For as many years as I can remember, the family Tooting have holidayed in Devon. First two weeks in August every year, come rain or shine. To start with we stayed at a bed and breakfast at a farm on the edge of a small town a few miles from the coast. We stayed, all four of us, in a family room, and spent the days at the beach and the evenings chasing dogs around fields. When we outgrew the family room, we started staying at the coast. In a particular village on the coast, we'd book a cottage for a fortnight, and spend our days on the beach and our evenings ... on the beach. All very idyllic. When I was about eleven, my parents booked a beach hut for the first time. It was nothing more than a shed really, but it was somewhere to put the deckchairs, and to get changed without having to do that beach-towel-shuffle that the English excel at. And the hut also came with neighbours, and they transformed the Devon experience for us. On one side, was a Yorkshire family - mother, father and their daughter just a year or so younger than me. In subsequent years, Father Yorkshire recommended his career to me, and I now do almost exactly the same thing as he did then. Yorkshire Daughter and I remain friends, largely thanks to the wonder that is Facebook. On the other, was a retired couple from Oxford. Bob and Dot. They'd have been in their late sixties I guess. He was a not-so-retired artist, and musician. She was the grounded one. They were both lovely. She encouraged my early creative endeavours, and we did the Woman's Weekly crossword together. He painted pebbles with little beach scenes and cartoon characters on for the children that played on the beach, locals and tourists alike, painting as many as 200 in a season. I've still got most of the ones he did for me over the years. He also taught me to play cribbage, patiently taking me through the complicated scoring; fifteen-two, fifteen-four and the rest won't score, and he drove us all mad with his one-man ukulele shows. Over the last twenty years, we have all grown up together. The nine of us in those three huts are 180 years older between us. We have, between us, bought four houses and countless cars. One of us has got married. We have collectively buried seven parents and one child. Three of us have got university degrees and new careers and four of us have retired. And today one of us died. Bob, 89 years old now, couldn't shake off a chest infection, and today it got the better of him. I feel that the world is a gloomier place tonight. I feel wistful that this summer we won't be regaled with the ukulele, or be given a new beautifully painted pebble. I feel a great loss that I've lost my first, and still my favourite cribbage partner. And I feel sad that this year, our original nine will be eight. So, in memory of a great man, and a greater couple, I'm giving you this lovely Video Nation clip of a few years ago, which I watch from time to time when I need my faith restoring in the human race. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Ukulele Bob.
I am a thirty-something Tooting dweller with a mundane day job and a creative weekend job. I like good books, singing along with the radio, biscuits, weekends away, people spotting, smut, lovely people, pebbles, big bear hugs and new stationery. I don't like chewing gum, bad books, laziness, ironing, smelly people and being late.