All posts by RoyGillett

Beer.

In late 1989, the Warsaw Pact, and indeed the Soviet Union, were basically dead on their feet. The governments of Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia amongst others were changing and parting company from the Soviet Union, which itself was slowly falling apart.

One consequence of this was that East Germans could do an end run around the interior German border by going into Hungary (my first draft of this said it was Czechoslovakia, but a little research suggests it was actually Hungary) and crossing into Austria and onto West Germany. In September, I was sent out, with sound recordist Roger Snow and correspondent Michael MacMillan, to do the story.

It only took a couple of days, after which MacMillan went home and Roger and I were asked to head for Munich and meet up with a different correspondent (and for the life of me I can’t remember who. Possibly Chris Wain) to cover a NATO exercise which was to take place the following weekend.

We had a couple of days to kill so, it being September in Munich, we went to the Okboberfest. (I know, I know)


We had a wander round and decided we wanted lunch. Under the circumstances, beer and sausage seemed appropriate. But every beer tent we went into was absolutely rammed.

Finally, we found one where we could at least sit down. We had some beer, as you see. <glugglugglugglug> We probably had some sausage too. Honest

Then we had another beer <glugglugglugglug>

And Roger turned to me and asked, “Do you feel in the slightest bit pissed?”

No. I didn’t. After two LITRES of beer.

That was why the tent was half empty. The Germans knew it was selling low alcohol beer. Funny thing was, though, we never realised. It tasted just like, well, beer. Clever brewers those Germans. It’s taken us thirty odd years to catch up

The NATO exercise was fun when we got to it as well but that’s another story

Mrs Pooter’s Diary (Guest Post)


One of our many shared fanships is the late Keith Waterhouse, whose straightforward response in his Daily Mirror column at the end of 1972 to Nixon’s latest murderous “peace offensive” in Vietnam I still cherish, in the original clipping.

(Roy’s right. I do archive things – a professional deformation of someone whose first official task in Her Majesty’s Service was ensuring the accurate computer posting of accounting records, and whose last often involved researching back to the dawn of VAT in 1973.)

In response to the comment “But what else could he do?”, Waterhouse says: “Well, the alternative to doing something is not doing it.” I haven’t seen anyone improving on that excuse exterminator in just shy of fifty years.

I haven’t yet read “Diary of a Nobody”, which introduces us to the supposed narrator, Charles Pooter: I don’t know if Roy has. But Waterhouse had, and had the genius idea of writing a parallel version from the wife’s point of view, which became a very successful stage play. And it was called “Mrs Pooter’s Diary”.

So when I saw Roy’s account of our beginnings, I was always going to have that precedent come to mind and want to give the world my own take on “This is how we met”.

(And by the way: the price of that ticket in April 1980 was £1.40 – terrace of course.)

I have archived Compuserve Forum discussion threads where this Roy Gillett geezer pops up fairly constantly going back to around 2001: I think if I tried harder I could take it back a long way further.

He always kept it polite, even when obviously exercised over some topic that had pressed a pet “hot button”- I won’t mention them, but anyone who knows us both can guess a few. Seemed harmless enough, and a couple of times when a bunch of us from UKCA Forum met up, we got on pretty well. The second time in fact Roy and I “closed the pub” after Budgie had gone to roost, since neither of us had anyone to go home to, we were still enjoying talking, and the beer in the Black Friar (a remarkable pub – not to be missed if you have the chance to see it) was outstanding. I could drink a lot more of it in those days (sigh).

In the year that followed, outside the Forum, I used my honed audit skills on the Census returns to solve a family history puzzle for him, and he advised me on the odd tech issue. It felt a bit like finding a friend – but not too close, and not too much. I’d heard too much about the perils of “online dating”.

So then there started That Long Discussion Thread (“Life on Mars”). I probably wouldn’t have read it if Roy hadn’t asked about Old Trafford – I never watch telly as a rule. It sort of sprouted branches, as discussions do, and I somehow mentioned that I was thinking of popping along to the BFI to see a Buster Keaton film – I’ve always preferred him to any other silent era classic. And, as Roy says, I pulled his leg about it being “The Cameraman” – I said he might want to come along and pick up a few professional tips.

I mean, this is a senior news cameraman for the national broadcaster of Great Britain I’m tweaking, but he didn’t then know where I lived, why worry? And how likely was it he’d say yes?

Oops.

Now I was only some five years from the breakup of my first marriage, and a very nasty business with The Other Man that had me pretty well traumatised. And even more recently, a sweet, elderly and very junior colleague had also refused to take “just friends” for an answer and been so upset by my eventual very clear rebuff that when he shortly after expired from a heart attack, it was hard not to think “Well couldn’t I have just tried?”

I had little reason by then to trust either men, or my own judgement of them. So it was not without trepidation I agreed to meet this guy in a possible dating context, choosing a pub literally within shouting distance of the office – and took care to let a friend or two know where I was going, and where to find him if I didn’t show up for work next morning. (Roy Gillett – if anyone could have managed to spell it right first time! – at The BBC. Gonna be a really hard find, that one.)

So I walked in and there was this bloke in pale-coloured “smart casual” wear scrunched up behind the farthest table from the door – he swears he wasn’t cowering but that was what it looked like to me. And if I really made that teeth-grindingly corny remark, I’m not surprised. He didn’t even correct me (as he usually does) that he’s NOT a stills photographer!

We had that pint, chatted, and saw the film – and it soon became apparent that, having either never picked up or easily forgotten about his increasing deafness, I had hit the jackpot choosing a silent film. Things were going well, and thanks to a friend who at that time played regularly with the Philharmonia I knew a reliable Portuguese/Italian restaurant only a step away.

(Caprini is still there, and still feeding singers, musicians and audience at a very reasonable price. It’s on the corner past St John’s church, heading for the station.)

We talked. And we talked. And we talked some more. And we pretty well “closed” the restaurant as well.

So the evening got to that point – the goodbye scene. A quick, polite kiss and he says something like “Let’s not leave it that long again.”

And I thought: “Yeah. I think you’re going to be ok.”

And I dared – and here we are. Thirteen years, already, and still talking.

Happy Anniversary.

And thank you, Dear.

Thirteen and counting

Friday 10th March,2006. I’m sitting in a pub in Southwark–The Stamford Arms, now rebranded as The Hungry Bear of all names–and in walks Karen.


Karen and I knew each other slightly from a Compuserve forum: UK News and Current Affairs and we had, in fact, had a beer a couple of years previously along with another member, Lee “Budgie” Barnett, but mostly we knew each other online.

A couple of months earlier I’d posted a question about a detail of the BBC’s entertaining SF detective series Life on Mars. A minor plot point involved a game at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground and I was surprised at the very low price on the ticket. I asked if that had been the going rate at OT in the early 70s. Karen not only knew the answer but, being a Moo fan, had a more or less contemporary ticket to prove it.

Well it started a long running discussion that ranged all over the place, so far beyond the remit of the forum and the other members that we soon took it private, and somewhere in there she mentioned that she was going to see a classic Buster Keaton silent film one Friday at the NFT, which wasn’t far from where she was then working on the South Bank

“Oh, ” typed, “want to kill the time before the film with a pint? “

“If you’re going to come to the pub, why not come to the film as well?”

Seemed like a plan. She bought tickets.

So she walked into the Stamford Arms, looked round and said ” ‘Ow’s my favourite snapper?”

The film was The Cameraman, in which Buster’s character trades in his tintype for a newsreel camera in order to impress the love of his life. It was an appropriate choice; being silent it posed no problems for my hearing and I did rather enjoy watching Buster more or less invent all the tripod related slapstick that I regret to say we were still doing in the industry 80 years later. (No I don’t)

After that we went for a meal and…

…we still haven’t stopped talking. And a couple of months later I realised we’d shifted from “Want to do something this weekend” to “What shall we do this weekend?”

I could bang on about how we discovered a shared love of the classic The Perishers cartoon from the Daily Mirror and bonded over a strip featuring Ole Boot at the Cartoon Museum. Or the day out in Brighton that was nearly scuppered because my car got stolen. But I probably wouldn’t be able to stop so I’ll leave it at “…haven’t stopped talking.”

So we adopted the 10th of March as our anniversary, which handily gives us an excuse to swerve celebrating Valentine’s Day. We just do it four weeks later

That was thirteen years ago. This year will be different, though. As you probably know, we finally took the next step and got married last April, so we’ll mark it properly in a few weeks.

But for now, Happy Anniversary, me dear.




Also Disagreeable

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you see something and it’s so unexpected, so out of the ordinary, that for a short while you don’t actually see  it? You just feel that something in your sight is indefinably wrong but you don’t know how?

Happened to me a while ago. First week in March last year

I was over in Acton for the day. I had an appointment on the High Street and it was at a time that made it convenient to take the bike on the train and cycle from Fenchurch Street.  Well, I did all that. Got away from my commitment at about 2pm and rolled gently up Horn Lane to Casa Gillett. All I wanted to do was a security check and collect the post.

I opened the front door and–well it’s hard to say what I saw. It’s a bit of a blur.  I simply couldn’t process what was in front of my eyes. It had no context . I have an impression of there being something  large and white lying in the hallway and my first, panicky thought was that I’d been burgled. Again.

Then the noise broke through the fog. A rushing, roaring sound, and I saw that, well, I couldn’t properly see the length of the kitchen.

And then it pulled into focus. Water. Cascading through the kitchen ceiling.  Sheets of it.

A leak. A bad one.

It took a while, and involved lying face down in a couple of inches of cold water reaching under the kitchen cabinets but I eventually managed to close the main stopcock and the torrent  slowed and stopped. 

Then I had to take stock.

The power was off, and with that, the heating. Large chunks of the ceiling had come down in the back  bedroom and in the rear half of the living room.  The “white object” lying in the hall was a sheet of the ceiling paper and the plaster work above was bulging.

The suspended ceiling in the kitchen was just a sagging, soggy mess and the floor was inches deep in water. All the carpets were soaked. 

So I phoned the insurance.

They were very good. The call handler took details and once I’d confirmed that the water was off she told me to lock up and walk away for the day; a loss adjuster would be in touch. She offered to find me alternative accommodation but I just said I’d go to the “other ‘arf’s” and she was OK with that.

I secured the bike and got the train back to Essex

Over the course of the next couple of days I played phone tag with the loss adjusters in amongst trying to evaluate the damage. I really shouldn’t have bothered. It was a professionals’ job. The only thing I did of any use at all was to get into the loft and fix the source of the trouble. 

It was all down to the “Beast from the East”.  Despite me keeping the heating on as frost prevention, at some point in the week before the discovery a water pipe had frozen up in the loft. It hadn’t burst the pipe though; as far as I could tell, the ice had pushed a compression joint apart. It was a simple enough matter to remake the joint. and it’s been fine since. 

Basically, mains pressure water had been pouring into the loft for up to a week. It quickly soaked through to the rear bedroom and bathroom and then into the void between floors, where it spread through the whole house and down into the ground floor.

The loss adjusters were pretty good. The first thing they did was assign a local recovery specialist and I met the boss on site about a week later. 

He walked into the house, took one look and muttered, “This is Bad” (It sounds a lot worse in his Eastern European accent) His crew started work that day. 

They condemned almost everything and started slinging it out. Bed, chests of drawers, dining chairs, most of the soft furnishings, all the carpets and floorings  except for the front bedroom. Then they installed a bunch of dehumidifiers–large fan heaters that suck in cold damp air and condense moisture out and left them going.

They ran for six weeks before it was declared dry. It cost a fortune. I know because they were efficient enough to note the meter readings before and after. 

Then the builders came. Well, eventually the builders came, but that was my doing because I was expecting the loss adjuster to call me, and he seemed to be waiting for me to call him. I suspect that with a fair number of water damage cases on his desk he was happy to expedite those that were costing a mint in bed and breakfast accommodation and leave me at the bottom of the pile. 

Down came almost all the ceilings. Off came all the plaster. Out went all the kitchen units and the non-ceramic bathroom stuff. I got sent a “Schedule of works” and a request to choose wallpapers and paints and stuff and there was some back and forth with the supervisor and the office about what I could and couldn’t have. That took another couple of months until they signed it off in November and then the carpet people got involved.

That was an interesting example of the kind of fragmentation and diffusion of responsibility that seems to be the norm now. 

The  insurance issuer  (Nationwide) had passed me on to their underwriter (Royal Sun Alliance) who appointed a specialist loss adjuster (who, by the way changed ownership during the year but that was at least transparent to me; my bloke-of-contact remained the same)  who engaged a flooring surveyor in Blackburn who sent the assessor round and nominated a supplier and fitter in Kenton. Who I then had to visit. And by this time it was late December and they couldn’t get the new carpets ordered before the New Year.

Oh, and then they screwed up by making an appointment to fit it all assuming that all the carpet would arrive from the manufacturer in time. Which it didn’t.  So they had to come back a fortnight later. It was finally all finished only about a month ago. Just short of a year.

And while all this has been going on I was intermittently in contact with the loss adjuster about the financial loss. I made an estimate, based on comparing the bill for first quarter of 2018 with Q1, 2017 on how much the water escape had cost. He accepted that in such a hurry I wondered if I’d underestimated. He got, as I said, a cost of electricity from the recover team and I had to put a price on the list of stuff they’d thrown out. Much rummaging in the files for old receipts, checking websites for current equivalents, and for the bed, I think it was, submitting a scan of an old credit card bill with all but the one relevant line redacted. 

Finally I tried to estimate out of pocket expenses for living away. I suggested a proportion of the council tax and utility costs here at Watson Towers and added a couple of overnights for the days when I had to meet tradesmen on site first thing in the morning. And again, he agreed so fast I wonder if he’d been expecting a lot more. I think perhaps he was just relieved I wasn’t costing him £500/week in a Travelodge (And frankly, having stayed in the local Travelodge when I had a morning appointment once, I was relieved too.) 

One final thing. When the time came to turn the heating back on, it wouldn’t. I got the engineers in and after a bit of faffing  they diagnosed a failing pump. With that replaced all was fine, but I wondered. Did the pump fail a year ago and cripple the heating? Was that the original cause? Probably never know, because the  flood (Not a flood, said the family insurance expert. An “escape of water.” There’s a technical difference) put the power off and erased the evidence. 

And there we are. The place has been about 80% redecorated mostly at someone else’s expense. We took the opportunity to empty it of most of my accumulated stuff and this now looks like a good time to let it go. I really can’t justify the cost of keeping a 3 bedroom house in West London just for the handful of times a year we need an overnight. The savings on Council Tax, insurance and utilities would pay for quite a few hotel stays and we’re already looking like Frequent Flyers at the local Holiday Inn. 

More on that as it eventuates.

I’m riding for charidee!

A couple of years ago I was going into a large store and was hailed by a chap standing behind a table in the lobby. 

Imagining him to be selling double glazing or something I muttered something dismissive and marched on. A few second later my forebrain processed the image my eyes had delivered and I realised he was raising money for the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance. I turned back to apologise and make a donation and ten minutes of conversation later I was a regular sponsor. I’m a bit of a fan of Air Ambulances anyway, having seen the Thames Valley team in action after a road accident in Bucks some years previously

Fast forward to last month and in one of their regular  emails they told me about a cycling event they’re running out near Colchester in April. Well I’m always looking for new routes on the bike so I thought I’d have a go. I’m signed up for the 80 mile (128km) route which is on the long side for me but I think it’s doable.

The 80 mile route

It starts and finishes just outside Wakes Colne up near Colchester. The height profile doesn’t look TOO awful and as long as I just keep spinning away I reckon I should be able to knock it off in 5, maybe 5 and a half hours in the saddle. a bit longer with rests.

It’s not the only longish organised ride I’m signed up for this year –I’m currently registered for at least four more, including one if February which will be a struggle if if the weather doesn’t im prove and let me get some miles into my legs, but the only one where I feel mildly obliged to solicit donations.

If you feel like it

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/roy-gillett1

Happy New Year, everyone

Just watching the BBC News Channel. They’re previewing the midnight fireworks from Embankment in London.

Took me back to the night I was on that job.

I *think* it would have been NYE 2000 into 2001 <*> but I’m not 100% certain. Not really important. The Millennium Wheel was in place, though.

We set up on Embankment overlooking the Wheel: me (on camera) an engineer in the truck, a producer and a correspondent from News 24, as it was still called back then.

We did an insert into the 8 o’clock sequence, and of course as soon as the lights went on we became a magnet for every drunken idiot in a quarter mile radius. They capered behind the reporter; they shouted (slurred) insults and rude suggestions and one came right up and gurned into my lens. I actually reached round and hauled him out of the shot by his collar, which was probably not wise but I got away with it.

After we came off air and got rid of the morons we got a phone call from the correspondent who was due to do the Network news at 10. “Get that sorted out or I’m not coming”

We moved position slightly to get the correspondent into a defensible right angle in the parapet and chatted up a couple of cops who agreed to pass by at the top of the hours. The 9, 10 (with the Network reporter) and 11 went off without any further trouble and we came to midnight.

Quite a long piece, and as we were doing it I noticed a few blokes hanging around just out of shot. They were quite clearly as pissed as newts, glazed eyes and swaying slightly but not actually making any trouble. They waited until the lights went off then stumbled across and gave each and everyone of us a hug and a handshake and wished us, in thick Slavic accents, a very happy New Year. Then they happily weaved off into the distance, presumably to spread good cheer to anyone else they could find.

And that, I realised with some regret, was the difference between the pissed Englishman and the pissed Slav.

Happy New Year, everyone

<*> PS, do you want my tired rant on when the 20th Century *actually* ended? Thought not 

What has the EU ever done for us?

One warm sunny morning in August some considerable time ago, I woke up in a strange place. It was a chalet style ski lodge, built, I was told, for a long passed winter Olympics.

Standing on the grass outside the door I looked out at a beautiful, steep sided, densely wooded valley, dotted with small villages and towns. I swear that even now I can smell the freshness in the air.
A bus came and took us all off for a day’s filming.

In the early afternoon, the bus stopped at what might have once been a farm; maybe cattle, maybe chickens. There were two long, low sheds.

But the sheds no longer housed cows or hens. They housed men and boys–some no older than 13 or 14. They sat and lay in long rows, no more than three feet apart. Thin, dirty, resigned. Our tour guides stood around glaring at us, fingering their Kalashnikovs.
It was called Manjača, and it was one of several internment camps operating in Bosnia in 1992 as a consequence of the Yugoslavian wars.

I was there because Paddy Ashdown and Russell Johnston had bullied the Serbs into letting us in.

i found it a sobering experience, not least because I really couldn’t see what separated the guards from the prisoners apart from a national label

This happened only 25 years ago, only a three hour flight from Heathrow or Gatwick. In our own backyard near enough. It’s what can happen when you divide the world into Them and Us. When you let yourself give in to unthinking nationalism and the fear of the Other.

Eventually of course the wars stopped and the various parties sat down and *talked* and now two of the former Yugoslavian republics are members of the EU and more are on track to join and it *won’t happen again*

The EU is where you talk first. But its more than just avoiding conflict. It’s where you actively co-operate with the others to make things better for all of you. It’s about NOT turning inwards and creating squabbling fortress nations but welcoming new ideas even new ideologies if you want. It’s about being part of something bigger and more varied.

So when you go and vote later (you are going to vote later, aren’t you?) please do vote Remain for a more peaceful and more prosperous Europe.

(By the way, there’s a better written and better recalled story of that trip to Bosnia in Paddy Ashdown’s autobiography, *A Fortunate Life.* It’s not a bad read if you ignore Paddy’s slightly pompous style)

A quick taster

So you probably know  we got married.
Karen and me. We got married.  Friday 20th.  It was great. We had a seriously good time–so good I’m still reeling  and trying to bring it all into focus to write something about it.

But while I do, here is something I prepared earlier. It’s the short speech I gave before the Best Man’s speech. I’m not sure that this was fully in compliance with the traditional order of events, but I really don’t care.  There was stuff I wanted to say, and say it to all the friends and family.

This is my script. It was NOT delivered exactly as written. I kind of surfed the euphoria a bit and ad-libbed a few times.  “Check against delivery,” as it used to say on the advance copies of political speeches I occasionally saw in my previous life.

Seemed to go down reasonably well.  It got a few laughs anyway.  For those who did see it live, thank you for being so appreciative.

Well, it’s been a while coming, hasn’t it?

I mean, not many people wait until their 60s to dip their toe into matrimony for the first time.. Usually once you get into middle age, you’re a bit set in your ways, but this seems like the right thing to do now.

From another point of view it’s been twelve years. Twelve years since Karen and I decided we’d been typing at each other on social media long enough and went to see Buster Keaton in a silent film called The Cameraman. It was great fun to see him inventing all the slapstick stunts with the tripod that we were still doing 100 years later. And afterwards we decided maybe we should do something one day again soon. So we did, and 12 years later we still haven’t stopped talking.

But maybe the real wait has been six years.

Let me take you back to March 2012. Karen had joined me at the BBC at a retirement party for a fellow cameraman.  As usual, a whole bunch of old hands showed up and I found myself in conversation with quite a few of them. Most of them seemed to think I was likely to be the next departure, and on the whole they were encouraging me to take the plunge as soon as I could. And so so, they reckoned, should Karen.

Well, we chatted about it and started thinking out loud about what retirement would mean and then she said something along the lines of, “That would be a good time to “sort out the paperwork”.

“Sort out the paperwork” was our euphemism of choice for the “upgrade” of Karen and Derek’s long standing separation to a full divorce.

Hmm. I said. “Well, if you did do that, I’d be happy to do the next bit of paperwork”

There was a pause. She looked at me, looked at the glass of BBC red wine I was holding, which was definitely not my first of the evening, looked back at me and said “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“Er…yes. I suppose it does,”

There may have been less romantic proposals, but maybe not by much, and I couldn’t let it end there. So a little while later, when were leaving the party I did, in fact, get down on one knee and proposed properly, just so it was official.

And for the avoidance of doubt, I said it AGAIN once I’d sobered up the following morning.

And here we are.

Before I hand over to Steve for the ritual character assassination I do just want to say a few words of thanks.

When I started seeing Karen I was a bit nervous about meeting her extended family. I needn’t have been. Without exception, everyone on her side has been welcoming to the newcomer. Particularly, I want to thank Chris, Tom and Clare who took to to “mum’s new bloke” without so much as blinking an eye and made me feel like one of the family.

Thanks also to the staff here at the hotel for arranging all this for us.

And finally thank you to all of you for coming. Some of you have come some distance to join us today and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate that. We hope you’ve had, and will continue to have, a good time.

And now it’s Steve’s turn, but first

At this point I muttered something about traditionally giving the Best Man a present but thinking that he’d appreciate this rather than a set of cuff links or something and handed him a bottle of decent (as recommended by the local Majestic Wine Warehouse) Pino Grigio (As recommended by a mutual friend)
I ran the first draft past Karen and she made a few suggestions, which I incorporated and reminded me of the following .  I’m including it for completeness.

We actually first became acquainted online in the late 90s: the earliest post from “Roy Gillett” on UKCA I can find quickly in my archive is from 2000, and even then we were disagreeing *very politely* on the existence of God 😀

In 2004 we nearly met, but Brendan [Brendan Stallard, an old online mate of ours]  couldn’t find a slot in the schedule so it fell through. I can’t find the one where we all met up in the Black Friar but it must have been shortly after that.

In 2005 you were helping me with getting a facsimile signature into my E mail sign-off, and I was helping you with family research on the Censuses.

At the end of the year, or early in 2006, the famous “Life on Mars” thread started – and you, as an old UMIST student, queried the credibility of the price of a ticket to Old Trafford as portrayed on the screen. I aced the game by being able to produce an actual stand ticket from Easter 1980, priced at £1.40. It’s fair to say I have a certain reputation for record-keeping.

After that the conversation sort of carried on and deviated into other matters – culminating in me saying I was going to The Cameraman, and you offering to meet up for a drink between work and then….(see above)

Steve’s speech, since you ask, was pretty damn good.  I was only very slightly embarrassed and Karen didn’t recoil in horror once. Well, in twelve years she’d heard most of the anecdotes already,

I want to write a bit more about the planning and build up and the event itself but it’s going to take a while and I need to wait on the photos from the official photographer.

Thank you for reading.

PS I should probably mention that the headline picture is an early preview of the set from the official snapper–an old BBC mate, Jon Daly Photography. An the embedded speechifying picture is courtesy of Louise Nicholson, probably my oldest friend there.

 

Well, that’s disagreeable.

I spend a fair amount of time at Karen’s place in Essex these days, but I do like to get back to my house in Acton on a regular basis. Mow the lawn, collect the post, check that it hasn’t developed a case of the squatters, that kind of thing.

Sometimes I like to combine it with a bike ride. Over the last few years, Transport for London have been developing a mostly segregated East/West cycle superhighway. Ultimately it’s supposed to run from Barking in East London, all the way to, believe it or not, Acton. It’s going to use a lane of the A40 Westway for the western end, which I imagine will cause howls of protest. But that’s for the future.

The part I like to use runs from the Tower of London, down though Blackfriars, along Embankment, through Parliament Square and then into the Royal Parks. There’s some confusion about the exact route around Buck House, but it spits you out onto the Bayswater Road soon enough and it’s not too hard to pedal home from there.

The Superhighway

So yesterday I loaded the bike onto the train at Rochford heading for Liverpool Street. Off the train I threaded my way down through the City, past the Old Bailey (no big trials on at the moment I noticed) and joined the Superhighway at Blackfriars. I was soon back in  the west, feeling pleasantly exercised.  Had lunch, sorted the mail, did a couple of chores, and started the return quite early. (I had to get a train before 16:30 to be allowed to take the bike)

Along Western Avenue, down Old Oak Road, turn into the Uxbridge Road, heading for Shepherds Bush and…

…all of a sudden I  I was sitting in an ambulance. My left shoulder was very sore and a paramedic was shining a torch in my eyes. A cop was standing by the back door taking notes.

Not good.

For a short, confusing and rather worrying period I couldn’t even figure out where I was. Even when I grasped it was the Uxbridge Road I couldn’t remember WHY I’d made the trip over.

It all came back to me soon enough, right up to the turn onto the Uxbridge Road. The actual incident, though, whatever it might have been,  is still a complete blank.

To answer the two obvious questions, yes I’d hit my head, and yes I was wearing a helmet. I always do. You can see what is a surprisingly small dent on the left at the back. (Small dent or not, the lid is a write off. Not that I’ll need one for a while, but we’ll get to that)

According to the cop, I’d had some kind of entanglement with a BMW. (He said his oppo was interviewing the driver) The paramedic reckoned that the Beemer had done a U turn and…

Well, it’s not clear if it actually hit me. The bike (according to the paramedic) shows no sign of an impact and I have no injuries I can detect on my right side, which is where it would have hit. I can only speculate that I saw a situation developing and took evasive action that pitched me off. Maybe I’ll find out in due course.
They took me and the bike  to Charing Cross Hospital, which, confusingly, is halfway between Hammersmith and Fulham. They handed me over and left, but not before taking the trouble to secure the bike. I appreciated that

First order of business, a CT scan of my head. Retrograde amnesia raises all kinds of cerebral red flags. Then an X ray of my left shoulder and a surprisingly short wait. By which I mean only about 90 minutes.

(I actually found this reassuring. I figured that if the CT scan had shown anything alarming they’d have been all over me in a hurry.)

So around 7:00 I got called to see a doctor. He reassured me that there was nothing to worry about on the head scan. (Also, no headache, no blurred vision, no obvious bruising, etc, etc) but in the light of the mild amnesia he did have some advice. Viz: no alcohol for two weeks.

And I have a fractured collarbone. He showed me the X ray.  I’ve been fitted with a “collar and cuff” which is not nearly as elaborate as it sounds. It’s a long strip of soft foam with a loop at each end. It goes round my neck and the forearm goes in the loops.  Sorted.

Here are some painkillers, here’s a letter for your GP (not clear if it’s my copy or if I have to deliver it) see you in the fracture clinic. Goodnight.

I had a think, reclaimed just one wheel from the bike to immobilise it and hailed a cab for Liverpool Street. Didn’t feel like facing the Tube.

Fractured collarbones don’t seem to be all that serious. In fact, unless there are obvious complications they’re dealt with by…putting the arm in a sling for six weeks. It seems the fracture clinic (April 11th) will be more of a follow up than a primary treatment.  I don’t suppose I’ll be doing much cycling for a while. Plenty of time to get a new helmet.

I’ll find out more at the fracture clinic. In the meantime I also have some sore muscles around the ribcage and a bruise on my left thigh where my wallet dug in.

Sleeping is a bit of an issue, Apparently I should try to stay upright to let gravity keep the cut ends aligned. I suppose I’ll get the hang of it.

Oh, and my phone’s gone funny.  It must have got a whack, because although it mostly works as a pocket computer, it no longer functions as a phone. There’s no cell service, That may be fixable. I’ll take it to Bodgers R Us sometime soon.

And that was my day. Thank you for your attention.

 

The long hard life of Elizabeth Philips

About twenty five years ago–long before Who Do You Think You Are– I started looking into my family history, just out of curiosity.

Back then, there was no internet, no Ancestry, no electronic indices and the search procedure was rather tedious so it took me quite a while to track down very much at all.

Over the years, though, I built up a patchy but reasonably accurate (I hope) picture of my ascending family tree.

Mostly it’s fairly mundane. The Gilletts and the Clares (my mother’s family)  were mostly “ag labs”–agricultural labourers–in the nineteenth century and even when they migrated to the towns and cities in the late nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries they remained mostly unskilled.

I was, though, oddly fascinated by one particular ancestor and her life.  It took a while to put it together. In fact, I ground to a halt on a bit of a problem and stopped looking for quite some time until about ten years ago  I got to talking to Karen about it and she managed to break the logjam.

But this isn’t the story of how we unearthed it; this the the story we unearthed.

Her name was Elizabeth Philips and she is one of my Great Great Great Grandmothers.

Elizabeth Philips was born to Anne (born Trehearne) and William Philips in Upton on Severn in Worcestershire in 1804, they having married in August the previous year. She was baptised there on the 22nd of July and that’s really all I know about that. There’s some information regarding William and Anne in later life, including a couple more children (Hannah, 1806 and Joseph, 1815) but little else.

Elizabeth didn’t trouble any other official records that I know of until 1835 when she had her second child, Ann, baptised at Saint Martin’s in the city of Worcester.  I have no way at the moment of knowing how she came to leave Upton on Severn to the city.  I know Ann was at least her second child because she  also recorded an older brother, James, in the census of 1841 but I haven’t turned up evidence of his birth or baptism–which would have been sometime around 1829 or 1830. She didn’t mention a father for Ann and it wasn’t until the 11th of December 1838 that she married. Her husband was Edwin Gillett, a plumber and glazier originally from farming stock in Gloucestershire–perhaps tenant farmers, perhaps ag-labs; I haven’t been able to find out.

Was Edwin Ann’s father? I have no idea. He might have been, but there’s no evidence of it. He would have been eighteen or so at the time. He was born to a Charles and Mary Gillett,  in a small Gloucestershire village called Temple Guiting in 1813.

Edwin and Elizabeth did definitely have one child, John, born in October 1839, but he only lived for six months before being carried off by Tuberculosis in the spring of 1840. Edwin, sadly, had gone before, also succumbing to TB in December of 1839.

And so in the first national census, taken in April of 1841, we find Elizabeth, James and Ann living in Water Course Alley in central Worcester.  It seems likely that it was a bit of a slum. My first thought was that, from the name, it was canalside, but  a more or less contemporary map shows   houses on the alley marked as “City Ditch (site of)” Presumably the ditch was built over. . Water Course alley isn’t there  any more of course. It’s now a municipal car park between Queen Street (which does survive, at least in name, from 1841) and the A34, constructed on the course of Silver Street.Watercourse

It must have been a hard life for Elizabeth, what we’d now call a lone parent, faced with bringing up two children once Edwin died. Ann was quite young, only about 6 and James was 12. He was in fact working, as a “twine spinner” which is part of the process of ropemaking but at the age of 12 he couldn’t have been getting paid very much.

Elizabeth  was a “gloveress” which is interesting in itself. According to Amanda Wilkinson, a historian specialising in 19th century female work, in Worcester it was very often a cover for prostitution.

https://19thcenturyhistorian.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/g-is-for-gloveress/

Glove making was skilled and delicate work, but appallingly badly paid and so many gloveresses supplemented their income on the streets. I can’t help wondering if that’s how Elizabeth found herself with two fatherless children by the age of 30.

Incidentally, fans of Terry Pratchett may be noting the similarity to the profession of “seamstress” in Ankh-Morpork. I’m sure it’s not an accident. Sir Terry was very well versed in social history and must have been aware of the realities facing single women in poverty.

She wasn’t single for all that long. In early 1843 she married one Henry Lewis, a widower and (according to the census) neighbour in Water Course Alley. Henry was a cordwainer, or shoemaker, also a highly skilled trade.  Henry and Elizabeth then fade from official records for ten years.  I’ve never managed to find them in the census for 1851 but in 1853 Henry died at the age of 39 (He was probably born  in 1813 although there’s no definite  record I can find) The cause of death was recorded as a “fit of apoplexy brought on by intoxication,” which is alarming,  His place of death was a street called Lowesmoor, only a short distance from Watercourse Alley. Elizabeth, James and Ann were on their own again.

Until  May 1855,  when Ann had a child of her own. And here it gets just a little murky. Ann’s child was registered as William Gillett CRANNAGE. She gave the little boy “Gillett “ as a given name after her mother’s first husband. Does that suggest that Edwin was  in fact her natural father?

William’s father was named as a William Crannage, a “stoker at the gas works” but nowhere is there any record of a marriage between them. Six years later in the census of 1861 young William was living with his mother,  grandmother and uncle James all under the name of Lewis in Pheasant St, again, very near Watercourse Alley. Of William Crannage there is no sign.  There are a handful of candidates appearing in various census records but none  I can definitely pin down as the father,  the Elizabeth was working then as a laundress–possibly a little too old to carry on as a “gloveress”–as was Ann, and James had become a boatman.

In 1862, at the end of August, Ann (as Ann Gillett) married a Seria Gunnell and then with somewhat indecent haste, had a child in early 1863. Make of that what you will. It seems she left Elizabeth’s home but didn’t take William with her, as the 1871 census shows just Elizabeth and William living together: Elizabeth as Elizabeth Lewis, widow and laundress,  and William as William C. Gillett, a labourer.  There is no mention of James; I’ve never found any definite trace of him since. Ann, meanwhile had given Seria three more children.

Elizabeth was quite old by then  and at some point in the next six years she went into the workhouse where she died of “senile decay”–effectively old age–on the 2nd of May 1877. She would have been 73, not a bad age for a working class woman in Victorian England I think. I’d really like one day to have a sight of whatever records of the workhouse survive.

William Gillett/Crannage/Lewis–take your pick; he did–married a local girl, Jane Stevens, in 1878 and had eleven children, one of whom, William Alfred,  was my grandfather. The eldest child was a girl, whom they named Elizabeth Ann. I find it interesting that William honoured his grandmother first.

There is one odd fact. William married Jane under the name of Crannage, that was what was originally on the marriage certificate and in the register,  but all the children were registered as Gilletts and in 1921 their marriage certificate was formally amended to show that the then William Gillett was the William Crannage who had married 43 years previously. Karen has suggested that this was to validate an entitlement to a pension that was going to kick in at the age of seventy.

It leaves me wondering, though. It seems that by strict linear paternity, I’m not really a Gillett at all, but possibly a Crannage. There’s no guarantee that Edwin was even my genetic three-greats grandfather through Elizabeth. Who, in fact, do I think I am?

But this isn’t my story. It’s the long and hard life of Elizabeth Philips. She had three children by at least two different fathers, both of whom she outlived,  and brought up an abandoned grandchild as her own. She was a survivor and in a curious  way, I’m kind of proud of her.