Fond memories for one of nature's gentlemen

PUBLISHED: 11:20 09 February 2006 | UPDATED: 14:35 12 May 2010

Clarence

Clarence

I HAVE the deepest respect for people older than myself who were denied the higher educational higher opportunities which the Education Act 1944 put within reach of those who could not afford to pay school fees, or who failed to be the scholarship kid".

I HAVE the deepest respect for people older than myself who were denied the higher educational higher opportunities which the Education Act 1944 put within reach of those who could not afford to pay school fees, or who failed to be "the scholarship kid". Those who were the first to be eligible to sit the 11plus examination, the then passport to grammar school education, will now be 72-years-old. Much older village characters who rarely travelled early on in their lives and who were destined to stay in the area where they were born are a dying breed. Clarence was one of these. He looked at the world through spectacles with unusually thick lens. His poor eyesight was a drawback. Behind those lens and impassive expression there was a man with a witty sense of humour. The sad fact is that all too often those like him were labelled for life by their contemporaries within their community as being someone who was not bright, or a duffer. Today those attitudes could well be described as bullying. I knew Clarence as someone who had little pieces of land here and there from which he kept us supplied with vegetables according to the season. He kept garden hedges in good shape, he tackled a lot of gardening jobs and was a popular visitor to peoples' homes. I did see a wedding day picture of Clarence standing beside his first wife Jessie, otherwise he appeared to be someone who did not merit much pictorial attention. It was not unusual to find that many of Clarence's generation only sat for a studio portrait when they were 21 or as a young soldier before going to war. The picture here was the result of four photo sessions over some two or more years. My first attempts to picture him working amongst his crop of leeks resulted in Clarence promptly standing bold upright every time I spoke to him. The desired result was achieved the following year after his wife had thus instructed him: "Now Clarence when Mrs Marshall asks you to look at her do not stand up, just carry on with your work." One morning he arrived with a lovely bunch of carrots. "What do you think to these," he said. I reached for my camera. This picture was among those at the tail end of a film used to cover a village function. "Was this someone selling carrots at the Field Day," asked a local news reporter. At that point it dawned on me that Clarence was himself a news story. Once again that year he had planted up his large council house garden not knowing whether or not a roadway would be cut through it for more housing. The press cutting of Clarence's picture was pinned up on many a kitchen notice board. Yes, the developers came. His garden was chopped away down the side and across the back. Predictably, the trauma was just too much for Clarence, by then a widower for the second time. He was found one morning cold and wet, clad only in his pyjamas, in a house under construction on what was his vegetable garden. At Clarence's funeral, the eulogy given by the priest-in-charge gave eloquent tribute to his knowledge of the seasons and the soil. It appeared obvious that the reverend gentlemen knew him very well indeed. Clarence was one of nature's gentlemen, he said. When he later saw this picture in portrait form he was clearly mystified about it's identity. "That is the man you have just buried," I said. "Oh yes, I remember now, I have seen him around the village" he said. - Jill Marshall reports from the Eversdens in Village Scene each week in The Crow.

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