After an early start and a long journey last Friday, I was met at Harrogate Station by my nephew, Michael, who had picked up his cousin, my niece Anne, en route and we were met at the Methodist Church in Ripon by Anne’s husband and a third cousin, John and his new fiancée for the Thanksgiving Service for the life of my cousin John Baul, whom everyone knew affectionately as Jackie.
Since he was quite a character, we had been afraid that we would probably make up most of the congregation, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that the church was half full. We knew that his Minister and his pastoral visitor were both abroad and had sent messages.
The service was very caringly conducted by the Revd Susan Richardson, who welcomed all present saying, “Some of you have come because you were at Ripon Grammar School with Jackie, or you knew him in the photography Club, or from Ripon Cathedral or, not least, from this church. I’m told he used to enjoy the coffee mornings and the Wesley Guild, where he was not afraid to ask strange questions.
After ‘Guide me, O thou great Jehovah’, Scripture readings and ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’ (to Crimond), Jackie’s cousin’s son John (my nephew) delivered this affectionate eulogy –
"John Robertson Baul (Jackie) was born on the 15th of November 1924. I believe at Straw House on the farm his parents ran.
I have many memories of Straw House. Auntie Ella, Jackie’s mother, was a wonderfully gentle slight lady with the most incredibly cold hands, and wonderfully warm heart. She used to cup my face in those hands every time we visited. I can still remember quite clearly closing my eyes waiting for those hands on my cheeks.
His father John, was a large strong man who was never still, & always had a job to do somewhere on the farm.
However, it is not my intention to go through family history, as there are those present who know far more than I. I simply want to recount some fond memories of this extraordinary character. Yes, Jackie was a certainly that. A character.
I never saw Jackie much on my visits to Straw House, but those occasions always left an indelible impression. I must have been about eight or nine years old, the first time I really came face to face with him. He examined me closely with a thoughtful expression & than said ‘Can you tell the difference between a Heinkel & a Dornier!’
For those who don’t know, as I didn’t then, these were Second World War German bombers. He promptly gave me a Penguin aircraft recognition hand book, so I could do my homework. I still have it. I do believe I was actually supposed to return it. I suppose it’s a bit late now!
It was a few years before I saw him again, but he was just as forthright in his approach. Those who knew him will know of his passion for Meccano. Hence his next question was ‘Do you know how to make a catapult out of Meccano?’ Well, I didn’t. But I soon found out how. Would you believe I also still have that as well! The rubber band has perished but this is the catapult!
Jackie then passed fleetingly in and out of my life for many years. It was just before my marriage to Sue that we met again. I went to see them with her and was invited to tea. Aunt Ella looked frail but bright. Jackie said ‘Do you want to go for a walk before tea?’ I didn’t think it was a bad idea. A short stroll down to the pub & back before tea would be fine. Sue was up for it.
FIVE hours later on our return from circumnavigating the county, we returned. Sue and I were exhausted. ‘Do you want some tea now’ asked Aunt Ella. ‘Only if I can soak my feet in it!’ was my not too charitable response.
As we all know now, Jackie liked to walk. Not just little walks but some lasting days - or even weeks!
He was indeed a free spirit, as those who met him and knew him understood only too well. So his recent existence, confined to his bed must have been most terrible for him.
At last his spirit is free, and can now soar along those lanes and highways of his youth for eternity. I just hope when he asks St Peter to let him out of the gates for a walk, St Peter understands that he won’t be back any time soon!"
I think I should say at this point that, in the family, we now think that Jackie was probably suffering all his life from the Asperger's Syndrome form of autism which, of course, would not have been diagnosed 80 years ago. It's a bit late now, but it would explain his somewhat strange behaviour combined with a very high intelligence.
I found it strange that the commendation and committal took place during the church service, before the final hymn ‘Love Divine, all loves excelling’ and that the coffin then went off to the crematorium in Harrogate without any family and not even the Minister! I was told that this was the usual practice in Ripon because of the distance between Ripon and the crematorium, but what happens when the deceased has no church connection and the family would not be happy with a church service like the one we had? Surely, they must go to the crematorium?
After the service everyone was invited to the Spa Hotel for light refreshments and conversation. Having lived so far away for so many years, it was good to hear the stories of Jackie from the church people, which included that after walking all day he would turn up to a dance in his Wellington boots and proceed to dance in them! We are very grateful for the care that the church folk gave to him in his old age.
As often happens, after a lapse of many years, the next generation of cousins (my late brothers’ and sisters’ children) were so delighted to be meeting each other again, that they are now planning a big family get-together – and there is also the wedding of John to Annaliese in February to look forward to! It is so good that a few years after the death of both their spouses these two families will join together to find new happiness. The wedding is planned for February so that it will not interfere with the exams that Annaliese’s two boys are currently facing.