Sam North on the best 'Uncle' a boy could ever want.
every boy gets and 'Uncle' in their lives. It's not always something
they want. Either of them.
were lucky you'd get an Uncle who remembered every other birthday
and maybe, just maybe sent you a postal order for ten bob (a dollar)
and probably spelled your name wrong.
I was really lucky, I had not just an Uncle but he was also my godfather
and he took both duties very seriously.
Born Denis Ewart, in Grimsby, in the UK in 1919 - he died in Taradale,
New Zealand, of kidney failureon the seventh of July 2002. In between
he had a pretty varied life.
He was the boy next door to my father, Bob North and there were
three of them, friends, Donald , Denis and
Bob, pretty much inseparable until around 12 years of age when they
were sent to different boarding schools.
Of course there were the holidays and
Denis and Bob stayed in touch. Denis was famed for his quick wit
(and sometimes quite cynical humour) Bob for his sports prowess
and Donald for, well being other boy next door. Friendship is like
that, you don't have to be something or someone, but it pretty much
sets in pretty solid for life at some point - if you are lucky.
When the war came my
father and Denis went into the RAF, Donald became a spy. They were united
briefly again when all their homes were suddenly destroyed by a German
bomber ditching their payloads on Grimsby before escaping back to Germany.
After the war, Denis went into retail and specialised in the one field
of retail that could interest young boys like me. He became the toy buyer
at the department store Marshall and Snelgrove and later at Harrods. Back
then pretty much the best toy departments in London.
Although I didn't court envy at school, a lot of kids were pretty damn
jealous when my birthday came around, never mind Christmas and the odd
special occassion. I could have virtually anything I wanted and Denis
helped me build a great collection of Dinky Toys (sadly long ago sold
to keep me afloat). I remember exciting visits to London to go to the
toyshop and being allowed to play all afternoon with anything that clicked
or banged or rolled...
Being a boarder in Woodhall Spa, I never got home much, but Denis would
occasionally turn up to take me out for 'high tea', something we kids
longed for back then as an alternate to sardines on stale bread or cheese
worms. Now I think about it it must have been a hell of a drive from London
back then in his red Mini, but hey, that what Uncles are for. I loved
his visits there and at home because he had the best sense of humour ever
and made a joke of everything. He never made much money, or seemed to
own a home, but he was a lot happier than many people I have met then
When my father died suddenly before my 16th birthday Denis was there.
He stepped in any chance he could, taught me to drive in his Mini on an
old abandoned airfield and gave me lots of good advice, which being sixteen
I most likely completely ignored. Especially the one about not getting
engaged to Anthea and how no good will come of it. He was there when I
fucked up too and made sure I got through all that without too many scars.
I have a lot to thank him for really. I think I was pretty angry after
my father died now I think about it and he knew how to keep me thinking
When we moved to Cape Town, he followed, probably hoping my Ma would marry
him. But she didn't and suddenly he was gone. Totally gone. We heard something
about South West Africa and one time I went up there to look, but we never
heard from him again and after around 15 years considered him dead. I
don't know why, but it seemed most likely. You don't just stop being an
Uncle do you?
In 1988 my Ma Joanna was living back in the UK again. I was visiting and
there was a sudden loud knocking on her door. Uncle Denis walked in, followed
by Donald, his childhood friend. Seems he was doing that trip we all do
at least once in our lives, checking on on the past, discovering what
happened to old friends. He looked in a phone book and found my Ma and
by chance,I just happened to have returned that month from Africa myself.
It was a great reunion and just shows, if you lose touch, it is very hard
to find someone, especially if they move to New Zealand. He'd tried to
find us before, but my Ma moved often and still does. I move so often
it's the reason email was invented.
Denis stayed for a while but returned to New Zealand where he was now
retired. Seems he'd been running a shop there for around 15 years. He
had Bobbie, a sister there and she will no doubt miss him.
Denis hadn't changed much, a paunch, but still the witty cracks and he
seemed to swear a lot more, which was a tad disconcerting, but it was
great to have him back in our lives. We wrote often and he was always
calling on the phone.
And then abruptly he went blind. A laser op that went wrong. Suddenly
he was dependent on others and it altered his life drastically. Luckily
he had family there, a place to live in Taradale and a good and warm carer
in Yvonne Banks who took an interest in him and no doubt help him stay
alive. It's no fun being blind so late in life and to live on another
ten years with it must have been grating. But his humour was always there.
'Being blind isn't so bad but you do spill a lot of fucking whiskey' is
how he put it.
I was glad we stayed in touch and he and my ma Joanna, grew closer in
the later years. He called her just lthe other week telling her what his
plans were if he ever won the lottery. He was always convinced he was
going to win if he played long enough. I don't think he even mentioned
his kidneys were failing.
Maybe that's the way it should be. You die quickly whilst you still have
Denis will be missed in our hearts and he was the best 'uncle' and godfather
a boy could ever wish for.
© Sam North July 2002
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