Derek J. K. Sims, RIP

My much loved brother Derek died in Broadlands Residential Care Home on Sunday 5th April 2020. He had been there a couple of years suffering from a cruel disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a neurological disease which affects cognitive responses. Born on 24th July 1947 he was 72 years old.

We had a somewhat erratic early childhood both of us being witness to domestic violence. Many years later I asked him how much he remembered of that and he said ‘quite a lot’ but we never otherwise discussed it. Perhaps we should have done. It remained, however, an unspoken bond between us.

We each went to different boarding schools and the holidays did not always coincide. We did not see each other at all during term time and our respective holiday activities of foreign school visits, Alpine ski-ing, Scout camps, etc also kept us apart although I remember when I was about 16 hitch-hiking to Cornwall from Lowestoft just to see him during one summer holiday.

I’ll always regret that he did not live within easier reach until after he had retired. For a short while when he looked after Boulton & Paul’s computer suite at Norwich (in the days of a refrigerated and dust-free atmosphere) and lived in Oulton Broad we were close enough to each other to be able to go out for the occasional pint of Adnams bitter.

Once we had both grown up, left home and were married my overiding feeling about young Derek was one of pride. Pride in his achievements with a young family, a house way beyond my means but mainly his success in developing his own company in the computing world. He introduced me to the worldwide web long before it was a household name, before Windows existed. Later I was able to show off his expertise to my contemporaries in the holiday industry of Lowestoft as he developed a Gazetteer for holiday providers. Sadly it was to prove too advanced for many of our potential customers who would not be seeking online holiday bookings for some years to come.

After he retired to Ludham we shared the clearing of our uncle’s house in Oulton Broad for one day a week for many months when he and his wife Tricia came over. He was even then showing the early signs of the awful disease which eventually meant his having to go into care and he was more comfortable working outside in the garden than sorting through the house contents. Our picnic lunches in the kitchen gave us the opportunity to catch up with family news. His condition deteriorated, however, and Tricia was able to find him a place at Broadlands in Borrow Road, Oulton Broad.

For some years we had developed a Christmas routine of buying each other some quite appalling presents, each trying to outdo the other. I think that overall he won hands down but I particularly remember the singing fish. I think somewhere we still have the movement activated croaking frog.

With a tradition of buying each other silly presents established after he went into Broadlands I gave him some solar powered waving toys for his window sill which seemed to amuse him.

In the later stages of the disease the effects of PSP had taken their toll and it was tragic such an acute intellect was so limited in expressing itself and painful to see him struggle to make responses. When death eventually comes some of us have the consolation of faith to believe that that intellect somehow still survives. Sadly those without faith do not.

Some childhood exploits

This is an image of Derek aged about 12, a studio portrait looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth! In fact we tended to get into mischief as most boys do and as the elder it was usually my fault.

Our first home where we lived as a family was in Blackheath after father was demobbed from the Royal Navy. Soon afterwards he obtained a job with ICI at Northwich and we moved to Knutsford, Cheshire to a large semi-detached house in Glebelands Road called Underwood. It had a large garden as the property had an additional building plot alongside the house which was laid out to lawn and to a vegetable garden and orchard. Between the lawn and the vegetable garden was a revolving summer house, a wooden structure which could be turned to face the sun. We had a gardener, a Mr. Curbishley, who had a constant battle with rabbits eating the vegetables and father was convinced that the rabbits lived under the summer house.

One day he decided to take the battle to the rabbits and with Derek looking on he, with my help, levered the summerhouse up off its central pillar to gain access to the rabbits. The rabbits, however, had other ideas and when the summerhouse had reached an angle of about 45 degrees a giant rabbit leapt out from underneath and caught Derek squarely in the middle of his chest, bowling him over backwards. I am afraid that was the end of the rabbit campaign. We could not hold the summerhouse up any longer because we were laughing so much. Derek shook himself down and stood up but did not appreciate the funny side for a long time.

By the late 1950s we had moved to Lowestoft to live with our maternal grandparents at Walmer House. Here we had an even larger garden which was bounded by the main A12 road on one side. We had a television and were fascinated by the rope throwing skills of Hoppalong Cassidy and when we found a length of insulated cable suitable for use as a lasso we decided to try our skill. Throwing the lasso against static objects in the garden was no test of our skill, we needed a moving target and so decided to try and capture a cyclist over the fence on the A12. We succeeded, fortunately without causing any injury or damage but it did generate a visit from the local policeman to explain to us the error of our ways. I think that resulted in the exercising of a slipper wielded by mother and in confinement to our bedrooms on bread and water for the rest of the day.

Derek was more into chemistry than I was so I think it must have been 1958 or 1959, after he had gone to boarding school, that he told me about the potential of the weedkiller sodium chlorate and sugar and explained its explosive properties. For an 11 and 13 year old, experimenting with this seemed an ideal summer holiday pastime. The ingredients were quite cheap and easily obtainable. The most expensive was the jetex fuse which we used to ignite the mixture. (Jetex was a solid fuel rocket motor for model aircraft which was quite realistic for models of jet aircraft like the MIG 15).

For our first attempts we used the aluminium cigar tubes that would be left over from Christmas, packing in the mixture and piercing the screw on cap so that the jetex fuse could reach the outside to be lit. The result was disappointing as it behaved like a roman candle which in daylight is nothing like as spectacular as it is after dark. We decided to upgrade our effort and for the next attempt used the steel tin that the sodium chlorate came it. Well mixed with sugar and with a tiny hole pierced in the lid for the jetex fuse we felt that we needed to be somewhat circumspect in where this experiment took place. At the bottom of the garden was a disused wooden pigsty with earth banked up against one of the walls. We buried the tin in the earth, lit the jetex fuse and retired hastily to cover. The pigsty was pretty derelict before we started so I don’t think anyone ever noticed any additional damage but the resultant explosion frightened us enough not to repeat the experiment!

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