from Charmian, Robert, Buckingham, Thomas & Henry Willis
1992 commenced with Robert attending a Personal Effectiveness course for a fortnight at a Bournemouth hotel. Charmian was left to manage the three Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Buckingham, Thomas and Henry. The latter celebrated his first birthday in January but is still known as "The Pup". Henry is a great favourite with everyone. Robert's sister Bettine acquired an actual pup in the spring, an Old English sheepdog named Jessica. She is now quite a size, but little Henry can still hold his own. Between Bettine and us, we now have six dogs, and it is quite a sight seeing us walking together at the nearby Snelsmore Country Park.
Those of you who have visited us will know this place. We were delighted this year to be visited by Mrs Catherine Dunn and her three children, Emma, Ailsa and Jamie during the one sunny week in August. Catherine is a childhood friend of Charmian from the Kilmacolm days of the late '50s/early '60s. Walk No. 45 in the AA Book of Country Walks starts at Snelsmore and takes in Bagnor with its Watermill Theatre and Donnington Castle. Bagnor's other attraction is "The Blackbird" pub, which is a favourite with us and our guests. Soon the tranquillity of the village is to be destroyed by the much-needed Western bypass, so we are making the most of it. It is only a mile or so away, and quite a pleasant walk on a moonlit night as the Dunn family found out! The Japanese have taken over the house below Donnington Castle and the land southwards towards Speen, turning it into an up market golf course. Whilst the footpath is still there, it has been diverted and a little difficult to find after a few drinks.
Robert celebrated his 45th birthday at "The Blackbird" in October. It was quite a party, which included his 79-year-old mother, his cousin Jackie, and six former YCs. It is good how friends of long-standing are able to meet together from time to time. Charmian and Robert unfortunately missed what has been an annual reunion at Roy and Lavinia's farm near Shaftesbury in Dorset. Roy and Vinny got married a fortnight later than us in 1974. Who remembers Roy and Robert's joint stag party at the "Spotted Dog"? Robert was singing at a concert at Cold Ash earlier this year, and the Cromwell Singers descended on it afterwards. It has not changed much, although the local vicar who was more or less a permanent fixture is sadly no more.
The reason why Robert and Charmian missed the Dorset party was because of a caravan holiday in Switzerland. Despite the French lorry-drivers, Interlaken was reached by hastily diverting to Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. We had a wonderful tour of Brussels’s subterranean ring road en route coming out of the city on the same point of the compass as we went in! We over-nighted in Trier next to the Moselle River. Trier is a fascinating place in its own right, and it was good to visit it for the third time. Charmian and Robert first "found" Trier on a long weekend coach trip with the Rec. Soc. Memories of that weekend are now fading, although Stu Ferris and the "Birdie Dance", Charmian and snapps are not easily forgotten. This visit was fairly sober, but we did manage a jar or two of the frothy stuff. The climb out of Trier is long and steep, and the roads were pretty deserted until we reached Karlsruhe. Then it seemed every one was out avoiding the French - at Baden-Baden we queued for 45 minutes for petrol.
Charmian had told Robert wonderful stories of the Jungfrau, but it was a week before Robert believed that the mountain existed, it being shrouded in mist and cloud. Robert seemed drawn to the Bernese Oberland. Charmian's father, David MacDonald, made the trip on the Jungfrau Express the Christmas 18 months before he died. Charmian immediately recognised the hotel at Wengen where the family stayed. As Robert made the ascent from Kleine Scheidegg to the "Top of Europe”, he tried to imagine how David felt. In the carriage was a macho mountaineering guide who made the trip several times a week. He warned of the rarefied atmosphere and the risk to those with heart complaints. True, both Robert and Charmian felt very fuzzy at the top, as did others in our party. But the experience is something else, and it is easy to understand why David ventured forth. Robert wondered what David would make of it now, all these years later after the fire of 1972 that burnt down the mountain house that he saw. The new "Top of Europe" is amazing.
Charmian continues to work at Newbury Police Station. As part of a continuing process of giving "office wallers" a feel for what it's like at the "sharp end", she spent a morning in a traffic car and enjoyed hurtling along country roads at 90+ mph. They were responding to a traffic accident in which a motorist had managed to do a 360o turn and ended up down an embankment after loosing control whilst changing a cassette tape. So be warned!
Robert faces contractorisation next year. In preparation, a new curse has entered the dictionary: "Quality Assurance". Many false starts have been made trying to document 23 years in R & D, much of which is based on intuition and common sense. His sister, Bettine, who works in a local software house, succeeded in helping her firm gain accreditation in the autumn. Amongst other packages is one for Council Tax, so we know whom to blame!
Charmian has dropped some of her music, and, sadly, no longer sings in the church choir, so you missed seeing her on Harry Seacombe's "Highway" programme broadcast from Newbury. Robert appeared, although somewhat hidden by tall altos. The changes in the church are cause for much debate and agony. After many years, Trevor Selby resigned as organist and choirmaster of St. Nicolas. Friday nights have not been the same throughout 1992 and we are sure that the profits of "The Lamb" have reflected this. Opportunities to sing under Trevor's baton are all the more precious, one such being the concert of Christmas Music given by the Organists' Association. The "Happy Clappy" thrust has also accounted for family splits, and instead of worshipping as an extended family, each goes to their own thing. Newbury boasts five Sunday services, which must be something of a record.
Robert and Charmian continue with their conservation interest and were very pleased that John Gould, stalwart of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and of The Newbury Society was awarded the MBE. Three times a year there is a flurry of activity at Castle Stable, word-processing, photocopying and enveloping the Newbury Society Newsletter. Bee's Cash and Carry card comes in very handy for buying envelopes at reasonable cost.
There are so many memories of 1992. We have been lucky enough to see Ali and Heather Ferguson, Alan MacNaughtan, Auntie Helen, and Gerry and Roger Sheriff quite a few times, together with people from overseas like Joy, Truman and family, and Elizabeth MacDonald. One creature, which we, along with Bee and Mr Elliot, would rather not have seen, is the fox that has made such a mess of the Blake Holt lawn. That lawn has been the scene for so many gatherings over the years, and reminds us of so many people we have known and loved, who are no longer on this earth, that its desecration is the more sad. The list of people remembered at the All Souls Day service grows longer each year and in 1992 included Mr Percy Pridgeon, who broke through Robert's stammer at his interview by getting him to draw circuit diagrams, Mr Jack "Keep Newbury Tidy" Donovan, and Mrs Tessa Carruthers, who encouraged Robert in so many ways at work in recent years.
In front of 1993 there seems to be sign that reads, "Approach with Care". Whatever dreads await, the positive message has to be the one in the title of Dr Susan Jeffers' famous little book (ISBN 0 09 974100 8) "Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway".