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Obituaries - Jack "Tiger" Ayres
1913 - 2003

 
Jack and his prize blooms.
Jack and his prize blooms.
I've been asked to say a few words about Jack, or 'Tiger', as most of you knew him, but he led such a long, full life with many interests and passions in his 90 years that to sum him up in just a few words is actually very difficult.

Jack was born on July 14th 1913 to Lewis and Clara Ayres. He had two sisters, Noreen and Edith, and spent the whole of his life in and around Helmdon. He attended Helmdon School and even worked for most of his life in the village.

He married Ruby Hatton in May 1939 in Culworth Church, and they went on to have two children, Michael and Doreen. Ruby, as many of you know, sadly died in January 1983.

When Jack left school he started work as a farm labourer, but soon moved to work on the Railway, around Helmdon, as a labourer and then as a Chief Ganger. He loved the railway and maintained an interest in steam trains for the rest of his life.

He also had many pursuits outside of work. He was passionate about cricket, and played for Helmdon for many years. I'm told he had a reputation as a hard-hitting batsman, or a slogger, as he was often called. When he retired from the game, he was the groundsman for many years and was later honoured with lifetime membership of the Sports Club.

For the whole of his life, Jack was a keen supporter and member of the Grafton Hunt, a subject which divided opinions within our family, and caused many colourful debates. Hunting was one of the main passions in his life, and every Saturday in the winter he could be seen shouting and running madly across local fields. When Jack was in full cry, there were few horses that could even keep up with him. He kept his enthusiasm for hunting right to the end of his life. Even in his late eighties, when the hunt turned up along the railway line next to the house, he still showed an amazing turn of speed.

Jack was also musically inclined and used to play the drums. Firstly as a member of a skiffle band performing in The Bell, and later as part of a duet playing local pubs and clubs. He loved to go out entertaining the locals most Saturday nights with his drum kit, kazoo, bow tie and huge frilly shirt. He also had a mouth organ which he used to attempt to play for myself and Donna, but we both soon came to the conclusion that drums were definitely his strong point.

As I mentioned earlier, he led a very full life. He also managed to find time for other hobbies such as fishing, shooting and rabbiting - he kept ferrets for many years. He loved the countryside, and always had a dog by his side.

But Jack's main passion was gardening. In the summer, the gardens of Station House were full of colour from his chrysanthemums, dahlias, sweet peas and roses, and his garden, allotments and greenhouses were always brimming with fresh vegetables. He used to attend many local village shows, and won many prizes and trophies. Who can forget the sight of his unbelievably large onions at Helmdon Carnivals of recent years ?

He loved his garden and used to cram every inch with produce. Once he gave a small overgrown plot to Dad at the top end of the garden to grow some vegetables. Dad spent the whole weekend busily clearing the plot, digging and preparing it ready for planting, only to find that when he returned from work on Monday evening, Jack had re-claimed the freshly prepared land and it was now full of his Brussel Sprout plants.

He was also very protective of his garden. Myself and his other grandchildren can all fondly remember being chased around the house by Jack, and his belt, for accidentally stepping on the garden or cutting the corner of the lawn on our bikes.

Jack loved to be using his hands, and liked to make and mend things around the house. His greenhouses, for example, were made from old railway signal boxes. One of his endearing qualities though was that he didn't always get it quite right. For example, he could create a door out of wood which was strong enough to keep an elephant out, but would take ten men to actually close the latch !

Another good example of this was his sidecars. He always loved bikes, and, in fact, we believe he inherited his nickname of Tyger because of the amazing speeds he could reach on them between Helmdon and Culworth. He used to maintain the bikes himself and make his own sidecars, and used to travel everywhere with Ruby in his creations. One day, while on the way to Banbury, he couldn't believe how well his bike was going, and how much time he was making up. He was just about to congratulate himself on his bike maintenance skills, when he looked down and realised the sidecar - and Ruby - were no longer there. In fact they had become detached near the Thorpe Mandeville junction, and were now in a ditch. Luckily, despite an ear bashing for Jack, there were no other injuries.

Jack had a unique personality. On one hand he could have a fiery temper, but on the other he could make you laugh and had some wonderful stories to tell. Despite his temper, though, you would never hear him swear. He was also very sharp and perceptive. If someone stole one apple from a tree of many hundreds he would know it was missing. I remember when we were younger we used to wait until he was out to borrow tools from his garage. We were always careful to cover out tracks. To replace the tool in the correct place before he returned, to put the garage keys back exactly where we found them, and even to leave the lock at the exact angle at which we found it. Despite this, his first words to us when he got back were always - 'Have you been in my Garage?'.

 

Jack celebrating his 90th birthday in 2003.
Jack celebrating his 90th birthday in 2003.

 

In his later years, Jack concentrated mainly on his beloved garden, but always found time to watch televised cricket matches in the summer. He also enjoyed attending Helmdon Fellowship activities - lunches, teas and outings. He used to have a great deal of fun with his many local friends and, I am told, particularly enjoyed the Spring Lunch trifles.

There is one thing we can say for certain today, and that is Jack will be sadly missed by all of us - his family, friends and the local community. I would finally like to add that, although today is a very sad and solemn occasion, I think that we can all take great comfort in knowing that Jack had a very long, full life, he had many passions and interests, was generally in good health throughout those 90 years, and always had his family living with him, right up until the end, and there are very few people who can claim that privilege.

Gavin England

 
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