PREVIOUS CHAPTER: FIFTEEN: LITTLE ANGLESEY 1975-1984
Adam started at Bay House School. A little earlier he had acquired a cockatiel, whom he named Fågel after the Swedish for bird, and tried so patiently to train to speak – hour after hour in his bedroom – but in vain. Though language was not his forte, Fågel was later to play his part in destroying the last remnants of the hated Communist regime in East Germany.
Around this time all three boys were keen members of the Mirror dinghy sailing club just across the lake from our house. One sunny afternoon they stood on the pontoon with a few other school friends watching the boats sail up and down the shallow stretch of water. Then Björn noticed that a wire running through posts on the pontoon was mostly tight but in one gap it lay slack on the wooden boards – and a rather posh girl in his school class was standing on it. He climbed up onto a post and then jumped onto a taut stretch of wire. As in any classic cartoon, the wire under the girl suddenly lifted – and she flipped head over heels into the muddy water. I have completely forgotten the incident, but am told that I was angry with Björn and chased him all round the lake – but never caught him.
April. TFSR Annual General Meeting – a bitter battle at the Africa Centre, Covent Garden, between those who wanted TFSR to sell its headquarters at Netley Marsh near Southampton and move further north, and those of us who wanted to make a success of it in situ. At the end of a long day, we voted to keep Netley Marsh as it was – and still is today (see pp 54-59 of Keeping Something Alive). With this problem out of the way, a golden age began for TFSR. Things just went better and better for the next fifteen years.
Life with Sigyn and boys at Little Anglesey. Trips to Wales and to Sweden, to visit family and friends. With Björn to Glencree, Ireland. Boys set off firework in Adam’s bedroom sink to see if it will explode under water. It does and blows a large jigsaw piece out of the sink bottom, which they glue back in, hoping, “Dad won’t notice”.
Christmas visit from Rita and Göran: Little Anglesey dining room
With Adam to climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. What an original choice of birthday present by Adam! We managed all three, but the last, Snowdon, took place in icy, driving rain, with nobody else walking up that morning. We reached the top and sat down thankful for a warm, sweet cup of tea poured in the café there. The same evening we drove all the way home, keeping warm in the car, satisfied after a good week or so away.
Sigyn at this time did much work on the allotments, Daniel (especially) messed in boats.
Spring: Adam, won a prize in a national competition organised by British Nuclear Fuels for the best designed pamphlet, including drawings and text. Although very proud that he had done so well, I was also staunchly anti-nuclear and refused to go on the jaunt as I felt the competition and event were a promotional exercise for the nuclear industry – which indeed they were. Showing more consideration for Adam, though, Sigyn took him and Daniel to the presentation in London, stayed overnight at the Strand Palace Hotel near Piccadilly Circus and enjoyed the show ‘Starlight Express’ at the Haymarket Theatre. That evening, Adam and Dan enjoyed watching the street cartoonists / caricaturists at work, and relished the big meat carvery back at the Strand. Daniel wasn’t a vegetarian at that time, so both tucked in. Today, I regret not having celebrated his success with Adam and the family, rather than putting my fine principles above my son’s feelings.
Christmas – Evening carol singing in Alverstoke fundraising for TFSR. With the boys, a dozen other singers, fiddle and lanterns we went from house to house and pub to pub. Did quite well financially the first year. We repeated it for a couple more years, but the last one flopped financially, as rain and wind drowned out our voices. For a couple of years more, we had carols for the fun of it at home in Little Anglesey. David and Erika came over. We had pepperkakor, bullar and glögg, and real lighted candles in a real Christmas tree. “Nu ār det ljus, hār I vårt hus….” Lit the gas lamps above the fireplace in the front room. Very cosy. Then the carols tradition moved over to David and Erika’s house in Southsea where it continued without a break until 2010.
(We restarted it in 2013 at 50 Arethusa House and in 2014 we had 14 singers (including Ian and Liz Backhouse, who took part in the very first events almost 30 years earlier) and a dozen instrumentalists.)
TFSR 1987 : 100,000 tools event at Covent Garden with Lenny Henry and Richard Briers (two popular actors/comedians). TFSR focuses on 7 priority countries.
Lenny Henry at the Covent Garden event
Sigyn’s jobs and activities: pastels; painting; pottery; spinning & weaving; cookery and home making.
“Seeing the boys off to school this morning, I noticed three black plastic rubbish bags left on the low stone wall that runs along the creek by our house. This annoyed me as the same thing had happened a few months earlier. Then, one bag had split and its contents had spread along the shore, looking disgusting. I’d picked up what I could and shoved it – and the full bags – into our dustbin, but that meant our own bin was filled until the next collection. And now it had happened again!
I was more than annoyed, I was fuming and felt sure that the same person was to blame. Why, when they came by car (nobody on Little Anglesey would leave their rubbish there) couldn’t they drive their refuse to the Council dump? I decided to open a bag and see if they had left some incriminating evidence. And, sure enough, the first bag contained tea bag-stained envelopes, each addressed to a house in Gosport (let us say No 24, ANNE’S HILL CLOSE).
‘Right!’ I thought, ‘Now you’ll get what you deserve. I’m going to – ‘… But do what, tell the police? They would be too busy with more important crimes. Take it to the town hall? The letters would be filed in an In-tray and forgotten. No: the time had come for direct action. They had messed up my place, so I would mess up theirs, with their own rubbish.
I was round at Anne’s Hill in five minutes, my heart thumped as wildly as if I were about to rob a bank and I was slightly surprised to see how neat Number 24 looked, with its tidy little garden. But this was no time for sentimentality : I had the bags out of the car, I emptied them onto the lawn, I leapt behind the wheel and sped off – the whole job completed in thirty seconds.
Back at Little Anglesey, I could not stop thinking about the incident, all that afternoon and much of the night. Next morning, I understood the truth in the phrase ‘The murderer must return to the scene of the crime’. Was the rubbish still lying there, or had they tidied up? I had to go back.
Back at Anne’s Hill I parked the car some distance away from the house, then sauntered casually along the street until I passed No 24. All was as neat and tidy as on the previous morning.
‘Well,’ I thought, ‘that will have taught you a lesson!’ and felt slightly smug about the effectiveness of direct action – until I passed a street sign twenty yards on that read ANNE’S HILL WAY.
Anne’s Hill Close, I discovered, lay just round the corner!
I could only hope that the people whose garden I had sullied found among the tea bags the envelopes addressed to 24 Anne’s Hill Close – and sorted things out in a traditional neighbourly fashion.
1987-90 Bjorn sets off to do a Geography degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. He had just learnt to drive, but at the start of term managed heroically to edge through dense London traffic, with the clutch almost gone, to his hall of residence. In his course he visited Kenya (Goran & Rita, Lake Turkana) and India (with SOAS). He graduated well (Upper II).
Björn – off to university
Sigyn discovered lump in breast. It grew bigger and bigger but she was told it was benign by her G.P. Again and again she asked them to check it, and she was finally told not to be hysterical. After almost a year, when the lump had become huge and her breast quite misshapen, they agreed to do a biopsy – and in January 1988 they informed her that she had cancer. Sigyn’s battles with authorities are prolonged. The medical story of bungles is recorded in the book, Fighting Spirit.
Dan started at Cardiff University – French and philosophy, a four-year course. It included a year of living and teaching in France. On top of his learning Esperanto as a child, he proved able at taking up French, and, later Swedish, plus some Spanish.
TFSR: Jan Hoogendyk dies – (see Robin Jenks’s quote in Keeping Something Alive). Harry & Ruth Iles join the Netley Marsh team.
Sigyn is active with her pottery class and also, later, with textiles. Here are some of the ceramics that she made. The boy’s head is of Björn.
Sept: Adam started at St Vincent’s 6th Form College, Gosport . TFSR: 50,000 tools sent abroad in one year. TFSR Conference at my old school, Calder High School, Mytholmroyd, which retained the smell of the same disinfectant it had used 45 years earlier.
Bjorn had a gap year after university. He lived in Kensal Green. Helped Benny Dembitzer with a big Third World Event, worked for a time at Harrods department store (where Mohamad al Fayed was said to have sacked customers—thinking they were staff—for behaviour that displeased him). He also worked at the Census at the Aldwych, then he went inter-railing in Central/ Eastern Europe.
TFSR Autumn newsletter: Letter objecting to us mentioning global warming. ‘I detect that you are falling into the trap which has ensnared many overseas aid organisations, of engaging in domestic or global partisan politics. I refer particularly to your article on global warming and certain references to South Africa which appear to me to stray very far from your primary job of providing tools for Third World countries.’
Björn began a one-year course in International Relations at the London School of Economics, living at Erika Phillips’ house in Islington.
Around this time, Adam’s collection of birds had grown to half a dozen, kept in a greenhouse that he had earlier made into an aviary. But was Fågel a liberator? Perhaps a clever freedom fighter, just playing dumb? I just ask because one morning, we found the birds had flown the coop – all except Fågel, who remained on his perch looking smug. Had he engineered the escape? Doubts remained, and even increased after I brought back from Germany a half brick, once part of the Berlin Wall. It sat on the mantelpiece in the front room, a symbol of political oppression, and whenever Fågel was allowed back into the room, he tore into it, clawing and nibbling furiously with his surprisingly powerful beak. Within a month, nothing remained but a little red dust – and Fågel had played his part in destroying the last remnants of the hated Communist regime in East Germany.
Grandma tells us with some glee that the Income Tax Inspector who visited her at home to help complete her tax forms had marked one element of the income she had declared, as “Derisory”.
TFSR: 250,000th tool event in Sheffield. BBC Week’s Good Cause Appeal by Trevor Huddleston. 43 tonnes of scrap steel and 53,346 tools sent abroad during 1990, including 694 sewing machines.
30 December: Erika’s father, Emil, has died in Vienna. I was sorry to hear the news, having met him several times and found him dynamic, humorous and positive. He had a remarkable life. As a medical doctor, he and his wife Annie (a nurse), had slipped away from Vienna in the 1930s when anti-Semitism was reaching its climax, had married in Paris and then (as a doctor-surgeon & nurse) joined Republican forces fighting the fascists of General Franco in Spain. When the defeated Republicans retreated to southern France, Annie made her way to Paris and then to England where she acted as a nurse until the end of World War II. Emil was imprisoned, but escaped and joined the French Resistance, acting as a messenger using fake French and German passports. With the liberation of France, he joined Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia, who were still fighting German forces, and only when that country was freed did he return to Vienna, to find most of his family had been killed in German concentration camps.
In a dramatic reunion, he and Annie finally met again – after six years separation – in Paris. The agreed rendez-vous was at a big public building, perhaps a museum. Annie arrived early, Emil was late. Even after six years, Annie recognised the sound of her husband’s footsteps as he raced up the marble staircase to join her on the first floor. Back in Austria, Emil became senior doctor for the Vienna Police Force and later, with his wife, set up a private practice. Their one child, Erika, was born in 1947.
September to the end of 1995, Bjorn is back at SOAS looking into international border law at the Geopolitics Research Centre. He visited the USA and Croatia. Then he was offered a job in Laos, while sitting in the SOAS bar (because the right guy didn’t turn up). He accepts. July: Adam finishes at St Vincent’s.
Much of 1992 at TFSR we spent preparing a conference with our Tanzanian partner organisations in Arusha (9-13 November) within sight of Mount Kilimanjaro. This brought together over forty participants from ten African countries and focussed on the continental problem of youth unemployment, and the importance of tools in any sustainable development
Here, I can do no more than quote two paragraphs from the final Charter, which was so prophetic given the huge unrest and exodus of young migrants from Africa to Europe some twenty years later:
Youth unemployment is a social and economic time bomb. It demeans each affected person, wasting lives and talents. It threatens the future of every society, particularly in Africa. Nobody seems to have an answer to the problem – yet an answer is demanded by hundreds of millions of young people.
We […] believe there is an answer. The artisan sector of society, which has existed since time immemorial, producing goods and services, is today ignored and starved of resources. It is virtually excluded from national development plans. Yet it has great potential for turning the ideal of “popular participation” into daily reality. It opens up job opportunities to the majority of men and women in the population.
For those of us lucky enough to attend, it was a fantastic experience – not only because President Julius Nyerere and Archbishop Trevor Huddleston took part, both men of huge integrity and world renown – but because of the spirit that enthused the whole event. My cousin Dorothy, was Chairperson of TFSR at that time, and she – and husband Chris – helped to generate the atmosphere of warmth and friendliness that inspired all the participants.
Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, President Julius Nyerere and Director General E. Toroka open the Arusha Conference on Tools and Youth Unemployment.
Adam goes to Oxford, Wadham College to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Grandma Ruth is so keen for him to join the Oxford Union that she pays his annual subscription each year – on condition that he sends her written accounts of the debates he attends. He does.
Sigyn – the only non-Brit among thirty candidates – gets a teaching job at the Haslar Detention Centre, just down the road. This incarcerates African (mostly) immigrants whose papers are not in order. She teaches English and handicrafts, including making soft toy animals. I doubt that grown men, under great stress, will delight in making cuddly toys – but they do. Furry rabbits are most popular!
One evening, well into the job, Sigyn comes home and finds a bunch of prison keys in her pocket. She had been told that it would cost £12,000 to have all locks replaced if one did this. Some panicky minutes spent deciding whether to try to smuggle them back into the Centre or to go right back and own up to the mistake. Opted to own up and, luckily, all was OK.
January 9-13th: Invited to give a talk at CCIVS Voluntary Service Conference in Moscow. Nice to be asked. My ideas on volunteering must still carry some weight. Had hoped for sparkling snows, blue skies and maybe a wolf or two. Found sullen clouds and grey slush, queues of Muscovites outside ice cream stalls and a much longer one to get into MacDonald’s, the first in Russia.
March 9th: A TFSR team led by Dot Cussens, now our Chairman, goes to Brussels to raise with the EU the deep importance of hand tools to equitable development. Well received, but you get the impression that when we’ve left, the message won’t go far. Maybe it will help for future grant applications, but most international bureaucrats are blind to the potential.
March 21-8th: Tokyo, for a United Nations seminar on housing. Picked up wrong suitcase at Tokyo airport. Only discovered when I got to the hotel and had had a sleep. Handed ’his’ in to hotel reception and then a nightmare journey back to the airport – with all signs in Japanese, looking for the British Airways desk that had rung to say they had mine. All closed. Finally gave up and came back to the hotel exhausted. Two days later my suitcase arrived. Also visited Nagoya to talk about TFSR. The Japanese at that meeting then started a TFSR group, sending tools to Sri Lanka.
May 9-11th : visit Paris – TFSR presentation to UNESCO, thanks to Arthur.
June 29th: House of Commons Tools Seminar & Display. Sigyn attending St Mary’s for radiotherapy and Dinah Lawson (healer).
August 9th-21st: Korea – UNESCO Conference on Youth.
August 23rd – Sept 1st driving with Sigyn through France, Germany (Künzelsau – met some of the Dehner family, but could not really communicate as our German was so poor and they spoke little English). Then on to the Czech Republic (Prague, Czesky Krumlov). Sigyn amazingly well throughout.
September 10th: Surprise party for Mary Tolfree (TFSR) on board the ship Shieldhall in Southampton port. (She thought she was going to a meeting of the Women’s Institute to talk about TFSR finances.)
An incident at the Haslar Detention Centre that made me very proud of Sigyn. The men held there were not criminals, but detained immigrants. However the male staff treated them as prisoners, mainly because their own background was in the prison service. The teachers, though, were mainly women and of liberal opinions, so not much love was lost between the two types of staff. One day, staff learned that a new Governor wished to speak to them in the main hall. They assembled there, male officers in the front seats, teachers behind. The Governor spoke about his plans for the Centre and ended by asking if there were any questions, in a tone that implied that he did not expect any. Sigyn put up her hand and said, ‘Yes, I have a question.’ Prison officers looked back over their shoulders to see who was making so bold, while Sigyn asked, ‘Do we need to keep the name Haslar Detention Centre? Many of our students feel embarrassed to write home to their families because of the shame of having to give a return address showing that they are held in detention, like prisoners. Surely a better name could be found.’ The Governor then spoke at length as to how it was impossible to change the name and ended rather abruptly with, ‘Well, I hope that answers your question.’ ‘Well, actually, no,’ said Sigyn and went on to deal with some of his points. At this, red-faced officers stared round at her angrily. Mere teachers were not expected to take such liberties! But some time later, it was arranged that the men could use a neutral mail return address when writing home. We were so proud of Sigyn’s courage – especially as her health was worsening badly, with constant pain in her ribs and back.
January: The radio station Classic F.M. ran a Sunday programme called ‘Classic Romance’, where half a dozen couples describe how they met and fell in love. They then choose a piece of music that is close to them. The best account of the week wins a prize holiday. I sent them the story of Sigyn and me meeting in Paris, and learned that we had won the top prize of a weekend at a luxury London hotel, with a magnum of champagne, etc. Rather than tell her anything about it, I decided to have the radio on in the bedroom and for her to hear it live as the programme went out. However, on the Sunday morning, I forgot about the programme till the last moment and when I switched on, our item was just starting. But Sigyn had something to tell me herself. I asked her to wait a moment, but she wanted as badly for me to listen to her, as I wanted her to hear the radio broadcast. Finally, I was forced to say, ‘Please, just shut up and LISTEN!’ – language I had never used to her before. She forgave me, and we had a wonderful few days together in London.
This was a painful and difficult spring – for Sigyn and for all of us. Her coughing grew worse and worse – one night, I reckon, she coughed 20,000 times. She continued her Gerson juicing diet, with a press that squeezed the juice out of a variety of vegetables and some fruit. Some of the juices, especially broccoli and cabbage, tasted vile, but she persisted valiantly and kept detailed records.
June 8th: With Sigyn’s agreement and encouragement, for which I am deeply grateful, I buy Amity of Peacehaven, 50/50 with Arthur. A lovely little ketch with a stern cabin and wheel steering, though in very poor shape, especially the interior with sagging ceiling panels and a general feeling of damp and mould. But the potential is there. She is strong and sturdy and just the right length at 29 feet. Surprise trip out on Portsmouth Harbour for boys to “discover” Amity. Thanks to conspiratorial help from Barry Hicks (teacher at St Vincent’s) we use his boat to drift alongside Amity and I exclaim, ‘Now that is just the kind of boat I have always dreamed of. Shall we go aboard?’ Lads protest: ‘Dad. We can’t!‘ I suggest that we could, just for a bit, and clamber onto the deck, then am ‘surprised’ to find the door open to the wheelhouse. Reluctantly the boys come on board too and one by one discover items here and there on the shelves, bunks or by the steering wheel that look incredibly familiar. A book almost identical to one of Adam’s favourites, a penknife that could almost be Dan’s, a ball with a scrape on it amazingly similar to Björn’s prize cricket ball. We scratch our heads and discuss the possible explanations. It could just be an astonishing coincidence – or could there be some other, more rational factor? At last the penny drops – the boat is ours – and we ring the ship’s bell loud in jubilation!
Sigyn, terribly ill, is in and out of hospital. But she is courageous and refuses the option of chemotherapy, so she remains beautiful and keeps her lovely personality. In April, the African National Congress (ANC), won the first free and fair election in South Africa’s history – to the delight of all who supported the anti-apartheid campaign over so many years. The ANC designed a new national flag for their country and TFSR celebrated these developments on 27th April with an event at Netley Marsh. For this, despite her great pain, Sigyn worked late into the night sewing a large flag with the new South African colours and it flew bravely on the TFSR flag-pole the following day.
Daniel is preparing for his Finals at Cardiff and we don’t tell him too much about his mother’s condition as we fear it will mess up his examinations. Adam is in his second year at Oxford.
Our lovely Sigyn dies early on the morning of 28th June with the boys, myself and sister Eivor around her bed. [See her contribution to Fighting Spirit. Published by Scarlet Press 1.6.1996]. We are all desolate, but also relieved to have her pain and suffering ended. I think over all we have shared from that first meeting in Paris – Ethiopia, Sweden, our three wonderful sons, Little Anglesey, Tools for Self Reliance, Sigyn’s teaching and artwork. They have been very full and good years and Sigyn has been a much loved mother and wife, and time and again the “conscience” of our family.
A spooky moment a day later when Eivor happens to call out ‘Daniel’ from another room. Her voice is so similar to Sigyn’s that for a moment he thinks he hears his mother. In the days that followed, we had a huge response from family friends and work colleagues, by letter and at a ceremony at Portchester, which we organised ourselves. Two hundred attended the cremation on 4th July and later we held a gathering in the Alverstoke Church hall with many friends and loved ones giving tributes to a fantastic wife, mother, teacher and friend.
For a week in July, to put the traumatic months behind us, to get away from Little Anglesey and find distraction in a completely different landscape, Daniel, Arthur, Little Arthur and I hired a yacht on the Norfolk Broads. Sailing those waters, under vast skies, past reed beds and windmills, was therapeutic and just what we needed. On one day, though, Dan and I jumped ship before dawn to drive cross-country from Lowestoft to Cardiff, for him to collect his robes, receive his degree – an Upper Second in French at Cardiff University, eat an Indian meal – and then head back to Norfolk.
In August Adam went to Uganda for a month, to refugee camps on borders of Rwanda (genocide ending) and the Congo. With help from Dan, Ian Backhouse and others we sank heavy concrete moorings for Amity in Weevil creek, using a home-made raft. A hard and very muddy job, but satisfying to see her on 13th October swinging at her new moorings on the incoming tide.
Still fundraising for TFSR in the autumn, based at Village Road. Later, I flew to Ghana to prepare for the All-Africa Tools Exhibition, Conference & Competition.
Half-millionth tool event in Birmingham with Bishop Trevor Huddleston making a second BBC Week’s Good Cause Appeal on the same day. Excellent. For part of the evening’s entertainment, I had written a short musical, That’s What Tools Are For, in which Eddie Grimble, Ian Backhouse, Mark Smith and others “starred”. Planted a tree for Sigyn at Haslar Detention Centre 11th November. Remembrance Day.
November 22nd to December 7th: All-Africa Tool-making Conference, Exhibition and Competition at the Kokrobite centre some miles west of Accra. Mary Tolfree a wonder at ensuring all the financial and admin arrangements, and Harry Iles a star in moving the conference along when speakers started to read from endless formal scripts. Very diplomatically, he pointed out that all the people in the hall were experts in their own way and we should swap ideas in little groups rather than deliver monologues. He did it so skilfully that no one was offended. Thank you, Harry! A brilliant event, especially the exhibition of good quality tools made by village blacksmiths from 22 African countries – Zimbabwe to Mali, Sierra Leone to Tanzania. First time ever in Africa. A great way to finish my time with TFSR (though I continued to work for another six months).
December: A wearisome drive to Stockholm, the lads in our old maroon Peugot and a mysterious red light flashing on the dashboard all the way, to spend Christmas with Goran & Rita. Really, such true friends! On the way home, in Germany at night, we leave the autobahn by mistake, but navigate country roads by the stars until we rejoin it an hour or so later.