My friend Sally Forster, who died at the age of 94 in Knutsford, Cheshire, last month, was a good friend and an important part of my youth.
When I was about 10 and pony-mad, I ‘helped’ George James, the road-sweeper, who kept donkeys and ponies and sometimes took in animals which had been poorly treated.
One such was a tiny donkey, half dead and covered in lice. He shaved off her matted grey coat and treated her and she survived, growing a magnificent brown coat and increasing in size; she turned into a beauty with great character. Sally bought her, named her Chica, and kept her in her orchard at Pebble Cottage on the edge of Denham village.
I first met Sally when she was taking Chica for a walk, just like a dog. Chica loved it, and especially all the attention she got from admirers. I often joined Sally on her walks, and sometimes I rode another of George’s rescues, a roan donkey called Romeo. At the Denham Whit Fair we put panniers on Chica and sold lucky dips.
Later Sally sold Chica to a good home and moved into the old butcher’s shop in the village and ran an junk-cum-antique shop there. Sally was very sociable with a great sense of fun, which meant that people dropped in for chat, often preventing her from getting on with her work. I loved to help her, polishing the brass, minding the shop or going round the sales with her, picking up bits of junk which she would renovate. I once retrieved a footstool frame from a skip in Eaton Square (the things the rich throw out!) and took it back to Sally who restored it and we shared the substantial profit. She could always see the funny side of life and had a tremendous sense of humour.
Later she moved to Knutsford and although I kept in touch I rarely saw her. But she was influential in my life and I have very happy memories of our Denham days.
Sally was a writer and was a great encouragement to me as a keen young author (which came to nought I’m afraid). She said that you should always try to capture occasions by recording them in the third person for later use – a useful tip.
She would write poems when she gave a present. The first present she gave me was at christmas 1966. It was a diary, accompanied by this verse:
These things I must remember e’er they fade.
Distorted by the passing rush of time,
These things I must record and have arrayed
For future use in either prose or rhyme.
These things are not the chores of day by day,
All jotted down with nought of any note,
But sights that I have seen along the way
And dreams I’ve dreamed that had me by the throat,
That made me laugh or made we want to cry,
These fleeting things set down in black and white
Must all be re-discovered by and by
And used relentlessly if I would write.
These things experienced become my own
For they are part me—and mine alone.
At Denham Whit Fair, 1967, Sally (right), Chica and me.