Although a great deal of us aren’t acquainted with our neighbors, this certainly wasn’t the case for the Williams family. After moving to Barry in Wales, you see, the Williams chose to make friends with local man Ken Watson. And the clan must have made a good impression upon Ken, too, as before he died in October 2018, he left the Williams’ daughter, Cadi, an incredible surprise.
The story began back in September 2015, when Owen Williams and his wife Caroline first moved to Barry. And being the neighborly sort, they wanted to fit in with their new community and make a good first impression. Accordingly, then, the couple went to introduce themselves to the people who lived near to their new home.
And while pensioner Ken wasn’t in during the Williams’ initial visit to his house, the neighbors nevertheless met the next day when Owen went to investigate a loud banging noise. Yes, Ken was the culprit causing the commotion – albeit in a very memorable fashion, as Owen would recount to CBC Radio in 2018.
Thus the men were introduced. “Ken had erected scaffolding at the front of his house to do some work on the underside of his roofline,” Owen revealed. “And there was this elderly man… in navy blue [overalls].” But apparently Ken’s age wasn’t limiting his rooftop escapades.
“[Ken] was standing at the very top of this 20-foot-tall ladder, and he used the ladder to pogo hop between one section of scaffold and the other,” Owen continued. “Now, imagine Wile E. Coyote atop an enormous pogo stick, bouncing the ladder across the ground.” Understandably, the onlooker was dumbstruck.
And from that day on, the Williams family became close friends with their daredevil neighbour Ken, who, for his part, had led an extraordinary life. Indeed, judging from his past exploits, he was seemingly accustomed to throwing caution to the wind. According to Owen, you see, Ken had done some incredibly dangerous things in the past and had walked away from them all largely unscathed.
“[Ken] was a man to whom risk was no object,” Owen told CBC Radio. “He’d been a marine salvage diver, diving in some of the most dangerous waters in the world to try and rescue what was left of ships. And [he did this] in conditions where you couldn’t see a hand in front of your face, and [he’d feel] around for wreckage. So health and safety didn’t mean anything to him at all.”
In addition, after the death of Ken’s wife, Beryl, his escapades had drawn local media attention. Beryl had passed away in February 2012, leaving a lonely space in her husband’s life that he subsequently filled with some high-octane hobbies.
Specifically, Ken performed three parachute jumps; he also daringly rode the roof of a Boeing Stearman biplane. However, it wasn’t just the resulting rush that the thrill-seeker chased. The activities, after all, also gave him something to do. Sadly, Ken told the Barry & District News in 2016, “I can go for up to six days without speaking to anyone.”
“After my wife had passed away, I took a long time to settle. There’s a space around me, [and] I still hear her voice and speak to her,” Ken elaborated. “I began parachute jumping. I enjoy these sort of things [because] I feel the rush of the air. The second jump was the best.”
The senior daredevil continued, “I thought, ‘Gosh, I’m an eagle.’ I think my deep-sea diving days helped. When I was considering becoming a diver, I remember my wife said, ‘If you don’t try it, you may always regret it.’” And apparently that philosophy applies to bending the rules a little, too.
“Wing walking isn’t scary,” Ken told the Barry & District News. “I looked on the computer, and it said 63 was the age limit. But as long as you have a medical certificate to say you are in good health, it’s all right.” And in his CBC Radio interview, Owen Williams confirmed just as much – his octogenarian neighbor seemingly hadn’t cared about what he should and shouldn’t do.
For example, Owen has a Chinese crested powderpuff/Japanese Spitz-cross rescue dog called Wci. And when he first met Ken, the senior asked if he could give the dog a chocolate cookie – a request which Owen denied. But Ken went ahead and did it anyway, endearing the dog to him from that day on.
“Our dog loved him,” Owen tweeted in reference to Ken and the canine in December 2018. “I mean, genuine visceral love. She’d scream whenever she saw him. Really scream, like a banshee. He’d call her ‘my darling’ and ‘sweetheart.’” That’s right: the pooch got nicknames to boot.
In addition, the Williams both provided Ken with company and kept an eye on him. “We looked out for [Ken], and he looked out for us,” Owen told CBC Radio. “We’d take in parcels for him, and we had a key to his house just in case.” And likewise, Ken had the Williams’ house key so that he too could come and go as he pleased.
However, not only did Owen and the Williams family learn about Ken’s present life, but they also uncovered more about his past. And it turns out that their senior neighbor was multi-talented. In addition to his time as a cook with the Royal Air Force, Ken had also been part of a family business called the Watsona Bakery.
In addition, Ken had worked as a master wood turner and a election campaigner and dabbled in metal detecting as a hobby. He was also a classical music enthusiast with a passion for playing the accordion – often into the night. But more than anything, Ken was a generous man who always had time for local families.
You see, although Ken was a dad of two, he had never become a grandfather – perhaps why he treated the neighborhood children as if they were his own relatives. That was at least the case with Owen’s daughter, Cadi, who was born after her parents moved to Barry, as Ken was benevolent towards her from the get-go.
“[Cadi] was about six months old on her first Christmas in 2016,” Owen recounted. “[Ken] turned up at the door with an enormous package… and inside was this four-foot-tall, psychedelic stripy lion doll… It was four times as big as Cadi at the time, and it’s called an Elvis – it’s made by a famous toy company.”
And Owen later found out just how deep Ken’s generosity ran. He and Caroline noticed an Elvis in a shop window while they were out browsing the local toy store. When Owen referenced the item to the woman behind the counter, however, she mentioned Ken by name – taking the elderly man’s neighbor by surprise.
What’s more, the lady revealed that Ken had purchased all the Elvis toys for his neighbor’s children. He’d bought so many, in fact, that shop staff were having a hard time restocking them; even the toy in the window had been reserved for the pensioner. Owen told CBC Radio, “It just goes to show [that] he planned ahead.”
And proof of that planning came after 87-year-old Ken passed away in October 2018. During an evening in the lead-up to Christmas 2018, the Williams were sat around the dinner table when Ken’s daughter knocked on their door. She had been sorting through her father’s things, the woman related, when she had discovered something for the neighbors.
“[Ken’s daughter] was standing there clutching what looked like a trash bag,” Owen said in his interview with CBC Radio. “I just put two and two together and got 18 and just assumed she wanted me to throw some trash away for her.” On the contrary, though; the bag was actually full of presents for Cadi.
“You could have knocked me down with a feather at that point,” Owen continued to report. “Because how does one respond to something like that on a rainy Monday night near Christmas? I took the bag and placed it on the counter… and started to open [it].”
But as it happened, the bag didn’t contain just one present for the little girl. “I started pulling these gifts out, and there were 14 gifts,” Owen shared. “It was like constantly pulling more and more things out of this bag. It was just unreal.”
But why had Ken wrapped up so many presents for the child? Well, Owen explained the exact reason for the generous gesture on Twitter, where he wrote, “[Ken] always told us he’d live until he was 100 years old. So these gifts would have taken him up to our little girl’s 16th Christmas.” It appeared, then, that Ken probably wanted Cadi to open one package every year.
That said, Ken had made no distinction between the presents that were best suited to Cadi as a young girl and those she should have after she had grown up a little. And this state of affairs presented the Williams family with a conundrum: how should they give Cadi her gifts? Perhaps social media could provide an answer to their dilemma.
So, Owen consequently posted a Twitter poll to ask the general public about their thoughts on the matter. Out of over 67,000 votes, though, only just over 31 percent of people thought that Cadi’s parents should take a peek at the gifts and rewrap them. An overwhelming 69 percent of voters, by contrast, said that they should give their daughter a random present from the pile every Christmas – regardless of the package’s contents.
“Oh my goodness, how absolutely lovely. What a special and thoughtful man [Ken] was… wow,” one commenter tweeted. “My suggestion would be to follow his wishes and give a present each year. It doesn’t matter what it is; it’s the thought, the gesture, the kindness that’s important here – and to keep that alive.”
“Wow, what a thoughtful man who clearly thought so much of you all as a family,” another Twitter user wrote. “[It] made me cry this morning. I too would say give her one each year and let his memory be a household name. She will grow up to know she made an impact on his full life as he continues to make one in hers.”
Perhaps as a result of that feedback, then, Owen confirmed that he would indeed keep the presents wrapped and give one per year to his daughter – with a single exception. Caroline had given in to temptation, you see, and opened one of the packages to see what was inside. And underneath the wrapping was an enchanting story book called Christmas Eve at the Mellops’ by author Tomi Ungerer.
Describing the publication, Owen explained to CBC Radio that it’s actually the English translation of a German book. And, he added, after the reveal on Twitter, the team behind the title had contacted him with a kind offer of their own: Ungerer would sign the book for both Ken’s children and Cadi.
Meanwhile, despite the lack of tags, Owen could tell what some of the parcels contained simply through touch. He told BBC News in December 2018, “We can tell there’s some books, there’s three or four soft toys [and] maybe some Duplo.” He and Caroline weren’t entirely in the dark, then, about what to give little Cadi first.
So, on Christmas Day 2018 Cadi opened her first festive gift from Ken: a little plush goat toy. And if the pictures Owen subsequently tweeted are anything to go by, the girl simply loved her gift. But there are many more surprises to come thanks to her kindly neighbor’s generosity.
And for his part, Owen said he has found the whole situation emotional. He’d also learned something surprising: neighborly bonds are quite a rare thing. Many people who messaged him revealed, you see, that they felt disconnected from the people living nearby. But this sad state of affairs is something Owen would like to see change, as he stated in his radio interview.
“For my take, what’s been quite revealing to me is the number of people who have said, quite genuinely, ‘That’s so lovely [that] you have that relationship with your neighbor,’” Owen told CBC Radio. “‘I don’t even know my neighbors.’ And I genuinely think that’s a sort of indictment on society nowadays.”
In addition, Owen said that he finds building a relationship with those that live close by to be important on a rather practical level. Even if you have good friends and family, he remarked, it’s often your neighbors who are physically nearest to you – and you never know when you may need a helping hand from them, either.
Expounding the theme, Owen continued, “These are the people who, in an emergency, will wrap you up in warm blankets… or lend you a cup of sugar, or milk for your baby if the baby’s crying in the night and won’t settle. These are the people who are literally always there.”
Furthermore, Owen had a message for the people who don’t know their neighbors. He added, “I will say to anyone who’s listening: at Christmas time, there’s no finer time to meet someone you’ve never met before and say hi and to say, ‘I live over here, here’s a small token for Christmas.’”
“I think that if you can’t do that at Christmas, you can’t do it at any other time of the year,” Owen concluded. “So people should meet their neighbors; it’s so important. Love thy neighbor.” He definitely has a point. And you never know when you may make a lasting impression on someone’s life – just like Ken Watson.