My Memorial Bench: A Continuing Story

Ronnie and granddaughter Ellie, on his bench, August 2007

A story begun in 2001, written up here in 2011, then updated just before Christmas 2017.

You know those benches that you see in public parks, with little plaques on with people’s names and dates on them? Well, I’ve got one. No dates on it, as I am not, of course, as of this current writing, dead. The City Council here calls them ‘Memorial Benches’, and I often used to speculate whether, one day, there’d be one with my name on it? Well, Sarah was obviously listening, and for my birthday in 2001, she bought me one.

Like a Secret Garden, the way in

Like a Secret Garden, the way in

And the place it’s in is no ordinary garden. It’s in the walled garden of a formerly grand merchant’s house, called Calderstones. And the formerly grand merchant’s house just over the road was called Quarry Bank. It became a school, the school John Lennon went to. Now John, as you probably know, didn’t like school. And would avoid as many lessons as possible, ‘sagging off’ as we call it round here. And the place he would ‘sag off’ to was the walled garden, my walled garden.

He wrote about it too. In The Beatles ‘I am the walrus’ when he sings:

‘Sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun

If the sun don’t come you get a tan from standing in the English rain’

He’s talking about the walled garden just over the road from school, where my bench is.

And over the past eleven years, I’ve come and sat on it at all seasons of the year. Often to work. I find if I’m working on a new idea, or designing an event for a sense of place, it’s best if I walk a bit and then work outdoors. And Calderstones Park is ideal for this. It’s about two miles from our house, into the leafy suburbs. And the fact that it’s a walled garden means it’s pretty sheltered most of the time, good for peaceful thinking and working. The only time my peace gets disturbed, in fact, is by the kids from Quarry Bank, now called Calderstones School, when they come in, ‘sagging off’.

Once, I was sitting there, and a couple of women were working their way along the row of other benches, admiring the things people had said on the plaques about their dead relatives and friends. When they got to mine they tutted loudly and one exclaimed ‘I don’t think you should be allowed to have one if you’re alive!’ ‘Oy it’s mine, actually’, I immediately told them. To which they self-righteously, and pretty quickly, strutted off.

And of course, after Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2007, the bench was sometimes a place of respite for me. All carers need a bit of time for themselves during the years of surgery and treatments. And often I would head for the bench, for an hour of quiet reading. Sometimes we’d both go there for a picnic on sunny days, occasionally accompanied by my beaming and always hungry for life granddaughter, Ellie.

Some of the no doubt outstanding plants and trees

Now this is the point where any gardening fans are probably looking forward to me describing some of the outstanding plants to you. Well, there are tulips, sometimes, quite a lot of bushes, and loads of different looking sorts of trees. And that just about exhausts my gardening knowledge. For me, gardens are places for peaceful contemplation. I’m grateful to the people who’ve put them together and the people who labour in all weathers to care for them. But if you want Latin names and erudite botanical descriptive passages, well head on over to Sarah’s Plot 44 blog. You won’t get any of that from me!

No, I’m good on music, and also on politics. Which brings me to the fact that, after eleven peaceful years, in January of this year the bench entered a period of danger. Over the year up to then, the greenhouse behind the bench had been looking increasingly dilapidated. And in January a ‘Site notice’ informed me it had ‘become unsafe and is to be demolished’. This of course was lazy, corporate-speak for ‘We’ve stopped bothering to maintain it, and now, surprise, surprise, it’s falling down!’ Anyway, the collection of hot house botanicals and cacti it currently housed was to be removed and replaced by a, no doubt low-maintenance, ‘sensory garden’. And so ‘some of the Memorial benches will have to be re-located’. I was further informed that because of this work the garden would be closed for some of the time between January to March.

Well, as it turned out, the garden was completely closed from early January until now, early June. Happening to be in Calderstones on a ‘grasses and verges’ course (yes, really) Sarah was told by a local Ranger that the garden has just re-opened today. And here it is:

Calderstones Park, the new Sensory Garden.

And see that bench with its back to us, right at the centre of the new Garden? That’s my bench.

Sarah in reflection, photographing the new fountain. My bench in the background.

So I’m delighted that I can once again go and sit and read and think and work on my bench. Though of course, the cynic in me – always close to the surface – is slightly concerned that the bench’s central position will make it too popular. That I might often not be able to sit on my own bench?

But hey, life’s full of risks and dangers and I can easily live with that one!

Time then passes and before you know it we’re deep in December 2017. Ellie’s at secondary school and my daughter Clare and her husband Simon have had two more children now. Theo, who’s 8, and his brother Finn, 3. These days I don’t visit my bench much as, truth to tell, I’ve never as much liked the redesigned garden as I did the old one (Though I know others who visit and let me know how the bench is doing). Nor have I taken to the bench’s new position in the central seating area. But life has its ups and downs and it was a quiet joy to go and visit the bench today and find I was the only person in the garden, for the first time in my life. It’s nearly Christmas, so I suppose people are busy with other things?

Well anyway, I sat there for an hour, did some reading and a little work and found, as always, that the bench helps me think.

So thank you again Sarah for your thoughtful gift from 2001. A gift that is continuing to give, to me and the place, and will no doubt still be giving long after I’ve moved into the past tense. 

15 thoughts on “My Memorial Bench: A Continuing Story

  1. Chemobabe

    Save Ronnie’s bench!!

    I love that Sarah got you a memorial bench. And I love that you have a place like that to go to as a respite. All carers need one.

    Save Ronnie’s bench!!

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I’m afraid it’s too late for the greenhouse, years of determined non-maintenance have done for it. Now it’s a matter of getting the bench to a safe corner of the garden. Even if we have to pick it up and carry it. We’ve done it before!

      Reply
      1. Being Sarah

        Yes, Ronnie didn’t like the first place the bench had been given, in a different part of the garden by a sundial. So we moved it! It was actually the subject of the very first film we made – called ‘le weekend’… It was fun!

  2. Jan Baird

    What a beautiful account! Just love the picture of Ronnie with his granddaughter. The garden is shaping up beautifully. I eagerly await visiting your blogs on Ronnie, Sarah or Gemma days. All are glorious days.
    XOXO,
    Jan

    Reply
  3. AnnaGoAnna

    From another ‘alive’ bench owner I totally understand your concern. As my friends know I just love my bench in any weather too, when needing space, contemplating life, good times and bad times or just meeting friends in central London (Berkeley Square). Like you, I’ve noted that all other benches have an ‘end date’ on their inscriptions… I was very tempted to have “1967-it’s not over yet” or something similar but I thought that may appear disrespectful to others who have chosen a ‘memorial bench’ for ‘memorial’ purposes! Anyway I’m intending to outlive the bench and then I can get another one with a new inscription and perhaps make that even more cheeky!

    I look forward to the update following your phone call – ha, they probably thought no one was around to question their Notice. Good luck xxx

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thank you Anna, don’t think there can be many of us ‘living memorial bench holders.’ Wow, Berkeley Square? does the spirit of Frank Sinatra serenade you there? I’ll keep you posted on my bench’s continued well-being xx

      Reply
  4. richard lyon

    Hi Ronnie I came across this page looking for resources describing the beginnings of the cactus collection in Calderstones Park “Hot Houses”. These last few days have seen the cactus collection smashed up by men with a JCB. Lierally smashing up these plants that have taken 70 years to grow and loading them into skips. It is a tragedy to my mind. That cacti collection is a part of my childhood, youth and early adulthood. Thankfully I have some nice specimens which I started from cuttings nicked from the collection. I managed to recover a few other cuttings from the demolished collection that my sons and I found in five skips in the park over the weekend. Why no attempt to re-house the collection? It seems an act of utter vandalism to just smash them up for landfill.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Richard, even I’d thought they’d probably find a new home for the cacti. So, very sad to hear the contractors the City have hired weren’t instructed to do something more creative than just smash them up. Even compost would have been a step up from landfill. Sadly this is how some of the staff of Liverpool City often behave. Thoughtless jobsworths waiting for their pensions, who don’t value the places they’re supposed to care for.

      Glad you’ve got some specimens though, and for what you salvaged from the skips!

      Reply
  5. yvonne dalrymple

    Quarry Bank my old school and yes we use to sag off there too. Not visited the park for many years will endeavor to do so. Shame about the cacti I’m sure if a notice was put up, cacti to a good home, people would have taken them off their hands.
    thank you for this blog.

    Reply

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