Here's our little New Year's Eve celebration as we see the New Year in! We always stayed up for this, and to watch Big Ben and the wonderful firework displays - and this year was no different. New Year's Eve was also Charlie's birthday - and New Year's Day my birthday. It was always so nice opening some cards once the clock struck 12, and then waking up the next day to continue my birthday celebrations. I still do this now, and it's such a lovely way to start the New Year.
Christine: "We had Charlie's birthday cake (he was very interested in that!) and gave him a gorilla toy - will give him his bone tomorrow. Sam gave Stephen his first birthday card, and we watched the beautiful firework displays from London and Edinburgh. Happy New Year - I hope it will be!"
This was the day we celebrated Charlotte's first birthday at Diana and Neil's house on Binfield, Bracknell, in March 2005. Christine had just celebrated her 69th birthday too, not to mention Sam's 10th - so it was celebrations all round!
Christine: "[Charlotte] was very happy and standing a lot, and playing with her toys. She'd already opened Maurice's present, and opened Stephen's and mine while we were there. Sabreena, Diana's friend from Mauritius was there - a very nice girl. She'd given Lottie a beautiful summer dress with small embroidered flowers and butterflies on. Diana had bought a chocolate Easter cake with little eggs on and one candle in the middle -and we all sang 'Happy Birthday to you'. Lottie sat in her high-chair, and made a lovely mess of her birthday cake!"
Here's Christine (in May 2005) heading to one of her favourite spots with Charlie - Ray Mill Island (a small island open to the public on the Thames in Maidenhead, which was once the private garden of the Boulter's Inn). She took him there every week - usually on a Thursday, and always said she enjoyed the peace and calm there. She'd often sit in the little café on the island and send me a text; usually to tell me how much she was enjoying the relaxation and serenity there (Boulter's Lock itself is immediately behind where she's standing in this photo, behind the balustrade of the bridge).
The following are quotes from a couple of visits she made there during May, that typify her love of the island and the birdlife/nature there...
Christine: "Took Charlie to Ray Mill Island... [went] to the café first - had our coffee and a '99', then walked round the island. Charlie searched for food as usual! He also took me down the steps again to the weir [since closed off for safety reasons]. Charlie laid down... under a willow tree with little white daisies around him - looked sweet, wish I'd had my camera. On way back saw a pair of Canada Geese with one dear little baby goose just like a fluffy ball, with its little feet paddling away nineteen to the dozen. [Later] saw Water Wagtails skimming over the water catching flies - the Cormorants are still there too."
We noticed on our numerous visits to the island that were a growing number of benches dotted around with memorial plaques attached, in remembrance of local people who had passed away. In particular, in 2005, my mum noticed a new one dedicated to the husband of a friend of hers from her Craft Circle (which she usually attended most Wednesday mornings). So, in June 2006, as a posthumous tribute to my my mum, I arranged for her to have her very own plaque placed on a bench on the island (I've added a photo of this a little further down this page).
The above photos are from our very first visit to Taplow Court (on May Spring Bank Holiday 2005). It's a large stately home on high ground near Maidenhead and Cliveden (formerly belonging to the local Grenfell family), but now owned and operated as the UK headquarters of the worldwide Buddhist order Soka Gakkai. They very kindly open up the vast grounds each Sunday throughout the summer months, and it's always such lovely place to visit to escape the hustle and bustle of nearby Maidenhead.
Christine: "Went... to Taplow Court, which was open today - never been before, but always wanted to visit it. We turned into the drive and got a lovely view of the house - it belonged to the Grenfell family; later Lord and Lady Desborough, and is now owned by a Buddhist sect. We walked through the very well-kept gardens to the cafeteria where we had a drink at a table outside on the grass. Lovely weather, with lots of sunshine. After that, walked back through the gardens and then into the woods. The house [has] magnificent crystal chandeliers and carved ceilings - went upstairs to an exhibit about the First World War. It was really about the [Grenfells] eldest son, who was killed in the war - also his brother. Their sister became a Red Cross nurse - very interesting. The house [is] very high up on Berry Hill - we could see the weir and Ray Mil Island below us, and All Saints' church in the distance. Stroked a friendly horse, then found a very nice garden through a wrought-iron gate and sat there for a time (above, bottom left) - would like to go back and see some more."
Diana Silcock becomes Diana Brooks! These photos show Diana and Neil on their wedding day - June 11th, 2005. On the left is one of the pics taken just after the ceremony at Bath Guildhall - you can also see part of the huge edifice of Bath Abbey in the background.
The middle pic is outside the entrance to the New Inn, Farmborough (near Wells), where the reception was held. From left to right: Mum, Neil, Charlotte, Sam and Maurice. Christine was one of the witnesses at the wedding, and it was so good she could be there for Diana's big day. The third picture then is a screen-grab from the video I made on the day (apologies for the picture quality!). I thought it would be nice to add one of her signing the actual register - I'm not sure she knew she was on film!
Christine: "Got up 6:30am ready for the big day! We left just after 8... got to Bath about 9:30 and found the Guildhall (Registry Office) very near the Abbey. Diana had a beautiful fitted pale coffee lace dress, a narrow pink flower headband, and wore my pink dangly earrings - and looked beautiful, as always. Neil looked very smart in suit, collar and tie. The ceremony was very nice, and taken very seriously. Diana asked me to be a witness, so I had to sign the marriage certificate. Lottie looked very sweet in a floral dress and hat, and was enjoying herself walking about and looking at everything - be nice if she xould remember the day, but don't expect she will. After ceremony, walked down to grassy bit near Abbey and took more photos and threw confetti. Then we drove to the New Inn... very nice pub/restaurant with a large grassy area and playground. Had a 'carvery' meal... sat outside some of the time, and ended with a liqueur coffee inside. Lovely countryside round there, and would like to go back to Bath."
This is my mother with Lillian Cox in July 2005 - when she was a surprise guest for Lillian's 80th birthday celebrations in Windsor.
Christine: (June 27th) "Had a surprise this afternoon when I had a phone call from Margaret Cogger [Lillian's daughter]. Lillian is 80 in July, and Margaret's bringing her to Windsor to see the castle. They're staying in the Christopher Wren Hotel for one night, and I hope to meet them the next day. Margaret has arranged all kinds of things for Lillian to celebrate her birthday - can't believe she's 80."
Christine: (July 16th) "Windsor train broken down... so caught bus - exchanged messages with Margaret on my mobile (very useful!). Met them at the station about 1pm. Lillian was overjoyed as she didn't know I was coming - lovely to see her. She looks older, but not 80 - last saw her in 1999. We walked downhill back to Eton Bridge, and went to a nice café opposite the Christopher Wren Hotel. Had a nice cappuccino (Lillian had one too - she'd never had one before)... then 'gassed' away for three hours! So much to talk about. It was very crowded in Windsor... much quieter during the week when I usually go. They walked back to the station with me... had to say goodbye after such a nice afternoon."
Windsor was a popular spot during the summer - here's mum and Sam back there in August on our annual summer boat trip from Maidenhead, which we always enjoyed. On the left, they're sat outside the Highlander pub on one of the small cobbled walkways adjacent to the castle.
Christine: "Today we decided to do the river trip to Windsor - as a nice day was promised! Only 20 people on the boat, so plenty of room. Saw all the nice houses again, the beautiful gardens at Bray Lock, then Monkey Island and Boveney Lock. Walked up to the castle - police with guns on guard there. Walked down to the Long Walk, then back - and had a drink at a pub at the bottom of a narrow cobbled street opposite Henry VIII Gate. Before that, went to Peascod Street... ended up in the playground at the end of Alexandra Gardens. Nice trip back - very relaxing and de-stressing, just what I needed. Then [once we were back in Maidenhead] Stephen decided to drive round roads [in Bray] including The Fisheries, where the posh houses are beside the river. Very quiet and secluded. [Later] Stephen showed us the lovely video film he'd made of Diana and Neil's wedding. The river trip did me a lot of good, and I felt much calmer - hope it lasts!"
WEEK'S HOLIDAY IN DYMCHURCH
The following five photos are from the many I took during what would be Christine's final holiday - when she spent a week with myself and Sam at a Hoseasons resort near Dymchurch, Kent, in August 2005. I'd been to this area for a short holiday many years before with Maurice and my friend Jon, and thought it would be an interesting place to explore a little further - and as a contrast to our recent stays in the early 2000s at Swanage and Teignmouth. Mum didn't want to travel abroad or too far afield in her later years - so this seemed like as good a place as any to base our 2005 summer holiday.
One of our first ports of call when we'd settled in was a visit to nearby Dungeness on the unique narrow-gauge railway...
Christine: "Drove to Hythe and caught the little train to Dungeness [the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch narrow-gauge railway]. Took about an hour (13.5 miles), nice ride most of the time... some people waved to us as well. Saw the massive nuclear power station looming ahead! Then we walked up to the Old Lighthouse - got right to the top and stepped outside onto surrounding platform [pictured here]. Don't think I've ever been up a lighthouse before!"
Here's Nana and Sam at Folkestone's attractive inner-harbour (on a very hot day as I recall). My mum bought a local map-book of the area too, which she's holding up here! The distinctive timber-clad buildings in the background seem to be synonymous with the coastal towns of Kent.
Christine: "Decided to go to Folkestone today. Very big town - walked along towards the harbour... the old Edwardian houses are really nice, and we saw some being renovated [Marine Crescent]. Got to the harbour (inner and outer) - there's a fishing industry there like Brixham, and also the cross-channel leaves from there. Walked up the Old High Street - narrow, cobbled... and very steep."
Christine: "Drove to New Romney this morning and went on the town-trail, visiting the church, old school, old town hall, a gaol [next to the 'haunted' pub!]... and also a grassy large area where a church once stood. [Later] drove to Burmarsh, near Dymchurch, to Lathe Barn Farm to see the farm animals there - geese, goats, sheep, ducks and a donkey... also a play area for children - very reasonable charge for all this entertainment. Lovely clean café - we sat outside where there were window boxes and hanging boxes of flowers [pictured]; really beautiful, a very nice place - like to go back there."
Another memorable day out we enjoyed was our first-ever visit to Leeds Castle - just up the M20 from where we were staying.
Christine: "Today we went to Leeds Castle at Maidstone - very beautiful with huge grounds. Used an audio guide to go round the castle which told you about everything... lady speaking on it had a beautiful voice. Also a 'duckery' there with mixed water birds, a falconry, aviary, vineyard and maze [pictured above - when we eventually located the centre!]. Walked for about 4 hours which was very tiring - but caught the road-train back. [Later] had a meal at the Britannia pub in Dungeness... saw the power station floodlit in the dusk, with the new moon posied above - very impressive."
We also visited nearby Camber Sands (which I'd first been to with Sam and Marie in 1996) and spent some time on the beach. We also took the opportunity while we were there to visit the village of Rye nearby. My mum had originally visited the village back in the late 50s with her motorbike club.
Christine: "Left [Camber Sands] beach at 3:15 for Rye - walked a short way by the River Rother. Got a map from the giftshop and a few postcards, and started looking round - very old houses and cobbled streets... all the houses very different from each other. Walked up Mermaid Street and saw the famous Mermaid Inn, then on to the church [St Mary's - pictured above] which had beautiful stained-glass windows - also had an unusual clock, recently repainted."
LITTLEWICK SHOW - AUGUST BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY 2005
Here's Nana and Sam walking among the classic cars at Maidenhead's annual Littlewick Show (which is always held on August Bank Holiday Monday). It's a big event in the Maidenhead calendar, and attracts huge crowds. During this era, the show was held on a huge field off Ascot Road, at Braywick, but later moved to Knowl Hill. It made for a great family day out!
Christine: "We all went off to the Littlewick Show - missed it last year. Had a ride on the wagon drawn by two horses - hadn't done that before. Had an ice-cream [as we can see above!] - very sunny there...
...looked at flowers, veg, photos and crafts in the exhibit tent [pictured here]. Saw the mayor, who was giving out the prize cups."
In this photo, Nana and Sam are looking at the First, Second and Third prize winners for the miniature garden competition - I think these exhibits were created by local children. It's really clever stuff, and I was always impressed by all the exhibits here, and the high standard. Everyone certainly put a lot of time and effort into their creations! You might also notice that Sam has won a prize of his own... he's sporting the yellow rosette he won for the wheelbarrow race earlier in the games enclosure. Great work Sam!
And this is exactly how I will remember my mum (in one of her last photos), again taken during August 2005. This is her relaxing in the sunny garden of the Palmer Arms pub in Dorney - just a few short weeks before she passed away from a sudden heart attack.
I've decided to put a few extracts from the last letter she ever wrote (to childhood friend Brenda, on the occasion of her 70th birthday). It's dated 4th September 2005 - and I'm so grateful to Brenda for sharing this with me. Christine sounds optimistic and in good spirits, and looking forward to what the future might bring:
"Dear Brenda - Happy **th Birthday! Couldn't buy a card with 'you know what' on it... I've decided to stay 65 myself for the next few years. Hope all is going well, and you're enjoying your life at Barton on Sea.
Pleased to say Diana and Neil were married in June at the Guildhall in Bath - very near the Abbey. Neil's family come from Bath, so it was more convenient to go there. Lovely weather, and a very enjoyable day. Lottie enjoyed herself playing with a box of confetti Stephen had brought along! Dave, Diana's former husband, also re-married in March, so I hope they will now both be happy.
Took myself up to Ealing Broadway on the train from Maidenhead in July - long time since I'd been there, a lot has changed. Walpole Park's more or less the same, also the Forum cinema (now UGC), and the town hall - awful... they've built a hideous building beside it to house the council offices.
Do you remember taking part in the Ealing Musical Festival at the town hall? I played a piano duet with a fellow pupil from St Anne's, and you had to recite a speech from the Merchant of Venice, I think... 'by yonder moon, I swear you do me no wrong' or something like that! I wonder how much Shepherd's Bush has changed.
Stephen's got a girlfriend... it's lasted 5-6 months, so I hope it continues. They spent a week at Swanage together in August, so I had a 'free' week... really enjoyed it, and I hope to have some more in the future.
Maurice went with some friends to Copenhagen to watch the 'friendly' match between England and Denmark - unfortunately we lost! He still plays football once a week with the local Seiko (he used to work there) football club. A few weeks ago he met Chris Barrie (Brittas Empire), who was playing in the opposing team - I used to enjoy watching that series.
Stephen, Sam and I went on holiday to Dymchurch this year at a Hoseasons Holiday Village - a new experience for us! Nice to go somewhere different, and plenty to see round there, including Leeds Castle, Folkestone and Rye, and the Dungeness power station. Couldn't send anyone a postcard as I left my address book at home - never done that before!
Went to see [the new film] Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Stephen and Sam in Maidenhead - we also went to Great Missenden to see the Roald Dahl exhibition. Also found his house - lovely countryside round there.
Wonder if you've seen 'The Last Samurai' with Tom Hanks? Diana lent me the video, and I really enjoyed it - a very moving and interesting story based on actual events in the late 19th century.
Well, better close now - or it'll never get posted! Hope you have a lovely weekend with the family - hope all goes well with everyone."
Love from Christine
My mother was cremated at Slough Crematorium on September 30th 2005.
I'd like to share with you now the very moving and poignant little elegy which Sam read out at the funeral service - and which he had written himself:
"In your life you sometimes meet someone who is truly special. Someone who is kind, who is caring, who is a Good Samaritan. I had the pivilege - no, the honour - of meeting one of those people. That person was my Nana.
One of my favourite times I can remember with my Nana was when me and her were taking my baby cousin Charlotte (and her dog Charlie) for a walk. Although we were talking about silly things like school, it was one of the most relaxing moments of my life.
Another thing I used to do with my Nana was to count the amount of Morning Glories that were on the plant outside our front door. For those who don't know, a Morning Glory is a beautiful blue flower that only lasts one day. They remind me of Nana a bit, because she was also a beautiful flower.
Nana also loved animals, and I think she was a member of the RSPCA. Since I was born, she has not gone long without a pet to keep her company. One of her pets, Charlie the dog, we still have now.
To me Nana was the right in wrong, the sanity in insanity, the good in this evil world. When she passed away I felt the saddest I have ever felt in my life. But I am trying to be strong and remember that she is in my heart, and that is all that matters."
The display of floral tributes beside my mother's grave at Braywick Cemetery, Maidenhead.
This was the first time Sam and I saw her stone memorial in place - on Christmas Eve 2005.
Here is the plaque on my mum's memorial bench at Ray Mill Island, Maidenhead, just after it was placed in July 2006. I thought it would be fitting for her to be remembered in some small way at a place where she had enjoyed so much of her time, especially during the last few years of her life.