In the beginning it was 25th March 1919.
Mrs Daisy Powell gave birth to her fourth and youngest boy four months after the end of the Great War and he was named Victor Harold Powell. His dad was Edwin Harold Powell, always known as Harry. Eight children; Lily, Eddie, Frank, Elsie, Kathleen, Tom, Vic and Joyce. They lived in Stonebridge in North West London and in a few years, moved to a house on the North Circular Road near Neasden and later to Rayners Lane.
Vic always remembered a happy, crowded, lively time. His dad was a Metropolitan railway Driver, a left arm spin bowler for the railway team and a careful and prudent man, who took the nails out of old wooden boxes to straighten them for later use.
He had made the children’s shoes and worked all hours he could to provide for his 8 children. Not being well off, you could have butter on bread or jam; but not both. If you had a cold, his dad brought sulphur and made a tube and blew it down your throat. Elsie dropped hot bacon on his back when he was running through the kitchen, frank lit a fire under the bed to warm them and in the teenage years and Frank also swam across the Welsh Harp Reservoir in the mornings for pleasure and fitness. Vic would say he never had trouble at school as he had those big brothers, Eddie and Frank.
They were ambitious parents, but these were hard times. Vic left school at 14 to go to work in Cricklewood and used to go to Golders Hill Park with a buttered bun for his lunch and once told me that he had lost his first wages under a bus. But he had acquired a love for books, which he learnt by heart and for art and knowledge.
This was a Labour family for whom the 1926 general strike, the treatment of miners and his teenage years in the Spanish Civil War loomed large. Blue eyed, fair haired, he ran 400 yards, was the fast bowler in his cricket team he ran with Alan Hawkes, was a huge fan of films and recording stars, especially Bing Crosby. He would sing and whistle every day of his life and wear his hear like the Bings.
But then came the Second World War and at just 20, Vic joined the Army as a private in the Royal Artillery, learned gun laying and went on to be an unarmed Combat Instructor before joining the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders as an officer in charge of a troop of self propelled anti tank guns supporting infantry. Vic fought in North Africa and then Italy, but undoubtedly, his saddest moment was being given leave to come home after the death of his mum Daisy. Everyone always said he was her favourite.
Although Vic’s return to civilian life was delayed by the army and spells of duty in Greece and Palestine when he came home, Rootes the makers of the Humber Hawk the Sunbean Rapier and Hillman Minx and IMP motor cars kept open the jobs of the men who had gone to war and Harrow Council housed returning soldiers in prefabs in South Harrow and Rayners Lane.
VIC newly married to Barbara who he had met while stationed near Welwyn Garden City moved into one of the prefabs and I was born in 1948. In those days of cotton nappies, he changed me perfectly except he passed the safety pin in and out of the skin as well as the nappy.
In this strange post war time the recently vacated prisoner of war camp known as ‘the buildings’ was converted into the Rayners Lane Tenants Association Club, complete with snooker table, bar, and a dance hall. Vic was a terrific snooker player ( not to mention cards and darts, drafts and pool) as a result of many hours of practice in his youth in the snooker hall above Burtons in Cricklewood. He said it gave him conjunctivitis.
He became the Secretary, Treasurer and President of an Association which gave rise to some extraordinary episodes. The previous Treasurer ran off to Blackpool with the secretary’s wife and the takings. I saw my dad break the arm of a drunk; and in a public meeting expose yet another treasurer for fiddling the books, with the evidence collected by my mum who traipsed around south Harrow checking the dodgy receipts with me in tow.
My mum ran the snack bar. I sat with a lemonade and crisps and VIC, on the star lit walk home would point out Orion’s belt, The Plough and the North Star . He loved stars and ice cream.
Every summer the big event was the flower show in Roxeth when dozens of onions were measured to find the six which were perfect and beans and marrows and chrysanths and zineas until Vic won best exhibitor in the show. He always loved growing flowers and more vegetables than he could ever eat.
In 1958 Harrow Council built a street of houses in Pinner for rent and sale to the tenants of South Harrow and Rayners Lane. Vic and Barbara moved to 35 Latimer Close with a bike, some furniture a radio and me.
Vic built patios, walls, paths, a garage; and it seemed Aunts and Uncles came every Sunday for tea. Kath, Jack, Marion, Anne and Tom; or we went to Aunt Joyce’s in Uncle Jacks van, sitting in the back on cushions. Vic loved fireworks and each November bonfire night when we had all given up and gone indoors for hot dogs. Vic would still be letting off rockets and call us out for the biggest fire work saved to last.
And he quoted poetry ”There’s a one eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu” and ”The Jabberwockey” and the nonsense rhymes and he liked a drink or two.
And Vic had a firm belief in those years that alcohol enhanced driving skills as we did the rounds of family homes, especially to Chesham where his dad lived with Lilly and Dan, on Christmas Eve and every visit to Arthur (Barbara’s dad) was adjourned to the pub, but there was Pam and Johnny’s for tea too – and some odd skills – the icing of Christmas cakes and cutting cloth to patterns for my mum.
The years passed in a blur, my dad always there in support, football, cricket, rugby, we played golf, and he always had an amazing work ethic. For a long time driving to and from Coventry everyday and in the early 70’s dropping me as an articled clerk in Stanmore at 7.30 every morning.
And then one afternoon my mum died.
And what Vic had was a second life. A move from Pinner to Stonham Aspel, Suffolk to a vast garden, sheds and wood work galore, the unceasing project of restoring his cottage home and the love of Gloria.
And I think this was the life he had in his imagination, from visiting his uncle George in his carpenters shop, his teenage walks in the Chess valley to see his mum’s family. There were chickens, ponds, ducks, Bruno (he had always had dogs when he was growing up), and antiques to be restored, golf, pub lunches, wine, cigars, whisky and every manner of book. His collection of the films he loved. Any kind of cowboy film, but particular favourites he watched many times. Bridge in the River Kwai, The Magnificent Seven, Laurence of Arabia and earlier films and stars Fred Astaire, Myrna Loy, Paul Muni in Fugitive from the Chain Gang, anything with Alec Guinness and the music, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and of course Bing Crosby. I do not think there was ever a more cheerful man; he had loved Italy and visited it again and there is something about a style of living that is at ease with sunlight and wine and the feel of wood and growing things that spoke to his soul.
And I must mention his courage; in the last 2 years, incredible fortitude, an unshakable desire to live, a stoicism which was a part of the way he had been brought up and always so polite and so concerned to be well presented, shaved hair still combed in the style of Bing Crosby with a ready smile on his lips and in his eyes.
And he remained a romantic man proposing to Gloria on Valentine’s Day, and a kind man who was readily amused by life, a man for whom cross words were strangers and laughter a habit and his small superstitions daily knocking on wood, throwing salt over his shoulder, crossing his fingers and especially breaking the bottom of the soft boiled egg when he had finished to ”kill the witch”, green is unlucky and if you go out and came back for something you forgot, sit down and count to 10.
It was a paradox that such a sociable man should communicate so rarely with the brothers and sisters he loved but the answer is that he was self contained, content, happy and fulfilled.
Gloria said I could say it was her idea that I read one of my poems:
This is called In the Beginning – Loves Shawl
The ripples of leaves like dreams
In the lee of the rain gleamed
Wall that overlooked the sea
Enfolding endlessly beneath
The gulls call, the pebble beach
Where we walked
And folded ourselves in Love’s Shawl.
And that is what we are doing here with our thoughts, our memories, our stories; Folding ourselves and Vic in our Love’s Shawl.