Sunday, May 03, 2009

My Father, Charles Courtenay Lloyd and his 90th birthday.

My Father, "Daddy" in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid visiting me in 1979.
Hi again,

On Friday, 1st May, Labour Day, there was something big to celebrate. It was my dear Father, Charles Courtenay Lloyd’s 90th birthday who left England to live with us in Spain some 5 years ago.

My Father is the epitome of the true English gentleman who remains English despite his love of most things "foreign". He is in himself a gentle person who would never hurt a fly.

He was born in Tamworth England in 1919 in a genteel society as the son of an English vicar, my grandfather, John Lloyd, of Welsh extraction and from the island of Anglesy and of course of my grandmother, Dorothy Gertrude Scull a beautiful young pianist from Shropshire.

In short he was born just after the Great War and witnessed in his youth the worst depression in modern history, the Wall Street Crash. When his Father heard of a post with the Imperial Tabacco Company in Bristol through one of his rich parishioners he did not hesitate to remove him from the prestigious Clifton College school as jobs in those days were even scarcer than today.

In his spare time my Father went to evening classes to learn languages, his great passion and in his holidays always travelled abroad to places like Brussels or Geneva. Despite having left school early, thanks to his self learning, he gained a place at Cambridge University, at the Church of England patronised Selwyn College to study German and French.

However the war broke out and he had to curtail his studies to join the forces. He did however return later and finish them but adding Scandinavian languages due to his experience during the war and afterwards with Norway. His passion for both the languages and the countries has never ceased. Still today he speaks all 6 of his languages fluently, English, Russian, Norwegian, German, French and latterly Spanish.

He joined the Royal Navy and has still today a love of ships. Apparently it was his Father who urged him to join the Navy rather than the other forces as he thought his life would be somewhat less in danger. My mother always told us that on his first day, in his immaculate lieutenant uniform and in his very early 20’s, he remarked to an older plain sailor who was washing the decks: “the Navy makes a man of you” to which the sailor replied in his broad cockney accent “it makes a ******* monkey of you”. I’m not sure what the Navy during the Second World War made of my Father but it must have made him grow up before his time. To his merit I must add he got a medal from the King of Norway for his role in the liberation of Norway. The news was published in the newspaper at the time in England and I still have the clipping today.

I ought to add that before returning to Cambridge he spent some time in Germany with what was called the Control Commission in Schleswig-Holstein on the border of Denmark, the allied body that was supposed to catch Nazis on the run and help Germany back on its feet. I gather these were very exciting times for him.

After finishing his studies in Cambridge, he became a teacher of Russian under the famous Liza Hill*, or rather Dame Elizabeth Hill, the Professor of Russian at Cambridge University. She was “Aunty Liza” to me and also my brother’s God Mother. Liza had the task of setting up secret Russian language courses for the armed forces. This was the Cold War and it was obvious the courses were for teaching future spies. The story goes that Liza took him on even though he did not know Russian. She, a very eccentric character, urged him to use the same grammar book as his pupils but to be a few lessons ahead. He took the language learning very seriously and soon became absolutely fluent. At these courses he taught among the likes of Arthur Birse, Winston Churchill's former interpreter in Russia. Here my Father flourished professionally and personally and here he met my Mother, a penniless and homeless refugee princess of Russian origin, born Her Serene Highness Elena Lieven.

They married very soon and my late brother George and I were born at 62 Milton Road in 1955 and 1957. Those were very happy days for my parents.
Cambridge 1961, the four of us.
Soon the courses finished and my Father found work, once again teaching Russian but this time at the prestigious RAF College in Cranwell, a little village in Lincolnshire. My parents bought a small bungalow on one acre of land in the nearby village of Ruskington and my Father would bicycle to work on the flat Lincolnshire roads. This was where I spent part of my happy childhood until the age of 7 when we moved to Bradford in West Yorkshire where my Father got a post as a language teacher at Bradford Grammar School. Here he taught until retirement.

My Father taught me to look on the bright side of life and to enjoy the small things in life. I remember going with him to Manchester, that dark industrial town in the north of England, to the dentist, Mr. Car, a friend of my parents. I pointed out how ugly a street was and my Father said that he always looked for the beautiful things and not the ugly ones and that very often there was something beautiful to be found in ugly things. I have practised his philosophy nearly always and it has held me in good stead.

My Father is also someone who has lost nearly everyone dear to him in life and yet he stoically goes on, reading the newspaper, ordering books, going for his walks, enjoying his food and all the good things in his life.

When he was young, he lost his brother Raymond who died of polio at the age of 15 before the times of penicillin. That must have been a terrible blow and I gather my Grand mother never got over it.

His dear and very jolly Father died of a stroke in his early 70’s and later his Mother, in her late 70’s. That same year he lost his wonderful sister Gloria, my favourite Aunt, who died in an air crash with her husband, Uncle Derek and their 3 small children, Jacqueline aged 12, Michael aged 9 and Anthony aged 7. This was perhaps one of the most terrible things that ever happened to him and us. My mother told me that when he put the receiver down after that terrible phone call, he said “I only have you (as in our family) left”.

Many years later on October 1st 1999, my dear Mother died aged 79 of cancer at the Bradford Royal Infirmary. I still do not know how he went on without her and I know he misses her to this day, yet still he goes on stoically enjoying life. Maybe the picture of a fawn above his bed when he was a small child with the caption “be a good beast, suffer in silence” has something to do with it.

The next blow was my dear brother George who died, of cancer too, not long afterwards on 15th May 2001 in London at a hospice called Eden Hall which is a terrible name for such an institution.

4 years later, finally, my Father came to live with us and left his native England for Spain, a country he was very familiar with from our “Callosa days” in the 70’s. He was then in his mid 80’s.

Last October we also lost Sanya, George’s late wife in unfortunate circumstances and then just one month later, my Mother’s youngest sister, Masha, our impossible and amazing Aunt and sister-in-law whose death represented the end of an era.

Now my Father has only me left and I only have him left. They have all gone and we mourn them but we both have another wonderful family in Eladio, Susana and Olivia. Life goes on and thus we celebrated lovingly his 90th birthday on Friday as you can see in the photos I posted on Facebook.

The day started with a family breakfast in the dining room with the best finery we have. Here we gave him his presents, chocolates and a bonsai plant (the music centre is coming later!) and a special 90th birthday card I had asked my friend Amanda to bring specially from England.

My father enjoying his 90th birthday breakfast on Friday 1st May.
Lunch was to be much more important as we took him out for a birthday lunch to a new place we have discovered in Boadilla called De Brasero y Puchero with all his favourite things on the menu. The “piece de resistance” was the home made birthday cake we secretly gave to the waiter on arrival. A good time was had by all I think to judge by his comment at the end of Friday when he said “thank you for a lovely day”.

So happy 90’th birthday Daddy. Thank you for everything. May we all look and feel so young in heart, mind and body when we reach your age. I look forward to celebrating your 100th and have already had a look at the page at Buckingham Palace where you apply for a birthday message from the Queen!

Your loving daughter

* Liza Hill was a real character and I think had much influence over my parents, my Father specially. She was half English and half Russian and was born in Russia. She was the eternal spinster who finally took the plunge in her late 80's and married a Yugoslav she had known for many years. Amazingly and as a complete coincidence my Father bumped into them on their honeymoon at the bus station in Madrid!! I mean bussing your way round Spain in your late 80's as an Emeritus Professor at Cambridge University is extremely eccentric. Not long after, Liza divorced her husband as she probably could not tolerate sharing her life being so used to spinsterhood. More on Liza Hill in future posts.

1 comment:

se16teddy said...

I was one of your dad's pupils in Bradford in the late 70s. I have very fond memories of him. I still have somewhere a postcard from him when he was in Madrid - the postcard shows the famous Goya picture of the shootings at the Principe Pio.