Archive for the 'Reminiscences' Category

Out of the mouths of children…

This little gem came from Ann’s godmother, Helen Barlow

“A mother and her pretty daughter, about 4 I guess, got on the bus and sat down opposite me.  The mother said “I don’t know what to do with Mary – she is so shy”.

And indeed the little girl kept her head buried in her mother’s skirt and any words from me only made her burrow deeper.

Later on two nuns got on the bus and like me aimed a few friendly words at the little girl.  The effect was instantaneous and surprising as in a matter of moments they were in deep conversation.  A bit later the nuns got off.  Mary’s mother turned to her daughter saying “It was lovely to see you talking to those ladies”, only to be rebuffed strongly by the child.

“They wasn’t ladies, mummy, they was penguins”


Between 1959 and 1961 we all went to Ireland for our summer holidays. We went in our Phantom 1 Rolls Royce and had adventures from the start: None of the dockyard staff could drive the car and they had to break the rules and allow me to drive it on to the platform and to remain behind the wheel whilst we were lifted by crane some 20 feet into the air and lowered into the ship’s car-hold. And, of course the same procedure in reverse when we arrived in Ireland.

Other memories during these lovely holidays there are bass-fishing on the Long Strand, the friendly and delightful people, the lack of any urgency at all times and the incomprehension when I pulled up for petrol. Petrol pumps were hand-controlled in those days, so filling up the Rolls’ 40 gallon tank could be a tiring and lengthy process. On one occasion the fellow at the pump stopped half-way through and came to the car and had a good look underneath to make sure petrol was not going onto the ground and on another occasion he stopped altogether and disappeared to be found in the local pub refreshing himself with a Guinness before returning to the job.

We had rented a bungalow on the hillside above the Long Strand. We had to fetch our drinking water from a nearby spring on the hillside which also supplied the few people living nearby. We made friends with a family of ‘five’ holidaying in a tiny caravan nearby. It was Inspector Reynolds and his family, all friendly and good company and typical of life in a country as yet unspoilt by the sophistication of our own. We enjoyed some excellent bass fishing on the Long Strand and Lobsters on Galley Head, and pony riding for Linden.

Malvern 2 – Thesiger

I remember Ernest Thesiger removing the top of his bathing trunks and being reproved by the pool attendant until he had replaced part of it. “I hereby declare it is indecent to show more than one tit”. Thesiger publicly announced.

In Bridie’s play “The Sleeping clergyman” Ernest Thesiger and Robert Donat were the chief actors. Donat I never knew but Thesiger became a friend of our family and managed to get my brother, John, a small part in a West End play just before war started and life changed for us all. I remember Thesiger reciting a monologue into a disc recorder I owned which I often played until the disc was destroyed in our house fire in 1980. I remember most if the words but am not certain about the adjectives at the end of one of the stanzas.

A Calif so the bards report

Convened the beauties of his court

To choose a bride of empire brief

By the emerald green silk handkerchief

Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief

Ephemeral, emerald, handkerchief

They chose the harem’s pride and pearl;

She was a Persian dancing girl

And to’rds her fluttered like a leaf

The emerald green silk handkerchief

Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief

Vapoury, drapery, handkerchief

She caught the ‘kerchief as it fell

And danced and sang so wildly well

She held the Calif’s heart in thief

With the emerald green silk handkerchief

Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief

Whimsical, flimsicle handkerchief

But all too soon, unhappy maid,

The Calif’s passion cooled and strayed

She wept her salt and scalding grief

On the emerald green silk handkerchief

Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief

Magical, tragical, handkerchief.

The Calif by her weeping bored

Twisted the ‘kerchief to a cord

And round her neck he took a reef

In the emerald green silk handkerchief

Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief

Frightening, tightening handkerchief

So dancing girls and other such

Beware of loving Kings too much

Lest you – or they – should find relief

In the emerald green silk handkerchief

Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief

Quadrangular, strangular handkerchief

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When I left the instructors training course at Cambridge aerodrome those of us who had done well were told we would be given a choice where we would prefer to be posted. I had done well and asked to be posted to Cambridge EFTS which was on the other side of the airfield. I was also offered a commission which was also to a few of the other successful pilots. I dared not accept the Commission as this would have blown my eyesight subterfuge. Another successful candidate, Cormack, had been posted to Booker EFTS and decided he would like to have me with him and arranged to have my posting changed to Booker. I didn’t really mind although I would lose many friends I had made at Cambridge. My chief relief was to be still flying. Cormack had accepted a Commission, but I couldn’t explain, of course, why I wouldn’t do the same.

Here one can see the start of the working of a miracle. I have stated elsewhere my strong belief in the writings of the psychic Sylvia Browne “The Other side and Back” and that of Dr Daniel Fry “The White Sands Incident”. A reader of both books will see at once the connection to what was happening to me. But the miracle had only just begun. At Booker on the Mess notice board I noticed there was to be a piano music concert taking place at a nearby village of Frieth organised by a Mrs Sewell and her daughter Phyllida. I went along and found two grand Steinways and a room with about 50 people. Amongst these was Mrs Ursula Creighton who told me she had been a pupil of Busoni – one of the greatest pianists of the time. I seemed to have arrived at a sort of time-warp – but there was still more to come. Mrs Creighton told me she lived near Lane End village and was therefore nearer the airfield and she also had a Steinway Grand which I was welcome to play on whenever I had the spare time to do so.

The miracle was now all but complete. What she didn’t tell me was she also had an attractive daughter, Ann. The miracle was now rapidly completing! Ann and I were married in 1943 and had a happy married life together for the next 53 years.

In 1982 Pyllida Sewell lent me one of her Steinways to replace my own which had been reduced to ashes when part of our house was burnt down. It is on this piano I recorded my two CDs.

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For many years I have been interested in miracles – not just lucky moments which we all experience from time to time, but those moments when a logical explanation cannot explain them. Here is an example:

During the last war London was festooned with barrage balloons. These were balloons filled with hydrogen and tethered to winches by thin steel cables and flown at 5000 feet. They had an explosive charge fixed to them about 50 feet short of the balloon and were effectively stopping German aircraft from low-level bombing. They brought down many aircraft and also many V1s or ‘flying bombs’ later in the war. Occasionally one of these balloons would break loose from its winch and set out on its own cross-country trip downwind trailing several thousand feet of cable.

I was a flying instructor during the war and on 25 September 1942 I sailed into one of these drifting balloons when flying a Magister aircraft, together with a pupil, just north of Aylesbury. The balloon was in cloud and one would never spot a cable at 100 mph. We were flying at 2500 feet – some 500 feet below cloud base. Now for the miracle: The cable struck the Magister’s left wing hard against the fuselage and proceeded to saw into it. The engine continued to run at 2000 rpm and with no loss of power indicating no damage to the propeller. (We had quite a long battle and were brought down to 1000 feet before breaking free). On landing back at Booker a thorough examination showed no scuffing on the wing and just the single gash which reached about half-way through the main wing spar. The propeller was unmarked. The cable must therefore have passed through the propeller’s arc (about 10 feet) when the propeller was pretty close to top-dead-centre.

Now you computer wizards work this out! The news of this episode reached JF Roxburgh, my headmaster at Stowe, and he wrote to me to say he had given the mathematical problem to the top maths and physics teachers. They failed to solve it.

The only satisfactory answer is that it was a miracle, and I stick to this, especially after reading Sylvia Brown’s “The Other Side and Back”. She is psychic and explains how these things happen. You disbelievers have a long way to go!


The Booker Gliding Club had been formed at my wartime airfield a few miles away, and as my elder son, William, was learning to fly during his last years at Leighton Park I decided it was time I considered renewing my flying licence and be able to help him should he need it. After 16 years of no flying I was pretty rusty, even in a Tiger Moth, and required an hour or so of instruction before I was happy on my own. In due course I qualified as an instructor and spent the next 30 years instructing on gliders or flying their tug aircraft for them when ever I had the time. Being impatient by nature I never had any desire for cross-country flying with the risk of landing out and waiting for someone to come and fetch me with the trailer. To qualify as an instructor one had to do a solo cross-country, a flight of 5 hours and a certain minimum height gain. I chose Cambridge for my cross-country trip and with plenty of thermals on the way ended up 5000 feet higher than the start (at 2000 ft) at Booker.

As a sport I found gliding more appealing than power-flying. And in many ways the motor-glider has the best of both worlds. I bought a SPERBER RF5 with my friend Rolf Pasold of Ladybird garments fame and enjoyed many, many lovely trips with Ann, my wife. One specially I remember was when William flew the RF5 to Nitray in France for a get-together of RF aircraft at the factory where they were built and Ann and I drove there in our MG during a splendid holiday in the Loire valley. I was then able to explore the Chateaux of that lovely part of France from the air. William flew it back to Booker and Ann and I returned in our car together with a good supply of Chateau Nitray’s excellent wine.

I also taught both my other children to fly – Linden achieving her 300km flight in France and her Gold height (18,000 ft) in Scotland. James, my younger son was up to solo flying by the time he was 10, but rather than wait for the legal limit of 16 decided to take up motor cycle trials riding at which he soon became an expert, so repeating my own life but a considerably younger age.

Soon after I qualified as a gliding instructor I seemed to concentrate on the Tuesday evenings flying group until it had become “my” evening and was to remain so for the next 30 years. Gradually I moulded it to my liking – only having instructors who were able to land ‘short’ – before the launch point – and so avoid the unproductive time while gliders were retrieved from landing far down the airfield to clear the way for the next launch. This had a beneficial effect on Club funds and made it possible to get in 53 ‘air experience’ flights between 6.00pm and dusk one memorable summer evening. This was never at the expense of shortening a flight if a thermal was met – when we would limit the flight to half an hour. I also asked my instructors not to indulge in aerobatics. Here, I regret, I was not always as successful as I should like to have been. I must pay special tribute and thanks to my chief tug pilot, Shep, a vital part of a successful team.

When Norman Smith became our CFI he and I gave an exhibition of dual aerobatics during our annual show. We each flew a K13 and demonstrated dual loops, stall turns and formation flying (all without any radio contact) – then chased each other about the sky. When Norman left to take up commercial flying we lost a valuable asset.

I think it is a mistake to put highly-qualified power-pilots in charge of gliding clubs. The use of the rudder around the stall is a case in point. In a glider the rudder can be the most useful control a pilot possesses; in a powered aircraft it is little used – but it could be used, and beneficially too, if the pilots hadn’t forgotten how to use it.

In 1993 I flew, as usual, with the CFI for my annual check to see if my reactions were still OK and he passed me, but told me I must take a new set of lessons as instructional methods had changed. In future when a pupil made a faulty approach on the circuit (for example) I should say “I have control” and take over – sorting out the problem in a de-briefing afterwards. How anyone could learn to fly safely under such conditions if he is never allowed to make a mistake is beyond my comprehension. It would certainly take much longer and cost him a lot more and swell the club funds. Perhaps that was the object! But I did feel that at 84 I was, maybe, too old to be flying people who were not fully capable of coping – should something happen to me. And so, via twists and turns and many diversions I finally returned to my Steinway and produced the CDs you can find on this website!


When the war was over I had an instinctive urge to get back to my Steinway but it was soon obvious that I needed several years of intensive piano practice if I was ever to realise my ambition to become a concert performer. Vernon Warner was still shedding pupils which he passed on to me and it would not be long before he arranged for me to take over his teaching at Stocks, the selective girls’ school near Tring. This took one full day a week and was very pleasant. But I needed to earn more and fate was about to step in and steer me in another direction.

An uncle in Birmingham, past-owner of the hardware emporium Frederick Jeavons, wrote to me to ask if I could design a rat-trap as the famous ‘Monarch’ which was no longer being made. I tried various designs and discovered that rats would only willingly enter a Trap where they could see an unobstructed way right through it. So was born the KLEERUN TRAP CO. I found a willing manufacturer in High Wycombe and it was not long before we were sending these traps in hundreds to FREDERICK JEAVONS to be marketed at 13/6d each. Jeavons required 50% marketing costs, to I was getting 6/9d cash making a reasonable profit. Then came government intervention! Wilson was now premier and he decreed that everything must be for export and my orders for steel wire were deflected to Canada. I could still get the steel but now had to order it via Canada and, of course, pay the extra cost of getting it here. This meant a price increase and the time soon came when the trap became too expensive. But fate was not yet finished with me! A famous burns surgeon was staying in Lane End when he spotted one of my rat traps. “That is the mesh I am looking for” he said. There was, he told me, no requirement in law to fit guards to electric fires and tiny children were often brought to him with terrible burns after gripping the glowing elements. He had managed to get a bill through parliament rectifying this and he asked if I could arrange to guard every LCC electric fire. This I did with the co-operation of the LCC who provided me with blue-prints of all their electric fires. This was followed by orders from several electricity boards and the works at High Wycombe were kept busy turning out guards by their thousands. (We call them ANN-D fireguards). This was followed up by the gas boards and soon these were added to the production line. We also made the BRADDEL guard for open fires with a considerable demand for it from a Belfast hospital. I knew this would soon finish as all manufacturers were now required to guard their own fires, but it was a profitable life while it lasted.


In 1923 I became a pupil at Stowe at the beginning of its life as a Public School. Unlike established Public Schools all the pupils were 13/14 years old. In many ways it seemed more like a grown up Preparatory School. There were a few older boys, prefects imported from Lancing together with J F Roxburgh, our new Headmaster, who had been the Sixth Form master there. They had graded us as best they could into the various Forms, and I was placed in Remove B. David Niven was one of us and I remember him as an extrovert, very pleasant and with a gift for amusing everyone with his quick sketches of events going on outside the classroom windows, where there was always a lot of building taking place. Our Form Master was the deputy headmaster, the Rev. Ernest Earle, a delightful man who, like J F Roxburgh, was a Latin scholar. He had a great sense of humour, had no difficulty in keeping strict discipline and, as a result was a good teacher. He must have been for I obtained a Credit in Latin in my final Certificate. And Niven, for all his cunning and concealing his sketches was nicely brought down to earth when Mr Earle was asking each of us what subjects we wished to take in the final Certificate: “Niven, may I suggest you take Drawing?” I believe Niven did so and obtained a Credit in it. Our English lessons were taken by Mr Arnold – son of Arnold of Rugby I believe – who was often impressed by Niven’s gift for narrative – which was later to blossom into ‘The Moon’s a Balloon’ and others.

About J F Roxburgh – always known as ‘J F’ a much respected man who did so much for us all at Stowe. My wife and I were at Stowe when he retired, and I remember the shock of the day he died. It was then I realised how much we had all loved that man, and that everything which had gone well and smoothly in my life was due in no small measure to his influence during the four short years I was under it. My younger son, who will be 50 in two months’ time, has just asked me what it was like to be 50. I remembered JF’s final words when I left Stowe in 1927 “ People will tell you to remember your school days as the best in your life; this is utter tosh – the best years are always ahead.”

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