My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full – Part 15

In My Father’s Words Directory


My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full

A Life Lived to the Full

03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018

Brian Matier

Part 15 – Pages 135 – 149


1979 started with winter snows which kept Rory and I busy shovelling the blessed stuff off the steps.  When I look at the photos today, I am pleased not to have quite so many steps to ascend to get into my flat.  In any case as is the manner of these things in Britain, the snow dissolved and the spring came round again.

In the early part of 1979 I was still travelling a lot and all over the country. I went to Derbyshire Peak District and to Coventry, to Bristol and to Ferndale in South Wales.  We also had a new visitor; Ken Verity who had left the RAAF and was basing himself in England for a while. It was good to talk over our time in the Air Force.  We also went with Ken to Blackbushe Market which was held on a Sunday at the Airport.

At the end of March we had a trip to Bristol and fitted in a lot of things tourists might be expected to do. We visited John Wesley’s Chapel, the SS Great Britain and Brunel’s equally famous Bristol Suspension Bridge.  Ever since that long ago visit, I have wanted to go back but never quite managed it.

On 4th April I was in Chester; I have no idea why but I did visit the cathedral.  A few days later I was at the other end of the country, visiting the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral, This time Margaret and the kids were there.  We were not being religious, simply in love with great buildings.  Frederic Sonind, a French Student and a pen pal of Rory, came along with us.

Also in the spring, with Frederic along, we went to Stonehenge.  In those days it was possible to walk among and through the stones and to touch them.  Later the National Trust Authorities decide to separate the visitors from the monument and built a huge fence to surround it. I am sure that it was necessary, but nevertheless sad.

During the same trip we went to Bath, a magnificent city with compulsory visits to the Roman Baths and the Cathedral. We all visited a scout camp during the school holidays.  It was raining.  We added another Roman town to our personal map of England by visiting Cirencester. This was part of our early summer holidays in the Cotswolds.  Apart from Cirencester, a pretty town, we visited Tintern Abbey. The ruins were pretty impressive.

We also took lots of photos of the Severn Bridge and a few of sheep.  Nothing was new there then. We drove through the Wye Valley and visited Ross on Wye. Ross was a very pretty old fashioned, in a nice way, kind of town.

Rory received his Chief Scout Award which pleased all of us.  I had become involved with the scouts again as part of a parents’ support group.  Rory had grown up into a fine tall lad, who was thinking about his first job.  He was also thinking of doing some travelling, something of which his father approved, within reason.

 In early June I had a trip to The Hague in the Netherlands. At this distance, I have no recollection of why I went.  Nevertheless I enjoyed it and took the opportunity to have a good look round. I must have had a bit of spare time as I went to the Royal Palace, a splendid building.  I also wandered the streets among the locals and formed a very good impression of the Dutch people.  Subsequently I would place the Dutch as second only to the Germans as my favourite people after the British.

On 7th July the Woking Whirl rolled round again.  I realised that this was an English version of Melbourne’s Moomba.  There were marching bands and a parade of floats, which all made Woking a bit more exciting than it might otherwise have been. The 1st St John’s Scouts made up a float to play out a Roman Circus, which took third prize.  As this had been my idea, I was very pleased.

The Whirl included a parade of cars, some of them Jaguars, a marquee I was increasingly attracted to.  There was also a Royal Marines Band.

Our house was built on the side of what was a fairly steep hill, rising perhaps thirty feet from the street.  There sat the house on a flattened piece of ground.  From there it rose again through the back garden perhaps fifty feet to the end of the garden.  This required a lot of time and energy to keep everything in check and I did my best.

In August we went for a week’s caravan holiday in the Isle of Wight.  We took the kids to see the holiday camp where we had stayed in 1960.  Sadly, it was no longer a camp for humans but for cats and dogs.  The buildings were still the same; sadly the occupants were not.  It was a big shock and caused a huge amount of amusement with our darlings.

We stayed near the town of Shanklin, which is a very pleasant seaside resort. We wandered through Blackgang Chine and visited Osborne House, and Brading War Museum.  Shanklin was a great favourite with everyone.  We enjoyed the huge sandy beach, even persuading Margaret to venture into the water on a sea cat or splash cats as I think they were called.

Osborne House is almost a Royal Palace, being built in the 1840s by Prince Albert as a family home for the Royal Family.  I think it became a fairly miserable place for the Queen after Albert’s death.

As I have mentioned before since 1960, Margaret and I had developed a weakness for the Isle of Wight, something we were now delighted to share with the children.  As Rory was now 16 we could see a time coming when he would not want to come on holiday with his parents.  So we decided to include as much of the island as we could

We went to Carisbroke Castle, a huge medieval pile where Charles I was held prisoner at the end of the Civil War before he was executed by the Parliamentarians. Despite its age it was in pretty good order.

We visited the miniature village at Godshill.  The little model village was splendid, it’s buildings miniature images of the big brother We went to Alun Bay but found it less charming than we had remembered.  We tried out the ski lift from the beach to the top of the hill. I wondered whatever happened to that little bottle of coloured sands we so carefully collected nearly twenty years earlier.

On 7th, 8th and 9th September Margaret and I went away to Paris with our neighbours, just across the street.  We stayed in a small cheap Hotel on the Rue Turenne and wandered about everywhere.  We saw the Cathedral de Notre Dame and had a cruise on the Seine.

We found a restaurant where a pleasant little love story was carried out.  A young man was playing the piano while at his feet was a young woman who looked totally in love with the young man.  He played a succession of Bob Dylan tracks while she gazed into his eyes.  To the left hand side of the pianist was another young man who strummed away on a guitar quite oblivious to what the piano man was doing.

At one stage the pianist asked if anyone had any requests.  I suggested that he might like to play a couple of Neil Diamond songs.  He looked at me in a puzzled way before eventually saying “Who?”

We walked all over Paris until we were dog tired and could nothing but fall into bed, Our fellow travellers were good company and we suddenly found again the pleasure of just occasionally having adult company.

We visited the Arc de Triumph, the Eiffel Tower and the left bank of the Seine. We marched along the Tuilleries and through the Gardens of the Louvre as if we owned them and eventually ended up in a magic part of Paris, Montmartre. This area did possess a special charm, with its busy shops and stalls and the artists’ quarter.

We visited Sacre Coeur, the church of Montmartre and lit a candle. And very soon, all too soon, it was all over and we were on our way home.  Although it sounds like we were habitually on holiday, I was still working pretty hard.  There was still a lot of travelling, about 25,000 miles a year.  The more miles you completed the quicker would your new car come along.

In late summer we spent a few days in Trefiw to help my brother celebrate his new house in the village.  He seemed, at that time, to be doing very well in the business. In September we visited the Aircraft Museum at Thorpe Park. Most of the models featured were well before my time.

The following month we went to Godstone, a nearby village to visit the 15th Century manor house then being used as a Mormon Tabernacle by the Mormons.  They seemed to me to be a strange group with strange beliefs.

In October Rory had become a Venture Scout and part of our saying well done was to visit the Battle of Waterloo on our holiday in Europe.

Later on October we took off on our big adventure for 1979, a drive to Pompeii.  We started by paying our respects to Rory’s war gaming hobby, which centred on the Battle of Waterloo. We spent a short time looking around the more obvious tourist attractions and included a climb to the top of the Lion Mound. I think there were 243 steps to conquer to achieve the top and we were all a bit weary when we got there. We had to remind ourselves that the British and their German Allies had actually beaten Napoleon.

It did arouse Rory’s interest quite a lot and got me involved.  Subsequently I was to fit Wellington in at number two slot in my list of heroes after Churchill.

From Waterloo we drove the short distance to Luxemburg which was a fascinating city with what appeared to be a huge rocky valley right through the middle of the city. We continued into West Germany, as we called the country in those days, and entered Trier, an old Roman town with the famous Porta Nigra, the black Gate. It was hugely fascinating.

On 20th October we were in Kempten visiting an Australian friend, Pat and her German husband, George.  The following day we spent at King Ludwig’s magnificent Neuschwannstein Castle. This was a fairy tale castle much copied by Disney.  Poor old King Ludwig, who was a bit mad or eccentric as the Bavarians prefer it, drowned in three feet of water in a lake in his castle.

We stayed with Werner and Helga and had a great time before heading off for Italy.  We drove across Switzerland and Austria and then on through the Germanic part of Austria.  In a motorway service area, Jenny and Margaret went off to the toilet and returned in a great state of excitement.

“Drive off” she ordered me sternly.

“What’s up?” I asked.

”Just drive off” she repeated.

I did so and a mile or two down the motorway she opened up.  “I have found a lot of money” she announced.

“How much have you got??”

She fumbled in her handbag.  “There is five thousand lire.”

“Oh,” I said, “That’s worth about two pounds.”  Her disappointment lasted for the rest of the day.

We drove over to the westerly side of the country and found a hotel in Florence where we stopped.  This was a pleasant hotel where we had a good dinner and the worst night’s sleep of our lives.  Firstly, in the early hours Margaret was awakened by a door banging somewhere in the hotel and the sound of someone crying. 

It was only in the morning that we realised that this was the commotion created by Rory and Jenny in the room they shared on a different floor of the hotel. The room was not en suite so Rory had got up to visit the toilet. Jenny had, by mistake, locked the bedroom behind him.  She took some time to unlock it again. So, they did not get a lot of sleep either.

Later on in the night, she woke me to tell me that she had heard our car, a Ford Capri, being started up and driven away.  I tried to argue with this, using logic for this purpose.  That did not work, of course.  Our room was at the side of the hotel and the car park at the front, so it was not possible to tell if the car was still where I had parked it.

So I went down one floor to the lobby and to my horror I saw that everything was locked up and I could not go outside.  There were no members of staff on duty. Somewhat disconsolate I went back upstairs.  Looking out of the window again, I noticed a parapet about two feet six inches wide running around the side of the hotel.

This was about twenty feet above ground level.  Nevertheless I climbed on to this parapet and, back to the wall, inched my way to the corner of the hotel building.  I peered around the corner and there, in all its splendour stood the Capri.  By the time I got back to the room to tell my wife, she was fast asleep.

I remember thinking that l was more frightened of being shot by a random police patrol as a member of the Red Army Faction.

As we drove away the next morning we wondered if all our time in Italy was going to be like the last 24 hours.  And we had not seen any of Florence’s famous treasures.

We drove south to Naples, bypassing Roma for the moment, arriving late in the evening.  We were lucky as the hotel was able to put us all up in one big room.  We stopped for two nights. We spent the entire following day in Pompeii, thoroughly exploring an amazing city.  Rory in particular was almost overwhelmed.

We were struck by how complete the ruins were, although I suppose they have had since AD79 to get things going. I remember that it cost 150 lire entrance fee to the ruined city, which was less than ten pence.  Remarkably was good value for money.

We wandered about all over the ruins and took lots of photographs.  We also wandered around in the shops and stalls and bought a few souvenirs.  On the following day we headed for Rome.

We were prepared to be entranced by Rome, and we were.  We only stayed for three days and fitted in a very great deal.  The highlight was probably the Vatican and the Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel. We visited the Coliseum and viewed the river Tiber from all angles.  The Memorial to King Victor Emmanuel was a mighty pile but impossible to reach on foot unless you were a priest or a nun, the only ones who were given any quarter by the car drivers.

Once when passing a church we could just see through the ground floor windows, a group of nuns singing one floor below.  Their music teacher had a small hand baton which he was waving vigorously.  “Why is that man whipping those ladies” asked Jenny.

We were very impressed by the Coliseum, where the lions and Christians had done battle in the days of yore and gladiators slugged it out.  It was difficult to believe that we were standing in the same place that these things had happened.  We visited the Forum and the famous Trevi Fountain where we dutifully tossed a small coin over our shoulders and into the waters of the fountain.  I reminded the kids that this is where the song ‘Three coins in the fountain ‘as sung by Frank Sinatra originated. They were not impressed.

We also imitated Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday, by putting our hands in the lion’s mouth.  Fortunately he did not bite. We visited Castel D’Angelo and took several photos from its walls, including some inspiring shots of the river.

And then it was on to St Peter’s, the Pope’s house.  This inevitably brought forward another question from Jenny on viewing some nuns underground.  “Is this where they keep the nuns?”

After an all too short stay in the Eternal City, it was time to leave and that caused difficulty.  After several attempts at finding the road out, I had failed and turned to hiring some Roman help. I stopped a cab, hoping the driver spoke English.  I asked if I could get out of Rome by following him.  He agreed but he demanded my wife as a hostage to ride in his cab.

And off we set with the cab going faster and faster and me having great difficulty in keeping up with him.  Eventually he stopped and I paid the ransom, otherwise known as a cab fair and the family was united again.

Somewhere near Maastricht we were approaching the German frontier with the Netherlands in the early morning dark.  A uniformed official stepped out in front of us.

“Sind wir in Deutschland?” I enquired politely.

The border guard replied in perfect English, “Good God no, sir.  You are in the Netherlands.’  I have said before that the Dutch are my favourite European people after the Germans.

And we went back to a lesser form of holiday in Britain.  Back at Mobil House I became responsible for Security in Mobil Oil Company.   I was, of course, delighted. At Mobil I was promoted from a Group 15 to Group 16, a position I would hold for the next ten years.

In October Margaret got a job with Argos.  It was a reasonable thing to do as the children were self maintained and did not need quite so much help.

I was still going on training sessions at work, including a one day fire fighting course at Egham.  There were about a dozen members of staff from Mobil House and I was there as a guest, I think.

Jasmine, who had settled in fine as a member of the family, was often the subject for photographs and seemed to enjoy it. We went to Speaker’s Corner and exchanged banter with several of the participants.

In March we had a trip to Cheddar in Somerset to visit the Gorge and the Caves. Quite spooky they were.

In May I went to RAF Scampton to pay tribute to the brave men of 617 Dambusters Squadron.  I also viewed what was, I think, the unfinished Humber Bridge. The Bridge was officially opened to traffic by the Queen in July 1981.

In June 1980 Rory took his first paid job as assistant manager at the Cotteridge Hotel, which was located about a mile away from our house.  He was good at his job and was happy there for a while.

In June 1980 we spent a week in Brittany where we had never been before. We spent a lot of time in Quimper.  Despite what seemed like rain every day, we enjoyed ourselves. Margaret celebrated her 40th birthday in Quimper.

We stayed in Fouesnant near to Concarneau, both pleasant places despite the rain.  And because of the weather we had to get out and drive a lot to give ourselves something to do. Perhaps the most important thing we did manage to do was to drive out of Brittany into Normandy, no great distance, and visit Mont St Michel.

This is an island built out into the Atlantic, on the top of which is the most magnificent church.  The island is approached along a roadway from the mainland which becomes flooded when the tide is in. There are steps leading up to the church and it is a long walk.  A lady was acting as guide to the church, talking in English, with her hand out.

On the lower slopes of this small island a town had grown up   making it a very special place.  Mont St Michel in France was copied in Cornwall by the monks who created it.

Fortunately our car was parked in the car park where, thanks be to God, the incoming tide does not reach. It rained the entire day, but this did not stop a young couple celebrating their wedding.

We had a brief visit to Glastonbury in July to have a look at the Tor.  Interesting but I am not convinced that Joseph of Anathema ever went there with Jesus,

We were unlucky with the weather this year.  I have already mentioned that it rained the entire week we were in Brittany.  We spent a little while in Devon and it rained all the time we were there.  To cap it all we had a trip to Scotland with Frederick and it rained the entire time we were in Scotland.

We headed for Wester Ross again with its splendid beaches, and hills and lochs. We were highly attracted to Eileen Donan a splendid castle built on an island just in the loch.  Inside it was finished in spectacular style. Near the castle there was a famous waterfall called Achna Sheen.

We then drove to Ullapool, a pleasant fishing town on. I think. Loch Ewe.  Here we met an actor, a local man called Robert Urquhart.  He had appeared in the film A Bridge too far. I remember thinking that Ullapool was just about as far north as we had driven in our country.

Frederick’s English was improving all the time.  I would like to say that my French, and Rory’s and Jenny’s were showing similar signs of improving, but, in all truth, I cannot. On the way home we stopped at the Commando Memorial to pay our respects to the men of the Royal Marine Commando.

In late September Margaret and I shared a night of magic at the Royal Festival Hall when we went to see Sinatra.  The man was superb, his voice was in very good order and there was none of the nonsense there had been in Melbourne.  I am sure the people who attended were thrilled to little pieces.

Early in the autumn, I put on my venture scout uniform for the first time and I’ ve got to say it looked pretty good. Rory demonstrated that he was growing up when, with a couple o mates he booked a holiday in Athens.  He went by coach and I gave him a lift into London to catch it. He was seventeen, just. He brought back a few photos, the good ones he kept, a few scraps he shared with me.

I played 14 games of cricket during the season for a relatively successful year, scoring 136 runs for 12 times out and an average of 11.33.  My highest score was 26 against Ewell which was perhaps a sign of the future.

In November we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary in our house with a party. We invited everyone we could think of and most of them turned up.  Rory was able to entertain everyone with tales from his time in Greece.

In December I received my warrant as a venture scout leader.

I had now been taking German classes for a while with a German lady married to an English chap as our teacher.  In December our little group went out for a Christmas dinner.  There was teacher, Inge, fellow student Mike and his wife Pauline and Margaret.  It was a pleasant enough gathering although I suspect that Margaret was a bit suspicious of the whole set up.

In early 1981 amid icy cold weather, the president of Mobil oil Corporation paid a visit to the United Kingdom. This was Bill Tavouleareas, American Greek gentlemen. Tav was a notoriously difficult character to deal with. He himself was not too bad but he always travelled with his family, a wife, two sons and a daughter.  The elder brother was OK but the younger brother, Billy, had the nickname, the little pig, a name which suited him perfectly. The family always stayed at the Inn on the Park, when they were in London, one of the best hotels in the City.  One day Jimmy Connors was checking in.  He had been, or was about to become, the Wimbledon champion and he was spotted by the little pig

The latter wandered up to check in and began to engage Connors in conversation, addressing him as ‘Jimbo’.  At one point Jimmy turned around and said “Do I know you?”

“No” replied Billy.

“In which case then why don’t you fuck off?”  The point was well made and Billy, only a little crestfallen did as he was bid.

The elder brother had two small children who were a delight, but his mother and sister required a huge amount of attention otherwise Bill, the elder, had to give a vast amount of attention to the women in his entourage.  It struck me that much of his time was taken up dealing with his family.

Whenever Tav went out he was accompanied by his entire family and the cronies who were his friends. This involved a great cavalcade of cars and security personnel. Tav preferred to ride around in the back of the Daimler limo with me riding in the front seat with our long serving driver Arthur Mills who was a great character and died aged 99.

After three or four days of huge activity Tav and the family went back to the US leaving us all in peace.

In July we got involved in an event at Brookwood, watching the parachutists leap out of their aircraft all over Surrey.  We also watched the Territorial Army carry out a training exercise on Wheatsheaf Rec. We also paid a short visit to Mum and Dad’s caravan in Newcastle.  Rory took himself off to Paris for a visit.  We managed a day visit to Dublin by way of a change.

The cricket that year was fascinating. I mean the cricket played by England. It became known as the year of Botham’s Ashes.

Ian Botham had been appointed captain of England the previous year but was not proving to be a great success.  This tear, 1981 there was a series against Australia led by Kim Hughes, the nephew of my old Wing Commander in the RAAF, Gordon Hughes.

The first test at Trent Bridge was lost by England by four wickets.  The Second Test was to be played at Lords.  This was drawn fairly equably but the captain, Botham, suffered the iniquity of a pair, a duck in each innings.  So far in the season everything looked depressingly similar.

Botham resigned as captain between the second and third test.  Some said he was sacked.  Either way he retained his place in the side with Mike Brearly coming into the side as captain.  The match was played at Headingly, and preceded in a depressing simple way, Australia scoring 401 for nine, England being forced to follow on over 200 runs behind.  Botham got 50.

At one stage England were 135-7 in their second innings and heading for a huge defeat,  Then Botham took to the Aussies and scored 149 not out, adding 117 to the total with Graham Dilley and 67 with Chris Old.  It was a heroic performance but still left Australia with only129 to win.  They almost did but Bob Willis turned up as well taking 8-43. 

It was the most astonishing performance I have ever witnessed, albeit from Test Match Special. Odds of 500 to 1 were being offered by the bookies against an England win and Rodney March and Dennis Lillee each had, it is reported, a fiver on England to win.  I could not listen and drive and had to find a quiet spot at the side of the road to wait out the result.

England won by 18 runs.

England went on to win the fourth Test In Birmingham by 28 runs with Botham taking five for eleven in fourteen overs to finish off Australia. England went on to win the fifth test at Old Trafford with the by now sainted Botham scoring a lightning fast century.  What a turnaround it had been.  What a year. The entire country benefitted from a feel good mood.

My own cricket season was also quite successful with 155 runs scored for eleven times out in seventeen games.  There was a highest score of 35 and two innings for Mobil House totally 50 for once out.  Not quite Bothamesque but OK for me.

Rory celebrated his 18th birthday at his employers place, the Cotteridge Hotel.  It was a noisy crowded evening and late in the evening a fight developed which meant I had to do the heavy father act and chuck three or four kids out.

We became attracted to Newlands Corner in Surrey.  This was the place where Agatha Christie was last seen before her disappearance.  The Agatha Christie story was being dramatised on television at the time.

We also liked Shere a village near Newlands Corner.  This had a church where a woman had made herself an anchorist in the church for a number of years. She was said to have taken this action to atone for her sins.  As she was seventeen or thereabouts, I wondered what sins she had committed which made her lock herself up for so many years.

0n 24th July I had a day in York, a fascinating and historic town. i must have moved pretty smartly in 1981 as, apparently, two days later I was in Albufera, a coastal town in Portugal.

I note that we went to the bullfight.  If I remember correctly, the Portuguese do not kill the bull, which at least is something, but the whole process is still pretty disgusting.

A great deal of our time was spent on the beach, or beaches, as there were many.  All was great fun. However, thinking about things at the time, there was not much else to do.  In 2017 I took Jenny and my granddaughter, back to Albufera and there still was not much to do.

We also went to a local cemetery, a strange place to British eyes, vaults with glass fronted windows through which the coffins could be seen.

On 7th August we took a day long boat ride along the Algarve coast, stopping at a beach about halfway along.  It was all great fun, with anyone who was interested hopping over the side and swimming to shore.  Rory and I did so, the ladies declined.

We then had a picnic on the beach with loads of sardines, salad, rustic bread and white wine. We also went out to visit Lagos, not that one, and Vilamoura. I seem to remember one of the kids being taken short on our way to the boat and having to make an emergency stop to let them relieve themselves.  I do not recall who it was but it was probably Jenny because we were obliged to get her Portuguese tablets from the pharmacist.  And the holiday drifted happily to a close and we were home in England.

We had planned an extension to our house.  This involved pushing the front window about four feet into the garden and extending the front room. The work took place over three months, November 1981 until late January 1982 and cost us £6,000, which was a lot more in 1981 than it would be today.

1981 was ending and 1982 just beginning.  I had done well, I believed.  We had done well as a family.  Rory had finished at school and was working.  In due course he would leave home.  A new era was beginning.

Part 15 – Pages 135 – 149


2 thoughts on “My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full – Part 15

    1. Hey Gary, many have changed considerably now. pompeii as an example is almost four times the size it was in the 70’s early 80’s with all the archaeological work they have done.

      Ah so you were there and remember it well 🙂

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