Tuesday morning, the boys are in bed, Hub and I are off to the sticks.
My much-missed step-dad Ronnie had a history that I only picked up in small pieces over the years. I knew that he had an older brother who had done the dirty on him in some way, that he had left Ronnie with debts that my Mum spent two years fighting with tax man over – and won – GO Mum! I also know that my Mum tracked his relatives to Mallorca and wrote to them asking them to get in contact with Ronnie – not about the money but because they were his family.
She must have got too close for comfort because they moved to Australia. Always indomitable, she tracked them down again and wrote to them – again. Still no response.
Ronnie married my Mum back in 1972 when he was a hospital porter and she was on the hospital switchboard. They were great friends with two couples who Ronnie had known for many years. I heard about them but only met one of the couples and that was a long time ago. Even after they moved up North, Mum kept in touch and they exchanged Christmas cards. One couple parted company but that’s Sylvia’s story and not mine to tell. When Mum died from a stroke in 2009, Jean, one of the other couple, also had a stroke but she was more fortunate and although she has some paralysis on her left-side and has to use a wheelchair, her faculties are still razor-sharp.
Ronnie kept in touch with Sylv and got regular updates on Jean and her husband Bruce. He sent her one of our family Christmas cards every year so although we had never met, she knew what we looked like and what we’d all been up to.
It wasn’t easy summoning up the courage to phone and tell her that Ronnie had died. She made it a lot easier for me though. We talked a great deal about Ronnie and Mum, and I promised that I’d look out some photos of Ronnie and visit her when we went down South in August. Listening to that real Hampshire burr made me feel even more determined to fulfill a promise that I made to Ronnie when Mum died – to try to track down his family down one last time.
Sylv was all I’d hoped she would be and was delighted with the photos, but confessed that it was Bruce and Jean who knew more about Ronnie than she did. So she phoned them and five minutes later the three of us were off into even deeper Hampshire to pick Jean’s brains.
As soon as I saw them the memory of their faces and voices came back. I still have no idea of when or where we met but they hardly seemed to have changed. Compared to Farty’s dithering and Mutti’s deafness, here were three people in their late seventies- early eighties who were very much on the ball and ready to fill in the gaps of Ronnie’s life for me.
So – set this down – Ronnie Milnthorpe was born in Romsey, Hampshire and had an older brother called Derek. Their mother came from Cleveleys near Blackpool and was said to be a very astute businesswoman. They owned a greengrocery business in Commercial Road, Southampton and lived in a big house at the Bassett end of Burgess Road. Their father worked as a draughtsman on Spitfires at the Supermarine factory in Woolston, Southampton. Ronnie was said to take after his dad, kind-hearted and a bit of a dreamer but always a stickler for payment if you came into the shop and wanted just an apple or something. Bruce used to deliver fruit and veg to the shop and that’s where his friendship with Ronnie began.
Derek was called up and joined the army; the day after his eighteenth birthday Ronnie was on a train to Warrington to join the RAF. While they were away their mother died – no details known – but shortly afterwards their father died and some said it was from a broken heart. Derek – as the older son – was released from the army and came home to run the shop. At that time he was devoted to Ronnie apparently.
Derek met a girl called Doris; no need to name where she came from but Derek was definitely considered a catch in her eyes. She fell pregnant and they got married; their son was called Raymond and later they had a girl called Sandra – or Sandy. Doris didn’t like Ronnie. Whilst he was still in the RAF she got Derek to sell the house that had been left to both sons jointly and used the money to buy a big house in Bullar Road, Bitterne. the house has been knocked down now and flats put up in its place. When Ronnie came home Doris refused to let him live in the house that was half his and he was sent to live on the other side of town in a B&B. According to my trio of informants, Derek loved his brother but it was Doris who ruled the roost.
They sold the house in Bullar Road and moved to Crawley where Derek opened a betting shop. The greengrocers was sold to buy more betting shops, and all this happened whilst Ronnie was gravely ill in hospital.
According to Jean, Ronnie was walking past a pub when a fight broke out inside, spilled out onto the pavement and Ronnie was knocked to the floor banging his head against the concrete paving. He was in a coma and by the time he recovered, his livelihood was gone and all the wordly goods left to the two brother had come into Doris’s scheming hands. Ronnie went from being the owner of his own shop to being a poorly paid porter living in a council flat. Cheers Doris.
Derek sold his four betting shops to the William Hill chain at a tidy profit; he sold the house in Crawley too and without telling Ronnie where he was going, he packed the money into a suitcase and drove to Newhaven with Doris and the children. They travelled overland avoiding major ports and eventually settled in Mallorca.
I have a postcard of Mallorca from Ronnie’s niece Sandy, dated 22 August 1969. Ronnie’s birthday. She says that there are no birthday cards in Mallorca so the postcard will have to do. She says it is lovely there and that she’ll be sorry to leave. She signs it from Sandy, Mum and Dad – wonder what happened to Raymond?
Years later Mum and Ronnie went to Mallorca – ostensibly for a holiday but Mum wanted to try to find Ronnie’s family for him. By that time she had convinced the tax man that Ronnie had played no part in Derek’s fraud and that all the money owed and the proceeds from the sale of the businesses and house had gone out of the country in Derek’s suitcase.
Jean, Bruce and Sylv all blame Doris. Apparently she and Derek didn’t just do the dirty on Ronnie, there were several other business partners that they left high and dry as well. As far as we know, Sandy married and stayed in Mallorca, Derek died and Doris went to Australia with Raymond who had been set with an electrical business there.
I want to get in touch with Raymond and Sandy. To tell them what a lovely man their uncle was and how they have really missed out on not having him in their lives. He may have lost his blood family but courtesy of my Mum, Ronnie became a much-loved part of our big family. He made a success of his life and despite being left with nothing because of the conniving Doris, he dabbled in stocks and shares and showed that he had indeed inherited some of his mother’s business acumen.
If my Mum, without the doors that have been opened by the Internet, could track down Ronnie’s family, then I’m sure that I can too. Too late for his inheritance – that’s long gone – and thanks to his common sense they have no claim on his estate now – that goes to the people who loved him. To his real family. Here’s to Ronnie – Here’s to us.