|Me and Ron birdwatching (the feathered variety)|
My father died when I was two years old. My mother was strong, determined, resilient and strict. She was loving too but what I didn't realise was that I missed having a guide, an example in my life - a male guide, a male example to follow and ask for advice and kid around with. It was particularly in my formative teenage years that this was so important and that is where Ron Blake came into my life. I was never so lucky.
My family moved down from North London to West Wittering in 1964, having been going on holiday there for years. Wittering was (and still is) a magical place. East Wittering was much smaller than it is now. There was a bakery on the corner of Shore Road which led down to the sea past Mr Gubb's shop which sold everything from buckets and spades to swim hats and rubber rings, past The Lanka dress shop, past the Izora hotel where we stayed in the railway carriages in the garden, past the Galleon Coffee Bar and then the Shore Hotel. After the first idyllic summer of 1964 which was like one long holiday, I worked as a newspaper delivery boy for Mr Marsh who owned the newsagents on the Parade at East Wittering. This was my first job. I was eventually sacked for turning up late one too many times. At school, I was in the lowest stream having failed my exams at the end of the 2nd Year because I was not used to their syllabus and had only joined a few weeks before the end of year exams the results of which determined which stream you entered next. I joined a gang which stole from shops in Chichester. I bullied my younger sister because I was a nobody at school. I hid in the changing rooms to avoid playing rugby. I had also got a summer job at the Harbour Chalet, a shop and cafe at WestWittering Car Park with Mr Gubb who also threatened to sack me because he thought I was stealing from the money paid to me when I sold ice creams on the beach whereas he was adding up the amount of money in the float incorrectly.
So, my early teenage years were not boding well for the future but then Ron Blake and his partner and brother-in-law, Mr Robertson took over the Harbour Chalet and that was when the fun started. I worked with some lovely people there, Mrs Clarke in the kitchen, Mrs Ford in the tea room, Mr Jeffrey in the Ice cream shop and my school friend Gary Gilhooly. Mr Blake worked us hard but he was also great fun and had a wicked and often silly sense of humour. I must have worked there for about 5 summers and in the end, I was the manager and in my last year, they gave me bonus of £100. I learned so much from Ron about the right way to treat people and to do things. On the days when it was raining and there was only a smattering of cars in the Car Park, we'd chat about life - his time in the Army doing National Service, how he met his wife Ann, his life in London after the War, sex, girlfriends, honour, manners - in other words, all the things that my father would have talked about if he had been around. And we had such laughs too, playing football in the stockroom, playing practical jokes on Mr Jeffrey and watching women sunbathing topless behind windbreaks through binoculars he set up on an overturned bucket specially for the purpose. In 1971, I wrote to him asking if I could work there again in the upcoming summer holiday but he replied saying that the business had been sold. We met once or twice after that but eventually lost touch until a few years ago when I tracked him down and went to see him at his house near Waterlooville. We both brought out the same set of photographs and I sensed that he felt as strongly about me as I did about him. He was not as dynamic as he used to be but there was still a twinkle in his eye and we still made each other laugh. We talked about meeting again but generally only kept in touch through Christmas Cards until today when his wife telephoned to tell me that he had passed away last Friday.
Who was Ron Blake? He was a kind man, an honourable man, a funny man. He was my saviour. I loved him. He was the father I never had.