RIP John Prestwich MBE 24-11-1938 - 27-02-2006

Breeze Cottage

In hospital for 16 years, the first 7 in an iron lung, then in 1971 John married Maggie and for the next 35 years and until he passed away in 2006, his home was Breeze Cottage.

 

 
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ONCE UPON A TUESDAY
(Written in 1961 following John’s day trip to Paris)
As the plane touched down at Gatwick Airport I realised, with a great sense of satisfaction that I had “made it” and I remembered how it all started.

One evening last March as I lay in my iron lung, someone in the ward above mine opened a door. A radio was on and I could hear the dreamy voice of Ella Fitzgerald singing “April in Paris”. As the door slammed shut I suddenly thought – ‘April in Paris – why not?’ I’d been to Brighton and Southend last year, so why not try something more ambitious? We could fly to Paris, something I had always wanted to do. Surely it wouldn’t be all that difficult to arrange…… but as it turned out, this was the understatement of the year!

 

Owing to the extent of my disability – I’m a respiratory polio, paralysed from the neck down (which is preferable to being paralysed from the neck up!) – it was going to be necessary to take a considerable amount of equipment. Not the least were a portable respirator, 12-volt batteries, a portable suction machine, oxygen and a wheelchair. It was impractical for me to stay overnight in Paris which meant we had to get there and back in one day. We fixed the date for the last Friday in April. My first idea was to hire the same car which I’d used on previous occasions and fly it over by Silver City Airways with me inside the car. When I looked into this, I discovered that there was no car ferry direct to Paris, only as far as the coast. So with a drive of 175 miles after that, we’d get there just in time to turn around to come home. We had to think again.

At this point it was considered advisable to bring in some outside assistance, so I got in touch with the Travel Department of the British Red Cross. They were extremely helpful, but more and more complications mounted up. In the end, we decided to throw expense to the winds, fly over in a chartered aircraft and send the car over by sea the day before. Then we all sat back and waited for the day to arrive. But alas, the French, or was it the Algerians, decided to have a revolution. Consequently we had to postpone our trip. The next convenient date for everyone was in June. ‘Everyone’ meant the car hire people, the aircraft company and those coming with me – a doctor, a nursing sister, a physiotherapist and a hospital porter.

Flying over Paris was an experience which I don’t think I shall ever forget. Somehow the haze which covered the city made it even more impressive. Above the haze I could see the Eiffel Tower – I wondered – would we manage to get to the top? We had a hectic six hours’ sightseeing ahead of us, so as we left Le Bourget by car to drive to the centre of Paris, we made sure that our first stop would be to sample some French cuisine. This we did at the fashionable Bagatelle restaurant. It’s not every day I’m sure, that the Eiffel Tower has to cope with the like of us, so we warned them of our intended arrival by telephoning from the restaurant. This was a job for the interpreter, our French vocabulary being confined to about a dozen words between us! After lunch we did a quick tour of the city, taking in Notre Dame, the Left Bank, Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe. In order for me to be able to go up the Eiffel Tower, I had to change from the stretcher on which I’d been travelling and into my wheelchair. This feat was performed in the courtyard of the British Embassy.

At the Eiffel Tower we entered the first of the three lifts that would take us to the top – 1e etage, 2e etage, 3e etage, et voila! I was struck by the magnificent view of the French capital. There were buildings everywhere, lining the narrow streets and crowded boulevards. Looking down from this great height I could pick out Notre Dame, the Invalides, the Sorbonne, the Louvre, Sacre Coeur and winding its way through the city and into the distance, the Seine. This was Paris – Paris, the city of grandeur and gaiety!

As the deafening roar of the engines gradually died away and the aircraft came to a standstill, I could hardly believe that I had been so far and seen so much in such a short space of time. In another hour or so I would be back in my iron lung and the day’s adventure would be over.

 

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