The view From My Window – Rowcroft

The garden at Rowcroft Hospice, Torquay, Devon

The following started off as a blog, and then was expanded as the text for  an address I was honoured to make at a friend’s funeral. The full text is shown here with the permission of the family.

The view from the window at Rowcroft Hospice in Torquay is of a beautiful English garden, planted to give a feeling of space and tranquility – a respite for the patients who savour the chance to view a wider world than the four walls of their ward. The atmosphere is remarkably upbeat for an establishment in which you wouldn’t think there was much chance to find anything positive. But you’d be wrong.

I was here visiting a friend, Paul W. They were trying to sort out his medication to make him more comfortable, and today I saw something remarkable. He had particularly asked me to visit on this day because there was to be a classically trained pianist playing in the chapel, and Paul wanted me to be there because he knew I would enjoy the performance.

But the day had not started well. He was uncomfortable, depressed and ‘out of sorts’ and was, by his usual standards, uncommunicative. I wheeled him silently into the chapel and we sat and listened to the beautiful music. Not a movement from him, and I thought that maybe he had fallen into a slumber. If that was what the music did for him, it was a blessing. We listened peacefully until the pianist finally closed with a few gentle notes.


And then Paul leaned slightly towards me, his eyes still tightly closed, and with a conspiratorial stage whisper that was surely intended to reach the pianist, carefully enunciating each word,  said, “I – think – he’s – getting – the – hang – of – it”.

The tension was broken by our mirth, probably to the puzzlement of the pianist who wasn’t used to having his audience dissolve into howls of laughter. But there was one very important lesson that I learnt that day.

He had the best health care in the world, the most attentive carers and the pick of the latest pharmaceuticals, but it took music to bring back the old Paul.

His sense of humour was familiar to all who knew him. Very dry, well observed – and slightly wicked. He would always give a chuckle which became his trademark, but he never put anyone down or gave any cause for offence. And hearing that chuckle on that day at Rowcroft was priceless. It helped me and, I hope, him.

During the years since I first met Paul there have been many occasions and stories which I could tell about him. But perhaps the most ‘typical’, which perfectly illustrates his style, was during a local National Coastwatch meeting in which most of the members were in attendance. He was chairman, and therefore sitting at the top table and he rose to start the meeting. As I recall, there were a few people present from other ‘official’ organisations in all the grandeur and rank of their uniforms, but Paul (being Paul) was not to be upstaged. We’d wondered why he kept his coat on, but as he removed it were revealed decorations and embellishments that would be the pride of any commissioned officer of the Household Cavalry in full dress uniform. He was wearing aiguillettes, gold fringed epaulets, a plumed hat and a bank of medals that probably encapsulated the full set.

Fortunately, this moment was recorded for posterity.

Of course, this brought the house down. This was just what we expected from Paul. He could puncture pomposity in a way that offended no-one and I’m sure nobody would disagree that he was (by far) the most popular member of our National Coastwatch team. And he will be sadly missed.

Now he’s gone, but never forgotten.  Goodbye old friend.

The View From My Window – Gannets

Gannets in Torbay!

After a rough night thanks to Storm Eleanor, it’s a choppy day out at sea with at least eight cargo vessels sheltering in Torbay. But I have been prompted to write, not by the ships but by the Gannets.

The storm has apparently coaxed large shoals of fish into the bay, and as always, they bring Gannets. Of all the seabirds around, these put on the most exciting show, with their long, slender, black-tipped wings of around two metres span, their brilliant white bodies and their delicately coloured yellow heads. With a greater wing span than the more pedestrian Herring Gulls which are our more familiar resident, their delicacy and grace coupled with a demonstration of their fishing skills never fails to make me gasp.

They cruise the skies at about 100 feet, looking down whilst scanning for fish (goodness knows how in these choppy waters) before suddenly flipping over like a dive bomber, pulling their long wings parallel to their body to create a “W” shape and then – whoosh – hit the water at speeds of up to 60mph (100kph). Once below the waves, they then pursue their target, being as agile in the water as the skies, before bobbing triumphantly to the surface complete with fish in their bills.

You can’t help but be impressed. It’s not an everyday sight so close inland, as they are normally fishers of more open waters, but when you see them – wow!

The View From My Window – Torbay

The view from my window

As I stare vacantly out of the window, eating my breakfast, it’s suggested to me that I ought to write about what I can see. Well, because we overlook Torbay in Devon (UK), there’s quite a lot to see.

Torbay itself is like a huge bite taken out of the South Devon Coast (bizarrely, facing East) of about four miles diameter and consisting of the three towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. From our window (on a clear day) I can see out of the bay and right across to Sidmouth on the left, just peeping around the edge of the outstretched arm of Torquay, and along the Devon and Dorset coast to Portland to the right. The white cliffs of Bere Head are visible – unusual from the rest of the coast because most of the cliffs hereabouts are that glorious reddish brown so typical of Devon.

So on a clear day we have a view of almost 60 miles and there’s always something happening. But today it was the dolphins that got me going. For the second time this week there have been about 40 of them (in two distinct groups) going backwards and forwards just below us, presumably feeding – and here’s my point – in spite of the fact that we’re only three days from Christmas. The BBC news was getting very excited the other day with the announcement that researchers had ‘discovered’ that a pod of about 28 Dolphins has taken up residence around St Ives Bay. Presumably, they are excited because the dolphins appear to be over-wintering here.

Well, I’ve got news for them. From what I could count, I saw about forty whilst I was having my breakfast, and that’s not unusual. Believe me, there’s no better way to start the day than watching dolphins arcing out of the sea whilst you’re eating a croissant. Watch this space for updates on the view.

Lyme Bay showing field of view

As I said earlier, on a very clear day we can see Portland. You may think that a bit strange, since, if you are of average height, and stand on the beach with your toes almost in the water, the horizon will only be about 3 miles away. Our house is about 100 feet above sea level, so that increases the distance to the horizon to roughly 12 miles. So how come we can see Portland, which is about 50 miles away? Well, of course, we can’t see the shoreline – just the high ground. Even Sidmouth at 23 miles is only visible in its more elevated areas. But see it we can. The most striking feature of the Portland area is the 72 foot high Hardy Monument, three and a half miles inland from Abbotsbury. Built in memory of Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy (of Battle of Trafalgar fame), it was designed in the shape of a spyglass and situated to be visible as a navigational aid for shipping up to 60 miles away. Thus, it is conveniently visible (on a very clear day and with the aid of a telescope) from my window as I eat my breakfast.

What better way is there to start the day than watching the dolphins and ensuring the Hardy Monument is in good order?