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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Odd Shoes and Medals - reminiscences

Over a dozen years ago, my wife Jennifer and I made friends with Ronald Hudson and his wife Maria. They had a villa in Spain and we were intending to emigrate there. As time passed, I learned a little of Ron’s past – and it turned out to be quite remarkable. As a young lad he was fostered by about fourteen families. Although he was reminiscing about being a kid in the Second World War, his recall was clear. He always wanted to write his life story, but felt he wasn’t able to ‘get it down right’.
Ron and his sister Audrey

Some years after my wife Jen and I moved to Spain, I settled in to writing for magazines and began selling the occasional novel. Moderate successes. Enough to consider offering to ghost-write Ron’s story. We began in 2008. It would be intermittent, this project, because Ron only visited his villa in Spain a couple times a year, as he still worked (though well over state retirement age).

So for roughly two hours per visit, I typed while he dictated his memories. In the interim, he would jot down reminiscences as they occurred to him back in UK. Neither he nor Maria were adept at working on the manuscript on the computer, so there was no interplay or work via email.

I kept a record of our sessions. There were two in October 2008, two in 2009, three in 2010, and two in 2011. When I’d finally completed the manuscript, amounting to some 38,000 words, I sent it to UK for Ron to print off and read through. He also supplied a number of photographs.

Then it was time to find a publisher. As Ron was over eighty, we didn’t feel it was sensible to run the gauntlet of submission and rejection. He wanted to see his memoire in print. So I loaded it to Amazon’s Createspace and found the entire process hassle-free.

Where does the title come from?

Here’s an excerpt from the section, 'Earlier Ron', which explains the ‘odd shoes’:

School days were a mixture of pain and joy. I remember being pleased when the River Trent overflowed and flooded the streets and houses of Branston. I should have felt sorry for the people, but I guess, but I was too young to make that leap of empathy. They were in quite a pickle over it even though it was a fairly regular occurrence.
            Of an evening, Gran would say, ‘The drains outside are gurgling.’ This was her cue to put bread, milk and candles on the stairs as by morning the whole of the back room and at least two stair-treads would be under water.
            I was as pleased as Punch because I thought this meant no school!
Why didn’t I like school? It seemed like all boys and possibly most girls were always glad to get off school. Even so, there were some aspects that I did like, such as the company of my peers and eating the ‘fallers’ – apples in the ditch along the roadside of Homelake. School was filled with the constant embarrassments, the lack of any encouragement at home, the constant feeling of inferiority, I suppose.
            Back to the flood. Granddad put on his wellies and carried me on his back to a dry raised part of the street’s pavement. So, after all, I didn’t miss school because of the floods.
            Little did I realise those wellies were to be mine one day when my shoes wore out. Gran had tried her best, I suppose. At one time I’d worn odd shoes and attempted blacking the brown one to match. At least Wellingtons were hardwearing. Rain or shine, they were the only footwear I had, even if far too big for me. They rubbed the back of my knees until the skin was red raw. I rolled them up or down to relieve the pain of the chaffing. And holes kept appearing in the heels of my socks so I peeled them under my foot each day and inevitably the socks got shorter and didn’t protect my legs from the walls of the abrasive rubber wellies.
             I don’t understand why people have fetishes about rubber; my early memories are just plain horrible.
The medals were presented to him when he served in the Royal Navy, in the section titled, 'Later Ron'. The concluding part is called Ron the Gas, as his post-naval career was working with gas appliances, very possibly the oldest qualified gas fitter in the country.

Odd Shoes and Medals
Ron Hudson
Non-fiction from Manatee Books. “War broke out when I was eight. My short pants had holes in the backside, which was doubly embarrassing because I didn’t have any underwear and anyone could see my bum. So I used to walk sideways to school if any other kids or grown-ups came by. Miss Grafton, the teacher, let me stay at my desk during playtime to avoid embarrassing exposure. She liked me a lot and I used to take love letters for her to an American soldier. “

These reminiscences cover a span of over seventy years and will jog several memories and remind people that the so-called poverty of present times is nothing compared to the 1940s and 1950s.

Young Ron and his sister Audrey were shunted from one home to another, in excess of a dozen, ‘fostered’ by ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, and indeed for many years the pair of them didn’t know where the other sibling lived!  His absentee father barely gave him a thought – though he did present him with ill-fitting clogs, once…

Occasionally, he was shown kindness and, despite moments of great despair, he carried on and eventually joined the Royal Navy. Ironically, for the first time he found a place he could call his home: the navy. He travelled the world, saw the sights, and ‘learned a trade’. When he was demobbed prematurely by politicians, he embarked on a career in British Gas, and has a few amusing tales to tell about (nameless) customers! He set up his own business and became the oldest registered gas fitter in the country, until he retired at age eighty.

As told to Nik Morton

Paperback, 156 pages, 6x9ins
Amazon com here
* - 'wellies' - waterproof, rubber wellingtons




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