The VIPs Who Were Also VKPs (1 February 1974)
The longer I continue these quasi-memoirs the more I am impressed by the fact that it is not the Bletchley-shattering events that I remember best it is the kindnesses done to me and mine during my life here – kindnesses which have led to enduring friendships.
For a newsman, I am not a very sociable sort of chap. I am shy, I could never be the life and soul of a party, even if I tried. With the possible exception of sport, my interests are not those of the majority.
My job has been good for me in that it has pitchforked me into contact with a lot of people and helped remedy a natural introversion. But never have I imagined or hoped that one day I would be writing this highly-personalised sort of stuff and with my name and picture at the top. And between you and me, I can only do it now when I forget that it might be read by 30,000 or more people. When I do remember then I am appalled and my typewriter immediately konks ou……
Fortunately for me, my wife is a more balanced and outgoing sort of person. She can make a dozen friends and acquaintances while I am making one – and all without conscious effort.
This capacity of my wife has served me very well. Any old newsman will tell you that the items hardest to come by are not those which flow incessantly from diary events and their follow-ups. All those are easy meat.
Much harder and more important to get are those human stories, happy, sad or bizarre, which are always around but which can be gained only by wide contact with what are miscalled the common people. Like that it’s Mr. and Mrs. A’s diamond wedding next Tuesday, or that Mrs. So-and-so is expecting her twentieth child next June so watch out for it, or that little Tommy Tucker has just come down their chimney head first.
In this respect I have sometimes thought the Gazette ought to be paying my wife rather than myself.
Not that my wife pokes her nose in. It is just that while she was in good health such tit-bits came to her like iron filings to a magnet. Maybe it’s because one of her grandfathers was the first editor of a well known west country morning newspaper, and something sticks.
So while I have tended to deal with VIPs, my wife’s friends and acquaintances have included several VKPs, a superior order in that it stands for Very Kind People. Of course, both orders have sometimes been combined in the same person. And in just one or two instances it was I who first came in touch.
Friends for years
I do not wish to write of the living, but I think I can now write of Mr. Sydney Maycock and his wife, “Dinah,” with whom we were friends right from 1946 to their deaths – “Dinah” some years ago and Sydney last Boxing Day in Renny Lodge Hospital aged 81.
It is difficult now to recapture the importance that railway guard Sydney had for the little town of Bletchley in 1946. He was chairman of the 12-strong urban council and presided over its first Labour majority. He had the happy duty of leading the town’s victory celebrations. I can still see him playing on the right wing in a comic football match in the long grass of the Leon Rec.
His inside man was Mr. Alf. Duffield, who tried to head the ball into a non-existent net while wearing white flannel trousers and a black topper.
On the serious side, the council were concerned with the implications of the Abercrombie Report, the prelude to all subsequent expansion plans. But most of all they were facing the town’s own housing problem – one in which there were about 800 applicants on the list, with not a house built since before the war and all building rationed by the government.
The fact that that job was done by a town of fewer than 10,000 “permanent” people without recourse to pre-fabs may be of encouragement to some other bodies who think they have such problems today.
In the thick of it
Sydney was in the thick of it, both as council chairman for two years and then as housing chairman. At an election he was the first candidate ever to poll over 1,000 votes and his total was no mere 1,000-plus but a whacking 1,300-plus.
In later years, he looked back with pride on what he considered had been his two special “babies.” One “baby” was the acquisition and development of the Manor Farm housing estate and playing fields. The other was the decision to build the two or three hundred “Trusteel” houses now in the town.
He told me he had considerable qualms about placing the-then big contracts for houses which would begin as steel frames and also that he would be ever grateful to Mr. James Smithie, then the town’s engineer and surveyor, for more or less persuading him into it. I personally consider those houses the most “liveable-in” which the council have ever built and some people who have occupied them all that time tell me they have always been very comfortable.
The Maycocks themselves lived in the little terrace house in Victoria Road adjoining the Foundry Arms. For years Sydney was the councillor living nearest the council offices and for a long time later he was the JP living nearest the old police station. Few if any houses have had so many callers on business of one kind or another. And “Dinah” who had been crippled since childhood, was receptionist to them all when Sydney was out.
During several of my earliest years in Bletchley I was left alone while my wife went on visits to her ailing mother in Yorkshire.
I think it was during her very first visit that I had occasion to make a news call on Mr. Maycock. I must have mentioned that just then I was a “grass widower” At any rate, the following week-end found me sharing the Sunday Dinner of the council chairman and his wife. If that was not an act of great kindness on their part especially during a time of food rationing, then I don’t know one. My wife on her return was similarly grateful, and so the friendship began.
The last months of Sydney Maycock, VKP, VIP were as poignantly tragic as they are with too many old people. I prefer to remember him as I first knew him. But now you will see the point of my opening remarks.