Charlie Bullen 1941-2020

We held two services for Charlie Bullen of Avington Park on Tuesday 29th September 2020.  The first was the Cremation Service at Basingstoke Crematorium and then the Thanksgiving Service at St. Mary’s Avington.  There were about 30 of us at each suitably socially distanced.  The hymns we hummed or lip-synched were Make me a Channel of your Peace and Lord of all Hopefulness.

Sarah Vey read the following poem adapted from Paul Mellon’s selected verses:

I hope he will raise me to the clouds

High above Avington and the crowds

And there Ill take my ease and wait

With gin and tonic in hand

Behind the pearly gates 

And long before I break Gods bread,

Or buy a halo for my head,

Or sink into a starry bed,

Or say the prayers I should have said

Before the doughnuts, rolls or coffees

Ill find the Secretarys office 

In my interview of course

Ill ask St Peter for my tools

to mend the tractors discarded by old fools

Hell lead me down the heavenly sheds

Stuffed full of unimogs, bogtrotters and cylinder heads

And say since youve escaped old Nick

They’re on the house; just take your pick”

Giles Rowsell read the following reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians

13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 

Fergus Baird read the poem  ‘Feel no guilt in laughter‘ by Anon

Peter Bullen read the following tribute which can be listened to here but also follows in print:

 So, how do you sum up Charlie Bullen?  Impossible really as he managed, during his wonderful life, to do so many things and achieve so much that a compendium of short stories would be needed to do him justice.  The tributes to him have been overwhelming but the descriptions that have jumped out at me are: loveable, supportive, intrepid, unflappable, resourceful, stubborn, knowledgeable, generous and brave.  He was a loving husband, brother, father and grandfather, a truly legendary uncle, great-uncle and great-great-uncle as well as being an incredible friend and mentor. 

 I have always known him as Naughty Uncle Charlie, and with good reason – the stories of his early misdemeanours are legion amongst family and friends.  The third of six children growing up in the wilds of Dorset, he had the time, space, energy and audience for his infectious enthusiasm.  Always wanting to push the envelope, be it on horseback, foot or bicycle, he revelled in making things go faster.  It was inevitable that his quest for speed would result in his first big accident. 

Aged nine, starting on his bike from the front steps at Catherston, he reckoned he could work up quite a pace down the drive, out onto the road and then down the hill. Head bent over the handle bars, legs pumping, off he shot – straight into the side of a passing car where he got his right arm tangled up in the door handle and he was dragged down the road.  Fearing for his arm, which was never the same again, a long period in hospital followed with pins, transplants and grafts: the stay would have been shorter if his mother hadn’t given him a pair of roller-skates, which he inevitably tested to see how fast he could go down the hospital corridors.  That was until his progress was rudely and painfully halted by a crossing trolley complete with patient!

 An accomplished horseman with natural balance, part of his rehabilitation whilst still in a splint was teaming up with his little sister Jennie in pairs events culminating, on at least three occasions, in winning the Royal International Horse Show.  They usually triumphed by showing what a real gallop looked like followed by a great halt and topped off with his wonderful smile – who could resist!

 Charlie was a great fixer.  From his sisters’ wobbly teeth (sit sister down – tie tooth to door – slam door – fixed!), through mattress springs and onto larger pieces of machinery – no challenge was too big.  His time at Millfield however was cut short as a result of his fixing…  Already under a cloud having “borrowed” his housemaster’s car for an evening and taken his bike behind the minibus to the beach (on a rope), he thought that the damage to the dorm’s beds following some harmless horseplay might lead to further disciplinary action – so he decided to fix it.  Leaning out of the upper windows, snip, snip with the pliers and a series of the supporting wires from the roses adorning the front of the school was secured, beds repaired and job done.  It was only later when the roses decided to let go, just as the Headmaster and visiting General were about to inspect the School CCF did things go awry.  Dignity and clothing in tatters, when they were eventually extracted from their thorny prison, the subsequent investigation was short and sharp (“It was Bullen, sir!”) – the scholarship was terminated and Charlie went on to pastures new. 

 Charlie’s underlying passion was for machinery – the bigger the better!  If it was broken the he’d fix it, if it could be made to work better or faster then he’d do it.  If it needed testing, he was your man!  He did a short apprenticeship with Scottish Land Development, shorter than it should have been due to a little bit too much free enterprise, and he developed his skills from there.  A gifted engineer, he could turn his hand to anything and master any form of machinery in minutes.  Land-clearance, hill-climbs, forestry, golf courses, racecourses, cross country courses were meat and drink to Charlie – a great excuse to play with his stable of toys.  The Weasel, Tornados, Trimog Traction, an autogyro, Florida Everglades air boat, hovercraft, fire engines, cherry pickers, bog trotters, tractors, diggers galore – use it, break it, fix it…

 His marriage at the young age of 23 to Ann Alcock, which resulted in two lovely girls, ultimately didn’t work and was something Charlie couldn’t fix.  However, his relationship with Caroline and his two young grandchildren meant a huge amount to him and bought him much happiness.

 Charlie was, as you might be surprised to hear, quite an actor: Barry Lyndon, First Knight and who could ever forget his portrayal of the Angel Gabriel at the Avington Nativity, perched either on the roof or high up on the cherry picker, wig and halo slightly askew, telling us all to FEAR NOT!”  Never fearful himself, its not surprising to any of us that he first met Sarah whilst exploring off set the then out of bounds Avington.  The young Sarah promptly told him to Get out, this is private!”  – a phrase oft repeated at Avington. It was a few years later when Charlie was temporarily residing in a caravan at Tweseldown Racecourse and Sarah turned up as a Pony Club instructor that things took off: it was a coup de foudre: first date Tuesday, engaged on Wednesday!  Sarah and Charlie were smitten but Colonel Hickson wasn’t so sure though he was soon converted by Charlie’s charm, openness and capabilities – Charlie was just what Avington needed! 

 Sarah, as we all know, was the love of his life.

 Charlie and Sarah forged an incredible partnership: strong, loving and generous – life was always a party when they were around. 

Every visit to Avington was met with anticipation as to what adventures would occur, what toys would be working and what modifications were needed.  Charlie was a man who was more comfortable doing than saying – he would just get on with it.  If there was a tree to fell – get the chainsaw, a lake to dredge – get a bigger digger, if you had a split level bathroom then install a lift!   The Health and Safety Executive were an anathema to him: what could possibly go wrong when you are leaning a ladder against the top of a tree that you are cutting down (because it’s falling down) from the top of a cherry picker just after your hip operation?  Why not teach yourself to fly a gyro-copter that you’ve built in the drawing room?  I think everyone, including Charlie, was relieved when that Permit to Fly was revoked after a series of engine failures.  So what that he slightly modified that roguish grin with a chainsaw, or fell into the lake whilst strimming from the hovercraft.  Things got done!

 To sit next to Charlie was always a pleasure, not because of the sparkling conversation but because he was just great fun.  They say that 70% of communication is non verbal – Charlie took that a little further.  You could have a long conversation with Charlie with not too many words in exchange but you knew exactly what he thought and felt – he was such an engaging personality.  We always wanted his approval – not explicitly but just a nod or grunt was enough – we wanted his approval because he was someone that we all respected and loved.  He was a great supporter of friends and family – always there to help when required.  If the event didn’t really float his boat (such as Rosie’s jazz evenings) then he was perfectly content to sit at the back, hearing aid on mute, drink in hand surrounded by an admiring crowd just taking it all in.

And here we are in these extraordinary times, seventy-nine and a bit years after it all began, saying goodbye to that wonderful man with the infectious grin, mischievous sense of humour, glasses perched on the end of his nose (did he really need them? – perhaps only for delicate work like opening bottles).  A man routinely dressed in grease spattered overalls or jeans held up high with a cowboy belt but who was equally at home in an elegant morning suit or black tie with monogrammed slippers.  That plodding walk, those cups of coffee laced with six spoonfuls of sugar accompanied by a few chocolate biscuits, those ‘knock your socks off’ gins and mounds of peanuts or perhaps helping him out with a small glass of Madeira after supper.  Charlie nodding off in front of a film in his chair, remote control clasped in his paw or suspended thirty feet up on a cherry picker wielding a chainsaw.   We will all remember him in different ways because he was different, unique.

Charlie’s great gift was to find pleasure and happiness in life.  He didn’t ask for anything very complicated he just enjoyed all that was around him.  His gift to us is that we embody the wisdom and pleasure he shared with us and that we continue to draw on his example in our own futures.   

God bless you Charlie.

Tabitha Coles sang O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini

Mike Bullen read the second Bible Reading from John 14:1-6

14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 

Revd Alex Pease gave the following address which is recorded here or follows below in print:

I think my abiding memory of Charlie is of him standing on a ladder, lighting the chandelier in St Mary’s Avington before midnight mass on Christmas Eve…always rather a precarious business….particularly after dinner…

We owe, in this parish, a huge debt of gratitude to Charlie and to Sarah for supporting, encouraging and carrying the church in Avington through so many years they have carried  on the baton of responsibility for Christian worship in Avington in the relay race between generations and now passed it onto a new generation they have done it well

We owe, particularly in Charlie’s case, a thank you for fixing things.  He was a manwho would get on with any job which needed to be done immediately without any whingeing or delay or looking around to others to do it.

Another feature of Charlie’s character I believe was that he understood about love; understood that love is self sacrificial and not selfish, if it is to be real and Charlie showed so many of the characteristics of love listed by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 which we have just heard, and although not actually listed there….fixing things was certainly part of being the man that Sarah needed him to be as they took on the colossal lifetime task of running Avington Park together

But Paul’s letter to the Corinthians does speak as to another feature of love, which Charlie also showed, which Paul describes as ‘hope and perseverance’ which manifested itself in Charlie as reassurance for Sarah and others around him.

At the end of this service we will hear the James Bond films theme tune. Charlie loved the Bond movies and its easy to see why: Bond always comes to the rescue, overcomes the challenge, fixes the problem the world is facing whatever the difficulty regardless of the self sacrifice involved.  Maybe there was a bit of the James Bond about Charlie (I think that makes you ‘M’ Sarah) or…to think of it perhaps ‘Q’ would be a more accurate description of Charlie.  I mean who else has a hovercraft in their garage if not ‘Q’’?

The enduring popularity of the Bond movies reveals the need that we all have for someone to  come and rescue us, someone who will fix the problems we face, someone who will give us the reassurance that we all need as we make decisions in a scary and unpredictable world; someone who will protect us and lead us to a safe place, at the end

But who is there who can do this for us?

In the second Bible reading from John’s gospel today we find out who that person is.  Jesus says  ‘I am the Way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me’.

In other words, Jesus is saying if you follow me you have nothing to be scared about whatever the problem that needs fixing I will be there for you.  There is nothing to worry about even as we cross the Valley of the Shadow of Death if we get to know Him, now, and are known by Him now while we still can…..He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and there is no greater objective for us in our lives today; no better solution to every problem that needs fixing; no greater reassurance, no higher priority, no more rewarding task, than getting to know Him and being known by him. 

And the time to start to know him is now…..



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