Between Farnham and Guildford, in England's finest county of Surrey, lies 'The Hog's Back'.
The Hog's Back is a ridge of the North Downs (in England, downs go up), and is sometimes also known as the A31.
When I was a student in Farnham, my mother told me of a distant relative who lived just off this road, and suggested I visit him.
The relative in question was a Graphic Designer for The Church of England (he produced those posters you see outside churches), and he'd moved into his Hog's Back house, with wife and kids, just a couple of years previously.
The house had been abandoned, and he'd bought it almost as a ruin. It needed extensive work, and the garden (jungle) was totally overgrown. He spent several months just making the house habitable.
When the house itself was done, they attacked the garden. There were trees to be felled, rubbish to be cleared, and plans to be made. The more they cleared, the more it stretched much further down than they'd at first imagined. Right at the bottom there was a thick patch of Rhododendrons, where they also found what looked like a regularly used path leading to a ramshackle shed.
They could see at once that the shed was inhabited, and it wasn't long before the occupier returned and they introduced themselves.
The elderly gentleman (let's call him Jim) was a classic tramp. He owned just a few simple possessions, and all he wanted was a quiet life. They left him alone to consider their options.
Jim was hurting no-one. The children befriended him, and he soon started to do small jobs in and around the garden. During one hard winter he was eventually invited to live in the house; which he did.
On the only occasion I visited this distant relative, there was 'Uncle Jim' looking like any normal father-in-law or grandfather, happily ensconced in family life, and playing with the children.
No doubt he stayed with the family for the rest of his life.
I remember posting a picture, sometime back, of an unfortunate man (here in France) who owned no more than an old Volvo, his Alsatian dog Rex, and a white plastic garden chair. His love of Alsatians had led him to meet my neighbours Claude and Josette, and they had become friends. This was about 4 years ago.
Maurice and Rex now live in a battered old caravan, amongst piles of rotting farm machinery, inside an old tumble-down barn. He was supposed to have moved-on last Autumn, but Claude and Josette took pity on him, and it looks like he's there to stay. He does bits around the farm (not unlike Uncle Jim), and is a burden to no-one. I chat with him occasionally, and he has slowly become part of our local scene.
I've recently noticed that he now has electricity connected, as well as satellite TV. I imagine he'll be there for the rest of his life.
I should add that Claude and Josette also recently took-in a sick neighbour, Hervé (who had lived alone). They looked after him until he finally died; he was with them for about 3 years.
There are still good and generous people about, as well as (unfortunately) those who need their help.
I Just love these stories,they remind me of my grandmother,if anyone(relative) fell out with their family they ended up at netties and there they stayed....just a wonderful little story ,thanks Cro.ReplyDelete
I often think there but for the grace of God go I.ReplyDelete
Alan Bennett (writer) once had a homeless lady living in a dead car in his garden in London. He let her live there and eventually found her life story and how she had lost her love of her life during the second world war.
Great post Cro.
I heard a radio play LAST NIGHT, on Radio 4 extra, on this very subject. Bennett, as usual, was hilarious. I didn't know it was a true story... even better.Delete
Two great stories Cro - nice to know there are still kind people about.ReplyDelete
Yes, there are still lots of good people but who is the relative???ReplyDelete
I have no idea. I can't even remember his name. He wasn't all that interesting either!Delete
My father used to tell me stories of a tramp called Happy Harry; ever since I've had a thing about men of the road.ReplyDelete
My ambition when I grow up is to be a bag lady, some might say I've already arrived at that happy state?
Alan Bennett is my all time favourite man... I just love his Yorkshire curmudgeonliness.
What super stories, more of the same please Cro.
The days of real tramps are almost over in this country, I think. They have been replaced - or ousted - by people with dink/drugs problems. Did you know that the Hogs Back Hotel was the main WW2 centre of communications because of the height?ReplyDelete
My only real memory of The Hog's Back (other than the above) was the Watts Gallery. I visited several times.Delete
Yes - a great place, haunted by a young man who seemed to have stepped out from the 19th century.Delete
Very heart warming to know that people can be so compassionate.ReplyDelete
Very good to know that Esprit de Coeur continues to be practised.ReplyDelete
What a lovely story from part of the world I know very well. Next time I travel along the Hog's Back I shall think of Uncle Jim :-)ReplyDelete
I am estranged from my mother. A few years ago she sent me a book by Alan Bennett called 'Writing Home' so I suppose that was more a Cri de Couer but I would thoroughly recommend the book to you, Cro. In it Bennett tells the reader the true story of 'The Lady in the Van'.ReplyDelete
Here I seem to be a way station for children rather than old characters, little Marta being the latest. I can't see UK social services ever allowing a grumpy old reclusive alcoholic to look after children but it seems to work. Only yesterday I received, out of the blue, an email from the very first one who stayed with me (for about two years until her family sorted themselves out after the war), she is now an attaché at the Angolan Embassy in Japan.
My father was the same. He employed an old bloke crippled by war wounds and let him live on the site, ostensibly as part of the security team. Now I don't want to upset anyone, this is merely a reflection of attitudes in the seventies but my father justified it at the time by stating that he had hundreds of lazy Irishmen working for him, why couldn't he employ one sick Englishman? My father was half Irish, by the way.
Thinking about it, most of the guys he employed on what he called 'General Duties' (now disparagingly referred to as 'Unskilled Labour') were old guys who stood no chance of getting a job in the employment market extant at the time. Still, Dad's Army got his employer's their ISO 9001 certification which proved there was plenty of life left in those old dogs.
My own father was a very good and kind employer. He once employed an 'ancient' gardener, who just about managed to work out where he was, before it was time to go home again. The poor old boy eventually died, slumped over his spade, at the bottom of our garden.Delete
I remember my parents helping people out and sharing what little they had with those who were down on their luck. They lived through the Depression and two wars and that is what people did. Today we have such a scary world (or maybe we know too much now), that it is not wise to open your homes to strangers. Drugs have changed society so much.ReplyDelete
I'd like to think I would do the same. In the 70's I hitched all over the US and the kindness of strangers was amazing. You've reminded me Cro, I still have payback to give to othersReplyDelete
Heartwarming Cro...lovely that people can ignore current media-driven paranoia that would lead us to believe that every stranger presents life-threatening dangers, and behave humanely. I'll take this lesson to heart.ReplyDelete
Much to think about today Cro. Thanks for this.ReplyDelete
It's wonderful to read a post about the better side of human nature ... we don't hear about it nearly enough.ReplyDelete
Great stories. Thank you for posting.ReplyDelete
Wonderful post, Cro. Thank you. Love it when you reminisce.ReplyDelete
I'm amazed to hear a story like this. What wonderful trusting people they were/are. These days you would be mighty afraid of allowing a strange man to live in your garden and play with your children with the way the world has become.ReplyDelete
What wonderful stories. My grandmother never locked her doors, and if anyone needed anything, they were welcome to share whatever she had. From what I was told, during the depression, tramps who were passing through knew they could come on in for a hot meal and a safe place to sleep overnight. No one ever took advantage of her or harmed her.ReplyDelete
Nowadays, I'm afraid that wouldn't be the case.
Great stories of kind people!ReplyDelete
It's always good to read about good people and good deeds. We do live in such a fear-based world, it's hard to imagine many would do this these days.ReplyDelete