Off track

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Poptop2, Apr 5, 2019.

  1. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Thanks. Just adding bits on now as I remember them. that way I have more material for the kindle book that hopefully I will do in the summer :thumbsup:
  2. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The burglar.

    To say there wasn't crime down the lane would be stretching the truth a little. We know there were dealers and of course Terry the brothel owner lived there, but overall there wasn't any crime locally as such. Nobody got their car stolen, no one was burgled and nobody ever got mugged down the lane. The quintessential English village was the way we saw it, but one winter there came amongst us a burglar.

    This bad guy was a person of the night, a prowler out on the trawl for empty properties that he could quietly peruse at his leisure and make off with any desirables he desired, and boy was he desirous.

    It was the dead of winter and people that only lived there in the summer or holidayed there often relied on the good natured locals to keep an eye on their property and the unwillingness of the town baddie to come and get his feet muddy, but our new visitor of the night had none of these good natured concerns, he was after their belongings and he knew security was lax, a good clout with an hammer or prize with a jemmy was enough to be into most cabins, the alarm systems were non existent back then.

    This person it seemed knew the layout of the area well because a couple of times he was very nearly disturbed, then the alarm would go up, but he never got caught, and seeing as there was only one real lane out of the the place he must have known the other routes out, over the farm track or on down to the reservoir and up through the wood to the back lane. Somehow we had to lay a trap.

    The lane came to an end just passed the bottom fields at the end of the bungalows at the water bridge. The water bridge may well have been it's final destination all along, after all it needed maintenance from both sides of the river, it being the main pipeline from the Elan valley to Brum, and even justifying an home guard watch during the war. I digress, the lane ended there and became a dirt track from then on for about half a mile that passed a final field of bungalows that was known locally as the waterworks cabins, before coming out into the reservoir nature reserve. You could then make your way around the resrvoir, head on up through the woods and regain a road into town. It was a bit of jog, but easily do-able for a fit person. Whether it was do-able carrying a heavy swag bag was another question, but we all knew criminals could be resourceful.

    The other way out was on up over the fork in the lane across the railway crossing passed the top meadows through the farmyard and up a rough farm track on to the same back road into town. Either way it was going to be a struggle carrying heavy ill gotten gains.

    The plan revolved around the fact he or she seemed to burgle midweek, never on the weekends and seldom was anything taken early on in the week. we guessed they/ he/she was a Wednesday night prowler. So we set about waiting quietly in the shade at three junctures, our lane back into town by the phone box, just over the crossing before the top meadow and just past the waterworks bridge on the dirt track. Tom and Bob covered the crossing ( mainly because his daughter lived nearby and he could get a regular cuppa) Me and the other Bob covered the waterworks track and Bill and Darren covered the phonebox in their car. They were long lonely fruitless nights, the perp never showed for weeks. our sleep suffered and the once adventurous spirit dwindled. We swapped places to change the scenery and liven us up, but even that became a bit dull as time went on. We soon stopped swapping tales and the spirit of bon ami changed to a feeling of drudgery and ' oh no it's Wednesday here we go again'..

    Anyway on the fourth Wednesday excitement abounded, well I say Wednesday, it was really Thursday morning and when I say excitement abounded I mean the boredom was curtailed when one of the locals ' Rick the Indian' came and woke me to say he thought his neighbour's place had been burgled over night. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, shook Bob awake, unfurled the blanket from around me and alighted my fold up camp chair to stretch my legs. Rick said he was going to call the police and we sheepishly had to admit we hadn't noticed anything untoward as we slept. I think Tom and Bob and Bill and Darren had to admit similar. Vigilant vigilantes we were not.

    Rick's neighbour or to be more precise the unoccupied bungalow across the lane had indeed been entered that night. The owners seldom ventured down the lane these days and the place was overgrown, but the gate was open and the door had been forced. No one knew if anything had been taken as the place was in such a mess. Somehow we had to find contact details for the owners and inform them.

    Our nights of vigilance had come to nothing, the perp had perpertrated again right under our noses and we had slept.

    This laying in wait would have to stop!

    The police were the hero's of the hour in the end, but I'll tell you about that presently.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2020
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  3. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The perp it turned out was a chap who had done some work on one of the bungalows in the summer, He had gained people's trust when chatting and decided the place was ripe for a bit of night time filching.

    He had parked his van on the other side of the river in the dead of night and made his way over the waterworks bridge dressed in dark clothing and holding a jemmy and hammer. He had cased the joint or target building previously and was pretty certain how he was getting in. Then once he had been in and accrued a stash he simply stored it in the garden under a taup he had secreted in the lane and came back in the day in his works van and made good with the goods, Foolproof!

    Actually it wasn't foolproof and his hoard had been discovered on one of his jobs, the police just waited for someone to turn up to collect it. When he did turn up they bagged him up easily. They simply blocked the lane and waited for him to drive back to them and searched his van for ill gotten gains. They had him bang to rights as they say and the lane returned to normality. The excitement of a bad un in our midst was banished to the cells and our nights of surveillance became a distant memory, but that's when the tales begin. We went from un vigilant vigilantes who had trouble staying from the arms of Morpheus to super hero's afraid of nowt, men of steel that guarded the lane with the hearts of lions, we were it transpired the hero's of the hour and our legend grew greater with each re telling of our adventure.

    Thankfully Rick the Indian had the good grace not to divulge the fact he had to wake us that Thursday morning and we never actually did catch the burglar ourselves, but that's how legends are born, or is that leg ends?
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2020
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  4. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Off track

    the first snippets complete

    In 1988 Lou and I had been married six years. We'd bought an house in 1981 and renovated it before moving in on the day we got married, March 6th 1982, my 21st birthday.

    We both worked hard, me as a transport manager for a large window company and Lou as a supervisor in a supermarket, however, in 1986 we decided to sell up and move down south to Bournemouth. It was a a mistake, we didn't take to it and in the autumn of that year moved home to the Midlands. We were broke and had nowhere to live. Lou' s parents allowed us to stay at theirs for a while until we could rent a place of our own. Jobs were hard to come by and even though we tried, we had little success, so we used the one asset we had ( our camper ) and set up a mobile fruit and veg shop going around the country lanes selling from door to door. It was great fun and we made some good friends including a member of the Cadbury family and his wife.

    Sadly the truth was this business wasn't really a goer, some days we spent more than we earned. The winter was hard on the van and in the warmer spring months the customers sometimes didn't buy, it was not a reliable way to earn a crust. We looked around for alternative jobs.

    In the meantime we had moved into an house with two very good friends Maureen and Bob. They were older than us,but we had got on so well for years that living together was just pure fun and laughter. I got a job lorry driving and Lou went back into the supermarket. We saved and saved for a deposit on an house and in the spring of 88 bought a Victorian terraced villa in Stourport on severn for the grand sum of £22000. It needed no work, the neighbours were great and we soon felt completely at home. We had barbecue parties at the weekend and even found time to restore a Morris minor that year. That summer was a fantastic time.

    The funny thing was, when we appointed our usual solicitor to do the conveyance on our purchase, she off handedly said ' "oh, I have a cheque here for you from your previous building society, you overpaid your mortgage by £2300!" She had had it in her account for nearly two years!

    Anyhow, at the end of the summer Maureen and Bob had sold their house and decided to semi retire to a caravan park locally. Lou thought this was a good idea and asked me to have our house valued as they had gone up drastically in that summer.

    I got the house valued, and couldn't believe it was valued at £48000 just 6 months after we had moved in, an increase of £26k.

    So we put it on the market and sold it within a day.

    Maureen and Bob asked us to come see the mobile home they had put a deposit on, so we obliged them and went to view the place. It had a golf course, fishing lakes and was in a beautiful setting, in short, we were hooked and decided to buy one.

    We made an appointment to see the park owner, chose a mobile home and headed in with all the enthusiasm in the world.

    Maureen and Bob waited at the restaurant; excited at the prospect of our new adventure. They were soon to be as forlorn as we were when the owner said he wouldn't allow young couples to buy on the park as we were likely to have children and the place wasn't geared up for that. In truth, he was a snobby sod that had a very upmarket place with a very pretentious clientele and was very particular about who lived there. We weren't upmarket enough in our 15 year old campervan.

    There were tears when we went back to Maureen and Bob, and lots of vacant stares while we took stock of our predicament. We'd made so many plans together, we'd had it all worked out, and even chosen two nice plots overlooking the golf course and lakes that we could have our homes sited on, but now we were at a loss.

    That week, in the local rag I'd seen a advert for a very odd looking cabin by the river in Bewdley, it was out in the sticks, had water and electricity, was fully residential, and was up for £11500. I mentioned it to them and off we set to go look see.

    The lane to it was long and winding, the Severn valley railway meandered along the one side of the lane and the river Severn the other. It was picturesque to say the least. As we neared the property: Bob's arm that was hanging out of the passenger window hit something. It was a plasterboard sign with the words ' for sale' written in felt pen on it with a Birmingham number.

    We arrived at the property we originally went to view and met the owner. Bob Maureen and Lou went to look round, I in the meantime went to view the one with the plasterboard sign two hundred yards back down the lane.

    I fought my way through the brambles that had grown over the gate, teetered over the broken bits of retainer wall that held the lane back from falling into the cabin and found my way around the building ( loose term ) to the front. The view was amazing, in front of me 100 yards across a field was the river Severn, beyond that the rest of the valley and the wooded hills beyond that, the Wyre forest.

    That was a view I would wake up to for the next fifteen years, but I didn't know it at that moment.

    I turned and as a sort of after thought viewed the cabin behind me. God it was in a state. Rotten, no sign of a water supply and a distinctly outside loo that was of the bucket and Chuck it school. Phewwy!

    Maureen then appeared behind me, she too had decided this one needed inspection. She stood aghast looking at the view and declared " I want this one" I looked at her and although I truly thought the world of her said, " no way mate. I'm having this" and went down the phone box to phone the Birmingham number on the sign.

    We met the owner the very next day at the property. He explained the peculiarities of the place, the land ownership and the strange conveyance system, told us how his wealthy family had it built originally in 1890 and the resistance to modern facilities in their quest to get away from the hustle and bustle of big city business. He then took a £90 cash deposit off us, handed us the keys, said he wanted the rest in cash next week ( £10,480 ) and we would sign it over at the local conveyors next Saturday. A funny archaic system, but a £90 deposit got us the keys and a week to knock the place into shape, because we had to be out of our house on Friday. God, what had we done?

    We’d bought this for an home. Bats in the roof, mice in the walls and squirrels under the floor, and it was filled with smelly old furniture too :confused:


    The toilet and back entry


    Some of the front view


    The Severn valley railway behind us


    Sort of our view of the river ( not my picture. I don't seem to have one) the river and hills beyond were our view not this angle.

    Maureen and Bob. Sadly both now deceased, bought the other one and we remained firm friends forever xx


    Eventually ( after battles with the council ) we got it into shape a bit.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020
  5. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    We moved in in October 1988. We were 27 and 26 years old and mortgage free, the place we'd bought was in essence a rotting shed with a nice view in a nice location. I had immediately given notice to my long distance lorry driving job and taken a day job with Cow and gate as a relief driver, Lou had finished work as a manager at kwiksave and taken a job locally in a garage. We had the winter coming, we were without running water, an indoor loo and any decent heating, the roof leaked, the walls were draughty and the floor was infested and rotten. There was a family of squirrels living under the bedroom floor, a colony of bats in the roof and a mouse we called ' Mr rich tea that stole one rich tea biscuit every night from our single less than hygenic kitchen cupboard.

    The week we had to clear the place out was taken up with us having lots of bonfires in the garden and burning furniture that even Drew Pritchard wouldn't take. The carpets such as they were had pretty much disintergrated into dust. My family came to help and by Friday we'd painted and cleaned until our hands were numb. The place was just about habitable. Cold, damp and infested, but just about habitable.

    That day we signed over our old house to the new owners and arranged a withdrawal of the remaining balance on our new home. We fretted all night with a Sainsbury's carrier bag full of cash under our pillow.

    We saw the pity on our friends faces when they visited. Lou's dad said we'd gone nutty and said in his comical Italian accent that he would not pay one penny for it or any one of them . Ironically, he loved fishing and a few years later he was prepared to cough up £60k for a doer upper :confused:

    Our plan was simple. we would install a water supply from the standpipe in the field, get my brother in law to fit a calor gas central heating system to get us through the winter, and in the spring after seeing the planning office build around the existing building and knock the old building down from the inside. Actually, this all happened to plan, the only thing I'd forgotten was sewage and plumbing waste. This was overcome by digging a very basic well like system with a gravel bottom that became our cess pit, a proper non detergent system . It was a system I'd seen working well in Italy and read about being used for years in this country. It worked so well I was asked to build similar systems for our neighbours. Another income that was handy.

    Anyhow, that first winter was cold, the temperatures throughout December January and February seldom got above freezing. Four days a week I drove trucks the rest I dug footings and cesspits, built a bathroom and heating sytem, dug a half mile long trench across the field to a standpipe and connected our cabin to mains water for the first time in it's nigh on 100 year life. It was an occasion. We actually had a water connection party.

    The council planners were less than helpful. They viewed the buildings as eyesores, a blot on the greenery, and became the bureau of misinformation: in our minds. We had to learn things and go armed with full facts when we met them. The fact was, we weren't doing anything wrong in wanting to improve our property, they just had a dim view of the area as they knew once more people moved there they would have to provide services. There was nothing they could do to stop it, but they proved very difficult.

    However, they eventually granted me permission to renovate my home. We set about digging footings beneath the existing sheds, and then building the outside wall up from there against the existing wooden walls. when they were built we then knocked down the inner walls and built new inner walls. We suspended a new roof on top of the old roof and built the walls up to it. The central heating was built onto remaining inner walls that were renovated and not disturbed during the new build process. This was a godsend because otherwise we may have froze to death that winter.

    If you look carefully at the renovated picture in the first post, you can see where the awkward council had allowed me to renovate all the outside walls bar the actual front aspect. the new block wall overlaps the lefthand window. They did let me put in a patio window and door, but not brick the wall up :confused:

    In the meantime we learned a bit more about the place and the wealthy inhabitants that still owned a lot of them, we learned of a court case where the council decided to compulsory purchase them in the 50's and knock them down, we heard about the owners simply getting together, employing a London barrister and wiping the floor with the council. They remained, the council retreated.

    We met some of the more down to earth locals that winter too.

    Tom the local builder's Staffy bull terrier ate our cat flap to get at our dog Lady who was in season. He literally ate the cat flap and it's surround. He drove Tom mad and we met in the lane, he looking for his dog, me holding his dog in one hand and the remains of a cat flap in the other. Tom was the most genial, bearded giant of a builder ever, we became firm friends from that day on, his grandson is in Will's rugby team. Tom loved to fish, he was a builder, but he loved to fish, his unofficial title locally was 'gone fishing' It wasn't unusual for locals to answer people that employed Tom to build for them and be consistently late by humming or singing Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong's song- Gone fishing, there's a sign upon the door... His smile, laughter and warmth, made you forgive him for never turning up, and even his dog eating your back door!

    Another neighbour was old Frank, a know it all Yorkshireman ( sorry Yorkshire folk, I know there's only the odd few like him really ) who was very good at DIY, and carpentry in particular. He taught me a lot when he wasn't getting on my nerves. Frank would say "Hail fellow, ill met" I never did understand what he meant, he never liked anyone.

    Slowly but surely that winter we set the foundations for the spring build, we had meetings on site with planners, meetings off site with planners and by March were sick to death of their antics. We knew we were perfectly within our rights to clad the build if that is how we chose to describe it, and just got on with it.

    Afterwards we heard nothing from them and threw a party.

    Our only form of heat for a month or two


    The cesspit


    The process. outer wall built up outer wall. You get the gist.

    We were happy when we'd got past the bureau of misinformation


    Mo and Lou

  6. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The bats moved out of their own accord into my neighbours roof. They preferred the peace we think. The squirrels built a nest in the silver birch in our garden and lived there as long as we did.

    Mr Rich tea hung around. Every night he came in got onto the shelf in the cupboard, took one biscuit and went up into the cutlery drawer to eat it in safety. We heard him and smiled to ourselves every time, you could set your clock by his scuttling feet.We actually bought another pack of rich tea biscuits in case he finished that one at one point.

    Then we noticed our cat Toby would sit on top of the cupboard listening inquisitively at the drawer top. One night I opened it very slightly and Toby sat watching the unaware Mr Rich tea nibble his biscuit. A few nights later I opened the drawer a little more, each time I did Mr Rich tea seemed to take no notice, until the night it was open enough for Toby to pounce.

    I liked Mr rich tea's nerve. I've felt terrible about that for 30 years :(

    Bob and Maureen

    Bob was a great bloke. He was actually going slowly blind when we moved there and eventually did go blind. He had a Birmingham grammar school education and was a local councillor with the best sense of humour ever. One day in a very boring mundane planning meeting a posh lady councillor asked why when she walked in the forest she noticed some trees had numbers on them. There was a short silence while people searched their minds for the answer, Bob piped up and suggested it was so the squirrels knew where they lived.

    They weren’t amused initially, but soon the stifled giggles turned to roaring laughter. He was asked not to do that sort of thing again by the chair afterwards.

    We knew he was going blind, but he insisted on driving whenever he could.

    One weekend we planned a trip to Weston park, to the Morris minor show. Bob being Bob wanted to drive and got his way. On the way home Maureen mentioned his hair and the fact he had actually had a perm that week. Lou and I fell about laughing, calling him Keegan and similar, when Lou ( who was sat behind him in the back ) said devilishly “ a perm is very flammable Bob!” and flicked her lighter by his head, a spark shot out and his hair went up in flames, Lou panicked and started banging his head to put it out, Bob panicked and careered the car off the road into the verge , me and Maureen fell about laughing hysterically and bob called Lou some choice names. Maureen drove the rest of the way home with all of us in fits of laughter and Lou feeling decidedly silly, but giggling.

    Bob and Maureen were the best friends we ever had. Mo ( Maureen) died of cancer in 1994, Bob went slowly blind. He remarried in 1996 to a lady he met at the lonely hearts club. He died three years ago aged 75.

    We miss them both dearly.

    Actually we met Bob in 1981 at Lou’s parents house. Maureen had her own driving school and had been Lou, her mum’s, my brother's and Lou’s sisters driving instructor. It was a snowy day Bob and Mo had been to the pub and decided to pop in to Lou’s mum and dad’s house for an italian coffee. We came in from spending the day on our house restoration and immediately got on with them. We spent the next few hours at our newly renovated house around the corner laughing and chatting. They were our first ever house guests. We were friends from that moment on.

    We met Maureen a bit earlier when we were all learning to drive, she gave me my first lesson in March 1978 when she worked for a driving school, but only the one and we had forgotten that. She met Lou and I together in 1979 when she had her own school and began teaching Lou, her mum and her sister. A year we always disagreed about and would argue jokingly about when we did actually meet.

    At the risk of sounding too sentimental, the last gift Mo ever bought me was a bottle of wine for Christmas 1994 when she knew she had cancer.

    It was this one. I still have it here.

    She had the last word on that.

    Last edited: Feb 13, 2020
  7. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    We'd come so far by the summer of 89. We had paid cash for a property and pretty much built or rebuilt depending on your view a house of our own in a beautiful location. Not a small feat considering two years ago we were basically homeless and most definitely skint ( if you excuse the £2k our solicitor had forgotten she had for us ). Yes we'd overcome a a difficult time in our lives. Yay us, time for some wine and fun. :)

    In the meantime Mo and Bob had foregone their deposit on the new mobile home and at roughly the same time bought the one we originally went to look at.

    They had their own mini project going on there, but unlike us they employed Tom to do their building. They had two small extensions built, the place fully plasterboarded and skimmed internally, a new kitchen, Calor gas central heating and a Masterboard and Tyrolean render outer skin put on.

    They then capped the whole building off with a new pitched roof. It took about six month's to complete and when finished allowed them time to relax and enjoy the peace of our new surroundings. They were also invaluable as a source of respite when things got on top of our own build.

    The fun came in the shape of friends and family. Our little place became a go to place for country trips within our group of family and mates, and some not family and mates, never mind they were all welcome then as they seemed more than willing to muck in and help with our build. We did have some epic get together's.

    The summer evenings after work were often spent swimming in the river with our nephews and nieces that oddly preferred to stay at Aunty Lou and uncle Malc's rather than home. We became surrogate parents for half the kids in the family. something that continued for the next 15 years and still does today. Only yesterday our nephew messaged me thanking us for his wonderful childhood. He's nearly forty now and living in that there London.

    The farmer would hang a pheasant and pigeon or two over the fence whenever he held a shoot, and Lou would make a meal from it. Lou's mum showed us how to cook fish, barbel, eels, chub and pike from the river. On occasion this made a lovely meal, but only on occasion as we had difficulty convincing our friends that home caught fish etc was actually perfectly okay to eat.

    Some of our new neighbours had quirks and some were of the wealthy owner type that came down the lane to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. To a man they were pleasant and welcoming.

    In the depth of winter the first year we lost the electric supply. It was Christmas day 1988, the snow was deep and the draw of heating and cooking through the woefully inadequate overhead supply had blown a main fuse in the transformer box in the field. luckily we did at least have a calor gas cooker and a stock of candles, Mo and Bob however had electric for cooking. Obviously we sorted this by them coming around to ours with their guests to join our guests and eating with us, but during the meal Tom the builder arrived heavily clad against the weather with a frown on his face.

    Tom had become concerned about an old boy who lived alone in the far corner of the field not far from the river. He knew he only had electricity as a means of heating and cooking. Seeing as the weather had been cold for days and there had been no sign of Frank the old boy ( for that was his name, Frank. Not the Yorkshire ' old Frank mentioned earlier, another old Frank from somewhere south! ) he wanted support to go investigate. We agreed we needed to go and see if he was okay along with Tom and Bob. By the time we made our way through the snow to Frank's house we had been joined by other worried neighbours, one of whom thought it was best to phone the ambulance and had popped to the phone box to do so.

    The ambulance crew struggled down the lane in the severe conditions and arrived as we had Frank open the door. Frank was indeed half frozen to death, he seemed bewildered by all the goings on and politely allowed us in. After a brief medical check over the ambulance guys suggested he was fine, but could probably do with a warm house and meal. Of course we wrapped him warmly against the chill and in a spirit of bon ami, brought Old Frank back to ours to join the growing throng for Christmas lunch and a sit by the fire. As we tucked into the third course with candles for lighting and an old transistor radio in readiness for the Queen's speech the lights came back on, we let out a loud cheer.

    A fully revived and slightly inebriated old Frank asked if we could go check his place over and bring back some reserve port from his very nice stock.

    The day had been a complete adventure, not only had we improvised, helped a neighbour in proper need of help and had a great gang for lunch, we had met other new neighbours, who in their combined concern had come out to help a neighbour in need.

    The crew from the electric company that were sent out to fix the fuse became regulars to our field in those early winters. That Christmas day they had worked 18 hours mending blown fuses in our field and others. They took some supplying with coffee, but we managed to accommodate them. In later years they simply brought a large flask up for filling when it was empty. We sometimes see them now on bleak winter days in their landrover with ladders on the back heading out that way and wonder to ourselves who they are off to help out now and hope the people keep them supplied with coffee and appreciate their efforts. I know we always will.

    This place was growing on us. Frank went home eventually at about 9 pm, so too did our other guests, and just as they all left the snow began to fall again. Lou and I went inside, put a few more logs on the fire, poured a couple of cognacs, relit a few candles turned off the lights and watched the snow fall across the field from our new patio window. We looked at each and smiled contendedly. It was one of life's nice moments where you thought to yourself, things just don't get any better than this. Chin chin, Chink!
  8. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator


    So here we were, we’d moved in. It was late autumn and cold. Friends and family had been and passed judgement, some good, some bad, some optimistic and some pessimistic, we cared not one jot, we had a project to get on with and a roof over our head, albeit a leaky one.

    We had a few immediate issues to sort, the water needed connnecting and we needed more than just an open fire in one room, the search was on for a central heating system. It had to be a LPG system as there was no mains service locally. We also had to source a large tank and someone to fit it.

    The answer to the first problem was solved with a chat to the local farmer who owned the surrounding fields. David was a typical farmer, said little but listened and observed a lot. I made a trip to meet him purposely to ask if I could connect to the mains via a standpipe he had in the field. He agreed we could for a fee and under the condition I did all the work. I agreed readily and went back to work out the task.

    The standpipe was just under 900 paces from my house across the field, or there was another one 200 yards across the road. This would involve paying the council for roadwork and wouldn’t be cheap. So, I went to the local building merchant and bought 1000 metres of blue 30mm pipe and a shovel. The heavy clay soil was backbreakingly difficult and sticky. Tom had said it had to be 2ft deep and smooth edged, he also told me to skim the turf first and replace. Bit by bit the whole process took me a week to complete, not all week, but most of the week in bits and drabs. My back hasn’t stopped aching since.

    When I went to pay David I moaned about the digging. He looked at me like I was off another planet and said “ why didn’t you use the JCB over there, the keys are always in it and I don’t mind!” I could have kicked myself, I had never used one before, but by crikey I would have learned. I chose to chew Tom’s ear off instead for not telling me!

    The central heating system issue was solved in one go when someone advertised a new complete system in the local paper for £500. It had been installed six months earlier and they had taken it out. It was a brilliant Worcester system and like new, what they never mentioned was the frost damaged diverter valve that cost me another £180 to replace. Eh oh, I had the set up, all I had to do was hang the rads, run the piping and hang the boiler on the new bathroom wall in readiness for my fishing mad corgi certified brother in law Steve to come fit it.

    The fact he lived in Bournemouth made it a fair wait, but when he got going he was/ is a superb plumber and we were up and running in two days, and no leaks.

    The shed suddenly felt like a home.

    Lady our dog had, it seemed been got at. The main suspect was Rufus, Tom’s dog who had eaten our cat flap. The nephews and nieces were super excited at the prospect of a litter, Lady herself seemed less so. We talked about what they would be like, how many there would be and the kids began choosing names. Myself I worried about homing them, and vowed to have Lady sterilised as soon as possible after.

    In April the night came, Lady fussed making her basket comfortable while all the time looking anything but herself. Lou and I read books on the delivery and how to care for puppies, ourselves just a little anxious, not to mention excited. In the end as the evening wore on our little Lady did all the hard work herself. The first one popped out just after supper time and lady cleaned it with all the caring and expertise of a seasoned mum, by the early hours we had six little puppies with tiny scrunched up faces, all suckling on mum in the basket under the kitchen table. Lady looked tired, yet had a look of contentment on her face. Our little girl was a mum to six new puppies. Lou held her puppies and I took her for a short walk before we all retired to bed for a well earned sleep.

    The next morning we woke to find lady and her pups all snuggled at the bottom of our bed. Lady had obviously decided they would be warmer there and in the middle of the night moved them one by one to our bed. She had been very quiet about it as we never felt a thing, that or we were so tired from the excitement that we’d slept through any movement, nonetheless we had seven new born puppies in our life and a lot of mess to come. As I picked them up and moved them back into the basket I suddenly thought ‘ seven’ there were six last night when we went to bed? She had quietly produced the seventh sometime during the night, possibly and this is only a theory given her later antics, it was ‘ Ratbag’ , the one we kept. Her official name was Rebecca, but ‘ Ratbag’ seemed to stick and she thoroughly earned the tag.

    With seven puppies to feed and mess to be avoided we covered the floor in newspaper, and we put a board up to stop them clambering into the bedroom at night.

    Feed time when we weened them consisted of a plate of porridge with some chappy mixed in.

    The little darlings would scamper out of the basket under the table and all find a place around the edge of the plate eating inwards, bar one. Ratbag would simply walk into the middle of the plate, sit down and eat out. Lou would pick her up and say ‘ you cheeky little Ratbag, and pretend to be annoyed. Ratbag was soon shortened to Ratty and the kids loved her, if there was trouble to be found Ratty would find it. The first thing the kids would shout when their parents brought them over as they got out of the car would be ” RATBAG” and off she would go running. She was just another kid in the gang. Probably the naughtiest, but she was cute with it.

    However, as the weeks went by it became apparent Rufus wasn’t the father, they had long legs and liver spots, long noses and big ears. No, the father it seemed was Jake the pointer who lived the other end of the field with our new found friends Barbara and Trevor. Rufus’s arch enemy. Dut dut durn, we were to hear more of this rivalry later, but for now Rufus was off the hook, and the daft sod had eaten our catflap for nothing!
  9. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator


    There was still a lot to do on our property. There was a drive to build, overgrowth to clear and garden walls to build. This wasn’t helped when David pointed out the little copse in the field and the area to the right of it was ours too, and told me he had made plans to have it fenced with post and rail to distinguish my boundaries, and to stop his cows wondering into the copse. More work!

    Yet the pace of life was chilled, it would get done, but not right away.

    As the spring came we got to meet more of our neighbours.

    They included, the wonderfully Bohemian teachers from the local Steiner school, and owners of Jake the father of our puppies Barbara and Trevor.

    I liked them they had a clapped out Sherpa van camper and lived in the most amazing 120 year old tin house by the river. Locally we called it the tin tabernacle, in reality it was a beautiful building built by the famous Brinton family of carpet fame and was the first building ever built on the field. It flooded yearly, but mostly it was dry enough for them to manage staying there throughout the winter. They were hardy folk.

    There was Lawson Bate and his wife, who came for the summer in their Mercedes, took tea on the veranda in China cups, and had a man that did for them. They were incredibly welcoming, and posh.

    There was old Harry who was a retired council clerk of the works who’s house blew down in a storm. He had rebuilt it himself when he retired. The irony wasn’t lost on us. Particularly those of us who’d dealt with him in his job. I remember my dad’s painters cursing him for being so fastidious in his job, my dad smiled when I told him the story.

    There were odd folk that had lived there years in a state of wariness lest the council should rumble them for being there. The odd thing was, it was perfectly legal to do so, and through all the effort they put in to hide their full time occupation, some of it was elaborate, they never thought to just ask!

    The area had been there a lot longer than I’d been around and the locals had established traditions and ways that were reminiscent of old England. They had rules and guidelines that were unspoken. A code of help without being asked seemed to exist.

    They even had a once yearly charity cricket match. In our field!

    This charity game had been played for years, it was between the local angling club and the Birmingham anglers association. It was organised by the owner of the local fishing tackle shop and the month of July saw our field transformed into the Bewdley equivalent of Lords. Well maybe not that grand, but the effort put in by all was amazing.

    The weekend before the game saw a marquee go up. That was the first clue, then the field was mowed by the farmer and a crease rolled by hand by any of us that were available. The marquee was stocked with beer until it was bursting. A couple of trestle tables set up for serving and a scattering of chairs appeared around the perimeter of the field. Game on!

    The first summer we were approached by a couple of locals Lawson and David, captain and vice of our team. They asked if we played. I said I‘d been known to field badly and Bob said he had poor eyesight these days. I was asked to open and Bob to umpire. I told you they were an odd lot.

    So the day came. That morning early I remember walking the dogs around the pitch. There was still a dew, the wood pigeons cooed in the trees, the mighty river Severn trickled quietly by and the ducks quacked in unison. The houses looked quaint all decked with bunting with the river glistening behind. I sat on a chair at the side of the pitch, listened to all the new sounds in my life and remember thinking to myself’ blimey, I actually live here!

    The Birmingham lot came down by coach, our lot greeted them with mock boos, then warm firm handshakes were exchanged. I realised then, this game was serious!

    Bob was introduced as the umpire. None of them twigged his vision issue, so all was cool. There were a lot of winks and nudges on our side and I was told to field mid on and give Bob some discreet help. I got the gist!

    Apparently they had employed. Some ringers in the past and we hadn’t won the match for years. There was a sort of grudge match atmosphere brewing. I knew I had to get my bit right.

    The seats around the pitch were filled and the marquee was swamped with people all spending money like it had gone out of fashion. There was a raffle, cake stalls ( lots of cakes ) and a pig roast. There was even a tombola. People came in cars, families and extended families from inside the houses, deck chairs were everywhere, sun cream, sun hats and sunglasses were adorned and everyone seemed in party spirit.I’d never seen the field so full of people.

    They won the toss and chose to bat, we stocked up with beers and trundled out to field. It was a very hot day.

    Bob stood majestic almost convincing in his whites at the bowlers end, and I crouched next to him at mid on, just within earshot!

    The game was played in great spirit. They went cheaply to some dubious decisions that I’d persuaded Bob were perfectly legit. I also helped with leg byes, wides, Fours, sixes and LB’s Bob made the appropriate arm gesture each time I made an aside, I’m sure they never twigged it, and with my fabulous opening three, we won the game to loud cheers and an equal amount of boos.

    The evening events were a open field dance and a barbecue put on by Stan the tackle shop owner. The Birmingham lot congratulated us and went home at midnight, we partied until the early hours.

    Bob umpired the next three years and we won each one.

    Great days. I suppose you would call them halcyon. Whatever they were they were the best times of our lives and writing this has made me realise how happy times were then and how simple life can be.
  10. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Our place ‘ Bala cottage’ was right on the lane. As I worked on her people would pass by walking their dogs and stop for a chat. Usually it was about the build and how I’d been brave enough to take it on and all the palaver that dealing with our particular council involved. I would simply explain that I’d done some research and dealt with them previously and knew the boundaries. Actually, dealing with our council on this project was very difficult, the place had history in their minds. They’d previously tried to demolish it and got knocked back, they may have been forced to retreat, but they certainly hadn’t forgotten and let bygones be bygones, as I was finding out.

    The real issue was location and access, basically there was one dead end lane to over 300 properties, including farms and farm buildings.

    They had sprung up in a time before planning on the back of a new laid access called the Severn valley railway line that was built in the last century to connect Shrewsbury to Worcester. The halt on that line became a very popular stop for fishermen and their families on a day out from Birmingham, they fell in love with the valley and approached the farmer for permission to build cabins.

    So basically, the place had sprung up two miles off the beaten track. For nigh on 100 years the place had been managed by the owners and the farmer. The road such as it was had been built by the railway company for access to their line and as a sweetener for the farmer, it certainly hadn’t been maintained by the council in that time and there was no lighting sewerage system or waste collection. The water ran away through streams and land drains, and the waste was put in a large skip half a mile away that the home owners paid for yearly and was managed by the farmer. The council had no intention whatsoever of spending any of their money changing that to a proper system. They did charge us proper rates though.

    The people stopping to chat would ask if I did work for others, I’d point them in the direction of Tom initially, as he’d become a good friend and I didn’t want to step on his toes, but Tom was not too fussed, he got to hear about the enquires and actually suggested I might make a good fist of building around there and offered me all the building jobs he didn’t want.

    David the farmer saw the potential in getting all the properties connected to main water supply and asked Tom if he would like the jobs when they popped up. Tom said he had enough to do, so that job came my way too. So too did the JCB and all it’s oddity’s.

    I managed to cut my driving down to two short weekend days with early starts and now spent a few days a week repairing other people’s properties or connecting water to them, along with the odd cesspit build I was suddenly becoming a handyman builder. I never planned that, it just went that way. I needed a van!

    The van came via a friend Chris from Coventry, Bob’s son in law, an electrician who’d bought it from a sale of ex BT stock. It had a dented front wing, no mot, was originally yellow, but now painted green and had a ladder rack and all the original BT shelving. It was a Marina van, but it was what I needed. It cost me £180!

    I got Chris’s mate to deliver it on trade plates. I owned it for the next five years and never taxed or insured it once. I never left the fields. It served me well that old marina van. Can’t say I ever actually liked it, but it drove okay, started on the button and never let me down. Which as it turned out was a good thing because from that moment on I was the local handyman. I was permanently on call and my life was never dull.
  11. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The driveway incident

    At home our place was moving on rapidly. David had thrown a spanner in the works initially when he told me of the extra land we owned at the bottom of our garden and the plans to fence it off to distinguish the boundaries, but he did a lovely job of the post and rail fencing, and even supplied us with a five bar gate and posts to form a bottom driveway.

    This was helpful in the summer when the field was dry, but definitely not in the winter.

    Our major task and quite a big one was a parking space near the house off the lane. This was quite a difficult task as that side of the property was on a very steep slope and the lane very narrow with high hedges. There had to be some serious thought go into this job.

    In the end I decided to form a concrete retainer wall using scaffold planks as the former and reinforcing the concrete with rebar. Unfortunately I could only get an electric mixer onto the site and not order readymix.

    My old mixer had a crack in the drum that protruded out at the front and was a bit temperamental. The area I was working on was sloped and filled partly with 8 Ton of sharp sand and a pallet of cement, the room to work was very restricted.

    Nonetheless I persevered and slowly built up the retainer wall. As each day progressed I added two more planks on top of the previous day’s work and set to hand mixing another few ton.

    The shape of the former was an L. There was a 18ft wide back area and 30 ft along the side. With the restricted work space each day’s progress was painstakingly slow, but I pushed on.

    Maybe I was pushing on a little too much on the third day, because in an instant the mixer drum grabbed my arm, the bit that was sticking out had become entangled in my shirt sleeve. Never underestimate the power of a loaded belle mixer. Within a second I was lifted off my feet and was off down the slope, the mixer tipped over and began following me down the slope and over the new retainer wall. A lot of thoughts went through my mind, paramount was the fact I was powerless to stop it and was heading for a ten foot drop with the possibility of a loaded mixer following me. I couldn’t switch it off the momentum was too fast, my arm was hurting and my head was being bashed every second on everything I passed, the wall, the floor, some bushes and a pile of blocks I’d stacked for the final three feet of retainer. Then the drop loomed. I closed my eyes and waited. Silence. The drum had stopped turning. I was literally on the edge of the drop and it all stopped dead. The plug had popped out of the transformer box, the extension lead had stretched to the last second and popped the plug that connected my transformer box to the extension lead. Blimey that was close.

    My head was cut and bumped, my shirt was ruined and my arm needed stitches, but that final fall may have been far more serious if that mixer had landed on me. Lou came running to see what had happened and in her wonderfully caring way saw to my injuries. She soothed my furrowed brow, tended my wounds with love and care and laughed. I don’t know if it was hysterics or relief, but we both looked at the accident zone and roared. I was okay, and standing back looking at what just happened was hilariously silly and we saw the funny side.

    I got patched up and the next day was back on it with dire warnings From Lou to slow down and work smarter. She popped out every half hour and checked on my progress under the guise of bringing me a cuppa.

    I just got on with it and by the weekend the first stage was completed. The concrete retainer was up to road height and the sloped area it contained filled with hardcore. On Monday I would build a block wall up another four course on top of the retainer and cap it with 12” coper slabs.

    In the meantime I had procured one hundred 3 x 2 concrete slabs for the driveway floor. They were free, but 5 miles away and we only had a little box trailer. They had to be moved that weekend or I lost them. This weekend was going to be busy!
  12. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Slab day.

    The only person with a tow bar was my dad, he had a Ford Sierra diesel that he pulled a caravan with. Dad as always was up to help and we hitched up the little camping trailer we had and set off on the five miles to the house they were at.

    The slabs had been taken up in readiness for a new driveway that was being done on Monday. They were those big 3 x 2 two inch thick heavy jobbies. We decided the trailer could take 12 and loaded them from front to back with a rope lashing them to the front to stop them toppling backward. Off we set home with the first load and although the car pulled them okay, the steering felt quite light and odd. Anyhow, that load done safely we set off for the next 7 or 8 journeys. When we’d done a couple more we decided we could shorten the amount of journeys by taking 16 at a time. Mistake!

    Going down Long bank the car started to speed up, then as we braked went into a snake, the front end of the car was sent from side to side, oncoming traffic swerved to avoid us and we struggled to gain control again, but we did and slowed down. Then she was off all over the road again and we struggled again to gain control. I pulled over and went to see what was causing it. Basically the weight was all on the hitch. The 16 slabs only took up the front three thirds of the trailer bed and the weight on the back of the car was affecting the steering. To get home we simply moved half a dozen to the back and drove slowly. We went back to twelve after that. Better a bit more work than an accident. Lesson learned!

    It took about ten trips to get them all home and took all day. We humped those slabs on and off all blooming days and ached from top to bottom, god they’re heavy those slabs. We also covered over a hundred miles when you tot it up. Still they were free and in the end they were on the driveway waiting to be laid when we were ready. Result.

    On Monday with a clear work area and the drum on my mixer hammered straight and welded I built the block wall in one long day. I laid the copers on Tuesday and the slabs on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday I parked my car in the drive. Yay, eight months and I had a driveway. Lou said it looked great but wouldn’t it be better with a car port. More work!
  13. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The fishing.

    To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t much of a fisherman. I could fish and I had a half decent tackle kit, but in this place ‘ fishing Mecca’ I was seriously lacking in fishing credentials. The place had been built by fishermen, maintained by fishermen and lived in by fishermen for nearly 100 years. People had fishing sheds for god sake, actual sheds with walls of rods and drawers full of floats and ledgers and work surfaces for mending rods. They had security systems on them and sensor lights. There were people who made fishing rods and people that made fishing TV shows came to visit them. No I was just a novice.

    However, I was accepted into their circle. I was made to feel at home in their sheds and welcomed to the angling club. In fact, just being in their company made me feel like a better fisherman.

    There was a chap called Pete who owned a place right on the riverbank and came down alone most weekends to fish. I did some work on his place and we got chatting

    His wife hated the place, his kids had no interest in it either, so I asked him why he kept it.

    “ This is the best barbel spot on the river” he said. “ just there” he pointed 20 ft out directly in front of him “ is a 20ft deep hole and in that hole are hundreds of barbel all year. I can fish this spot any time I want and have a good day’s fishing, why would I sell?”

    Barbel are regarded by river anglers as prized fish because of the tremendous fight they put up. Landing a barbel is a dream of many river anglers and some have never caught one.

    He went on to tell me how barbel are fussy, some days they bite on maggots, others corn and others hemp seed. The secret was to alternate the bait. He preferred maggots in a swim feeder. He told me how they always ran after bite downstream, and if they could they’d try getting behind a rock or reed to tangle you or snap your line. He suggested I always play them up stream to tire them when I got one on, and try never to let them run too much. He went on to tell me he preferred trotting for perch and dace these days as his favourite way of fishing as he’d barbel fished enough. I tended to agree.

    I took it in, but fishing still didn’t have my interest really.

    A couple of days later I watched Jason a very good local angler take nearly 180lb of barbel from that hole while fishing from a Canadian canoe. I was impressed.

    The local anglers had different ideas though. They’d seen me dangling me maggot from time to time and insisted I had a go in one of the weekly comps. I tried a couple of times, but didn’t really do well enough to take it seriously.

    The thing I did notice with them when talking, was their attitude to different pegs ( a set place on the river to fish) they would moan about the draw and which peg they’d drawn, or moan about a certain jammy devil always drawing peg so and so. “ I might as well have gone home when I drew that one’ they’d say, “ but I stopped and give it a go, no good though, that jammy bugger had peg nine and won again”

    This is the type of stuff I was hearing daily as I worked. They were fishing mad. They had fishing holidays together, fishing trips to lakes and even fishing boat trips to sea on a day out. Mad, the lot of them!

    Usually I would go fishing just to unwind a bit and take in the serenity of the place. I’d only go trotting down at the cattle drink peg, or our friends kim and Ands place opposite my house. I had a few chub and usually a dace or two and a perch, but I never really took it seriously, and then one day I decided to get a few pints of maggots hook up the swim feeder and have a go at Pete’s barbel hole from 30 yards upstream of it at the cattle drink peg.

    The cattle drink peg was like a sandy beach area where the cows would get down to drink from the river. In the summer people would bathe there and at other times people would fish there. That evening I was fishing.

    It wasn’t easy to get at the barbel hole from there though, it was quite a way down stream and there were willow trees that got in the way. There was a near bank channel that fed straight down into it and you could trot a float down, but you usually got a snag or tangle if you used the length of hook from float you needed to get into the hole, so nobody bothered.

    I thought I could get out across the channel and stand on the shallow shelf just a few yards out and cast right into the hole. I guessed if I struck left and kept the barbel in the channel I’d get a couple, so I waded out and got onto the shelf. It was only a foot deep at the most once I’d waded through the waist deep channel. I could peg my net and sit my box and gear in it no bother. There was very little water on this night and after searching around a bit I found a very shallow spot of only a couple of inches, I looked a bit closer and saw the drop two foot away. There was a sheer drop of maybe 10 ft all along the river pretty much right where I was standing. If I was careful I could fish here comfortably and my net could hang over the ledge. Sorted.

    I began fishing on the feeder at 5pm, I had my first big barbel at 5.05 pm. He was a beauty, about 7lbs, I had him straight out as Pete had suggested, no time to run , struck hard and dragged him up stream without stopping. In the net!

    I was barbel bashing, as they say!

    They were biting all right. Tom heard I was fishing the hole and came down with Bill and brought a couple of cans with them for me. They chucked them over and asked how I was doing. I pulled up the keep net and showed them. I think they were impressed. By 9pm it was starting to tail off a bit and I had to pack in. Tom came back to help me get my net after I’d got my gear back to the bank. We had a job getting the net back across the channel though. When we weighed it I’d had over 45lb of barbel and chub in a few hours. Tom was impressed with how I’d fished the hole and said I’d actually taught him something. Although he admitted he would never have thought of that because he couldn’t swim.

    I did that a few more times over the years and had a few nets of over 100lb in a day, but I preferred to just trot the narrow swim. There’s something very therapeutic about watching the float gently float downstream and then bob down just before you strike!

    This is the actual view from the cattle drink peg. The shelf can be made out to the right and the hole is the area mid left behind the willow.


    This picture was taken just before I started fishing that night
  14. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The first winter looking through the new patio window. You can see the water pipe trench at the right of the path.


    Me connecting the water


    Maureen and Lou


    Bob having a Robinson Cruscoe moment!


    A couple more of the build

  15. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator


    Ratty then, gosh where do I start. You know when you meet someone that just sparkles because of their lovely ways and happy outlook and you take to them no matter what? well that was Ratty!

    She ate cow muck and licked your face afterwards, She caught rabbits and licked the skin off them while they were still alive, before eating the insides and leaving a rabbit fur in the field. The kids would find one and say " no, not another ratty bunny" They thought it was a perfectly normal Ratty type thing to do. I hated it! She ate blackberries off the bush , and her trumps emptied the room, fair enough, she did have a guilty look on her face afterwards, but it never made up for the sickening taste they left in your mouth.

    She loved our cat ' Merry' to bits. The first day we had her as a kitten was Christmas day 1993 and we had to go out for lunch. We had to leave her with Ratty and Lady, we knew Lady would be fine with her, but worried Ratty would eat her, she didn't. She lay next to her with big googly eyes and swooned. She did however eat all the Christmas nuts while we were away. She was lay so peacefully and innocently in her basket with her mum when we got home that you wouldn't believe she'd moved, but there right in the middle of a carpet covered in nutshells was the outline of a dog, not a small dog, a Ratty sized dog.

    The kids all loved her, even the kids who holidayed down from Brum loved her, The shout would go up ' Ratbag, Ratty' as soon as they turned up for their holidays or the nephews and nieces turned up for stopovers. She was just so thoroughly lovable.

    Ratty would wake each morning about 8 o'clock, eat her breakfast and take herself off down the field for a walk or a dip in the river. She'd return just before lunch for something to eat and a nap. She must have had very tiring mornings we thought.

    One day she tried to nick a golf ball as someone practiced their swing in our field and took the full brunt of a seven iron to her head. The poor girl was in a lot of pain, but never snapped or snarled a bit, she just looked pityfully in pain. It was an awful moment. I still wince just thinking about it. A few days later after a check over and a few stitches at the vets, she was fine and back to her naughty self again. Thankfully!

    Ratty died a year after her mum aged only 11. She always had a small lump in her neck just behind the ear, we'd had it checked over by the vet numerous times. He always said it was just a lump and was nothing to worry about, but the moment her mum died Ratty's lump began to grow. The vet couldn't operate as it was attached to a main artery and we just had to watch it grow for a year. At the end she had a drain shunt put on it as it was so big, by now she was in a lot of discomfort and it was cancerous. The poor girl died in my arms at the vets, oh man, I cried!

    After Ratty died I vowed never to have another dog, I'd lost my beloved lady to old age a year before and now Ratty, it was all too much.

    She did however break more than just our hearts. Bob and I were talking about her and he told me emotionally how she came round to his each morning at about 8.30 and had a half bacon sandwich with him. I never knew that!

    Equally, I never knew what Jason told me about her while reminiscing about her in the field one day. At about 9am Ratty would pop through his back door and have fresh cooked chicken that Jason ordered in especially for her. He was a real tough guy was Jason, but he said he was proper upset to hear she'd gone, Then there was a chap called Ken who she would stop by at his gate where he kept a bag of dog chews just for Ratty, who openly cried when he was told she'd gone, but she was only passing by his on her way to Andy the dog's house where she ate his dog's leftover food and slept for an hour on his living room rug before going up to Yorkshire old Franks to eat bread and dripping that he prepared every day for her, again old Frank cried when he came down to pass on his regards and tell us his tale of her daily visit.

    Finally she would come home looking contented and tired at about midday. She'd have a snack and spend the afternoon in her basket with her mum waiting for the kids to turn up for a play later.

    We buried her next to her mum in our garden under a star magnolia which we thought was fitting, as she was a star!

    My lasting memory of her though is of our cat pawing her dead body and meeowing loudly. the vet said it was best to let the cats see her and see she had passed away and suggested we lay her on the patio or somewhere before burying her. I'm not sure the cat got much benefit from it, he was very obviously extremely distraught. Poor him, poor us, poor Ratty, poor friends.

    She gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, just by being lovely.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2020
  16. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Big John.. a very rare moment of anger.

    In my new found job as an handyman I was getting lots of work on gardens and fencing, decking, that type of thing.

    All my customers were very nice as a rule, they were only too grateful for someone to turn up and do the job they wanted done without hassle and not disappearing off to go fishing every other day like Tom had a tendency to do. They always made me tea and cakes, tipped me and would usually recommend me to others. I was very busy in a very short time. I liked my customers very muchly.

    One chap who’d recently bought an old holiday caravan in the top field and replaced it with a big new shiny thing: came down to see me in his big four by four and struck me as a big head right away. A tall stiff bloke with a quick blunt nature and way of talking. People locally Called him ‘ big John’ but no one said anything positive about him other than he liked a drink.

    Anyhow, he just looked at me as if I was dirt on his shoe and said he wanted me to put a 6ft fence around his caravan pitch and didn’t want to wait for ever, could I start next week while he was away working and he’d settle up next weekend?

    I went up and gave him a price of about £850 and we arranged for me to have a key for his caravan to get water for the mixer. I ordered the materials for Wednesday and got on with other stuff until then.

    The day I went to start the job it was very cold indeed. It was a concrete slotted post, gravel board and larch lap fence job. There was quite a bit to do and he’d stressed in no uncertain terms it had to be done by the weekend, so I cracked on with it and ignored the freezing temperatures. I got water from his van for tea, but just the once and the job went really smoothly. The fence looked great and professional.

    I had used his tap for tea water once, but as we’d put a standpipe on for the previous owner some time ago I used that to save going into his new caravan.

    On the Saturday I went up to collect the money as agreed and found he wasn’t there. I asked his brother in law two doors away if he was back later and he said he had no idea as he often came and went as and when and sometimes didn’t come down for weeks. I rang the number he’d given me but got no answer. Eh oh, I’d see him at some point.

    A month or so later I was driving down the lane and saw his four by four coming towards me and flagged him down. He spoke to me in a very aggressive manner saying he wanted a effing word with me and what sort of cowboy was I etc. I said I’d be up in a bit and went off into town to do my other business.

    In town I picked up my nephew and niece for a stopover and on the way back popped up to the top field to see big John.

    The kids stayed in the car and I smiled as he came to the gate and offered a handshake to him. He just started ranting about me ruining his new caravan and telling me he hoped I was insured and that I was lucky he was in a good mood and didn’t kick the doo doo out of me. Was he paying me was he heck!

    Now, I’m a pretty laid back sort of chap so I asked him what is issue was. He said I’d left the water on in his caravan and it had frozen and burst a pipe. He then grabbed my shirt. And pulled me towards him, I glanced at the poor kids faces in the car and removed his hand firmly. I said I’d take the kids home and come back for my money “ have it ready”

    I told the kids we were old mates and just playing and said I’d drop them with Aunty Lou and go back and have a cuppa with him. This I did, but I never went for a cuppa, I went to war!

    I fired up the JCB and set off in it up to the top field and big John’s. He must have heard me coming because when I got there he was out waiting with Tommo his nephew who worked on the road gang he was charge hand of. I couldn’t have given a toss, he owed me 850 notes, and had worried our kids. If he wasn’t paying his fence was coming down.

    I pulled up and got down to speak to him. I asked him if he was paying and realised I hadn’t even been inside his caravan ( I had, but only to get the first kettle for my tea on the first day, but I never made a mess or messed with the stop tap ) He made lots of points why I must have been in, footprints on the carpet, the water had to be got from somewhere etc. I pointed to the standpipe and explained there was no need to go in and asked if he was happy with the job otherwise. He said yes he was happy with the fencing, but was insistent that I’d been in his van. I said “ mate, I haven’t been in your van, you left the water on, not me. I don’t know how there was footprints in there I never had a need to go in, now pay your effing money before the fence comes down. You have five minutes!”

    He looked at Tommo for backing, but he just looked sheepishly at the floor and I revved the JCB.

    In the end he went into the house and came back clutching an envelope. I made my way down to him and he grabbed my jumper and shoved the envelope down my chest. Ripping my expensive pullover in the process.

    I had the cash now, I went ballistic,I shoved him back off his feet and just started ranting at him for grabbing me again, needlessly ripping my jumper and worrying the kids earlier, he was properly shocked at my strength and language and vicious anger. He stayed down and told me to just F off and he wouldn’t use me again and make sure everyone knew what a cowboy I was.

    I just got angrier. I told him he could do what he liked, but he was paying for my jumper and his performance earlier. I got in the JCB and put the bucket through the front fencing. I took the whole first panel out and smashed the posts. Him and Tommo tried to stop me by standing in the way, but I’d lost it and put the bucket under his caravan.” Nooo, no please don’t wreck my van” suddenly the big Head was pleading with me and he had a look of sheer panic on his face. I just stared him out and after a few minutes backed off his garden and told him he was lucky I wasn’t really mad or I would have done and went home. I was so mad though. Lou saw it in my face when I went in and I had to confess my behaviour to her in earshot of the kids. I tried to whisper it, but I was so ate up I think they heard it all. I did calm down in a while, but the kids had overheard and thought it was great as they hadn’t seen or heard their uncle Malc act like that before.

    To this day I don’t know why I reacted so angrily to that. I spoke to Tom about it afterwards, Tom said he himself had fallen out with a couple over the years and had to ask himself why. He thought it was to do with them being new and not knowing the ways and possibly not caring about the ways down there and the aggressive way they came across caught him unaware, which brought out the wrong reaction. Maybe I was settling in and felt the same way about the place. David the farmer said I should have taken the lot down and he would have forbid him for having it put back up. I don’t think David liked him or that type of way much either.

    The rest of the meadow heard about it soon enough, but I never lost any work from it or his bad mouthing off of me, no, quite the opposite. I got even more work and became a bit of legend for doing what I did for some odd reason. Then a localism came about. If someone didn't pay for something on time they would say, " we'll get Malc and his JCB on you! I think David started that one.

    I didn’t get too much fencing work though. Maybe it was rubbish after all?
  17. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    How not to fall out with a newcomer.

    Tommy the Yorkshire man arrived in the lane one day off the train. He wondered around, and decided he liked the place. He met Tom in the lane and they got chatting and Tommy said he’d love to live there and there was a drink in it if he could find him one on the bottom meadows.

    Tom wasn’t over enamoured by Tommy the Yorkshire chap, but took his number and mentioned it to me.

    Our friends Nigel and Caroline owned a cabin on the lane that was in dire need of work.

    During a refit of a new AGA stove they had discovered a lot of rot in their kitchen, and after a further inspection by Tom were upset to find there was an awful lot more all around the cabin. The bottom foot of the entire thing was rotted in such a way that there had to be new walls built. Not a nice discovery when that was your home. Tom suggested doing one whole wall at a time, but then the floor was rotted too, so Nigel took the decision to tart it up with paint and sell it.

    On the face of it the place looked okay, picturesque and cosy and in the winter the light shining out of the stained glass Windows and the green of the building surrounded by conifers made it look like a Christmas card scene, but in reality it needed lots of work.

    The place was leasehold as the owners had never bought the land and paid ground rent to the farmer. It wasn’t a lot, but it affected the resale value. They had gone up a bit by then, they still weren’t expensive and at £45k was probably still a snip for the place and a way of life.

    They struggled to sell it though, and as a last resort Tom suggested Yorkshire Tommy might be the best bet to sell to. I don’t think Tom wanted to suggest him, but they were our friends and needed to move. Tom phoned him.

    Tommy did buy the place and within a few weeks he was down bending our ears about doing it up and what he could and couldn’t do: telling us his plans and all about his divorce and his properties up north etc etc. I must admit he did get on my nerves a bit.

    He was a tall bloke in his early sixties with a slight stoop and a very mole like grumpy face. He had a way of staring at you as if he didn’t believe what you were saying and then grunting when you’d finished speaking. It was very unsettling and made you want to avoid getting in conversation with him.

    He had obviously weighed us up and decided he should have a ‘ proper builder’ do his place as he didn’t want us yokels messing up his plans. We waited and watched. This would be fun.

    The trouble with town builders coming down the lane was the uniqueness of the place and the local area. There were land drains and overhead cables that went from one property to another and all sorts of other things to mess up a build. The council had unusual rules on things too, they insisted they were painted green or brown, at a push white. Then they had other obscure rules that just made building there a mine field at times.

    The local knowledge Tom had and I was learning was the key to a successful conclusion.

    Anyhow Tommy got in a friend of ours Terry from town to give him a quote. He seemed satisfied and Terry set about clearing the site. I don’t know exactly what went wrong as I was busy doing other stuff of my own at the time, but I heard there was some sort of disaster on the clear out and they had a massive row, Terry said the place was a mare to work on and the bloke was an idiot. Tommy said Terry hadn’t got a clue and had sacked him?

    He then approached Tom cap in hand to take the job on.

    Tom came to see me and asked if I wanted the job. I didn’t, but we had a chat and decided we’d take it on together. Tom would be the gaffer and me and his lad Bob would work for him on that job.

    In the meantime he Told Tommy he would have to get the conifers removed by someone before we started in a months time.

    The conifers were massive. Nigel had planted them ten years ago, too close to the house in places and too many in the garden. Leylandai look great when they’re small, but let grow unchecked they are a mare. Tommy had a problem. He came to see me asking how to do them. I suggested jokingly he should set fire to them. I was joking!

    The next day the fire engine was down the lane putting the fire out in the tall conifer next to Tommy’s back door. Jeez, the idiot had only stuffed a load of paper into the bottom branches and set it alight. He was adamant I’d told him it was the best and only way and told the fire fighters it was all my idea. We laughed about it later, but shook our heads an awful lot at the time.

    I did take his conifers out in the end though. He came to see me and asked if I could. I said yes £25 a tree if he got rid of them I’d take them out. There were about 12 and he readily agreed.

    There is a knack to getting them out roots and all, they aren’t difficult if the bottom is accessible you just dig a trench around them cutting all the little roots with the spade as you dig and then dig under the main root ball in the direction you want the tree to fall and move sharpish as they start to topple. Easy when you know how!

    The day I went to take them out he met me at 8 o’clock in the morning and went off out in his car saying he’d be back by 2.

    I cracked on and by lunchtime they were out and lying on the ground. The soil was easy soil to dig on that plot and the rootball easy to get at as Terry had cleared the slabbing and garden walls before he left the job. It was the quickest £300 I’d earned since I’d been in the lane.

    Tommy came back at 2 and was amazed to see them all down. He asked me if I was still charging him the full amount as I’d done the job so quickly and was most annoyed when I said yes, that was the deal! He called me a few names and begrudgingly paid up.

    Then it was onto the build. Tommy wanted the floor replaced first. He wanted the building supported and a new brick and concrete base laid that the building could be sat back down upon and he suggested that would straighten the building up. It was an awful lot of work and an expensive way to do it, but that’s the way he wanted it, so that’s the way we did it. We knew it wouldn’t straighten the building , but he was paying the bill!

    Tom’s co worker was a lad called Bob. A top lad, very quiet and considered in conversation, but fully switched on with a wicked sense of humour. He had a bit of a condition that affected his walk and speech, so he looked and sounded a bit older than he actually was. With his slow speech and considered response Tommy made the assumption Bob was somehow backwards and treated him accordingly. In fact he was downright rude to him. I lost track of the number of times he called him ‘thick’ or stupid or slow and said us Worcestershire folk were backwards during the course of the job, Tom and I were waiting for Bob to thump him, but Bob just smiled quietly to himself and kept on taking his money. Fair play Bob.

    After the base was built and the building such as it was dropped back onto the new base Tommy decided it was beyond repair and asked if we could support the roof and renew the wooden walls one side at a time. Of course this was possible and we set on to renewing them whilst insulating and weather proofing them at the same time. We built in new plastic windows and doors and the place was plasterboarded entirely inside. It was skimmed and had all new woodwork. Outside was a master board skin and render. It looked very nice, but the roof was still uneven!

    Tommy asked if we could put on a new tiled roof. So we did. The only thing that was left of Nigel and Caroline’s home by then was the new AGA in the kitchen, everything else was new. The place had cost him a fortune in build and furniture and he still had the lease to buy if he could.

    On the very last day of the job, Tom and I were laying the final ridge tiles and Bob was painting the new back door when Tommy turned up to inspect the final touches. He waved briefly to Tom and me on the roof and headed for Bob. I don’t know what he said initially, but within a few seconds we could hear raised voices. Tom and me prepared to get down lest we miss anything and were just getting up when we heard Bob say “ I might be effing thick mate, but I never paid £45k for an AGA!”

    Tom and I had to hold onto each other to stop us falling off the roof as we were in hysterics. Bob was right, he’d paid £45k basically for an AGA, for that’s all that was left of the original building and he never owned the ground.
  18. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator


    Inevitably when you live near a river like the Severn you have the constant niggle of flood at the back of your mind. We didn’t worry as we had chosen our property safe in the knowledge we were at least 40ft up from the low summer level. We’d also asked about flooding in the lane that may cut us off from town and been told the lane never flooded.

    It was quite different for people with properties on the riverbank though. Some flooded yearly, like Barbara and Trev’s, some never flooded, but became an island adrift in a sea of brown murk, even though they were right on the riverbank. It always struck me as odd how that should be, from a distance they all looked as if they were sat at the same height, yet one would be flooded throughout and the next door neighbours perfectly dry. When I sat and looked at it properly though, I realised there was a dip in the field of some 6ft and most of the bungalows on the bank were just high enough for the high water to flow around them and down into the field to form a 6ft deep 100 ft wide second river that emptied out back into the original river some three quarters of mile at the far end of the meadows. It was a sight to behold in full flood, not nice if you lived on the bank side, as the force of it made it almost impossible to ford even in a good boat.

    The winters of 90 and 93 saw the worst flooding of the Severn valley for nearly 30 years. But the October of 98 was a real high mark flood.

    Luckily with the Severn at Bewdley you do get prior warnings of flooding because Shrewsbury gets it a day earlier, Bridgenorth half a day earlier and you have time to prepare. Bewdley now has a flood barrier system on the north side of the Bridge, and have plenty of time to implement it with the warnings from upstream.

    I digress. Our first taste of of the meadows flooding was in 1990, it came up overnight and burst its banks slightly that year, but it subsided quickly and was merely an inconvenience for a day. In 1993 it was a similar story, but in 98 it was a different story altogether.

    There had been severe warnings through the day. People on the riverbank began moving stuff out to places of safety. It was odd to see how people prioritised their belongings. To a man the first thing they would put in safe keeping would be their pets, the second thing ‘ every time’ was their wine and drinks, you could bet money on it. Then they would save clothing and cars, the rest would be put up high on something inside and left to be claimed on the insurance.

    That evening things got quite serious very quickly. The first clue Lou and I had that there was an issue was as we drove back down the lane one evening after a day out and noticed blue flashing lights at the cattle grid field entrance 100 yards from our house. They were the blue lights of an ambulance and the river rescue boat. People Were stranded in their homes on the riverbank, but the engine in the RIB wasn’t powerful enough to cross the field easily, they had to snake across with the help of a rope that was strung across the meadow and secured to guide them to rescue people and pets instead of zooming over. That made us stop and think. I’d be very cautious of that flooded meadow from then on that’s for sure.

    Our house became a place of sanctuary. We had house guests, or refugees whatever we chose to call them. Barbara and Trev, their two kids Arwen and Tom and their dog Jake. Old frank and his Port supply and some other neighbours Ken and Ree who were sheltering at ours while waiting for their son to collect them. Their car was stranded on their drive the other side of the meadow.

    By then we had a nice big conservatory on the front of our place and they all bedded down in there for the night. We had a sofa that the kids lay on and a pair of put you up beds that Trev and Barb slept on. I don’t know how we fitted the beds in given the amount of booze that was secured there. Yep, they’d saved their booze too. Jake was told in no uncertain terms by moi, not to even look at Lady, or he was out. I still had him in my book, grrr!

    Old Frank was picked up by relations and taken away to safety, Ken and Ree got a lift home too. In the end there was just us and Barb’s family for three days.

    In those three days I saw the devastation and heartache a flooded home brings. Poor old Barb and Trev had no insurance.

    The trips across the meadow to retrieve precious belongings were heartbreaking. There were more than a few tears shed as we found item after item ruined by the smelly brown murk. Toys, clothes, and furniture, but worst of all were the pictures. Those memories floating in the debris were like watching their history disappear right there in front of you, and it brought tears. Yes they were only pictures, but it seemed to magnify the loss somehow. Their place was in a terrible state. It was awful to see. Wading through the water I felt as if I was intruding into a personal space. I knew full well they needed help and I was only too glad to do so, but the act of going through someone else’s personal things in these awful circumstances left me feeling guilty for being there and actually going through their stuff.

    The first morning after the dark glimpses of water the night before made the urgency of the rescue boat only too real. The field in front of our cabin was a 100ft wide 6ft deep fast flowing river. On the other side of the field on the bank stood the riverside cabins, they seemed to be on high ground and formed little islands cut of from us and the lane by the torrent flowing by past my garden. Full sized trees floated by, along with small boats that had come untethered further upstream, the odd dead sheep went by and even a odd assortment of oil drums, it was interesting and bizarre watching the assortment of stuff the flooded river had flushed out and carried on its way through the field past our house. It was interesting, but poignant in a way, that was people’s property floating by, a few hours earlier it was safe and sound, now it was on its way to Bristol courtesy of a massive downpour.

    The five bar gate that David had installed as part of my boundary was submerged below the murk, the water lapped up my bottom drive to the point I had to wear waders to secure a few items I owned that were in danger of floating away. The JCB was half submerged too, but it was a JCB, it would be fine. Jason however may not have been. I glanced over to his cabin and there he was on the roof waving a pirates flag. I blinked and looked again, yep, it was Jason alright, stood on his roof laughing and waving a ruddy pirate flag of all things?

    “ Are you okay Jason?” I shouted over.

    “ Yes fine mate, perfectly dry over here, just having a laugh mate!”

    Carry on: I thought, if he’d wanted to be rescued he would have made them know the night before. I knew Jason and he was fine. He was just having a laugh.

    No one was seriously hurt or even injured that year. Their animals and booze had been rescued, most of it ending up at ours for later consumption by yours truly. Every cloud and all that.

    Barbara and Trev left after three days back to the now not flooded cabin and we all helped get them sorted regarding furniture and stuff. People helped with cleaning and all sorts of gifts, food clothes and heaters. Within a week or two they were back to their normal life. They’d been through a torrid time, but as I said before, they were hardy folk.

    These riverbank cabins had been flooded time and time again over the years, yet they still stood there. To my utter amazement they didn’t just float off, they remained rooted to the spot, and life went on.
  19. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The next stage of our lives in the lane.

    The lane wasn’t everyone’s idea of heaven. Some of our social climbing type friends were appalled by the place. They genuinely thought we had lost the plot, we were often fending off severe questioning about our life choice. Did we think we could ever sell it when we came back to civilisation, what about getting to the Doctor in an emergency, what if one was to set alight; wouldn’t they all go up, how did we cope without street lighting and would the police respond to an incident in such a remote place. People were genuinely concerned for our welfare.

    We were only two mile from town for god sake, not the outer Hebrides or Alaska!

    We were actually living in a place that was peaceful secure and beautiful, our lives were far and above better than the life they lead, the lane went nowhere other than to a dead end, we had zero traffic and the pace of life was such that we had time for our friends and neighbours, even if they had all the trappings of modern life! Those friends never really got it!

    What we had done inadvertently was to encourage others to update their properties.

    Being so close to the lane people saw clearly the build and even eavesdropped on our site meetings with the council guys. This in turn prompted them to have a go at sorting things they had been misguidedly advised by other locals could not be done to the cabins. Obviously there was a vested interest from the old owners to keep them as was, but times were moving on people were passing away and the properties sold on by sons and daughters that had no interest in the lane. The new owners like us simply wanted to make them more liveable so that they could maintain them easily and enjoy the surroundings.

    The upshot of this was I got approached by people for advice on dealing with planners and what they could or couldn’t do without consulting the council.

    Oddly back then there was an awful lot they could do without seeking consent. For example, they could renew the footings and base. They could replace all the external walls, they were quite within their rights to renew the roof, the wiring, the plumbing and their gardens. What’s more, they could all have water connected for a very moderate fee. In essence the whole property could be renewed so long as it was treated as restoration work, but any enlargement had to go through planning, and that was an whole different scenario.

    In 1993 Lou and I had our first child on the way. A cause for great celebration. We had thought through tests that we couldn’t have them so had bought our first new car, new three piece suite and booked a month long holiday in Italy. The news was fantastic, I’m not saying we weren’t a little bit wowed by the news and didn’t have moments of thinking ‘ is this really happening and the like, but we were overjoyed.

    However, the reality was, our little bungalow wasn’t really big enough for a growing family, yes it was fine while he was little, but as he grew he’d need his own space and bedroom. We could divide ours into two, but that would be a bit intimate and not to mention claustrophobic. We had to think this through again!

    We’d got our place just right for us by then. We had finished the interior that seemed to take forever after the initial build. The garden was finished, we had two drives, one in the meadow for summer use and a nice accessible drive with a car port off the lane for winter use, the back of the house had been improved where once we thought the road might collapse into us we now had a fully repaired and tidy retainer wall. The gas tank had been installed and I had a shed. On our days off our main hobby was gardening while drinking wine and looking out over the view ( Also we had taken our first tentative steps into property development, but that’s a different story for another day entirely ) We knew this was to change, but weren’t quite sure how, did we stay there and extend the place somehow or did we listen to our friends and go back to ( civilisation)?

    I had a plan, but it meant dealing with the council again. Urgh!
  20. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Yorkshire Frank.

    For the first couple of months living in the wooden shed was quite an experience. The weather had turned decidedly cold on us, it was if nature was giving us a little test. The standpipe in the field froze solid. When it unfroze at about midday we had to fill all the receptacles we could lay our hands on to hold enough water as we would need. Lugging large containers across the field or up the lane was fun for a day or two, but after a few weeks became a chore to get done and over with.

    The day we finally connected up to our own deeply trenched frost free supply was a day for celebration. Some friends came by and we had a small water connection party. That water supply was sorely needed.

    The outside loo had been an ordeal too. It was in a small tumbledown shed around the corner of the building. At night you needed a torch and a peg on your nose. The Elsan blue stuff we put down is only good for smelling nice for a while. The spiders that lived in there must have been hardy creatures indeed, not only did they survive in there they positively thrived, by heck they were huge things, they did however hasten the act of visiting the loo, along with the pong and the sight of the previous visitors offerings and the absolute dread of someone following you in it was a necessity to be got over quickly.

    That water supply allowed us to connect the inside loo that really flushed. My god it was welcome.

    Heating (such as it was ) was a simple open fire in the living room. As luck had it we had plenty of wood to fuel it. We’d cleared a small copse to help form a temporary makeshift drive, and taken down a few old sheds and there were a few old bits of furniture left over from the initial clear out that we could burn.

    Of course this all needed chopping and cutting. Each day I would chop and saw as much wood as time allowed given my day’s task ahead and most mornings I’d spend the first hour or two sawing on the log stand by the side of our cabin.

    One day as I was taking a breather I heard a voice from over the hedge on the lane say ‘ th saw needs sharpening lad’ it was Yorkshire Frank making my acquaintance.

    Frank came down and introduced himself as my neighbour from over the lane. He was quite scruffy in a way, he wasn’t long haired and dirty, but his clothes seemed poorly laundered and ill fitting, his shoes were scuffed and the laces undone. He had prescription glasses that sat upon a huge nose, his accent was definitely Yorkshire and he impressed upon me right away that he was not from around here, but Sheffield ( or sheffuld as he pronounced it) and they had a saying “ hail fellow, ill met” a saying that would get on my nerves for the next 12 years or so. He was an odd type of bloke, and I kind of had the feeling I wasn’t going to get along with him, but ‘ hail fellow ill met and all that. He took my saw and axe and sharpened them for me.

    Frank and I became friends, he was a cracking self taught carpenter, his huge shed had the full joinery shop works, band saws, planers, cross cut saws, stand drills, wood turning lathe and the obligatory shelving and drawers full of hardware. He made it clear it was mine to use as and when and he would always be on hand to help and advise. We spent many happy hour making all sorts of stuff up there in that shed next to the railway line, and many an hour drinking his home brew afterwards.

    The first time I tried Frank’s home brew was very soon after we met, I noticed right away it was a bit strong and made sure I went careful on it, two pints were ample thank you Frank, and I stuck to it. Until one night in the winter a few years later.

    He completely caught me off guard. He’d asked me round to see his latest creative hobby, leather work. He had trained as a watch mender back in inter war Sheffield, but had that envious knack of being good at anything he set his mind to, carpentry was one thing, he could make beer, mend clocks and now he was showing me his leatherwork skills. This interested me as one of my great grandfathers was a leather worker in Walsall the capital of the British leather industry apparently, so I sat and watched and listened, all the time he was filling our pint glasses with another home brew. I don’t know how many I had that night, but when I got up to go home I was most definitely sloshed, blimey where’s the door and why is the room swaying?” Gunoit Fank”slur stumble, smile reassuringy,stumble.

    How I got back to our place I have no idea, the world was spinning, I wanted to lie down and go to sleep, but I knew I had to get back home somehow. It was only fifty yards up the lane, but it was a long wobbly unsure journey. The hedge kept me on the right track as I bounced off it back into the lane, and our outside light was my point of focus and destination. I stumbled and fell the whole long fifty yards home and when I finally made our gate, fell down the steps. I then made my way to the front door and tried the handle, bugger, she’d locked me out, oh god I feel sick, I’ll just lie here, and dropped down onto the patio.

    What I had no conception of in my drunken stupor was how cold the night was. Temperatures had dropped considerably and it was well below freezing. The drink had such an affect that I just felt numb rather than cold. I remember being sick and Ratty coming out of the dog flap and licking my face before returning back to the warmth of her basket, but I have no idea of the time and fell back into my drunken stupor.

    The next morning I woke to see Lou looking over at me with a concern on her face. I think she thought I was dead. The exposed side of my black donkey jacket was white with frost and as I raised my head to speak, my hair was frozen to the slabs. It was too late to worry about the pain of having half the hair on side of your head ripped out in one go, as it had just happened. Ouch!

    She helped me up with that look of contempt that only wives, mums and school mistresses have, the one that makes you feel even stupider than you already know you are, and asked me why I didn’t come in. I told her she’d locked the door and I couldn’t believe she could be so callous on a night like that. She looked at me like I was daft and said the door had been unlocked all night. I just couldn’t operate the handle in my drunken state. In fairness to me, you did have to turn it fully to unlock it, but really it wasn’t difficult. D’ohh!

    Over the years Frank and I made cupboards, doors, stairs, windows and all manner of other interesting stuff in his shed. If there was an interesting item to be knocked up or was too expensive to justify buying I’d pop up to frank’s and away we’d go drawing and planning it until we had it right and it would get made up in the shed while I avoided his offer of another home brew.

    He was an odd old bloke was Frank, obviously he loved our dog Ratty, but he had pheasants that he fed when they came into his garden and once remarked that cats stalked them, but he had an air rifle. I thought nothing of it at the time, I chose to think he was a good guy and it was an idle boast.

    Frank was a good help in the next phase of our build, a very good help Indeed!

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