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Piano music Chopin Scriabine Busoni Vernon Warner-flying, pigeons  
  
 
 
 
 

 History part two-Fireguards / Gliding /Miracles / Cecil Lewis / Marriage / Malvern /part one
 

Fireguards

When the war was over I had an instinctive urge to get back to my Steinway but it was soon obvious that I needed several years of intensive piano practice if I was ever to realise my ambition to become a concert performer.  Vernon Warner was still shedding pupils which he passed on to me and it would not be long before he arranged for me to take over his teaching at Stocks, the selective girls’ school near Tring.  This took one full day a week and was very pleasant. But I needed to earn more and fate was about to step in and steer me in another direction. 

An uncle in Birmingham, past-owner of the hardware emporium Frederick Jeavons, wrote to me to ask if I could design a rat-trap as the famous ‘Monarch’ which was no longer being made.  I tried various designs and discovered that rats would only willingly enter a Trap where they could see an unobstructed way right through it.  So was born the KLEERUN TRAP CO.  I found a willing manufacturer in High Wycombe and it was not long before we were sending these traps in hundreds to FREDERICK JEAVONS to be marketed at 13/6d each.  Jeavons required 50% marketing costs, to I was getting 6/9d cash making a reasonable profit.  Then came government intervention!  Wilson was now premier and he decreed that everything must be for export and my orders for steel wire were deflected to Canada.  I could still get the steel but now had to order it via Canada and, of course, pay the extra cost of getting it here.  This meant a price increase and the time soon came when the trap became too expensive.  But fate was not yet finished with me!  A famous burns surgeon was staying in Lane End when he spotted one of my rat traps.  “That is the mesh I am looking for” he said.  There was, he told me, no requirement in law to fit guards to electric fires and tiny children were often brought to him with terrible burns after gripping the glowing elements.  He had managed to get a bill through parliament rectifying this and he asked if I could arrange to guard every LCC electric fire.  This I did with the co-operation of the LCC who provided me with blue-prints of all their electric fires.  This was followed by orders from several electricity boards and the works at High Wycombe were kept busy turning out guards by their thousands. (We call them ANN-D fireguards).  This was followed up by the gas boards and soon these were added to the production line.  We also made the BRADDEL guard for open fires with a considerable demand for it from a Belfast hospital.  I knew this would soon finish as all manufacturers were now required to guard their own fires, but it was a profitable life while it lasted.

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Gliding

The Booker Gliding Club had been formed at my wartime airfield a few miles away, and as my elder son, William, was learning to fly during his last years at Leighton Park I decided it was time I considered renewing my flying licence and be able to help him should he need it.  After 16 years of no flying I was pretty rusty, even in a Tiger Moth, and required an hour or so of instruction before I was happy on my own.  In due course I qualified as an instructor and spent the next 30 years instructing on gliders or flying their tug aircraft for them when ever I had the time.  Being impatient by nature I never had any desire for cross-country flying with the risk of landing out and waiting for someone to come and fetch me with the trailer.  To qualify as an instructor one had to do a solo cross-country, a flight of 5 hours and a certain minimum height gain.  I chose Cambridge for my cross-country trip and with plenty of thermals on the way ended up 5000 feet higher than the start (at 2000 ft) at Booker. 

As a sport I found gliding more appealing than power-flying.  And in many ways the motor-glider has the best of both worlds.  I bought a SPERBER RF5 with my friend Rolf Pasold of Ladybird garments fame and enjoyed many, many lovely trips with Ann, my wife.  One specially I remember was when William flew the RF5 to Nitray in France for a get-together of RF aircraft at the factory where they were built and Ann and I drove there in our MG during a splendid holiday in the Loire valley.  I was then able to explore the Chateaux of that lovely part of France from the air.  William flew it back to Booker and Ann and I returned in our car together with a good supply of Chateau Nitray’s excellent wine.

I also taught both my other children to fly – Linden achieving her 300km flight in France and her Gold height (18,000 ft) in Scotland.  James, my younger son was up to solo flying by the time he was 10, but rather than wait for the legal limit of 16 decided to take up motor cycle trials riding at which he soon became an expert, so repeating my own life but a considerably younger age.

Soon after I qualified as a gliding instructor I seemed to concentrate on the Tuesday evenings flying group until it had become “my” evening and was to remain so for the next 30 years.  Gradually I moulded it to my liking – only having instructors who were able to land ‘short’ -  before the launch point – and so avoid the unproductive time while gliders were retrieved from landing far down the airfield to clear the way for the next launch.  This had a beneficial effect on Club funds and made it possible to get in 53 ‘air experience’ flights between 6.00pm and dusk one memorable summer evening.  This was never at the expense of shortening a flight if a thermal was met – when we would limit the flight to half an hour.  I also asked my instructors not to indulge in aerobatics.  Here, I regret, I was not always as successful as I should like to have been.  I must pay special tribute and thanks to my chief tug pilot, Shep, a vital part of a successful team.

When Norman Smith became our CFI he and I gave an exhibition of dual aerobatics during our annual show.  We each flew a K13 and demonstrated dual loops, stall turns and formation flying (all without any radio contact) – then chased each other about the sky.  When Norman left to take up commercial flying we lost a valuable asset.

I think it is a mistake to put highly-qualified power-pilots in charge of gliding clubs.  The use of the rudder around the stall is a case in point.  In a glider the rudder can be the most useful control a pilot possesses; in a powered aircraft it is little used – but it could be used, and beneficially too, if the pilots hadn’t forgotten how to use it.

In 1993 I flew, as usual, with the CFI for my annual check to see if my reactions were still OK and he passed me, but told me I must take a new set of lessons as instructional methods had changed.  In future when a pupil made a faulty approach on the circuit (for example) I should say “I have control” and take over – sorting out the problem in a de-briefing afterwards.  How anyone could learn to fly safely under such conditions if he is never allowed to make a mistake is beyond my comprehension.  It would certainly take much longer and cost him a lot more and swell the club funds.  Perhaps that was the object!  But I did feel that at 84 I was, maybe, too old to be flying people who were not fully capable of coping – should something happen to me.  And so, via twists and turns and many diversions I finally returned to my Steinway and produced the CDs you can find on this website!

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Miracles

For many years I have been interested in miracles – not just lucky moments which we all experience from time to time, but those moments when a logical explanation cannot explain them.  Here is an example:
During the last war London was festooned with barrage balloons.  These were balloons filled with hydrogen and tethered to winches by thin steel cables and flown at 5000 feet.  They had an explosive charge fixed to them about 50 feet short of the balloon and were effectively stopping German aircraft from low-level bombing.  They brought down many aircraft and also many V1s or ‘flying bombs’ later in the war.  Occasionally one of these balloons would break loose from its winch and set out on its own cross-country trip downwind trailing several thousand feet of cable.

I was a flying instructor during the war and on 25 September 1942 I sailed into one of these drifting balloons when flying a Magister aircraft, together with a pupil, just north of Aylesbury.  The balloon was in cloud and one would never spot a cable at 100 mph.  We were flying at 2500 feet – some 500 feet below cloud base.  Now for the miracle:  The cable struck the Magister’s left wing hard against the fuselage and proceeded to saw into it.  The engine continued to run at 2000 rpm and with no loss of power indicating no damage to the propeller.  (We had quite a long battle and were brought down to 1000 feet before breaking free).  On landing back at Booker a thorough examination showed no scuffing on the wing and just the single gash which reached about half-way through the main wing spar.  The propeller was unmarked.  The cable must therefore have passed through the propeller’s arc (about 10 feet) when the propeller was pretty close to top-dead-centre.
Now you computer wizards work this out!  The news of this episode reached JF Roxburgh, my headmaster at Stowe, and he wrote to me to say he had given the mathematical problem to the top maths and physics teachers.  They failed to solve it.
The only satisfactory answer is that it was a miracle, and I stick to this, especially after reading Sylvia Brown’s “The Other Side and Back”.  She is psychic and explains how these things happen.  You disbelievers have a long way to go!

Cecil Lewis
During the early years of the war Cecil Lewis came to Booker as an instructor.  Cecil, who wrote ‘Sagittarius Rising’ about his flying experiences in the 1914/18 war, lived at Frieth, half a mile from where Ann and I lived, but apart from this our lives came together in a somewhat dramatic way.  Apart from my flying duties I had taken on the job of entertainments officer and Cecil loved producing sketches.  I got to know him well and he chose me for some of the more exciting flying duties he was also involved in.  One must remember that there were moments in the war when the possibility of stuka attacks were quite likely and the powers-that-be decided a simulated attack by our own home-based aircraft would not do the citizens of Marlow any harm  A programme was arranged by Cecil who asked me to accompany him in another Tiger Moth.  The proceedings started by a ‘bomb’ dropped by me at 8.30 am on the Pedestal at West Wycombe.  I did this exactly on time to complete silence.  I expect the fellow with the matches was still asleep!  Half an hour later Cecil and I found the RP post in Marlow – at Quoiting Square – and by repeated dives almost down to ground level, we quickly cleared it.  I flew as his ‘inside left’ position with my wingtip only a few feet from his fuselage.  We then flew up the High Street at dangerously low level before flying close to Henley and then back up the river with our tailskids inches from the water.  Then came a moment I will never forget.
Would Cecil or would he not fly under Marlow bridge?  We had no radio in those days but I had decided to keep close to Cecil’s Tiger and we approached the bridge as almost one unit (there was another Tiger Moth in our dive-bombing unit – a F/LT Shepherd – but he had remained well outside to the right throughout).  Just short of the bridge Cecil pulled up in a climbing turn to the left and we then faced the church spire:  Cecil went to the right of this, but I could see there was just no room for me between Cecil and the spire and I pulled away and went to the left of it.  But it was far too close to have been planned.  I thought then, and still think over sixty years later, that Cecil had forgotten that I was tucked under his left wing as it were.  He preferred not to talk about it afterwards.  But I never let him forget it.
To this day I still look at that magnificent church and its spire with especial affection whenever I am in Marlow.

Marriage

When I left the instructors training course at Cambridge aerodrome those of us who had done well were told we would be given a choice where we would prefer to be posted.  I had done well and asked to be posted to Cambridge EFTS which was on the other side of the airfield.  I was also offered a commission which was also to a few of the other successful pilots.  I dared not accept the Commission as this would have blown my eyesight subterfuge.  Another successful candidate, Cormack, had been posted to Booker EFTS and decided he would like to have me with him and arranged to have my posting changed to Booker.  I didn’t really mind although I would lose many friends I had made at Cambridge.  My chief relief was to be still flying.  Cormack had accepted a Commission, but I couldn’t explain, of course, why I wouldn’t do the same.
Here one can see the start of the working of a miracle.  I have stated elsewhere my strong belief in the writings of the psychic Sylvia Browne “The Other side and Back” and that of Dr Daniel Fry “The White Sands Incident”.  A reader of both books will see at once the connection to what was happening to me. But the miracle had only just begun.  At Booker on the Mess notice board I noticed there was to be a piano music concert taking place at a nearby village of Frieth organised by a Mrs Sewell and her daughter Phyllida.  I went along and found two grand Steinways and a room with about 50 people.  Amongst these was Mrs Ursula Creighton who told me she had been a pupil of Busoni – one of the greatest pianists of the time.  I seemed to have arrived at a sort of time-warp – but there was still more to come.  Mrs Creighton told me she lived near Lane End village and was therefore nearer the airfield and she also had a Steinway Grand which I was welcome to play on whenever I had the spare time to do so.
The miracle was now all but complete.  What she didn’t tell me was she also had an attractive daughter, Ann.  The miracle was now rapidly completing!  Ann and I were married in 1943 and had a happy married life together for the next 53 years.
In 1982 Pyllida Sewell lent me one of her Steinways to replace my own which had been reduced to ashes when part of our house was burnt down.  It is on this piano I recorded my two CDs.

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Malvern

During the late twenties and the thirties The Malvern Festival was created.  This took place at the Malvern Winter Gardens and Assembly Rooms and was run by Barry Jackson and the Birmingham Repertory Company.  The Plays they produced were centered around Bernard Shaw, J B Priestley and Bridie and gathered many well-known actors and actresses amongst them being Robert Donat, Ernest Thesiger, Alastair Sim, Yvonne Arnaud, George Arliss and others. 

I was asked to arrange the social side of this galaxy of talent during mornings and in fact whenever any of them were unoccupied with acting.  How I got myself in that position my failing memory cannot answer, but I remember many events in which I was involved – a game of table-tennis with Alastair Sim, Yvonne Arnaud and the actor who played “The Mayor of Colwall ” as the other players.  I assure you it was as far from a serious game as it was possible to get.  Yvonne Arnaud had given up her career as a concert pianist in favour of acting because “the piano was no challenge to me” and she showed me a letter from Cortot where he remarked “you are able to do without any practise what it takes me hours to do”.   Yvonne agreed to give a piano recital and asked me to help choose a programme.  I asked if she could include Chopin’s Barcarolle and she agreed if I would take her to my home “to run through a few difficult bars” on my piano.  As a struggling pianist I learnt a valuable lesson here, that what you achieve in life depends on how you overcome difficulties on the way.  When you have no difficulties to overcome you lack a challenge – as was the case of Yvonne and the piano – she instinctively turned elsewhere for a purpose in her life and she chose comedy acting, and in this she was a great success.  Future echoes of this syndrome appear in Sylvia Browne’s book “The Other Side and Back” (see page 18).

 All the actors loved JB Priestley’s plays but they did not like his attitude to the actors. It was the traditional rule that the playwright gave a bouquet to his leading lady on a first night.  Priestley would have none of this and I noticed he was generally on his own taking coffee in the Winter Gardens.

Colwall is a small and lovely village on the other side of the Malvern Hills and would certainly never have sported a mayor.  But some of the actors thought otherwise and one of them dressed up as a mayor with chain of office etc, and I was asked to conduct them up Church Street pointing out the historic buildings to a very “ignorant” mayor on the way.  It was all quite hilarious although a lot of the public thought differently and our laughter often met with “don’t laugh – he is doing his best”.  We finished in the pub next to Woodyatts Garage which resulted, for me, a severe ticking off from my mother for being seen in a pub – “Your father has a high reputation in Malvern and you should not be seen in a public house”.  Times change!  And so have the ethics of public swimming baths.  The Winter Gardens had a large open-air swimming pool where actors and the public would often meet and lounge around it in the sun afterwards.  I remember Ernest Thesiger removing the top of his bathing trunks and being reproved by the pool attendant until he had replaced part of it.  “I hereby declare it is indecent to show more than one tit”.  Thesiger publicly announced.

In Bridie’s play “The Sleeping clergyman” Ernest Thesiger and Robert Donat were the chief actors. Donat I never knew but Thesiger became a friend of our family and managed to get my brother, John, a small part in a West End play just before war started and life changed for us all.  I remember Thesiger reciting a monologue into a disc recorder I owned which I often played until the disc was destroyed in our house fire in 1980.  I remember most if the words but am not certain about the adjectives at the end of one of the stanzas.


A Calif so the bards report
Convened the beauties of his court
To choose a bride of empire brief
By the emerald green silk handkerchief
Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief
Ephemeral, emerald, handkerchief

They chose the harem’s pride and pearl;
She was a Persian dancing girl
And to’rds her fluttered like a leaf
The emerald green silk handkerchief
Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief
Vapoury, drapery, handkerchief

She caught the ‘kerchief as it fell
And danced and sang so wildly well
She held the Calif’s heart in thief
With the emerald green silk handkerchief
Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief
Whimsical, flimsicle handkerchief

But all too soon, unhappy maid,
The Calif’s passion cooled and strayed
She wept her salt and scalding grief
On the emerald green silk handkerchief
Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief
Magical, tragical, handkerchief.

The Calif by her weeping bored
Twisted the ‘kerchief to a cord
And round her neck he took a reef
In the emerald green silk handkerchief
Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief
Frightening, tightening handkerchief

So dancing girls and other such
Beware of loving Kings too much
Lest you – or they – should find relief
In the emerald green silk handkerchief
Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief
Quadrangular, strangular  handkerchief

 

 The festival also had its own light music band led by Billy Gammon.  He was a fine musician whether conducting or on the piano and with the help of some of the chorus dancers invented “The Malvern Way” as a rival to the “Lambeth Walk” which was popular at the time.  It was a memorable and happy time to be alive.

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      Produced by Adrian