WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward
Life as we know goes on until the inevitable outcome happens and not putting too fine a point on it, our ultimate demise and the process thereafter.
I recently attended a funeral service for Geoff, a close friend.
We met through an orange, true a nine foot round one on wheels, but nonetheless an orange or in this case an Outspan orange promotional vehicle as Geoff drove the car for the Outspan fruit company both here and abroad that was based on humble British Leyland Mini mechanicals, vintage 1960s in case you may be wondering.
He had passed away after a long illness but as well as driving the car he was also a licensed hot air balloon pilot and took to the skies with the Outspan balloon that was also orange shaped of course.
We met at an event where we were promoting assorted products, he the orange brand and me tools for a ‘well known company’ when he wandered over and asked if I had ‘Got anything for an orange, mate?’ in his typical deadpan way and ‘Only a peeler, otherwise not a lot’ I replied and from there on we became friends.
He talked me into taking part in, then held annually, the Sun newspaper’s ‘Wacky Races’ event held at Donnington Park racing circuit – I had been the previous year as part of his ‘pit crew’ so I knew a bit about it – but the mere fact I had nothing as in the wheels department to actually put on the start line, with less than a week to go, was a minor glitch he said (?!).
Into the workshop and with a little bit of messing about I came up with the ‘Furry Flyer’, a pink fur (for cold weather use of course) covered ‘plane’-looking vehicle, battery powered (ahead of the game there then...) that had wings, rotors and such things as being deemed plane looking etc but earth-bound only.
To cut the story short I took it to basically ‘make the numbers up’ on the start line but on a points scoring system as in presentation, construction, creativity and all-round stupidity I won it much to my surprise – and not to mention the other combatants’ amazement too but ‘rools is rools’.
The next day was Good Friday.
I was appearing on a Shopmobilty charity stand in the local shopping centre and with the two page spread in one of the nations popular newspapers, I ended up signing Sun newspapers for a donation in the collecting box and in true friendly tradition Geoff and wife Sue joined me on the stand as he described himself as ‘second best’ and so only half price autographs!
Based on this new, unexpected, bit of ‘fame’ with the Furry Flyer I was invited to take part with Geoff with the Outspan car at the Bedford River Festival which is, or was, perhaps the biggest event in the town if not the area with thousands lining the route of the street parade as we made our way to the river event itself.
This is where the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight unknowingly played a part in my ‘presentation’ as I should point out the ‘Furry Flyer’ had a PA system fitted that belted appropriate military-type tunes out at the press of a button.
It was while I was going round the main central part of the town that the BBMF flew over that as I pushed a button, out came at random the ‘Dambusters’ film theme tune at which point the crowds stood and saluted me as I slowly went by!
Some of the times or adventures in a sense were often the stuff of high comedy.
At one event we were engaged to appear there was a dear soul who was a life force of its own as she had never strayed outside her own environment to ‘perform’ whatever it was she thought she was good at as there were niggling things that made us, as mere ‘upstarts’ in her eyes, wince at best and Geoff pointed out she was basically a self styled ‘promotion guru’ based on her own vanity and ego.
Trying to patronise us, she asked was it right that we had ‘been at this ‘Neck thing’ and once we fathomed it out, we pointed out if she was referring to the NEC (National Exhibition Centre) as in that big place near Birmingham then yes, and the look on her over-powdered face said it all when compared to her efforts that involved a few hundred there and the thousands we had filing into that vast complex.
Geoff said that apart from her arrogance, self importance, false smile plus being of a certain age should not be strutting around in stiletto heeled boots and leather trousers as it was ‘so 1960s’ that it reminded him of Diana Rigg in TV’s The Avengers – she played Emma Peel – but this was her halfwit sister ‘Lemon’ Peel as she left such a bitter taste and was mutually hated by a lot it would seem during that day but we learnt that somebody at the local council ‘thought highly’ (?!) of her hence her ‘input’ into everything they did as they knew no different possibly.
As he was forever driving ‘the orange’ all over the country for assorted events and happenings, if near to us would stop off for a cuppa etc ut it was when I took him over to my mum’s that the dropped jaw syndrome that affected staff of her local Co-op really kicked in as the orange stopped outside the shop and my mum, of the people for the people, got out the back and popped in to do her shopping as Geoff drove off.
With staff agog they asked how, what and why to which the little charmer said it was ‘part of her daily dollop of fruit –and try squeezing that into a jug...’
Oh the simple joys of the peasant folk.
I must admit that every time I asked him if he would appear at some event or other, he never said no as the word did not seem to mean anything to him as he was the consummate showman, be it the orange car, hot air balloon or displaying his shire horses he kept, he was that rare quality of being a genuine 100 per cent case of ‘what you saw, you got’ and I never, ever heard a bad word spoken of him, leaving aside the ‘Lemon’ of course.
Sadly Geoff is no more but his memory remains and even scribbling away at this brings a smile to the face as he was that sort of person – just thinking about him brings back all the silliness, the daft bits we found ourselves in at times that was of an age not that long ago that would be branded today as being very ‘un PC’ by the boring, self important vain people who, sadly, don’t really know about the meaning of life.
At the family’s request we mourners wore something orange-coloured to the funeral.
Geoff once said: “We have the one life and hopefully to enjoy doing what we want to do if possible and within our means, but never mind those who criticize, as just get on with it and forget them.”
To his credit he certainly did.