One of the conditions of buying a house from Hereford City Council was that we were not supposed to sell at a profit, at least, not until we’d lived in it for five years. We could, however incorporate the value of ‘improvements’ within the sale price, with the agreement of the council. I’d built a few cupboards and shelves, we were leaving behind a new, Cyril Lord, fitted carpet and there was the garden that I’d created from nothing. We were, therefore, able to put the house on the market for around £600 more than the original price we’d paid, and had no difficulty finding a buyer at that price.
Finding a house in Coventry at the same price was not as easy. For a start you could only get a building society mortgage if you had been saving with the same society for at least 3 months. That was not a problem, nor was the imposed limit of 3 times annual earnings. However the notional 10% deposit required was. Any loan against a house purchase would be a maximum of 90%, not of the asking price, but of the society’s valuation and this was almost always lower.
To give a hypothetical example, a house on the market for £4,000 could, in theory, be acquired with a deposit of £400. The building society might value it at £3850, meaning that, unless the vendor was prepared to accept a reduced offer, the purchaser would have to find £535. And then there were solicitor’s fees and agent’s commission, not forgetting any redecorating that might need doing on a house that had been occupied for a number of years.
We made one or two weekend house hunting forays to Coventry. Freda’s brother drove us there on at least one such occasion. We looked at a number of prewar houses which, once we took account of the above factors, proved to be beyond our means.
Some of these viewings provided our first experience of families whose origins were in the Indian sub-continent. It was not unusual to find that only the children spoke English. The cooking smells, too, were a revelation to us. I can honestly say that we did not find any of this objectionable. Hereford, at the time, had only a handful of families of foreign origin so we had little experience of alien cultures*. Nevertheless, the presence of such diversity was one of the attractions of the move to Coventry. Hereford, by comparison, seemed backward.
Not withstanding the cooking smells, there was no doubt the homes of Asian families in Coventry were clean, something that I could not say about some homes I’d visited on a regular basis during the preceding couple of years in my role as collector for a football based charity lottery. In the mid-fifties a producer of nickel alloys established its manufacturing base in Hereford. Over the following years the company’s old units in Birmingham and Glasgow were closed and a number of employees moved to Hereford where many were housed in the same estate on which we had purchased our house.
I recall being horrified by the condition of a few homes I visited; just a few years old yet the front doors were filthy. On at least one occasion I saw a front door with a large hole caused, like the muck, I suppose, either by a football or a boot. When the door was opened the person doing so would be followed by a blast of warm, fetid air ripe with the smell of dog.
After looking at several preowned homes it became obvious that our best bet would be to find a newly built house on a modern estate. One such was almost complete on a site previously occupied by Coventry’s greyhound stadium. The Stadium Estate was a relatively small development consisting of semi-detached and terraced houses and a couple of two story apartment blocks, between Holbrooks Lane and Lockhurst Lane on the North West outskirts of the city. There was a bus stop within comfortable walking distance, on Holbrooks Lane, making access to the city and my place of work easy.
The house we purchased was at the end of a block of 3 next to a junction between two culs-de-sac. There was very little garden at the front, most of which was occupied by a car port. There was, however, a modest area at the back which I could turn into a garden.
You will recall that I had given up on motoring upon getting married some five years previously. Working for Denco Miller I occasionally drove a car from the company pool. To get to Cambridge and Coventry for my interviews I hired a Mini. With its low centre of gravity, front wheel drive and innovative suspension, the Mini was especially good at going around corners fast. I remember boasting at how quickly I’d covered those two journeys, neither of which included sections of motorway. That network, in the UK, was still in its infancy.
For the first five months of working in Coventry I used the bus; departing Hereford on Sunday afternoon and returning Friday evening. But for the weekend of our move I needed a car to convey wife, child and those domestic essentials that we would need whilst unpacking the big stuff from the furniture van. The car rental company in Coventry didn’t have a Mini available but could rent me a brand new Morris Minor. Although new, this vehicle was based on outdated technology and was far less manoeverable than the Mini, as I was to discover to my cost.
One of the recent additions to the embryonic motorway network, the M5, crossed the road I had to travel. A new bridge had been constructed with a wide approach for maybe 50 metres either side, after which it reverted to its narrow, winding norm. It was November, dark, damp and, possibly, icy. I accelerated on the wide section of road and entered the first half of an ‘S’ bend traveling much too fast. This meant I was on the wrong side of the road approaching the second half of the ‘S’. I mounted the grass verge and was brought to a stop by the hedge.
I mentally sighed with relief and began to wonder where I could find someone to tow me out of the hedge. I felt the car start to tilt and at once I was upside down then the right way up, with the sound of water trickling somewhere.
The driver’s side door was jammed against a grass bank and would not open. I clambered across to the passenger door and exited the car. I had left the road on the right hand side so the road should now be on my left. The spin made me think the car had turned around to face the wrong way. So I climbed over the bonnet of the car to ascend the bank on the driver’s side and found to my surprise I was in a field.
When I eventually made my way onto the road I could see the lights of a building about 100 metres ahead. Somewhere, I hoped, where I might get help and access to a telephone. I realised that my back was wet. I could not sense any injury – later I discovered a graze on my left hip left by the seat belt. The building whose lights had attracted me revealed itself as a pub. I explained my situation and was pointed to a telephone from which I called the police to report the accident (necessary for the rental company’s insurance) and a neighbour to let Freda know I was unhurt but would be home late. Could she contact her brother to come and get me?
I was quite shaken by the experience and asked the pub landlady for a large whisky. She sensibly advised against alcohol until after the police had talked to me.
The following morning I had to hire another car in Hereford for our journey to Coventry. On the way we stopped to look at the Morris Minor and rescue some of my belongings from it. The back window had shattered as the car rolled into a deep ditch beyond the hedge. Everything was soaked in stagnant, evil smelling water.
There was no doubt that I was very fortunate: firstly that there was nothing coming from the other direction when I crossed the road and secondly that I was uninjured in the subsequent roll-over. The car was invisible from the road and, had I been immobilised, I could have lain there all night.
*I ought to add that one of my colleagues at Denco Miller, a highly intelligent and educated young Engineer, was Indian, having graduated from one of India’s universities before completing his Masters degree in London. As a Proposals Engineer he had set up one of the contracts that was handed to me to execute and I remember traveling with him to London for a meeting with the client and being introduced to some of his University friends at an Indian restaurant.
This story comes from my local newspaper. I like it because it illustrates how small acts of kindness add up to a great deal.
The link is to the relevant page of the newspaper and you will need Adobe to read it. The journalist responsible for the story is Lynda Kiernan.
She tells us about a grand mother who is an enthusiastic knitter. As well as fulfilling orders for knitwear for friends and relations she knits baby clothes which she delivers to the local maternity hospital. But her charity does not end there: she also fills shoe boxes with gifts to be distributed to children around the world. At the time of the article she already had 225 ready and wrapped for Christmas this year.
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It might have been different if I’d not been on a first aid course a few days before. Then I might not have thought ‘stroke‘ when my right foot and my right hand both started acting strangely. I had a good look in the mirror and my face looked okay. My speech wasn’t slurred.
That was Saturday night. Our wedding anniversary was coming up on Tuesday and we’d booked a short break away. I’m a volunteer on the Strides for Life programme the Irish Cancer Society devised for recovering patients. That means a 30 or 40 minute walk on Monday morning. I did find it surprisingly difficult keeping up with the patients but my foot seemed to be behaving itself. Driving to our holiday destination 150 km. away was a different story. My right foot kept drifting off to the right. And then I had to sign the register and fill in my name, date of birth, address, phone number and vehicle registration. I struggled to form the letters.
Tuesday I decided to phone our local doctors’ surgery to get an appointment for Friday morning. By Tuesday night, with storm Ali making any idea of sight-seeing hopeless, we decided to cut our holiday short. Back home Wednesday afternoon I rang the surgery to see if my appointment could be brought forward. At 3pm I was explaining my symptoms to the doctor. He spent 20 minutes trying out various tests, after which he decided that a CT scan might provide some answers.
“The best way to get it done straight away is to go to A&E. Go there first thing in the morning, before they get too busy, and give them this letter.”
I’m seen quite quickly and, after triage, I’m taken to a cubicle and hooked up to a heart monitor. Two different doctors carry out the same battery of tests before I’m taken to radiology for a chest x-ray and the CT scan. Another doctor comes and repeats the same tests. He tells me the CT had not showed anything significant. The consultant will be round soon to discuss my case with me. By lunch time I’m told he wants to do an MRI. This has to be booked in another hospital. It is too late to organise today.
The best way to get ahead of the long waiting list is for him to admit me so that I am an in-patient. I might get an appointment for Friday but it could be after the weekend.
That’s how I ended up in hospital in a five-bed ward with 4 very sick people, feeling a complete fraud. I’m given a meal in the afternoon and a snack in the evening. Because I’m a new admission and have not pre-ordered a meal I’m given a fry up: two sausages, a rasher, black and white pudding, toast and butter. I tell one of the nurses that I smell a conspiracy: the medical profession is always telling us such fare is bad for us and yet here they are feeding it to me!
There is a nurse allocated to our small ward full time. All 4 of the other patients are seriously ill. One in particular, Michael, needs constant supervision and one or other of the nurses is sat by his bed most of the day and night.
Friday morning I get seen on the consultant’s round. We discuss my symptoms and do the tests again. He spots my arthritic fingers and calls for more blood tests. He says he will put me on aspirin to thin my blood plus something to counter its effect on my innards. And, as an extra precaution, statins for my cholesterol.
One of his team returns shortly afterwards to take the bloods. I have a cannula in my right arm where they took bloods yesterday and which has been left in for the MRI team to inject dye. She can’t use that – something to do with the blood being contaminated with whatever is injected via the cannula. “But nothing has been injected yet,” I protest. To no avail; I have to offer up my left arm.
Then a physiotherapist arrives to do another assessment. In the afternoon I am told my appointment with the MRI team is at 10:30 Monday morning. So I’m here for the weekend, occupying a bed in our supposedly overstretched hospital system, getting 4 meals a day and constant attention, when I could be at home. All in order to by-pass an appointments system that means, as the consultant put it to me Friday morning: “If we send you home you would wait so long it might be too late.”
The MRI, when it happens is an interesting experience in itself. Certainly not for the faint-hearted or claustrophobics. Superficially like the CT in general appearance, it is larger and, whereas the CT takes just a couple of minutes, I’m in the MRI enclosure for at least 15. Throughout that time you are subjected to a strange sequence of loud noises. Tapping on a tin drum followed by loud buzzing like someone revving a high powered motor bike – 5 or 6 taps followed by the same number of revs. That sequence is repeated several times then you get the pneumatic drill for what seems like several minutes. A series of clicks and clunks is followed by a repetition of the above, not necessarily in the same order. What it all means, in terms of what the machine is actually doing, I have no idea.
All this takes place after I have been taken by taxi from my local hospital to one about 30 km away. Back to my bed some 2 1/2 hours after I left – just in time for lunch, in fact – I only have to wait a couple of hours before the consultant brings the verdict. I did, indeed, have a mini-stroke caused by a tiny clot forming in one of the capillaries in my brain. He says I will now be on aspirin for life, to keep my blood thin, with the pink pill to protect my stomach from the effects of the aspirin. I have my heart monitored over night and have to provide a blood sample before I eat anything tomorrow then I can go home.
I guess I owe our local cancer support centre, who organised the first aid course because I’m volunteering on that walking programme for their clients, and the man who delivered it, a debt of gratitude. I could quite easily have ignored those minor symptoms – indeed, I very nearly did and at times through this last weekend felt I was wasting valuable resources that could have been put to better use.
The moral of the story? Never ignore your body when it is trying to tell you something and, of course, learn the signals it sends and what they mean.