Balloon Repair Station

Edward does the ton – Birthday under lockdown

Jane’s dad, Edward Oates, as in my father-in-law finally, after dragging it out for what seems like years, reached the age of 100 on 15th April 2020. Now he very thoughtfully got born in 1920 making it very easy to work which year this target was reached. A lot of time and effort in recent years went into achieving this. He has always been pretty healthy as it goes with only mildlys getting him banged up in hospital and sometimes simply the lack of NHS resources or procedural matters keeping him there. He had a new hip in 2009 and a couple of infections in later years but that is it. Known locally as Mr Pastry for obvious reasons his interests, apart from Last of the Summer Wine, involved making things like The Pole Climbing Monkey and Pecking Hens out of old draws along with repairing clocks and watches which, of course, he often made the bits for. Astronomy was another passion and he was well-known in Astronomical circles for his vast knowledge and, you’ve guessed, making telescopes. “Can’t do what I used to’” he often says, “the fingers aren’t what they were.” Being born in 1920 did have its drawbacks like being exactly the correct age to get called up when the Second World War broke out but on the upside in 1938, following the call for Fire Fighting and ARP volunteers, he was told to join the 9th Army Field Workshop, RAOC TA in his home town of Huddersfield and ended up becoming a clerk and promoted to Lance Corporal dealing with recruits. Once the TA was embodied he was off to France for a short while before escaping from the beach at Dunkirk. Eventually he found himself in North Africa involved the El Alamein advance recovering and managing the repair and supply of spares for tanks and paying wages. After many an adventure he ended up in Libya and finally de-mobbed in Eygpt in 1946. After the war he came to live in Wendover, where his grandfather used to run the gasworks, and married local girl Nora Brown, whose dad had Bank Farm in the village, in the same year the Queen got hitched. That meant they got a trip up to Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Golden Wedding bash. Initially he got a job in the local tax office eventually ending up the Collector for Taxes for Hitchin. He’s got some stories! I don’t think I was told what he did until the spring on his Austin Cambridge broke and I had to go and fit a new one in the Tax Office carpark (for cash)! Nora passed away in 2008 aged 86.

He retained his Dunkirk links and regularly attended the Henley Dunkirk Veterans Meetings until they ran out of members. His driving was legendary, clearly a relic of manipulating crash gearboxes, and eventually after an incident involving crossroads and an accelerator versus brake pedal confusion aged 90 the keys to his car were confiscated much to the relief of everyone. These days amongst his outings he enjoys his links with the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships especially with Alan and Ann owners of Riis1. Understandably the 2020 Kingston-upon-Thames to Weybridge trip this year is not going ahead nor the Channel Crossing to Dunkirk, held every five years. He’ll have to go next year. He keeps busy with a string of people various coming to carry out interviews about the evacuation. Hi-light for him and his five grand children was going to see the private screening and then the premiere of the Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk, some of his accounts providing the opening scenes. When asked at the premiere whether he thought it an accurate account of the evacuation he said that he’d now seen it three times. His memory isn’t what it was and often confuses breakfast with tea time but one has to wonder sometimes as there is often an accompanying cheeky grin. In recent years he has been looked after by daughter Jane and fine bunch of carers not least Roger who is truly marvellous and without who he probably wouldn’t have made it. Roger reckoned his singing is getting worse though.

So to his birthday celebrations. The planned beano obviously couldn’t go ahead so we had to think of something grand for him. His short term memory isn’t what it was, nor his mobility. We are truly lucky in that we live next door to him and as our road really is a terrace of seven houses the residents of which get along really well we opted to wheel him out and have a social distancing street celebration. Dayla Tim sorted us a case or two of fizzy stuff and beers, Jane baked a cake and the sun shone. When he and his missus celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary we took them for a rather fast balloon flight along with all the surviving guests and bridesmaids. After going through a hedge (to loud cheers) to slow down somehow the basket remained upright. We packed up and left them and the following tribe blocking the Thame Road having a party as darkness fell. Goodness knows what the total age was! Want to see fearless? Get yourself an old person. We’d have to do better than that. A plan was quickly put in place and come the day the sun shone and the sky was blue. We arranged for Landrover Roo, who is, allegedly, ‘something in the City’ and lives somewhere in the woods, to turn up with his WW2 lorry mounted howitzer. Maybe the Queen went without the traditional gun salute but we going to go one better. Not only that but we decided on giving him a real treat. We’d whip him off telling him he was going to a party. If he was to be the guest of honour then he would arrive in style as a human cannonball. He’d love it. Altitude would ensure social distancing. OK he was well into the vulnerable category but as he always says he’s been around a long time.

You can do brilliant things with old people. They are always up for it. Roger got him sorted in his blazer but decided not to pin his medals on in case they came adrift and went through someone’s window. Thinks of everything does Roger, even down to putting an extra pair of socks on him to help reduce the initial G-force. “He wants his beret. What do you reckon?” Trev’s missus Rox, who works in a care home, suggested holding it on with a hat pin. “I’ll get one of your mums’.” suggested Roger and nipped back in the house. Spot on two o’clock Roo backed the old lorry down and performing perfect distancing swung the barrel over. “Yes well there you go, can you manage at that Rodge?” he inquired. Trev did some quick calculations on the back of one of Jane’s empty Rizla packets and settled for an elevation of 48º meanwhile Rodge popped him feet first into the barrel. “How’s that Edward, comfy?” he shouted. “What?” he echoed back. “Doesn’t matter. We’re going to fire you over the village as we can’t take you for a balloon flight because of this Corona thing. Happy with that?” Slight pause, “Where’s that?” We all cheered heartily and wished him luck as the Matador crashed into Crawler gear and set off down the Terrace taking the telephone cables with it. “Never mind.” Roo hollered back, disappearing up Perry Street.

Plan was that if all went well he should just miss the end of the lime trees and land in the thick leylandii hedge that graces Trev’s garden on the downwind side. Conditions were perfect the wind was light and no aircraft were coming out of Luton. It would then be a simple matter to hook him down pop him in his wheel chair and wheel him back round the front to be greeted by the Terrace. Once on the Manor Waste Landrover Roo, exercising diplomacy, still in a social distancing sort of way, re-arranged the queue for the chemists, checked his compass and backed the rig into position. He gave Paul the tallest man in Wendover a call who appeared seconds later with a fire extinguisher, his St John’s Ambulance repair kit and dressed in Fire Armour. Roo double-checked the inclination angle and set the drum roll tape running. “Roo calling Trev“. “Got you Roo, a tad to the east of north I reckon.” Roo traversed a bit to the left. “Yes, well yes, rightho. OK Edward? Bend your knees.” Roo hauled on the lanyard and in a single very well practised sweeping movement the pin was released and the howitzer bounded into life. Amos the Hermit and his Croydon pitbull Piglet broke ranks from the generally unimpressed queue who were discussing the lack of pitta bread and sauntered over wading through the smoke and stopping a respectable distance away. “Oi Roo, was that Edward Oates? Did he know? Where’s he off to. Will he back for Remembrance Day?”,  One did have to wonder.

The bang, although clearly heard back in the Terrace, was actually a lot longer and gentler than one would have imagined. The smoke was, as expected. Edward emerged from the barrel and waved enthusiastically. “There’s nothing to this being a 100.” He thought as he climbed away over Holland Close and then Vinetrees, the old folk each in their own garden cheering loudly. Amos the Hermit, forgetting his earlier mutterings as the last of the smoke filtered its way into the Chocolate Shop, asked “Oi Roo, was that Edward Oates? Did he know? Where’s he off to. Will he back for Remembrance Day?”. Roo shrugged knowingly whilst Piglet headed for the Swan.

Rounding out at about 500 foot Edward crossed Chiltern Road, kids playing in their gardens pointing in disbelief. The windmill whooshed past off to his right and as he whizzed over the British Legion he started his descent. Recognition cut in as he spotted Sydney Terrace and home. Suddenly he greased past the first lime tree, the jackdaws swirling round greeting him quietly expectant. He was now in the clear. For a moment Trev stood transfixed. “He’s coming in a bit steep. No, no its spot on, get ready.” Then with a with a grin from ear to ear and his tash blown back a slightly sooty Edward rushed headlong into the soft, all encompassing, hedge. A huge plume of dust rose up and with it an angelic tinkling swarm of wayward long tailed tits scattered left and right. His flight was over. He was singing, Trev relaxed, stood down with ladder and went to find beer. “Did you enjoy that Edward?” shouted a relieved Roger as he placed the wheelchair under him and gave the hedge a shake whereupon, as if by magic, he plopped straight in. “Have I got a cake?” he asked all grins. “I’ve got a card from the Queen you know?” In triumph he was wheeled back out the front and with glasses charged we all sung happy birthday to him. Jane fetched the cake out, candles were lit and blown out, speeches made, piccies taken and chatting from a distance ensued. Laughter ruled. Trevor slumped relaxed into the neighbours hedge. The radio crackled into life. “Yes well now how was that for Edward then Trev?” “Spot bollox me dear, thanks. Over.” “Yes, yes well, great mate catch you later in the Swan. About September. Bye.” Back on the Manor Waste the queue for the chemist had been replaced by a few Budgens’ customers. In the lull Roo slammed another charge into the breach and stood back, Paul TTMIW tugged the lanyard in a sort of nervous way and the salute went off, very loud this time, the smoke visible for miles. “Cor thanks Roo, I’ve always wanted to do that.’ he said, ears ringing and a broad grin on his face. Two doors down the White Swan sign fell off. Thing about Wendover is its full of kind unassuming people. You can always find someone who can do, if not they’ll know someone who will.

Four hours later, most now slumped on bonnets of unused cars and all happy as Larry (who has a tame muntjac and lives in a caravan behind the site of the Old Leathern Bottle), the stragglers continued the revelries until Little Lizzie announced she had tomatoes and cucumber seeds to water, Kool Karen’s son slinked off to finish an assignment he didn’t have and Big Dave the Welshman when told his tea was ready decided that retreat was the best course of action in these circumstances. Angie Babe elected to have just one more, a decision seconded by Dormouse who was now almost wide awake. Jane and Roger tidied Edward up and with a final wave the old soldier retired for his tea. We recovered Trevor from the hedge much later after Roxy phoned and enquired about his whereabouts. The best thing then about getting old appears to be to have a good time regardless, especially if you are well-cared for and have good friends and you eventually get a card from the Queen if you are truly lucky. Best thing? None of us had never seen a birthday card from the Queen. It is really a moving thing and sums up everything that is good and fine about our Country I reckon. “I’ve had a lovely day you know.” he beamed as he tucked into a plate of turkey sandwiches. If Edward had a great time we had had the honour and the privilege of taking a part in his celebrations. Once this is over a proper street party will take place and then we’ll treat him to something really exciting. Happy Birthday Edward here’s to the next hundred.