It is often said that if you want a friend, get a dog or better still two dogs. And so escaping from the sadness of my mother’s house for a few moments, I found a dog friendly cafe in the High Street of Chard. This is a gem of a place with local art on the wall, dog biscuits and people. One of my favourite radio programs is ‘The Listening Project’ and I decided that it would be wonderful to listen to someone, a complete stranger and see what they would say. So with the dogs as bait, an old film camera on the table and coffee getting cold I waited.
I know that everyone has a story and many enjoy an audience or at least a new partner to talk to and so it was not long before Les asked to sit with me leaving his wife to stroke the dogs who were now entwined around her table looking for scraps. Initially he talked about cameras, the state of the internet and Brexit and Chard Town.
He had a boxed face that looked interesting so I asked him to tell me about himself. His eyes lit up and pulling up a chair placed two large printed poems that he had composed in front of me.
He was born in 1942 in Wolston near Coventry to a single mother and was immediately adopted. He never sought to find his mother but had a very happy upbringing learning the piano till Grade 5 and then played rugby to a good standard. School did not feature too much and his job after school for the next many years was at Rootes making the Sunbeam Rapier. He stayed at the factory in Coventry and in 1976 he retired to Chard living in Coronation Street, the original one he said.
His sister meanwhile had married and had one son who became a Canon at Liverpool Cathedral. Les had lost touch with him but on a visit to Salisbury Cathedral as if by chance bumped into him. I was struggling to keep up with all the facts and stories coming out and wanted to write as I listened, but he carried on as I fiddled for a pen. I told him about my motorcycles, a love of his too.
His first motorbike was a Vespa GS and to go courting he took his wife Diana to Cornwall for ten days in the 60s, separate rooms of course he was at pains to say.
Les’ daughter by now had moved away and he had never played the piano again as since she left it had devastated him. He told me that depression hit him badly and he was hospitalised and at one stage the family was told that he had just two weeks to live. So Les decided with the help of Diana his wife to get better and he found solace in writing poems and making friends with the elderly of Chard. One day he met a fellow who made harpsichords and slowly he came out his dark place and played music and felt the happiness that would come back into his life. That is when his poems took off. They are always three verses long accompanied by a picture. He wrote a book that never sold on Amazon and gave a copy to Paddy Ashdown. That started a friendship with regular phone calls and visits.
Les’ best friend Damian worked in the Coventry factory making the Mini car and has moved to a bungalow close to him and so he made a picture and poem for him.
This is Les’ life now, writing and keeping in touch with friends and family. He looked so happy and then told me that Diana’s mother had died following dementia. To him activity was the key with walking and now talking to me.
He offered to come and sit with my mother, play the piano with her and be a friend.
Les, you have no idea how valuable you are, bless you and we may take you up on the offer!