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Our old neighbour, Eric, died, as was fully expected. He was moved out of his flat several months ago, and before that was too ill to go out much anyway, so had been effectively absent for a long time.

Strangely, though, now that he is actually dead, I feel quite bereft. My wife is a foreigner and I am also a stranger to this town. When we moved here we knew nobody and had no connections. Through Eric we gradually gained an identity. A lot of the older people on the estate, and most of the estate staff, started to recognise us as Eric's neighbours and friends. We became known, even if they didn't know our names. He was a great friend to my wife. Her alien accent didn't scare him off, as it seems to so many British people, neither did the age gap. The two of them had gardening and a love of nature in common. Eric learned the Czech names for some plants and fish, and Eva would come home and surprise me with bits of south London 1950s slang. They would go off on trips together, buying plants and exploring woods with the enthusiasm of kids. One pair of old ladies in a garden centre was scandalised by them, evidently believing that Eric had purchased a mail-order bride one quarter his age. Eric and Eva thought it was hilarious.

Bye, Eric.



29/6/08 21:34
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Remember Eric? Our old neighbour in the previous flat. I wrote about him often enough that I gave him his own tag in my LJ.

We've only moved five houses down the road but that was quite enough to cut us off from Eric somewhat. Although we'd go and visit him it wasn't the same as living in the same building, where he'd walk past our (often open) front door as he came and went.

Then he got ill. He didn't like to talk about it in much detail but, drawing on the bits and pieces he told me and my own nursing experience, it was pretty obvious that he was dying. He accepted it. He'd watched his wife die of cancer and had no illusions about it. Recently we heard he'd gone to a hospice nearby. We went to visit him there yesterday. He was in bed and greeted us cheerily and made funny faces at the baby, but he looked terrible. I know that when my patients look like that they haven't got long left. I told him that I missed having him round for a grilled trout dinner, which we used to do quite often, and he made a bizarre remark "that's a long way off". We weren't sure if he meant a long way off in the past or if he somehow expected to recover. It was a bit awkward. After a short while it all got too much for him and he asked us to leave. He shook my hand though and said it was nice to see me.

I think that was probably the last time I'll see him.
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My neighbour, Eric, lent me some old photos of himself to scan in. See more of them here. Click the 'Eric' tag on the left to read more about him.

benicek: (Default)
The wife has a day off today and so celebrated by watching cookery programmes on TV until 2 o'clock in the morning. This is probably more fun than it sounds when you're massively pregnant. When I awoke she excitedly told me that she had learned how to make pesto sauce. "I could use our robot to make it". I was confused. Do we possess a domestic robot? "Our kuchinsky robot" she explained, "the one Eric gave us which we never take out of the cupboard". Ah! She meant our food processor.

Kuchinsky robot means, literally, 'kitchen robot' in Czech. The word 'robot' has not been borrowed from English. It is a Czech word which we've stolen from them. It was popularised by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920 novel "RUR", though probably invented by his brother, a cubist painter. "RUR" was a work of science fiction which featured humanoid machines. 'Robot' derives from the feudal-period Czech word 'robota', which can be translated as 'labour' or, more darkly, 'forced labour' or 'servitude'.

We're going to get our peasant out of his cupboard under the stairs and force him to make pesto sauce.


24/12/06 14:03
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I am so grateful to have a neighbour like Eric. He absolutely insists that we take advantage of his 79 years of technical expertise and extensive collection of tools, and is always on the look-out for stuff he can do for us. I seem to remember that last Christmas he came round and unblocked our drains. Here he is today, putting up shelves for us.


20/7/06 14:27
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I've lived in some painfully expensive slums in my time so this little piece of local history really inspired me. I'm telling you, we look back on previous generations as being 'deferential' but that is total bullshit. They were maybe a bit more polite but they didn't take half the crap we do from employers and landlords. We're the boot-lickers, not them.

My 78 year old neighbour, Eric, is in this photo. He's the one with the parted hair in the left foreground with his head turned away from the camera. Eric's brother and sister-in-law are here too. This was taken in the nearby new town of Crawley in 1953. Eric, like most of the people in this picture, was a skilled worker who had been relocated by his employers from east London and housed in rented council (local government) housing. Eric's company were making equipment for the Britsh nuclear programme, amongst other things. However, once the town had started to grow and the new residents were settled the council decided to double the rent. This was the response of unionised workers from several of the main employers in the town. The council were forced to back down and moderate their rent increase somewhat.

I explained to Eric that this strike would be illegal today, because Mrs Thatcher outlawed secondary picketing. Eric said he couldn't care less; "What would they do then? Put 2000 of us in a police cell?"

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