In My Father's House

Ten years ago, my book The Importance of Being Ernest was published to commemorate Ernest Lloyd's ninetieth birthday. Had he lived, Ernest would be receiving a telegram from the Queen on 13 March and since his death two years ago a number of people have asked if I had plans for a centenary edition. Much as I would liked to update my modest tribute to him, little information has been forthcoming, no doubt because Ernest outlived most of the people who could have supplied the anecdotes. I decided therefore to look at a side of Ernest I didn't cover in the book and in December last year I talked to his sons Peter and Martin and his niece Jennifer about their recollections of their father and uncle.

Home and away

For many years, whenever Ernest was away from home the only means of communication between them was the mail. International phone calls cost £1 a minute, a sum that would equal more than £20 now, and Skype was a concept that existed only in the fevered imaginations of science fiction writers. But there were certain perks to having a world traveller as a husband and father. Whether he was away for a couple weeks of meetings in the UK or on an overseas mission, scarcely a day passed without the family receiving a letter from him. His letters from exotic places such as South Africa, Australia, Canada or India were often read out to Peter’s primary school class and from those far-off locations his letters often included small items such as the piece of coral from Australia, which Peter displayed with great pleasure and pride to his class.

When Ernest set out on his marathon jaunts to other lands the family would follow his progress on a map of the world mounted on the wall and each day they would mark his location with a pin. When the family obtained a reel-to reel-tape recorder, they and the lodgers would record messages and send them to him. A few weeks later they would receive a reply.

Ernest’s returns from his overseas trips were always exciting, not least because there were always presents to be had. Peter remembers, in particular, a prized ruler made of wood from several different species of Australian trees and a two-stringed African fiddle. When Ernest arrived home from South Africa, Jessie took the boys down to Southampton to meet him from the boat. Rationing was still a feature of life in Britain at that time and it was impossible to get hold of oranges. To the family’s delight, dad came down the gangplank bearing, along with his luggage, two sacks of oranges. Although they had been on the ocean for three weeks they were still good!

Peter, Martin and Jennifer all agree that Christmas was always special. When the boys were little, a letter to Santa Claus was despatched up the chimney on Christmas Eve and the following morning they would awake to find a stocking with an orange, an apple and a toy. Each year, just before Christmas, Ernest undertook a deputation tour in Southern Ireland and would return with a supply of Bewleys Coffee and Hafner’s Dublin sausages, renowned for their unique flavour and great taste.

One of Peter’s outstanding memories, however, is that of walking into the parental bedroom, just before Ernest set off for a nine-month tour overseas, and finding his father face down on the bed, his huge frame shaking as he sobbed uncontrollably. Quietly closing the door, Peter retreated, hoping his dad had not heard him but weeks later he received a letter from his father expressing his regret that his son had seen him cry but he hoped one day Peter would understand why he was so upset.

Brute strength and ignorance

Some years ago I attended the funeral of Esther How, the widow of former CWI Head Office worker Bill How. In the middle of his eulogy of his mother, Esther’s son Andrew, fearing that he might appear to be over-egging the pudding, stopped in mid-flow. ‘Mum had her faults,’ Andrew assured the congregation, ‘I just don’t know what they were!’ When The Importance of Being Ernest was published, one reviewer complained that I hadn’t painted a warts-and-all portrait of my subject. I took the criticism as a compliment because I had set out to set forth a glowing tribute to a man I had come to respect and revere, and I’d evidently succeeded. And Ernest was very easy to revere. Nevertheless, while preparing to talk to the people who knew him best – his two sons and his niece – I wondered if they might reveal some flaws in his character. But all I learned from those closest to him was that he was impractical and that he could become exasperated and annoyed by small things such as his older son Peter being unable to swallow the vitamin pills he had been prescribed.

Ernest was almost totally impractical, so much so that he found wiring an electrical plug impossibly baffling. He would become furious trying to fix gadgets that wouldn’t work. Martin remembers his dad calling to say his washing machine wouldn’t work. When Martin arrived at his father’s house, it was immediately apparent that the appliance had recently been subjected to a liberal application of brute strength and ignorance. The reason the machine wouldn’t work, Martin discovered, was that it hadn’t been switched on at the wall!

Ernest’s former secretary Linda Miller testifies to his impracticability. When she began working for him she discovered that his itinerary and the letters he had sent to the churches he was due to visit on a tour of deputation were hopelessly confused and she had to sort the matter out before he set out on the tour.

She also tells the story (actually, she tells lots of them) about when her boss was booked to speak at a church and arrived in a storm at the home where he was to receive hospitality. He was literally soaked to the skin and his hostess suggested that he change into a dressing gown and put his suit near the fire to dry. As they chatted, an acrid odour began to drift through the house. His trousers were on fire! The pants were ruined and so he was forced to borrow a pair belonging to the husband of his hostess. Her husband, however, was much shorter than their guest so Ernest preached that night in trousers at half-mast!

Jesse and Ernest were remarkably easy going with their sons. So much so that when Peter started building a car in his bedroom they hardly batted an eye. What everyone else did in a garage, Peter did in the bedroom of their terraced home. He installed a bench with all the tools necessary for the job, and even sandblasted the chassis there. It took Peter two years to build the car and he was often hammering at midnight. It seems neither Peter nor his parents had given any thought to how he proposed extricating the vehicle from the house, let alone the bedroom so it had to be dismantled and rebuilt in the garden. The garden gate was too small for the car to pass through so in order to push it onto the road the gateposts had to be removed. When launch day arrived the whole street turned out to see the car pushed onto the road and test-driven by Jessie.

Very silly dangerous things

Peter and Martin remember their dad was good fun. A keen football player in his youth, Ernest enjoyed playing soccer with his sons. He was a strong man and when they attempted to tackle him the experience was like running into a brick wall. He took delight in letting let them pound his abs till their fists ached and would let them to jump up and down on his stomach.

Although Ernest was away so much of the time, he jealously guarded the family summer holiday. Each year the family spent a month on holiday, usually in Scotland. One holiday was spent in the beautiful Pennine village of Holmfirth, long before it became the ‘Yorkshire Hollywood,’ as the location for the classic TV comedy Last of the Summer Wine. There Peter managed to fall down a long set of stone steps, knocking himself out in the process and having to be taken to hospital in Huddersfield. Money was in short supply and Sunday lunch in Holmfirth consisted of a local delicacy, Yorkshire Pudding filled with gravy.

In those days you could travel third class on the railways. The Victorians created a class system for the railways: first class carriages for the upper-class, second class for the middle class and third class for working class. Before its abolition in 1956, third class was known as ‘cattle class’ and was notorious for its hard, dirty seats and cold carriages (but at least you could find a seat back then!). Not being able to afford a sleeper compartment, the family had to endure the 16-hour journey, doing their best to sleep on the uncomfortable and grubby third-class seats.

Most years the family stayed in Free Church manses, and Kingussie in the Highlands was a frequent venue. The accommodation was free but Ernest would supply the pulpit for the duration of their stay. There was little money to spend on holidays, so for amusement they walked, skimmed stones and pushed rocks off cliffs. Ernest would take Peter and Martin fishing with rods he made from tree branches and string, with a worm skewered on a hook; and they actually caught fish! On the West Coast of Scotland, the local postman took the boys fishing at night and would very often catch as much as a hundred pounds of fish. He would give the boys a fish each and sell the rest. When Peter paid the postmen a visit, he found the man’s bath full of salted fish!

Pushing rocks off cliffs infuriated Jesse and she scolded Ernest and the boys with one of her several catchphrases: ‘That’s a very silly dangerous thing to do!’ If she didn’t like a place, it was ‘a dirty, filthy, stinking hole’ and anyone she didn’t like was ‘a nasty piece of work’.

A girl in the house

The Lloyd home was open to everyone. A key was always in the door and anyone who wished to could go in and make it their own. Martin remembers that some mornings waking up to find as many as ten strangers asleep on the living room floor. Two nurses – Rae and Anne –from the Whittington Hospital were semi-permanent residents and they would frequently introduce young homesick junior nurses from Jamaica to the Lloyd home. At any given Sunday lunch there could be as many as twelve guests round the table.

Young Martin was painfully aware of the struggle his parents had to make ends meet, particularly when rationing was in force through the War years and beyond. He knew his parents scrimped and tried to save, and was concerned about how much it was costing them to provide hospitality on such a large scale. One day he put it to mum and dad that they should require their many guests to pay for the privilege of sharing their table!

When Ernest returned from Australia in the early 1950s, he arrived home to find another permanent member had been added to the family. Jessie’s sister had died and Jessie had unofficially adopted her daughter Jennifer. With the death of her mother, Jennifer had become an orphan. Her father had died years before and she had grown up in Kenya where her mother was a teacher. Mother and daughter returned to England but, soon after, Jennifer’s mother was diagnosed with cancer of the brain and eventually became insane. What would be for many young girls in Jennifer’s position a deeply traumatic experience became a very happy one for her. Becoming part of the family Lloyd and having two parents instead of one became a joyful experience which enabled her to recover from the loss of her mother.

Ernest and Jessie made a decision not to legally adopt Jennifer but to leave her in the care of Haringey Council so that if, for example, she decided to go to university, her fees would be paid by the Council. The Lloyd’s key-in-the-door policy was totally different to the domestic arrangements that pertained in Kenya, and the teenage Jennifer soon discovered that she could talk to Uncle and Auntie with complete confidence and ease about anything. Even when she trained to be a nurse, Jennifer lived with Ernest and Jessie until she married in 1961.

She remembers his great sense of humour, which was not always to everyone’s taste. Sitting down at table with guests, just as everyone was tucking into the meal he would comment that he had made the pastry that afternoon and that his hands were now much cleaner!

The living years

Ernest passed suddenly, quickly and peacefully into the presence of the Lord he had trusted, loved and served for almost eighty years on Wednesday 23 December 2010, in his 98th year, Peter told me that in the last five months of his dad’s life they were no longer father and son, they were equals. They talked together about everything and his dad would often talk for three hours non-stop. Unlike so many children who regret the things said and the things not said to parents in the living years, Peter has no such regrets. When his father died nothing had been left unsaid or undone.  

There was only one subject about which Ernest was reluctant to talk, the episode in his teenage years when he was adopted by a hard-line fundamentalist couple. Each Sunday, apart from church attendance, he was forced to sit on a hard chair and read the Bible. The experience scarred him emotionally and his advice to Peter in his last days was, ‘Don’t listen to what people say; watch the way they live.’

On one of the last occasions I visited Ernest before he died, Peter and Martin asked if I would talk to their dad about his funeral wishes. When I nervously told him I had a delicate matter I needed to discuss, Ernest replied immediately, ‘You want to talk about my Home Call. I want you to lead the service and preach, and I want Ray McCabe and Richard Harvey to speak.’ He had no particular preferences for hymns or Scripture passages. All the information I needed was supplied in a matter-of-fact manner in less than a minute.

In his final weeks of life, Ernest continued to read voraciously and to write unremittingly. While sorting his dad’s effects, Martin came across an unfinished letter that had obviously been written on the day he died. A few days after his death I received a letter that was written hours before he departed this life, as did Andreea Sidon and a number of other people.

When I posted the news of Ernest’s passing on my blog ernest-lloyd-1913-2010, a number of tributes followed. One of the most poignant was the post by Alan Poyner-Levison which, in a very real sense, summed up Ernest Lloyd: ‘It was at Leeds Messianic fellowship that I first met Ernest. We had a chat before the meeting and a small conversation after, and he was very encouraging. I had discussed with him the problem I have had all my life of rejection, especially in the church. He encouraged me to press on and serve the Lord. It was not for a number of years that I met Ernest again, this time at CMJ. He amazed me by remembering my name and continued the conversation as though there had been no time between. I was taken aback as he encouraged me to press on for what God had for me. He was a true gentleman and a lover of souls, and his like we do not see around anymore. Heaven is the richer and we the poorer having lost him from this world. Thank you Lord for loaning him to us.’

The following are available from the CWI bookroom.

The Importance of Being Ernest: A Jewish Life spent in Christian Mission, by Mike Moore. £* inc p&p.

A Jewish Life completed and Commissioned in his Messiah. DVD. 46 minutes. Ernest Lloyd's Testimony. Filmed at Bethany Baptist Church, Bangor, Northern Ireland. £5 + £2 p&p.

Ernest Lloyd's Thanksgiving Service. DVD. Filmed at Bethany Baptist Church Bangor, Northern Ireland. £5 + £2 p&p UK only (please contact us for overseas shipping costs) and will be available from CWI by calling Head Office on 01865 887830

Ernest Lloyd’s Memorial Service. DVD. Filmed at Trinity Road Chapel, Tooting, London on 26 February 2011. £5 + £2 p&p UK only

A Jewish Life spent in Christian Mission. A commemorative triple DVD set featuring all the above DVDs. £13 plus £2.00 p&p UK only (please contact us for overseas shipping costs).

This article first appeared in the Spring Herald 2013

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