Saturday, 26 April 2014


The Long Journey.

Ollie is our cat and he celebrated his tenth birthday this month when no doubt a few tantalising treats were once again placed before him to honour the momentous occasion.  Born in Peckham, S. E. London at some time during the third week of April in 2004, our much loved, chubby British Black with the 'cream' around his lips, is believed to have originated in that borough amongst a litter of five siblings.

My daughter Mimi who has maintained a lifelong fascination for 'Felis cactus'  was resident in Peckham when she was offered first choice of a friend's unwanted and apparently increasingly intrusive litter. As we old folk here in the wilds of the English East Midlands had recently bid a fond last farewell to 'Archie' - a very large and loveable tabby - and were still mourning his passing, Mimi carefully made the decision that we would just love a replacement. Having made her choice of the litter on offer, the chosen one was subsequently packed into a small, perforated shoebox which was, in due course, transported over the 118 miles that separated our residences.  Fait accomplis!

In truth, we were not really ready yet to replace our recently demised incumbent, but the unsolicited presentation of this little waif and stray from the mean back-streets of metropolitan Peckham served to generate the minimum of resistance from us country folk.  And who could have rejected the tiny, sad and dishevelled creature that announced his presence on our doorstep; though observing suspiciously its sad and dishevelled appearance I had visions of his antecedents being more likely of the alley-cat social order and was moved to enquire of its deliverer if he was in fact, "perhaps feral?"   Mimi brusquely and swiftly disabused me of this 'awful and hurtful' suggestion and thus it was that at that moment in our lives, one scruffy little feline became a Melton Mowbray cat.

Those people - and I know there are many - who are averse to these independent and wilful creatures will not have read this far, but we as cat lovers are well aware of the differences of opinion that exist between the protagonists, so to argue the point here to any extent is perhaps not worth the effort.  Suffice to say that we have long enjoyed the presence of a cat in our home as part of our family on the grounds of the minimum effort which is required to maintain friendship and loyalty.  Their independence assures us that all we are required to do is to feed him, notwithstanding that legend asserts that a cat can go for many days without food, as indeed many of them do in the wild.

Of course there are the trips to the Vet., the cost of his food and other minimal needs, but it is his warm presence and humerous nature which keep us in thrall as he goes about his life as a paid-up member of the household and easily justifies his outgoings. Ollie is a nocturnal creature and every night of every month throughout the year he spends outdoors, searching for mice and frogs or any other little creatures which might be abroad.  At the same time he is studiously aware that 'Reynard', the local fox, is also known to patrol in the same area.  He chases the pigeons from my bird table when the season arrives but sadly, to my great chagrin, he is also known to take baby birds from their nests in the Spring, a practice for which I chide him but with little positive effect. He does seem to be impervious to the vagaries of the weather and can often be found lying on the snow for long periods of time, though prolonged hot spells in the summer can drive him to the shelter of shadowy areas on occasions.

From what I have learned of Ollie's movements over these past ten years, it seems that he has a limited area of patrol, albeit quite a large one, which comprises the rear gardens of the houses on three nearby roads all of which form a triangular to the back of our house.  It seems that the presence of the sometimes heavy traffic on these roads is sufficient to prevent him straying further.

On a normal summer's day he is usually to be found at first light, peering expectantly through the glass of the back door, through which he is welcomed by the lady of the house.  After a bit of breakfast he will toddle off to wherever he fancies in the house to select a place to sleep deeply for the next four or five hours.  After some lunch he will continue to snooze on an off until the sun goes down when, with his batteries charged, he resumes his nocturnal prowls.  In all I would suggest that sleep takes up a good three-quarters of his very privileged life style.

The Human Touch.

It is for sure that Ollie has few enemies, the local dogs respect his presence amongst them and usually keep their distance after having once felt the sharpness of his claws on their nose and he keeps a tight watch for all unwelcome visitors on his patch.  Many times we have discovered the presence of pulverised cat hair blowing around the garden following one of his night-time scraps, the scars of which can be seen today, but his main enemy is that of the homo sapiens variety and one day he was to meet his match.

About a year ago I was spending a late Sunday evening in the garden when I heard, at first very faintly, the plaintive sound of a cats 'me-ow'. Curious as to its source, I went to the bottom of the garden where I was devastated to see Ollie, just inside his gate but lying down and obviously in much pain. As he tried to stand he fell backwards and I saw that his hind quarters were bleeding and exhibiting evidence of being run over by a vehicle or similar.  He looked so woeful and despairing that I began to cry and as I comforted him I speculated as to how far he had dragged himself to get back to the apparent safety of his own home combined with whatever pain he might have suffered in doing so.  I had no indication or knowledge of what had transpired with the little chap or where and when it had occurred, but I lifted him up gently and took him indoors.

That night being Sunday and the following day being a bank holiday, we had a problem arranging veterinary assistance and it was perhaps fortunate that Ollie remained brave and showed no signs of great discomfort, even though a fracture of his rear leg was readily apparent to us by now.  When we did eventually meet up at the surgery, the true test of our love for the species was to be sorely tested - at least it was for me.  My dear wife was to not bat an eye-lid as she stoically declared to the surgeon, "Whatever it takes." You see, we were not insured for such an event and animal surgery today does not come cheaply. The  options were limited; full surgery and weeks of isolation in a cage, let him learn to live with it and - close your eyes - say goodbye.  As is the practice these days we differed in our preferences, suffice to say that following a payment of four figure sum, Ollie was gingerly taken home to spend the next few weeks on the kitchen floor in a wire cage.

When the big day of his release finally arrived he was allowed out into the garden where he wandered off to discover what had perhaps changed in his absence and within a very short period of time, we looked out of the window to see him perched on the top of a six foot fence. "Oh no!" we both shouted in pained unison only to admire his poise as he gracefully greeted terra firma, two front feet first and these followed by his rear legs which were gingerly lowered to the ground but all in one smooth action not unlike the articulation of an aeroplanes's undercarriage in completing a copy-book landing. It was as if he had forgotten nothing during his convalescence - situ normali - and left me thinking that we perhaps underestimate these little creatures and sometimes at our great cost.

Ollie no longer ventures beyond the garden fence and only he knows what sort of awful moment overtook him on that frightful Sunday evening, but his life seems little changed now; eat, sleep, sleep, eat, sleep, sleep and why not, isn't that what we all would aspire to? - So here's to the next ten years Ollie. 


Friday, 25 April 2014



    Tucked away in the grounds of St Peters C of E church at Kirby Bellars in Leicestershire stands a headstone which is a memorial to the tragic passing of three young men all from the same family some 85 years ago; each was in his youthful twenties and all three had apparently died within a matter of weeks of one another: The now-fading inscription poignantly records the sad testimony of what must have been an awful period in the life of their family:

DIED AUGUST 9, 1927,


‘God knows the way he holds the key
He guides us with unerring hand.
Sometime with tireless eyes we’ll see: 
Yes, there, up there, we’ll understand.’




    Intrigued and fascinated in equal proportions, I pondered for a while the circumstances of these time-related passings and what it might have been about all those many years ago.  With my curiosity aroused I felt an urge to discover more details of what appeared, on the face of it, to be such an obvious human tragedy and perhaps to learn something of the people then involved.  My enquiries were to lead me to unearth the awful events of a late summer's night in 1927 and I was to learn of the terrible circumstances of one family’s tragic burden. The first named person, Horace Littlewood, had actually died at his family home of protracted and lingering injuries which he had incurred during his service in the Great War which had been followed by the indignity of internment as a prisoner of the enemy.  The demise of his two younger brothers Sidney and Charles relates to a totally different and tragic turn of events some two months later when a violent weather incident occurred locally in which they were both struck down at the cost of their lives. The following is what I have discovered of those tragic events which unfolded during that long-ago summer.

Saturday, 19 April 2014


An Olympian Ordeal

During my frequent browsing of the old newspapers which were once local to my home area, it is the occasional 'eureka' moment, like the excitement of finding an elusive 'bargain' at a church fĂȘte jumble sale or Sunday street market, that so seems to make this whole thing of research so worthwhile. Such was the case recently when I stumbled across the following little gem, almost hidden at the bottom of column 2, page 8 of the Grantham Journal, a fastidious and serious broadsheet which served to cover its neighbouring market town of Melton Mowbray in some detail.

My personal joy of the piece almost certainly relates to the fact that I was myself once a police officer and that I know that the astonishing accomplishment of village bobby, P.C Watson, of 100 years ago would certainly be recognised as an heroic feat by any serving officer of today's police service.  But there is also an irony, seemingly missed by the writer as he explains the amazing - or even amusing! - events which unfolded during that summer's day, in that the astonishing part of the story for the reader of today is reduced to but a short sentence.  Either the reporter was ignorant of the geography of the area or he thought little of it, but to assist my readers who also are not aware, I will explain at the outset that the distance the constable travelled in pursuit of his quarry was all of ten long miles of undulating road and with the help of my basic schoolboy maths I have produced some figures to explain.

Suffice to say on noting the date of this event, that at the very genesis of the world's worst ever human conflict, plucky young men such as our hero here described would sooner or later be whisked off their rural beats to fight in a dirty war in foreign fields against a foe that they never knew or even perhaps cared about.  

This is the story, as printed:

    'An audacious burglary was committed in the Market-place, Oakham, early on Wednesday morning, a plate glass window of the establishment of Miss Payne, jeweller, etc., being broken, and a quantity of watches, rings, brooches etc, being abstracted.  Thanks however, to the promptitude with which the police were warned by the discoverer of the occurrence, and the equally prompt action of the police the perpetrator was in a few hours run to ground with the whole of the property he had purloined in his possession.  About 4 o’clock on Wednesday morning, Mr. Thomas Barfield and Mr H.S. Dexter were going on duty at the Post-office, and in High-street they met a man who, while his appearance occasioned no suspicion, they made a “mental note” of, doubtless because of his being in the street at that time of the morning.  At Mr. Makin’s corner, Mr. Barfield turned into the Market-place with the object of proceeding to the Post-master’s residence, and on passing Miss Payne’s shop, situated at the corner of a block of buildings, which except for the front part nearer High-street is non residential (including the burgled premises) he noticed that the large plate glass window opposite the School House had been smashed, and articles of jewellery scattered over the pavement.  He at once proceeded to the police station and informed the Chief Constable, and Mr. Wilson, together with Inspector Golder and other police officers were quickly on the spot.  An iron bar about two feet long was lying not far from the window, which had evidently had three blows struck at it, before a hole sufficiently large had been made to get at the contents.  The Chief Constable having obtained a description of the man the postmen met in High-street, at once dispatched constables in various directions in pursuit.  P.c. Watson, stationed at Langham, cycled along the Melton-road and on reaching the Burton-road railway bridge at Melton Mowbray, he came up with a man answering the description given. He at once apprehended the man, and conveyed him to the prison in Norman-street, where he was searched under the supervision of Superintendent Hinman.  On him was found eight watches, thirty four gold rings, twenty six silver rings, and a quantity of other gold and silver jewellery, such as brooches, etc..  The man gave the name of William Bentley, a labourer of Leeds and twenty-six years of age.  He was brought to Oakham by P.c. Watson, and brought before D. N. Royce Esq., and remanded until yesterday (Friday).    The accused was again brought up yesterday, and was committed to take his trial at the Quarter Sessions.  P.c. Watson stated that when he arrested the accused at Melton, and told him who he was he said, “Oh yes: I know what you want: I have got the stuff with me.”  On the way to Oakham, the prisoner said, “I have thrown some trays away,” and he subsequently pointed out a small spinney on the roadside to witness where the jewel trays were found.'
(Transcribed from The Grantham Journal of 8th August 1914.)          

In modern times I have traversed this route many, many times and with no exception, I have always travelled by motor-car and the thought of pedalling up the the crest of each of the many extremely meaningful and tortuous hills along the way, does nothing less than fill me with awe and great pride for Constable Watson, who was no doubt in possession of a standard police issue velocipede and attired in his heavy Melton-cloth uniform - not to mention the awkward balancing of his issue helmet.  None of your Derailleur gear mechanisms in those long ago days and very rigid saddles to sit upon.

With my most basic maths and with a little help from Google I can assure you that the A606 Oakham to Melton Road today measures 10.2 English miles, (16.42 km. ). To walk this journey has been estimated to take 3hrs, 23 mins and to cycle - 57 minutes.  Olympian!