Mr Geoffrey James Dickes obituary
22 March 1935 – 7 February 2023
Born on 22 March 1935, Geoff was the only child of Olive and James Dickes. He attended first Coalpit Heath Manor School, then Chipping Sodbury Grammar School.
He had an idyllic childhood, playing and running through open fields around Coalpit Heath with groups of friends from school and Sunday school. By the age of 5 he’d met his great friend John Dando – their families were already close, and in Geoff’s own words, “being 3 years older, John was commissioned to make sure I got to Church at Zion (often 3 times on Sundays). Because I dawdled, John invented a demon he called Squashabelly, who was called to chase me so I would get there on time.” They remained firm friends, and Geoff and Jean were godparents to John and Iris’s daughter.
60 years later, after completing an A Level in English Literature, Geoff wrote about these walks to Church in one of his many poems:
He was nine feet one way, nine feet t’other
But only one inch thick.
His ninety protoplasmic legs
Strained on a body made of eggs
Laid by a mammoth tick.
He could sprint like Christie, fly like Coe,
He chased us all from school.
He breathed draconian fire through pipes,
‘He’s coming, quick! Get hoses! Cripes!
Divert him to the pool.’
He’d creep upstairs and under doors
To frighten gran in bed.
He loved the telly, our Squashabelly,
But found Eastenders rather smelly
So took up squash instead.
Geoff started work in 1951 at the Public Analysts Lab for Bristol Corporation at Cabot Circus. He claimed he got the job because his interviewer, the Chief Scientific Adviser, was a Bristol Rovers supporter, as was Geoff. He and his lifelong friend, Ted Baker, started together – both of them – as Teaboys and Student Analysts.
They had a day off each week to attend Bristol Merchant Venturers Technical College together, where they studied Analytical Chemistry.
In his tea boy period, 1951-1954, Bristol was regularly engulfed in smog – even Clifton – and one of his duties was to measure atmospheric smoke and sulphur dioxide at 4pm each day. He would recount various hair-brained adventures from this time, including standing on the roof of Rosie the elephant’s house at Bristol Zoo, to collect rainwater for a monthly analysis of pollutants.
He passed his annual exams up to Higher National Certificate but was unable to continue to obtain the final qualification due to his call up for 2 years National Service (1960 – 1962) where he was placed in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. It’s no secret how much he hated National Service. He was a thinker, perpetually interested in new topics and ideas. So, the abuse, the unreasonable treatment, and the silliness of it all were not suited to his always enquiring and independent mind.
One of his Sergeant’s renamed him ‘Mavis,’ for a period of time. Mavis!!
He was never far from a bizarre story in life, and the army was no different. As someone who loved crosswords and chess, he was trained in code breaking at an outpost of Bletchley Park, then drafted to West Germany in Special Intelligence to help to prevent any Communist insurgence from East Germany! One night after an evening at a Dutch pub near the border, he and a friend were arrested and put in a cell without their shoes – mistaken identity. When they were released, two hours later, and returned to camp, they were charged with being absent without leave. As Geoff said, “we didn’t see the joke.”
He and Jean were married in 1956. They spent 54 happy years together, beginning married life in a cottage next to Zion, then a maisonette in Coalpit Heath, before they moved to Thornbury, and finally, in 1979 to The Keepings, in Iron Acton.
Geoff became an expert in gas chromatography, a method for separating and identifying chemicals. He published a number of papers with colleagues regarding the identification of drugs in blood, pesticide residues in foods, and chemicals in plant material.
In 1972 he was asked by Butterworths International, scientific book publishers in London, to write a synopsis for a book on the subject. He didn’t realise he was in a competition with 3 other authors, but he was selected to write the book – Gas Chromatography in Food Analysis, published in 1976 and sold 3000 copies.
Geoff was a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry for over 60 years. He was active in their Environmental Chemistry Group, acting as Treasurer and Chairman. He was the British delegate and chairman of the Environmental Group of the Federation of European Chemical Societies. One colleague, Hans Martin, who was the world’s leading expert on air pollution, tasked Geoff to arrange a 3-day conference held at the University of Surrey, in 1988, with the theme ‘A Risk Assessment of Air Pollution’. Scientists from 90 countries attended. Geoff also accepted an invitation to go to Trinidad for the Commonwealth Science Council to talk about his early days in atmospheric pollution monitoring.
When Ted Baker moved to Long Ashton, he moved into a house with large cellars. Together, he and Geoff indulged fully in their hobby of home-made wine making. The cellars were filled with numerous 10-gallon carboys full of wine. And evenings of winemaking were followed by extensive sampling of the product alongside dinners made by Jean and Sheila Baker.
Their wine won many prizes, not least at the Bath and West Show. They were both in demand for advice, and to act as judges, as well as to provide wine for special events. In 1979 Geoff gave numerous talks on the chemistry of wine making to various academic institutions, from East Anglia to Dublin.
He retired in the early 1990’s and spent some time as a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages based at Poole Court, Yate.
Over the years, he and Jean had several dogs who they loved dearly. They would take them with them to breaks away in the countryside, and to the many National Hunt race meetings and point-to-points they attended.
Geoff was a Scientist, a mathematician and a learner and he applied these characteristics to a wide variety of interests. Ballroom Dancing, the buying and selling of antiques, amateur dramatics with the Actonians, writing, poetry, bowls, and the art of betting. He was detailed, well researched and hugely knowledgeable. There was always a long story to be told about successes and failures – in drama, in literature, in buying and selling and in the odds for this year’s winner of Strictly. He had a share in two racehorses, and though they never won, he loved to see them race. He was an avid reader, enjoyed crosswords, chess and jigsaws. He was a pianist and when he lived next door to Zion, he was called upon to play the organ.
He was also involved with Acton Aid and Focal Poyntz magazine. He had a small garden and an allotment. He specialised in unusual snowdrops and sweet peas.
Jean developed dementia at a relatively young age, and it ran a rather stormy course. Geoff did a wonderful job of looking after her in very difficult circumstances, and his care ensured she could remain at home until she passed away in 2010.
We could not finish this eulogy without mentioning the following village friends. The late Dave Taylor who was Geoff’s gardener, handy man and paper boy; his wife Pat, who became his cleaning lady; and Pat’s daughter Michelle Pugh who became his at-home personal hairdresser. All were highly regarded and spent much time with Geoff. Towards the end, the lovely Natalie McPartland came on board to help Geoff and to sit with him.
He enjoyed the lunches provided at the Village Hall, especially the one in January when he was able to see many acquaintances.
Finally, the wonderful Karen Parker, who started keeping an eye on both Geoff and Jean when things became difficult. After Jean’s death, she played a major role in his life, taking him to numerous hospital, doctors and other appointments, as well as being there as a good friend and neighbour together with her husband, Alex, and daughter, Iris. Karen’s help ensured Geoff could live out his days in the house he loved, surrounded by the multitude of keep-sakes and antiques that he and Jean collected together.
Karen has a huge hole to fill now that Geoff is gone. Her commitment to him was enormous and much appreciated by Geoff, his family and friends.
No doubt you will have your own fond memories of him. He was a quiet, gentle and lovely man. He could talk the hind leg off of a donkey about anything and everything. But he was a dedicated husband, a loyal and thoughtful friend, generous with his time and his interest in people, and a buyer of the best and most interesting Christmas presents ever.
He will be sorely missed by us all, and is now reunited with his beloved wife, Jean.
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