Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kate O'Brien 1953 - 2017

Kate and Kei at Cliveden 1994

Kate was born on 23rd March 1953 in Swansea, a much loved and wanted baby and the eldest child of Vincent, a consulting engineer and Alice O’Brien. There were two younger siblings, Elisabeth and Michael. The family had roots in Scotland near Caithness where Alice’s family, the Gunn clan is from. Kate’s grandparents were Irish - O’Brien and O’Callaghan on her father’s side and Scottish and Welsh – Davies – on her mother’s.

Her sister Lis writes: She was a happy infant and toddler although she had strong likes and dislikes – with an early and distinct aversion to both ‘cow juice’ and to dirt.  She always loved books and animals. To her brother Michael she was ‘the witty, pretty one’ and to sister Lis she was the clever, glamorous older sister. During childhood, her weekends were spent riding ponies and visiting her many aunts, uncles and cousins, whilst holidays were spent on the Gower coast and in Devon. Always a minimalist; her bedroom was always immaculately tidy and her belongings would be given or sold to her siblings so they didn’t clutter up her room.  After a convent education in Porthcawl she joined a Sixth Form in Cardiff to study Latin, Greek and English Literature. Her classics teacher was not only the Deputy Headteacher but also her mother’s cousin, Madonna Gunn, which meant there was no escape from hard work.

After that she spread her wings; she spent time in Hampshire where she became extremely fond of Brigit Macnamara and her extended family which included the Thomas’s, and she became friends with the two sons of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas, Llewelyn and Colm.

Gus, Kate, Daniel and Hallam in the Dutch Antilles 1990
Photo by Lis O'Brien
Their cousin Edward Marnier writes: ‘Kate came into our lives (the Macnamara’s & Mariner’s) on a rainy night in 1970. My mother Brigit had telephoned us at the local pub in Ringwood to tell us to come home, as some distressed girl-friend had turned up on the door step.  We obediently  returned to Blashford, to be greeted by the this stranger huddling in the doorway of a shed - it was Kate. Once we had convinced Brigit that none us knew her, my mother banished us - and took Kate in and under her wing. 

And there she remained, as part of our family and of our cousins the Devas’s and of course the Thomas’s. Over the years Kate had various jobs. She moved to London and worked at the British Library. Lived abroad looking after one of the Getty children, Tara. She also became a gardener, shop assistant etc.

She had several relationships - but perhaps her most enduring and strongest was with Llewelyn Thomas, (Dylan Thomas’s eldest son).  Llewelyn was a difficult character but with a brilliant mind and great charm. Kate matched him with her own cleverness, beauty and of course contrariness. The pair of them could be by turns maddening and exasperating - or the best possible and most stimulating of company.

Kate moved to London and lived in a flat in Thanet St, and she worked at the British Library from the mid 1980’s where Julie Raven was a colleague. There her work included dealing with incunabula (rare books printed before the 16th century) and protecting documents which were threatened by damage from the River Fleet which ran under the old site. Julie writes: Kate and I met at work in the 80’s. We got on really well and spent a lot of time chatting while doing boring clerical tasks. When I left we kept in touch by letter. We used to laugh about how we might be the only people still using old fashioned post, as if we were in Jane Austen 's day. Kate was kind and was always looking after others. Most of all Kate was really funny. We laughed a lot about the ridiculous aspects of modern life’.

She left the British Library some time in 1990 and Herry met her when she was working at Crabtree & Evelyn in Kensington. He saw her at the back of the shop looking most unhappy; her hands were shaking and she was wearing mittens even though it wasn’t cold. I talked to her a little and on a subsequent visit suggested that she might be happier helping my wife Ayako look after our daughter Kei, who was then about 18 months old. We must have known that Lis would write: ‘She showed great empathy and skill when working with young children’ as she agreed to do this and indeed did so until Kei was a teenager, coming daily to our house in Battersea and becoming very fond of Kei who she found ‘a very bright and creative child and she enjoyed all stages of her growing up’.

Kate, Ayako, Kei, Herry, Annette and Patrick at Stocks 1995
In about 1994 she sold her flat and moved to a rented flat nearby and Kei used to go and stay with her there at weekends. She was very much part of the family and moved into the house when we went to Hampshire to stay with my parents – looking after our dog Archie and Nani the cat - and sometimes came down with us too. She also came with us on our annual holidays to Swanage, where a vegetable biriyani at the local Indian was a particular treat and where we played Jimmy Nail’s ‘Crocodile Shoes’ endlessly in the car.

Ayako, Herry, Kei and Kate in Swanage 1994

Kei writes: My fondest memories of Kate include frequent trips to the Natural History Museum, using London's hop on and off buses and being taught how to spell the word "wait" you see on pedestrian crossings using an acronym. The acronym went like this: W for "water", A for "Archie", I for "igloo" and T for "tomato".

When I stayed with Kate on weekends, it was never without a selection of poetry books - in fact it's what inspired me to write poems, attend recitals and get my work published during my school years.

There are too many other wonderful memories to mention. Kate may have kept quiet about her own life but took a great interest in mine and was a source of incredible support and love all through the years’.

After a while we learned a little – very little – of her previous life and heard about her mother, Elisabeth and Michael, Catlin, Llewelyn, Colm, Edward, Collette, Gus, Hallam, Daniel and Jemima, but never met any of them. She used to travel to see her mother once a year and stay a few days, but despite asking, we never even knew where she lived! The only common connection we came across was with very old friends of my parents’, Pol and Poppet Pol, who lived at Ramatuelle in the South of France, where my parents spent several months of the year and where I also stayed. It was Pol’s grandson Tara Getty who Kate had looked after.   

In the late 1990s when Kei was growing up and didn’t need as much looking after, I found Kate a job with an osteopath in the City, but she didn’t get on with him and left after a few months and never seriously looked for other work.  As a result she continued to come to us daily when we moved to the Orangery near Wandsworth Common in 1998 helping to walk and look after Koko, Archie’s successor. She would also move into our house and look after the animals when we were all in Hong Kong, or Japan, China or Australia. She followed us from her flat in Battersea to a room in Tooting nearby.

Kate at the Orangery 2005

When we moved from the Orangery in 2012 she came less often to Ayako’s house in Kew but still regularly, and similarly when Ayako moved to Putney in 2014, helping to look after the cats Parky and Cecil and moving in when we went to Japan and also when Ayako came down to our house in Hampshire. She was always an invaluable help to us. 

Ayako and Kate with Koko at the Orangery 2007

In 2015 her health became less good and she had trouble with her eyes, visiting Moorfields frequently, but after an operation they improved dramatically. But she was then diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment but as it was so advanced she declined chemotherapy. She remained fairly active until this autumn and even took a few days holiday with her friend Julie who writes: ‘She came with me to Norfolk. She loved it there especially walking by the sea. That is how I will think of her’. 

Ayako, Kate and Koko at Beachy Head 2010

But then the drugs she took made her feel unwell and she stopped eating much, and at the end hardly at all, declining by last December to seven stone (which she was perversely happy about!). Fortunately she was not in pain and managed on her own in her room, helped by visits from us and friends such as Bernie, until a week before she died, (although she went into St George’s Hospital several times to have her lungs drained and where they finally determined that the cancer had reached her liver). By the beginning of February, she was to weak to look after herself and her doctor found her a room at a nearby care home and she was moved there with with Julie's help and her few possessions and died after a week on the morning of 6th February.

Lis writes: Her nephews and nieces remember her spirited independence, sense of humour, love for books, children and animals, and these are memories that will stay with us.

Edward writes again: Kate was an exciting, clever, beautiful lady who could and would drive you to distraction. She was secretive and vague about herself. Mysterious about her friends; who she kept quite separate from each other. She loved gossip and drama but had no spite or cruelty - except to her self.’

Kate's Crenation at Lambeth Crematorium - Julie Raven, Andrew, his mother and a friend, Lucy, Alice, Lis, Edward, Kei, Prosper Devas, Colette, Derek Hill

For Kate's album of photos, click here

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Richard Harwood 1933 - 2016

Richard Harwood's retirement at Castle Carey with his wife Jan, Tony Payne, Roger Lewis and Julie Mavropoulos. Photo Stuart Munro 

Our Dad was an exceptional man; he was a highly intelligent, resourceful and loyal father.
Born in 1933, he lived in Sanderstead, the youngest son of Sydney and Grace Harwood and had two siblings, John and Margaret.
He attended Sanderstead Grammer School where he excelled on the cricket pitch. Following school he went on to study for an HND in Electrical Engineering.
During his younger years he developed a passion for motorbikes, cars and a life-long love for railways.
We have a photograph of him and his mates sitting in his Delage prior to heading off to Spain. He told us that they had had a slight mishap on the journey and a chap in a small garage in the middle of nowhere rebuilt the back of the car in ash; all for the princely sum of £5.
The engine of the Delage eventually gave out and Dad in his normal ‘can do’ attitude managed to find another engine under a sheet in a garage in Croydon and repair the car. He sold it for £70 having paid £60 for it originally.....that car is one of two left in the world and is now worth in excess of seven figures, but as Dad said, in those days cars like this were two-a-penny.
I think though his favourite car was a Mark III Austin Healey. I know that it had tremendous brakes as I still have a scar where my forehead hit the dashboard! No seat belts in those days of course.
My favourite car of his was his 1952 Lancia Aurelia sadly written off on one of our Devon holidays by a US Marine on a motorbike nonetheless I think he missed that car very much.
He was a strong proponent of classical music which often caused consternation on our journeys to school when despite our protests, we were always subjected to Radios 3 and 4. We rarely got our way. When I worked in the workshop with him, Radio 3 was always playing on his Panasonic radio with a Silk Cut as usual hanging from his lips!
An early role for Dad was with a company called Power Sammers who in the 1950s were making British built computers, competing in a small way with the likes of IBM. In reality the only computer they finished was sold to Lloyds Bank; Lloyds then asked Dad to join them to write the first share registration systems for the Power Sammers computer which he did; and pointed out to me that he actually programmed using a 4 digit year thus making the program Y2K compliant in 1960!
He stayed on at Lloyds who then invested in a very early IBM Mainframe which had a Heath-Robinson looking disk drive, the size of a small room with a number of arms sticking out of the contraption to enable the disk to be read; but these arms had to be warmed up before the disk drive could be used. Dad was asked to write a program to do this. He wrote it, but had not finished testing when the next night he had a phone call from the Lloyds data centre saying they had used his program and the disk drive was literally walking around the room!
He was also a man who would not only decide to do something, but do the research and put the time in on the design before starting the project.
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While we lived in Tunbridge Wells he put in an entire central heating system. I remember being under the floorboards with him, and he excitedly pointed out that the house sat on timbers stamped LB&SCR, or London Brighton and South Coast Railway. Especially poignant as the first Gauge One loco he built was Abergavenny an LB&SCR steam engine.
The three of us also remember Dad playing both tennis and badminton on the court in the back garden often playing until the sun finally disappeared behind the horizon on those always warm sunny summer evenings.
He also put nets up on the tennis court to teach me the finer points of batting we had many enjoyable evenings (and frustrasting as he regularly bowled me out!) in the early seventies.
Which brings us on to his love of railways (and I think my sisters will agree, a love that was shared across the family).
His first line was in Tunbridge Wells, with cuttings, tunnels and a figure of eight design; often confusing people running their locos when their trains shot off in odd directions. I remember the get-togethers once a year which Father and I ran with mother ably producing afternoon teas and evening meals for the long-stayers.
Dad was never happier than in his workshop building locos or railway stock some might argue he possibly spent too long in there but over the years he produced in excess of 17 locomotives for himself and later on, for clients. In the summers while living in Tunbridge Wells we would frequently go to others get-togethers around the South East. He even made the poster for the UK National Model Railway Exhibition in London the picture being typical Dad him watering the loco with a cigarette hanging from his lips!
We moved to Somerset in 1977 (he had decided to save his company a huge amount of money by moving the business from Holborn to Bristol). Sadly the company was later sold to a Swedish firm and the UK directors lost their jobs.
Being Dad, and rather than giving up, he decided to turn Scotland House into a B&B, which meant converting the garages into bedrooms for Anna and Kate and me being off-loaded into a static caravan in the drive which was actually pretty cool!
Whilst running the guest house, he also built locomotives for customers so that with mothers income, the house was safe. If there was a downside to the redundancy, it was that Anna and Kate moved from school in Bristol to a school in Wells, and I would have to cycle 4 miles in to Wells to get the 06:58 bus to Bristol everyday!
Kate remembers Dad teaching her to drive. She also remembers travelling at some speed through Bleadney. Dad shouted at her to slow down, but Kate, who in those days thought she knew it all, decided to pull into the forecourt of the local petrol station. Quick thinking by Dad, who had to grab the wheel to avoid Kate driving into the petrol pumps, saved the day!
Dad at that time found a project via a very old friend of his, David Martin-Clark, who is sadly unable to be here today; that project was to build an insurance and claims system for the shipping industry and would be something he worked on for around 20 years until he retired.
In 1987 Dad and I bought a house in Bath where he met Jan; a step on the house-ladder for me and a soul-mate for him!
He then moved down to Castle Cary around 25 years ago where he and Jan have been living happily ever since with regular walks in the country, and afternoons sat peacefully in their conservatory admiring their stunning garden.

Of course another railway was built and many happy days were spent with both the national and local Gauge One society; something Dad loved doing. He was indeed a sociable person, engaging and informative and much loved amongst the society.
I said that Dad was a serious person and indeed he was, but he could and did enjoy a good laugh. I remember when Fawlty Towers first came out in the 70s, that he was struggling to breath through laughing so much, and a good joke would always crack a grin.
He had a full life; excepting that he would never actually enjoy himself on holidays. Whilst the family frolicked in the waves, Dad would be sat on the beach with a sports jacket on – in fact I can’t actually ever remember seeing him in trunks – shocking!
We all have lots of memories of Dad someone we all loved very much, and someone who will be missed massively. God bless you dad. 

Jonathan Harwood 

And from Stuart Munro on our behalf: 

I had the pleasure of working with your father from 1990 when he was setting up and then refining the computer system for ITIC (or TIMIA as it was known first when he worked on it originally in the late 1980s). His innovative and personal approach made it a great success and gave us the flexibility to do a wide range of things on the system that many other vastly more expensive systems available at the time could not do. We were constantly showing off the flexibility of Richard’s insurance computer system to IT gurus  who went away muttering that it would not last (they were wrong there) or it could only be replicated elsewhere for millions of pounds. Eventually it was upgraded in 2003-5 and the weekly visits of your father then ceased although we did endeavour to meet up with him in Castle Carey, occasionally, for lunch. His system is still the basis of our computer system to this day even down to the occasional quirk which still makes us laugh.

I know that many other who worked with your father will wish for their condolences to be passed on, namely Herry Lawford, Tony Payne, Roger Lewis, Julia Mavropoulos, Alistair Mactavish, Andrew Jamieson, Robert Sniffen and Charlotte Kirk.  

Your father, truly, was a lovely man to work with.”