JOHN BONE: How one widow held on to her love

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A sympathetic response to my mention last week of the “forgotten” First World War spinsters encourages me to tell the true tale of one such woman who led a lonely life after her fiancé died in the trenches. A nurse who cared for her when she was very elderly noticed that the little finger of her left hand was constantly clenched against the palm. A gentle inquiry elicited the explanation that her late loved-one’s signet ring, which she had never got round to having made smaller, would fall off if she did not keep the finger crooked. Thus she held on to it and him. It had been like that for half a century and was like that when she, too, died.

Those of us familiar only with the Varsity Boat Race and the annual Rugby match may find the idea of next month’s first Oxford versus Cambridge horse race at the Rowley Mile as slightly surprising. Not a bit of it. These rivalries extend to almost every activity. There have been, for example, some bitter battles in the Oxford and Cambridge Ballroom Dancing Competition to say nothing of the Oxford and Cambridge Wine Tasting Match. The latter is taken very seriously. I once asked the captain of the Cambridge tasting team how she prepared her palate for the forthcoming event. “I give up Marmite sandwiches for a week,” she replied demurely.

My fierce defence of the grassroots democracy of parishes and their councils has its limits. It would be nice to spring to the defence of Wangford, one of the smallest parishes in all England and utterly overshadowed by mighty Lakenheath next door. But here’s an awful admission. I did not even know Wangford and its six electors existed until Forest Heath proposed abolishing it. Soon Wangford will vanish like the Soke of Peterborough, the Isle of Ely or the Wappentake of Rye. And I, the self-appointed champion of parishes, cannot even shed a tear.

Professional qualifications are all very well but I’m glad to see Sgt Mel Leaman is emphasising the value of local knowledge as he returns to Newmarket to take over the police Safer Neighbourhood Team. He speaks not only of his own local knowledge but that of the team he has inherited. To my mind the need for local knowledge runs through almost every branch of public service from medicine to my colleagues in the media. People waving certificates and diplomas pass through our communities on their career paths to elsewhere but a doctor or copper who knows family histories and the complexities of personalities and places is to be treasured.

Heavily advertised national chains of opticians emphasise in their very names the supposed virtues of either a speedy service or a thrifty service. Why? Quite frankly, when dealing with something as precious and delicate as my eyesight I want the service to be professionally perfect. Price and speed are almost irrelevant. I can wait and I can find the price somehow, if I must.

I sighed for the loss of simplicity in our lives while reading the sad story of how Ken Wooldridge from Lakenheath had lost his wife, Dorothy, just after celebrating 70 years’ marriage. “They went everywhere on their tandem,” said their daughter Janice. “They were really a tandem couple.” Such rejoicing in health and happiness from a bicycle made for two back in the 40’s before our roads became perilous, poisonous places! Compared with then, everything now seems so complicated, expensive or downright dangerous. On the other hand, Ken has reached the age of 92, the sort of life expectancy that would have been barely believable when he was a boy.

This is the first time I have ever had a good word to say for stuffy, snooty, boring, bungaloid Frinton-on-Sea but the resort’s councillors show unusual good sense in resisting Sainsbury’s garish orange signs in their peaceful resort. Why is it that planners who kick up such a fuss if some hapless homeowner wants to put up a plastic porch are content to let big business do what they like in our high streets and open countryside? They protect thatched cottages but allow the lurid coloured canopies of filling stations next door. They rant on about the architectural purity of our town centres but then allow banks to plaster the prospect with bilious blue fascia boards. What might be right for Piccadilly Circus is an eyesore elsewhere but big money gets away with it.

Scanning our weddings supplement last week I was left wondering if there had ever been another moment in history when weddings were more important but marriage was less important.

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