On a recent trip to Salisbury, my wife and I were indulging in an incidental pastime that we enjoy. Whenever we pass a bench with an inscription, we try to imagine the person to whom the bench is dedicated, musing on whether, in their lifetime, they knew that there would someday be a shady spot with a view that would immortalise them.
We came across this within the grounds of the cathedral, a few hundred feet from the bustle of the city, yet as peaceful a spot as you can hope for. Leslie Thomas OBE lived not a stone’s throw away from the bench; in fact he could see his house from where he sat, although if he had any sense he would sit at the end of his garden, dozing as a float bobbed and danced in the Avon.
Orphaned at an early age, Thomas was taken in by Barnardo’s and subsequently trained as a journalist, taking time out for National Service and travels to Singapore and Malaya. Thomas is best known for his books, The Virgin Soldiers, Tropic of Ruislip and Dangerous Davies, The Last Detective, which have spawned television series and films, however, I best remember him for his irreverent appearances on TV in the 70s and 80s. He was a man who retained a boyish twinkle in his eye which made interviewers nervous.
I’d like to think that as I pass by on a damp, misty October Morning, Leslie is reclining on the bench, legs stretched out, ankles crossed taking in the view of the Close. Behind him his dog is rooting in the undergrowth and chasing squirrels up the trees.
I admire authors like Leslie Thomas. He started from nothing; no platform of famous parents or monied sponsors. He learnt his trade and wrote about his experiences, yet left little in his will – enjoyment to the end. I’ve come late to this trade but maybe, given a fair wind and a few readers, I too can have a bench in a restful spot from which to contemplate eternity.
One day, Leslie. One day.