A Tribute To Syd
Syd Steers 11th June 1923 - 13th July 2014
Writing a tribute is always difficult, with Syd it’s almost impossible, there is so much that could be said - I could easily have filled the entire 45 minutes of this service and still left huge chunks out.
Syd was born in Shoreditch, on Monday June 11th 1923, the first living child of Rose and Ernest Steers.
His father worked on the railways, a path Syd himself was to follow in later years.
His upbringing was typical of that period, not much material wealth, but a solid moral foundation upon which his long life was built.
He was an only child for 15 years until the arrival of Gertrude in November 1938.
He was a protective big brother and he introduced her to the football and they shared a lifelong love of Arsenal.
Syd was just 16 and working for WH Smith at Kings Cross Station when World War Two broke out and, although too young to enlist, he helped guard the railways at night, looking out for enemy parachutists.
Typically, he didn’t say much about his time in the army but in recent years he did write down some of his memories.
He reached the rank of Lance Corporal but lost his stripe when he managed to misplace his rifle one day.
He told the story of his unit finding a bottle of cherry brandy, left by fleeing enemy troops and how they quickly demolished the bottles contents, although he later reflected it may not have been a good move as the drink could easily have been spiked.
After the war he returned to WH Smith at Kings Cross and whilst working there a young lady working in the enquiry office caught his eye.
He started chatting her up and the rest, as they say, is history.
A year later two became three as Stan was born. In 1954 a daughter, Joan, was born only to sadly pass away at the age of just three months.
In 1957 the family moved from London to Bletchley and in 1958, Ann completed the family.
By this time Syd had been working for British Rail for several years, initially in the parcel office at Euston, before moving to Bletchley and, through his job, he became an expert on the location of even the most obscure railway stations.
He then moved into a clerical role at Hemel Hempstead before moving to a management role at Watford.
Syd was an active trade unionist and heavily involved with TSSA, eventually serving on the national executive.
Family holidays would invariably centre around the unions annual conference, visiting a different seaside resort each year.
He did sterling work for the Union and was a proud, honorary life member and a recipient of their Gold medal of honour.
After retiring in 1983, Syd put his trade union expertise to great use and served on the Employment Tribunals in Bedford.
Outside of work Syd played football before becoming a referee and, as would be expected with him, he had a no nonsense approach to this role.
He was once chased off the pitch by angry players after one match …… and finding the tyres on his trusty moped let down after a match was simply shrugged off as a mere occupational hazard.
In 1949 he said he would be there for her “in sickness and in health” a vow he maintained until her passing. He was determined he would do all he could to look after her, he saw it as his responsibility alone and would not accept any outside help.
On August 1st last year his beloved Doris passed away.
Syd was of that generation where stoicism and not showing emotion was the natural thing.
To the outside world he put on a brave face but those of us close to him saw how much he was hurting, how much he missed his Doris and, very occasionally, he would let down his guard and he opened up about how he really felt. They were, sometimes, very difficult conversations.
If you read his death certificate there are several medical conditions that contributed to his death but we don’t need fancy medical terms – the reality is he died of a broken heart.
There were times when Ann and I would pop over to No 18 and he would be sitting in his chair, curtains drawn, wearing dark glasses – nothing was said but we knew it was because he had, once again, been crying.
He found the last, long, wet winter depressing, he hated being stuck indoors and I kept saying to him, with fingers crossed, “don’t worry, come the summer you will be able to sit outside in the garden.”
He loved pottering in his garden and although Ann did most of the work latterly, he still managed to have a go himself, not always constructively, and Ann would find something she had painstakingly done, mysteriously relocated overnight.
Syd hated throwing anything away and he recycled before recycling became fashionable. When clearing the garden we found an old spin dryer drum being used as a planter, old double glazing became a cloche and even old cracked ornaments became garden features.
The weather this summer has been glorious, and thanks to Ann’s hard work, the garden was the best and most colourful it has ever been and he spent many hours sitting outside enjoying it.
When Ann and I were dating we reached that point in the relationship where you have to meet the parents for the first time.
As most of us know it’s always a nerve-wracking experience and one tries to try and find out about the parents before you meet them.
When it came to describing Syd, Ann was initially a tad reticent, eventually saying, “I suppose the best way to describe him is to say he’s a bit like Alf Garnett.”
So you can imagine the fear and trepidation when I first met him.
Well, like Alf, he was a Londoner from a working class background!!
He certainly knew his own mind and was more than happy to share his views!!
He could be impatient and he certainly didn’t suffer fools!!
Luckily for me I wasn’t a long haired Scouse git and thanks to a mutual passion for horse racing and following Arsenal, we got on really well.
If anyone turned up at the house the “wrong time” or uninvited the reception could sometimes be frosty – this wasn’t necessarily him being anti-social, but he was a man who liked his routine and didn’t like it being disrupted.
If we went out anywhere and he’d had enough or you were outstaying your welcome, he had his own special way of saying it’s time to go.
Of course, he always made out it was someone else not him, usually me, who was wanting to go – I’m really going to miss him saying “Paul’s got itchy feet.”
Syd loved pressing buttons, both metaphorically and literally.
He relished winding people up – sometimes to the point you wanted to throttle him but it was never done with malice - he just loved getting people to bite, no surprise there as he was once a keen angler.
With Ann there was no challenge at all - light the blue touch paper and watch the fireworks.
I like think he found me more of a challenge but he still even managed to wind me up on occasion.
As for pressing buttons literally, two stories spring to mind.
When we were visiting Doris in hospital last year, the ever impatient Mr Steers began to get bored and he picked the control pad for adjusting her bed – let’s just say by the time he finished playing with the buttons, the bed had almost folded in two - with poor Doris still in it - before he turned round giving us his impish, naughty, guilty schoolboy look.
Syd was into texting and he used to send me a daily text, once he was up and about, so we knew he was safe and well. Invariably this would simply say “all OK” and I would reply “see you later.”
Once in a while (well about once a fortnight) instead of a text message, the home phone would ring and the “conversation” would be something like “all OK, the blooming mobile’s broken again” then he’d hang up!!
It wouldn’t be broken as such – it was just that he would start exploring menus, the more obscure the better, begin pressing buttons at random, invariably managing to somehow stop the phone working – setting me the challenge of finding out what he had done. There were times even I had to concede defeat and do a factory reset!!
Recently he rang to say his mobile was again broken. When I turned it on it said “no SIM card”
I asked if he had taken the SIM out and, most offended, he snapped “of course not”
So I opened the phone and found the SIM was somehow jammed in back to front and I said to him “if you haven’t taken the SIM out why is it in back to front?”
He looked at me and that cheeky, impish, naughty schoolboy grin beamed across his face yet again.
In April he became a great-grandfather for the first time as Caroline was born in Australia.
He actually said to me “I can’t do with all this baby malarkey.” Yet he was always asking Ann if there were any more pictures of Caroline on Facebook and in the photo gallery in the spare room, her pictures took pride of place.
When he was ill he never wallowed in self-pity and rarely complained.
On his last day with us, he was clearly in some discomfort but was still being stubbornly stoic and it took the ward sister and I ages to convince him some stronger painkillers would make him a lot more comfortable.
His passing has left a gaping hole in our lives but when he finally left us he did so quickly, pain free and peacefully. More importantly he was able to maintain his dignity to the very end.
Yes, he could be stubborn, impatient, irritating but inside that hard, gruff exterior was a wonderful, kind spirited, kind hearted person with an impish sense of humour and those of us who knew and loved him would not have wanted him any other way.
To me he was more than a father-in-law he was a great mate as well – although, even now, I cannot for the life of me fathom out his system for backing horses, certainly form seemed to be an alien concept to him.
He is now reunited with his beloved Doris, arguably, the only person who could keep him under control and tell him what to do, hopefully his broken heart is now healed.
It’s those of us that remain who now have the broken hearts - but countless happy memories.