2021 Jack our Good neighbour

Our dear neighbour Jack Barber passed away last Saturday. He was already living next door with his first wife Rosie when we moved in 50 years ago and so he has known generations of little sisters. Jack was the foreman for the farm across the road. A big, strong, hardworking man, he had a hard going down. His second wife Iona had died a year ago and Jack never really got over the loss. He had several falls and finally at the age of 88 had to go into a home. I managed to visit him once but then he caught Covid.

The early daysThe early daysLast year I was asked by our local magazine to write an article about our 50 years of presence in Walsingham. I went straight to Jack. He was full of colourful memories. At the beginning, the house was in a bad state and needed a lot of work. One day he returned from work to discover that the little sisters had knocked out the whole upstairs back wall, placing a plank of wood to hold up the roof! “Sometimes they could give you a heart attack” he commented.

Another unforgettable moment was the day the little sisters decided to order some concrete to level the kitchen and chapel floor. It was a hot day in July when a full load of ready mixed concrete arrived. It was going to set in the drive way if it didn’t get poured quickly. Jack came back from work to find his wife Rosie hosing it down and he was soon busy with stirring it. “There were a few choice words said about that concrete! Jack recalls adding that, “one day, whoever tries to get it up is going to have a hell of a job”.

I met Jack when I arrived in Walsingham 4 years ago. He was retired by then but always busy with fixing this and that in his back yard. On a nice day, his shed would be open and he’d have music crooning through the door. He and his wife put up a new fence, but put a little gate in it so that we could come into their yard and hang our washing on a line they specially put up for us. His shed was very tidy but he was very generous (though careful) about lending me tools. He reckoned some tools weren’t for women! (like electric hedge clippers). There wasn’t much he couldn’t fix. We decided to order ‘a build it yourself metal shed’ from Amazon. It came all the way from Australia! We had laid all the pieces flat on the ground and he came over to have a look. “From Australia! Are you going to be keeping a kangaroo?” L Sr Asia decided to go indoors and consult the Internet about how to put it together. Jack was aghast. “Internet?!” and proceeded to piece it together for us. When it leaked a few months later he just said, “Well how do you expect things built for Australia to work in a climate like this?” and went and got his silicone calk.

I always enjoyed chatting with him. He was a real Norfolk man, and somehow through him you met the soul of the local people. Quick witted, he was also a keen observer of nature. He’d bred budgies and his bird feeders were always well stocked. He explained to me the difference between house martens, swifts and swallows.

Jack knew each one of us and he’d make his observations! When I went for my driving test, I went to him for advice. “Just drive and don’t talk”. He was always interested in how work was going, noting what time I came and left. He’d inspired me to get an electric bike and then he fixed some shelves inside of the kangaroo shed so that I could keep my helmet and pump there.

Jack wasn’t an overtly religious man, but there was a deep-down goodness in him. He was one of those just people God takes pleasure in contemplating. And for their sake, he maintains his covenant from age to age.