Friend helps old Sidmothian finish autobiography

Vera and Gerald Counter with Julian King (middle)

Vera and Gerald Counter with Julian King (middle) - Credit: Archant

A debilitating illness left an elderly Sidmothian unable to complete his autobiography, but a dedicated friend is ensuring that the stories are not lost.

Gerald Counter was moved into Holmesley nursing home after a series of falls that subsequently saw him diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND).

The condition claimed the use of his hands, and he cannot walk more than a few feet.

Gerald, 86, thought he may never finish his story but writer Julian King came to his aid.

“Julian is wonderful, he’s been a breath of fresh air,” said Gerald. “He’s one of the best friends I’ve had – we get on like a house on fire.”

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Together they are mapping 86 years of life in Sidmouth, building an account that is primarily intended for Gerald’s family.

The pair met when Julian, 65, was researching the old mill, and he was told Gerald was a fountain of information about the area.

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Gerald has lived in the town all his life, and got to know most households through his job as an engineer for what is now South West Water.

Dad-of-four Julian said there is nothing wrong with his friend’s memory, and he remembers some things from decades ago as if they happened yesterday.

Gerald is full of stories – from getting herring from the fishermen to seeing a performance at the Manor Pavilion interrupted so the main actress could tell a couple their house was on fire.

Julian is capturing the tales for posterity, putting his own designs on local history on hold.

“MND is so frustrating, I’ve always been so independent,” said Gerald. “We all think we are going to live forever, but everybody has to die from something.”

He hopes to donate his body to medical research to improve the fight against his disease, which affects voluntary muscle activity including speaking, walking, swallowing, and general movement of the body.

The 86-year-old has been joined in the care home by his wife Vera, the pair having barely spent a day apart in the 65 years they have been together.

When they were in separate wards at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital over Christmas, Julian endeavoured to ensure they were united.

“I’ve had a good life and a good wife,” said Gerald.

Julian has completed the first draft of Gerald’s autobiography, entitled A Life In Sidmouth, and hopes to publish it over the summer.

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