17 March 2024

In Memoriam, Berkhamsted and others.....

Burp Hampster

[Before I proceed I should explain that "Burp Hamster" was the name of the place our daughters decided their Grannie and Grandad lived - aka Berkhamsted]

At lunch I am sitting next to someone who is supposed to be dead..... (there is a lot of it about, Ed).  This person has clearly been Mark Twained (The report of my death was an exaggeration).

The curious thing is that I was in Berkhamsted to pay my respects to a dead man - but it wasn't this one. Suffice it to say that my companion was something of a misprint (in The Old Berkhamstedian magazine.....)

The real object of the obsequies actually died last year, and I appended a brief tribute to him on my post Snettisham Today (https://www.richardpgibbs.org/2023/06/snettisham-today.html) but this was a day for a formal memorial to Jonty Driver, former Headmaster of Berkhamsted School, poet, activist, and family friend.

I last saw Jonty at a reading he gave in Wells-next-the-sea, in June 2021 (was it really that long ago already?) but we had kept in touch.

Anyway, with the greatest respect to Jonty, and his family, and to Berkhamsted School, this is not (quite) about them.  

Some might say that I grew up in Berkhamsted (for more on which town, please see: https://www.richardpgibbs.org/2013/05/berkhamsted-herts.html) though to be exact, I was a boy in Berkhamsted (I was a lad in Lancaster, a romantic in Rome, ageing in Ascot, a has-been in Harpenden and now getting senile in Snettisham - but take your pick). 

My father had also been a boy in Berkhamsted, but then returned here as a father and a much admired man, (but that is another story).

So, though I have been back many a time over the years, I found myself thinking about our time here, and sifting the way things change, or not. After the celebrations of Jonty's great life, and the pleasantries of meeting other dead people, I wander down to cross the Bulbourne, the chalk stream that carved this valley through the Chilterns.

It flows, that's still true, but it shows neglect.  I remember walking down the stream bed from Northchurch to Berko in my wellingtons, past the watercress beds and into the town, without worrying about the collection of dog shit.....  Perhaps there weren't as many dogs then?

On the Moor, which is the canal basin hard by the railway station, I meet a charming couple who have taken to live on the waterways.  How nice to travel slow and easy, tranquil in the security that your home will always be with you while the world passes by inconsequentially.  I am taken by the idea, but realise that it takes two to manage the locks, and so shelve that thought.....

I carry on along the canal side, sniffing that pervasive smell of stale water, dead fish and puddled mud, to reach The Rising Sun, where, with a pint of mild, I watch Ireland beat Scotland in a room I first frequented sixty years ago (yes I was under age, but scoring darts improved my mental arithmetic no end!)

When I leave it is already dark.  I don't really want to go, but I know no one and the match is over and my pint is drunk.....

So I meander down the High Street, dodging the motorised prams and people in unisex one-piece tailor-made personalised jogging suits, past my bank (The National Provincial), which was once the school attended by the girl who would become Winston Churchill's wife, and which is now a restaurant (the bank moved across the street behind the bus stop, but even the NatWest is now gone....)

Almost everywhere is now an eatery.  You might think that no one knows how to cook at home these days. Or you might think that the populace is so well off they can all afford to dine out every night (I guess they would once have had servants? Maybe they still do, though I guess even they may have a night off?)  I don't know, but once upon a time the Gas Showroom was a gas showroom (not a restaurant) and the Post Office was a Post Office (not an M & S Foodhall)

But at least some things don't change.  Woods is still a garden centre, and, appropriately for today, Malcolm, Jones and Metcalfe are still dealing with our demises from the same address.  We did business with them when my parents needed their services, but they may not remember that late one Saturday evening over sixty years ago someone rang their front door bell and ran away.  

Joe and I are still ashamed, having run to hide at the bottom of Park View Road.  

I am particularly ashamed that we were caught.....

Just up the next hill, Boxwell Road, I feel a little weird photographing the facade of Number 2, but this is the house where my dad attended Mr and Mrs Popple's infant school almost a hundred years ago, and it is the address we all lived at some forty years later. 

Hey!  Memories.  It is a questionable benefit being able to recall all the crimps and creases of a misspent life.  Time to call time?

At the bottom of the road I step into The Lamb, wishing to wash away the lingering taste of fish and chips that I hungered for earlier.

Here I meet Gordon Lee, a fellow from Hemel Hempstead, a few years older than me.  His card introduces him as an 'All round good guy,' a 'Roving FF Reporter,' and a 'Soldier of Fortune.'  He has been in town today to watch football , but is intending to return to Papua New Guinea where he feels more at home (I understand).

I feel a presence, a drift of energy.  It is as if Jonty Driver is catching my eye.  I sense that I should turn in, and thank my new friend for his offer of another drink.  I could go the distance, but perhaps another day.  I am too full of memories, of unclear thoughts. It seems that perhaps I have done with Berkhamsted.  My mother and father are dust on the hill:

I am becoming bleary, no longer sure of anything:

I enjoyed the company of Ron Hall at lunch, despite the announcement that he had recently passed away.  I enjoyed meeting my friends with their canal boat, though I am so sorry that I cannot recall their names.  I would have spilled much beer with Gordon in The Lamb, but I have to leave the last words to Jonty:

Far gone?  Gone for good?  I abjure
All pre-knowledge, but now I know for sure.
You (the reader) don't; or do you?
I wrote this before I knew.


C J (Jonty) Driver

Thank you, everyone,

For everything,


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