Today would have been my Dad’s ninetieth birthday. He was eighty-six when he died, a good age as they say, and at least a decade older than either his father or his grandfather.
Nan and Granddad with Socca the golden retriever sometime in the late 1940s
He was born in 1925 to William (always called Bill) and Lucy Ellen (always know as Mum, or Nan, or Nell – in fact I did not learn her full name until after she had died). For the first couple of year’s of his life, Dad lived in a small cottage on Crimp Hill Road, but by dint of saving and scrimping granddad acquired the wherewithal to buy a brand new semi-detached house on Straight Road, named Rosebank. This house had a long narrow garden, where granddad grew vegetables, three bedrooms, a parlour and a Sunday best sitting room that no-one ever went into! The house cost £370 in 1928.
Aged 3 years
Granddad worked for the Post Office erecting telegraph poles, Nan preserved the fruit and vegetables from the garden, made jam, chutneys, and the most delicious cakes, all in a tiny galley kitchen that would fit into my own kitchen five times over! I especially remember her lardy cake, spicy bread pudding, and my favourite Victoria sponge.
Mum and Dad on their wedding day
Dad was not academic, but he was technically minded, and in his teens he studied to become a draughtsman for small instrument manufacture. He was taken on as an apprentice by Hawker Aviation, and since he was in a reserved occupation did not serve during the Second World War, instead he worked on the Hurricane plane. In 1945, he was called up to National Service and, like his father before him, served in the Royal Signals in the immediate aftermath of the war. After demob in 1947 he went to work at the tank factory on Chobham Common, where he met my Mum.
I never asked him why he switched careers from designing instruments for military machines to watchmaking, but around the time of his marriage in 1951 he went back to college to learn watchmaking and was afterwards taken on by Dysons of Windsor, a well respected local jewellers, as their in-house watch repairer. He worked for them until 1968 when they finally closed their workshops and helped him set up as self-employed in the garden shed. He became well known in the village, and beyond, and there was a steady stream of work in the years that followed. Dysons continued to supply him with their repair intake, but his reputation was such that he had plenty of other work. He told me that Michael Caine’s chauffeur had brought watches to be repaired on a couple of occasions! And that the odd royal watch had passed through his hands. He treated them all the same.
In the army, 1946
By this time, we had moved back to live in my grandparents house, they having found it too much to look after and having moved into a ground floor flat in the village near to my Aunt. Dad remodelled the garden, removed the lovely Victoria Plum tree that had been damaged by lightning, and turned much of granddad’s vegetable garden to lawn. Weekends were spent digging a pond, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, tending tomatoes in the greenhouse, much like millions of other people. As well as dogs, Dad liked keeping fish – the pond in the garden was for goldfish – and the birds my Mum loved, such as canaries and zebra finches. He was good with wild creatures, befriending an injured jackdaw, and adopting other birds that no one else wanted, such as the Silkie cockerel Chicko and his sister’s budgie Freddie.
Just as he was about to retire and enjoy a well-earned rest, he instead spent a year caring for my Mum during her last illness, so he never got to experience the sightseeing, the country walks, the quiet companionship, all the things that they had promised themselves they would do once he retired.
He lived a further seventeen years in the house granddad had bought for £370 until age and ill health forced him to move to a bungalow. The day he left the old house where he had lived for almost his entire life, I remember he turned the key in the lock and walked down the path without a last glance back.
So, today would have been his ninetieth birthday. His was a quiet life, no great deeds, nothing really to be remembered. Eighty-six years as a son, husband, father, draughtsman, watchmaker. An ordinary man living an ordinary life. Happy birthday, Dad.