The Thinking Poet

 

Eulogy

RONALD RICHARD CRETCHLEY (12.11. 1923 – 21.1.2006)

It is with deep sorrow that I tell you of the death of my husband Ronald Cretchley. He was diagnosed with advanced metastatic prostate cancer in October 2003 and after a brave fight finally succumbed to the disease in January 2006. The communion service of thanksgiving for his life took place at the parish church of St Michael and all Angels, Hughenden on 31st January and was conducted by the Revd. Simon Cronk. The address was given by the Revd Canon John Eastgate. Ron was a man of faith, and the service was a beautiful and prayerful occasion.

 I have written the following notes on his life so that those of you who knew him personally as well as those who only know him through his writings can come to a closer understanding of the kind of person he was. As John Eastgate pointed out in his address, Ron was a man of many talents and interests. On a practical level he could do lovely work in pewter and copper, engrave glass, raise runner beans, and do most jobs around the house and garden. He could play the piano and had an encyclopedic knowledge of music – and many other subjects too. As a family we remember how he wiped the floor with all the other quiz show contestants one Christmas and rather uncharacteristically rejoiced in his winnings (he was normally modest and unassuming but a little alcohol had brought out the “killer instinct”).

 When he was fit his chief delight was walking in the country and he was something of a “nature mystic”. He took delight in hills and mountains, trees and flowers but complained that birds would never keep still so his bird watching was limited.

 He held to a childhood vision that life is a journey and that throughout life we have glimpses of eternity, as when we gain some new insight or experience the beauty of nature. For him eternal life was not just something to look forward to when we die but a state we enter into in our earthly life whenever we feel “transported”, whether by a piece of music, a landscape or a scientific insight.

 He was a keen student of philosophy and theology and wrote on these subjects most days in his journal. Poetry was both his joy and his despair as he laboured over every word and line, but the sense of inspiration was strong and steady and he never gave up.

 When we close the memorial fund next month we anticipate making donations approaching five hundred pounds to each of four charities: The Childrens Society; VSO; Help the Aged and The Salvation Army. It is not too late to contribute, and if you want to donate please email me for details using the feedback address info@thinkingpoet.co.uk.

Irene Cretchley

 

RON CRETCHLEY

Let Lasting Moments Shine

Ron’s parents came from a romantic background – they were both brought up at Crossness, the London Sewage Outfall works, where his maternal grandfather was Chief Engineer and his paternal grandfather was Chief Clerk 

The influence of these two men could be seen very strongly in Ron, who was both practical and studious. From Grampa Brown came his interest in engineering, which for him developed into a passion for radio, and hours spent in his radio den at the bottom of the garden (where of course he set up a telecommunication link so his mother could call him in for meals). This was perhaps the source of his later innovative work on early computers.

 From Grampa Cretchley came his love of learning – he would tell of how he would wander to Grampa’s study as a child, to be greeted with “Ah, come in, Ronnie – I have here a very interesting old book!”Throughout his life Ron had a passion for interesting old books, and interesting new ones too. Thirty years ago, when the family last moved house, the removal men wrote on packing case after packing case “BOOKS”, “MORE BOOKS”, and finally “MORE AND MORE AND MORE BOOKS”. The comment of one of the men “YOU AIN’T ARF GOT A LOT OF BOOKS, GUV” became a family joke.

 In many ways it seemed a miracle that he survived childhood. Not only did he have what at that time were life-threatening diseases - he went into the fever hospital with scarlet fever and caught diphtheria while he was there – but he was also an accident–prone youngster who fell on an unguarded fire, was knocked down by a horse and cart, fell out of a boat and came near to drowning before he could swim, and when he had learned to swim got stung in the face by a jellyfish while swimming underwater off the Dorset coast.

 Ron gained a scholarship to St Olaves Grammar School near Tower Bridge and did well at school in spite of having joined two years later than most other boys. In 1939 something happened to disrupt everyone’s lives – like many people of his age he could always remember the day war broke out, the radio announcement and the emotions that flooded his sixteen year old frame as he looked out over unfamiliar fields in the Gloucestershire countryside to which his school had just been evacuated.

 The school was finally evacuated to Torquay and Ron carried vivid memories of the years he spent there. He and Irene were blessed with a break from the ravages of his illness in September of last year, when they were able to spend a few days exploring some of the old haunts from his school days, including the cove from which he used to swim as a boy. The only access is on foot, and amazingly he made it down the hundred or so steps and even more amazingly, and much to Irene’s relief, he made it up them again! The district nurse who visited him during his final year reckoned it was sheer will power that kept him going, and she was not far wrong – he had plenty of that. 

He was passionate about music and while at school in Torquay formed a jazz group with a few friends, including a trumpeter named Eddie. They found an old lady with a piano and got into the habit of using her home as a practice room – thoughtless as are so many teenagers – until one day she greeted them with “You can’t come in – I’ve sold the piano!” To her, it was the only way she could see of escaping these invasions, but to them it was treachery! 

From school he went to King’s College London to study electrical engineering, but the emphasis was on heavy stuff  - power - and his heart was not in it. He loved the life, however, and continued with his musical interests as the pianist with the university jazz band. During this period the college was evacuated to Bristol – not, perhaps, the safest of relocations. His hope was to join the RAF but by the time he finished his course and left, with a modest degree but developed skills as a pianist, the RAF did not need him and he was sent all over the country, including to the devastated Coventry, repairing telephone installations. 

His post-war career was as a researcher, first at the Royal Military College of science at Shrivenham and later at the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment in Ottowa, Canada. At the DRTE he did groundbreaking work in computer design. Computers were in their infancy and he helped create the first transistorized computer, which eventually found its way into a museum. 

For those of us who knew him well in his maturity he seems as a young man to have been singularly casual about his safety – he became much more cautious in later life. On one occasion he took off by himself in a canoe without a proper reconnaissance, and was saved in the nick of time from being swept over falls by the son of the then Canadian Governor General, who was fortunately on the river in his motor launch.  

During this period his work took him north to Fort Churchill in the Arctic Circle for a few months, where he had another go at killing himself by getting lost in a blizzard with only a great coat on – he had innocently thought he could move between buildings of the establishment by turning up his collar and going for it, as one might in an English snow storm, not allowing for the thirty-below temperatures, the wind, and the blinding and disorienting effect of swirling snow. This did not discourage  him from volunteering for some experiments on hypothermia which involved sitting near naked in arctic subzero temperatures with high speed fans directed at him to see how long it took for uncontrollable shakes to overcome him.

He returned to England in 1959 to do research at the National Physical Laboratory. The research was rather unproductive but this period was obviously necessary to his life for another reason – it was there that he met his wife Irene. Neither of them were at the NPL for more than a year – Irene was between school and university – but it was long enough, and two years later they were married. Irene promptly left him to go back to Manchester and finish her degree, but he forgave her and they were happy together for over forty three years. They brought up two children, Martin and Ros, and enjoyed their three grandchildren, Daniel, Michaela and Luke. 

There followed for Ron a spell in industry, working on varied projects such as air traffic control, containerized ports, the introduction to Britain of post codes and finally defence systems. Defence seemed to him to have too much in common with attack, and the man who, as a child, had dropped his brother’s toy gun down a man-hole in disapproval became restive and sought a teaching post at Brunel University. Here he remained until taking early retirement in 1981.  

Thus began what Ron would have considered the most intellectually and practically productive period of his life. Everything he did he did 100%. Ros had been asking for a dog for years and now he felt as a family they could give a dog the life it deserved, so daily walks, come rain come shine, were the order of the day,. He cultivated the three quarter acre garden to produce food for the family – some of this, such as Jerusalem artichokes, they found they did not like very much but he learned from experience.  With the sometimes reluctant help of the family he kept chickens for eggs and helped Irene with bee-keeping for honey. Sometimes he cursed the bees, as when part of a swarm he was trying to sweep into a skip fell down his wellies. Often he cursed the weather: having planted 30 fruit trees early in 1976 England was blessed with the worst drought of the century with severe water shortages which meant saving bathwater and all other waste water in tubs and carrying it up the orchard in sometimes vain attempts to save the young trees. But it was not all frustration and by the sweat of his brow he brought forth food in plenty. 

Not merely and activist, the contemplative, rational and creative sides to his nature were nourished at this time by spells in his study with “all them books”. He read and studied and wrote diligently for the rest of his life, filling 78 journals of daily thoughts, mostly on philosophical of religious themes, writing 732 poems and contributing papers to the Oxford Philosophical review. He attended philosophy classes and residential schools throughout his life, and a particular interest was the reconciliation of faith and science. To this end he was prominent in the foundation of a discussion forum that met monthly, and still does. 

Poetry was both his joy and his despair as he laboured over every word and line, but the sense of inspiration was strong and steady and he never gave up. 

He was a multi-talented individual and his home and those of his relatives reflect another side to him – his skill with his hands. He has produced many items in copper and pewter, engraved much glass and also tried his hand at marquetry and modeling. He has left behind much through which he will be remembered. Last year his son Martin created a website for some of his writings www.thinkingpoet.co.uk  and this is set to grow and flower as more of his work is added to it and more people visit it. 

He could play the piano and had an encyclopedic knowledge of music – and many other subjects too. We remember how he wiped the floor with all the other quiz show contestants one family Christmas and rather uncharacteristically rejoiced in his winnings (he was normally modest and unassuming but a little alcohol had brought out the “killer instinct”).  

When he was fit his chief delight was walking in the country and he was something of a “nature mystic”. He took delight in hills and mountains, trees and flowers but complained that birds would never keep still so his bird watching was limited. 

He held to a childhood vision that life is a journey and that throughout life we have glimpses of eternity, as when we gain some new insight or experience the beauty of nature. For him eternal life was not just something to look forward to when we die but a state we enter into in our earthly life whenever we feel “transported”, whether by a piece of music, a landscape or a scientific insight. 

No life can be summed up in a few pages, least of all his, and the most important things about him are hard to say, so here are a few quotes from letters from people who knew him. 

He had a wonderful mind and helped so many people to stop and pause for a while in order to contemplate the signs and symbols of God’s love in the world around us.

 Dear Ron, he gave us so much warmth and inspiration by his faith and his writings and conversation – and by just being himself.

 His poetry gave pleasure to many

 What I remember about him was his gentle serenity and his refusal to accept the cruelty of life

 We remember him with great affection

 We remember Ron with love, especially for his faith, his insight and his example,

 I shall not forget his wisdom, his intellectual curiosity, his compassion and sensitivity - and his lovely smile. We who have known him have been immeasurably enriched

 He was always interested in philosophy – he could run rings round me at our lunches

 He was a very dear uncle to me, and I hold so many happy memories of good times spent with him

 A wonderful man who gave so much to others in his poems

 His Christian faith shone through his illness, and his great gift of expressing his faith in words will live on in his poetry and his beautiful spiritual writings

 I will remember him warmly and I shall miss him more than I can say

What a remarkable man Ron was – scientist, philosopher and friend

 Ron was an outstanding man, gifted and gracious - it has been a privilege to have known him

 We remember him as a very kind gentleman, a wonderful Christian and poet

 We have very fond memories of Ron – games at Christmas, jazz sessions at the piano

 I have some great memories of Ron that still live on

 Ron and I had a very special friendship. We were very different people but we seemed to “click”. His influence has made me a better person. We had lots of laughs

 It was a great pleasure knowing Ron. He was a man with a great love of nature

 We have happy memories of walks together, happy times when we came for a meal and hilarious games of snooker

 I will always have happy memories of Ron – walks, when he tried to teach me math; Christmas carols round the piano and the fun games he used to organize for us when we came for dinner

 The joy I have even at this sad time is that I was able to partake of his wealth of knowledge. I will miss his intellect, through which I learnt so much, but also his sincere Christian faith. Through knowing Ron and his thought and poems I became very fond of him

 Ron was very kind and friendly but also very intelligent and talented; he will be missed

 He has been a very important part of my life for as long as I can remember

 I believe you know how very special Ron was to me, and had been all my life

 I am glad to have known such a thoughtful, interesting and kind person

who will be badly missed but who has left a lot of good memories behind

 He was in every way a good man