Vultures, Conkers, And Blankets Wrapped In Autumn Leaves

The wind whistled up the leg of my shorts as I descended the stairs of the Ryanair flight into Birmingham but despite it being late afternoon a watery sun still had some power and it could hardly be called cold. Hoping to make some headway in the legal quagmire following my Dad’s death 6 weeks ago, I had flown in for a few days and this time had got a reasonable return deal. It didn’t take long for the till to start ringing, with an early return flight the return train fair to Oxford doubled to 54 pounds for missing the off peak time. At least Birmingham is an easy hours roll down south and after a food and beer stop in town I headed up to Blackbird Leys to stay with my Mums sister. Kirby Towers looked forlorn as I passed, just bricks and mortar now, no longer a home.

The next morning, trips to see my Mum, still in a “temporary” care home and the solicitor confirmed that noone had done anything to move things on. Basically social services are already clocking up a big chunk of my mums money and I had to top up the solicitors to find out the house will go to an equity firm for an advance made 10 years ago. Both need me in place with Power of Attorney to give them access to cash and home, well they can pay for that process, over to you my little vultures.

The decent weather couldn’t be wasted, a trip out to the village of Witney seemed a good idea, a delightful bus journey through country roads framed with russet, gold and brown leaves as trees brushed the upper deck of my red chariot and branches groaned under the burden of killer conkers. About half way on the 40 minute trip there is an old curiosity, Swinford toll bridge, spanning the Evenlode river and the years as the busy traffic slows to pay an ancient toll that cannot be repealed. The charge has leapt up to 5 p for cars and a little more for lorries and vans and at peak time queues tail back for miles as the 2 workers in the old brick booth extract their antique tax from exasperated drivers. Witney is a lovely traditional village complete with large green and crumbling church. Many of my Dad’s ancestors came from out this way so it seemed a timely pilgrimage and brought back many pleasant memories, the buttercross (below) is still a centrepiece and meeting place where the roads converge. The current St Marys Church was built in 1243 on the site of previous Saxon and Norman places of worship and was undergoing renovation. I popped inside and chatted to a church helper about the huge uphill task of raising over a million pounds to restore the roof and tower.

Witney has one of the most disproportionate ratios of pubs to people, they are everywhere, most of them full of character and old world charm. The old Palace cinema has been converted to offices but was a lively nightclub for a while, former Oxford united and Portsmouth forward John Durnin earned his nickname Johnny Lager there and is still remembered in local folklore for ejecting another reveller through the large front window. In my early days of supporting Oxford City, Witney Town was our local rival, I spent many happy afternoons at their town centre ground, these days they have fled to the back waters and modern housing is built on their ground. The main source of income and fame was the Witney blanket factory, again long gone and converted into expensive modern flats, luckily the main heart of Witney is still genteel and steeped in history.

Back to the grim reality of modern Oxford and my second day was another whirl of paying bills and trying to awaken mums social worker from hibernation, sadly social services doesn’t seem to want the right hand to have even a passing relationship with the left hand, confusion reigns. At least I got time to sample a few local ales and see a few old friends as the hours ticked away, I feel this aftermath will rumble on and on, the best I manged was some damage limitation. It was a early start for my return flight, this time with Thomas Cook, I even had a little time to kill at the airport. The new hand dryers in the toilets fascinated me, they look like sandwich toasters and you put your hands in them, I was tempted to see how they react to anything else popped in them but thought it might be difficult to explain at casualty. Thankfully I was soon being warmed by the hot sun of Tenerife, it’s good to be back.

November 16th, 2016 11:38 am

I just wanted to say thank you, for a most enjoyable read.
Your words had me laughing away to myself so much, my husband thought I was going round the twist?
So thank’s again and keep up the good work.
Kindest regards,

November 16th, 2016 12:55 pm

Thank you very much. I had to go back and read the post as it was an old one. Been a bit quiet on here lately as my new job with Canarian Weekly takes up much of my time and stories-but I am striving to add more. Cheers Colin