Life’s departure lounge, touring southern England and a sad farewell

Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed,

Droops on little hands little gold head.

Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!

Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

A.A Milne

Chris and Sondra 1969, photo taken by Chris’s father, Wilfred.

We came to the UK to visit Neil’s uncle Chris after learning he has terminal cancer. It was with some trepidation that we came, not knowing what to expect or if we could be of any help.
Some time back I read some of Clive James’ articles where he coined the phrase ‘life’s departure lounge’ which perfectly captures the poignant absurdity of finding out you have a terminal illness and waiting for the inevitable. This is where Chris is now, in life’s departure lounge, although for him the metaphor might be better described as the ‘final lap’, because Chris has been a motorcycle racer all of his adult life.

Background

Chris (Christopher) was born in what was then known as Ceylon, to Marjory and Wilfred Pereira; he was named after Christopher Robin, from his father’s favourite books by A.A Milne. He already had an older sister, Rosemary (Neil’s mother) and would also later have a younger sister, Jennifer. Motorcycle racing has been part of his life for over 60 years, racing in Ceylon, then the UK and across Europe at tracks including Hockenheim, Isle of Man, Donnington, Silverstone and many others.

In his later years he competed in classic motorcycle events including hill climbs. After moving to the UK, he met and married the other love of his life, Sondra, his wife and friend, she has accompanied him to hundreds of races and now lovingly cares for him. His last race was at age 80, a hill climb in Austria which ended in tragedy, when he crashed and a spectator was killed. Chris was badly injured breaking several bones including both arms and life has been a struggle for him ever since, both physically and emotionally.

Chris has written three books about motorcycle racing covering the 1960s to the early 2000’s, and is working on another chronicling his travels with his father.

Motorcycle racing has provided him with many lifelong friends, some of whom are visiting him daily in these, his last weeks. It is sad to see someone who always lived life to the full, being unable to do anything for himself. Despite his physical weakness, his mind is as a keen as ever, as was evident as we all watched the MotoGP together last week, and he knew all the riders and details of their previous wins and times.

Devon, Cornwall and Wiltshire

Whilst in the UK we took a break and headed down the coast, driving our rental car and discovering that there are some extremely narrow roads in England.
First stop was for lunch at the Beckford Arms in Fonthill Gifford, which had a lovely outdoor terrace and excellent food.

Fisherman’s lunch at the Beckford Arms

Onward from there we spent our first night at Paignton. This town is obviously a seaside holiday town, with a pier, complete with amusement arcade. Fish and chip shops, video games, traditional arcade games and all sorts of games of chance and skill. It was quite mind boggling, to see so many of these machines lined up along the length of the pier. I couldn’t help but think that this is grooming kids for gambling. So many of these games had cash prizes. There were also multiple ‘casinos’ throughout the town, all geared at children. We stayed in a BnB in town and had dinner at the Inn on the Green along the main street, standard pub fare.

On our way to our next destination, we diverted via the Lizard for lunch. Here we found a a fantastic little cafe, purported to be Britain’s most southerly, nestled on the cliffs overlooking the rugged coastline. The food was fabulous and the views extraordinary, and such a sunny day, it was just lovely.

On to Penzance and another quaint BnB, a pleasant walk along the seafront and dinner at a pub serving Italian fare, which was a nice change.
The next day we drove to St Ives, foolishly driving all the way down to the waterfront, where the streets are extremely narrow, filled with holiday making pedestrians and parking is at a premium, still we found a place to park on the pier, paid a ridiculously expensive parking fee, and headed for a walk along the crowded foreshore. This is a very pretty place but at this time of year, filled with tourists. We also watched people swimming in the chilly water, jumping off the pier and saw a seal swimming by. There was such a holiday atmosphere , it was almost contagious.

Next stop was Padstow, our primary reason for coming to Cornwall, to have lunch at one of Rick Stein’s restaurants. Of course, without a booking in peak season we were obviously just dreaming, so after a lovely walk around town, we settled on Cally Oyster Bar restaurant which was lovely; great seafood.
No amusement arcades here though, clearly there’s a class structure around holiday destinations here, Padstow is restaurants, upmarket souvenir shops and art galleries.
As there was no available accommodation around here (we hadn’t booked ahead) nor at nearby New Quay, due to the Boardmasters festival (later cancelled due to bad weather), we looked for something out of town, and found a gem. A farmhouse near Bude, called Higher Tresmorn farm BnB. This place was just beautiful, set up on rolling hills above the Atlantic coast, the views were amazing, the farmhouse was lovely and Emma was an excellent host, serving a sumptuous English breakfast in the conservatory with views of the sea. So peaceful, watching the sunset over the ocean as a flock of wild geese flew in and landed on the dam, and whilst watching and photographing this, I was also occupied by constantly throwing a ball for the resident dog to fetch. Bliss. I would highly recommend this BnB if you are out that way.

Next we headed North towards Cheltenham, staying the night in the historic town of Broadway, at Abbott’s Grange, a 14th century building set in beautiful gardens right in the centre of town. This place is so picture postcard, old stone buildings wherever you look. Our room was on the first floor, complete with 4 poster bed. We had a lovely meal at the Swan gastro pub across the road, and then a quiet port by the outdoor fire before retiring.

After leaving Broadway we headed back to Bracknell to spend a few more days with Chris and Sondra, but stopped along the way in Oxford. Many of the larger towns and cities in England have park and ride facilities, and we made use of the one outside Oxford, parking our car on the outskirts and taking a bus into the centre. We visited the historic covered market and had a pie for lunch, then went to the Science museum, which showcased scientific equipment across the ages; very interesting.

Back in Bracknell, we checked into our apartment near town centre and spent the next few days taking the bus to and from Chris and Sondra’s house, just hanging out, chatting, watching tv, looking at old photos. The love of motorcycles has been a binding force between him and Neil; the shared brotherhood that only motorcyclists understand.

It was with great sadness and many tears that we said our goodbyes knowing it is unlikely we will see him again, but hoping that we brought a little bit of happiness to his last days, by just being there, watching some motor cycling together, and Neil cooking him a creme brulee, to try and tempt his ailing appetite, and to provide some moral support for Sondra at this very difficult time. I know that these few days have been meaningful for Neil and I hope also for Chris.

Post script: Saturday 24th August

Sadly, Chris passed away today. So sad, but glad we were able to see him and spend some time with him. RIP.

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