Sunday 30 November 2008

Old Pictures

Some more family images to do with my father. I've been discovering so many since he died. I know they won't really interest visitors to this blog, but I hope you get an inkling of a 'life' from them.

This is my grandfather Arthur with my dad about 1940ish. I love this picture because they look so happy together.

Arthur, my grandfather on his wedding day to Florrie about 1932.

My great grandfather on the Trinchera Ranch in Colorado.

Dad, the 'typical American kid' in California 1942.

Dad 1956. He's 22 here, pre-beard and glasses!

Arthur and my step grandmother Barbara, Arthur's second wife in India 1944, both smoking. They all did then! I like this one of Barbara. She looks 'very of the time'.

Dad is the one bottom left with the aviator sunglasses, with a bunch of mates in 1951.

Finally, my great uncle Malcolm Elwin to whom my father was very close, in his study. Malcolm smoked about 500 Capstan Full Strength a week. I distinctly remember the smell of his study: old books, tobacco and the smell of Eve's cooking from the kitchen.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Bryant Turner Fell 1934 - 2008

On Friday, the 7th November 2008, at about 10.30 in the morning my father had a stroke. He was sitting in his armchair in the kitchen with the cat on his lap. My mother came home from shopping in the local village and found him. The first thing she said to him was: “That’s a funny position.”

I like to think that this is where Bryant Turner Fell died; in his armchair with the little cat that wandered in one day and adopted us, sitting purring on his lap. And maybe it is where he died, at least the element that described my father, the part of the brain that gave him character and personality; the part I knew. But to some extent, the truth is he died a lot later, in Bangor Hospital Gwynedd, Wales; Prysor ward, nine days after he was admitted. His body having endured a week of pain and loss of dignity from both the multiple sclerosis that had destroyed his later years, and the agonising twists and contortions that the massive stroke he'd had provided him with.

My parents live in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in Anglesey in Wales. When my mother found my father she contacted the local doctor, and because of their isolation he called a helicopter to the farm to take him to Bangor hospital about 25 miles away. He vomited at some point and probably inhaled much of that, which gave him pneumonia.

My father was born in June 1934 in Oxford to a peripatetic American mother and staid upright British father. How the two of them ever got together in the first place is beyond me. The differences were extreme to say the least. But maybe that was the point. I didn’t know my grandfather, Arthur. We met a couple of times, and I found him reserved and very British. He had been a doctor. Florence Hayes Turner, or Florrie, my grandmother was a hippy before there were hippies. She worked as a talent scout for MGM studios; although exactly what she was doing in 1934 I don’t know. I have a great photo’ of her from the twenties sitting in a huge American roadster that I can’t identify. She was the daughter of a Colorado rancher, my great grandfather, and she and her sister Eve had grown up on the Trinchera Ranch, which at one point had covered a huge swathe of Colorado.

My dad moved to the US with his mother and sister Chantek not long after his birth and spent the war years in Colorado, Santa Barbara and San Diego and Malaya. He came back to England in 1946 aged 11, a typical American boy he would say. He arrived in Liverpool, and some waggish Liverpudlian told a naïve American kid to support Derby County football club, and my father was a firm follower of them all his life.

He went to St Edwards School in Oxford. When I say ‘went’, I mean his mother put him there to allow her to travel the world. During his schooldays he would spend holidays staying with his aunt Eve, Florrie’s sister, and her husband, the writer Malcolm Elwin in Devon. Malcolm was friends with Daniel Farson, the great nephew of Bram Stoker, and also the witer of Tarka the Otter Henry Williamson. From these people he learned to love books and reading, and I think some of his happiest times were here in the leafy lanes, and windswept sand dunes of North Devon. Malcolm had also been a friend of the poet Louis Wilkinson who had been in turn a good friend of Aleister Crowley. This had always excited me. More so when I learnt Louis had taught my father to swim.

Florrie was a fascinating woman. A teller of tales and extravagances she could keep you riveted for ages, if you allowed her to. As a child she always used to bring my sister and I presents from America. She lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City as a resident, where she hung around with Warhol and his ilk, until she moved to Edinburgh to be close to my Dad’s half brother by her second marriage; Malcolm LeMaistre. Malcolm had been in a band called the Incredible String Band in the ‘60’s and ‘70s and Florrie had always felt closer to the more rebellious son.

In the 1950’s my father did National Service like everyone else, and became Second Lieutenant B T Fell in the Duke of Wellington’s regiment after being at Sand Hurst, and all his life would look forward to the regiments magazine The Iron Duke dropping through the post box. He loved his military life, and made lifetime friends there, constantly telling us endless stories of what he got up to. He was stationed in Gibraltar, but never saw any ‘action’ despite almost going to Korea. (A broken arm prevented this). As a child I used to find his canvas army sleeping bag and sleep in it every night if I could, as I loved the smell of my father. It was only recently he told me he had never washed it!

It was in the late ‘50’s he got the first signs of the illness that was to destroy his later years when he first went almost blind in his right eye: Multiple Sclerosis. He met my mother in 1961 when she was a nurse working at the BBC, and he was working for Mann’s brewery in London. He had something in his eye, and she removed it. Their first date was to a cricket match! He was ever the romantic! Mum say’s she knew she was going to marry him almost from the first time they met. They did, six weeks later, and lived in a small flat in Barnes.

My dad became a teacher in the ‘60’s, and taught at Millfield Public School in Somerset where he became a housemaster. He lectured in all sorts of things, but sport was his obsession, and he ended up helping to pick the Olympic Pentathlon teams when he became secretary of the Modern Pentathlon Association. At weekends he would play rugby. My sister and I came along in the mid sixties. The house dad was in charge of was called Holmcroft, and it would alternate between girls and boys each year. My favourite years were the ones with girls. A little boy gets lots of attention from teenage girls, and I loved it! Debbie, my sister, of course preferred the years with boys! I remember one year, my sister and I standing in the street in our dressing gowns with severe mumps, waiting for the Queen to go past.

In 1974 we left Somerset and moved to Cheshire. My father had got a job teaching remedial studies at Tarporley and would run Summer Schools for children with dyslexia. Mother returned to her first career of nursing at Chester. We lived down a small country lane near a large mansion called Bulkeley Hall and enjoyed a rural life with the nearest and only shop over five miles away. I remember my sister and I squirting the foxhunters with water pistols from our bedroom windows as they passed down the lane. Dad tried to save money on petrol during the fuel crises of the 1970’s by buying a moped and travelling the 10 miles to work on its wobbly wheels. He came off it a number of times! Mum hated it.

Another move took our family to Kettering in Northamptonshire, a move my father later regretted, and it was here my mother’s kidney disease, which had killed her mother and one of her sisters, developed further and she had a kidney transplant. Here also, the multiple sclerosis of my fathers started to make its presence felt. After a second move across Kettering, my father took early retirement in 1985 and he and my mother moved to North Wales where they would stay. There was some disagreement as to the location from my sister and myself. With mum’s kidney problems and my father’s M.S., the last place they should have chosen to live was an old farmhouse in the middle of no-where in an unfamiliar place, thirty miles from a hospital. But they wanted it, or at least my father did. He had some romantic notion about it being a retreat; a place to escape the world, as his aunt Eve and uncle Malcolm had done years before. My sister and I had long since moved away, and had started our own lives in other places, so we couldn’t be there all the time. Ultimately, as my father started to deteriorate, my mother became his full time carer, and despite her own illnesses, which were many, she stayed his constant companion and love until Friday, the 7th November 2008.

This is his history, however paraphrased. But the man was much more. As a younger man he had been energetic and sporty. He loved cricket and rugby, and developed a deep affection for American sports such as Football and baseball. His team were the Green Bay Packers, and that is as far as my knowledge of this game goes. Humanised chess he would call it. The multiple sclerosis put the lid on any kind of taking part in such things, pretty much after the mid eighties. He became a dedicated armchair sportsman, and enjoyed the massive tv screen in his last months a good friend gave him.

Dad was a thinker, a reader and a deep sentimentalist. He would deny the latter, but you had only to look at his record collection to see how true this was. When he discovered CD’s he started collecting all his favourite music all over again, and I would wince as his old 78’s were confined to history. The music was important to him, not how he heard it, and CD’s sounded so much better than scratchy old shellac. Jazz was his love, particularly artists like Mugsy Spanier, and old traditional jazz. He also enjoyed sixties music, and movie soundtracks. How I will ever listen to the Gettysburg theme, or Morningtown Ride by The Seekers again is a sentimental bridge I will struggle to cross.

He had thousands of books. Literally thousands. I grew up with their familiar spines and book jackets painting the walls of my youth. Many American authors like Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Sinclair Lewis. But also books of poetry, and biographies, particularly of other writers. Malcolm Elwin’s biographies of Byron spring to mind. He loved G A Henty, Rider Haggard, H G Wells, Somerset Maugham and Walter Scott. He loved the history of the American Civil War because an ancestor who also bore the unusual name Bryant had lost an arm at Gettysburg. In fact it seems Bryant was a name that occurred frequently in his family. One of his favourite movies was Gettysburg.

According to my mother, many of his happiest times were spent in the armchair permanently rooted in the corner of the big kitchen in the house in Anglesey. Next to the chair was his zimmer and the telephone for any emergency. But to me, every time I would come home, the chair represented a prison. A ball and chain my father could never get away from, and was permanently tied to. Coincidence plays stupid games with you when emotional trauma finds you in life. But next to dad’s chair, top of the little pile of books from the library he would work his way through in the following week, was a novel called ‘The Empty Chair’. God may not play dice, but I really believe he works as a comedian in his spare time. The thing is, I don’t find him very funny.

Tuesday 4 November 2008


Seeing as I'm at home today with a dodgy boiler, brrrr... Some Characters of the Week.

First an intergalactic smuggler that was a bit Tank Girl inspired. Secondly an unfinished illustration of Dr Watson and Holmes on Dartmoor. Thirdly a very bizarre ChOW, which was an Aztec child sacrifice. Sometimes the Character's of the Week can be quite, er... challenging!


Here's a pic of my partner in full Steampunk gear all made by herself as it should be. I was very proud of her. She based it on Serran the Hunter an image you can see further down the blog.
And another one: