Much Ado About Nothing
James Lester Sole MBE
Abridged by Bob Sheldon
This article was originally published in the August 2004 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
`Eventually we said goodbye to our folk and set sail, and it was then that the full enormity of what we had done hit us. As soon as land was out of sight we went to our cabin and Mum had a good weep. I did not feel very good myself.' The journey took five weeks to Auckland, `where we arrived at 8.30 in the morning of the 22nd December 1972. We could see Gina and Anthony on the quay, and alongside them, seated on the roof of a car were their two small dogs, and alongside were the two grandchildren we were seeing for the first time, all (except the dogs) waving furiously.'
Jim and Grace were to live in a separate part of Gina's home which was still to be completed. `I carefully measured the accommodation and drew plans of a one-bedroom flat. Then I went out and ordered window frames and windows to fit the openings. I then ordered all the timber and fittings and panelling needed for the work. It took me four months before I could order the electrician, drain layer and plumber . . . and then another two months to complete the decorations.'
`I was too old to get a job at anything like the salary I was used to . . . at busy times I worked in Anthony's garage and learned a lot about cars . . . but the need was intermittent. I soon got fed up with nothing really constructive to do with my time. I went to the Labour Exchange and was given a job with the City bus company allocating tickets and other boring jobs.' After a few months Jim left and found a temporary position in a company in Auckland. This led to him taking on a full time job investigating losses which the firm was experiencing in their product. `The work was absorbing and involved attending the factory often between the hours of midnight and dawn. After three months . . . I gave in my notice. They offered me another job but I pointed out I was well over retiring age and wanted peace and quiet.'
By this time they had received news that Rod had been accepted into the NZ police and they and their three boys arrived from the UK in March 1975. `Our joy was complete and our consciences eased.'
Jim & Grace
Grace was now in a wheel-chair most of the time but they managed to continue on their camping holidays. `It was whilst on one of these that I very narrowly escaped death. I was towing our small caravan . . . when a huge lorry passed us at great speed . . . there was a very loud crack and I passed out. Fortunately I only lost my senses for a few seconds, and I came to leaning towards Grace. There was a huge whole in the windscreen and I instinctively punched out the loose glass so that I could see the road. I found that an object had crashed through the windscreen, broken a large sun visor, hit the top of my metal rimmed glasses and then struck me on the forehead where I was already developing a nice purple bump. Apart from a headache occasionally for a few days I was okay . . . but it brought home to me how difficult things would be for the family if I should have a serious accident.'
`In 1986 we decided to take a longer holiday in Australia and went on a fifty-six day bus trip all round the continent. The passengers we travelled with were without exception marvellous . . . and took a fancy to Grace. I had to fight to wait on my wife. This was a trip we talked about for a long time, and I thank the powers that be we were able to enjoy it together.'
`Life moved along at an even pace and Susan threw parties at her house for my eightieth birthday and our Golden wedding anniversary. Milestones in my life which , had I but known it, was approaching a trying stage. Initially I meant these memoirs to be composed of amusing snippets, but life is not like that.'
A LONG DARK CLOUD
`Early in 1993 I had noticed that Grace had become, how shall I say, vague about some things, almost a mild dementia. She became very unstable when rising from a chair or bed, although I always aided her. On the first occasion . . . she stumbled and fell in a waste-paper basket . . . which I told her was the proper place for it anyway. We giggled about it . . . but I thought I should watch her more closely. Later on she lost her appetite and I tried to persuade her to eat regularly. The poor darling – in order not to displease me – hid her sandwiches and the like in drawers, and even under the mattress.'
Later in 1993 Jim became more concerned about Grace's condition and she was taken to hospital. `Things went from bad to worse. We arrived at the Acute Emergency Ward and after an extensive examination the doctors decided that Grace was so ill only a massive dose of drugs could save her. Her lungs were full of fluid and her heart was beating irregularly. We were told that the chances were about fifty-fifty, but advised against resuscitation, should it become an option. Grace went into a coma immediately and we all sat by her bedside. I talked and talked to her hoping she would somehow know we were with her. At about 10 o'clock we did something some outsiders might have considered unfeeling. We were hungry so we decided to have a meal in the ward. I suppose you could call it the last supper.'
`At 1.50 o'clock in the morning of the 12th November 1993, my dear wife died without regaining consciousness. I was left alone with her, and on my knees by her bed I tried to make my peace. For some strange reason I have never been able to fathom I felt compelled to repeat my marriage vows. I am not going to dwell on my misery at that time. I felt I was going to drown, and what is more, did not care . . . My family supported me so strongly that I was able to regain my life very quickly, and they know how much I value that.'
LIFE BEGINS AGAIN
Jim returned to England in 1996, his first trip back in twenty four years, with Sue and they stayed for two months. Rod followed and stayed the last two weeks. `I went with Sue alone on several occasions visiting old haunts in Margate, Ramsgate and similar places. I had a wonderful time there. Margate Corporation staff gave me a warm welcome and reception, and my old Unit came together and also gave me a very nice evening in a pub at Canterbury. I still have several old friends there who regularly write to me and I have a standing invitation to take another holiday. Maybe I will, though by the way my old friends are dropping I will be lucky to find any of them alive by the time I have saved up the fare!'
`I suppose, in fact, I know I am a lucky man, though I wish sometimes my health was better. My family consider me in fine fettle. As I told my doctor recently, I don't suppose I will be pronounced in poor health until I am lying on a marble slab with a lily in my mouth! Nevertheless, bear this in mind, if I hear anybody at my funeral say "but he had a good innings", the roof will drop on him – or her!'
`Old men like me often dream and my mind often goes back to the days seventy years ago when all this started. The day I went into a sweet-shop and bought some cigarettes from a lovely freckled-faced girl with shiny hair. I dream of the long country walks and cycle rides; the old churchyard adjacent to where Grace worked, where we did a lot of courting and where I always said goodnight; right alongside was a large headstone belonging to, I remember, Alice Hills who, I am sure - if she could be recalled – would testify as to my endeavours (and complete lack of success) in this holiest of holies.'
`The famous Beatles song "All you need is love" about conjures up my life. I have never had a lot of money but I sure have always had plenty of love.'
`I was reluctant to write my memoirs because the act of doing so presupposes that I had done something worth writing about, and I could not think of any action of mine worth putting to paper. However things were going on around me which I perhaps have shed some light on.'
`I started on a genealogical note, and I will finish on one, so here is a Jim Sole homily for you:
"If the fruit is good, there can't be much wrong with the tree"
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