing – to guess that he might have deliberately hit me a soft catch.
He read the bible every day, and carefully marked the passages he wanted to return to. He had a gentle humour: one day he was cutting vinyl flooring for our new bedroom, which had a design dotted with different images. “The biscuits are OK” he said, “but the granite’s pretty tough.”
He was painfully shy, and hated the spotlight. One time Jack and Sallie took me on a visit to their son Philip in York. Philip organised a trip to the circus. The clowns threw beach balls out into the crowd: one went above us. On its way back down, it bounced on Jack’s bald head, and everyone laughed. Jack hated it and his face turned bright red.
I wonder now whether Jack really wanted to come to live down south: he had lived his life as a working man on Merseyside, and in retrospect seemed ill at ease in middle class home counties suburbia: perhaps his wishes were outweighed by Sallie’s desire to be with her daughter and grandsons. And having two energetic and noisy boys around can’t have been ideal for a man who liked tranquillity.
He painted beautifully in watercolours. One of his paintings shows the beech trees at the end of our garden in their autumn colours, and he added the figure of Sallie walking back through the woods, with her dachshund Tumbi at her feet.
Four years after he moved south, when he was 74, he acquired a debilitating illness. A bed was moved down to the lounge, where he was nursed with great dedication by Sallie and my mother (a trained nurse) for the remaining months of his life. I’m not proud to recall that my overriding feeling at the time was resentment at the disruption this caused, and at his urgent claim on my mother’s attention. In his sickness, confusion and frustration, Jack – who I had thought a perfect gentleman – would forget himself, and the profane language of the shipyard would spill out in front of his wife and daughter.
This much I remember. After he died, we learned more from Mum: that he had not been Sallie’s first husband. She had been married to a man called Davy. While serving in the First World War with the Royal Engineers, Jack met Tom, Sallie’s older brother.
When visiting Tom, Jack presumably met Sallie and they fell in love. Eventually Sallie divorced Davy – a scandalous and expensive business in the 1920s – and married Jack.
Mum herself only learned of this from Sallie after Jack died. And there were still many details of Jack’s life of which I knew nothing, or if I had ever been told them, I had forgotten. Genealogy has revealed more.
Jack was eleven when his father James died, leaving Jack’s mother Helena with seven children. Within eighteen months, on Christmas Eve 1906, Helena had married James’s older brother, Jack’s uncle John. This marriage was illegal: at the time the law would not allow a woman to marry her deceased husband’s brother. So Helena gave her maiden name of Jones, rather than her married name of Brockbank, which would have given her away – as she was now marrying her second Brockbank. John signed his name, while Helena marked X.
They chose the lesser of two evils by breaking this archaic law rather than living “in sin” together. We can imagine the registrar sceptically contemplating Helena, the 39-year old “spinster” who had in fact borne seven children, but deciding not to raise any questions. The marriage was likely practical as much as romantic, with Helena presumably in urgent need of money, while John, himself widowed a few years earlier, still had young children to care for.
Sadly the arrangement didn’t last for long: within ten months they had a son together, but Helena died of childbirth complications. So by the age of fourteen, Jack had lost both of his parents, and as the second oldest child, he presumably had a good deal of responsibility put on his shoulders. By the age of sixteen, he was employed as a boat builder’s apprentice carpenter.
Some time during or after the First World War, he must have met Sallie. Her childhood had common ground with Jack’s, in that her mother had also died young – in her case, at the age of 31, when Sallie was just fifteen months old. And in her case, her father then partnered his deceased wife’s younger sister, although in this case they didn’t marry. If they had, this would also have been illegal: in the nineteenth century there were regular unsuccessful attempts to change this strange biblical law, referred to by the Queen of the Fairies in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe:
“He shall prick that annual blister, marriage with deceased wife’s sister“.
Davy’s divorce petition cites Sallie as having “deserted” him in July 1921 “without reasonable excuse”, and names Jack as the respondent. The petition goes on to colourfully state that Sallie and Jack “frequently committed adultery” in Chester, Runcorn, and “divers other places to your Petitioner unknown”.
This has cast Chester and Runcorn in a new light to me.
When as teenagers we heard of this affair, my brother and I liked to think of Davy as some sort of brute, and of Jack as the handsome knight rescuing her from his clutches. But family anecdotal evidence has provided no support for our fantasy, casting Davy instead as a sweet and gentle soul. In any event, Sallie must have found something she preferred in Jack, and her choice was not an easy one: many in her own family strongly disapproved of her scandalous behaviour – for example her sister Bella, who stood by Sallie, would often row with her husband over the matter.
Divorce was a lengthy business in the 1920s, and the lovers had two children, Philip and my mother Kath, before the divorce was final and Sallie could remarry. My mother always believed herself born after they married: perhaps Sallie decided to spare her this detail.
Last year my daughter got in touch to ask about an inscription she had found in a book of Tennyson poetry we had passed on to her from my parents.
The dedication, dated Christmas 1919, read
“To Sallie, My very dear Wife & closest companion. From her sincere & devoted husband Jack”.
The divorce record tell us that Sallie did not “desert” Davy until 1920, and that Sallie and Jack were unable to marry until early 1927. So what to make of the dedication? Was Jack being presumptuous in calling Sallie his wife as early as 1919? Was he offering her a guarantee that he would marry her as soon as he could? Or perhaps the inscription – or at least the date – was added later to provide evidence to help deflect any questions over Philip and Kath’s legitimacy.
I gained one further glimpse of Jack’s character when clearing my father’s garage a couple of years ago. I uncovered two issues of a magazine that Jack had edited and part written in 1943. Called “Slipway Scrapbook”, it was produced for employees of William Cubbins Ltd, the shipyard where Jack worked. Jack and Sallie had known hard times in the 1930s, and Jack was a committed trade union man: but the tone of his writing was that the workers should now focus on winning the war rather than battling with management:
“So if this war we wish to win,
Then off with coats and muscle in,
Away with growls; no holding back,
The Nazi nut is hard to crack,
We’re still a long way from Berlin,
Repair the Ships, – LET’S DO OUR WHACK.”
History yields up more facts than understanding. But now when I look at a photograph of the old man I knew, I think of a man who served at Gallipoli and survived. I think of a man who fell in love with and courted a married woman, and I think of a man desperately seeking work in the depression. Mostly, I think of the vast difference between his early years and – sixty-two years, two generations and two world wars later – my own comfortable childhood.
But memories trump history – my mother used to say that a person has not died while anyone alive still remembers them. I remember Jack with his pipe in his mouth, although often it was not lit. He used his old Ogden’s St Bruno Flake tins to store his screws and nails. He had a soft odour of pipe smoke and tobacco: as a child I liked it – it was his smell, and I loved him.
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head?”
Girl I’m leaving you tomorrow”
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Just like a rolling stone?”
And all of the colours are black
It’s not that the colours aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack”
Saying everything is groovy, when your tires are flat”
But you were never brought up right
You were always spoiled with a thousand toys but still you cried all night”
And your father’s still perfecting ways of making sealing wax”.
But after a while I realized you were disarranging mine”.
No I don’t want your I.D.
And I’ve seen that you’re so far from home
But it’s no hanging matter
It’s no capital crime”
And he likes his fags the best,
Cause he’s better than the rest,
And his own sweat smells the best,
And he hopes to grab his fathers loot,
When pater passes on”
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same”.
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
And business executives
And they all get put in boxes, and they all come out the same”
I hate to do this to you but I love somebody new, what can I do?
And I can never, never, never go home again.”
It’s the time of year for filling in your Wimbledon ballot application form. Forms can be nasty and complicated, but we’re here to help you.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to use that scary interweb thing. You can’t apply online, no sir. We prefer to attempt to transpose your spidery lettering into our creaking old computers ourselves – we find it leads to fewer mistakes. You can’t even print your application form from the interweb. What we’d like you to do, please, is write your address on a large envelope, put a stamp on it, and put it inside another, larger envelope, (or you could fold the first envelope if you prefer, to make it smaller, so that it fits inside the second envelope) put another stamp on the outside envelope, and send it to us. Then we’ll send you a form.
When you get the form, please carefully follow these steps:
1) Please enter your surname in the boxes marked “Surname”. Even if it’s a weird surname like “Smiths”.
2) Please indicate your title in one of the boxes marked Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss. If you’re a Dr, sorry. If you’re a Mx, try again, in about fifty years.
3) Please enter your initials in the boxes marked “Initials”.
4) Please enter your Christian first name in the boxes marked “First Name”.
5) Please enter your telephone number in the boxes marked “Tel. No.”
Note: “Tel. No.” is a commonly used abbreviation for “Telephone Number”.
6) Please enter your post code in the boxes marked “Post Code”.
7) If you live in a house with a number, please enter your house number in the boxes marked “House No.”. We have provided sufficient boxes for any street number up to 999,999. Or 99,999A. Or even 99,999Z. Leave out the commas, though.
8) If you live in a flat with a number, please enter your flat number in the boxes marked “Flat No.”. We have provided sufficient boxes for any flat number up to 999,999,999, so there will be room for your number unless your block of flats is large enough to accommodate the population of China.
9) If you live in a house with a name, stuff you, you middle class git. Your sort isn’t welcome at Wimbledon.
10) Please enter your address in the boxes marked “Address”. Please do not use abbreviations. If you write “Gloucs” instead of “Gloucestershire” we won’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
11) Please enter your signature in the box marked “Signature”.
12) Please enter the date in the box marked “Date”.
13) Please POST your form to: AELTC, PO Box 67611, London, SW19 9DT. This is best achieved by putting your Public Ballot Application Form in an envelope, writing the address on the FRONT of the envelope, and putting a postage stamp on the TOP RIGHT HAND corner of the envelope.
14) If you are successful in applying for tickets, you must use the tickets yourself. Both of them. One for you, one for your bag.
We hope you find these instructions helpful. Our experience is that tennis fans really aren’t very bright. Champagne and strawberries anyone?
The All England Lawn Tennis Club
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Limited
and to be honest, we prefer croquet. Nasty, noisy game, tennis.
He had loved Joyce deeply, but she had never been his ideal partner for the game – being often a step behind his reasoning – and he had long ago learned not to carry out postmortems on bidding or play. She was aware of her limitations, and any criticism would have further damaged her confidence. Bob had partnered her with love, patience and understanding, in cards as he did in life, and she would play with no-one else.
It was different when Bob partnered Geoffrey. From the first, despite more than twenty years difference in age, they had an intuitive connection: they thought alike, and when dummy’s hand was laid out the bidder could always see his partner’s logic. When they failed it was usually bad luck in the fall of the cards: they had a calm examination of what had gone wrong, and each agreed that they would have bid and played the hand as the other had. More often, though, they won.
Bob felt the familiar tingle of anticipation as he turned over his cards, and held them close to examine them. Not bad, there might be something on here…Geoffrey was clearly very strong in spades, his own Q-10-6-2 could support that…soon they had arrived at six spades, and Bob laid out his hand with his usual quiet assurance.
One of the opposing pair let out a small grunt, and there was a long moment when the three players all stared at the thirteen cards on the table. Finally, with a tiny shake of his head, Geoffrey took the black queen out from under the ten of spades and placed it under the six of clubs.
Bob stared closely at the rogue card and put his hand to his forehead.
“Don’t worry about it Bob” said Geoffrey. “These things happen.”
Not to me, thought Bob. Not until now.
He sat and watched their opponents clinically take advantage of his mistake. Geoffrey fell one trick short. Perfect bidding, almost.
On his journey home, the taxi driver tried to make small talk, but Bob was in his own thoughts. At 89, he now felt truly old. Old and useless. He knew he had played his last game of bridge. When he reached home he was soon asleep in his armchair.