Pa would have been surprised yet ‘tickled pink’ that so many of you have come here today. Joanna, Sarah and I are also touched that you have come. We are also extremely grateful to all those in the valley who have helped during this busy period before Christmas. Thank you and please do join us at Chilland afterwards to celebrate Pa’s life.
Over the last week I have been thinking of all the things that I want to say about Pa. There are so many memories that I didn’t know where to begin – inevitably, some are painful but the vast majority are happy. As I thought about his life, the bits I shared and the bobs that came second hand, I began to consider his life in a chronological fashion – something I had never done before. From his youth overshadowed by a world war but blessed by boyhood years in the open spaces of western Canada, then school at Eton and into adult life as, I am told, a popular ‘Debs Delight’, then as an accountant, merchant banker and industrialist. Two marriages that contained much joy and friendships that lasted beyond their ending. Early retirement to enjoy his garden, the river and a countryman’s life at Chilland.
As I thought about it, a pattern that I had not previously discerned began to emerge. That is of a man who mellowed and became more relaxed and approachable with age. Your many lovely letters also reflect this. Those in the Valley who have known him the longest described him as ‘full of fun and energy, wit, repartee and a man of strong opinions and sharp observations’ (very tactfully put!) or ‘a formidable presence on first acquaintance but underneath the gruff exterior a wonderfully good natured man’. This was undoubtedly the case.One of my favourite descriptions of Pa is that he was ‘interesting company, great fun and always ready for a party, mischief and a good time’. My aunt tells a great story of him joining my uncle and his fellow undergraduates at Oxford in a ‘raid’ on Balliol and then provoking the Proctors to chase him. On eventually being caught he was asked ‘your name and college Sir?’ response ‘not at the University’.
In the company of family and especially the young he was relaxed. He loved to make awful jokes and generally to tease and have fun. He spent many happy hours in the pool at Chilland teaching us to dive and having races with uncles and cousins, with us standing on their shoulders until they remerged spluttering at the deep end. This was then enjoyed all over again with his grandchildren.
It is amazing than none of us drowned! He was an accomplished skier and we spent many fun filled skiing holidays with friends. He loved to ski with us and he delighted when we finally did things better than himWe also spent memorable summer holidays in the Mediterranean where Pa could practise his questionable language skills. On one occasion on crossing swords with a belligerent French lady he coined the phrase ‘Allez stuffez vous madame’, not exactly fluent but she got the message! Later we spent summers in eastern Canada. A country that was very close to his heart – he told me that his years in British Columbia were some of the happiest of his life. Perhaps this is where his love of the outdoors and country life and country pursuits began? When he and his mother (Nonna to us) and my aunt Evelyn and uncles Robert and Oliver moved back to England they were reunited with our Grandfather and they settled at Chilland in 1945 to begin a new life together. They were all soon busy creating the garden and building barns and sheds for the livestock necessary to supplement rationed food in post war Britain. He learned many skills be it felling trees, splitting ash boughs for fence posts or how to weed the river, things which I fondly remember him teaching me. He also acquired a great deal of knowledge on gardening, birds, wildlife and country ways in general from our grandparents or any knowledgeable countryman who was prepared to share his wisdom. He lapped it all up.Pa’s love of the river and everything to do with it became central to his life and grew even stronger with age. He loved talking to the fishermen and it seemed that he could smell a barbequing steak or a cork popping by Grey’s Bridge all the way from Chilland Lane! He managed to time his uninvited arrival at the hut to perfection and charm his way into sharing the feast! So much so that one of the rods regularly would cater for him in anticipation!
I am surprised that no one has described my father as eccentric though he has been described as a ‘character’. I offer this by way of example. One evening at dusk, just as a departing fisherman was forced off the river by the failing light he was taken aback by an apparition, a shape with an old towel wrapped around his head and wearing thick gloves creeping up the bank. He was intrigued and not a little alarmed. It was my father on a mission to destroy a wasps’ nest in the bank. Doesn’t everyone know the right time and equipment needed to destroy a ground nest?!
His real love was not fishing per se but caring for and managing the habitat. He would spend hours just sitting and watching the river, latterly from his terrace telling his beloved carers all about the flora and fauna.
However, I expect that valley residents will remember Pa mostly as a good neighbour always willing to help. Also, for his cheerful wave and warm smile if you passed him in his house in the lane. If he was out and about you could be assured of a warm welcome and his slightly cheeky smile, his presence probably added several minutes to your walk as he always wanted to engage passers-by, known or unknown, in conversation. If you had children with you, well then you may have struggled to continue your walk. He had a marvellous way with children and a range of expressions that may have delighted or possibly alarmed in smaller measure. He was enormously proud of his grandchildren and their achievements (but not always good at showing this) and he would talk endlessly about them at Sunday lunch or, if we were unlucky, we got a repetitive 2 hour lecture on how to store apples correctly. There was only one way – his!
One of the benefits of his living by the footpath was that he could be rescued if something went wrong while he was tending the garden. On several occasions I discovered that he had been helped out of the river or down from a ladder by concerned passers-by! He was always furious that he had been shopped but luckily his memory was too poor to remember who had spilt the beans!
In the latter period of his life he was brilliantly looked after by his carers. He thoroughly appreciated all their help, saw them as friends and looked forward to their visits enormously. Thanks to them he was able to spend his last months at home in what was the cradle of his world. He was stalwart to the end and the evening before he died, after Rebecca had said prayers with him, he said two things that I could understand. The first being ‘I have had enough’ and I don’t think he was referring to the prayers! Then afterwards I gave him a wee nip of his favourite Glenmorangie (it had to be pronounced correctly) and he opened his eyes wider and with a faint smile said ’Och I the noo’.
To finish, I would like to quote my favourite eulogy from the letters that we received:
‘I will remember him fondly as the very happy gardener to be found around any corner with a wheelbarrow at his side, grubby jeans, workman’s jacket, tousled hair, earthy hands, twinkling blue eyes and the biggest grin imaginable, always ready with a warm welcome and a chat. He loved his garden. Happy days!’
Happy days indeed Andrew Impey, 18/12/14