Looking up old friends

It being Friday, and the afternoon, Mrs Wow and I got the tandem out and off we pootled. Canewdon was our destination today, a village with an enormous stone church on top of a hill.

Canewdon is, apparently, named after Canute, the king who proved to all who didn’t believe him when he told them that he didn’t have the power to turn the tide (if only our leaders had such wisdom in the 21st century, when they might at least make the effort…). It is also, allegedly, known as a centre for ghoulies, ghosties, witchcraft and anything else that might go bump in the night and therefore a good place to avoid on Hallowe’en, when it fills up with silly people driving there in order to witness some kind of paranormal traffic incident. It makes for quite a pleasant ride, but not a long one, but the roads are generally quiet, although there is the chance of meeting some absolutely gargantuan articulated lorry laden with Scandinavian timber, as it trundles its way out of the Baltic Wharf on the river Crouch.

Today there were few events, and we had an errand: we were going to take a pot of marmalade to Fred and Corrie. Fred was an old teaching colleague of mine who retired in 1980. Corrie, his wife, had phoned us around Christmas, just to find out if we were still around, and said we would be welcome to drop in at any time. They live in a lovely cottage very close to the Cherry Tree pub.

It’s about 10 years since we have seen Fred. He is 85 now, and, having been diabetic for almost half his life, often has bad days. We didn’t give warning that we were going today, and when we arrived Corrie was really pleased to see us. Fred was having a bad day, and was asleep in his chair, and was decidedly grumpy when Corrie woke him, but it was lovely to see his face change as he recognised who had come to see him.

One thing I have learned about old people is that they like to talk about old times and old friends. Even miserable old so-and-so’s like my dad cheer up no end when there is someone around to whom they can talk about times gone by, and once we got talking about Southchurch Hall, the school we where we both taught, Fred was much more cheerful. He told me that Harold Shaw, a former Head Teacher at the school, is now in an old people’ home. “Does he wander up and down the corridors wielding a cane?” I asked, recalling Mr. Shaw’s reputation as a Hard Man. “No, but he has a wooden sign on his room door which says ‘Headmaster’!” Fred replied.

In addition, Fred recalled that his retirement present from the staff was a bicycle. He told me this as though it was news to me. “I know”, I replied, “I was the one who rode it back to school from the bike shop!” (Bates of Westcliff, as it happens, an old cycling name associated with diadrant frames and cantiflex forks). Fred said that when he was in his 60s he rode that bike to Maldon for a pub lunch, a round trip of nearly 40 miles. Rather him than me – it was a sit-up-and-beg machine with a Sturmey Archer hub gear, if I remember correctly. Corrie, being Dutch, also has a great interest in bicycles, and told us of some of the times they had had travelling around the low countries while visiting her relatives.

We also had a good natter about cricket. When Fred retired, we organised a cricket match in his honour. In his youth, Fred had been a very good batsman, and although modest about his achievements, I am pretty sure he played minor counties’ cricket at one time or another, I think for Lincolnshire.

Shortly it was time for us to be on our way as, although we have perfectly satisfactory lights on the tandem, it is always better in daylight, especially when the traffic is heavy. We bade Fred & Corrie farewell, with a promise that we would drop in and see them again soon, and then made our way through Stambridge Mills to avoid the busier roads in Rochford, up Sutton Road and home. Total journey 14.43 miles in about 75 minutes’ cycling.

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