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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Remembering Louis Fussell- Part 1

I lived at 35 Rutland Road, Bedford for around four years, between around 1998 to 2002. I'm not going to write about the reason for my living there, as it doesn't have any bearing on my life in this house. It belonged to Louis Fussell, a somewhat eccentric character, aged in his late 70's I suppose when I first moved in. The whole house had been turned over to allow various people to live there, with Louis living in the downstairs living room.  It took me some time to discover that he slept in there, on a rather rudimentary chaise longue. I think there would have been three other people living there when I moved in, but looking back, I'm not entirely sure. Louis was not entirely bothered about his appearance and had a heart of gold. He would do absolutely anything for you, even lending you cash, giving things to people when he no longer needed them himself.  He wasn't bothered about such niceties as asking for references when you moved in, so it's not surprising that there were one or two incidents as a result. Amazing to think that he didn't ask for references when you consider that anyone, a mass-murderer drug addict or any other suspect individual could have been living there and he wouldn't have been any the wiser.

Portrait of Louis Fussell

Credit: Fotdmike/Flickr

One of his major eccentricities was going to Bedford Market when it was closing down, later on, Wednesdays and Saturdays and coming home on his bicycle (he didn't drive and had no car. I can't imagine him driving, which doesn't bear thinking about!) Anyway, he'd come back from his market trips with as much of the left-over fruit and vegetables as he could in the box which he had strapped to the back of his trusty Pashley bicycle. He would then spread it out all over the work-surfaces of the kitchen and sort out the best bits and throw away the really worst, moldiest, rotten fruit and vegetable (which wasn't much, as he would invariably cut out the worst bits.) and some was made into juice which was done using some sort of contraption which was set up on the ancient cooker and boiled and reduced the fruit into this juice. I still don't know exactly how this was achieved. Once he had bagged up the remaining fruit and veg he would get on his bicycle and then deliver these goods to various people he knew all around the Bedford area.

Louis was a violin teacher, but he also made violins in a workshop at the rear of the house, entered through the kitchen and from the side-yard. He also did an amazing amount for charity, working tirelessly to raise funds for various local charities, in particular, the Primrose Appeal, to be run by Macmillan the cancer support charity to fund a  treatment unit at Bedford South Wing Hospital. He could be seen out in the centre of Bedford on many a busy shopping day, standing in Church Square in Bedford town centre, with his bicycle and bucket, and people readily put their change into it. Also, as a member of a local symphony orchestra, where he played viola, he put on concerts which helped raise money for not only the Primrose Appeal but other local charities. He also wrote orchestral works, many premiered in Bedford Corn Exchange. He helped found the Cycling Campaign for North Bedfordshire in 1992. He had a predilection for swimming in the River Ouse, which runs through Bedford. I'm not sure about the legality of doing this, but I don't think he would let that stop him doing that, even though I'm sure it was quite dangerous, particularly as you wouldn't be able to see what was below the water's surface, such things as rocks, shopping trolleys, sharp objects and so on, or even near the various weirs and out-flows that come out of the river.  He rode from Land's End  to John O'Groats several times as well as other long-distance bicycle rides, usually for charity, and in particular for the Primrose Appeal, the Poppy Appeal and other charities too numerous to mention. He sometimes rode around 70 miles a day and was making these journeys well into his 80's.

He was also an avid karate practitioner (do I mean player? I'm not sure of the correct term.) He used to go off somewhere in the town to partake in this and had his own outfit. I believe he got to quite a high standard (Dan? Black Belt? Or is that for Judo?) Anyway, I don't think you would argue with him as he could use his karate to deal with things. I don't think he would, as he was a gentle sort of man and wouldn't hurt a fly. I know he was a vegetarian, so perhaps that would explain quite a few things.

As I've already mentioned, Louis was extremely generous and would help anyone. On one occasion he took me to London to see a show. I wasn't working on this particular day and just happened to be reading a paper and looking at a review of a show at the National Theatre in London. It was for a production of  the Leonard Bernstein musical 'Candide' and mentioned to Louis that I'd like to see it. He said he'd like to go to London and see it, and that he'd try and book tickets. I was thinking, well, yes, but in a few weeks time, perhaps. But he rang up, and managed to book us two tickets for that evening! He was like that, he would act on the spur of the moment. He made himself some sandwiches to eat on the train, as there wasn't time for him to have a meal before we left and then got a train into London from the Midland Railway Station in Bedford. As we went to London on the train, he ate his sandwiches. He didn't make a lot of effort to change, as I had done, and wore his old grubby shorts and sandals. When we got off the train in London, it took me all my time and effort to keep up with him as he virtually ran all over the place, up and down steps on the Underground system, and when we got off the train at Waterloo and on the way to the National Theatre on the South Bank. I was around my late 40's at this time, and he must have been in his late 70's, and it took me all my time to keep up with him! Quite amazing for his age!

We got to the National Theatre and picked up our tickets. Our seats were at the very front of the stage. At one point during the action of the show, the leading actor, Simon Russell-Beale, came to the front of the stage for part of the action of the show, misjudged his footing and fell off the stage and landed on my foot, apologized to me, then got back on the stage! Just part of a live show, you never know what is likely to happen, and any decent actor worth his/her salt can get out of a mishap without too much effort. Not every day you get a world-class actor such as Mr Russell-Beale step on your foot!

It was a wonderful show, and I enjoyed it enormously. I'm not sure whether Louis enjoyed it, but it was the fact that the whole outing was so spontaneous and unexpected which made it so memorable. The incident with Simon Russell-Beale just added to the evening's entertainment, I suppose.

Louis died on Friday, January 25th, 2008, as a result of an accident with a car in Wentworth Drive, Bedford. He is, I am sure, sorely missed by everyone who knew him. It seems particularly sad to think that he rode his bicycle all that distance yet he died so close to his home in Bedford.

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