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A Shout From The Attic: Return To Zin - 13

Ronnie Bray returns to Bournemouth, hoping to repair his marriage.

In late autumn, nineteen-sixty-two, in a scuttle of unrealistic hope, I took myself out of Huddersfield and bussed back to
Bournemouth, to see what I could do to make reconciliation with Esmé. Whatever it might have been, I did not discover it. I obtained lodging at The Green House Hotel on Lansdowne Road, renting one of their large front rooms. It was available
because it was the off season and visitors were few, so they were glad of semi-permanent residents, and I could afford it
because their winter rates were reasonable.

The Green House Hotel’s heating system left much to be desired. It had a large floor space, high ceiling, huge bay window, and the smallest gas fire then available. It ran from a meter that devoured shillings as rapidly as the great fish swallowed Jonah.

Bournemouth’s slogan was, Come to Sunny Bournemouth where the season never ends!” They lied. The season ended in the winter of 1962-63, and how! Snow was piled up in the streets four feet high where it had fallen. The main roads were scraped and negotiable with care, but minor and side streets were Antarctica. Postmen were delayed; milk was carried by roundsmen from the main roads through narrow mazes cut by householders’ spades with hardly veiled animosity at Providence who seemed to have abandoned them. A normal reaction when disappointment replaces bounty.

Staying in my room was not an option. I had to go out. I could not afford to sit in my freezing room all day and all night
and feed silver coins to the hungry meter, so I spent my days in the public library at the roundabout. If I arrived just as they opened, I could secure my favourite table right up against the triple row of six-inch diameter heating pipes. My education improved even as my continued search for employment proved fruitless, and my body stayed warm.

Once, I tried to stop all the heat from going up the chimney by stuffing balls of crumpled aluminium foil up the chimney back
to block the flues. That proved almost as deadly as the paraffin heater incident of the following year’s winter at Dean and Janet Caldwell’s home in Caldwell Hall Road, Ipswich. I unstuffed the chimney.

I got unemployment pay, because jobs were few in the off-season. It wasn’t much, but it paid the rent, fed the gas meter and the cooker adequately - except when the really cold weather came – besides which and I could get some groceries. I didn’t live high, but it was enough.

Shopping at one of the large stores at the bottom of Christchurch Road, next to Maples Furniture Shop, helped eked out my income. They sold bacon ends or ‘oysters,’ as they were called, for an alarmingly cheap rate and other staples at reasonable cost. Once a week, when I went to the Post Office in the aptly named Post Office Road, I visited a restaurant that was in a basement opposite the Post Office, and provided varied, filling, and pleasant meals for a shilling plus a few coppers. They were the best meals during my quest.

My poverty was almost the cause of my death at one point. Since my youth, I had contracted tonsillitis several times a year. This was always successfully treated with penicillin, but for the first few days of infection, I always felt lousy and close to death. One morning I awoke with a sore throat, a headache, and a general sense of widespread disease. I found a local doctor’s surgery and he saw me without appointment, as was normal back then. He gave me a prescription for penicillin and some throat wash to reduce the inflammation. That was the time when each prescription cost one shilling. I needed two shillings, but I only had one to my name. At the chemist’s I had to make a decision as to, which one I needed most and not buy the other medicine.

Somewhere in my fever, I decided for the mouthwash and against the antibiotic. I chose the wrong one and don’t even realise it for a week when my senses returned. I went back to my room, gargled at my wan reflection in the mirror over the sink, felt even sorrier for myself, then stood against the side of the double bed and fell backward onto it, where I remained
unconscious without stirring for two days. When I came around, I felt somewhat better and as the days grew on, I recovered.

Although I knew most of the Church members in Bournemouth, almost all of them were hostile towards me in some degree, having had their ears bent against me. The strength of this negativity can be measured by the fact that some twenty-two years later when Chris Will’s mother-in-law, a Sister White, who lived in Bournemouth, visited her daughter and who had never met me, made it clear that she knew about my unsavoury past, adding, “But it doesn’t matter if you have changed your ways.”

The power of a malicious tongue should never be underestimated, nor should the duration of the evil it sows. At that time, Esmé, the source of the infection, had lived in the United States for twenty years.

Two people, and two alone, stand out from those days. One was Marie Giles, and the other was Arthur “Bob” Willis. The light of Christ shone bright from them. Marie was a schoolteacher with a daughter, and Bob was a salesman for hospital surgical equipment, which he collected on a ‘repair or replace’ basis. He was married to a wife he did not particularly care for, finding in her a coarseness that had not lessened during the years they had been married. In his earlier years, he had been a postman. He had two sons.

Bob lent me an old television set that I placed on the big table in my room, and it brought in the BBC and Independent Television, one channel each at that time. The screen was about twelve inches, and it took the edge of my loneliness. After a few weeks, the picture tube went to wherever it was that picture tubes went in those days before they made tubes that last forever, but I continued to use it to listen to the sound.

Even when they were not broadcasting programmes, music accompanied the test card. My best favourite was the tune with which they closed each days transmission – “Soul Surfing.” It was soothing and pleasant. Ah, the power that music has to soothe the savage breast!

Marie Giles always greeted me with warm smiles and friendly handshakes. How much that oasis of sunshine and kindness meant to me in those wilderness years, she might never know. I bless her name every day.

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