10 June 2018

Uncle Peter - Belonging

Uncle Peter

It’s often said that bad luck happens in threes. Whilst I am not superstitious, this year has been particularly challenging.

At the beginning of the year we had my Uncle Phil’s funeral, an amazing man, and whilst it is always a huge blow losing someone special, he was 105, so it was expected.

Pretty much straight after that, a few days into our holidays with our kids in the Maldives, we then learned that Gail’s grandad passed away. Known as Great Grandad to Gail and I, and our 4 daughters, he was truly an inspiration from the day I met him. Always fascinated by how were doing at UKFast and always so proud of his granddaughters’ achievements, he showed genuine interest in mine too. Funnily enough he was one of the main inspirations behind why I was so determined to make UKFast successful and buy a big office building one day after his very first visit to our  two-man office back in 2000. Showing Great Grandad around he said, “So all this is yours, the whole building?”

I was a little embarrassed having to explain, “No Grandad, just this little office here…” I so wanted him to be proud of me and know his granddaughter was in safe hands.

In his final years, it was an amazing moment to proudly wheel him around the UKFast Campus and show him that we had actually lived up to his expectations. Great Grandad was 101, so whilst losing him was very sad, he had a full and happy life.

It was on the last day of that same holiday, we got a call to stop by at the hospital as soon as we landed in Manchester. My Uncle Peter was in Intensive Care.

Truly belonging

Most people probably don’t know just how deep the family connections run in UKFast. Jonathan my cousin is managing director and Uncle Peter is his father.

I had an interesting upbringing to say the least. Uncle Peter was a child psychiatrist, a calm, thoughtful and kind person. My earliest real impactful memories of him were when my parents asked for his help to evaluate me in professional capacity.

In my parents’ defence, I was a handful. I was not happy at home or at school and on the last day before I left for my scholarship to Durham Chorister School at the age of  7, I decided (along with a number of others) to play a prank.

To say the prank got out of hand is an understatement. Whilst waiting for evensong at St. Asaph Cathedral where I sang in the choir, we rather foolishly started throwing things on the roof. Things escalated and we ended up throwing a shoe from every person in the school up there.

I left thinking, that was that.

The school obviously very upset rang my parents and so Uncle Peter was called.

Jonathan talking about Peter described his own frustrations growing up. “I was a rebel,” he said. “This was very difficult when everything I did, no matter how disagreeable, was met with, ‘Excellent” or “What a good idea’.”

Uncle Peter was no different in this situation. At the end of the meeting a seven-year-old, very frightened young boy asked him, “so what is wrong with me?”

“Oh absolutely nothing, young man, you are a perfectly normal little boy.” He paused and then said with raised eyebrows and a knowing smile, “I am not sure I can say that about your parents though.”

This sort of humour immediately put me at ease and we were best friends ever since. As I grew up, he inspired me to start running. Every time they came to Denbigh where I lived we would go on runs together. I could never beat him, he was fast and competitive.

When I left for Manchester to seek my fortune at sixteen, as with most of my adventures, things didn’t always go to plan. After a year of struggling,  I ended up moving in with my Uncle Peter and Aunty Lesley. Jonathan, one of three kids, was probably around nine years old.

Jonathan and I grew really close and, for the first time in my life, I was treated as an adult and Peter and Lesley welcomed me into the family.

When I got my hair cut in a semi mohawk style, my mother threatened that I wouldn’t be welcome at home at Christmas, worried at what the neighbours would think. Peter thought the hair cut was perfectly fine and said I could stay with  them. Seeing Peter’s reaction, my mum immediately calmed down. This was Peter’s effect on people.

Finding a home at  Bowers’ Towers

I remember my years at Bowers’ Towers (as their home was known) with real fondness and whilst I can tell endless funny stories, let me make no mistake, that time I spent under that roof with Peter and that great family was a life saver and both influenced and shaped me to become the man I am today. Most importantly as a father. Seeing Peter in action was mesmerising.

I recall Anthony the youngest (then around four years old) throwing handfuls of spaghetti around the room at the dinner table. Peter simply raised his eyebrows particularly high and said very very calmly,  “Anthony.. is that wise?” Anthony shook his head and just stopped. Extraordinary! I’d have been thumped for behaviour like that. Peter never raised his voice and everyone just got on. No matter how rebellious Jonathan and I tried to be, it was met with Peter’s agreeable reassurance that whatever we were doing was accepted.

That calmness and patience that were inherent in Peter are two traits I admire most in people. When interviewed recently by Gordon Burns he asked me, “what are Gail’s best traits?” It was the same two qualities I listed.

I noticed a similar vibe the moment I was invited to Gail’s home meeting her mum and dad. I instantly felt safe and at home.

Calmness and Patience

The reason I value these traits most in people, is because they are not qualities I instinctively go to when under pressure.

I can get defensive under pressure and I am far from patient. I am certainly becoming more patient with age, but I have some work still to do in this area!

The combination of Gail and I together is indeed a strong one because together we have her calmness and my impatience, and somehow it just works.

Arriving in Manchester after my flight, Peter had been put into an induced coma. He’d been struggling to breathe after contracting pneumonia. The family were told there was no hope. Yet, as the doctors changed every few days, so did the advice. It was a rollercoaster of different viewpoints and, plugged into around 20 machines all performing elements vital to keeping Peter alive, none of us ever gave up.

The days went to weeks, and the weeks rolled into months. But still the family watched him around the clock, never giving in. He was in his seventies, but still very youthful and fit as a fiddle. It just didn’t make any sense.

After about three months things started looking up. He eventually was brought around from his coma. He was given a tracheotomy, so whilst he was fully conscious and understanding everything we said, he was unable to speak. Although we had his eyebrows and facial expressions, and boy was he funny!

Finally we got the opportunity to speak with him as they started relaxing the tracheotomy for a few minutes every day.

Saying goodbye

It was amazing. Peter, being a doctor, fully understood the situation he was in and seemed to understand better than us that it was still unlikely he would survive.

It was Peter one morning who made the decision to call it a day and turn off his life support. The fight to stay alive was just too great even for such an extraordinary and competitive man.

This is the hardest thing to come to terms with as his brain was working perfectly. Talking to him and saying goodbye is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. So I can’t imagine how Lesley, Juliet, Jonathan and Anthony felt.

There are few times in life when a grown man sobs hopelessly like a child, but leaving the hospital after speaking with Uncle Peter that morning, saying goodbye, knowing the pain the whole family was in, the pain he was in, was unbearable.

Uncle Peter - Belonging

As well as having an extraordinary impact through his work, Uncle Peter was often found in the kitchen, baking.

So in a packed church where there were not enough chairs to go around, listening to all the amazing achievements, it reminded me of my second chance with my avalanche accident. Whilst I am a much better person as a result of that unfortunate experience, I am conscious I still have some way to go.

What would Peter do?

There are so many times in our lives when Gail and I ask, “What would Peter do?” when confronted by a challenge, especially one where are kids are concerned. Ultimately the gap that is left in the world when someone special like Peter passes away has to be filled up by the people left around.

It got me thinking is it not up to us as individuals to continue to improve as people, as parents, husbands, business leaders? If we are not inspired by the great characters we come into contact with, albeit briefly, then what is the point?

Hearing my cousins say, “We were lucky to have him in our lives, some people never get to experience someone a great as that. So we were lucky to have him even for too short a time.”

Thankfully I have hundreds of great and happy memories. One of those, from the early years, was Sunday lunch. Peter always cooked a casserole (from a packet!). I used to go for years before and after my stint living at Bowers’ Towers. At the end of the meal, like clockwork, I used to say, “That’s the best meal I have ever had!”

Everyone would always laugh, because I’d say it religiously. What everyone around the dinner table didn’t realise, it genuinely was. It wasn’t just about the food, which when you haven’t eaten for days, tastes like manna from heaven, it was the occasion. It was being part of the Bowers family. Moving to Manchester on my own at 16 or 17 years of age was incredibly lonely. They got me through those challenging times and Peter gave me the grounding to become the father I am today.

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