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Remembering Denis
Sam North on the best 'Uncle' a boy could ever want.

Almost every boy gets and 'Uncle' in their lives. It's not always something they want. Either of them.

If you 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 or since.

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 more constructively.

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 plans.
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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