This afternoon Commando had an appointment to be tortured at The Running School, so I thought I’d go and take a look at the new housing development on North Stoneham Park. From the outset I knew it was going to be another kind of torture. When CJ and I walked this way, back in January 2017, we knew it would most likely be our last chance to see the unspoilt park. When I came this way a year later, work had already begun and the area was unrecognisable. It wasn’t certain what I’d find today but I knew it wouldn’t be gorgeous green fields and footpaths.
The second parkrun of 2019 began with a first. Young Cameron Sommerville-Hewitt, aged just 16, was trying his hand at Run Directing for the first time. This fine young man has somehow notched up more than one hundred runs and has a PB most people would envy (Commando certainly does). He’s been learning the ropes for a few weeks now and today, under the watchful eye of Event Director Rob, he donned the RD jacket and did a great job of organising things. When he turns eighteen he will be able to officially Run Direct on his own and will probably set the record for the youngest RD ever.
Despite all the brightly dressed runners, the morning was a dark, dismal affair but it quite suited my mood. The last few weeks seem to have been filled with losses. The first was my lovely neighbour of almost thirty years, then came a mother from my days waiting in the playground for my boys. They say these things come in threes and this was proved when we learned of the death of our martial arts instructor and friend, George. The first two deaths were not unexpected, both lovely ladies had been ill for some time. George’s death, however, was quite sudden and, although he was 83, it was a shock. His funeral was yesterday and today we planned to take some flowers to put on his grave. First though there was a parkrun to get through and some other graves to visit.
A walk in the Old Cemetery under a leaden, drizzle laden sky in the biting cold felt like a fittingly melancholy way to start a mournful day. While the runners were racing round with joyful abandon, I slowly wandered among the graves. Some, like that of William and Zillah Gear, felt like old friends. How many times have I passed by, smiled at the unusual name and wondered about the woman who once bore it?
The narrow path I chose turned out to be muddier than I’d expected but it led me to another familiar grave, that of Rebecca Arabella Dimmock and her husband, Charles. This grave first caught my eye because the name reminded me of TV gardener Charlie Dimmock and Rebecca Arabella seemed like a name that ought to be in a novel. Perhaps one day I will write it?
With no real aim I wandered this way and that, surprised to find Christmas baubles still clinging to some of the trees. Then I came across the grave of George Staur Madge, a wonderful name and an intriguing story. George was born in Southampton in 1834 but, at some point, emigrated to South Africa. Why is a mystery but he lived in Port Elizabeth, probably amongst the four thousand British settlers who’d set up home there in 1820 to strengthen the border region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. How long he stayed there is unclear but, in 1881, when he died, he was living back in Southampton.
Close by I stumbled upon the grave of Ethel Bertha and Hector Young. Hector was mayor of Southampton between 1929 and 1930. He accompanied Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) when he laid the foundation stone for the Civic Centre and was involved in the planning of the Sports Centre in the early 1930’s. Poor Ethel Bertha was killed in the Southampton Blitz on 24 September 1940 and Hector never forgot her. In 1962 he donated a window to St Michael and All Angels Church in Bassett in her memory. The window, showing the Archangel Michael defeating Satan, was designed by Francis Skeat. He also formed a charitable trust, The Berta And Hector Young Trust for the relief of hardship for members of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.
My meanderings were taking me towards the oldest part of the cemetery and, as I approached the chapels, I came upon a bench overshadowed by a tree whose branches were positively weighed down by festive baubles and trinkets.
This is not a part of the cemetery I visit often so there were a few interesting graves I hadn’t spotted before. One belonged to Hubert Napoleon Dupont. Born, Alphonse August Dupont, in France in 1805, he studied in the College de Valogues and the theological school in Coutances and was ordained as a catholic priest in 1854 but later abandoned Catholicism and became an Anglican minister. Whether this decision and his marriage to Suzanne Charley in 1857 were connected is unclear. Between 1856 and his death in 1876 he was minister of St Julien’s, the French church on Winkle Street. The inscription on his grave shows he was held in high regard.
The next belonged to Andrew Lamb, although the decorative script made this difficult to fathom. Born in 1803, he was Chief Engineer of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, later better known as P&O. Lamb was an innovator. He introduced, among other things, a boiler system to stop the build up of salts, patent life boats, a boiler with flat sided flues, a steam superheating device and an improved method of feed water heating for boilers. All these things would probably be of great interest to Commando Senior, who would understand them far better than I.
Lamb didn’t confine himself to engineering feats. In 1861 he became the first chair of the amalgamated Isle of Wight Steam Packet Co and Red Funnel Steamers. Ten years later he became the chair of the publishing company producing the Southampton Times and he was a JP and alderman. He built St Andrew’s Villa off Brunswick Place, and raised funds to build St Andrew’s Church on the lane near his house. Lamb was, undoubtedly, a very clever and philanthropic man and his death in 1881 must have been a loss to the engineering world and the town. Beside his grave is the grave of his son, Andrew Simon Lamb.
The grave beside these two was intriguing. It is a simple wooden cross surrounded by a kind of low wooden fence. The cross is engraved with the name Hugo P Hickman. The really curious thing is a painting of a house leant up against the cross. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a painting on a grave and I couldn’t help wondering if this was Hugo’s house or if Hugo was an artist. Sadly Googling didn’t satisfy my curiosity. All I discovered was that the grave belonged to Hugo Pendennis Hickman, born 23 June 1925, who died on 30 July 2003. Still wondering I headed back towards the cemetery gates and parkrun.
As if the day hadn’t been filled enough with graves, after a coffee and a bite of lunch, we headed out again to visit George’s grave in Shedfield. The drive there was a sad reminder of so many other, happier, drives to George’s gym on Black Horse Lane. This one ended with a pretty Church and a lych gate, beyond which was a graveyard.
The grave was already heaped with flowers but CJ bent to add ours to them all the same. George was a very popular man. So popular it had been standing room only in the church the day before. He was a real character. In his youth he joined the Royal Marine Commandos and became an instructor in unarmed combat. In later life he turned to teaching martial arts and this was where he met Commando, CJ and, much later, me.
Commando and CJ were rather good at martial arts. Commando learned Kung Fu before CJ was born and, under George’s tutelage, along with CJ added jujitsu, Karate and mixed martial arts to his repertoire. Fighting has never been my thing but George insisted on teaching me self defence. He found it amusing that I could only bear to train with Commando, as he was the only person at the gym I wasn’t scared to hurt. I can still hear him saying, “I’m going to teach you a naughty little trick now, in case someone comes out at you one dark night.”
George was a tiny man, not much taller than me and slightly built. Looks can be deceptive though. Even in old age he was more than a match for even the youngest and strongest of men. He was also full of interesting stories. The little grave seemed far too small to contain such a giant personality.
We couldn’t linger too long in Shedfield because, predictably, Commando had a race at Fairthorn Manor in nearby Curdridge. It was his last race as a Spitfire and my last stint as Spitfire photographer. We went. He ran. I took photos. There is little else I want to say about it except that a chapter has ended and our integrity is intact. So far this year seems to be all about endings.
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It was December 1972 and Pappy was ill. He’d caught a cold from me, a cold I’d brought home from school and, as always, it had gone to his chest. He only had one lung after all. For days he’d been coughing and wheezing. My own cold had turned into a chest infection and I was off school myself which was almost unheard of. Mother made me go to school no matter how sick I was but they’d promptly packed me off home when they saw my feverish face and I’d been sent to the doctor for some penicillin. The little capsules proved impossible to swallow so Pappy opened them up and I had to take the bitter tasting powder on a teaspoon. Continue reading Memories of the early seventies – Arguments and a giant chair
The week after we lost Commando Senior was difficult to say the least. For a start there was the task of letting people know. This was hard enough with the family members we speak to regularly but Commando Senior had so many friends outside of the family circle and these were mostly people we didn’t know. We also didn’t have contact details for all of them. After some discussion on Friday night we decided we would have to go to the house and see if we could find an address book or contact list. Continue reading Bright Islands in a dark sea – first published 31 July 2014
If March 2014 was the month of new beginnings, with a new job for me, April was a month for endings. On 1 April the lovely little black and white cat who thought she belonged to us even though she didn’t, was run over. Sadly, she died. She may not have actually been ours but we were all devastated. Continue reading Goodbye to fluffy the cat – first published 2 April 2014
One of the hardest things about losing my job at Silver Helm was walking away from the wonderful views over the city from our office on the fourteenth floor. In the penultimate week a foggy day brought some of the most breathtaking yet. They were all the more poignant because I knew they were going to be some of the last. Continue reading An island in the clouds – first published 11 december 2013
September 2013 was crawling slowly to an end, at least that’s how it seemed. The last week had been stumbled through in a dream like haze, or maybe that should be a nightmare. The last September journey to work was a morose affair, walking towards a job where most of what I should be doing had been rendered pointless and the empty day stretched ahead gloomily with way too much thinking time for my liking.
30 September 2013
Half way to the lift I heard, “You grass!” it was Dave, the cheeky, chirpy security guard on reception. Puzzled I turned back and walked up to his desk.
“What have I done?” I asked racking my, admittedly rather addled, brain for anything that might possibly have warranted me being called a grass.
“Taking photos of that car in the car park,” he said with a wink.
Even then it took me a moment to work out what he was talking about, after all I’m always taking photos of things even if cars don’t usually feature high on my list.
Then it came back to me. Yesterday afternoon Howard had come back from lunch and asked, “Whose black BMW is that in the car park?” No one knew. We have a limited number of parking spaces for our little office. There are only fifteen of us when every single one of us is in, and that’s a rare day, but there are nowhere near enough to go round. Most of us don’t come by car so, quite often, our spaces aren’t used but they are reserved for our office. Obviously none of this matters one jot to me. What does matter is that some random stranger has parked in one of our spaces. We haven’t gone yet! So Noel and I went down to the car park to have a look and I took a photo as evidence.
Dave was actually quite gleeful about the whole thing. “Fancy getting that poor man in trouble for parking in the wrong space,” he chuckled. Turns out the driver, a member of staff on another floor, keeps sneakily parking in other peoples spaces. He’s been warned about it before but, as our spaces are round the corner out of view of Dave’s security camera, he thought he was safe.
“I’m not a grass, I’m a detective,” I said.
“Banged to rights,” said Dave.
Now there’s a thought, maybe that would be a new career direction for me. Have phone, will take incriminating photos.
The empty shopping mall opposite the office is in the process of being demolished. The builders (or should that be demolition men?) who have been milling about putting up barriers and drinking lots of tea for the last few weeks started work on the actual business of pulling down this morning. Between looking at all four emails that had landed in my inbox and having a long war meeting where those who still harboured some hopes of changing the office closure decision cooked up plans and proposals, I looked out of the window. The speed with which the buidling is disappearing is quite phenomenal. Much like the speed with which my job is disappearing really.
Arabella came in at about eleven so at least I had something to do. She wanted some projected costing spreadsheets created. For someone who doesn’t really like numbers I’m actually quite good with spreadsheets and it did keep me occupied for the rest of the day.
Lunch time was even gloomier than the walk to work. Alice was off at an interview with the agency I went to on Friday so it was just me trying to fill an hour somehow on a damp, slightly drizzly afternoon. In the spirit of finding something interesting to occupy my mind I decided I’d walk past the demolition site and have a nose at the work up close. This turned out to be a pointless exercise because I’d forgotten that, although we have a great view from our penthouse suite, the barriers the builders have been errecting mean nothing at all can be seen at street level. Doh! Apart from the crashing and clanging of bulldozer against concrete you’d never have known anything was going on behind the big blue barrier.
Feeling a little disappointed, I wandered past, wondering what else I could do to fill an hour. Then I spotted the cobwebs. The humble cobweb can be a thing of beauty, especially when glistening with sparkling drops of dew but who knew a coating of concrete dust could have the same effect? Ok so there was none of the sparkling, but the dust highlighted every strand of the lovely webs and I used up some of the available time taking photos.
Around the corner different builders, ones actually building something rather than knocking it down, were playing a Kevin Little song that I quite like very loudly on a radio. The song made me smile and the workmen, seeing me smile, smiled back. A little more aimless, lonely walking took me to the parks where I sat for a while watching the lads in the skate park whizzing up and down the ramps and flipping their boards three hundred and sixty degrees like experts. I guess they are experts. Two lads who’d obviously had enough of showing off their skills for the day picked up their boards, then surprised me by linking arms and skipping along the path towards me singing, ‘we’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz.’ It really isn’t what you’d expect from grungy looking teenaged boys dressed mainly in black but it was one more thing to make me smile.
Dawdling back to the office I could hardly believe it when I was joined at the pedestrain crossing by none other than Alice Cooper. Really, you don’t expect to be standing next to 70’s rock stars of that magnitude on a gloomy Monday lunch time in Southampton. Goodness knows what he was doing there but I have to say he was far shorter than I expected. Come to think of it, he was also quite feminine and there were no snakes, top hats, bats or swords in sight. Still he was dressed completely in tight black leather and had the raven black mullet hair, that rather distinctive nose and lots of black eyeliner that have been his trademark since I watched him perform School’s Out on Top of the Pops in 1972. Then again, I could have been mistaken, maybe it wasn’t him. Still, it made me smile and I need all the smiles I can get right now.
When I went out at lunchtime I noticed a missed call on my phone from the agency I interviewed with last week. The cruise company they sent my CV to are interested in me. They aren’t interviewing yet but they aren’t saying no either so I’m taking that as good news. It’s a much bigger company with more room for development but there will be less fun, more spreadsheets and probably a more dour atmosphere. Still any job’s a good job right now so fingers crossed.
To counterbalance the good news there was some bad news. It came in the form of an email and, when I say bad news, I mean news that made me angry. This was an email from the new Head Office to everyone and I’m not going into what it said but suffice to say staff who have shown unconditional loyalty are being very badly treated and what is being proposed contravenes employment laws. How nice of them to put it in writing then.
As I walked along the river path on my way home tonight there was one last thing to lift my glum mood. For some reason the sky was teaming with seagulls. Despite their bad press, I love seagulls. Usually this many means one of two things, flying ant day or storms. On the last day of September flying ant day is long past and, although there was a slight drizzle in the air, no more than soft sea spray, there has been no sign of a storm so far. Maybe they knew Alice Cooper was in town and were gathering to get a glimpse of him.
The last time we saw cousin Katie she was in her bed at Maggie and Alan’s house in Gravenhurst surrounded by beautiful things to make her smile. We knew then that it would probably be the last time we saw her. Last March she was given the wonderful news that the cancer she’d been fighting had gone into remission. It seemed like a miracle but, sadly, the joy was short lived. In just three months the cancer was back and the prognosis was not good. Now it was all about buying time with chemo. Continue reading A shining light extinguished