I don’t usually do requests – simply because no-one ever requests anything but my good friend Glenn, has asked that I recount some of my adventures with our mutual friend Dougie. This probably means that WordPress will shut this blog down unless I do some serious editing. Thankfully Dougie doesn’t do computers or else he would bring his own, special contributions to the table.
So who is Dougie? I first met him on a trip to Belgium with the youth club. He had spent much of his life working at hospitals like Cell Barnes in St Albans. It was through Toc H coming into this hospital for people with learning disabilities that Dougie came to be known to the organisation and thence to Cuffley Youth Centre. John Burgess asked him, and another Toc H volunteer Bob, onto our trip.
So the first thing you need to know about Dougie is that he is openly gay. No big deal. More importantly, you need to know that at the flick of switch he can be as camp as the Queen of Sheba. He has his foibles, as do we all, but he is funny as fuck if you’ll excuse my old German. The tales he tells, though some are embellished and some are probably completely fabricated, always bring a smile to my face.
He is also a loving, caring man who I have had the pleasure of seeing work with people with special needs at various Toc H events here and in Belgium. Today, he is virtually bed bound in his bungalow in London Colney. We speak every week and I am off to see him next Tuesday. He doesn’t get too many visitors any more.
On that first trip away with him he was quite well behaved. It was after all a youth club trip and though they were the older members of the group, some decorum was required. I recall him causing confusion by sounding off a realistic little dog yap when people were least expecting it. Honestly, I have seen restaurant staff looking under tables trying to evict a completely non-existence dog.
I can’t be sure which particular Belgium trip it was as I must have done a dozen with Dougie but I remember one incident with a mixture of trepidation and hilarity. First you need some context. In Belgium drinking is generally a more laid back affair than in the UK. I may have already recounted my dismay when I found few places in Belgium use pint glasses for instance. This is one of my frequent asides though as by the time I met Dougie I was sober and he doesn’t drink either. It’s not the alcohol that matters here, it’s the glasses. You see every make of beer in Belgium is served in its own unique branded glass. To an inveterate collector of pretty things as Douglas is, the temptation is too much. For, after spending an incredibly pleasant evening sat outside our favourite (at the time) drinkery on the square in Poperinge, we stood up to go back to Talbot House. Dougie picked up his sizeable holdall from under the table and it rattled like a chandelier in the wind. Assuming a position of responsibility quite unlike me normally, I unzipped the bag and demanded he put back on the table the very impressive collection of glasses he had assembled. Even back then Dougie’s mobility was slightly limited and he had, like some special interest Fagin, send various members of the youth club around the tables collecting the pieces he required. Let us not dwell on this dark day in the relationship between the UK and Belgium. Suffice to say we kept a very close eye on him in future.
Probably the time I got to know him best was on the first Poperinge Carnival I did. On the Friday night the local Toc H had arranged a fancy dress quiz. Dougie and I, both being larger chaps, had dressed as a nun and a cardinal, since long flowing robe-like costumes suited us best. Now Belgium is still a fairly devout Catholic country and as we walked the streets I expected a few looks of curiosity, if not pure disdain. Instead, I told Doug to get a move on because I was pretty sure any time now someone was either going to prostrate themselves at our feet or ask to kiss my ring (No sniggering at the back).
Two days later, at the Carnival itself, Dougie sat in our ‘flying Ford Anglia’ carefully crafted from a little Citroen hatchback, waving regally at the crowd. I was up the front of our little group feeling genuinely overwhelmed by the crowd’s calls for ‘Agrid, who appeared to be a popular character on the continent. Glenn, who asked that I write this blog, was our Harry.
It may have been that trip where Dougie travelled with me in my car. On arrival at the ferry – our preferred mode of travel in those days – we went into the disabled access lane whilst the others went into the normal loading lane. Dougie and I were kind of surrounded by lorries and after about 30 minutes of inactivity I called the others up. But we’re loaded and on the move they said so I went and looked and sure enough the ferry was steaming away to England. Unsurprisingly my demands to the men on the dock received a Gallic shrug and Dougie and I had to sit for two hours until the next ferry. Brexit holds no fears for me, I’m delay trained!!*
So, what else of Dougie. Well, he had a very good friend who was chief cook for Barbara Cartland at her estate in Essendon. She was often away and Nigel would invite Dougie over. I am told, and I have no desire not to believe it, that on one occasion they went through her wardrobe and each chose a frock that best suited them. Suitably attired they took the Rolls Royce out for a spin. However, it obviously hadn’t been serviced properly for somewhere on the A1 it ground to a halt and our two miscreants were stood on the hard shoulder with a broken down Roller looking as if they were on their way to a garden party.
The other Cartland story that I can recount was at that grand old dame’s funeral. She requested a cardboard coffin but the day was gloomy and wet as funerals used to be. So wet, Dougie tells me, that by the time they were carrying the coffin to the burial site, Dame B’s nether regions were suspended though the soggy bottom of the environmentally friendly coffin. It’s probably not true and it’s probably a bit disrespectful but the first time Dougie told me, my coffee erupted through both nostrils at once.
Those days are over but thankfully he still has the stories. Glenn teased me with one about a poodle and glass table. You’re going to have to use your imagination.
*This is actually bollocks as Brexit scares me lots and I am the most impatient person I know!