Family Debate

I have just had a new experience – I was a judge in a School’s debating competition.

To make it even better, the teacher organising the competition was my daughter Ellen. And one of the other judges was my younger son Graham. Another was Prof. Richard Norman (any relation, Liz? Wink).

There were three debates in the morning and two in the afternoon. The topics were:-

“Euthanasia should be made legal”

“A law banning Incitement to Hatred has no place in a Liberal Democracy”

“Soap Operas have no artistic merit.”

“If Global Warming is happening, there is no evidence that it is man-made”

“There is no room for ethics in British foreign policy”

I was one of 3 judges in nos 1, 4 & 5.

I think my proudest moment was during debate 2, when Ellen took the Chair, and Prof. Norman and Graham were 2 out of the 3 judges, and Graham’s mate Steve was the other. Watching Ellen chairing the debate as though she had been doing it all her life, and listening to Graham asking really searching questions of the two teams, totally confident in front of an audience, brought a tear to my eye.

Of debate no. 2, after we were at Ellen’s house eating Chinese food, Graham summed things up succinctly: “Quoting John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism when you are in the Lower Sixth is pretty fucking impressive!”

Probably just as well that he saved that one up for when the Head Teacher was out of earshot!


Our father Kenneth, known to some of the family as Joe and to his colleagues as Johnny, was quite a complex character. Born in 1914, one of his earliest memories was to hear the pit-head sirens sounding in celebration at the end of the Great War; another was the death of his 16-year-old cousin in the great influenza outbreak. He was a pupil at the Lewis School, Pengam, once described by Lloyd George as “The Winchester of Wales” and it was a source of pride to him in later life that some of his more famous countrymen – England Cricket Captain Tony Lewis, Wales & British Lions Rugby Captain John Dawes and never-to-be-Captain Neil Kinnock – followed him through those hallowed portals.

He was a brother to four sisters and although there are few anecdotes I can relate about these times, I believe there was an occasion in which he pushed someone’s nose into a boiled egg.

He was very hard-working but the 1930s was not the best decade to try to find a job in South Wales. He tried his hand at chickens, gaining a certificate in Poultry Husbandry from the Usk Agricultural College and later he was a door-to-door salesman, peddling brushes around on his bike. However, father eventually became an economic migrant, leaving the Valleys and settling in Kent. He found employment briefly at the Woolwich Arsenal, but more importantly he found our mother at the St. Mary Cray tennis club, and in 1940 they married. These were, of course, turbulent times, and within a month he had received his call-up papers. Being able to read a micrometer, he was placed in the air force as a mechanic and after a period of training was posted overseas.

Compared to many, father probably had a relatively easy war in the sense that he was never in direct contact with conflict, following up behind the troops as Monty did his stuff in the Sahara. Perhaps the greatest danger he was in was in London in the Blitz when, bombs raining down, a soldier he was with shot the lock off an underground station so that they could find shelter. However, he must have missed Beckie enormously, and there was one occasion on which he risked arrest by taking illicit leave to be with her, hiding from the Military Police in the lavatories at King’s Cross Station until the coast was clear. On his return from active service more than 3 years later, he entered a household as a stranger to one of its members, his disabled oldest son Geoffrey. Although he rarely talked about this, or the war years, they must have had a profound effect on him. I think that Geoffrey’s death in 1960 was a tragedy from which neither he nor mother ever fully recovered.

The 9 post-war years saw five more children come along. Father became a teacher and it was at the Langdon Hills Primary School that he spent almost all his career. He made some good friends and the family is very grateful to those of you who have managed to make the journey today. Of course, the teaching profession has never been one in which fortunes are made, and he cultivated the garden assiduously in order fill our hungry mouths. For a good part of the year he provided all the vegetables we ate and also put his poultry skills to good use, for all of my childhood and beyond keeping a dozen hens at the bottom of the garden.

On his retirement in 1976 he confided in me with a slurred voice: “Boyo, I’ve got an ambition. I want to draw a pension for longer than I drew a salary!” and he set about achieving that ambition with gusto. He expanded his chicken emporium so that he now had 200 hens rather than the dozen or so, and he sold eggs and some surplus fruit and veg at the door. He also made bread and something which passed as home-made wine… It was also around this time that he became a founder member of the Ramsden Heath Horticultural Society and every year we would help him prepare the fruit and vegetables for display in a fairly haphazard fashion. Even so, on a few occasions he won the Cup for the best overall performance in the show and at the time there were probably only two or three gardeners in the village who could stay with him.

He was an enthusiastic DIY practitioner, and there were few jobs that he would not tackle. In the early days of occupation of Lawn House, he took on some massive projects: re-pointing the entire side wall, building the garage, laying crazy paving. Later on he tried his hand at being a lumberjack and took some incredible risks. Those of us who witnesses the incident will never forget a very large piece of poplar tree he had just severed hurtling past him and ripping the chain-saw from his grasp as it plummeted some 30 feet to the ground below, leaving him looking like some odd weathercock, balanced precariously at the top of the ladder. There was another incident when they were both in their 80s that he persuaded mother to venture with him onto the lean-to to try and find out where the rain was getting in. She lost her balance and started to slide down the roof but he somehow stopped her and helped her back through an upstairs window. It is quite remarkable that a man with such a disregard for his own safety should have survived to the age of 92.

He was an armchair sports enthusiast, a passion I shared with him, and certain events became family institutions. The annual five-nations rugby tournament was a favourite, and it was a great time to be supporting Wales. He was also keen on cricket and the television would always be on for the test matches. On quite a few occasions we went to county games, often Essex v Glamorgan, and we saw some tremendous cricket. He was very happy in 1969 when, on a visit to Chris and Andrea in Cardiff, he and I watched his beloved Glamorgan at Sophia Gardens. It was the first day of the match that sealed the County Championship when Majid Khan hit a wonderful century and before the close Ossie Wheatley ripped the heart out of the Worcestershire batting. He remembered such details for a long time and would tell others about them years later.

But most importantly, he was a doting grandfather. He loved his grandchildren hugely, and would often indulge them, somewhat to their parents’ consternation, but I don’t think that any of them ever came to any harm as a result. As they grew and developed, he took enormous pride in their achievements, but had the infuriating and probably mischievous habit of heaping praise on them in their absence.

It was, of course, a massive blow to him when Beckie died, after 64 years’ marriage, and one that most of us thought that he would not survive, but he recovered better than any of us expected and I think that for the last couple of years of his life he was as happy in Broadoaks as he could have been anywhere. He did not make friends easily – after his retirement it seemed to me that he had little contact with anyone but the family – but whenever we visited him he spoke warmly of the other residents, especially Eric and Grace. Neither did he ever lose his interest in sport and current affairs: quite often he would tell me about some news item that had escaped my notice, or a sports result that I didn’t know. His quick wit and rather black sense of humour also stayed with him, and even into his 90s he was capable of a witty aside which demonstrated great keenness of mind.

The end came in Southend Hospital on 5th May. He was too ill to be told of his sister Kathleen’s death only a few days before his own, so if there is an afterlife, then I think he was in for a big surprise. Indeed, I can imagine him greeting her: “What the hell are you doing here?”

Two at Once (3)

Well, I’m an orphan. My dad died at 3.45 this afternoon. My sister was with him. I would have been, but we were delayed at the vet’s with the dog. I was just on my way out the door when the phone rang.

I get to work as his executor on Tuesday.

Visiting my dad.

Tonight I spent an hour or so with my dad.

He is in a very bad way. His lungs are rattling like I don’t know what. He is incapable of speech. He looked at me and tried to speak, but I could only guess what he was trying to say.

He had been wearing an oxygen mask, but had taken it off. The nurses told me that he kept doing that. I spoke to him and he responded with his eyes – I know he understood me – but was unable to make an intelligible response. I watched him with the oxygen mask. He had pulled it off, but kept it in his hand. It suddenly dawned on me – he didn’t want it on all the time, but he did every so often. I took over here. I held the mask to his face, and every so often he would pull it away. At certain times he would release the tube, I asked him if he wanted the mask again, he would nod, so I would hold it to is face. When he had had enough, he would pull he mask away again. We kept up this unspoken dialogue for quite a long time.

I took a break and spoke to one of the nurses, explaining to her about Dad’s sister, who died yesterday. I told her that we didn’t want to tell him, because he has got enough on his plate. If I’m wrong, they will meet on a cloud somewhere soon and can have their own private celestial argument. If I’m right it won’t matter a damn. I went back in to his side-ward and continued our game of hide-and-seek with the oxygen mask.

At one point he lifted his left arm and pointed to the clock. I told him it was 7.15. He seemed satisfied. I told him that our Rohloff rear wheel had been delivered to Bridgewater and that they were going to fix it soon. I don’t think he cared very much. The be-all-and-end-all of his existence is access to that oxygen mask.

I asked him if he was in pain. He nodded. Was it his head? He nodded. The nurse came in and administered paracetemol par rectum. He winced. Why don’t they just add it to his drip? Or do the doctors prescribe it like that just for the awkward patients?

At about 7.55 I asked him if he wanted me to go. He nodded. I was very glad to get out of there. Please let him die in the night.

Father of the Bride

Ladies & Gentlemen,
It is traditional on occasions such as this for the Bride’s father to make the first speech and that, apparently, is because he is considered to be the host for the day, welcoming you all and especially the Groom’s family, who have travelled such a long way to be with us. So, speaking as one who inhabits the arctic wastes of Essex, it is indeed a very great privilege for me to welcome you, John and Lorraine, to your home county of Kent! Lovely to see you here. And of course I extend that welcome to every one of the guests. I’d like to make a special mention of Janet’s mum and my dad, neither of whom go out much these days, but have made a particular effort on this occasion.

On the spur of the moment, I invited the assembled company to sing Happy Birthday to my dad, who was 92 last Sunday. My then 3 year old niece, not quite sure what we were celebrating, sung it to him 30 years ago at our wedding. He was tickled pink both times!

Now of course this is a very proud day for Janet & me. It is my pleasant duty to sing the bride’s praises, and this could indeed be a very long song. I would like to spend a few moments telling anyone who isn’t aware of the fact that we’ve got a wonderful daughter. She has many talents: she is a 4th generation teacher in a line beginning with my grandmother; she is a born organiser, a trait she no doubt inherited from my mother, at whose funeral a couple of years ago Ellen spoke so movingly. Who else but Ellen, in their first term at University, could have arranged a 4-course Christmas Dinner for 20-odd students using Tesco ingredients and Halls of Residence cookers and come away not having poisoned anyone? A couple of years ago she was the driving force behind a surprise party we organised for Janet, in which 26 people sat down to eat the terrific meal that Ellen had masterminded and cooked, using three different cookers in different parts of Southend.

So, Ben, if you are into intimate candle-lit dinners for two, or even three dozen people, then you’ve married the right woman.

Ellen is witty, charming, creative, beautiful and intelligent, but with Janet as a mother one would expect nothing less. I recall one Christmas, when Ellen was about 14 years old, my mother instigated a game of I-Spy. There had been the usual round of tinsel, balloon, christmas tree, candle, fairy light etc when it was my mother’s turn. “I spy with my little eye something beginning with G F”, said mother, expecting the answer “gas fire”.

“Geriatric fool” came Ellen’s instant response, demonstrating in one fell swoop both her wit and her charm.

Now Ellen is politically very astute and quite an environmentalist. The excellent meal that we have just enjoyed, for example, consisted very largely of locally-produced food and of course buying locally is one of the greenest things you can do as it reduces the amount of fuel required for transport and so on. And you may not be aware that Ellen has chosen a very environmentally-friendly husband. For example, last Christmas my then son-in-law-elect’s present to me was some packets of veg seed, 2 broom handles and some of his old clothes, recycled, so that I could construct a scarecrow. The scarecrow never was constructed, but we still have some of the vegetables that Ben’s present produced.

Another example of Ellen’s environmental credentials is that she has made a conscious decision never to learn to drive, preferring to be chauffeured around everywhere, which of course means a halving of the vehicle’s emissions as they are shared between two people rather than being attributable to her alone. Indeed, when she was at Warwick University she took this anti-car sentiment to extremes, walking out like some kind of latter-day suffragette in front of a moving vehicle and breaking its windscreen with her head. That was, to put it mildly, a harrowing day for Janet and me but luckily she sustained no injury to warrant her staying in hospital. According to the A & E staff in Coventry, Ben, you are taking on a woman with an unusually spherical cranium. Well done!

Ellen is an excellent portrait artist as those of you who have seen her picture of my father will agree; a fine musician, having performed with, amongst others, the Jimmy Jones Band in Canterbury; and, of course, she is a talented chess player, having been part of a National Schools’ Champion team and representing Essex at both Junior and Adult chess, but never quite landing a British Junior Individual title, coming second by half-a-point on about 4 occasions. But more important than any of these, she is loyal and loving, and she is great fun to have around, always being quick to laugh at even my jokes, especially after she has had a few drinks.

No Bride’s Father’s speech is complete without the cliché about not losing a daughter but gaining a son-in-law and of course Ben is a very remarkable chap with an excellent taste… in beer, so rare with the younger generation these days mumble mumble. Handicapped as he was with a childhood infatuation with Moira Stewart, he overcame all this to achieve great things. Who can have anything but the greatest respect for a man who can walk all the way from John O’Groats to Land’s End and still be on speaking terms with his companion to the extent that he asks him to be his Best Man? And his Marilyn Munro impersonations at fancy dress parties have to be seen to be believed… I almost fancied him myself.

I must conclude with a word of warning to Ben: there are other men in Ellen’s life. In the first case, like Ben, he’s good-looking, athletic, intelligent, suave, and excellent company. However, unlike Ben, he’s never caught a squirrel, in spite of having expended a lot of energy in their pursuit. And unlike Ben he loves chewing his bone, he comes when you whistle and he chases his balls all over the park and brings them back in his mouth.

In the second case, Ellen has shared her bed with the whole of Bexley.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in drinking to the future health, happiness and prosperity of the new Mr & Mrs Crozier, Ben & Ellen.