At the beginning of the 70’s, my friend Roy and I found ourselves in the grounds of a huge rambling ‘manor’ just off the London Road in Sunningdale near Ascot , Berkshire. The gardens and woodland area’s made up something like 72 acres of this beautiful estate called Tittenhurst Park. At its heart is a grade II listed early Georgian country house that looks out onto the distant lakes complete with boathouses and the odd island or two. Recently I came across the signature of someone who lived in this home from around 1869 until his death in 1883, a man whose wife’s brother in law was a man called George Martin.
Professor Thomas Holloway ( 1800-1883) An English patent medicine vendor and philanthropist. Resident of Tittenhurst Park 1869-1883
Thomas Holloway, Victorian Philanthropist and the founder of the Holloway Sanatorium in Virginia Water and the Royal Holloway College, a part of the University of London, had lived there with his wife Jane, his sister Matilda, Jane’s Sister Sarah Driver, along with her aforementioned husband George. Since the early 70’s there is a remarkable coincidence that appears to have evaded most if not all commentators on the subject of this amazing house, that being the connection between its occupants from May 1969 until August 1971 and another recently sadly departed and legendary record producer and composer Sir George Martin. I wonder if John Lennon or Yoko Ono were ever aware that somebody that shared that name had once lived under the same roof. I can’t help but imagine that one such as John would have been more than a little fascinated; after all it would be almost as improbable for Paul McCartney to have bought his home in Scotland only to find that it had originally been built or occupied by a man called Brian Epstein. All of that said, Ringo Starr then moved into the house in 1971 having bought it from the Lennon’s following their departure for America, yet still no connection was made. It’s probably just another unearthed little Beatle fact to intrigue and ponder.
The ways in which music has come into my life has varied and changed over the years and in recent times somewhat dramatically. This was brought home to me when a school student on work experience at the radio station asked me how music is transmitted from a long playing record to the speakers. I’ve never been the most technical person in the world but I did my best to explain how the stylus, or needle, sits in the groove of a record which then transmits the sound to an amplifier then onto the speakers. He sat looking on in fascination and seemed particularly captivated to see me stop the record, turn it over and begin playing the other side. I’d never had to analyse the process in quite this way before. Later that morning I had to draw on his experience to show me how to add a play list to my iPod, and I could see in his face and in the tone of his voice that he took pleasure from explaining the process to me in such precise detail. It made me smile to think that we’d both learned something from each others generation purely because we had a desire for knowledge outside of a classroom or home environment. Who would have thought that all those years of simply buying records to play on a small mono record player would one day fascinate a young man from the future? Before my time youngsters of my parents generation might listen to music at a speed of 78 rpm or revolutions per minute. My music arrived at a speed of 45 rpm or 331/3 rpm. Today’s sounds appear in a digital instant. Incidentally, for those interested in a precise definition, I quote: ‘A gramophone record (American phonograph record) or vinyl record, commonly known as a “record”, is an analogue sound storage medium in the form of a flat polyvinyl chloride (previously shellac) disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove’.
Last week I attended a private family meal at a restaurant in Hertfordshire to celebrate the 99th birthday of a remarkable lady. By any standards this is a great age for anyone to reach and certainly worthy of celebration. As for the cake, well we’d ordered a beautiful sponge and chocolate creation in the shape of a 99 ice cream cone which went down a storm when presented in all its glory by the waiting staff that sunny afternoon. The previous day someone at the radio station asked me if I would ask her the two most predictable questions I guess we’d all like full and comprehensive answers to, namely, what has been the most remarkable thing that has happened in her lifetime and to what to what does she attribute her longevity? The scenario reminded me of when I asked my own maternal grandmother similar questions way back at the end of the 60’s. Her answers then were firstly her memory of the first manned flight followed later in life by a man standing on the surface of the moon. Her answer to the second question was early to bed and early to rise with little or no alcohol and certainly no smoking. Last week I waited for an appropriate moment before asking, and then we all sat back in silent anticipation: waiting for the pearls of wisdom that we too might learn ‘the secrets’ of long life. After a moment or two Phyllis sat back in her chair and looked straight at me. “The birth of my children”. That was all she said on the matter. It was enough to make us all smile, especially given that her two adult children were sitting either side of her. It was a touching moment. Maybe it’s that age old thing that all generations crave at some stage in their lives: the gems of life’s experience from those that have truly lived, that they may share their wisdom with the future.
From time to time I think of someone who pops into my head whenever I see or hear something that reminds me of him. His name was Rod Morris: I say ‘was’ because he died a long time ago, and he was my friend. Rod was a bright intelligent and quick witted young man who had the ability to unnerve the unsuspecting with his knowledge of poetry, literature and music. My mother liked Rod, despite his unkempt appearance. He liked to shock with his old leather bikers jackets emblazoned with images of skulls or Hells Angels chapter logos. He would wear jeans with holes in them long before jean manufacturers hit on the idea of selling such ripped clothing as the latest ‘must have’ fashion accessory. Back then Rod was being a rebel without a cause. He would listen to Grand Funk Railroad or Status Quo then fire up his Norton 750 motorbike to come over to my house. “Yes Mrs Oliff”. “No Mrs Oliff”. “He’s such a polite boy” my mum would say as Rod would reel off another poem by Browning, Keats or William Wordsworth. Then one day, Rod asked me over to his house to hear a new album that he’d bought. I duly arrived fully expecting to see our mutual friends to also be there: but no. On this occasion it was just me. Rod made his way to the large ‘gram’ style record player that stood against the wall. As he was taking the LP out of its sleeve he turned to me. “Don’t think I’ve gone soft or anything will you Rich?” “Of course not Rod, what is it?” The stylus hit the vinyl and the orchestra began to play. It was the album Hot August Night by Neil Diamond: a record released in 1972, several years before this living room ‘premiere’. Two weeks ago a listener brought this album in for my album of the week feature, and I thought of Rod.
Having recently had parts of my house completely re-decorated I’d entirely forgotten just how much disruption was involved. It was the first time in my adult life that I’d had a need to hire someone else to decorate any part of my home, purely because of health reasons, and I was naturally apprehensive at handing over such a changing project to a third party. I need not have worried. Chris completed the whole task in only four days: two coats of emulsion on the living room walls, the ceilings, the staircase, the landing and all the glossed woodwork in between. It was then however time to return all the furniture, books, TV….everything, to its rightful place, once of course it had all been dusted, polished, vacuum or cleaned: let the nightmare begin. Where does all the dust come from? Having examined almost every usually ignored surface I’m amazed at how so much dust can form in so many hidden places for so long. It was then that I discovered the wondrous properties of wet-wipes: a life without dusters. It made me realise that when we say that its time to ‘do’ the housework that we actually, in reality, only scratch the surface in the cleaning process. If we were to completely do all the work required to clean our homes we’d never have any time for anything else, which leads me to ask the following questions: how much dust and daily mess is appropriate or conducive to healthy living in our homes? Where is the line between ‘normal’ and ’abnormal’ amounts of dust and grime? If anyone has an answer to these little gems then please get in touch. Even those with a compulsive need to clean might be surprised at just how much dust can be overlooked. Ironically I’ll have to repeat the entire process when we replace our ageing 70’s carpet with the clean lines of a wooden floor. Thankfully I’ve never had to tackle anything like that myself.
When I was a younger man I seemed to have more time for longer holidays that ever I can manage or afford today. I was thinking about this as we were attempting to plan an extended weekend break with the usual trawling over calendars, through endless schedules and increasing work commitments. In the 80’s a two or even three week holiday would be the norm as we drove onto the Dover ferry or took off from Heathrow or Gatwick headed for warmer exotic climes. Today, because we are both self employed and work in different fields it’s tantamount to miraculous when a few days: perhaps a week manages to squeeze or synchronise itself into both agenda’s. I don’t think I truly understood just how lucky I was all those years ago to have such thing as a contract that actually awarded me four or five weeks fully paid holidays per year. All I had to do was fit them all around the UK’s several bank holidays to extend even these wonderful privileges up to five or even six weeks respectively. One of the people I meet regularly as I walk our dog Alfie said the other day that his boss has asked him to use up his unused holiday soon or lose his whole entitlement for this year. Unused holiday? Can you imagine? It reminded me, or should I say, I reminded me of that old Python sketch…you know the one….”You were lucky!” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hanker after those halcyon days, but it was then that I had to remind myself of the principle reasons for becoming self employed in the first place. I am my own boss: I answer to no one, and my success, financial or otherwise, is gauged purely by my own drive and initiative. There’ll be time enough for all those long extended sun-drenched holidays when I finally retire. Retire? You’re joking, right?
Exactly 100 years ago today on Friday 13th August 1915 the periscope turned. Heino Von Heimburg, the captain of a small German submarine, UB 14, had spotted the Royal Edward steaming along on its way to Gallipoli, a ship packed with troops, merchant seamen and all the paraphernalia of war. It was around 8.20 on a beautiful Aegean summer’s morning that the submariner took aim and fired one torpedo from less than a mile away hitting the Royal Edward stern portside. She began to sink very quickly: the deck was awash in three minutes and the Royal Edward had completely gone with her bow pointing skyward in only six minutes. The Dictionary of Disasters at Sea by Lloyd’s Register of Shipping states that: ‘of the 1,586 on board, less than 500 were rescued’. Those saved were picked up by the Achilles, two French destroyers, some Greek fishermen, probably from Kos or nearby Nisyros, and the hospital ship Soudan. News or any early reports of the sinking were very sketchy. There had been confusion about the date and the location of the tragedy, but all became clear in time. In 2003 I hired a boat to visit the last know location of the Royal Edward and to pay my respects to all of those that had perished that morning, including my Great Uncle Willie. I scattered bougainvillea petals on the surface of the water and I began to read. ‘There are no roses on sailors graves, nor wreathes upon the storm tossed waves. No last post from the Royals band so far away from their native land. No heartbroken words carved on stone just shipmates bodies there alone. The only tributes are the seagulls sweeps and the tear-drop when a loved one weeps. Well, here are the flowers from those that care, and words on stone, the who: the where. May you rest in peace forever’. I then lowered a little inscribed granite plaque into the ocean as a permanent memorial.
The author on the morning of 13th August 2015. Kettering war memorial. Exactly 100 years following the sinking of The Royal Edward