Chris Hill

Chris Hill
July 1987: Chris Hill came by quite recently and seems to be prosperous ----can you believe that? He now has a part time job working for the youth service and also two quite well paid jobs working as a piano player in a couple of London pubs.

May 1989: The Falcon and Firkin which is where Chris Hill now plays the piano. Incidentally Chris's piano playing has improved considerably over the years. Chris has also just been told he's going to get sacked from his council job. He ought to get in touch with his councillor. Oops I am his councillor.

Xmas 1991

25 Forest Drive West,
London Ell 1JZ
Phone 081 539 4416

Dear Friends and Relations!

Seasons greetings to you all! I hope you don't -find this circular too mass-produced, but I think it's rather better than just the greetings on a card, much as I believe in Christmas and Christmas cards and mean to go on sending them now that Dear Mum (and Dad) are no more.

The sale of the flat was successfully completed around Christmas last year. Mavis and I only wanted a little furniture and effects, and were happy to be able to help (second) cousin Katy Woodhouse out with the rest as she was just about to start as a Methodist Minister in Kent and had a manse to furnish. Amongst other things I have one of the two tall wooden book cases made for Dad by .his father, and Mum's rocking chair; and the big black family bible bought by Dad, and Mum's (Old) Methodist Hymn Book in a black leather outer cover.

My (now quite spacious) room in London is cluttered with four or five suitcases full of documents and photographs, but when will I ever get around to sorting them, or identifying and dating many of the photos at all?

Of course, I now have more money than I have ever had in my life, but it won't last that long if I don't find some sort of job.

I'm not playing the piano as much as I did, in fact my musical activity is more or less confined to playing with a traditional jazz band. We practise faithfully every Monday, sometimes in a church hall in Barking (very chilly in winter.!) and sometimes "on the job", giving performances in homes for the elderly in Dagenham and Romford. We only manage to get a "gig" about once a month, as two of the band are policemen and have to be very careful with their appearances in licensed premises or in the public eye in general. We usually play in British Legions and Conservative Clubs- I'm relieved to find that the Tories round here are a quite genial and Cockney lot!

My most serious effort on the work front has been to undertake a six-month ETA course in wordprocessing and computer skills. I had . become very conscious how much computers have come in, and how essential to one's prospects of clerical employment some knowledge of them now is. In these days of privatisation all these training functions are farmed out from the Department of Employment to training agencies, who then further farm them out to training centres. It turned out to be a woeful tale of Government underfunding, hopeless unprofitability for the operators, insufficient and inadequate equipment and tuition and shabby conditions.

Half of the time I spent in a long plywood hut in Stratford E15 bought cheap from Newham Council. Our crowded, class had 15 to 20 members and there were always about 20 other pupils around clamouring for computer time and staff attention. The computers were very vulnerable to "virus" attacks. The hut was cold on winter mornings and stifling on summer afternoons. When burglars removed half the computers overnight the windows were permanently blocked up with chipboard panels, so it was all artificial light from then on. I was amused when a bloke was called in to wallpaper over those rather naked panels, presumably for the benefit of the paying pupils in the evening.

I tried so hard for my Elementary City & Guilds Exams in wordprocessing, database and spreadsheet, but my entries appear to have gone down some plughole and I don't yet know whether I've passed or failed! Nevertheless, at the end of January I knew nothing about computers and now I know something and I am very taken with wordprocessing, perhaps enough to fork out £1,000 for my own-equipment. Several of the staff were fine people, doing a reasonable job in difficult and demoralising conditions. There was a tendency for the firm to recruit from trainees, usually starting on "placement" (a sort of slave labour) before they got a (precarious) proper job. 'It seems that computer skills were rather in demand 2 or 3 years ago, but the bottom has dropped out of that, as out of so much else. I'm typing this on my friend Jo Brind's computer.

I spent the first week of August in Sidmouth which I had seen and liked several years ago on a day trip with Mum and Aunty Dimp (I miss those day trips from Calne!). It was the second week of the long-established Sidmouth International Folk Festival. My old friend Ken May from London was down there and was good company. I am not a folk enthusiast as I once was-- I think jazz and classical have superseded it-- but there was a lot of fine music to be heard, on the fringes and officially. The Romanians were wonderful! But the best thing that I did was to climb the steep slope to the east of town on a hot morning to the top of the sandstone cliff, then walk down to the empty beach and have a dip, then walk back over the hill and through the woods.

I met two old friends in Sidmouth whom I hadn't seen for a long time, Phil Jarrett and Pete Hayllar. Pete (a science teacher) kindly invited me to stay for a couple of days in his and Dawn's rented cottage in Woodbury :near Exeter. Dawn (an art teacher) was in America for a few weeks. An elderly Devon mother and her middle-aged son were struggling to keep some farming going round the cottages, which once housed farm workers. Pete and some friends of his have done some haymaking when begged to help out. On Saturday night we went to a rather noisy rhythm and blues concert in Topsham, a handsome place. Exmouth looked nice too. On Sunday we looked round Exeter, which is not a very beautiful city. It suffered a lot in the war, for one thing, we also drove to the top of a hill near Woodbury Castle and had a great view over the estuary up to Dartmoor.

I stopped off in Calne on my way back to London, but only saw Aunty Dimp briefly on the Monday evening as Jeremy came to drive her to Cardiff to stay the week with Roy and Mavis. She's got over her awful winter illness very well. I had two nights' b&b in Calne in the newsagent's shop in Church Street, 17th century, I almost had to bend double to negotiate the passages and doorways!

I visited Mum and Dad's grave at Chittoe Heath Methodist Chapel. We have added a short simple inscription to the little tombstone.

On Sunday September 1st my landlady in Leytonstone Joan Kennedy collapsed and, died just after preparing and serving the usual Sunday dinner. She was 80, a bit absent-minded and dithery and never feeling very well, but still doing a magnificent job looking after her husband Michael, the house and 3 cats. She had many flashes of wit and shrewdness and comic genius and dressed marvellously. I've lived in the house for 2 happy years and am very grateful to her and Michael. Their son Doug, an old friend of mine, got leave from his job as an arts and entertainment journalist in Brisbane and came straight over. More of this below.

The highlight of my year has been my holiday in France.

Thirty four years ago, thanks to Mum and Dad, my French master Theo Owen and I think a bit of a grant from Wilts CC, I attended the Lycee de Garcons, Bayonne, SW France for a year, living with the protestant :pastor of Bayonne M Paul Cadier and his wife Denise (nee Monod) and 7 of their daughters. They had 2 more children, a daughter Mireille who stayed in Calne with Mum and Dad and Mavis and attended the Grammar School, and their one son Bernard who was away at a boarding school, so I didn't see much of those two. Sadly M Cadier died a few months ago at the age of 80. Mme Cadier was away at a health resort during our holiday. None of the family is still in Bayonne, but I called on a cousin called Andre Cadier.

On Tuesday October 1st my friend Lilian and I set out for Biarritz by boat and train, we stayed overnight in Paris and took the TGV (High-speed Train) the next morning. We had a week's b&b in a nice small hotel, eating in the evening in the excellent Terminus Cafe. How I admire French food and French waiters! Biarritz is a bit posh, rather like Torquay or Bournemouth, tamarisk trees everywhere, good beaches and bathing but enough surf for surfing.

I visited my old haunts in Bayonne for the first time for 34 years. The headmaster of the Lycee and his secretary dug in the records but found nothing about me, but the building was much the same (though its educational use has changed and expanded), arcades round a gravel court. I also saw the house where I stayed, now a dentist's. The old parts of Bayonne are lovely, narrow streets now pedestrianised and tall buildings all with rendered walls and shutters on the windows. The beautiful cathedral was mostly built when the city was in English territory. It became part of France about 1451.

One day Lil took a coach over the border to San Sebastian in Spain, but I took a bus, a taxi and a train into the heart of the French Basque country, Hasparren, Cambo and St Jean Pied-de-Port, the latter a lovely walled sandstone town on A hill in the lower Pyrenees. My taxi driver, a Mrs Hirigoyenberry, was Basque and spoke only that language when a little girl. Actually there had been a lot of Basque slogans on walls in Bayonne.

Another day we went to St Jean-De-Luz , a lovely little coastal resort. Ravel's house is there. The famous Labec sisters are from St Jean, and knew two of the Cadier sisters who are musicians.

That was our first week. We then took a long but really very cheap, train journey right along the Pyrenees (via Pau and Lourdes and through Languedoc) to Nimes. Paul Hebert picked us up and drove us about ten miles South West to Codognan where he is pastor of the Eglise Reformee de France. Unfortunately arrangements had changed and our stay clashed with that of Tamasz, a young Hungarian artist who had come to take Paul and Mireille's daughter Floriane to Budapest to marry him and live there. But everyone was very kind and hospitable, we talked 19 to the dozen (mostly in English, they all spoke it well), and it was nice to meet the young people too! Mireille teaches English at Montpellier University, so she is grateful for her stay in Calne, and she said she liked the friendly and informal life of the school when she .was there. My French is still very good, I'm glad to say. P&M have two other children, Samuel and Maroussia, but they are at college.

I saw the Mediterranean for the first time in my life. We also saw the wonderful Roman ampitheatre and temple in Nimes; and an olive tree and a lizard in the garden; and the walled city of Aigues-Mortes, there is a monument there to a protestant woman who was imprisoned in a tower for thirty years; and the flamingos, black bulls and white horses of the Camargue. We started very early from Codognan and were home in Walthamstow by 10.30 p.m.

I was a little anxious as to where I was going to live, but after what must have been a very stressful stay, Doug, with the help of his half-brother Michael, has moved old Mr Kennedy to a residential home in Deal and the house is now let as bed-sitters. I have one, and there are three other tenants. Michael himself for a month or two, Patrick and Kathryn. I'm paying more rent, but I was paying very little before and I have a fine big room and my own kitchenette.
I visited Cardiff a few weeks ago. Judith now has her own flat. We visited Calne one day. Aunty Dimp was fine. She came with us up to the old houses in Low Lane.

Well, I must round off now, I hope this reaches you in good time, but in any case a happy New Year!
Chris Hill

Chris Hill

To: Doug Kennedy
Date: September 2006
Jonathan Brind It was Chris Hill's birthday on Thursday (he was 66) and I met up with him at a pub in Wood Street we tend to frequent. Afterwards he went home via a supermarket buying some apple pastries and got to within about a hundred yards of his flat when he was stopped by two young men.

They pointed at his bum bag (he uses it as a purse or wallet) and insisted he do something. However, he couldn't understand what they were saying (they didn't appear to speak English). Realising that he was being robbed he thought quickly, reached for a plastic bag out of his commodious brief case and rustled it. This frightened the would be thieves away, who ran off. Chris immediately went home and phoned the police who seem to have sent a car round a couple of hours later (or at least that's what they said when they phoned him the following morning).

Another friend of mine woke in the middle of the night, convinced that his son had returned drunk and was making too much noise. He got up and went downstairs to meet a burglar. The burglar ran off with a laptop and some other small items. But it was scary.

My friend lives in the posh part of South Woodford. According to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (speaking on the radio the other day) there is now so little crime in London that you would be safe to leave your doors open in Harringey, a place much colonised by Yuppies and professional types but also containing some sink estates of the type we used to have race riots on in the bad old days of Thatcher.

Anyway how are you/ How's Joan? How are you getting on with your freelance arts magazine project? I'd love to hear from you.

Best wishes,


From: Jonathan Brind
Date: 8 July 2007 14:23:30 BDT
To: Doug & Joan Kennedy
Subject: There is a green Hill round the corner

A couple of weeks ago Chris Hill got turned over at the cashpoint. He put his card in the hole in the wall and one youth on one side of him distracted him while another on the other side grabbed his card. Within hours they had taken over a thousand pounds from his account. It looks like he won't have to pay (the banks cover such things) but I'm sure it makes him feel old and vulnerable. I think he's 66 now.

Recently I've started walking round gangs of teenage youths rather than through the middle. Am I getting old and feeble? I feel as if I moved to London to get a job but the only kind of job I can really get is one where they are more interested in my servility than my ability.

Maybe it's time to move out. I have been thinking of moving to Lancashire. No jobs up there but the house would be less than half the price and that would give me some capital to live on for a few years.

But here's some good news. For the last 18 months the middle managers at the company I work for have been running a harassment campaign against me. However, they laid it on too thick and it looks like I have beaten them. I don't think they can attack me any more. So I'm wondering if I should stay on a bit longer. I can't claim a pension until I'm 60 (2012) and even then I haven't got enough to live on. So I'm wondering if I should soldier on for another five years. The company pays me a lot of money.

Recently we've been seeing stories about a gang of doctors who were planning or running a bombing campaign. It seems that at least one of them worked in the Gold Coast. Was he working for Joan? I'm a bit hazy about these things but doesn't she run the medical system down there?

The picture below shows Chris in my local, The Drum. It used to be a very smoky pub but not now. Smoking has been banned in English pubs from July 1 and as you can see the air is crystal clear.

I don't go in the Drum very often but I went in there on July 1. Usually the staff are very miserable but on that day they were positively jolly. There was a lot of dark muttering about how ghastly the law was before it came in and I wondered if it was actually going to stick. But it has been surprisingly successful and many of the people who said they wouldn't be drinking if they couldn't smoke have been seen in pubs. And It's now a much nicer thing to do to go out to a pub...

Probably told you that I make videos and lately I have started to get a lot more professional in what I'm doing. When I started I tried to do it in a very ideological way but I have realised that I'm not good enough to do that, so I have retreated to doing the bells and whistles, the fair ground stuff. It seems to be working surprisingly well. So if you can think of a commercial subject I might come down there and video it (probably in five years time, November 2012). Of course, I don't know if you want me paying a visit but this gives you plenty of time to move if you want to avoid me...


PS the subject of this email refers to the fact that Chris Hill spends much of his time working for the Hornbeam Centre, an environmental campaign based just round the corner from me in Hoe Street.

Chris Hill

144c Wallwood Road, Leytonstone, London E11 1AN
Telephone No 07944 921265
Thursday December 20th 2007
Dear Relations and friends,

Thank you very much for your cards and round robins! I keep pretty well. I hope I've already had my only winter cold. In January I had two admissions a week part to the local hospital (Whipps Cross) with severe nose bleed, but I'm now taking my blood pressure pills with great regularity and have had no trouble since.

I can't really say I've had a busy year, I get up at the crack of noon. Thank God for BBC Radios 3 & 4 and a certain measure of telly.

But I do have my activities. I'm the treasurer of the Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society. We mounted an anti-slavery exhibition in St John's Church Leytonstone this year, and did several talks and trips, including to the Upminster Windmill, surviving in what is now suburbia.

The Hornbeam Environmental Centre, Walthamstow, of which I am a director and glorified janitor, has recently come to life again after a year or two in the doldrums. There are at last some keen energetic young people around, interested amongst many other things in decent food, growing it (they're keen allotment cultivators), cooking it and selling it. The caféis opening again, one day and more a week. There's an organic veg stall outside on Saturdays. A lot of apple-collecting and juicing was done in the Autumn. We are to get cracking on the issue of 'peak oil', or the urgent need to save energy to reduce carbon emissions. I must say some of the youngsters are a bit hard core green, tending not to switch lights on nor turn boilers up nor flush the toilet every time, but they're kind and genial enough people.

They camped at that Heathrow Demonstration against the 3rd runway. I meant to go but it was such a miserable wet weekend.

We visited the RISC Centre in Reading early in May, which shows what can be done with voluntary effort and then went on to Tolhurst Farm near Pangbourne. The owner has struggled heroically for years growing vegetables with 'green' (non animal) manure. He was worried about the dry state of his ground: not or many more weeks I suspect!

Two friends (Joanna was the founding co-ordinator of Hornbeam) have bought a house near Witney, where David Cameron was down commiserating with his constituents who had suffered in the floods. But Joanna & Greg escaped, though a road higher up the slope was flooded. Very odd!

I meant to start singing again, but although I don't criticise how it's run, I don't find the local folk club congenial, or folk itself really, now I know more than three chords.

My only holiday as such as such has been four days in Cheltenham for the Literature Festival. My fellow members of the Hornbeam Reading Group (all ladies!) got to a festival once a year. So it's a bit of company & couple of convivial meals to enjoy there. Cheltenham's a fine town. I did a walk or two, including through a park that had been under water a month or two before.

Our new Lammas Lands Defence Committee has had a slice of our lands encroached on because the Olympic Development Agency needs to accommodate some allotment holders displace from Manor Gardens along by the River Lea. This is merely to make a walk way and obliterate a marvelous local tradition of benign paternalism and rather untidy but deeply picturesque and sustaining local activity. And whatever they say, will these allotment on pour patch-- nothing wrong with allotments per se, but the Lammas Lands should be for all the public-- really be Temporary and be abolished after 2012? Many of my friends are very anti-Olympic, a stance I can't take, but it's not all good by any means!

Waltham Forest Council has recently cut opening times in the local museum and the Wm M orris Gallery. There's a rather raucous campaign in progress about that. And they've recently reorganised the libraries, some say leaving them with hardly any books (they destroyed 1/4million).

In early September I stayed two nights with Mavis and Roy in Cardiff and drove up the valley to Doreen's funeral. She was about 95, and one of those Welsh relations it's so nice to have or to have known. The valleys are lovely these days now the mines have gone.

I'm spending four or five days over Xmas with my good friends Steve Savage, Sally Duffell and Steve's mum Kay in Hastings, a delightful and much regenerated Town.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Christopher (Hill)

Chris Hill