On Monday 10 October we said Farewell Bobby – Dad, Grandad, Great Grandad, Uncle and a friend to so many. It was a wonderful send off that he would have wholly approved of, full of tears, but also of warmth, smiles and laughter too.
Andrew (Bobby’s son) made sure that it was a celebration of Bobby’s life.
It was, in the words of one of Bobby’s friends, ‘the longest funeral service I’ve ever been to, but by far the best’. And the church was packed.
Bob had left instructions for all the music at the service, including the unforgettable sequence of ‘The Sound of Silence’ preceded by the roaring sound of his favourite Avro Vulcan taking off. Surely never to be repeated in a House of the Lord! The only addition to Bobby’s list was Marie singing (and playing) ‘Fields of Gold’ – remembering Bobby’s love of live performance.
Click below to hear the Avro Vulcon taking off!
The nine tributes (surely a record?!) were all touching and funny in equal measure. They revealed an extraordinary, unique, lovable character with a zest for life, full of cheek and charm.
The tolling of noon church bells, interrupting Andrew’s tribute, was worthy of a prank by the great man himself. It was lovely to hear the laughter – a true celebration of Bobby’s life.
It’s rare for a coffin to be anything but morbid, but his was a riot of sunflowers, printed all over and topped with a large sunflower spray, overseen by me as Chief Mourner. Bobby’s trademark hat and hiking stick completed the picture. The funeral directors told Andrew that the hearse had stopped traffic with the unusual sight.
Thank you to everyone who joined the wonderful celebration of his life, for your kindness, kind words and shared love of the big man. He will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.
Black was forbidden. Colour was the order of the day. Football shirts, if you had one. Hence my black bow tie gave way to a much more comfortable Sutton United FC scarf!
Family and friends came from far and wide to the service in our little church in South Holmwood. Many took the opportunity to view Laurel Cottage on their way to the Village Hall afterwards.
But enough from me, as I want to allow those who spoke at the service to share their memories.
Robin – “He is Gone”
I think that everyone can agree that the reading was very appropriate for Bob, a man who by any standards lived life to the full.
I had many uncles and aunties as a child and enjoyed visiting them all, but Bob always stood out. He seemed to have never-ending supplies of energy and enthusiasm, always travelling to interesting places, meeting interesting people and doing interesting things.
His interests seemed endless; trains, planes, gardening, photography, football and birdwatching. I well remember his tales of his visits to the Puffins on Skomer Island, a place he loved so much he volunteered there for many years. That was typical of Bob giving so much time and energy, without reward, to make the world a better place for others.
Above all, though, Bob was a family man. He was incredibly proud of Andrew, Marie, Giselle and Daisy. Family get-togethers with Bob were memorable as we listened to him talk about his latest adventure and boy could he talk! He loved children and they in turn loved this warm-hearted man who carried a large bear with him seemingly wherever he went.
Ah yes, no tribute to Bob would be complete without mentioning his faithful sidekick with whom he shared so many adventures. Of course, Bertie’s blogs have left us with a wonderful legacy to help us remember Bob. I suspect we have not heard the last of Bertie by any means.
The last time I saw Bob he had popped into West Horsley Place, where I work, to meet an old friend. I introduced him to several of my colleagues, and they were as shocked as the rest of us that a man so full of life could pass away just a few days later.
Some of us were lucky enough to know Bob for all our lives; but it didn’t matter if you only met him briefly. As the saying goes: once met never forgotten.
Rob – Legal and General
Good morning. I’m Rob. I had the pleasure, and experience, of enjoying Bob’s unconventional working career at Legal and General.
I think it’s probably fair to say that ‘working’ wasn’t always top of his priorities.
Bob was a true maverick. He never followed rules – except perhaps the ones he made. As a result he became famous throughout the company for his initiatives… and some outrageous escapades! I asked some of his ex colleagues to paint a picture of working with him. The comments poured in. Her’s a few that might sound familiar:
- Full of fun and great to work with.
- Lovely guy… with an excess of energy.
- Pretty loud.
- Larger than life character.
- A force of nature.
- A loose cannon.
- Passionate about what interested him – although it was rarely insurance related.
- But I think perhaps the most apt – He loved to talk ————— A LOT!
Bob joined L&G in the 1960s. A typical staid and stuffy insurance company. We worked in the huge HO in Kingswood. Housed up to 2,000 staff on site spread over different floors and wings. The complex boasted sports/social facilities second to none. These included a staff swimming pool and a Horticultural Society. Both became very close to Bob’s heart.
Some people referred to it as a holiday camp. Not sure this influenced his choice of employer? In fact, according to his job Interview notes: ‘Mr Ball is a well turned out enthusiastic young man. He is very keen to learn the elements of insurance. I recommend him for a job in a clerical department’. Little did they know the disruption that would follow!
Once employed, Bob soon embarked on his own special ‘non work related’ projects. This led to to him becoming known as Football Pools Man, Horticultural Shop Man, Swimming Pool Man, plus many more, depending on his latest initiative. I’d just like to mention to a couple.
Bob decided a Littlewoods Pools syndicate was needed to brighten up the lives of his immediate colleagues. However, it soon spread throughout the organisation. The sound of Bob whistling and shouting ‘pools money collection’ became a feature of Mondays around the building. Single handedly he managed to disrupt every department!
Money collection and the accounts meant Bob had to write off Mondays from his day job. The ‘Pools Man’ became his moniker. A title which endured long after he left.
This was a backwater club which had the odd annual flower show. With Bob’s gusto, it transformed into a thriving retail business. The club took over an old disused building. It opened on Fridays, initially just selling plants. But then garden tools and finally larger equipment. It became a Mini Garden Centre.
Of course running the shop and admin meant Bob’s desk job also written off on Fridays.
Still this left the other working days of the week for Bob to fill. So he found other voluntary activities to get involved in.
He became a Fire Officer, H&S Officer, First Aider, Swimming Pool Attendant. All were whole heartedly embraced – especially if they involved time off work for training.
Swimming pool attendant was particularly attractive to Bob. It meant ownership of keys to the swimming pool. It was not unknown for Bob to disappear into the basement – supposedly looking for old files. But to have a swim instead.
Another of his famous trips to the basement enabled him to pick up tickets for a Cliff Richard and the Shadows Concert. This was before the days of ordering online. From the basement, he slipped out of the back of the building, got on his motorbike and rode to Fairfield Halls, Croydon.
He returned to the office a few hours later, tickets in his back pocket, but a dusty file in hand. No-one the wiser!
Despite his many outrageous escapades Bob was eventually promoted. His team loved him as a boss. Especially for the passion he had for things he enjoyed.
He would play jokes and keep people laughing.
He would take them for nature walks at lunchtimes.
He introduced a thought for the day, for the team to consider when they arrived in the morning.
One member of his team said: “Working for Bob was an experience to remember. He was kind and thoughtful He made his staff feel like family”.
There’s a famous quote: “The cost of not following your heart – is spending the rest of your life wishing you had”.
I think this so applicable to Bob. He always followed his heart doing the things he loved. He lived life to the full.
A Big Man, Big Zest for life… but most importantly, a Big Heart. He enriched so many peoples lives, mine included.
We shall miss him.
Fliss – Highways Agency
How would you describe Bob?
Big. Talkative. Incredibly kind and big hearted. Bob was the real BFG. The best friend you could ask for.
I first met Bob the week I started at the HA. He came into my office, ducking to avoid hitting his head on the door frame, to ask if I’d seen his “Hot and Steamy” email? I quickly discovered this wasn’t a dodgy email, but Bob’s regular alert for staff to whichever steam engine happened to be passing through Deepdene station.
Then there was his “big yellow bucket”, in which he collected donations for the BHF after his annual ride in the London to Brighton Bike race. He must have raised many thousands of pounds over the years, doubtless fuelled by his love of Shredded Wheat!
Bob loved his food and usually won the doughnut eating competition on Red Nose Day. His record was 10 in a minute! Anything to help a good cause.
Bob gave of himself freely to help others. Need a van? Bob’s little white van was there, with a cheery Bob, to help you move whatever needed moving, or to take you to somewhere in an emergency. He was always willing to help out at work.
Bob was our resident naturalist. Clad in his walking boots and baggy shorts we went on Bluebell walks, walks by the river Mole, walks up Box Hill all led by Bob giving us a running commentary about the flora and fauna we passed, periodically interspersed with a shout of “Corrr!! Did you see THAT???” as he pointed out some species of rare bird!
Bob’s side of the office was a work of art! There was a collage on the wall behind his desk… covered in pictures of planes, trains and buses as well as a team photos of Sutton United. At some point he also acquired an inflatable Spitfire that hung from the ceiling! He loved planes, trains and buses.
Working with Bob could never be described as uneventful and he took that to a new level when having told colleagues he was going on holiday for a week and returned married to Di, whom he adored. As a newly married man, he’d chat endlessly, as a man besotted, about the work he was doing on their house, and Laurel Cottage was a place of beauty crafted and planted by his hands and designed by Di’s creativity. They were a real team!
Bob was good at his job. He never played by the rules and occasionally fell foul of senior management. One of his Line Managers described how, in 11 years of working together, he’d never managed to get Bob to do his filing. But ask Bob a question and he had almost instant recall! For a man who loved to talk, he was a good listener had a knack of calming down irate callers to the “bat phone”.
The same applied to shows and exhibitions. Bob was our secret weapon. He could charm anyone and turn a potentially difficult situation around. But it was his love of the environment, walking and cycling that really shaped his later working years in the HA. He set up the “Adventure Club” with others in Area 4 and this group visited many places in countryside or city. He even took team members from Area 4 to Skomer, where he shared his passion for wildlife, especially Puffins. Bob loved his leisure as well as work.
Bob cared about his job and how much he enjoyed it. He loved any scheme that benefitted more than just motorists; be it a subway painted by school children, or Itford Farm Bridge for NMUs over the A26 linking up the South Downs Way or just a Pegasus Crossing… where unable to secure any horse riders to open the crossing Bob, Ing Fischer and two contractors conspired and a pantomime horse appeared to do the honours!
Who can forget his “Bobby Ballcock emails” on the subject of waterless urinals?? The 1p cheque to settle a parking dispute? Or riding his Brompton bike through the office whistling tunelessly?
Life with Bob was never dull.
His friends were genuinely “friends forever”, as today bears testimony. Many of us, both from Federated House and Area 4 MAC, have enjoyed Bob’s on-going company and friendship since he retired. We’ll miss him so very much.
However, losing Di prematurely, was an enormous blow to him.
Bob adored his family. All of you. He was so proud of you. He introduced you to us. He kept us posted on how you were doing, your many achievements and new additions to HIS family.
You had the best Dad, Grandad, and Great Grandad ever.
In Psalm 121 it says:
“I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth.”
Bob loved the Hills and countryside – walking in them gave him peace and great joy.
Fly free Bobby, thank you for everything.
David – Sustrans
I first met Bob 15 or 16 years ago, just as he was coming up to retirement. I was involved with a cycling organisation called Sustrans, who were developing a network of cycle paths across the country. The pathway we looked after was Route 22, Oaks Park to Dorking.
Bob came on board with a ton of enthusiasm. Up to his involvement, we hadn’t done too much. Just mapped the route out really. With Bob involved we gained an extra stretch, from Dorking onto Shere, and, at his suggestion, called ourselves ‘The Surrey Hills Sustrans Group’.
Bob was elected Chairman, and soon we were putting up signs, erecting posts as waymarkers and carried out regular maintenance.
All with prompting and leadership by Bob.
In addition, we would attend local fairs and promote Sustrans. Bob was in his element, giving out helpful advice and just talking to people. Something he was pretty good at!
One part of the route between Dorking and Westcott was always a problem. You had to cycle over a lumpy field and throw your bike over two locked gates. After a lot of meetings and emails with council officials and the local farmer, eventually a new pathway was laid. It took a lot of effort by Bob and Roger, a fellow Ranger, to get this done. Something I know he took a lot of satisfaction from.
Apart from cycling, we also had some great times at Sutton United. Bob was always good company, although sometimes my ears did take a battering!
Seems too quiet without him now.
Neil – National Trust
To us volunteers at the National Trust, he has always been known as “Big Bob”.
Big Bob was a volunteer for about 14 years, in the North Downs West area, which includes Denbies Hillside, Abinger Roughs and Landbarn Farm, which is along the A25 on the right heading towards Guildford.
In the early days, Bob used to arrive on his bike via Cycle Route 22 to Landbarn Farm for the first cuppa of the day. Bob, being Bob, would be full of chat about what he had been doing that week. Whether it was about his family, of whom he was very proud, or steam engines, Vulcan planes, Skomer Island, or his trips to London and his travels with Bertie.
He used to get so involved as to what he was talking about, that when Amanda, our Lead Ranger at the time, started to give us our instructions as to the day’s work and what tools were required, we had to hush Bob up so that we could hear what Amanda was saying! Then Bob would say “What did she bleeding say?”
Bob was a great one with words!
How Amanda remembered him, her own words:
“Gentle, kind, caring, lover of nature and occasionally feisty! I couldn’t have asked for a better volunteer; he would do anything I asked of him. I feel very privileged to have had him on my team for so many years; the hillside is a better place for nature because of him.
He was great with kids of all ages; he had a special way of capturing their attention. He was a fantastic ambassador for the Trust, supporting me at local events, where he would entertain and educate youngsters and adults with poo, pellets and skulls!
Bob sent me a message just a few days before he passed away. ‘Amanda, what are you going to do with the Sparrow Hawk?’ The Sparrow Hawk he had given me during lockdown that was retrieved from a friend’s house after it crashed into a window, with a Sparrow in its talons that it had caught before its demise. It was still in my freezer. After Bob went, I found a taxidermist to stuff it so it go go on for others to admire its beauty. Wish I could have told Bob, I think he would have been rather pleased that it was finally out of my freezer!
Bob loved the countryside with its wildlife. He was a mine of informaton on birds, butterflies, plants, etc, which he readily passed on to everyone.
There was many a time, when Bob was taking 5 minutes rest, he couldn’t resist talking to whoever was nearest to him, until Amanda appeared to check up on him to see if he was OK!
Bob used to regularly walk on the Downs, and especially to Abinger Roughs to sit on Diane’s memorial bench.
When he could no longer do some of the work the volunteers do, he would still come along on a Thursday to the varoius locations in the Surrey Hills, to pass on his words of wisdom. He did like to have a natter and a cuppa with us. He must have been able to smell the Kelly Kettle going on!
One time, when we were clearing the carriage road, we decided it was time for yet another cuppa. So we all sat down on the ground to enjoy the view, and Big Bob laid down. After a while, I said to him “In and out, Bob”. He looked at me and said “What are you bleeding on about?”. I answered him “That way, we know you are still breathing!” and he chuckled. I asked him should he not wear an ID bracelet, or tag. His answer was “Just take me to St George’s. They know who I am. They’ve got a bleeding great big file on me!”
And that’s our Big Bob.
Skomer – Liz Morgan (Read by Rev Virginia)
Dear Andrew and family
It was with great sadness that we learned of Bob’s passing. Please accept our heart-felt condolences for your loss.
Chatting to some of the island staff and volunteers this morning, it became quickly apparent how fond people were of Bob. One of the team based in our Bridgend office said, and I quote, “I can say without hesitation that Bob was the nicest bloke I have never met!”
They felt they got to know Bob so well by phone and email, taking his bookings to stay on the islands. They were really happy when he made the decision to go back to Skokholm, having previously decided he was too ill; his concern wasn’t for himself, but for the inconvenience he might cause if he fell ill; a genuinely selfless person.
We believe Bob first visited Skomer in 1995, and he volunteered many times over the years. I’m sure you can fill in the gaps for us. I first met him when I was a teenager, volunteering on the island in the late 1990s, and again when he volunteered for me as a young Assistant Warden in 2004 and 2005. I can speak for many generations of Skomer wardens and Assistant Wardens when I say what fun times those were.
I remember on many occasions sitting in the tiny Skomer kitchen, with the wind and rain raging outside, being entertained by Bob. Larger than life, with a penchant for very apt anecdotes that always made you think and often laugh out loud.
Generous with his time and affection for the islands and all those he met along the way. A genuinely splendid man, whom we are all privileged to have known in some way.
If you ever want to visit Skomer to see what all the fuss is about, the bookings team would be very happy to assist and arrange a room or day trip for you. Please get in touch if you would like that.
With our thoughts and very best wishes.
Lisa Morgan, on behalf of the past and present wardens of Skomer and Skokholm, the Wildlife Trust staff at Lockley Lodge and our HQ in Bridgend.
Julia – Al-Anon
Thank you for asking me to share a few words in memory of my friend Bob.
I have known Bob for about nine years… I can’t believe it’s been that long. We both attend a self-help self-support group, which is held on Tuesday lunchtimes at the Angel Islington. I think it gave Bob a lot of support when his wife Di was so ill and after she died.
The group was originally in a tiny dingy basement room in a local Church but, after the pandemic, this room was no longer available. So Bob, together with another member of the group, found a new venue … a big open space, an open plan hall with a kitchen attached and all rented at good rates.
The move has made a huge difference – not only to the membership numbers, but also to the atmosphere and the strength of the group. This is just one example of how Bob was always proactive, and how his contributions made such a positive difference. He always came early, always set up the chairs, always put on the kettle for tea.
He brought fancy teas and biscuits, and sometimes even bunches of sweet peas.
He encouraged others to volunteer and participate in service re the group and the organisation.
He was P.I. Delegate for the North London area.
He hardly ever missed Tuesday, and on those few occasions he did, his absence stood out and someone would always say “where is Bob?”.
He chaired the last meeting before he died.
Bob was a much loved and appreciated.
Faith in people
Bob believed in people. He had faith in people and always saw the good in them. He believed that bad times could be a route to better times, and that bad times can teach us lessons that enable us to give from our experiences and so help others.
He always had time for people. Time to talk. Time to listen.
He once told me that he had learnt to listen in our group. This is because we ask people not to interrupt when others are speaking, and listening becomes then a valuable leaning tool.
At times, no one comes in to share and there a can be long silences which can, initially, be very uncomfortable to sit through. Bob one told me that these silences taught him the value and peace of silence which he came to so much appreciate.
He was a complex and sensitive man who shared with great honesty and spoke movingly about his life experiences, especially about his wife Di who he had loved deeply.
Fun and talk
But it wasn’t all seriousness. He had some good times and good laughs in the group.
On one occasion, we celebrated member’s birthday and sat in the garden next to church with an enormous birthday cake. Bob was in his element having fun, talking, organising cutting the cake without a knife and distributing it around.
Talkative and controlling
In spite of his newly found love of silence, he still for sure could talk … and he could be rather bossy at times … on occasions, I found I needed to put him in his place!
I remember once I dropped a chair on my foot and it was extremely painful and bleeding. I found a frozen packet of dog food in the kitchen freezer and stuffed it under my sandal strap and then carried on putting the chairs out. Bob wasn’t having any of it and insisted I sit down … he was going make me a cup of tea.
I kept telling him that I prefer to keep working because it stop me thinking about the pain, but Bob wasn’t having any of it. In the end I did sit down and I did take my tea like a good girl.
I think in the end Bob had both his good side and his challenging side … like the rest of us I guess!
But through everything, Bob always came from a place of love.
Bob, dear Bob, you will be truly missed. You were a dear friend and I will not forget you.
Grandad – by Daisy-Mae
I loved my Grandad, him watching my games, going to watch games together, talking about football all the time. Actually, him talking for most of it.
We went to watch Sutton United together, Brighton and the Lionesses. The last time I saw him was the Lionesses bringing it home at Wembley. He told everyone about that day, he told everyone about when he got a picture with Coby Rowe, his favourite player at the U’s.
He told everyone about everything, which is another reason why he is just so special.
Grandad was always my biggest fan, he made me fall in love with the game. I remember him coming to my games, saying the funniest of things so loud. I loved him being there on the sidelines, cheering me on. I play for him, to make him happy, which makes me happy.
He also loved watching my sister, Giselle, perform what she loved best. She made him so proud. We just loved being around him, and we know everyone did. He was the perfect grandad for us. In every way.
I love you Big Bad Bob. We miss you. x
Grandad – by Jasmine
Although I never called Bobby Grandad directly, I’d always introduce him as my Grandad. Bobby has always been a huge part of my life. I don’t have memories without him. My Granny and Bobby was the two most important people in my life, as a child you was always guaranteed a book on one of Bobby’s humongous knees.
I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that has ever felt like home than Granny and Bob’s house.
Bobby always used to say that Granny was the love of his life and she would always say he saved her, she was wrong because I think he also saved me too.
The thing is Bobby is and always will be much, much more to me than any Grandad could be. He was the only male role model, a father figure. Calling him Grandad is a huge understatement.
Bobby was truly something else, we all hold different memories of Bob.
Bobby had such huge vast range of interests that we could all connect with him on. From steam trains or let’s just say anything Fred Dibnah, ballets, musicals, football, nature and wildlife. And many, many more, but above all of this family and friends.
We called our youngest son, Jason, Bobby after him – and I’m so happy we did that. Of course, Bobby never used his Great Grandson’s first name, always calling him Bobby! Him and Granny will forever be remembered. My absolutely awesome, bonkers grandparents.
Dad – by Andrew
BFG (Big Friendly Giant)
Great Grandad Bobby
Big Bad Bob
He was known by many names to many people, but more than anything else, he was a gentle giant. Much loved, and – as I have discovered over the last few weeks – known and respected by more people than I could ever have imagined. In fact, when it comes to Bob Ball, where on earth do you start?
PT Barnum, The Greatest Showman, could have been talking about my Dad when he said: ‘No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.’.
And he certainly wasn’t like anyone else. A truly unique character, a one-off.
He was also a true contradiction in terms. He was at one in his own space and loved his long walks and time for contemplation. Yet he thrived on company, dominated a conversation without meaning to – so much to say, so much to share. Dad could be exhausting by just being there, and yet we loved him all the more for it. Some days he drove me potty with the sheer amount he had to say, and yet it was so interesting, so informed.
Childhood with Dad was an adventure – he was, after all, really just a big kid himself.
In the playground competition of ‘my Dad’s taller than your Dad’, I never had any competition. In fact, the only time I ever saw my Dad look up to anyone was a chance meeting with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team in High & Mighty, a London clothes shop for big and tall men. One of the team was over 7 foot tall. I have never felt tall myself – I always had my own giant to look out for me.
He was the world’s greatest sandcastle maker. When I was little, and before he learnt to swim, he was the only Dad to arrive at the beach with a garden spade – ready to build sand towers taller than me and tunnels deep enough to crawl through. And being my Dad, when eventually it came to learning to swim, he was taught by an ex-Olympic swimmer. Nothing by halves, ever.
Of course, with my Dad we didn’t just play Subbuteo – table football – we played World Cup Tournament Subbuteo every night for weeks, with a final that he, of course, commentated on throughout. Unusually for the World Cup, Scottish lower-league team Hamilton Academicals beat Brazil that year; we didn’t have all the international teams and Dad said it made it unique, different and all the more fun. He was right.
We both had a passion for toy cars and he built my Scalextric motor circuit so big that it ran across every inch of my bedroom floor, so much so that we had to control the cars sitting on my bed. To retrieve spun cars involved gymnastics on my part.
We both loved Action Man action figures and he hand built me an Action Man house, and a tank – he was really talented. And we launched Action Man parachutists from my Peter Powell stunt kite high up in the sky. My friends were in awe. My Action Man toy hang glider was a less successful launch – last seen flying off into the distance off Devil’s Dyke. But it made us both laugh.
Dad loved holidays – planning ahead every hour of every day to see as much as possible. We camped for many years, and even through the rain and the wind he somehow made it fun. He also broke the rules with a smile – I first learnt to drive navigating terrified fellow camper’s tents on a Swanage campsite, aged 10. The idea of a holiday for relaxation came to him much later in life, and even then he couldn’t sit still. Too much to see, too much to do. So much to explore.
I loved our family holidays, but I remember best just the two of us in West Wales. With the ferry delayed to his beloved Skomer Island, we dreamt up a daily challenge, peaking in us both squeezing into wetsuits – the biggest the hire shop had for Dad – and boogie boarding in the rough Welsh waves, the only crazy people for miles in the sea.
He had such broad interests – a love of nature, of the countryside, of history, of London, of music, of the theatre. He instilled these interests in me too, and he especially loved my little theatrical family. I am so grateful that he got to see my wife Marie and daughter Giselle in Calamity Jane in early August.
Even his last day was theatrical. Through the shock and sadness, the Police and the Paramedics, the quintessentially British setting with the church bells sounding, the rolling Surrey Hills as a backdrop and, of course, his famous Sweet Peas, all I could think of was that it wasn’t real. It was like a scene out of ‘Midsomer Murders’. Even the weather was perfect. Dad would have chuckled.
And perhaps the Deer we saw in the churchyard, that turned silently to acknowledge us as we walked away, was him in his new life. Perhaps.
Dad’s charming cheekiness was legendary – a trait I hope I have inherited. Allegedly he once worked in insurance at the Legal & General – all I ever saw was the garden and motor shops he managed, the football pools he ran and the swimming pool and tennis courts we both loved.
When I worked in Gleneagles for a week, he came with me, and secretly drove my car up a mountain. He was only caught out when he forgot he’d taken photographs from the top on my camera! And I once lost him at the Boat Show, only to find him some time later being entertained, champagne in hand, by the salesman on a super luxury yacht. He was wearing his flat cap and had the haughty air of an eccentric billionaire. He just had a way about him.
I know how proud he was of me of me – I am sure he probably told you all – and I am grateful for the way I was brought up to know how lucky I am. We shared more traits than I have ever cared to admit – an inability to stand still or relax, not being able to stop talking and the same daft sense of humour amongst them.
When I invited him to see the secret filming of the new convertible Rolls-Royce on Shoreham runway, he turned up in a white van. The photograph mug of his ex-BT van alongside the world’s most expensive car, Dad proudly stood between them like the proud owner of both, is still in his kitchen cupboard.
I look back at how much he supported me in the background, in so many ways.
When I was primary school age my rabbit, Twinkle escaped, and I went to school in tears. When he found Twinkle he brought him – because, oddly, Twinkle was a boy – to my class in the box on the back of his motor bike. Dad walked in, helmet still on, with my rabbit under his arm, who was happily munching a lettuce leaf. Dad was my hero that day.
When I was about 7 there was a cool denim jacket I just had to have for Christmas. The only store that had my size was in Oxford Street, so Dad rode from Dorking to London on his Honda 70 motorbike one Saturday morning just for me. I loved that jacket.
And when I bought my first house, the garden was so tiny I was disappointed that I couldn’t find a shed that would fit. While I was away on holiday, Dad secretly built me a bespoke little shed to fit the triangular scrap of land next to the house. I remember just standing in it, newly built, amazed and humbled that someone could have been so kind.
It’s a strange coincidence that today is World Mental Health Day, but I am sure Dad would have approved of me marking the occasion. In later years he was very open about the challenges he had faced – and continued to face – and I was very proud of him and his journey with mindfulness, ably assisted by the funny old bear who is here with us today. Dad was always a storyteller, and Mindfully Bertie gave him a creative, a spiritual and a healing outlet. I’m very grateful to everyone that supported him – and Bertie – in that journey, including his global audience.
In case you were wondering, Bertie now lives with us by the sea. One of the few instructions Dad left was that Bertie was to be looked after, in the care of Giselle. I chat to Bertie sometimes – he is more patient than our two cats, and eats less – and we are still talking about where we might take the blog next. When we both have the energy we will read through Dad’s notebooks which contain hundreds of ideas.
Of course, I couldn’t speak today without mentioning football.
In the words of Liverpool Manager Bill Shankly – and a quote my Dad loved: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”.
Sutton United was a thread that ran through mine and Dad’s lives, and in recent years it had tied us together more tightly, along with our little football family – his friend David, my daughter Daisy and her pal Herbie – for which I am very grateful. Watching our first match without Dad was the hardest thing I’ve faced so far – he was, after all, as much entertainment as the excitement on the pitch, and the other reason why we were all there.
As I reflect on the times when Sutton United featured in my life, I shall never forget when we watched our little non-league team beat Coventry in the third round of the FA Cup in January 1989 – the original giant killers. The opening credits of Match of the Day that night, to the famous theme tune, showed my Dad invading the pitch, bizarrely wearing a ‘Coventry blue’ jumper he’d absent-mindedly put on to keep out the cold, and running to the centre circle to hug the Sutton captain!
He didn’t repeat the same pitch invasion more recently when Sutton were promoted to the football league, but we did photograph him hugging the mascot, Jenny the Giraffe!
Forever Amber, Dad, Forever Amber.
The last time I saw my Dad was at Wembley Stadium. Surrounded by friends, we shared the euphoria of England Ladies beating Germany to win the Euros in front of the largest – and loudest – crowd we’d ever seen and heard. It was an incredible experience, we were part of history made, and a wonderful last memory of my Dad. He was so happy that day.
And so it’s appropriate that I conclude with a football quote. Jill Scott, one of England’s greatest footballers, retired along with Ellen White after the Euros final at Wembley.
“Right, we’re not crying.
I promised myself.
Today, I may be saying my goodbyes,
but we’re going to make this a celebration.
No sad faces!!
We’ve had too much fun for any tears.”
Dad, you were one of a kind.
You went out on a high.
And you will never be forgotten.