A good and dangerous life

Whenever I was home in Hampshire I tried to make time with Dee to take the dogs out for walks twice daily; once immediately after breakfast and once around lunchtime.  How well we got to know the sweet-flowing, crystal clear river Itchen and the pretty little villages down the valley alongside it, and all the chalk hills, the bluebell woodlands and New Forest ways of south Hampshire. These were happier times. Neither of us had in the past been overmuch for friends outwith business and our family/ies but now our social life was very pleasing, both in Winchester and out amongst the expatriated luminati of Bahrain .

The tiny, ancient Eclipse pub close by Winchester cathedral was home from home to a truly eclectic group of folk who, I think, wouldn't mind me calling them, for the most part, intellectuals. Especially as one of them was World Quiz Champion! Most of them could, as they say up here in Scotland, 'take a good drink!' as well as being able and willing to expound their views on any topic under the sun (or, quite likely there in Winchester, under the rain!) I thought of the Eclipse as being somewhat akin to an Elizabethan Coffee House. In addition to that pub Dee's dinner parties at Laundry Cottage were quite famous and great fun if sometimes a little on the OTT side. I remember one more than usually alcoholic occasion when a certain guest was seen departing up Bedfield Lane in his kangaroo hopping Rolls-Royse. I have to confess I was myself very much the worse for wear on that occasion. Truth to tell I never was a top-rate drinker, much preferring nourishment to punishment.

The British Ambassador in Bahrain held regular garden parties. I imagine all British Ambassadors have done so worldwide since diplomatic time began. Anyway Bahrain's were splendidly formal affairs held in the evening outside the Embassy building on its highly securitised, well-kept lawns. Dusty old palm trees, scents of tropical flora and expensive ladies' perfume hanging in the hot and humid air, everyone 'who is anyone' both British and Arab dressed up, doing their best to move assiduously group to group with glass in hand, talking much, listening little. But our ambassador was a splendidly radical fellow living a strict protocol were it not for the fact that he had broken ranks to marry his native housemaid. Long live the British individualist! Our mentor into these affairs was always Thomas Kelly, a strikingly bold fellow, husband of Dina, my personal assistant, much akin both physically and in personal projection to Charles Dance. We often had lunch together in one or other of the Manama bistros or in the Yacht Club or, when Dee was in town, dinner at their home. Thomas was one of those lucky ones, the classic English who would have been born elite even if in some East London ghetto instead of a fairly stately home!

On the darker side there is one incident that I cannot possibly leave out of my memoirs. Since retiring from (or actually having been kicked out of!) my last long-term employment in 1987 I had kept in touch albeit sporadically with many of my colleagues at Sweetheart International. Perhaps foremost amongst these was my friend Ted Pool who I had recruited and who had worked with ever since the company became a green-field start-up in 1971. Ted's first wife left him, apparently to go off with her boss, about a year after he joined, taking their two little daughters with her. Just before that I well recall that lady coming up to me at a company Christmas party; all right, Bryan, she said quietly, he's yours; you can have him. At the time I had no idea what that was all about. Anyway Ted remarried and had three more daughters with his second wife Jane, all of them now teenagers. He had left Sweetheart after I went, as had the majority of my team, and had gone to work for a competitor where his new boss was Peter Bright, another leading extrovert of the ex-Sweetheart brigade. One morning Peter phoned me with the shocking news that Ted had passed away the previous night in a West Country hotel room after a no more than ordinary dinner with some customers. Heart attack, as it transpired. Somebody other than a policeman had to go to visit the family. Peter said he was on his way himself but could Dee and I come, please? The three of us knocked on Jane's Lee-on-Solent door, steeling ourselves for what was to come. They were out! Huge relief. We spent the hours in the local Swordfish pub before the girls returned. Coffee and soft drinks only. But eventually on that terrible day we found them in; three smiling young ladies and one smiling mum at the opened door  - before those awful clouds of fear transmuting into terror came over their faces. Somehow they knew. Tragedy transmits itself just as easily as do smiles.

The church was filled literally to overflowing for the funeral. That man had so many friends, many of them his business customers. People would say he was one of the very few for whom nobody had a bad word. His and Jane's youngest, twelve years old daughter did the reading. She was as good and as brave as was her father. Neither Dee nor I knew at the time that his second trio of daughters knew nothing about the existence of their father's first two. Jane said they had just never got around to telling them. It came as another dreadful bewilderment, even though it did not damage their deep-held love for their father. Besides, in the event the first daughters by then in their twenties did not turn up for the funeral. I was proud to be asked by Jane to deliver her late husband's eulogy. Amongst other things I told the people about how, in the very early days of Sweetheart International, Ted and I once set out from Gosport to visit Northern Dairies in Hull and then Bibby, the fats company in Liverpool, then back home. So, in a single seven hundred miles day we saw the English channel, the North Sea and the Irish Sea as well as doing some substantial business. But why would I tell them this? Because not twenty miles on the road Ted asked me to stop the car. I braked to a halt. What's wrong, I asked him. Nothing, Ted said. Sometimes you have to take time to look at the world, boss. I looked. Over the dawning fields and woodlands of Hampshire the sun was rising , the sky a kaleidoscope of colour. Everything was beautiful.

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