The provisional date for Tony Harding’s memorial service is Friday 16 July in St Gile’s Church, Farnborough Kent at 1:30pm:Church Road, Farnborough Orpington BR6 7DB
Reflections from a Son on his dear Father, Antony John Harding (9th Jan 1933- 27th Dec 2021) “ Tony” or “AJH”
I could of course speak the whole day, and more, about him. There is so much to talk about. What’d I like to do however is to talk about the wonder and the joy of being a true “ Everyman” He was so full of life and spirit, at his prime- which lasted many years, in its pomp, in its essence and in its being. As is well known, and is such well represented here at this service today by some of the young minds he formed and lives he touched, as a Teacher and as a Mentor- and in so many cases their futures that he remained passionately linked to, involved with, and interested in- his “beating heart” was always about taking potential, whomsoever that might be as long as they were interested, and having the pleasure and fulfilment of seeing that potential flourish into a fully formed reality. The most wonderful gift that he, together with dear Mum, Nancy, bestowed on me their only child, was the confdence and ability to not just communicate with, but feel people from different voices from different lands, from different socio-economic backgrounds, “princes and paupers”, you name it! This was because my Father had this gift in abundance to hand down, a beautiful contrast in his persona, which provided him with a great depth of character. He was the person of authority of course, the teacher, the mentor… but he was at times quietly, then at certain times, quite outspokenly ”anti- authoritarian” (with Mum not being a “shrinking violet” in this department either!) This was seen particularly in the support of an underdog, especially if he felt that individual had beengiven the “thin end of the wedge”. This could move him very passionately in the defence of said person or ideal. He was stubborn – yet flexible, appeasing and accepting when the “chips were down”, as for example there have been several times in my life. He was as strong as they were- and yet he was vulnerable. I personally got to understand over the years and by watching and learning from him that to be one of these, you had to be the other too! He was a man of intense conviction… but equally a man of compassion and of faith. And as a quintessentially Man of Letters and the Arts, which outside of his family was his unabiding passion and interest, he was a hopeless romantic, and always encouraged the people he cared for to follow their dreams. But more than anything: he was a kind and generous man with everything he had, but most importantly his time…… So when thinking all this through, for these few words can never do justice to describe the reflections of this Son for this particular Father, with all the vast amounts of literature- including his own work- I could have used, I was drawn to an old poem by Rudyard Kipling, that I keenly remember him carrying to me at a young age, that would sum up so much of what I have tried to describe here before.Here is Kipling’s poem “IF”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Tony Harding, Old Askean and former English teacher at the school died peacefully on 27th December. His son Lawrence was with him. He was such a great support to so many both at school and afterwards. One of his former pupils writes:
I just heard that one of the stalwarts of Aske’s, the amazing and much loved Tony Harding, died yesterday. I doubt those of a more recent generation will have heard of him, but he was the head of English for decades and a real genuine academic who spent his entire career at Aske’s, of which he was himself an old boy, that must have covered nearly 50 years. I think it’s fair to say he was one of a handful of teachers that from the 60s on drove the reputation for excellence that Aske’s used to enjoy and that made it the most oversubscribed school in London. In many ways Telegraph Hill as an area exists in it present format because of what he helped the school to become. If you loved literature then you loved Tony. He was not without his faults for sure, but generally a great bloke and a very involved teacher during his whole career. His school plays were legendary. I once made an overly arch pointing gesture when I was playing Julius Caesar and his on-the-nose remark was, “A bit more gravitas and a bit less Hermione Gingold, old chap.” I had heard that he was in bad health and he was, of course, going on 90. Sadly CV restrictions must mean attending his funeral is out of the question. I often remember when I mentioned to him that I was thinking of asking a girl in one of the productions out (which would have been my first date if she hadn’t turned me down!) he recommended the Spaghetti House to me as it was cheap but still ‘up West’ and said, “Hold on a minute,” and went to the stationary cupboard where he took out a collection of the Metaphysical poets. “Take this. You can’t go far wrong with that. Keep it.” That’s the kind of man he was.
My name is Peter Sidgwick, Michael’s younger brother and I’m here to talk about him and his life and to express the thoughts and feelings of his daughter Lucy and his son Nicholas
Michael was born on 21st May 1941 in Farnborough Hospital which made him a very proud Kentish Man.
Our parents had married the previous August so he was clearly conceived very soon after the wedding, not surprising really as Dad was in the Navy and about to go to sea for most of the next five years. With him away at sea, Michael was brought up by my mum and grandmother, first in Catford then when the Blitz was getting ever closer back to the relative safety of his birthplace Farnborough. When Dad ‘s ship was refitting in Wallasey Dock on the Wirral for a few months, Michael and Mum moved up there to be with him for a while but then it was back south and a fatherless existence until the end of the war.
Once victory had been achieved, the family was reunited and they moved into a house in Benbury Close just round the corner from Beckenham Hill Road near Southend Village.
In 1947, I arrived as one of the baby boomers and by now Michael had begun school at Torridon Road School in Catford.
I think I was regarded as an irritant in my early years; one of the things I did which irritated him especially was my strange desire to remove all the tyres from his Dinky toy cars.
Then our Dad’s job took us up north to Sheffield and for a while it looked as if Michael’s accent was going to change drastically; our time there was short lived however and after a couple of years we returned to London but the time spent in the steel city did have a profound effect on big brother as he became a lifelong supporter of Sheffield Wednesday football club. Mind you to my knowledge he never got to see them in the flesh.
By 1951 we were settled in Grove Park and a year later Michael passed the 11 Plus and was given a place at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham Boys’ School.
My abililty to irritate him persisted and on one occasion he got his own back in spades though I have to hope that he didn’t act on purpose.
We were playing cricket in a local park. He was batting and I was told to keep wicket. What I was not told was that it is not advisable to stand about three inches from the stumps. The bowler bowled, Michael raised his bat to swipe the ball but instead swung it right round over his shoulder and smacked me firmly in the gob.
Our exploits with cricket continued some years later when I was the batsman and he was the bowler. This was in our back garden in Grove Park. He retreated right to the bottom of the garden, turned and took a flying run up to deliver the fastest delivery possible. This time I was ready and determined not to sustain another injury at his hands. The ball was released, flew through the air at a fearsome rate of knots and I ducked enabling it to smash through the dining room window directly behind me. I can’t remember which one of us was blamed.; I think he was. But I guess it made us even stevens in the world of cricket.
It was at Aske’s that Michael found the sport which really suited him and which became a passion for the rest of his life; the game of course was rugby. But much more of that a little later. Michael worked as a van boy on Saturdays at a local bakery in his middle teens, presumably to pay for his fags; in those days Senior Service was the cigarette of choice. Much later when I had secretly taken up the filthy habit, I would relieve him of one or two of them from the packet which he always unwisely left on the hall table overnight. My thieving sometimes resulted in a serious ear bashing if not an actual clip round one of those ears.
Despite the filthy habit, Michael was a keen cyclist and I remember him once polishing off the 70 odd miles down to Deal in Kent on his Dawes racer to join the rest of the family on holiday.
Some years later, when he had recently passed his driving test, he and I had been out on a day trip to the coast, that was Deal as well as I recall. On the way back in our parents Wolseley 1500 the car in front of us on a winding country road suddenly and unaccountably stopped and we drove straight into the back of it; no one was hurt and there was minimal damage. We were convinced that Michael was a blameless victim until it was explained that he was at fault as he was guilty of driving without due care and attention; that was another accident which did not exactly delight our dear old man.
In his late teens, skiffle music was all the rage and with some fellow Askeans, he formed a skiffle group in which he played the washboard with great enthusiasm and no little skill. Thimbles were fitted to the fingers of one hand and with the other one holding the washboard up right, a very effective percussion accompaniment could be provided to back the singers, guitars and banjo by dragging the thimbles over the corrugations of the board.
The group didn’t quite rival Lonnie Donegan, the big star of the time but they regularly played at skiffle nights at Chislehust Caves.
It wasn’t just skiffle that Michael enjoyed; He developed a love for modern jazz and he quickly passed that love on to me; a gift for which I am eternally grateful. This was the period when it really paid to have a brother six and a half years older than oneself because he took me to concerts and clubs that your average 13 or 14 year old just wouldn’t have got to in those days. As a result, I was able to see such greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson. On top of that there were visits to folk clubs in the area to see such performers as another Askean the late Joe Stead, a dear friend of Michael’s.
After Aske’s Michael trained to be a Quantity Surveyor and worked for several building companies in the London area and ultimately for the erstwhile Greater London Council.
He also met the love of his life Judy and they married in 1966; I was honoured to act as his best man at the wedding in Christchurch Priory and six years later I was able to return the compliment when he was my best man. Michael and Judy enjoyed 48 years together in Farnborough and latterly in Lydd before her death in 2014. In the process they produced these two fine people here with us today, daughter Lucy and son Nicholas.
Here are the thoughts of his daughter Lucy.
My overriding legacy from Dad is our unique language “Animal language ” as Mum and Dad called it. To most it’s nonsensical. Dad would talk of griefing all the sweets which meant helping himself to the lot of them!
When our cats pushed around our legs, we would say that the fuffies were fuffying. Nick & I are the only ones now fluent in this strange language. .Mind you the grandchildren used to say that Grandad was griefing all the sweets. So that expression will live on in the family.
He had so many funny sayings.
When getting Nick to tidy his room he’d say
” If it’s clean put it in the drawer, if it’s dirty put it in the bin”
“Back on the coach!” he would say, and he was a stickler for time keeping. “LATE!” could be heard often. Even towards the end of his life he’d be checking his watch & asking the time constantly as if he had somewhere to be. The carers commented on that. He was a creature of habit and liked his meals at a certain time much like all the Sidgwicks. Nick & I still do!
I remember taking him yummy cakes and especially cream doughnuts.
In his last years, he had gone from being a beer drinker and a fag smoker to someone who preferred lemon squash and coke and sweets and chocolate bars of all sorts, especially Bounty bars The carers said he had more sweets than a sweet shop. As for entertainment, it was BBC Radio 5 Live for all the sport and waiting for the football results especially for his beloved Sheffield Wednesday.
We are so grateful to Dad’s carers His three favourites were working together on the evening before he died and reported that that they were all laughing with him because his voice sounded husky & sexy .We’d like them to know how much we appreciated their kindness and how grateful we are that they were with him at the end holding his hand.
After he’d slipped away, Nick and I gained comfort from the sight of him obviously at peace. We remembered the words of this poem:
“And when we saw you sleeping, so peaceful and free from pain. We could not wish you back to suffer that again.”
To finish in our language, Goodbye From your Daught t ta & Snorbitz. Sweet dreams Ninke.
And this is Nicholas’s tribute on behalf of himself, Nancy his wife and the three grandchildren, Archie, George and Florence.
” Nicky tea ” came a foghorn voice from the bottom of the park about 800 metres from where we lived. I remember all my friends giving me a lot of stick saying “Daddy says it’s time for tea”
Dad was banging an antique gong ,as I ran home from playing football.
He was a strong figure of a man bright, intelligent and with a great sense of humour And he was loving with a big heart but he would tell you off with a loud bark and he didn’t take any nonsense .His passion for soul music & later jazz funk, set the way for me to explore other genres of music.
And then there was his Rugby. He was a very committed player & fixture secretary for the Askeans, where he had many great friends.
Gone but never forgotten Dad, Forever Love, Nicky
As Nick has just recalled Michael had a passion for rugby and in particular the Askeans.
He was a very useful second row forward playing sometimes for the first team and many, many times for the Princes, the second fifteen. I’m proud to say that I had the pleasure of partnering him in the second row on at least one occasion. But playing the game was only part of his contribution to the club. In the 60s and 70s as the club went from strength to strength, Michael took on the role of Fixture Secretary and worked tirelessly to build an increasingly impressive fixture list which meant matches against some very tough opponents both in England and Wales.
The family is very grateful for the presence here today of several Askeans and for the tributes received from Jim Russell, Colin Brewer, Dave Shute, Steve Homewood, Barry Mellish, Dave Wickerson, Tony Mimms, Graham Evans and Peter Dessent. All spoke of his great contribution to the club and his lively personality especially in the bar after matches where he often led the very boozy and bawdy singing of rugby songs.
It’s a measure of the high regard in which he was held that the club decided to bestow upon him the honour of a life membership.
Sadly in his late middle age, Michael began to suffer ill health.. He finished working as a quantity surveyor and briefly ran a floristry business with Judy which unfortunately was not successful. As his health deteriorated it was decided to leave Farnborough and move down to Lydd on Romney Marsh. Inititally this gave him a boost and he enjoyed a happier time even joining an amateur dramatics group and playing a villain in a pantomime. He also worked as a volunteer on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. But the happier time was short lived as Parkinson’s Disease began to take hold of him. His mobility was seriously compromised, so much so that it became necessary for him to be admitted to a care home. After a short time there, he was transferred to a second home and it was whilst there that his wife Judy died. The house was sold and Lucy arranged for him to be transferred to a third home in Longfield near her and her brother. This home was excellent and as you have heard already he received wonderful care from the staff, some of whom are with us today. His condition gradually worsened and he was admitted to hospital on several occasions. In his last few months he really was a shadow of his former self but he accepted his lot stoically, never complained and gratefully accepted the care lavished on him.
Having only recently been discharged from yet another stay in hospital, Michael returned to the home last month but his condition did not improve and finally he fell peacefully into unconsciousness and drifted away on August 28th at the age of 79.
You’ll always be remembered Grandad. Sleep well big brother. Rest in peace Dad
We are hopeful that this lunch will take place this year. It will be held at Chislehurst Golf Club and we will start gathering from just after noon for a splendid luncheon at 1:00pm.
Further details, menus and booking forms will be available nearer the date.
Please put this in your diary now!
This will start at 6pm and be held over Zoom. Please contact the secretary for login details.
Along with many other organisations, we have had to cancel some up and coming events, of which I am sure you will, not only be unsurprised by but will also be fully understanding.
Old Askean Association Annual Lunch at RAF Club – if you have sent your cheque to Roger Pawley, he will no doubt be in contact with you
OAA Committee Meetings, these are now taking place meeting via Zoom
OA Rambling Club five night break at Stourport on Severn – cancelled
OA Rambling Club Rambling Programme, – including the Capital Ring sorties
– cancelled until further notice
Askean Rugby Club – All League matches have currently been postponed and will in all probability not be played
Askean Rugby Club – Annual Supper 1st May -Cancelled for this season
Due to the Coronavirus this years Annual Lunch planned for the RAF Club is cancelled
See their website: thegrovebournemouth.co.uk
Only 9 members travelled to support this event, the 10th year that we have carried it out. The Friday arrival was distinguished by torrential rain and busy roads, and by 3 members, Bob Nason, Ann and myself, being stuck in the hotel lift for about 2 and half hours, 15 mins after we arrived. We were well supported by Manager Brendan, and by his staff, and it became quite a social event, three of us stuck about 3 feet below floor 2, the doors open and conversation etc taking place. We were even asked whilst stuck to choose our evening meal from the menu handed down – not just room service but lift service then!
Saturday brought dreadful weather, and a bit of concern for our walk on the Sunday. But lo! We were treated to a lovely warm day with no rain and no wind. The numbers were boosted for the walk by three of Ann’s family. Two of our group were not walking, so the number setting off from The Grove was 10. Our destination was Hengistbury Head, walking along the seafront. Three dropped out at Boscombe Pier, and the magnificent seven made it to the target in good time. Ann was in charge of logistics, picking up from Boscombe Pier and twice from Hengistbury Head. Walkers were rewarded upon return with a complimentary cream tea.
The following morning Brendan came to our breakfast table to thank us individually, and we were presented with two framed certificates in appreciation of our efforts over the ten years, one for the OARC and a personal one for myself.
Ann’s family joined us for the evening meal on the last evening, the group photo in the lounge includes all us. The total raised was £770, contributed by those staying at the hotel, some contributions by both Ann and my family, and by one OARC member who did not attend at the hotel. I express my personal appreciation for the support of all those who took part in any way.
We are writing with immense sadness to inform you of Malcolm’s death on the 19th of August, after a brief illness with cancer. We want to let you know how proud he was to be an old collegian of the school. He read the magazine cover to cover each addition with such pride.