Earlier this week I was given an envelope containing copies of some old family papers. I wasn’t really sure what the package would contain, but within the documents was a letter written by my Uncle Robin (who was serving in Germany with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers) to his parents who lived in the Leicestershire village of Croft. I’ve given a great deal of thought as to whether or not it is appropriate to post extracts from the letter—the reason will become clear—but rarely have a few words had such a profound effect, and I feel that on balance it is right to share.
The letter is dated April 4, 1945....
"My Darling Mother Pop & Family
"Sorry I’ve been such a while in writing but there’s little time for anything these days. Don’t worry Ma, I’m alright and feeling fit and fine. This war can’t last much longer.
"The weather has changed quite a lot in the past few days, nothing but rain; but today it has turned out quite warm."
The next two paragraphs are hard to decipher in places, but the first mentions a “lad from Hinckley” who had been wounded, whilst the second (randomly... and wonderfully) comments on the problems Robin’s sister Mary (my grandmother) had been having with her colour washing. The letter continues:
"Well I shall have to close Ma. We’re on the move again, so for now cheerio. I’ll write as soon as I can so I’ll put my trust in God Ma. I know he will see me through.
All my love from your loving son.
Good night and God bless you all Robin
Robin was killed in action on April 8, 1945.
Within thirty 30 days, the war was over.
No more words are needed. God bless you too Uncle Robin xx
Yesterday, with my parents for company, I drove the 360 mile round trip to the small Leicestershire village of Croft to pay my respects to my late Auntie Betty and catch up with relatives, a few of whom I hadn’t seen in twenty, maybe even thirty years.
Auntie Betty was a lovely woman, my maternal grandmother’s (my Nannie’s) sister, and part of an extended family that had been centred around Croft while I was growing up.
With her passing, aged 94, a generation came to an end… a desperately sad, yet I suppose ultimately inevitable moment that made me pause to recall some very happy times gone by, and to consider how fortunate I was (and am) to be part of such a close family.
The service in Croft Church (where my parents had married in 1963) must have brought back memories not only for Mum and Dad, but for many of the congregation as well. When I was growing up, visits to Croft were always so exciting, and it is actually quite a surreal feeling driving down roads you know so well… yet no longer know at all.
We passed the street where my grandparents had lived for as far back as I could remember—Kendall’s Avenue—and as I glanced across at no.1, I found it hard to accept that other people have called the house “home” since Grandad and Nannie passed away in 1999 and 2000 respectively.
The house went up for sale a couple of years ago and I saw a few pictures of the interior. There was a fitted kitchen… well that was wrong for a start. Where was the table with the fold-down bits at the end? Where were the blue and white units on the wall… the rattly twin-tub, the cooker with the spark gun that ignited the grill and made toast that smelt so amazing? They were all gone; this wasn’t Nannie and Grandad’s kitchen at all…
The front room was empty. That was better because in my mind I could place their furniture back exactly as it was. That unit that contained the record player and radio; I only ever seemed to play one LP; a country and western compilation that included (amongst other classics) “The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” by O.C. Smith, “The Streets of Laredo” by Marty Robbins, and “Chestnut Mare” by The Byrds. The television (for the wrestling and ITV Seven), that fireplace with the beige square tiles adorned with ornaments… the other unit on the far side of the room... Grandad’s mantel clock… the dining table behind the settee: how did it all fit in that one room?
In the church, it was the mention of Nannie and Grandad—Mary and Les—that brought a tear to my eye: the realisation I was back in the village where so many memories had been created, but now only those memories remained. If I had knocked on the door of no.1 Kendall’s Avenue, Grandad wouldn’t answer… Nannie wouldn’t be there… the fun and laughter that I associate with that house might still echo in the recesses of my mind; but the stark reality was brought home simply by hearing their names….
I have to say it was wonderful to meet up with aunts, uncles and cousins in the Heathcote Arms afterwards. You can recognise people by sight (good old social media) and it’s possible to have meaningful interaction with people you rarely see (ditto…), but to be in the same room meant so much more.
Families in 2016 are much more dispersed than they were back in the 1970s… in fact the whole world is so very different. But there just seemed to be a general sense (certainly within “my generation”) of how fortunate we all are to be related and that it would be great to make a collective effort… or commitment even to meet again, and make the most of the family we share.
It’s a fantastic idea and January 28, 2017 is already marked in the diary. It will be a lovely way to stay in contact, to get to know respective husbands, wives and children, and also to remember all those who we miss so much, but recall so very fondly….
Rest peacefully Auntie Betty xxx
Although as a contest yesterday’s men’s final was ultimately disappointing, the BDO World Darts Championships was still a fantastic event.
I don’t have Sky so have only seen clips of the PDC’s competition, but if anyone correctly predicted second titles for Gary Anderson and Scott Waites, then I hope they had a few quid on the double, because I wouldn’t have picked either—I believed top seeds (Michael van Gerwen and Glen Durrant) had really strong claims, but both were eliminated before the semi-final stage.
Anderson was brilliant in defeating Adrian Lewis, hitting a 9-darter along the way; Waites was less impressive, but played more than well enough to overcome Canada’s Jeff Smith, and in fairness, he’d thrown brilliantly under pressure just to get through the rounds. They deserved their respective victories and I congratulate them both.
I have no intention of offering any comparison between the two organisations; anyone who can get up in front of a crowd and throw darts of a consistently high standard has my admiration wherever they ply their trade.
As far as the BDO is concerned, clearly I was biased in hoping that Glen Durrant would lift the title, but his form over recent months certainly merited his no.1 ranking. He was sublime against Larry Butler—a fine player in his own right, but the American was simply swept aside on the day—but couldn’t quite close out his quarter final with Waites, and the Yorkshireman produced his second remarkable comeback in successive games to take his place in the semi-final.
Small margins, but that’s the game… sometimes the dart lands a millimetre inside the wire and you win, sometimes it lands a millimetre the other side and you lose; it was devastating for “Duzza”, genuinely one of the nicest blokes you could wish to meet; but he’s not the world no.1 for nothing and hopefully this setback will simply be the precursor to another memorable year.
I thought Scott Mitchell put up a really good defence of his title; he maybe wasn’t quite in the form to repeat his success, but I’m sure he’s had one of the best years of his life and has been a fine champion.
Of the newcomers, it was Richard Veenstra who stood out for me. I wasn’t surprised he did well (although a semi-final may have exceeded realistic expectations) because I’d watched him play Glen during 2015 and he looked a very talented… and dangerous player. As for Jeff Smith, well maybe last night’s game was one too far, but what a fantastic effort to get all the way to the final….
I wouldn’t have picked the ladies champion either. It’s strange that a nine-time winner could be so readily overlooked, but the ladies game is probably as strong as it’s ever been and I doubt Trina Gulliver was on many shortlists as a likely champion. My preference was for Fallon Sherrock, but it would hardly have been a shock had Lisa Ashton completed a hat-trick of victories.
As it transpired, Deta Hedman reached another final—I wonder how often the combined age of the participants in a major sporting world final totalled more than a hundred?—but once again, she got so close, but wasn’t quite able to get over the line. For her opponent though, a remarkable tenth success, and given the speed of development and the depth in the women’s game, it’s a record that may never be surpassed.
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest