On 31st July 1915 His Majesty’s Transport ship The Royal Edward was seen off the coast of Cornwall after her rounding of Lands End. She was headed for Gallipoli with her cargo of soldiers, medical troops, nine of whom came from Kettering, and a civilian crew made up of some 220 mercantile mariners in the employ of Canadian Northern Steamships: the owners of this beautiful luxurious ocean going liner. With one came the other to fight on behalf of all that was pink on a world map: the British Empire. She had originally formed part of a massive fleet of Canadian ships that had sailed the Atlantic in a heavily protected flotilla to serve King and all where sun never set. They called it ‘The Great European War 1914 – 1st Canadian Expeditionary Force’. Coincidentally, on the same day 100 years ago as the ship was last seen in British waters, my father, Digby ‘Dick’ Hugh Oliff, was being born in a little Essex village. For the most part the journey was uneventful though vigilance for a ‘hidden’ enemy remained high. Everyone went about their duties, making good use of every inch of space that the ship had to offer, some even writing postcards home commenting on their distant views of the African coast and their anticipation at arriving in such exotic places as Malta or Alexandria. Most had never been overseas which served to heighten feelings of excitement mixed with trepidation in equal measure. Below decks the Canadian mercantile officers ensured that their firemen (stokers) of all nationalities stoked the fires with coal that drove the 11,117 tone ship ahead at captain’s speed. The ship made it all the way to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and on to the Aegean when, on the morning of Friday 13th August her fate, and that of everyone on board, would be sealed forever. She’d reached a location of latitude 36 degrees 31 n, longitude 26 degrees 51 e, off Nisyros Island.
On 4th August 1915 a young Canadian nurse called Helen Fowldes, was sitting on a ship writing in her diary. ‘This is the anniversary ending the first year of the war. Who could have foretold a year ago that today would see us off the coast of Spain bound for the unknown east?’ Helen was just one of thousands of men and women: troops, sailors, merchant seamen, and those from the medical corps, all heading for the ill fated military campaign in a place called Gallipoli. However, not all made it as far as the Turkish peninsula, becoming victims at the hands of the German submarine fleet that lurked in the warm waters of the Mediterranean and the Aegean. One such ideal target was His Majesty’s Transport (H.M.T.) Royal Edward, a beautiful ocean going liner that was more used to transporting the well-heeled and those with only dreams and a suitcase travelling to America and Canada. 100 years ago this week she would have a much different passenger list with a cargo that could only suggest that this was a ship headed to a theatre of war. On 28th July 2015 she set sail from Bristol’s Avonmouth docks with a course set that will see her round Lands End, then south past Portugal, into the Mediterranean, with the Spanish coastline on her port side, and the north African on her starboard then on to Gallipoli via Malta and Alexandria. Along with hundreds of other large ships she’d been enlisted by His Majesty’s government to act as a troop carrier to help in the war effort, bringing with her a crew of 220 merchant seamen of numerous nationalities which were all employed by the Canadian Mercantile Marine Service. My Great Uncle William was an engineering officer on board. Add to this a roll of 31 military officers, 1,335 servicemen, equipment, weaponry, ammunition: perhaps livestock such as horses or donkeys, and the Royal Edward was headed for the Dardanelles and into history.
Some people live in mansions: others live in a bed-sit above a chip shop on a busy city street. I think it’s reasonable to say that the vast majority of our fellow country folk live in so-called affordable flats or semi, perhaps detached houses in rows of streets, closes or avenues in every example and variation of designed living space and size one can possibly imagine. It’s the place we like to call home. ‘Home sweet home’. ‘Home is where the heart is’. ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’: though I do think that this may need amending somewhat to accommodate the sensitivities of others. I’ve lived in five homes throughout my 60 years, all of which have been in the Corby borough. Some people I know have moved home many more times than that for many and varying reasons, whether it be work related or a change in family circumstance, many even move to live abroad, following the sun: the dream of the ideal retirement. Whoever we are there are two certainties. We all begin our lives under one roof and we all need a roof under which we live out our final years. It’s the latter that can cause tremendous anxiety the older one becomes and the individual circumstances of our dotage. The classic scenario is that of an elderly person, surrounded by a loving and caring family that will cater for their every comfort and need in their final years, and without doubt this happens. Yet there are millions of others for whom the picture is quite different. Those without a family who will place their being: their very existence entirely into the hands of strangers who will make decisions on their behalf. The homes they once cherished are often sold off to help cover such expenses. Then there’s the lottery of where one might end up living. What is it they say? ‘Be kind to ones children for they may one day choose ones care home’.
What exactly is a ‘snag-list? Well, it’s what’s known to those in various trades and services as those things left undone or should have been done or done incorrectly and require correction in accordance with the wishes of a client as agreed in an original specification and /or quotation. Since moving to our new home at the beginning of 2013 we’ve become more than accustomed to those within certain trades and services that are able to do a job correctly, as specified and agreed, (thanks Leon, Pat and Steve), then there are those that overstretch themselves so far and beyond their capabilities, they cause nothing but unnecessary ill feeling and distress. We’ve had a new drive and patio installed totally snag-free – brilliant. Our faulty window systems and guttering were changed and an old inadequate and poorly installed electrical system replaced: happily all snag-free. Then there was the extensive garden fencing erection that was irritatingly snag-infested. A new TV system was then ‘fitted’ by a national chain with workmanship that was so snag ridden we had to bring in another company to repair their botched installation. We’ve had new window shutters installed throughout with only negligible problems: minor bearable snags. Then, more recently, a complete bathroom installation which was so snag-swamped we were left gagging for adjectives. Indeed, the company that installed said bathroom were vying to be first on our installation list for a new kitchen. My response? Well, to them and to those that installed the fencing and the new TV, no chance: don’t make me laugh: as they say in social media land, – lol: lmao: rofl! Having had my own daily BBC consumer show for four years one might suspect that I might have had a better idea than most at spotting the odd ‘chancer’ or ‘rogue trader’ but no. They creep up on one when one least expects it. Be warned – they’re very good at parting one from one’s cash in some of the slickest ways possible.
For as long as I can remember performers have wanted to achieve the fame, status and financial security afforded the likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley or Madonna. I met a man recently who almost ‘made it big’ without the likes of the X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent or The Voice. I met him during a casual conversation as I admired a horse that was stabled on his neighbours land. His name is Roy Hoather who, in the early 60’s, was the drummer with a six piece band from Essex called The Naturals. Their initial story is one of anecdote: the thing from which all dreams emanate. They were spotted playing by a talent scout who happened to work for Brian Epstein and Dick James. (Dick James Music). They then had the formal meeting at Epstein’s office where it was decided to sign them to Parlophone, a name which was synonymous then with that of The Beatles. Their first successful release was recorded at Abbey Road’s famous EMI number two studio, as The Beatles were editing their new album in the adjoining studio three. The song they recorded with Lennon and McCartney present was ‘I Should Have Known Better’, a Lennon-McCartney song taken from the 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night’. It was backed by a song written by Leslie Conn, a partner of Dick James, who in turn was responsible for giving David Bowie his first personal management contract. Indeed, at one stage in the career of The Naturals Bowie (then David Jones) had been their ‘warm up act’ at a club in which they were due to perform. The parties of the successful washing-machine millionaire John Bloom were legendary: The Naturals were there.
Since our meeting next to that stable Roy has been a guest on my show and is now looking to complete his memoirs in the form of a biography, which will no doubtinclude the tale of his involvement in The Living Daylights, and beginnings of Ian Dury’s Blockheads!
From the day that I began working at the age of sixteen – some 44 years ago – I’ve paid a national insurance contribution every month in the belief that when I finally reach a time that I can no longer work there will be a state pension burly enough to adequately subsidise my income until my dying day. That at least was the theory. Additionally, for forty two of those working years I was lead to believe that my official state retirement age would be sixty five. The government has now seen fit to make me wait an extra year for my weekly pension of £152.66 (approximately £610 per month). This has been based on 43 qualifying years. I do understand the issues. After all, everyone has had to make adjustments: even financial sacrifices, to ensure that an ever increasing elderly population are able to afford to live in relative comfort through their final years. What confuses me slightly is that it appears that very few if any youngsters during the last decade or so began their working life at the age of sixteen; indeed, from September 2013 the school leaving age rose to seventeen and is rising to eighteen this year. Many will then go on to a life in university where they will study for a degree that will hopefully see them, eventually, gainfully employed at a minimum age of around twenty one: if they’re really lucky. Now, bear with me on this one. Given all of the above, at what age can these people expect to retire on a liveable pension? Perhaps the state would like our children and grandchildren to still be fully employed at the age of seventy five or eighty. Ah, but then they too will have children of their own desperate to find a job. Education about pension provision, private or state is crucial, otherwise the whole family may well have to rally round to help grandma and granddad pay off their student loans.