Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Fragment that remained

The Fragment that Remained

According to St. Mark’s Gospel twelve baskets were filled with the ‘fragments that remained’ after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. The fragment of my life that remained after Heather’s death on 12th July 2006 ended our sixty years of marriage, has filled the nearly-four years since that date with more incident and activity than at least the previous twelve!

This has not been due to chance. I realized that the sense of desolation and loss that overwhelmed me could only be dulled by constant busyness. I was fortunate in being still capable of life-filling activity and more than fortunate in having sons, grandchildren, other relatives and good friends willing and able to support me in my determination to fill my remaining days, months or years with activity and purpose.

I didn’t immediately realize how large and pain-filled would be the gap in my life left my Heather’s death. I remember that as I stood by her bed at 11.00 p.m. on that fatal night, my sense of loss was tempered by the knowledge that she was at last at rest. The half-smile on her face suggested that her passing had been a peaceful, even a happy one. That dreadful laboured breathing, to which I had listened day and night for four days, had ended. There would be no more of the uncontrollable shaking that the district nurse had described as ‘fitting’.

I phoned and spoke to the emergency doctor, explaining that I believed that my wife’s life had ended, that this had not been unexpected and that her doctor had visited her every day for the previous three days. A sympathetic paramedic called and confirmed that her life had ended. He said that he thought that it had happened some time before his visit. At 9.00 p.m. I had given her a drink, and then another when she had said ‘more’ (her first coherent word for three days). I had then settled her as comfortably as I could, for the night. I had immediately flopped down on the bed exhausted and slept solidly until waking up in alarm to unaccustomed silence two hours later.

Had it been as I settled her that her life had ended? I hoped that it had been. I wept at the thought that she might have wanted me to hold her as she was dying and that I had been sound asleep. I remember being so grateful that our doctor (Dr Dianne Halstead) had, against the advice of the District Nurse, strengthened my determination to care for Heather myself and at home and not to let her go into hospital. At least she had died in her own bed with me, awake or asleep, at her side.

The Paramedic asked if there was anyone who would spend the rest of the night with me if I asked them. I was quite sure that I had only to phone and either of my sons would have been on his way to Clacton. However, I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and my memories and I really didn’t need support. I had hoped and prayed that Heather would be the first of us to go. I had thought that I could live on my own (I hadn’t realized how hard it would be) and I knew that she simply couldn’t have managed without my support. Having one’s prayers answered doesn’t necessarily bring content!

I entrusted Heather’s body to Lesley Barlow. She was a local woman funeral director whom I had encountered, and found helpful and kind, a year or two earlier when I had been asked to officiate at the funeral of an acquaintance who, like me, had been a prisoner of war in World War II. A phone call brought two of her men who reverently and respectfully removed Heather’s earthly remains. I was left with my thoughts, waiting till 8.30 am before phoning Pete and Andy to tell them the news.

Pete, who was his own boss, told me that he and Arlene would come over to Clacton that morning to support me as I made the funeral arrangements. There was nothing that Andy and Marilyn could do so we decided that they would stick to their original plan of coming over to Clacton on the Sunday afternoon.

I had decided that I would like Heather to have a Quaker funeral with the brief committal ‘service’ at Weeley Crematorium followed, an hour later, by a Memorial Meeting held at the Quaker Meeting House ‘To give thanks for the Grace of God made evident in the life of our Friend Heather Hall’. Both the Committal and the Memorial Meeting would take the form of Quaker Meetings for Worship held in a prayerful and expectant silence out of which anyone present might feel moved to rise to pray or to give verbal testimony to the Grace of God in Heather’s life. I asked that the committal should begin with the playing of ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ and end with the playing of the tune of ‘The Day thou gavest Lord is ended’

Both the Crematorium Chapel and the Quaker Meeting House were crowded. Virtually everyone who had been present three months earlier at the celebration of our 60th wedding anniversary was there. I was particularly pleased that also present were Rev Chris Wood, of Christ Church URC Church where I had occasionally led the worship and Father Anthony Spooner of St. James’s Church who, as ‘our Friend Anthony Spooner’ had sometimes joined us at our Meetings for Worship when he happened to have a Sunday ‘off duty’. I knew, of course, that Clacton Quakers could be depended upon to provide refreshments for the mourners, many of whom had come a considerable distance to be present.

Everything was, as Quakers say, ‘in right ordering.’ A few days later I scattered Heather’s ashes round the apple tree in our back garden, where – every spring – Heather had watched the daffodils break through the soil and burst into bloom. I hope that, when the time comes, as come it must, my own funeral will be a mirror image of Heather’s.

It was not until after the funeral, and after replying, to the best of my ability, to the many letters of condolence, and of appreciation of Heather’s life, that I began to feel the full extent of my loss. We had been separated before. I had been overseas in the army for four years between our first meeting and our wedding. Later Heather had spent two years in a Sanatorium with tuberculosis, and brief periods in hospital. Twice I had been away for a week at conferences in connection with my work.

Usually though, we had had the certainty, and always at least the hope, of a reunion. Those separations, long as they had seemed at the time, hadn’t been forever. There isn’t a word in common use in English that expresses a final goodbye – Adieu instead of Au Revoir, Lebe Wohl rather than Auf Wiedersehen. But this was it. I was never again to see Heather’s warm and all embracing smile, never again to hear the happy laugh that I had always been able to evoke. The prospect was more than I could bear.

I would like to be able to say that my religious faith saw me through. I have, often enough, heard those who had endured similar crises say so when interviewed on the BBC’s Songs of Praise. I can, in truth, say no more than that it helped. Heather’s life came to an end on a Wednesday night. On the following Sunday I attended said Mass at St. James’ Church at 8.00 a.m. (I hadn’t been able to do so during the two years I was caring for Heather), and the Quaker Meeting for Worship at 10.30 a.m. I have done the same on almost every Sunday since. Both the Holy Sacrament with the accompanying familiar words from the Book of Common Prayer, and silent prayer and worship in the Quaker Meeting for Worship, have supported me.

I have since regularised the position and am in dual membership of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and of Clacton-on-Sea’s St. James’ Church-of-England Church. (Strictly speaking, of course, I had never ended my membership of the Anglican Church into which I had been baptised in infancy and confirmed in boyhood.)

Never though have I been able to rid myself wholly of nagging doubt. Is Heather’s lovely spirit somewhere ‘out there’ freed from the bonds of time and space and awaiting our reunion? Or is death, as the zeitgeist of today’s materialistic Britain insists, a final end, with nothing but annihilation and oblivion awaiting us? I desperately want to believe the former, but the latter continues to invade my thoughts. Quakers make a virtue of doubt, urging us to ‘consider the possibility that we may be mistaken’. That is one Quaker ‘Advice’ that, unwillingly, I observe to the letter – and very uncomfortable I find it!

I take a little comfort in the fact that I am not alone. No one who has read the late Sir John Betjeman’s poetry could doubt that he was a man of strong Christian conviction. Yet he too was racked by doubt. His short poem Aldershot Crematorium expresses my mind exactly.

It tells how ‘little puffs of smoke, without a sound, show what we loved dissolving in the skies; dear hands and feet, and laughter-lightened face, and silk that hinted at the body’s grace’. At the end come the words of the Priest ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ followed by, ‘sharp, deep and painful, doubt inserts the knife!’

It was clear to me that it was only by busyness that could I hope to deaden, if not banish completely, my doubts, fears and feelings of loneliness, anguish and despair. There was plenty for me to do at first. A cataract had developed on my left eye (my best eye) during the past two years. While I was caring full-time for Heather there was nothing I could do about it. I gave up driving and sold the family car. Heather and I used a wheelchair-friendly taxi to get to and from the Quaker Meeting on Sundays. For shopping and other short journeys I used a bike.

Now alone, I couldn’t face the coming autumn and winter without being able to read. With the encouragement of my two sons I had the cataract dealt with privately. The sight of my left eye was restored. I didn’t feel though that, at 85, it would be a good idea for me to start driving again. I continued to use my bike, getting a rail pass for cheaper long distance travel. Some fifteen years earlier, Heather’s and my passport had expired. We decided that we wouldn’t be going overseas again so we didn’t renew it, and I destroyed the old passport. Now, I thought it just possible that I might be going overseas again, perhaps to Zittau in Germany, so I obtained a new passport.

For most of her adult life Heather had made a practice of writing, in minute handwriting on tiny note pads, any short piece of prose or verse that she found helpful. Her sources were the bible and other books, newspapers and magazines, radio and tv programmes. After her death I gathered these note pads together and typed out their contents, publishing them as an anthology entitled ‘Heather’s Treasure’. Inside the front cover was a line drawing of Heather created by our elder grandson, Chris. I had 200 copies printed and gave them, as a memorial to Heather, to every member of our extended family, to our friends, to every member and attender of Clacton Quaker Meeting, and to anyone else who I thought might be interested.

Our bungalow needed refurbishment. For years Heather and I had done no redecoration and only routine cleaning. I decided to have it transformed into a home more suitable for an old man living alone. A kind neighbour of mine who had been a painter and decorator; and was in fact a Jack-of-all-trades (and a master of several of them!) agreed to do the work. An old cupboard, draining board and sink in the living kitchen were torn out and replaced with modern kitchen units, the walls were redecorated, the ceiling re-plastered and the Marley tiles of the floor exposed. My easy chair was sited opposite the tv set, with the land-line phone mounted on the wall within easy reach

The double bed in what had been our bedroom was replaced with a single one, the walls and ceiling were redecorated and a wall-to-wall carpet fitted. The walls of the quite wide hall had been lined with bookcases. These were removed to the smallest bedroom which became my ‘office’, housing a bureau, once belonging to Heather’s dad, a desk and my lap-top computer, printer and scanner. Around these ‘the fragment that remained’ of my life was increasingly to revolve. The walls and ceiling of the hall were decorated and wood laminate fitted over the floor.

The bathroom too received radical attention. I had the walk-in shower enclosure with its instantaneous electric shower water heater replaced with a small sit-down bath having a conventional but pump-assisted shower. This was supplied with hot water by the kitchen back-boiler. An old twin-tub washing machine was removed and a modern bathroom unit installed.

The sitting room, now used only for entertaining occasional visitors, was left unchanged and the front bedroom – the guest bedroom – became a storeroom.

It was toward the end to all this upheaval that I realized to my dismay that my physical condition was deteriorating. I was losing my strength, becoming less stable on my feet, tiring more quickly, finding stairs more difficult to climb, and ladders impossible.

While I had been caring for Heather I had had all the strength that I had needed. I had lifted her half a dozen or more times each day, supported her as she had walked with the aid of her large walking frame, from the bedroom to the kitchen or bathroom. I had pushed her in her wheelchair up the wooden ramp (made by our neighbour!) into the bungalow, dressed and undressed her and done everything else that was necessary. I had fitted large baskets on the front and rear of my bicycle and had used it, often fully loaded with shopping, almost every day. I had done all the cooking and food preparation, the household washing (with a washing machine!) and all the domestic cleaning. It was only because I wasn’t prepared to leave Heather, and couldn’t in any case spare the time, that I had given up gardening.

Within a couple of months all that strength had disappeared and I had become a feeble old man. I found that I could no longer ride my bike safely, nor walk to post a letter. Any effort gave me a nagging lower backache and left me exhausted. Gardening was out of the question.

I did what I had to do. With the help of Age Concern I found a gardener who comes in once a fortnight to keep my rather large garden tidy. With the help of my next-door neighbours I found a lady (their daughter as it happens!) who comes in once a week and spends a couple of hours cleaning through the bungalow. Both arrangements work perfectly. I also got rid of my bike (I was afraid of falling and breaking a hip as I tried to mount or dismount) and bought an electric mobility scooter, with a canopy, to give me an all-weather means of getting my shopping, visiting local friends and getting to church and to the Quaker meeting. Luckily I have no debts and my income and savings are sufficient to allow me to do these things. I realize that I am very fortunate in that respect.

In old age one must expect medical problems. The cataract on my right eye was dealt with but the operation revealed serious macular degeneration of the retina of that eye that distorts my vision. Fortunately my left eye is, so far, working satisfactorily. That too has macular degeneration, but less advanced. I was also found to have cancer of the skin and cartilage of my left ear. A first operation failed to remove all the affected tissue but a second one appears, so far, to have been successful. Other aches and pains, increasing forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, and general muscular weakness are simply the price I have to pay for having outlived most of my contemporaries. I promise that I won’t go on and on about them!

Meanwhile, my sons, grandchildren, and Heather’s nieces and nephew and their children did their very best to keep me occupied, find me interests, and to make me feel wanted. They have really been extraordinarily successful.

Grandson Chris, living and working in Taiwan, organised for me a Flickr site on which I have posted over 300 photographs – family photos, travel photos, photos of historical interest and so on. Most of the photos are accompanied by descriptive comments. The web address is www.flickr.com/photos/ernestbythesea The rather romantic pseudonym was Chris’ idea. He assured me that all the more sensible names were already in use. The site has brought me a number of interesting new friends and contacts. These included a Canadian second cousin whom I hadn’t known existed, who supplied me with previously unknown fragments of family history.

Chris’ younger brother Nick, living and working in Brussels, knew how much I missed my former part-time job of writing Tendring Topics, a weekly chat and comment column in a local newspaper. He organised for me first a blogspot www.ernesthall.blogspot.com and then a website www.ernesthall.net I now post Tendring Topics….on Line, an up-to-2000 word comment on local and national affairs and on my life, on both of those sites every week. The blogspot is probably best for those interested only in Tendring Topics because it gives immediate access, not only the current week’s blog but previous ones. On the web site there is also ‘about me’ a very compressed biography, my photos, and the typescript of a number of sermons that I have preached in the past, mostly at Christ Church, URC Church in Clacton.

This blogspot has brought me back to writing on my laptop, one of the few activities that I can still really enjoy. As well as the blogspot I have also been writing my autobiography, of which this ‘Fragment that remains’ is positively the final instalment. It is a work that was beginning to rival Tolstoy’s War and Peace in size if not in content!

Then, of course, there have been my travels! These have been spectacular and have taken place only thanks to the encouragement, support and active help of my sons and daughters in law and my grandchildren. My three trips to Zittau, Germany’s most easterly town – and consequent brief visits to Poland and the Czech Republic – are recounted at some length elsewhere in this autobiography. Pete, Arlene and Nick have all played major roles in these. Thanks also to Pete and Arlene, I have made three trips to Brussels to visit Nick who now lives and works there, and to be introduced to his Belgian girlfriend Romy. On one of these occasions we visited the field of the Battle of Waterloo (little changed since 1815!) I brought back as a souvenir a facsimile of ‘The Times’ carrying an account of the battle and a copy of The Duke of Wellington’s report sent back to England.

One other journey deserves a special mention. For my 86th birthday Pete, Arlene and Nick organised for me a mini ‘grand tour of Europe’. We took an early flight to Geneva where Pete and Arlene had arranged for us to pick up a hire car. We then drove along the north shore of Lake Geneva, passing Montreux and the historic Chateau de Chillon, before striking south into the mountains towards the Great St Bernard Pass. We turned off the road a few miles short of the pass and took a winding and ever-climbing road to Champex sur Lac, high in the mountains beside an emerald green lake. It was where Heather, the two boys (then 13 and 16) and I had spent our very first camping holiday in Europe in the summer of 1969. We found that what had been a small Alpine village was now quite a posh ski resort – a sort of Frinton-on-the-Alpine-Lake!

After lunching at a restaurant in Champex we drove on through the Great St Bernard tunnel to the ancient Italian city of Aosta taking a break for coffee at a pavement cafĂ©, sitting in warm sunshine beneath a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. We drove the length of the lovely Aosta Valley, passing a side valley in which we had camped on two occasions in the ‘70s. At the Aosta Valley’s end was Monte Bianco or Mont Blanc. We drove through the tunnel into France and thence on to Geneva where, after an evening meal by the lake-side, we caught our plane and flew back to Stansted. In the one day we had visited France, Switzerland and Italy and had revived memories of three happy camping holidays of the past.

During the past four years I have visited Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic! Quite an achievement for an octogenarian – but one that would have been out of the question without the support and help of my family.

Nor have my travels been only to mainland Europe. On two occasions (a third is scheduled for next month – May 2010) Andy and Marilyn have driven me to Sheffield where we have stayed at a very comfortable hotel while visiting granddaughter Jo (now a Social Worker attached to the Renal Unit of a Sheffield Hospital), seeing something of Sheffield and something too of the lovely Peak District, that is much closer to Sheffield than I had realized. Next month (May 2010) they have booked for us all to see a stage performance in Sheffield of ‘O What a Lovely War’, a satirical musical that I saw, and thoroughly enjoyed as a film many years ago.

Both Pete and Arlene, and Andy and Marilyn, visit me at Clacton from time to time. We always lunch at the Bowling Green at Weeley, three or four miles out of Clacton, and then drive on to one of the many attractive seaside resorts or rural beauty spots in our area. I very much appreciate these visits and I also very much appreciate the way in which Andy keeps in constant touch, phoning me every Sunday evening to make sure that I am OK. Heather would be very pleased if she knew (but perhaps she does know!) how very much both our sons, and all three of our grandchildren, have meant to me during these past few years. They are all, especially the three grandchildren, well scattered, but emails, mobile phone text messages, and my blog on the internet, help us to keep in touch.

Below is the first paragraph of an email that I received from Chris in Taiwan towards the end of July, 2009, not long after the third anniversary of Heather’s death:

‘I read your blog and looked at your photos on Flickr. I am so glad you do that, as I can see and read about what you are up to. I particularly enjoyed the pictures of you on holiday. I saw the picture of you and Grandma, and what you wrote about her. It was very moving. Three years have gone by very quickly. I have found that Grandma left me with a lot of values or attitudes towards money, food, health and how to treat other people. I often think about her and find myself remembering things she said or how she lived, especially now I am older. I often hear myself telling Ariel, ‘my grandma always did this or said that…’. I think that she made a very strong impression on me when I was young even though I hadn’t realized it at the time. I always have very warm memories of her’.

Receipt of messages such as that, help to make my life worth living.

I must not forget the four nieces and one nephew that I have inherited from Heather. I had neither brother nor sister but Heather did have a sister, younger than she was, and her family are all much warmer, kinder and more attentive to me than any mere uncle-by-marriage has any right to expect. All are regularly in touch either by visits, by email or by both. Time passes! Those nieces and that nephew, whom I remember best as little children, now have families of their own.

My extended family has extended further. I have five great-nieces and a great-nephew ranging in age from six to a ‘second year’ medical student who is almost twenty-one. I love and am proud of every one of them. I hope that they think kindly of the ancient great-uncle who tries never to forget any of their birthdays.

Which reminds me that I am now also an ‘honorary uncle’ to three year old Maja and her seven month old (at the end of April 2010) little brother Tom, of Zittau. They are the son and daughter of my friends Konni and Andreas Kulke. I hope that I shall remember their birthdays as faithfully as I do those of my great-nieces and nephew. I fear though that it is unlikely that I shall be around to remember more than another one or two of the birthdays of any of them.

A self-congratulatory song that I thoroughly detest and which, at one time, I seemed to hear every time I switched on the radio was My Way sung by Frank Sinatra. Looking back over my life, it seems to me that whenever I have done or said something that I have afterwards deeply regretted it has always been because I had been trying to go ‘my way’ – heeding neither the advice of Heather nor of others wiser than myself, nor the inner voice of conscience. It follows that, unlike Frank Sinatra, I can’t say, ‘Regrets, I’ve had a few – but then again, too few to mention’. On the contrary, I’ve had too many to burden anyone else with. So I won’t. This is an autobiography, not a confession!

I think that, as I approach my ninetieth year, I have really done as much – or perhaps rather more – that I could possibly have hoped. I am still writing my blog and posting it onto the internet every week. I have visited Zittau three times (I hadn’t thought that I would ever go there again!) and have good friends there. I am glad that I have made new friends at St. James’ Anglican Church and at Christ Church URC Church. I am sorry that I and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), that Heather and I joined in 1948, have drifted apart – but I don’t think that it is I who have drifted. I still have good friends in Clacton Meeting but I no longer find it to be the warm and welcoming group, united in worship that it once was. I remain in membership and I am a regular attender, possibly the most regular attender, at Meeting for Worship, but I am more than glad that I have revived and renewed my membership of the Church of England.

My two sons both have satisfying employment and are settled in life. My three grandchildren are all graduates doing satisfying and socially useful jobs. All have partners with whom I hope they will spend the rest of their lives as happily as Heather and I have done. What more could I ask?

In the past few months (I am writing these words in April 2010) I find that I am having some of the experiences that Heather had towards the end of her life. I too, often have the feeling that there is someone (always a benign presence) other than myself in the bungalow. I often feel that Heather is near me and I hold one-sided conversations with her, telling her all the family news (I have never before told any of this to anyone – they would probably think I should be ‘sectioned’)

Twice I believe that I have seen Heather. The first time was about six weeks after her death. I was dozing in my comfortable chair in the kitchen when I woke up and realized that there was a young girl in a green dress standing opposite me and watching me. I realized that it was Heather, as she had been a year or so before I met her. As I recognised her, she disappeared. Did Heather have a green dress as a child? I have no idea. She certainly didn’t have one as an adult. The second occasion was just a week or so ago. Again I was in that chair and came out of a doze to realize that there was a woman sitting beside me in a chair that I knew was no longer there. The woman got up, walked to the door and went through it across the hall into the bedroom. There, she turned round and looked at me. It was then that I realized that it was Heather as she had been in her thirties. Immediately again, she disappeared.

An apparition? A waking dream? A hallucination? Self-delusion? I have no idea. Surely though, had it been a product of my own subconscious mind, Heather would have been immediately recognisable. I do know that the visions were by no means frightening or threatening and that I would welcome another.

Perhaps one day there will be another. This time Heather will not disappear when I recognise her. She’ll give me one of her wonderful warm and welcoming smiles – and tell me that the time has come for us to be reunited.

Parenting.....at the Seaside!

Parenting…..at the Seaside!

I took up my new job as Additional Public Health Inspector to Clacton Urban District Council in May 1956, and we moved to 39 The Chase, Holland-on-Sea on the 18th of that month. I remember the exact date, as it was my 35th birthday. We had been married ten years and, after a disabling operation that was to affect her for the rest of her life, Heather had survived a severe and life-threatening illness. We had two sons, Peter who would be three in July, and Andrew, just five months old. 39 The Chase was a modern three bed-roomed Council house situated in a residential road just two or three hundred yards from the cliffs and the sea front. Holland-on-Sea (originally the village of Little Holland) is a quiet suburb of Clacton-on-Sea.

It was a pleasant enough house in an attractive location but, from the start, Heather and I thought of it only as a temporary home. We had decided that we would remain for some years in Clacton (though I don’t think that either of us imagined we would spend the rest of our lives here!) and we wanted to buy our own home. We thought that we could just about afford a mortgage on the kind of home we wanted.

We had some quite firm ideas about this future home. Heather insisted that it must be a bungalow. With remarkable foresight she realized that the time would come when we would find stairs difficult. We also needed three bedrooms – we expected to have occasional guests, and we hadn’t at that time ruled out the possibility of a third child, perhaps a sister for Pete and Andy. We would like to have a garden and to be within walking distance of the sea front and of an Infants’ and Junior School. And, of course, we needed to be able to afford it!

88 Dudley Road met all those criteria. Dudley Road wasn’t, and isn’t, ‘posh’. I once heard it described by a Council official as ‘working class residential.’ That suited us. We had no pretensions to gentility! The neighbours on both sides seemed friendly people, not unlike us. St. Osyth Road Infants School was within easy walking distance and Alton Park Junior School not a great deal further. Dudley Road was also situated about half-way between Clacton’s two secondary schools, Clacton County High School and what was then Pathfields Secondary Modern School, though we weren’t then thinking so far ahead. The town centre and sea front were further away – but not very far, and we did have a car. There was quite a large garden at the rear of the bungalow and a small one at the front.

We moved in, in October 1956. An oddity about Dudley Road at the time, and for some time after we moved there, was the street lighting by old-fashioned gas lamps. Every evening at dusk the lamplighter would cycle down the road with his pole, with which he opened the glass window of each street lamp and lit the gas inside! Eventually, of course, the ‘new-fangled electric street lighting’ was provided and this relic of an earlier age disappeared forever. I wish I had taken a photograph of that lamp lighter in action!
Our bungalow itself was basic. It had been built in 1953, three years earlier. At the back was quite a large living-kitchen with walk-in pantry. There was a rather small bay-windowed sitting room at the front, three bedrooms, a bathroom with bath, washbasin and toilet with a rather old-fashioned high level flushing cistern, and a quite wide hallway (ideal for parking a pram!). The floors were Marley-tiled and uncarpeted and space heating was from open solid fuel fires in sitting room and living kitchen. The kitchen fire had a back-boiler that was the source of the bungalow’s hot water supply. There was a driveway, just big enough to accommodate a small car but not big enough to provide space for a garage.

It was habitable but by no means luxurious. It was many years before cavity wall infilling, roof space insulation, double-glazing and gas fired central heating made it a really comfortable dwelling. Much later Heather and I had an extension (a small utility room) built on the back and a porch provided at the front. As time passed, we installed a new bathroom suite and the essentials of late twentieth century and twenty-first century living – telephone, fridge, freezer, washing machine, tv, video, computer and so on.

Heather and I were never wealthy but, for some twenty years before Heather’s life ended, she and I always had enough money in a savings account and enough cash in our joint current account, to deal with any emergency that might arise. This was not true of our early days in Clacton. Looking back over the years it shocks me to realize how very hard up we were when we first moved to Dudley Road.

I had a loan from the Council for the purchase of the car that I needed for my duties. This had to be repaid by a deduction from my salary every month. There were the mortgage repayments (tiny by present-day standards but crippling then!). There were the rates, the water rates, the electricity bills (we had no gas at that time), and the bills for fuel delivery. There wasn’t much left to feed and clothe a family that included two rapidly growing young children. There was nothing for ‘treats’, for holidays, for domestic emergencies, or for ‘savings for a rainy day’.

We survived. The car loan was paid off and I began to earn a little extra money from my spare time freelance writing, a sum that increased year by year. Buying a small portable typewriter was an investment, worrying at the time but one that paid off handsomely. We weren’t too proud to accept hand-me-down clothing for the boys, and for a year or two, we told ourselves that living by the seaside, we didn’t need a holiday.

It was only for a year or two though. Since our honeymoon in 1946 (and that had had to be cut short so that I could attend a training scheme course!) Heather and I had taken only one holiday together. It had been in the summer of 1954. Baby Pete had been just a year old and we had spent a week in a hired caravan on a site by the sea in Aldeburgh. Now that we felt we were settled, we were determined, for the children’s sake as much as our own, to have a break of at least a week every year.

In the spring of 1960 a small second-hand touring caravan was advertised for sale in the local newspaper at £50. I bought it and had a towing bracket fitted to the rear of my Ford Popular car. We stored the van in the corner of the field of a friendly farmer in Little Clacton and used it, at first for family days out, and then for occasional weekends away. The very first of these was at a camping site beside the River Orwell at Nacton just outside Ipswich, an area that I remembered well from my youth.

We soon found that the caravan was too small for the four of us. We supplemented it with a small ridge tent. Heather and Andy (then four years old) slept in the van, while Pete and I slept in the tent. We also realized that it was much colder at night than we had imagined it would be. We needed thicker and warmer sleeping bags! We enjoyed our stay at that site beside the river and returned there for several weekends during the two or three years that we had the van, and later when we had changed to tented camping. One summer, during the school holidays, we stayed there for a week. I drove to the office in Clacton each day while Heather and the two boys stayed in the camp.

We used that van for three summer holidays, the first one camping on the south coast near Brighton. On our way home we stopped overnight at a campsite owned by West Ham Corporation at Debden Green, near Loughton – a site that we were to return to on several later occasions. The next year we were away for a fortnight, spending a week in the New Forest and the second week at a municipal site on the outskirts of Brighton. The third holiday was at a Caravan Club Site on the edge of the Forest of Dean, from which we explored the lovely Wye Valley and visited Tredegar in one of the South Wales mining valleys.

We decided that we could travel further and faster with a tent. We bought a large second-hand ‘two-bedroom’ frame tent. Putting the frame together was a bit of a problem but Pete was becoming old enough to be a real help. It served us well for some time but finally came to grief when its frame was irreparably damaged one stormy night while we were camping on Arenig Fawr, a particularly bleak and inhospitable Welsh mountain! We replaced it with two tents – a not-so-large frame tent for Heather and myself and for family meals, and a smaller tent for Pete and Andy to sleep (and sometimes quarrel!) in. These tents remained in use until the boys grew up and left home – and family holidays were over.

We began taking camping holidays because that was all that we could afford. We continued to take them because we always thoroughly enjoyed them. The major operation that had ‘cured’ Heather’s TB had left her with eight ribs missing on one side and with only one lung fully operational. She was far from being a hearty, outdoor girl – but she loved camping. She enjoyed open air cooking (on a calor gas cooker or on a small gaz burner when we left the camp site for a picnic day out) and did more than her share of the camping chores. We replaced our saloon car with an estate and we arranged it so that, on long journeys, she could lie on an airbed in the

Thus, we camped in mid and south Wales, in the Yorkshire Dales, on the Scottish borders and in the Highlands. We once pitched our tents on the cliffs of John o’ Groats. Obviously, the following year we had to camp as near as we possibly could to Lands End. This gave us a taste for Cornwall and for three summers in succession we camped in the Lands End peninsula, near the little town of Mousehole (pronounced Mouzzel)

It was 1970 before we ventured abroad, crossing the Channel by Hovercraft from Ramsgate to Calais. We drove through France to Switzerland, camping high in the mountains of Valais at Champex sur Lac, only a few miles from the Great St. Bernard Pass. On subsequent years we camped twice in the Aosta Valley in the Italian Alps, once in Austria’s Vorarlberg Province and once beside a lake in Austria’s Tyrol.

Our home in Clacton-on-Sea meant, of course, that even when we weren’t away on holiday we were still ‘at the seaside’. Pete and Andy really appreciated spending their childhood within half a mile or so of the beach. Both quickly learned to swim and during the school holidays (when we weren’t away camping!) they would often go down to the sea front or, on their bicycles, explore the unspoilt countryside to be found just beyond the confines of the town. Heather and I, perhaps with my mother (Gran) who often stayed with us, would sometimes drive with them to neighbouring Frinton, Walton or Brightlingsea, or perhaps Harwich, where Heather’s father’s family had its origins.

Life wasn’t, of course, all holiday – though our family holidays were something to which we looked forward throughout the year.

For much of the time that Pete and Andy were growing up, I was a public health inspector. It was not a job that I enjoyed or was very good at. What I did enjoy was not actually doing the job – but talking about it! Fortunately it was not a task that my other colleagues relished. So, whenever we received a request from a school, a further educational institution, a Women’s Institute or similar voluntary organisation for a speaker about public health, food hygiene, refuse collection and disposal, or the work of the Health Department generally, I would step into the breach. I built up a collection of colour slides that I would use with a projector to illustrate my talk.

The experience I gained certainly helped me get the job that I really did enjoy – that of Public Relations Officer, at the time of Local Government reorganisation in 1973/’74. In that job I gave a great many talks to a great many organisations about the work of the Council generally. I always asked for ‘Any questions?’ at the end of these talks. On one such occasion a lady in the audience asked, ‘Are you the same Mr Hall who gave us a talk about food hygiene, ten or so years ago – or was that a younger, thinner man?’

At the end of the ‘60s, when Pete and Andy were in the their mid-teens, I was appointed Clacton’s Housing Manager. It was a post in which I was much happier and, I think, much more successful. They I am sure, noted this. I have little doubt that that was why, after making false starts; they both opted for a career in housing management. In 1973, with reorganisation imminent, I didn’t get the job of Director of Housing to the new Tendring District Council, for which I had hoped. I did however get the job of Public Relations Officer which, though much less financially rewarding, I preferred in every other respect.

Meanwhile Pete and Andy’s school days were in progress. At the age of five both boys began at what was then St. Osyth Road Infants School (now a community education institution), and at seven went on to Alton Park Junior School. Those were the days of ‘selective education’. At eleven-plus, Junior School pupils took an examination that decided whether they would go to Pathfields Secondary Modern School (now Colbayns High School) or to Clacton County High School (then a grammar school). Both schools are, of course, now comprehensives.

In view of Pete’s subsequent academic progress it might have been thought that, in his case, success in the eleven-plus exam that would have been a foregone conclusion. This wasn’t so. At the Infants School he had had difficulty in grasping the simplest principles of arithmetic (twelve years later he was to secure an ‘A’ grade pass in his ‘A’ level Maths exam!) and seemed to imagine that when asked, for instance, to add three matches to four, he was supposed to guess the answer – and he always guessed wrongly! A couple of years later Mr Cordwell, the Head Teacher of Alton Park Junior School asked me to call to see him about Pete’s progress. He told me that Pete was intelligent and was clearly destined for an academic career, but that he was painfully slow with all his work. Unless he could somehow speed up, there was a risk that he wouldn’t pass the first hurdle, getting selected for the County High School.

By the time the eleven-plus came round Pete’s performance at school had improved considerably and he was, in fact, selected for the High School. Even there, his progress at first was far from spectacular. Every year though, saw an improvement until; at the end of the fourth year, he was one of the specially promising pupils who were chosen for the ‘Express Class’ – taking GCE ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level exams a year earlier than was usually expected.

In the Express Class he continued to excel, obtaining six ‘O’ level GCE passes at Grade 1, one at Grade 2, and two at Grade 3, and going on to obtain five Grade ‘A’ passes at ‘A’ level plus a first class pass in Cambridge University’s ‘Use of English’ examination – a prerequisite of admission to the University. Jointly with another 6th former, he was awarded a prize for ‘Best “A” Level Examination Result’.

That year four CCHS pupils gained places in Cambridge University – Pete was one of the three who went to Selwyn College with which Clacton County High School had a special association. Most students, going to Cambridge for their interviews with the college Admissions Tutors were either rejected, or accepted on condition that they obtained high pass grades in a number of subjects in their forthcoming ‘A’ level exams. Students from Clacton County High School’s Express Class already had their ‘A’ level examination results and were able to have an almost immediate decision.

Pete had inborn ability. There’s no doubt about that. And he worked hard and conscientiously to develop and make the most of that ability. It is though; absolutely impossible to over-estimate the help and support that he received from his mother during his years at the High School. We were both concerned and conscientious parents, but my contribution to our sons’ education was nothing compared with Heather’s. Her frailty and recurring ill health meant that she was always at home for them, always genuinely interested in everything they did, and always ready with support and encouragement.

She was patient, understanding, and always ready to help. My experience as a child (and I think Heather’s was the same) had been that my parents were unable to offer much help, because they didn’t really know much about the subjects we were learning. Where they might have helped, with arithmetic for instance, they didn’t do things ‘the same way’ as our teachers did.

Heather would delve into the boys’ textbooks to make sure that she did know as much as they did about their subjects. If something was done in a different way from that with which she was familiar, she learnt the new way. She had, like me, studied Maths up to ‘school leaving certificate standard’. When Pete progressed to ‘A’ level maths, she studied books on advanced mathematics so that she could discuss the subject intelligently with him.

Pete too, had a great deal of ill-health in his schooldays. He was very subject to attacks of bronchitis and what I now realize was asthma. He would continue with his schoolwork at home with Heather as his tutor. Heather was a born teacher. This was evident not only with our sons but with the Quaker children’s class that she taught for some years. It was a great pity that, as a wartime child, she didn’t have the same educational opportunities that her much younger sister later enjoyed.

At the Quaker Memorial Meeting after Heather’s death, Pete spoke very movingly of how, when he had been ill and in bed, his mother had often read poetry to him. When, in July 2006, he visited her as her life was coming to an end, he did the same for her.

Pete actually sat his ‘A’ level exams just before his seventeenth birthday. He thus had a ‘gap’ year before his admission to Selwyn College. Nowadays I suppose he would have spent it backpacking in Thailand, Venezuela or somewhere equally exotic. Then though, he found himself a job in the Clacton store of the Eastern Electricity Board. There he added to his bank account and gained useful experience of the world of work. He was told when he left that there would certainly be a job for him with Eastern Electricity, if he wanted one when he had graduated.

Peter studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, concentrating on biochemistry. He obtained an ‘upper second’. His tutor urged him to stay on and read for a Ph.D but he felt that at Cambridge he was learning more and more about less and less – and was eager to get out into the ‘real world’. He at first secured a job at the Radio-Chemical Centre in Amersham. Heather and I were a little anxious about this at it involved handling radioactive chemicals. We were therefore not sorry when he decided that it was not a career for him. He had always (thanks to his Quaker upbringing?) had a strong social conscience and, while working at the radiochemical centre had done voluntary work at Centrepoint, the central London shelter for the homeless. Younger brother Andy was by this time a trainee-housing manager with a London Borough and was finding his career an interesting and satisfying one

Pete thought he’d like to do the same, even though it would mean a huge drop in salary. He obtained a trainee post with Enfield Borough Council, beginning a career that took him almost to the very top of the local government ladder and then on to the foundation of his own consultancy, HUBSolutions Ltd. That is not my story, but Pete’s, to tell. Needless to say, Heather and I followed his career occasionally
anxiously but always with great pride.

Pete, I think, resembled his Mum in both appearance and temperament. Younger son Andy was more like me in both. Andy’s progress at school was less spectacular but steadier than Pete’s. When Pete was at St. Osyth Road Infants’ School, Mrs Daldy was Head Teacher. She was, I thought, a wonderful teacher, kind but firm and loved by her pupils. She took a pride in passing her children on to Alton Park Junior School, just two or three hundred yards away, already able to read and write and do simple sums. By the time Andy started there she had retired and had been replaced by a Mrs Morris, of whom neither Heather nor I had a very high opinion.

She was much more ‘up-to-date’ than Mrs Daldy, convinced that learning should be fun, concentrating on ‘strengthening tiny fingers’ with plasticine modelling and similar pursuits and convinced that children would effortlessly discover how to read and write, by some kind of osmosis. In fact Heather taught Andy to read and write and, for the last three months of the time that Andy should have been at St. Osyth Road Infants School she kept him at home to do so. During that period the Education Welfare Officer (in my childhood it would have been the dreaded ‘school board man’) called. Persuaded that Heather was giving Andy at least as good an education as he would have been receiving at the school, and assured that he would turn up regularly at Alton Park School in September, he departed and bothered us no more.

At Alton Park School Andy was always in the top half of the class but he was, I think nervy, and possibly lacking in self-confidence. I was a ‘pencil chewer’ myself at school, but Andy’s ‘chewing’ put mine in the shade. He would wreck pens and pencils and then he would chew away at his tie – reducing it to a wet and bedraggled rag! A teacher wrote ironically on his otherwise good school report – ‘He takes a consuming interest in his work!

Unlike either Pete or myself (though Heather told me that she was quite a good sprinter when she was at school) Andy had an aptitude for sport, for football and for some athletics. I was once asked to be one of the judges on the school’s sports day and had an opportunity to see him in action on the racetrack. He had a most extraordinary style; hurling himself down the track with arms and legs seeming to fly in all directions. He’d have never become an Olympic athlete but he did tend to come first or second at the primary school’s track events ..

While we had wondered how Pete would do in the 11-plus exam I don’t think that Heather and I ever doubted that Andy would follow his brother to Clacton County High School. And so he did. It couldn’t have been easy, following a brother who was, by the time Andy arrived at the school, beginning to be noted as both talented and hard working.

Andy was a much more flamboyant character, eager to demonstrate machismo and dare-devilry. There comes a stage in a boy’s life (I went through it myself so I know), usually in the early teens, when he tries to give his mates the impression that he is a freedom-loving young gentleman who just happens to lodge with his parents but is actually quite independent of them. He also tries to impress his mates with the idea that he can perform brilliantly in tests and exams without ever needing to do any tedious homework.

Andy was actually very conscientious with his homework, but he didn’t want anyone to know that. If there was an exciting play on tv he’d leave his work to watch its beginning. Then he’d return to his homework, dropping in again about halfway through the play, hoping that something quite exciting would happen during the five minutes or so that he would spare to watch it. Finally he’d look in for a few minutes at the very end. Next morning he would be able to hand in his completed homework, and discuss with his friends the merits of the play he had ‘watched’ the evening before.

Andy was very good at the subjects that I had been good at during my schooldays – English language and Literature, History, Geography, Religious Knowledge and so on. For his ‘O’ level subjects he had to take at least one science. Wisely he did as I would have done and chose Biology. He then had to make a choice between German and Chemistry. He was quite good at German but unwisely, I think, chose Chemistry. Heather and I thought at the time that that was because he thought of languages as being more ‘girlie’ subjects. He has since told me though, that it was for the ostensibly more sensible reason that he feared if he studied two languages at the same time he would get them confused. I doubt if he would have. I know that, at that age, I would have found Chemistry at ‘O’level alarmingly difficult. I think that that was probably one of the many ways in which Andy resembled me!

In the event, Andy’s ‘O’ level exam results were very good indeed – but I think that they could have been even better had he chosen his subjects differently.

One extra-curricular subject at which he was, and still is very good, was photography. We gave him the best equipment that we could afford and he used it very skilfully. On holiday in Austria (he must have been about fifteen) he took a photo of his mum in the Tyrol that I have enlarged and now have framed in the sitting room. He more recently took a ‘candid camera’ picture of Heather and myself in profile that is also framed and in the sitting room and that I have also used to illustrate ‘The Final Years’ in this autobiography.
Men often have a ‘mid-life crisis’ in their fifties when they see old age creeping up on them. Do boys have a not-dissimilar ‘mid-teens’ crisis when they begin to appreciate the proximity of adult-hood? I think that I probably had one. I remember that the year before I took my ‘Matric’ exam I did appallingly at school – even at subjects like English and History at which I had been accustomed to excel.

I wonder if that is what happened to Andy at about the same age? At sixteen he seemed to me to be increasingly nervy and ill assured. He took a major role in a school play but told Heather and I nothing about it, so that we couldn’t be in the audience. Did he feel that we were expecting more of him than he could deliver? It was shortly before his ‘O’ level exams. Was he working too hard and worrying too much? I’m a born worrier and I started to wonder if he might be heading for a nervous breakdown.

Finally, after he had taken his ‘O’ levels and we were discussing our summer holiday, he announced that he didn’t want to come away with us on holiday that year. He didn’t want to stay at school and take his ‘A’ levels. He was sixteen and he wanted to leave school and get a job. Heather and I did our best to dissuade him. At least to wait till after he had his ‘O’ level results. If he didn’t want to come on holiday for us, we could make other arrangements for him. Would he carry on studying for his ‘A’ levels if we could get him a place in a 6th Form College?

He was adamant. Pleas and appeals to reason failed. We certainly didn’t want to provoke the kind of row that would end with his slamming his way out of the house and swearing that he’d never come home again. He found himself a job as a trainee in the Civil Service and accommodation in a nearby hostel. We did all we could to help him. I recall that I went out with him to buy a new suit and a case in which to take his belongings to London. Pete was on holiday from University and went up to London with him to settle him in his new ‘home’.

It was a sad day at 88 Dudley Road. Heather blamed herself and said that she had failed him. I tried to cheer her up by reminding her that we had both left school and started work at 16. As she pointed out though, we hadn’t left home to do so. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that Heather had a gynaecological problem at about that time and had to go into hospital for a few days for a ‘d and c’.

We had a letter from Andy that cheered Heather up a little. He had started work and was OK. He was studying in his spare time for his ‘A’ levels, and was playing football at lunchtimes with some other lads from the hostel. We decided to take our holiday as we had planned. We drove to Austria and camped in the Tyrol. Pete had passed his driving test and we shared the driving. We missed Andy’s presence though.

The ‘O’ level results were published. Andy had done very well indeed. Heather was sure, as were several of his former schoolmates that he would now come back to Clacton – but he didn’t. On a visit home, he told us that there had been times when, on his own, he had been lonely and miserable; but he had never for one moment regretted his decision to leave school and find work.

We had mixed feelings when Andy let us know that he had given up his ‘A’ Level study and had left the Civil Service for Local Government. He felt that he needed vocational training. His good ‘O’ level results, and friendly help from his Civil Service seniors, had secured him a post as trainee housing officer with Newham Borough Council. He had found and moved into a small flat in Hackney and was now studying for the Institute of Housing’s Housing Management examination. Heather still felt that he should have gone to university but we were both pleased that he now seemed to have decided on his career. I, of course, was especially happy that he should have chosen one in which I had found satisfaction.

Andy studied hard for that examination and on his visits to Clacton I was able to help him a little with my own knowledge of Building Construction and, in particular, of hot and cold water supply and drainage. The exam was in two parts and Heather was particularly pleased that before sitting each part he took a week’s holiday and came back to Clacton for his final revision. He had his own old room for his study and emerged from it only for meals! He passed both parts of the Institute of Housing’s examination at his first attempt, and became a professionally qualified Housing Manager.

The story of Andy’s subsequent career, his marriage and the birth of his daughter, our first and only granddaughter, is his to tell. I feel – and Heather eventually felt the same – that Andy’s dogged pursuit of independence and his passing the by-no-means easy examinations of the Institute of Housing after intense spare-time study, were as praiseworthy as the exploits of his brother. Heather and I had every reason to be proud of the achievements of both of our sons, and to have no regrets about the way that we had brought them up, and the values with which we had tried to inspire them.

Neither is now a practising Quaker, but neither has either of them resigned his membership of the Religious Society of Friends. Both have a strong social conscience and uphold what I think of as Quaker values. I am sure that if Heather were able to see them now – and perhaps she is able to – she would be as proud of both of them as I am.

Professional writer - from 1953......

A Professional Writer? (From 1953 onwards!)

When did I first decide that I wanted to be a writer? Probably when I was about fourteen and my essays were praised by Mr Edwin Day, my English teacher at the Northgate School. We always enjoy what we are good at – and I found that I really enjoyed writing the weekly English essay. Mr Day said (I thought seriously but he may not have been) that I was undoubtedly destined to become a journalist.

Certainly for most of my last two years at the Northgate school, had I been asked what I wanted to do on leaving school, I would have answered ‘I’d like to be a journalist’. I say most of my last two years because during my final term a careers officer from the Education Authority visited the school to address us school-leavers. The only thing that I can remember of his talk was that he would like to send to Siberia all English teachers who told kids who were good at writing essays that they could become journalists. Aspiring journalists would have to go up to London, he told us, where they would find themselves competing for trainee jobs with university graduates and, if they did manage to get a job, it would be several years before they received enough pay to live on in London.

He very successfully shattered my dreams. It didn’t even occur to me to consider the possibility that the local newspapers – the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Evening Star – might take trainees. Nor did the careers officer bother to tell us. I gave up thinking about what I wanted to do when I left school. Like most of my contemporaries I simply decided to ‘look for a job’.

The job that I found was that of junior clerk/trainee sanitary inspector with Ipswich County Borough Council. World War II interrupted my training. I served in the Royal Artillery from 2nd September 1939 till 23rd April 1946. On leaving the army I married Heather, the girl I had met and fallen in love with on the day war broke out, and picked up my interrupted career. I qualified as a Sanitary Inspector and found employment with Gipping Rural District Council, a rural authority just northwest of Ipswich. We moved into a council owned bungalow in Barham, about halfway between Ipswich and Needham Market, the RDC’s headquarters.

Here our lives were again interrupted. Heather developed tuberculosis and spent two years, from 1948 till 1950, in Nayland British Legion Sanatorium near Colchester. During that time I began to think again about writing. Could I perhaps become a spare-time freelance? I thought that perhaps I could, but I had no idea how to go about it. I tried to write a couple of short stories but I only had to read them through myself to realize that they were awful.

I confided my frustrated ambitions to Heather. Always practical, she found an advert for a correspondence course for freelance writers that promised to return the fee if, by the time students had completed their course, they hadn’t earned that amount. They probably depended on a number of students failing to complete! In fact, I don’t think that I did – but I certainly did earn their fee within a year of ‘signing on!’

It really was a good course. I learnt a great deal about the practicalities of preparing and submitting a manuscript, about writing, a least in the first instance, about subjects with which I was personally familiar and about which I felt strongly, about market research, and about always writing with a particular publication in mind. ‘Homework’ was submitted as to an editor. Spelling and grammatical errors were meticulously pointed out. I was advised to shorten my paragraphs and my sentences; lessons that I have never forgotten even though I fear I sometimes ignore them!

Begin each article or story with a sentence that will attract the reader’s attention. Leave the reader, at the bottom of each page, eager to turn over and read what follows. Read your effort aloud when it has been completed. If it sounds all right it may possibly be all right. If it doesn’t sound right you can be quite sure that it isn’t.

I had lots of rejections, but, with Heather’s encouragement, I persevered. In 1953 my first article was published! It was in Men Only (a very different publication from the one of the same name sometimes seen on the top shelf of newsagents’ shops today!) Entitled Sanitary Man, it was a light-hearted feature in about 1,000 words about the trials and tribulations of a Sanitary Inspector. I was paid five guineas (five pounds five shillings or £5.25) for it. This may seem a trivial sum but 56 years ago it had the spending power of about £100 today.

I gradually increased my output. A subject in which I came to specialise was hot and cold water supply and drainage. Over the years I have written a number of commercially successful books (two of which ran to two editions) on these subjects, and the equivalent sections of several part works and manuals. I have also written innumerable articles on these subjects in various publications aimed at the householder. For many years I replied to ‘plumbing queries’ from readers of Do-it-yourself magazine.

My spare-time career as a ‘plumbing consultant’ began when Heather’s dad, a carpenter who worked all his life in the building trade, decided that his hot water storage tank needed cleaning out. It was a square, galvanised steel tank (you rarely see them nowadays) with a bolted-on hand-hole cover on one side. He turned off the stop-cock on his rising main, ran the hot taps until they ceased to flow, and proceeded to undo the bolts on the hand-hole cover.

Immediately jets of water poured out into my mother-in-law’s kitchen. My father-in-law hadn’t realized that you can’t drain the hot water system from the hot water taps. You have to drain it either from a drain-cock beside the boiler or one under the hot water storage tank or cylinder.

I realized that if a thoroughly experienced and practical man like my father-in-law hadn’t realized that, lots of other people would be equally ignorant. I wrote an article in a 1000 words, with one or two line drawings, on ‘How your hot water system works’ and sold it to Practical Householder for three guineas (£3.15) That was the very beginning. I had learned plumbing theory as a sanitary inspector and I learnt more as I went along! Doing some research I realized that there wasn’t on the market a single easily readable book on domestic plumbing. I can’t remember when it was that I determined to fill that gap – but fill it I undoubtedly did*!

I used to claim, with some justification, that while there were lots of people who knew more about plumbing than I did, and a few people (I was reluctant to make this admission!) who could write better than I could, at that time there was no-one in Britain – possibly no-one in the world – who could write better about plumbing than I did!

I began my spare-time freelance writing career in 1953, the year that our older son was born. The urge to record the first precious months of our son’s life inspired us to spend a great deal of money (£10 I believe) on a much better camera than the Box Brownies that we possessed. After reading borrowed books on photography we also invested in a basic enlarger, a developing tank and other equipment to enable us to develop and print our own photographs. We both became competent amateur photographers. This, of course, was half a century away from the age of digital cameras!

It was Heather who realized how easily freelance writing and amateur photography could be combined. We had the perfect photographic model. I wrote an article Sleeping Babes about the challenges and rewards of photographing sleeping babies, illustrated by photographs of our infant son sleeping in his pram, in his cot surrounded by teddy bear and other impedimenta, and in his carrycot on the beach at Felixstowe. I sold it to an amateur photographic magazine.

Heather had an aversion to feeding bottles. When, on medical advice she abandoned breast-feeding, we weaned our son directly onto drinking from a plastic mug. We took a photo of him at eleven months, in his high chair, drinking from a glass. The parental hand, ready to grab that glass if necessary, was just out of the picture! That, together with an article ‘Why bother with a bottle’ we sold to Better Health, a publication of the Health Education Council, a national body promoting healthy living. We didn’t, of course, part with the copyright of either our articles or our pictures (that correspondence course had dealt very thoroughly with the differences between copyright, reproduction right (for photographs) and first British serial right (for articles). Years later we sold both those lots of pictures, with rather different articles, to Mother and Baby. s

I submitted an article about sanitary inspectors’ salaries to Municipal Engineering, a weekly local government publication dealing mainly with what today is called ‘Environmental Health’. It was accepted. I followed up with another article on a slightly different subject (that was another lesson I had learnt from that course – follow up your successes). That too was accepted. The editor, Denys Hamilton, wrote me a very encouraging letter telling me that he liked my writing style and inviting me to be their ‘Establishment Correspondent’, writing regular articles about salaries and conditions of service. Needless to say, I agreed with alacrity.

Prior to local government reorganisation in 1974 every district and borough council employed a Medical Officer of Health who each year prepared an Annual Report on the general health of his district. Copies of those reports were sent to Municipal Engineering. These were sent on to me, together with any other official reports from local authorities, with a request that I would comment on items that might be of interest to sanitary inspectors. These were published weekly under the title Minute on the Minutes.

Heather and I soon realized that in those reports there was also material of interest to nurses, midwives and health visitors. Between us we gathered that material together, rewrote it and submitted it to the Nursing Times, the official organ of the Royal College of Nursing. This too became a fairly regular feature.

Our second son was born at the very end of 1955. We now had two photographic models

As our sons grew older we decided that we needed to take an annual holiday. Contrary to popular belief, not all local government officers are ‘highly paid’. Heather had had to sell her engagement ring to raise the money for the deposit on the bungalow that we were buying. She was the epitome of the ‘thrifty housewife’, baking her own cakes, mending and altering clothes, doing the weekly wash without a washing machine! However we had two growing children, a mortgage to pay off and a car to keep on the road. What money we had to spare went towards the reduction of our mortgage debt. Our savings were very small.

Camping was the only kind of holiday that we could afford but, after taking a camping holiday for a couple of years, we decided that it was the only kind of holiday that we wanted. As a result of the radical surgery that she had had for her pulmonary tuberculosis, Heather was never very robust. She had to rest every day, she couldn’t walk far or fast, or carry heavy loads. She was never an ‘out-door girl’. Yet she took to camping like a duck to water, lying down in the back of our estate car on long journeys, helping erect the tents and cooking – often in wind and rain – on a small and temperamental bottled gas cooker, coping with the, at times, equally temperamental kids, and sleeping in a sleeping bag on an inflatable mattress.

We camped on England’s south coast, in the Forest of Dean, among the Welsh Mountains (where we were washed off Arenig Fawr in wind and rain!) in the Scottish Highlands and on the cliffs of John o’ Groats. The year after that, it was inevitable that we should camp near Land’s End, with the Scilly Isles visible from our tent doorway. Having tried Cornwall and loved it, we camped there several years before at last venturing abroad.

Every year, on returning from our holiday, we would look at our photographs and notes and I would reckon on writing and selling at least one article about our holiday to a camping or general interest magazine, thus making a worth-while contribution to the cost of the holiday.

I continued this practice when we ventured abroad. Our very first overseas camping holiday was to a small camping site at Champex-sur-lac, high in the Swiss Alps, near the Great St Bernard Pass. The following year we camped in Italy’s beautiful Aosta Valley, in the Italian Alps. Then, for two years we camped in Austria, first in the Vorarlberg and then in Tyrol. Finally we returned for one more holiday in the Aosta Valley. Once again, each holiday yielded at least one article.

The boys had grown up and had left home. Heather and I took two more tented camping holidays in Britain, one in Sussex and one on the Scottish borders. On our own, camping was losing some of its attractions. We bought a Toyota motor-caravan. After one holiday with it touring Wales and the West Country we ventured abroad again. We headed for the Italian Lakes but, when we reached them, we found the weather unbearably hot. A great thing about a motor-caravan is its mobility. We headed for the high mountains, thence to Switzerland and on to Germany’s Black Forest where we spent several happy days. It was good to find, both there and in earlier holidays in Austria, that I hadn’t entirely forgotten the German that I had learned nearly fifty years earlier as a POW.

As well as the specialist camping and caravan publications, I discovered ‘Doctor on Holiday’ a free magazine distributed by one of the big drug manufacturing companies. They were in the market – and paid well! – for light-hearted well-written articles about overseas holidays, aimed at the medical profession,. SAGA too, specialising in services for the no-longer-young, welcomed an illustrated article about motor-caravanning for the newly retired!

In 1980 Heather and I made our most ambitious foray overseas. We decided we’d visit Yugoslavia. It was the year in which Marshal Tito died. Yugoslavia was as yet untroubled by civil war.

We took three days to reach our destination, stopping for the first night at a campsite beside the Rhine at Worms and the second night just on the Austrian side of the Austrian/Yugoslav frontier. The next day we crossed the frontier, received a friendly welcome from the border guards and drove on, by-passing Lubliana, to camp beside Lake Bled, where Tito used to spend his holidays. The next day we pressed on to the Adriatic Coast. This proved to be every bit as beautiful, and the people every bit as welcoming to English visitors, as we had hoped.

We camped at a well-appointed site on the shore of the Adriatic and continued our journey southward past Split to historic Dubrovnik, and on to Cilipi where at that time, folk singers and dancers from the whole of Yugoslavia – Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Bosnians – gave a display every Sunday to admiring visitors. Travelling inland we visited Mostar, photographing its famous pack-horse bridge, soon destined to be destroyed in a bloody and totally unnecessary tribal conflict. We went on to Sarajevo and to Jajitse where Tito had managed to summon an all-Yugoslav Parliament in the midst of the Nazi occupation.

It was a wonderful holiday in a beautiful and hospitable country. We travelled without restriction wherever we wished to go, speaking freely to whomsoever we chose. We visited Orthodox and Catholic Churches, and Mosques where the faithful worshipped freely. The Police were unobtrusive and we saw no signs of oppression, racial or sectarian tension that might have justified civil war. It was, for Heather and I, a source of many photographs and an inspiration for many articles.

1980 was the year in which I took early retirement from the Council’s service. As my army service counted as full-time local government service I had completed the 40 years that entitled me to a pension of half my salary. Very welcome – but it was only half, and it would be another six years before I could claim my government retirement pension! My mortgage had been paid off nearly ten years earlier but my regular income from freelance writing had reduced. Local Government reorganisation had dealt a blow to such publications as Municipal Engineering. Whereas every week a copy had been sold to each one of the former five authorities in the Tendring Peninsula, only one was sold to the new Tendring District Council. This was happening nation-wide. Municipal Engineering folded! Local authorities no longer employed a Medical Officer of Health producing an Annual report. Our small but steady income from Municipal Engineering and Nursing Times disappeared overnight. Do-it-yourself magazine was taken over by Practical Householder, and another source of income was removed.

I was working on a new plumbing book and had had a substantial ‘advance’ from the publisher. It would be another year though before royalties started to roll in! I badly needed another source of income if I were to retain our living standard!

Another source arrived, virtually on cue! Essex County Newspapers needed a freelance Advertising Feature Writer working from home. I knew that I could do it. I had, after all, been extolling the qualities of the District Council for nearly seven years! I applied, was interviewed, gave an example of my capabilities, and was offered the job. I would be paid by the hour counting in travelling time, interview time and ‘writing up’ time. There was a car mileage allowance. There was a basic minimum weekly payment (a retainer) that I would be paid whether or not I was given work to do, and I would be paid that minimum amount for up to three weeks holiday a year.

I applied for the job as a pat-time freelance advertising feature writer with Essex County Newspapers. Could I take photographs and had I a reliable camera? I could and I had. By that time I was using a Pentax SLR. Mostly, it was explained, I would be asked to take ‘mug shots’ of whomever I was interviewing. My completed work could be handed in to the Clacton Gazette office in Jackson Road from whence it would go to Colchester on the daily ‘copy run’.

It was challenging work but it was work that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would receive a phone call asking for 200, or 500 or 1,000 words on this, that or the other business (depending on how much advertising space had been bought!). Sometimes, particularly as Christmas approached, I would be asked to produce a more general article. I did one, I recall, on ‘The Origins of Christmas’. More often though it would be about the joys of shopping in Frinton’s Connaught Avenue, Clacton’s Old Road, Holland-on-Sea or some similar area. At my interview I was told that I would normally have a week to complete any particular job. That rarely happened. More often it was a case of, ‘Can you get it to me by tomorrow please?’

I gained an insight into practically every form of enterprise that there is. I learned (and wrote about as though I was an expert!) about activities of which I had been totally ignorant. The electronics age was in its infancy and I wrote about fax machines, videos and video recorders, computers and computer software (I was producing my work on a manual typewriter!). I wrote about hairdressers, discount clothing stores, undertakers, shipping agents and used car salesmen. It was fascinating stuff. I think that I was pretty good at it. There was a car bodywork specialist, a Dutch immigrant, in Dovercourt who told the ad. salesman, ‘That (censored) Ernest! He wrote things about my business that I hadn’t realized!’

Often I took photos and handed the film in with my copy to be processed. Once, I remember, I had to interview and photograph a local beauty queen. This interview took place in a small staff room above the hairdressers where she worked. She was a pleasant enough young woman and, as one would expect, very personable. ‘Would you like to take a photo now?’ she asked. ‘Yes, if that’s OK with you’, I replied. I was a little startled when she got up from her chair and started to pull her dress over her head. All was well. She had come prepared with a bikini on underneath. It was my one essay into ‘glamour photography’. My efforts were quite good enough for an ad. feature in a local paper. They’d have never made it into a glossy magazine though!

I also found myself writing advertising features for a monthly publication called Look East, the purpose of which was to encourage East Anglian enterprise. The editor preferred longer paragraphs and a rather less ‘chatty’ style than the one I used with the local newspapers. That was fine. I could ‘do serious’. I was a professional writer, or if you prefer, a ‘reliable hack’.

I began my advertising feature-writing career a few weeks before Heather and I made our visit to Yugoslavia. On our return there was a letter, from Essex County Newspapers on the doormat. They were launching a free newspaper The Coastal Express in the Tendring District, a companion to the existing Colchester Express. Would I like to write every week a ‘chat and comment’ column, Tendring Topics, for it, similar to Tucker’s Topics, a column written by retired Essex County Newspapers staff journalist Bill Tucker in the Colchester paper?

Of course I would. My very first contribution was, I recall, a fairly hard-hitting story about Walton’s crumbling Naze and about how local and national politicians were very good at coming to our district to be photographed surveying the fast-vanishing cliffs, but not quite so good at doing anything about them. Nearly thirty years later the politicians still turn up for a ‘photo opportunity’ from time to time – and still do nothing about them.

When, in 1986, I reached the age of 65 and drew my state pension, I gave up advertising feature writing. I was a little tired, not so much of being ‘economical with the truth’ but perhaps of sometimes being a little over-generous with it! Anyway I preferred to get out while I was still wanted, rather than carry on until I wasn’t. I continued writing Tendring Topics though.

I wrote Tendring Topics week after week (never missing an issue for sickness or holidays) for nearly twenty-three years. Editors came and editors went. The Coastal Express changed its name a couple of times but Tendring Topics carried on, generating a gratifying amount of positive feed-back from its readers. In all my writing activities I had Heather’s full support and help. It was she who took and relayed to me the many phone messages that I received. She was always full of new ideas. Except for my strictly technical plumbing books, she read every word that I wrote before I submitted it. Occasionally she would say, ‘Are you quite sure about that?’ or ‘That’s going to upset an awful lot of people’. I always heeded her advice and took another look at anything she queried. She was usually right!

One day in the spring of 2003, there was another letter from Essex County Newspapers on the doormat. It was from a new editor. It was quite brief. There had been a change of editorial policy and, with immediate effect, Tendring Topics would no longer be required. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t deeply offended by that abrupt dismissal. So were a great many regular readers who wrote to the Editor to protest.

In fact though, I would anyway have probably had to give up my column a few months later. I hope though that I would have ended my association a little more graciously than that editor had! Heather was becoming increasingly disabled and needed more and more of my help with household tasks. Finally she fell and broke her hip – and never fully recovered. For two years she was almost totally disabled and I was her sole carer. During that time I was all but totally oblivious of the world around me and decided that I would never write again. Tendring Topics, and virtually all my other writing, had been done in partnership. Whatever happened, things could never again be the same.

Heather’s life came to an end on 12th July 2009. I can’t exaggerate the gap that her death left in my life. We had been married 60 years and had known each other for 67. Since 3rd September 1939, the day we first met, to the present, I do not think that a single day has passed without her being at some time or another in my mind.

My sons and grandchildren did their best to help me fill that gap. I haven’t written for money since 2003, but I have resumed writing – perhaps writing more than I have ever done before. One grandson organised the Flickr web site www.flickr.com/photos/ernestbythesea on which I have posted over 300 family and other photos – the number grows! The other provided me first with a blogspot www.ernesthall.blogspot.com and finally with a web site www.ernesthall.net on both of which I post every week Tendring Topics…..on line.

The original Tendring Topics consisted of between about 500 and 1,000 words every week. The on line version usually runs to nearer 2,000 and is often illustrated with photographs! On my website, you can find out ‘about me’ (a brief autobiography), a large collection of photographs, and the typescript of a number of sermons that I preached at Clacton’s Christ Church United reformed Church some years ago when I would occasionally stand in for the Minister there.

With the help of my sons I have paid visits to my granddaughter in Sheffield, from whence I have been introduced to the Peak District for the first time; to my younger grandson who lives and works in Brussels, and have seen something of Belgium, including the field of the Battle of Waterloo; and to Zittau in Germany where I was a prisoner of war for the final eighteen months of World War II, and where I now have good friends.

All of these visits provided me with opportunities to take photos and to write material for my blogspot and articles for non-paying publication. After my first visit to Zittau I wrote a long article of over 7,000 words entitled Return to Zittau about my return to Zittau as a free man after over 60 years. I am very pleased that that has now been translated into German and made into a glossy illustrated booklet that is on sale (at 5 euros) in Visitors’ Centres in Zittau. Proceeds from its sales go towards the upkeep of a 500 year old textile artefact in the history of which I am believed to have inadvertently played a minor part as a POW.

Also, of course, I am writing this autobiography for the benefit of my sons, grandchildren and friends. It now totals over 70,000 words.

All the time I am wishing that Heather were still with me, sharing my experiences and my satisfactions. Sometimes I feel that she is standing just behind me, looking over my shoulder at what I am typing. How I wish that that were so!

*My commercially successful books on domestic plumbing include:

’Home Plumbing’, Newnes Technical Books 1977

‘Teach Yourself - Plumbing in the House’, Hodder and Stoughton 1981
‘Second edition of above, published as ‘Teach Yourself – Plumbing’ 1985

‘Home Plumbing Questions and Answers’, Newnes Technical Books 1984

‘Plumbing – Tricks of the Trade’, Pelham Books 1981

‘The David & Charles Manual of Home Plumbing’, David & Charles,
First Edition 1982 Second Edition 1992

Plus the plumbing sections of:

‘The New Home Owner Manual’, Butterworth

‘The Which Encyclopaedia of the Home’, The Consumer Association

‘The St. Michael Do-It-Yourself Manual’, Marks & Spencer

‘The Readers Digest complete DIY Manual’, Readers Digest

‘The Readers Digest, How to Fix Just about Anything’, Readers Digest

Public Relations Officer 1973 - 1980

Public Relations Officer 1973 –1980

I was very disappointed indeed at my failure to become Tendring District’s Director of Housing. I enjoyed housing management and felt that I was pretty good at it. I appeared to have a choice between becoming again a District Public Health Inspector or Assistant, possibly Deputy, Director of Housing under Bill Todd. Neither prospect appealed to me and as I wasn’t a ‘Chief Officer’ I couldn’t opt for early retirement.

I was in despair – until I spotted the vacancy for a Public Relations Officer. The salary was nothing like that of Director of Housing, but it was a grade higher than my salary as Clacton’s Housing Manager. It required a wide experience of local government, of journalism and of public speaking, all three of which I possessed. I applied for it and was appointed.

I was Tendring District Council’s first Public Relations Officer and I held the post from October 1973 until the end of March 1980. The new Tendring District Council didn’t take over until 1st April 1974, so for the first five months of my new job as PRO, I was also Clacton’s Housing Manager. I was able to claim for overtime worked in connection with my new appointment.

` Looking back over my life I realize that the six and a half years that I spent as Public Relations Officer were the happiest of my entire local government career. I was doing the things that I enjoyed doing – talking and writing, and getting paid for it! I also came to realize that the ability to interest and entertain an audience, and that of stringing words together to create a readable narrative, are the only real skills that I have ever possessed.

I was also working on my own. I was in the Secretary and Legal Officer’s Department and I always kept Mr Tom Moonlight, the Secretary and Legal Officer, and Mr Derek Geale, the department’s senior administrative officer, informed of my activities. They never attempted to interfere. I could have summoned one of the young ladies of the typing pool to type my press releases, letters and reports. I had however, for years had the ability to transfer my thoughts directly onto paper from my own typewriter. I brought my little Olivetti Portable to the office and did all my own typing. It was quicker and easier – and if there were typing errors, I had no-one to blame but myself.

All this was long before the advent of desk-top, never mind lap-top computers. The old Clacton Council had a computer that Tendring District Council inherited. I didn’t ever see it but I understand that it was an enormous thing that occupied a room to itself that only a very limited number of people were allowed to enter.

I began my public relations work well before the new Tendring District Council began to function fully on 1st April 1974. It was clearly my task to familiarise the public with the changes that were going to take place. I designed striking posters stating briefly the principal changes that would take place on 1st April, and leaflets giving greater detail of these changes. The posters was displayed on the notice boards of existing local authorities and the leaflets distributed from Council Offices, Post Offices, and other public offices.

I saw the editors of the local newspapers, discovered how they preferred press releases to be presented, and arranged to pick up a free copy of each issue of their publication. I contacted the press offices of the regional BBC and ITV and discovered how to phone news items to their newsrooms.

As a direct result of this activity a BBC crew visited us on 1st April, and the Tendring District was the only authority in the Eastern Region to be featured on their item about local government reorganisation on BBC’s Look East that evening.

My office at Council Offices, Weeley was next to the Council Chamber and had been the official ‘Parlour’ (sitting room cum office) of the Chairman of the Tendring Rural District Council. It was panelled, extremely comfortable and had an open grate – much appreciated when I was able to get hold of a few logs and some coal during cold weather! There was even a large oil painting on the wall!

It was there that I wrote my letters and press releases, arranged speaking and other appointments, and planned the monthly newsletter – just a piece of A4 paper, folded to give four pages. On it I published the Council and Committee meetings, open to the public, to be held in the Weeley Council Chamber during the forthcoming month, and publicised tha Council’ services such as improvement grants and so on. The newsletter I named Minute by Minute. It was printed by the Council’s printing service in the office at Weeley and copies were left at all the Council office centres and at Post Offices throughout the district, for members of the public to pick up.

I tried to attend all the Council’s Committee Meetings and full Council Meetings and phone any noteworthy decisions or memorable quotes on to the BBC’s newsroom in Norwich. Councillors returning home would sometimes switch on their radios to hear a report from the meeting they had just left! Meetings sometimes went on till midnight and beyond, but the BBC’s newsroom closed at 10.30 p.m. so that was the latest that I stayed there

I regularly prepared press releases garnered from Committee Minutes and other sources and sent copies to all the local news media. It was very satisfying to find my releases, often unaltered, in the local papers the following day or week. I also wrote a number of feature articles. One ‘Value for your rates’ had a full-page spread in the regional ‘East Anglian Daily Times’ and on two occasions I had feature articles on Tendring Council’s services and activities published in the District Councils’ Review, a nation-wide publication for the newly created district councils. Rather to my surprise, as I had made it clear that the articles were sent in my capacity of public relations officer, I received cheques (I can’t remember for how much) in payment for these.

Receipt of the first of these cheques presented something of a problem. I had written the articles for which payment was made in my office, in my official capacity, and in ‘the Council’s time’. Despite my busyness I still made time for some freelance writing (it was during this period that my first book on domestic hot and cold water supply, and drainage was published) and it was clearly important to keep my official and my private writing entirely separate. I therefore paid this cheque and a second one a year or so later, to the Council’s Treasurer. I think that my colleagues in the Treasurer’s Department were a little surprised to have acquired a new, if extremely small, source of revenue!

I also gave talks on the work of the council to public and voluntary organisations (Women’s Institutes, Ratepayers’ Associations, church fellowships, schools and the like) all over the district.

I was a founder-member of the Society of District Council Public Relations Officers (with the unfortunate acronym of SODPRO!) and was somewhat dismayed to find that I was the lowest paid PRO in the Eastern Region! However I enjoyed what I was doing – and what one enjoys doing isn’t really ‘work’.

Needless to say I had to deal with a great many phone calls, mostly from the media, about council activities. I hope that I acquired a reputation for honesty and helpfulness and for always ringing callers back when I had promised to do so. As for post – any letters to the Council that didn’t obviously fall within the sphere of some other officer came straight to me. Among them were always a number of letters from school children seeking help with a school ‘project’. I always did what I could to help them but very few bothered to write back to thank me.

One of the odder queries that I had was from a young woman who had ‘seen the Light and repented of her past sins’. It seemed that fifteen years earlier, when she had been a young teenager, she had shop-lifted a few bars of chocolate from a small confectioners in Holland-on-Sea. She told me where the shop had been and asked me to find the address for her so that she could make restitution. Sadly, the shop had since been demolished and no one knew what had happened to its owner. My correspondent had to find some other way of easing her conscience.

Another letter addressed to Clacton’s Mayor came from an elderly lady in Bulgaria. One of her friends had translated her letter into English. It seemed that her son had obtained permission to emigrate to Israel, but when he arrived there he hadn’t cared for it and had managed to get to England. She had a partial address in Clacton. Could the council find him?

Inevitably, the letter arrived on my desk. I was able to find her son. He was living in quite comfortable circumstances, and I never did discover why he had failed to contact his poor old mum. He said that he would write to her at once. In case not, I wrote to her telling her that I had located her son and that he was well and prospering, and giving her his full address. I also sent her a Come to sunny Clacton holiday brochure to publicise the attractions of the Essex Holiday Coast on the shores of the Black Sea.

I publicised the Council’s campaigns – housing improvement grants, anti-dog fouling, anti-vandalism and so on. Vandalism was, and still is, an endemic problem with all local authorities. Young trees are broken and killed, public toilets wrecked (some vandals appear to have been equipped with sledge hammers!), windows of seaside shelters broken, beach rescuer lifebelts stolen or thrown into the sea, beach huts set on fire, and walls defaced with offensive graffiti. Anything of use or beauty, anything that gave pleasure or support to the elderly or handicapped was liable to be broken, stolen or defaced.

The Council offered a cash reward (I think of £50) to anyone giving information leading to the arrest of a vandal. There were one or two claimants. One young man made the mistake of committing an act of vandalism within sight of a holidaying policeman from one of the London Boroughs. He wasn’t just reported – but arrested and taken round to the Police Station and charged! I saw that the reward scheme, and responses to it, appeared in the local press and on local radio and tv.

Dog-fouling of pavements was another apparently insoluble problem of the 1980s. I designed and had printed, in black on fluorescent orange, a poster that purported to be addressed to dogs. It read, as far as I can recall, like this:


Please don’t foul the footpaths. Humans hate it and it causes disease. What’s more, if you foul the footpath, your owner could be fined………and he wouldn’t like that at all.

Note for dog owners: If your dog can’t read please pass on the message.

This I posted on notice boards in Clacton and passed on copies for display to every town and parish council in the district. I also sent copies to the editors of local newspapers and to regional tv and radio stations.

The news media loved it. It was pictured on both BBC and ITV Regional programmes. The Evening Gazette (as it then was) and the Clacton Gazette printed a photograph of the poster pinned to a tree, where it was apparently being read by a rather puzzled dog.

Most town and parish councils, and members of the public, liked it. One or two shopkeepers asked for copies to display in their windows. A few dog-lovers didn’t like it and one parish council, Wrabness I think, denounced it as ‘cheap, gimmicky and unworthy’, and announced that they had no intention of displaying it. Ah well, the poster certainly fulfilled its objective of bringing dog-fouling to the attention of the public…….and demonstrated that you can’t hope to please everybody

Tree planting was another of the Council’s activities that I enjoyed publicising. The Trees Working Party, headed by the late Councillor Malcolm Holloway, a genuine enthusiast, was a strictly non-political group of councillors which had a great deal of success in encouraging tree planting and tree preservation throughout the district. They persuaded the Planning Committees to make tree planting a condition of many planning approvals, encouraged individuals to sponsor tree planting, and (Malcolm Holloway’s idea) recruited ‘volunteer tree wardens’ in every locality to report acts of vandalism on street trees and water them (if only with used washing-up water) in periods of drought. They agreed to a district-wide essay competition, with small prizes, for school children, on the importance of trees to us all.

The working party really took me into their confidence and valued the service that I could give them. I organised the essay competition and persuaded the editor of the Clacton Gazette to judge the entries. I kept up a steady stream of press releases and wrote a number of feature articles about the working party’s activities. These were, I recall, published in the East Anglian Daily Times, The Clacton Gazette and the District Councils Review.

I felt that the members of the Trees Working Party (they came from every political party and none) were one group of councillors who could justly claim to have left the Tendring District a better place than they had found it.

Not everything went smoothly all the time. On evening at about 5 p.m., just as I was thinking about going home, I had a phone call from a young woman reporter (whom I thought I knew) informing me that there was a demand for a ‘naturist beach’ in Clacton. What would the Council think of the idea. I replied diplomatically that they would obviously give any such request careful consideration, but that Clacton was a ‘family resort’ and I thought that they would be unlikely to welcome the idea unless there was a big change in public opinion.

‘Thanks’, she said, adding quite casually, ‘How about you? Would you personally have any objection?’ I should, of course, have replied pompously that my personal views were quite irrelevant and the only view I could express was that of the Council. I didn’t. In my innocence I imagined that it was a casual off-the-record question put by one journalist to another. ‘No, I don’t really think so’, I said.

The next day her newspaper printed a story to the effect that Ernest Hall, Tendring’s Press Officer had said that the Council probably wouldn’t approve a nudist beach in Clacton - but that he personally would have no objection!

That was the only occasion, in nearly seven years of dealing daily with the press that I felt I had been let down. Otherwise I couldn’t have asked for a happier relationship than the one that I enjoyed with all the news media. Like Housing Management though, it wasn’t destined to last. Tendring Council’s first Chief Executive died quite suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. Mr Ramsden was a barrister with a sharp tongue, who didn’t suffer fools gladly. I don’t think that either the councillors or his fellow chief officers had always found him easy to get on with. He had valued my particular skills though, and had encouraged me in my activities and in the way I carried them out. I was saddened by his death. During the next twelve months or so I was to become sadder still.

Immediately after Mr Ramsden’s death, Mr Tom Moonlight, the Council’s Secretary and Legal Officer, temporarily took over his duties. Most of us hoped that he would continue in that post, but he made it clear that he had no wish to do so.

The Council advertised and, from the applicants, selected a Mr Richard Painter. Mr Painter had been Chief Personnel Officer (I expect that his title had actually been Director of Human Resources) for the large Borough of Reading and had a reputation for reorganisation, rationalising and down-sizing; all the euphemisms that mean dispensing with other people’s jobs. His colleagues at Reading were said to have given him an axe as a parting present! I have no idea whether or not that was true, but can understand that it may well have been.

He immediately began the task of reorganising the Council’s departments, managing to shed jobs as he did so. He once remarked that reorganising a local authority was like painting the Forth Bridge; no sooner had one finished than it was time to start again. A year or so later, when I was writing Tendring Topics yet another reorganisation was taking place at the Town Hall. I took the opportunity of quoting that remark with the comment that it at least made sure that the painters were never out of work.

He clearly had no high opinion of either my activities or me. I was to move from my Weeley Office to Clacton Town Hall to come directly under his control but subordinate to his personal assistant. I would retain my title and salary until retirement (he clearly hoped that I would take the option of retiring at 60 – only some eighteen months in the future); but that I would then be replaced by a ‘Research Assistant’ on a salary four grades lower than my present grade. He and his Personal Assistant, with some modest help from the Research Assistant, would then deal with Public Relations.

That I couldn’t accept. I discovered that my army service would count as full-time local government service as far as superannuation was concerned. If I were allowed to retire right away I would be credited with 40 years service and would thus be entitled to a pension equal to 50 percent of my final salary.

I applied for early retirement ‘in the interest of the efficiency of the service’. This official formula was rather insulting to me but the efficiency of the service would certainly have been impaired if I had been compelled to work under the conditions proposed. I had a surprisingly amicable interview with Mr Painter* (we were, after all, both getting what we wanted!) and it was agreed that I should retire on 31st March, then a month away and about six weeks before by fifty-ninth birthday. In the meantime I would remain in my present office until retirement, continuing my work just as I had for the previous six and half years.

I had a very pleasant informal retirement party at my office in Weeley on the day of my departure. My colleagues presented me with a splendid tripod for my camera and life retired membership of NALGO (National and Local Government Officers’ association) of which I had been a member since I entered the service at the age of sixteen! NALGO has now become UNISON. I remain a life member.

A few weeks later Heather and I were invited to an official retirement presentation by the Chairman of the Council, in the Chairman’s Parlour at Clacton Town Hall. It had been suggested that I might invite up to (I think) twenty of my colleagues, and I did so. It was quite an emotional event and both Heather and I appreciated it. The Chairman (Mr. Fred Good of Harwich) paid tribute to the work I had done for the Council and presented me with a first-class pair of binoculars as a farewell present from the Council. He gave Heather a large bouquet of flowers.

My local government career had come to an end. A new career, as a freelance writer, was about to begin. But that is another story!

*Mr Painter moved from Tendring a few years after my retirement to take up a similar post with a large Thames-side authority in Kent. Some years later I saw him briefly on a tv news programme. He had been appointed Head of a London City Academy. No, he hadn’t any teaching experience – but his was an administrative post. Yes, of course all the students addressed him as ‘sir’