South Petherton 1999-2002

1999-2002 in South Petherton


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Provender continued to survive and internet trade began to expand to become a vitally important part of the business, in fact I doubt we could have survived without it.

Our original intention was to turn the business into a deli to learn the trade for about four years and then to sell up and start from scratch in somewhere that had more chimney's. Alas 'the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley', there was a recession, the value of property diminished and despite being on the market for five years there were no buyers. We employed an architect to draw up plans to separate the shop from the living accommodation with the idea of selling them separately and soldiered on.

Highclere Castle in Berkshire

One event which happened about this time was our local estate agent married Shanaz who was Iranian and whose daddy was mega rich.
We were invited to the wedding at Highclere Castle by the groom as we had our property with him and Chris Hockey was upset that he didn't get an invite so he rudely asked the estate agent if he agreed to put his property with him would he also get an invite so he did!

Highclere Castle in Berkshire is owned by the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun and artifacts from the tomb are contained in an Egyptian Exhibition in the old servants quarters.
The castle dates from 1679 when it was purchased by Sir Robert Sawyer, the direct ancestor of the current Earl of Carnarvon. In 1842, Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament, transformed Highclere House into the present day Highclere Castle. It is the house used in the popular TV series Downton Abbey.

The wedding was a rather splendid affair as befits a wealthy and successful man giving away his beautiful daughter but unfortunately it was not successful as they split up very soon after they were married so a bad investment.

Sue, Roger and Sue Syred at the Hoks

We were shown round the Egyptian Exhibition, drank pink champaign the whole time and had some interesting discussions with many ex-pat Iranians. Sue wore her pearls which was a rare event because she claimed we rarely attended functions where we were dressed appropriately for wearing pearls.

After the wedding we drove down to Portsmouth and caught the Isle of White Ferry. We toured round the island for the rest of the weekend before returning home.
I think the adjacent photo was taken around the same time of us in the Hockey's garden with Sue Syred who worked for us at Provender for almost the entire time we were there.

Millennium Celebrations In Edinburgh

There was only one place to be at the turn of the century which was Auld Reekie and naturally the Hockey's came with us.

Unfortunately half the UK population had the same idea and the place was mobbed. By 10pm Princes Street was cordoned off so George Street began to get overcrowded and there was no crowd control of people entering so it began to get dangerous. We were jammed in at the junction of Castle Street and George Street and were in danger of being crushed with no escape.

Some light relief was provided by a party in one of the upstairs flats where all the participants appeared to be stark naked but we were glad when the crown began to thin and we could escape the crush! We first footed the Ingrams in Northumberland Street of course and emerged much later in good humour.

We stayed at Uncle Murdo's flat in Ashley Terrace, Merchiston. On Hogmanay there was no public transport or taxis so it had to be Shank's pony and Chris moaned continuously claiming I was subjecting him to walking 10 miles when it is actually only 2.7 miles and took us about an hour.

At what used to be the North British Hotel and is now called the Balmoral in Princes Street we met up with most of our old friends for lunch prior to sobering up for the drive back down South.

Silver Wedding Celebrations

25 Years being married seemed like a good excuse for a party. Friends came from far and wide and very generously presented us with a couple of cans of beer on the occasion, the bastards! When I opened the card though there was a voucher inside for £200 for Rick Steins restaurant at Padstow.

A present of two cans of beer for our Silver Wedding!!

The slide show below depicts a few of the moments from that occasion including the inevitable speech by Mr Hockey who only loves Carol better than his own voice!

Sir Humphrey Burton CBE

Chris Hockey was adopted soon after he was born. His mother, Brenda, had an affair with Humphrey and in those days these things were hushed up and Brenda was spirited away to Minehead to have Chris who was then adopted by Mr and Mrs Hockey.
Many years later after Chris's adoptive parents had passed away, Brenda traced Chris and a reunion took place down in Truro where she lived who then discovered his father was Humphrey Burton.

Humphrey Burton

When Chris told us who his father was he did not know he was a famous musicologist who had been the BBC Head of Music responsible for such productions as the Proms, Opera and the BBC Young Musician of the Year. He has since written several books including a biography of Leonard Bernstein and was knighted in the 2020 New Year Honours for services to classical music, the arts and the media.

Chris also discovered he had an extended family and once sat around the table with his two half brothers, all three had different mothers!

The first occasion I met Humphrey was in Provender when he asked me what make of Piano I had. I told him it was a Challen and he told me he had a Steinway and a Bechstein. I subsequently played both instruments when we stayed at his flat in Kensington but the musical highlight of this period of my life was when Chris invited a group of us from the village to attend a performance of Verdi's Requiem at The Albert Hall which Humphrey conducted as part of his 70th Birthday celebrations in aid of cancer charities. Humphrey had then just recovered from prostate cancer

After the concert we were invited to a private celebration where all the great and good from the Arts scene were gathered. Dick Norris and I spent much of the time spotting the celebrities, people like 'the thinking mans crumpet', Joan Bakewell and Harold Pinter were there in abundance.
On leaving the function going down in a lift Chris was surrounded by ladies anxious to meet the new discovery of another Burton errant son who I am afraid was completely ignorant of Classical music.


Despite many visits to Spain we had never visited it's capital so we took a few days off and flew to Madrid.

The 'Madrileños' as the residents are called work from early morning, have lunch them a siesta and work again late afternoon. In the early evening they wander out for a drink and some tapas then late evening, never before 9pm, they have dinner followed by a sweet in the early a cafe specialising in desserts.

We had a central hotel an easy walk from the rather grand post office and you would struggle to find a more beautiful one anywhere in the world. It was also a stones throw from The Prado museum, home to masterpieces such as Goya's 'Maja' nude, 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' by Hieronymus Bosch and 'Venus and Adonis' by Titian.

Madrid Post Office

Also just around the corner was a museum devoted to one of my favourite Spanish artists Salvador Dali. I can remember being disappointed with the art on display and would say that this museum is not the best place to see Dali's work. The painting below was not owned by this museum.
He is an artist who you either love or hate but I have always liked Dali's surrealism, fantasism and eroticism and that is a lot of 'isms' which Dali manages to get into many of his works.

Dream, Caused by the Flight of a Bee (Around a Pomegranate, a Second Before Waking Up

The above is one of my favourite Dali's and I forgot another 'ism' which is humourism, something he also had in spades. He called this 'Dream, Caused by the Flight of a Bee (Around a Pomegranate, a Second Before Waking Up)'. It depicts Gala, Dali's wife and muse, dreaming of the tigers and the fish and the gun attacking her. Just below Gala's body is a tiny bee and a pomegranate and the strange elephant in the background with its long spindly legs. It is a strange dream but all of us have them sometimes.

I suspect today's snowflake generation would have us ban Dali museums and art work as he was known to sympathise with Franco and repeatedly expressed his admiration for Hitler after the second world war.

Our Madrid trip ended with a night in Toledo. We travelled by train and Madrid railway station contains a tropical garden!

Madrid railway station

Toledo sits on a hill above the River Tagus and was the former home of the artist el Greco. The Cathedral was built in the 13th century in the French Gothic style and is generally a dark and dismal sort of place with the exception of the Sacristy which has a famous el Greco painting 'The Disrobing of Christ'.

Toledo Cathedral Sacristry and The Disrobing of Christ by el Greco

Toledo is the home of Manchego cheese so we made sure we sampled the local fare with a selection of tapas in a little bodega next to our hotel. The medieval centre is full of attractive little alleyways and is largely traffic free. The next morning we caught the train back to Madrid and our flight home.


Whenever we drove South towards the sun we inevitably used the German motorways to get as quickly as possible to our destination. It was not unusual for us to be well down into Italy on the same day as we had arrived in a channel port. On one occasion we stopped for the night in a small German village Inn and so enjoyed the experience that we vowed to take such a break in future journeys and see something more of the country.

The next time we were returning North we left the autobahn at Koblenz where the Mosel joins the Rhine and motored leisurely up the Mosel valley with it's picture book villages and vineyards until we came to Trier.

I had done no research on our route apart from planning to stop somewhere in the Mosel valley so Trier was a find. It is situated just across the river from Luxembourg and was once one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire. Evidence of Roman occupation can be seen in the remarkably preserved and almost complete Porta Nigra, a large city gate.


Our journey continued into Luxembourg where we found accommodation for the night. This small landlocked country punches above it's weight in that it is one of the EU administrative capitals and the seat of the Court of Justice of the EU.

It is known as little Switzerland and even has cable cars up it's little mountains. The official languages are French, German and Luxembourgish which is a Germanic language. We found ourselves in a French restaurant where the lady proprietor looked down her nose at my schoolboy French, correcting my pronunciation in the usual Froggie way. When I ordered steak she queried if I wanted it cooked 'bien joué' (well done) as I was a 'Rosbif' who did not appreciate good food. 'Oh non madame, bleu' was my reply. 'Oh oui monsieur' and instant respect. It's amazing how the attitude changes when the Froggies realize you are really quite civilised in their Gallic sort of way and had 'grenouilles' (frogs legs) been on the menu I would have had them 'cos I love 'em!


This is another country that one tends to rush through on your way to somewhere more interesting but by this time we were starting to think about what we should do when we retired and one idea was to buy a big barge and tour around Europe. We had a long weekend in Brussels one Spring and indulged in some heavy beer tasting. We then drove across to the River Meuse and followed it South as far as Dinant. This river valley is a big strawberry growing area and we enjoyed some early fruit.

Dinant, Belgium

Dinant impressed us with all the pleasure boats tied up alongside the quay full of cafés and put the idea of buying a barge firmly at the front of my mind, I had to convince Sue of the idea of course and she always refused to plan ahead but the longer we sat there in the sun drinking beer I could see it could eventually meet with her approval.


The shop was at that time a mainly cash business and our bank was still BOS (Bank of Scotland) which had no English branches. Chris Hockey and Leggie were financial advisors who had the agency for Bath Building Society so we would take our cash into their office one day and withdraw it the next then send off the cheques to BOS.

This method worked well until the Edinburgh postal workers began a series of disputes resulting in local strikes. Our cheques would not arrive at BOS and the first we knew was a series of daily fines of £25 for exceeding our overdraft. BOS had become HBOS after a merger with Halifax and gone were the days you could phone them, talk to someone you knew and sort things out. Instead you were put through to your 'relationship manager' who you didn't know from Adam.

As I said to her one day when trying to get her to accept that I had no control over the Edinburgh postal workers and she should not be fining us £25 a day while they were on strike; "I do not know you and I certainly do not have any sort of relationship with you"! Eventually she began to make noises about terminating our commercial mortgage and I began to worry. The local Natwest bank manager put me in touch with a business manager based in Yeovil who came over for discussions. He proposed that Natwest loan us the amount required to pay off the BOS mortgage secured on the freehold of the property on an interest only basis which hugely reduced our outgoings, a solution we accepted from an old fashioned bank manager.

The next page is the last one in the Life before Harmonie section.

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