Tributes to Robert (Bob) Samuel Proctor
20th April 1943 - 12th January 2021
I bet most of you think of Bob as a good solid Englishman, but how many of you knew that he was a Scot! And he was born in a Castle! He was a war baby. His father was in the Royal Engineers who were sent to Scotland to help in building the training camps to be used by the commandos. His mum Hilda was transferred to Airthrey Castle which had been commandeered as a maternity hospital. Bob always regarded himself as English, despite his Scottish birth certificate - as they say “if a cat has kittens in the oven, it doesn’t make them scones!”
When Bob was six weeks old his father was posted to England to work on the Mulberry Harbours to be used on D-Day. His Mother had to stand all the way down on the train with a baby in her arms! He and his mum went to live at his grandparents’ house in Newcastle under Lyme. Bob said he vaguely remembers a strange man in a khaki uniform turning up to stay there. It turned out to be his Dad!
The next lodgings were in rooms in and old terraced house. There was no electricity, so the house was lit by gas. One of Bob’s earliest jobs as a child was taking the old lead accumulator to the corner shop in his wheelbarrow, to swap it for a new one to power the radio.
After the war ended his father took him to see a massive building site where they were building council houses for all the people without permanent homes after the war. His father said “one day we will have one of those”, and sure enough they did.
Arthur, Bobs father, was a keen motorcyclist and took Bob on the pillion, tied on with an old scarf as his legs would not reach the foot rests. At the pub Bob would sit outside with a bottle of pop and a bag of crisps, taking the opportunity to do some train spotting as the pub was near the west coast line.
I must mention here that Bob in his late teens discovered the Red Lion folk club in Stoke. He met some long lasting friends there, who later became the Stoke Branch of the World Higglers Association.
Adam will tell you about Bob’s life before we met.
My father was not keen on Bob at first. I think he thought he was a penniless hobo because he wore jeans and had a beard! Little did he know Bob had already squirrelled away enough cash for the deposit on a house! The main problem was that mum always had Sunday dinner on the table bang on one o’clock, right in the middle of 12-2 opening hours at the time. We solved that by moving dinner time!
As a couple in the early days we were quite adventurous. We travelled all the way to Istanbul by train in the late sixties. Arriving there with nowhere to stay we decided to sleep on a park bench round a tree. We could hear lots of dogs barking nearby, and didn’t get a wink of sleep because we thought they might have rabies!
Another time we decided to go for a walk up into the mountains and camp for a few days on high ground. On the route up we were commandeered by a family who insisted on putting us up, and we felt we couldn’t refuse without being rude.
During the night we started itching – we had caught fleas! The next morning the man of the house showed us his impressive collection of flick knives! At this point we decided to make a quick retreat and forget the camping trip. He asked us for money and to Bob’s distress we only had a big note, far more than the man expected I am sure! I must say that this was the only unpleasant incident we ever experienced on out travels in Turkey.
After that we had to use George Orwell’s method to kill fleas by running a lighted match down the seams of our jeans. And it worked!
Paul will tell you about other experiences on the expedition to Turkey in 1974, but this sticks in the memory – I was driving the converted bread van with 10 passengers down a mountain pass in Austria. I was going a bit too fast and oncoming drivers were signalling to me with one finger. I thought they were being rude and ignored them. It turned out I should have been in first gear. Everyone was preparing to leap out of the van but we got to an escape road just in time!
The first time we went to Turkey, Bob had a marvellous haircut at a barbers in Konya. He was treated very well, as customers such as him with a beard were very rare. The barber nearly died of shock when Bob walked in again four years later! You will see a photo later of a very well groomed Bob which was taken at the time.
After the Turkey trips our travels were less exotic, but we had some great times in Ireland and nearer home, every year visiting our good friends the Berkshires on the farm in West Wales, and Daisy in Conwy, as well as folk festivals all over the place, culminating in Celtic Colours on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia in 2003.
I feel very lucky to have been Bob’s life partner for over 50 years. We weren’t always “love’s young dream”, we had ups and downs, but we settled into a comfortable, contented life that many people would envy.
He loved telling and hearing jokes, reciting monologues, messing with steam locos, laughing, singing in Irish, wearing jumpers that smell of mothballs. He was a one-off, a legend, and we will all miss him a lot.
Maggie Proctor, Nottingham 2021.
I have known Bob since around 1967, meeting him in the Prince of Wales pub in Baslow. I was with the Meadows boys climbing club and Bob was one of the Higglers. I also bumped into him occasionally at the Co-Op folk club and got to know him a bit more.
Our friendship grew during the 1974 Meadows Boys' club climbing expedition to the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey. Bob, who had a great love of mountains and Maggie came with us and did a lot of the driving of the expedition waggon, a pretty old converted bread van. The expedition set off around mid- July to the backdrop of tension between the UK and Turkey, regarding Cyprus.
We had a smooth trip to Turkey eventually arriving at Cucubad. We went with a guide and donkeys to our base camp. When we got to base it was extremely hot as we put up our tents. After pitching my tent I went to help the others. That's when I spotted Bob totally naked except for his boots. Fortunately for the rest of us he soon got a sunburnt backside and had had to put his shorts back on.
The following day a wild looking tribesman arrived in our camp and wanted to impress us with his rifle. He took off the barrel and passed it around for us to peer down and see the rifling inside. When he came to put it back together he got into difficulties and couldn't do it. Bob took the rifle from him and replaced the barrel easily. The crestfallen tribesman slunk away. Bob nonchalantly said that it was a Lee and Enfield 303, we used to take them apart and put them back together when I was in the army cadets.
We set off for home, unaware that while we'd been there, Turkey had invaded Cyprus. This had involved a large scale air and sea assault, which prompted James Callahan to say that the Turks had behaved like animals. Returning to Cucubad we were taken to the base commander's office. What transpired was like a film. The commander, wearing sunglasses, had his feet on the table, also on the table was a newspaper centre spread showing a map of Cyprus. There were pictures of Turkish planes dropping commandos onto to the north Turkish part of Cyprus with red arrows showing the advance into the southern Greek part, where the British bases were. Kibris, he shouted at Bob while pounding the map. Bob just looked at him and shrugged; he then gave us all a cup of tea and let us go. That wasn't quite the end of it though because whilst driving through Yugoslavia on the way back a disgruntled Turkish driver tried to run us off the road, probably incensed by the sight of the GB sticker on the back. Bob was driving at the time and had to take evasive action, not easy in a clapped out bread van.
After the Turkey trip I became more involved with the Co-Op folk club. By now Bob was the MC and carried out the position with great efficiency and humour. This sometimes involved dealing with the whims of guest artists arriving late after half time, sometimes having participated in the taking of noxious substances or a spot of copulation in the Boulevard car park. Bob took it all in his stride.
A few years later, I needed help bringing a narrow boat back from March in Cambridgeshire to Langley Mill. Sally was still working at the time so I needed help. Bob, having passed his seamanship in Salcombe, volunteered. Sally took us over to March on the Saturday before Easter 2007 and Bob and I set off. We went from March to Whittlesey and moored up in the early evening. With the aid of Bob's bible, the Good Beer Guide, we went into a pub called the Boat Inn. There on the wall by the bar was a framed photograph of Wocko wearing some strange outfit. He gets everywhere. The next day we got onto the river Nene. The plan was for me to steer and Bob doing the locks until we got to Northampton where Sally was coming on and Bob was catching the train back to Nottingham. He was going to Ireland.
Things didn't go to plan. On the first lock Bob ricked his back and could hardly move. I did the steering and the locks myself but Bob gave a lot of encouragement in his usual way. As it turned out Bob's temporary disability didn't hamper us too much, something else did. After just a few miles and locks we arrived at a village called Elton. I went up to do the lock only to find an environmental agency crane boat in it doing repairs. This was Sunday afternoon. I asked one of the blokes how much longer were they going to be there and he said next Friday. So we were stuck on a pontoon at Elton for nearly a week, Bob could have gone back home but said he'd stay and keep me company, for which I was very grateful. That evening we went to the pub of course and Bob got the first round in. Coming back from the bar he didn't look very happy, it turned out that this must have been the most expensive pub outside of London! Worse was to come for 2 days later was the budget and the Labour Chancellor put up beer by two pence. The Landlord however increased it by ten pence. When Bob interrogated the landlord, who was obviously a Tory, he tried to blame it all on the government. Bob was not impressed.
We still have the boat and Bob and Maggie have been out with us on it quite a lot and great times we've had. Bob has been a great help especially with the plumbing.
Bob has always been generous with his time and we are very grateful for the help he has given us and our son Patrick with jobs we could not do ourselves.
Sally and I saw a lot of Bob and Maggie until this pandemic struck, the last time was in our local pub, the Gate Inn a few weeks ago. I phoned Bob in hospital and again when He was back at home. I didn't know then that that would be the last time we would speak. So goodbye Bob, and thanks for the great memories, you were one of the best.
Paul King, Nottingham 2021.
I am very grateful to Al Atkinson, whose lovely reminiscences form the basis for this tribute.
Even if you'd never met Bob, you'd have realised by now that here was a man for whom traditional music - especially the music of England and Ireland - was very special. Due to the pandemic, 2020 was the first year in a long time that Bob had been unable to enjoy the singing of Sheffield Carols in the pubs in Dungworth, Worrall, and Oughtibridge. That love was shared with Maggie and their twins, Kate and Sam, both of whom have become talented musicians in their own right. As for Bob, he didn't play an instrument, but he was an enthusiastic singer. As I said earlier, traditional music is often found hand-in-hand with beer and pubs, but it also meshes with a love of place, of walking, camping and climbing in "the great outdoors" as Bob called it. Maggie tells me that the couple lived in Reading for a while, where they both taught. "We didn't" she says "get to know many people in Reading, because we spent every weekend coming up to the Peak District to camp, and walk, and sing in village pubs." In time, the couple were able to move to the Nottingham area, close to their beloved Peak District, while Bob lectured in heating and ventilation at Basford Hall, a career which lasted twenty years, during which time he was Branch Secretary of his trade union, as well as a respected member of the teaching staff.
During his childhood in Newcastle Under Lyme in Staffordshire, Bob began his lifelong interest in cycling, including time trials, club runs, and youth-hostelling weekends. He left Wolstanton Grammar School for Boys at the age of 16 when, his practical skills beyond doubt, he followed his father into an apprenticeship in heating and ventilation. After several years "on the tools", Bob took up the lecturer's position. His studies took place at the Nottingham Regional College of Technology, now Nottingham Trent University, and while there he became friends with Al Atkinson's brother, Robbie, a close friendship that was to continue through the next 60 years. Bob also became involved with the local folk scene, at the News House in St James' Street, and the Co-Op Folk Club in Heathcote Street.
In the spring of 1965, the ancient field sport of higgling was invented by Lloyd Winston Watkins, and Bob was one of the first converts to flock to Wocko's banner. The Association's 1967 AGM has gone down in history as the place where Bob met Maggie Snelling. And so, another chapter began. The couple were married in Maggie's home city, York, in July 1971 - this summer would have been their 50th wedding anniversary.
Bob's natural talents led him to act as MC at the Co-Op folk club and for two decades after their marriage the couple played an important part in all of the club's activities.
It has been said that Bob wasn't really interested in having children. Even so, despite his supposed lack of commitment to the matter, Maggie became pregnant. Maggie tells me that Bob fell silent for three days when she told him. Later, only a matter of seven weeks or so before the birth was due, Maggie went for a scan. This being some 40 years ago she went on her own, while Bob went to work as normal. That same day, the car was in for potentially expensive repairs. The scan revealed to Maggie that she was carrying twins and, when she went to collect the car afterwards, she was told that the repairs were not complete, and the estimated cost of £45 had now more than doubled. How to break all of this terrible news to Bob? Maggie bought pork chops, vegetables and all the trimmings on the way home to prepare the way with a good dinner. "Do you" she asked him, "want the good news or the bad news?" When Bob said he'd have the good news first, Maggie said "the car's knackered!" The bad news was, of course, "it's twins!"
Needless to say, Bob quickly came round, acquiring superhero status when the news became known, and having numerous pints bought for him.
A twin-shaped space quickly formed in the Proctor household and Bob was a much-loved and very loving father. When the children were little, they spent many hours playing under pub tables as their parents' leisure activities continued. The family spent plenty of time in Derbyshire, as well as at folk festivals and dancing weekends, Maggie being a Morris Dancer. Bromyard Folk Festival, and later Whitby Folk Week were always on the calendar. Many of the Whitby regulars have been in contact to say how much they looked forward to meeting Bob in the ballad sessions in the Conservative Club - not somewhere Bob would normally be found, of course, but the cheap beer was an attraction!
In 1991, the course of Maggie and Bob's life was disrupted in a truly alarming way, when Bob was knocked off his bicycle by a hit and run driver. His very serious injuries led to a spell in hospital followed by a period of recuperation, and brought an end to his teaching career. Maggie pulled the family through this challenging period and, once Bob was back on his feet, he took on a wide range of voluntary work, as a school governor, sitting on arbitration panels, as a footpath inspector, and as Minuting Secretary of the Mountain Bothies Association. The latter involved regular trips to Scotland, and a great deal of head-scratching in front of the computer!
As well as camping in the nearby Peak District, the family travelled further afield, with annual trips to Ireland, specifically the Aran Islands. The family's shared love of traditional Irish music led to Sam and Kate having music lessons at the Nottingham Irish Centre, while their Dad worked towards his GCSE in the Irish language, which he then practiced on their holidays.
Even if Bob did have a reputation - which he did nothing to dispel - for counting the pennies when a round of drinks was being ordered, he was unstintingly generous with his time. Maggie recalls him spending hours repairing bicycles for the neighbours' children. His skills with heating systems were often called upon to help out friends and family. He also gave generously to several charities. As Al notes, that generosity was also evident in Bob's gregarious nature. He would find common ground with anyone he happened to meet, making many friends as he did so, especially in his local, the Lincolnshire Poacher on Mansfield Road.
Maggie's home in Mapperley, and the family's Facebook pages, are overflowing with cards and warm tributes to Bob's kindness and generosity. He was, say many of them, a lovely man, a real character, with a very distinctive and memorable laugh. Maggie, Kate and Sam are grateful that Bob's death, when it came, was peaceful and calm, and they were able to spend precious time with him at the end.
Bob was, says Maggie, a contented man. He wanted nothing, the downside of which meant he was a very difficult man for whom to buy presents! A walk or bike ride - provided it involved an approved pub - folk music, and good company were all he really needed. He was a renowned spinner of yarns, joke-teller and conversationalist.
As Sam commented, we hear a great deal now about mindfulness, but mindfulness was a way of life to Bob; he lived in and for the moment, relishing the company, the jokes and stories - the craic.
Humanist Celebrant’s Tribute, Nottingham 2021.