My brother-in-law was a character indeed. When he left this world in November 2007, it became a poorer place without him.
A devout born again Christian, he preached the gospel and prayed every day. Even in his darkest moments, when death beckoned, he believed he would be saved. I sincerely hope he was.
His faith was strong but so was his sense of humour. He had learnt to laugh at himself because there really was no other way.
Anyone who is familiar with Frank Crawford’s Frank Spencer from, “Some mothers do ‘ave em,” can easily imagine what Stuart looked like. He was the image of a young Michael Crawford in his younger years, to the point where he was asked for his autograph when queuing for the theatre where, “The Phantom of the Opera” was being shown.
“Is it him? Is it?” those nearest whispered, before timidly offering their programmes up for an autograph.
(Had Stuart had a raincoat with him and a beret, he would have treated them to his infamous impression of, “Ooh, Betty,”)
“Oh, Stuart! aged 40”
Stuart with Rocky 1973 – the first of several Old English Sheep Dogs…
Frank Spencer (Michael Crawford) as seen on BBC 1973-1978)
Ironically, his character was actually closer to that of the fictional, Frank Spencer, with his good intentions and hilarious outcomes. My long suffering sister, took great delight in relating his tales of woe to us after a holiday or a good deed gone wrong had occurred.
It seems a shame not to bring those tales out now and then so, as both my sister and my brother-in-law have been in my thoughts this week, I thought I’d share a little of the beleaguered life of Stuart.
My sister reckoned he was an accident waiting to happen.
Always the first to lend a helping hand, he offered to help out some friends opening a new chemist shop, by painting the floor one evening. Unfortunately, the hapless Stuart painted himself into a corner and his only form of escape was to climb along the shelves that lined the walls, these tipping at an alarming 45 degrees as he went.
There was the time he decided to shorten a door to fit over the new carpet. He was more than pleased with his efforts, not being known for his DIY skills, and measured carefully before he re-hung the door. Unfortunately, he had sawn off an inch from the top. The door still didn’t shut but there was a handy ventilation slit at the top.
His trips abroad were no less eventful. On an overnight drive to Austria, my sister slept in the passenger seat, only to be woken by Stuart nudging her into semi-consciousness, saying,
“There’s another toll!”
“How much?” my sister asked, blinking tiredly.
“I don’t know, get out the largest note and ask how much it is, we need the change,” Stuart shrugged.
My sister wound down her window and waved the hundred franc note under the official’s nose,
“Combien?” she enquired.
“Out, out!” shouted the official.
Everything was searched, suitcases, car, my sister and husband…This was a customs point and she had just attempted to bribe the border guard. Thankfully, the officials soon waved them on. Obviously, these strange people were harmless English folk.
On yet another trip, while staying in an Austrian motel en route, Stuart decided to be helpful and strip the beds in the morning, against my sister’s loud protestations. Feeling extra helpful, he stepped out onto the landing and seeing a pile of dirty linen by the adjacent door, he placed the sheets on top, muttering that the maids were so busy, it would be good to help them a little.
On returning from their holiday, a fortnight later, they opted to stay at the same hotel. As they walked into the reception, the proprietress became rather agitated and greeted them with,
“Ah, Monsieur and Madam ‘Olliday, the last time you were ‘ere you took ze sheets!” in excited French.
My sister, whose French was a little rusty, struggled to interpret the woman’s excited accusation. It was not until much later, whilst soaking in a warm bath, that she realised what had actually been said,
“Stuart, they think we stole the sheets!” she gasped.
It took much explaining and gesticulation on her part, to let the woman know what had really happened. Like a scene from “Alo Alo” by all accounts, my sister endeavoured to explain,
“My ‘usband…mon mari…’e put, il met, le sheets, les courverts…outside la chambre à coucher,” she stammered.
I am not sure the woman believed them.
The list of Stuart’s mishaps lengthens.
There was the time Stuart brought home a very expensive suit on approval from Gieves & Hawks but wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not so he asked his friend and near neighbour, if he could walk up to his house in it for his opinion. It was slushy and icy outside and needless to say, Stuart slipped over on the ice and put a great hole in the knee of the trousers, returning home with blood pouring from the wound.
“Well, I’ll have to buy it now,” he grimaced, (and it cost another £100 to have it invisibly mended).
We were not immune to Stuart’s hilarious antics. Visiting my sister and her family one weekend, we were there when Stuart decided to cook a full English Breakfast. This was something he did not normally eat and which was regarded as a rare treat.
I should explain that he and his friend and neighbour, enjoyed a friendly rivalry where food and drink was concerned. The previous evening, Pete had appeared at the garden wall with a glass of a particularly fine wine. Stuart was not able to drink at the time.
Having dished up two breakfasts, one for my husband and one for himself, Stuart remarked that Pete would be so jealous, he must show him.
Picking up his plate, he crossed the kitchen and walked over to the fence, calling for Pete to come and see this amazing breakfast he had cooked.
As he raised the plate to show his neighbour, the family dog – an Old English Sheepdog, a larger version of Theo, leapt at him in excitement, eager to participate in whatever it was he was doing. The plate and the breakfast took seconds to hit the deck and it was a much chastened Stuart who returned to the table, empty handed.
When we had all picked ourselves up from the floor and wiped our eyes, Dave spluttered,
“Would you like to share mine?”
I could go on but I think I may have given you enough to gauge what sort of man Stuart was. I won’t go into detail about the time he disappeared Christmas morning to attend a Church Service, promising to be back to help Beverly in the kitchen by ten thirty. (She was cooking for a large family gathering). At eleven o’clock, Stuart burst into the house and demanded we find a fishing net. A child’s fishing rod and net, was found in the shed.
‘There’s a bird in the church and we need to catch it,” he called as he hurtled out of the house.
Beverly sighed and we all offered our services in the kitchen. Stuart returned at 1pm.
Dinner was served up at 1.30pm. Beverly had done us proud. The table looked amazing, Stuart emerged from the shower (bird catching is dirty work) and sat down to eat.
At the end of the meal, he stretched, sat back in his chair and announced,
“Well, Beverly, that was very…” we waited with baited breath. Surely he was about to compliment his wife for serving us such a feast despite his untimely absence…
“…disappointing,” he finished.
Ever heard a pin drop? You’d have been in with a chance at that moment. Had it been me, the gravy boat would have sailed across the table and landed on my brother-in-law’s head. No such outburst came from my sister. A look passed between them. That’s all.
Sometimes, a look is enough.
Do houses have souls?