Some 25 plus members attended the AGM in the lovely setting of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club. Andy Jordan-Smith was elected President for the coming year.
After the meeting the members plus guest enjoyed a very pleasant meal. A more detailed account of the meeting will appear shortly.
Sixteen of us assembled for ‘standing orders’ at our hotel along with Rocky a Border terrier, rescued by Hazel and Roger, previously owned by a friend who could no longer cope with him. Three more members joined us later in the week. Rocky accompanied every ramble and even appeared to lead some, but to claim that would be denigrating the skills of Dennis and Roger!
When Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods his understated title referred to trekking in the Appalachian Mountains. However the first Rambling Club walk, a stroll through the forest, was just that. The forest was the New Forest in Hampshire and we began at Lyndhurst Heath near the hotel at Cadnam where we stayed. It was only three fairly easy miles, starting on open heathland with a single cow (an escapee?) and several ponies which would came right up to you. Once among trees navigation was difficult, but modern technology saw through to Beechen Lane and back to Lyndhurst. Presumably ‘beechen’ is the local plural of beech, as in children and oxen, and there were beech trees on both sides of the lane.
The next day our fittest four accepted an invitation to join the New Forest Ramblers for a five–and–half mile ramble beginning at Millyford Bridge. Fearing I would merely stroll and hold up the others I was not one of the four. I understand there were some tricky paths with fallen trees to be negotiated, and the pace was brisk. I also didn’t take part in the slightly shorter ramble at Keyhaven by The Solent on a hot, sunny day. Those who were not taking part in any of the walks went to towns like Lymington where there are cobbled streets and the church has a huge gallery erected in 1798. There are attractive villages such as Minstead, gardens noted for azaleas and rhododendrons, Beaulieu Abbey and The National Motor Museum.
The final ramble began at Burley which seems to be a village obsessed by witches and things occult. I usually find something historical to write about when recording Old Askean rambles and this time it was a stone rather like a milestone but placed on the edge of the village in 1802. It reads ‘Peace restored 27th March 1802. Rest and be thankful’. This refers to the fourteen months of peace, agreed at the Treaty of Amiens, during the wars with Napoleonic France. The path took us along a disused railway track and through Holmsley Bog which fortunately lay below road level.
Blazers were worn for the last meal of the holiday and The Sandbin was sung more tunefully than in the recent past. Unfortunately there was no Welsh choir present to appreciate our efforts. Jenny set the quiz which was won by Ann Johnson (on her own she insisted).
It was characteristic of Dick that he should have had firm ideas about his funeral arrangements. He wanted the cremation, which took place earlier this morning, to be a private matter, confined to his immediate family. He wanted this Memorial Service, which he devised himself, to be for his friends. He would be delighted and gratified that so many of you are here.
Dick was a man of lifelong friendships. I have never known anyone who attended and arranged so many reunions. As is apparent from the marvellous letters Joan has received, he had friendships going back to school and army; he had regular reunions with a dwindling number of his cricketing friends from the Old Askeans; he was a regular attender at golf excursions with his friends from Customs, the Belton Bracers; he regularly met his team from the Investigation Branch – the Old Knockers; he never lost contact with his secretary; he was a regular for the Seniors team at Dulwich and Sydenham; he was a faithful attender at this church, except when I lured him away to play golf on a Sunday morning ~ sorry about that, Father Robert. This is a reunion of so many groups of his friends and he would have loved to be here.
I first met Dick nearly forty years ago. We first played golf at a course called Belmont near Faversham but it wasn’t long before our golf centred on Dulwich and Sydenham, where Harry Walsh and the late Frank Bond formed our regular weekend four-ball.
We played countless games together and I last played golf with Dick in September. On the last green, when the match was in the balance, he gave me a 4-foot putt which I almost certainly would have missed. He then had an 8-foot putt for victory. It was the last stroke I saw him play and he holed it. As a result of his generosity, I was reasonably pleased that he holed it at the time ~ but I’m immensely pleased now.
Our friendship went much wider than golf. We shared a love of cricket and rugby. I think of Dick every morning now when I turn on the radio to hear the cricket news from Australia. I’m glad that he has been spared the result of the Brisbane Test Match. We exchanged book suggestions. Dick, Joan, Jill and I went to films together and discussed them over a meal afterwards. In fact, the last time I saw Dick was on October 10th when the four of us went to the film On Chesil Beach, about which we had conflicting opinions. Dick was never short of opinions.
October 10th ~ at that time he had not been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and yet five weeks later to the exact day he died. No wonder that losing him has been such a shock to all of us.
Dick was immensely proud of being a civil servant and in particular of being a member of Customs and Excise, as his father had been before him. He was the best sort of civil servant. He believed in public service; he had fairness and integrity, tempered with a sense of humour about the villains whom it was the stock in trade of Investigation Branch to deal with. It cannot be said that he was an uncritical admirer of Her Majesty’s Constabulary but he would hear no wrong of his own Service. If there had been any justice he should have been appointed to the Board of Customs but it was fitting that at the end of his career he was made a Commander of the British Empire for his achievements and his leadership.
It was perhaps inevitable that Dick’s sense of public service extended outside his professional life. He and Joan have done a great deal for this church. He served on the Council of Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club for six years and was President from 2010 to 2013. In that role he dealt with the problems and tensions which beset a golf club with a patience and courtesy which won the respect and affection of both members and staff.
It was a critical time for the Club because its lease from the Dulwich Estate was coming to an end and had to be renegotiated. The negotiations were protracted and difficult but, largely as a result of Dick’s reasonableness and patience, have resulted in an agreement which has secured the future of the Club for many years to come.
Dick’s life was characterised by lifelong loyalty – and that found its supreme expression in his loyalty to Joan and his family. He was immensely proud of Vanessa and Charlotte and of his grandchildren, Henry and Emma. He was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather and his family returned his love and loyalty wholeheartedly. He loved his home, not least his garden and his vegetables, on which I received regular reports on the golf course.
How can I sum up Dick’s qualities? He was a good man and all our lives, including mine, have been enriched by knowing him. I cannot do better than the epitaph which another Customs Officer – the Scottish poet Robbie Burns – wrote about his friend: –
An honest man is now at rest
The friend of man, the friend of truth
The friend of age, and guide of youth
Few hearts like his, with virtue warmed;
Few heads with knowledge so informed;
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss
If there is none he made the best of this.
This date was bedevilled by bad weather and snowfall, causing all kinds of travel disruption. However, it went ahead, producing :
“This time last week there were thirty eight of us due to be dining at The George Borough High St; in the event there were a hardy eleven us that sat down at the only surviving galleried London coaching inn. We tried valiantly to ensure that the bar takings were the same as if the thirty-eight were there, but sadly we failed although it were not for want of trying!
Many thanks to our gallant leader Steve for organising today’s event, the fish menu was excellent as was the wine and the company.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That drank with us at The George Inn this day.”
Organiser for City Diners is Steve Homewood, who was stuck outside Lewisham station for two and half hours on his way home, – and no access to a toilet on the train…..!!!
Wednesday July 10th – Evening walk
This will take place at Royal Blackheath Golf Club starting at approx 7pm
13th July 2019 – Summer Reunion at the College, Jerningham Road site – from 2.00 pm.
Once again I have awaited the fairer weather to appear before setting the date for this year’s Old Askean City Diners Summer Ladies’ Lunch. We will be revisiting The George Inn at the Borough on Friday 26th July, sitting down at 1:00pm.
Please invite your partners and any other guests who may wish to dine in historic surroundings in a convivial atmosphere. As always, we especially welcome Old Askeans who may not have previously attended (even if not members of the Association). At our last function, we had 3 members who attended for the first time. The cost of the 3 course meal remains at the astonishingly value-for-money price of £37.00 including wine. I will circulate the menu next month and, those of a more delicate nature, may wish to opt for a 2 course meal.
So, ensure you put this date in your diary and please let me have your intention to attend with numbers and names of guests
020 7398 2315