I officially moved into Fish Dam Lane on 2 March 1989 although I had persuaded the Estate Agents to give me a key a week before that date. The house was in a terrible condition with windows rotting, the back door swinging on one hinge and every room in need of a thorough clean. I had signed a form saying I would not make any alterations , fit carpets etc but as a single mum of 2 kids I had to do all I could to make the move easier. I had £5000 with which to make the house habitable which may sound a lot but given the vast amount of work needed it wasn’t nearly enough, so everything that I could do for myself I had to.
During that week my friend Joyce and I scrubbed the place from top to bottom and the carpets from the house I was selling were fitted. It must have been an amusing sight to see my little black mini pull up on Carr Street with a roll of carpet tied on the roof – luckily I was never stopped by the police despite doing this trip several times with each carpet.
The night before the move Mark who was soon to be 14 had wept in his room as he did not want to move into “that dump”- quite a considerable change from the comfort which we were leaving. The day of the move was a nightmare. The heavens opened and the rain was driving horizontal. I had arranged for someone to undertake the move on an hourly rate which was a mistake as they took hours to do the move. My ex husband had planned to get a friend with a lorry to empty the garage. sheds and coal bunkers but let me down at the last minute so I had to pay the removal men to do the extra work and it took them all day.
Meanwhile the first of the builders were working on the house, fitting guttering and down pipes as there were none at all on the house. By 5pm when the removal men had gone the kitchen floor was flooded all the way to the hall. I sat on a chair in the kitchen and surveyed my new home. The kitchen held a sink and that was the sum total of its fittings. It clung to the wall by the taps and was propped up by 2 slats of wood and the whole thing wobbled as I filled the kettle to make my first coffee. Yet despite the day and the amount of work I knew was required I was excited. This was a new start for me and the kids and I had a vision of how it could be. I little realised at this time that it would be 3 years before the house was completed.
The first time I saw Eddie he was framed in the gate at the bottom of the garden. My first thoughts were “Wow what a large man”. He seemed taller than the gate. I went out and introduced myself and that was that. I had to get back on with my daily routine. I was in my final year of my degree studying at Manchester. Fortunately I only had to attend 3 days per week but each day had to be planned to precision. My old car was not up to the drive there so I had to use the bus and the trains. This meant an early start to catch the bus into Barnsley, a train from there to Sheffield then onwards to Manchester. I would arrive at Oxford Road Station with just enough time to run to my lectures. The reverse journey was more stressing as I always wanted to get home before the kids got home from school and I would run up the steps at the station 2 at a time, praying that I wouldn’t miss the train.
Back at home I was busy on the house, arranging for workmen to do the jobs that I couldn’t do and meanwhile tackling the ones that I could , along with getting the garden into shape. I made so many trips to the tip I became good friends with the old guy who worked there who used to joke with me and pull my leg as he couldn’t believe all the rubbish was from just my small house.
One afternoon I was working in the back garden creating a border in the lawn so that I could plant flowers. Eddie came round and said how he could help while I was at university as he had little else to do. At that point I was tempted to say I could manage. I am fiercely independent and wanted to do it all myself but I looked at him and realised it was important to him. I thanked him for his offer and explained what I was planning to do. The next day on my return from Manchester it was finished.
Eddie would stand and chat as I continued to work in the garden but it was just general talk as polite neighbours do. The ice broke one day when I was working in the side garden. It was full of trees which were threatening the foundations and I had taken time to slowly lop them down. Other neighbours had taken away the large trunks to burn on their fires and all that remained were the roots which had to be dug out. Eddie had been working on getting some out when I was at college as he had started by this time in taking the initiative and not asking if he could help. It was as if once having been told he could help he took it to mean he could help anytime and of course I was so grateful for this. I had picked away at a chunk of root which seemed ready to pull out of the ground. I grabbed hold of it and pulled hard and nothing seemed to happen. I stood up to take a deep breath and then tugged some more. Just the point that I thought it was going to need more digging out it gave way – and I did a backward roll into the massive hole where other roots had been dug out. My arms and legs were everywhere and Eddie started laughing and just couldn’t stop. I started laughing too despite not being sure where I hurt most and it took me a good few minutes to get back on my feet.
A few evenings later I had planned to have fire to burn all the remaining bits of wood. I waited till it was dark and lit the fire and Eddie came round to watch . We chatted a little and I came indoors to get a beer as it was thirsty work. I hesitated as I took the beer out of the fridge. It would have been rude to not offer one to Eddie but I felt he would refuse. However I thought I would take two out and it would save me running back in for my second one. To my surprise he accepted it and we were out in the garden each swigging beer from the bottle. Well of course we had another- and another and once the beer ran out I opened a bottle of wine. By this time the fire was embers and we sat on the front garden wall. Several times Eddie got up and said “I have a bottle of something you should try” and off he went into his cellar and brought out glasses of spirits he had brought back form his travels. That was the first time I had ever tasted Armangnac and boy is it lovely.
For the first time that evening we talked properly. It was the start of a very honest friendship where we both felt we could talk about ourselves to the other. As we sat there he said to me “You know Chris I used to think neighbours were barmy sitting on the step drinking a cup of tea and look at me here now sitting on the wall drinking Armangnac- you have revolutionised my life” I laughed at that point but relating this now my thoughts are tinged with many emotions. We sat and chatted and watched them all coming home from the pub. He began to tell me about his life and on we sat. I also told him bits about my life too and the night wore on. Finally I asked him what time it was – it was almost 4am and the birds were singing , dawn was breaking. We chuckled at the time and I stood up to go and Oh my goodness I realised how much I had drunk- yet Eddie who had consumed the same was as steady as a judge – I do believe he has hollow legs!
Eddie had a knack at laughing at downfalls. I remember when I was decorating the kitchen – or should I say preparing it to decorate. It was a mammoth task. The walls were covered in wall boards and beneath this was several layers of paper. The ceiling had been painted in that textured paint and I spent about 60 hours painstakingly peeling it off the ceiling. I got to the last patch and the ceiling fell in! I was devastated. Not only did it mean expense but all those hours of hard work wasted. Eddie came round and laughed and I suppose others might think that was rude, but it was his way of saying keep smiling it’s only material stuff and of course it is and we should laugh in the face of adversity more.
If Eddie had lived to be a hundred I could never have repaid him for all the help he gave me. As the boiler aged the thermostat became faulty and it was unsafe to leave the fire lit unattended, but each day the kids would come home from school and Eddie would have lit the fire for them so that the house was warm and welcoming to come home to. If any dishes were left they would be washed up by the time I got home form work and he was always tidying the garden up. I called him the Butler and he called me Boss.
Laura and Mark loved him so much and he never forgot their birthdays and at Christmas time he would buy us all a present. The first Christmas present he bought me was a lovely watch which I still have. I was overwhelmed as no one had ever been so generous with me before. I was also a little embarrassed by the gift but he said to me “Chris you deserve some good things in your life” and those words echo with me still.
It really is a special friendship which we had. Eddie was more a father than my own ever was . I remember when Laura fell pregnant I dreaded telling him as I knew he would be upset. I saw the tears in his eyes as I told him but very quickly he said “Don’t worry Chris this child will be loved” and of course he was so right. Olivia has brought so much joy and she idolised Eddie too. She stayed here until she was about 2 and she would climb on the kitchen waste pipe and shout through his kitchen window “Eddie tum out here and play with me” and of course he would oblige.
As they years unfolded I heard more and more about Eddie’s life and the stories of Monk Bretton life. The only part of his life which he did not want to to talk about was the war years. The only time he made any reference to them was when Abbey died. He loved my dog as if she were his own and spent hours with her, taking her for long walks every day right up until about the year 2000 when the walking came to much for him. The weekend before we had to take her to the vets she was very ill. We had sat up with her on the Saturday night until gone 3am as we felt she wouldn’t last the night. On the Sunday Eddie came round to take her for a trip round his garden. Much to Margaret and Colin’s disgust he used to let her in his garden to empty herself. She could barely walk and my first reaction was to stop him but I felt he had to do this so kept quiet. He came back 5 minutes later opened the door to let her in and rushed away. I went round to see him as I knew how upset he was and he was in tears. I told him that on Monday I was going to take her to the vets unless she had gone naturally. He understood but told me not to tell him until she came home and he was adamant she had to come home but of course we had planned this anyway. The following evening we made the sad trip to the vets and brought her body home and laid her in her basket so that Cass and Blaize could see that she had gone. I went and told Eddie she was home but he didn’t come round so after half an hour Pete dug her grave and we buried her in the garden. Just as we had finished Eddie came round to see her but was sadly too late. And it was at this point he briefly spoke of the horrors of the war.
It was always hard to buy Eddie a present as he never had need for much. I always said he needed a nice picture or a mirror to go over the fireplace but he always said he would rather put a dartboard there. For his birthday we would go out for lunch and he loved these trips out. We would go to a pub and have a lovely meal and then I would take him on a Grand Tour, always directed by him. He would say just turn left here Chris and drive up to Blacker Hill or wherever. We generally did a massive circuit of Barnsley and he would relate tales of nights out in this or that pub, or stories of his working days when he was a driver. He loved our outings but the last time we went out and I asked where he wanted to tour he just wanted to come straight home so I knew how tired he was getting and on Easter Sunday he declined to come out at all.
It was only the last few years that he would let me do much to help him really. I would bring him shopping from the supermarket and do odd jobs but he wouldn’t let me do much. If he wanted to buy anything big or heavy I would take him in the car. It was always a struggle with him being so big and I always had to belt him in. When he bought his leather chair he had planned to buy it from a mail order company. I suggested he actually go and try them out as with such a key purchase you do need to know that it’s comfortable. He deliberated for a few days then asked me to take him to Roberts in Cudworth. I made him sit longer than he would have. He sat in the chair and immediately wanted to get out of it. I insisted he sit a while longer to be sure.
He had to wait 6 weeks for it to be made and delivered and joked about his death then. He told me if the Coroner came before the chair arrived I had to ring Roberts and tell them to deliver it here. The day after it arrived I popped in to see how he was. He had it covered in old torn blankets. I laughed my head off and got on to him. I said to him , “Eddie I’m sorry but there’s no way you are going to wear that out before you go so for pity’s sake get rid of those old cloths and have the pleasure of it”
The day before Eddie died he was in hospital but I wasn’t aware of this and I thought I was opening his door to find him there. That was a terrible day for me as with each door I had to open I was praying please let me find him in dignity. That day I cleaned up a little and looked for the key to open the windows to let some fresh air in. I looked in the drawer by the telephone but couldn’t see the key and didn’t like to pry too much. I thought if it’s in here it will be obvious. His watches and hankies were in there and his money as usual. I had been in the drawer many times as if I was going shopping he would say take £10 or whatever out of the drawer and I would always drop his change in there as requested. A medallion caught my eye and I picked it up to look at it. It was a St Luke’s First Aid badge and had Eddie’s name in it. I quickly put it back in the drawer and thought I must ask Eddie when he got it as it was one thing he had never mentioned.
Well of course I ever got the chance to ask him as the next morning he had passed but a very strange thing happened. Later that same day that he died I was tidying my filing cabinet and found my bible. The ribbon marker was set at the Book of Luke .
Well what can I say now. I really just wanted to share some memories with you of how we developed such a loving friendship. His legacy will live on in so many happy memories and may I close in saying how blessed I feel to have had Eddie in my life.