There is something very special about an English village, often the place in which a novel has been written around. Think Trollope, Gaskell, Wodehouse, Miss Read and not forgetting of course Agatha Christie. Luckily Farnborough Village has had, as far as I know, no need for a Miss Marple but residents of this lovely spot can, even in these modern times, share in village life and still enjoy a community spirit.

As in times gone by village life is often built around the church, the pub and the village post office which often also combined sweets, cigarettes, and all those other little objects like notebooks, pens, paper clips and anniversary cards. And the other thing these three places have in common is how each, in its own way, becomes a confessional for villagers as they discuss their problems, their family stories and moments of pride with of course a smattering of local village gossip. As the saying goes “All human life is there.”

In August, 2021, Farnborough said au revoir to Kerry and Theo Kokkinos who had run the post office and shop since their arrival in the village in 1980. An account of their last day and farewell ceremony is given below but this piece I hope can give some flavour as to why this professional and kindly couple have been so important to the village since their arrival

They arrived in England from Cyprus in 1954. Kerry was by profession an engineer who had studied in Germany. He travelled widely around the country in his job, often only seeing his family at weekends. It was in Bristol whilst chatting to a friend who owned a newsagents and sweet shop that an idea came to him. By moving into running a similar business life would be easier and he would get to see and enjoy more of his family. At first this proved a good choice but the drawback was in the fact it was a seven days a week job with Kerry and Theo working side by side. Still not enough time to enjoy family life.

Another plan was needed and so in 1980 the family moved to discover life away from suburban London to the village of Farnborough to run the post office and general store. For the next 32 years they lived in the flat above the shop with their family of three, a boy and two girls attending local schools, and they soon became immersed in village life. No formal training in running a post office in those days but Kerry, the engineer and former sweet shop owner, and his wife Theo shared a very important gift. They brought a sense of caring and kindness to their posts.

Stories abound in the village of them going the extra mile. From Kerry dealing with elderly customers, who could become confused and worried about modern life innovations, often making telephone calls on their behalf before handing over the telephone to them so that an agreement could be made to enable him to help them further with their post office dealings. From shutting up shop one day to finding an elderly customer outside confused as to where she lived. Kerry escorted her home to see her safely inside. We have all been in the post office and observed his patience and kindness.

There were often cases of belongings left behind on the counter, all safely returned to their rightful owners. And Theo often having to deal with an awkward situation. I once witnessed her sternly but kindly refusing to serve a small group of boys with cigarettes although they insisted they were the permissible age. As they departed slamming the shop door she remarked to me “They forget I can remember them in their prams and know how old they are.”

A story about a cheeky young lad in the shop who once took his trousers down and, unfortunately for him, was caught by a local policeman ‘mooning’ at Kerry and Theo. They were asked if they wanted to press charges. They said no. As Kerry explained, the lad would have started life with a criminal record and they didn’t want that. Where is that lad now? He’s a senior police officer himself with good reason to thank the postmaster who dealt with him so kindly.

When the couple first took over the post office they were advised not to drink in the local pubs. This advice because it could become easy to let slip some little piece of financial knowledge which might aid those who might put such information to a criminal use. Postmasters are also unable to accept gifts from the public. Many a time Kerry and Theo have had to refuse a gift kindly meant because of customers being so grateful for the service received. But there was once a time which stunned even them. One evening a lady rang the bell of the post office flat. She offered Kerry a wash bag as a thank you for his kind and patient service. He opened it to find it contained a huge amount of money; all in cash. He explained that under no circumstances could he accept such a gift. The sad background was of a family rift and the lady wanted to reward the person who had shown her kindness and understanding. The money was returned but the customer insisted on giving a small jug to Theo as a token of her thanks.

A wife of a former British ambassador was amazed to see Kerry opening envelopes with a pen. She turned up later with a gift of a very nice paper knife shaped like a sword. Kerry explained about not receiving gifts but she was not the wife of an ambassador for nothing. She charged him 2p for the ‘gift’ not only because that solved the problem but also she explained that if, by some unfortunate accident, he killed himself with the knife she wouldn’t be made to feel any guilt at being the person who had given him the means to do so, as he had actually bought the knife himself. There’s diplomacy for you.

Kerry and Theo have been amazed at the reaction to their well earned retirement. A few years ago they decided to buy a house in the village to enable them to retire in the place they had come to love. When I popped round for a chat Kerry had just popped out for a quick visit to the village shops which had turned into a marathon as so many people were stopping to talk to the postmaster who everyone considers a friend.

Gifts continue to arrive as now they are able to accept them. They spoke of the Rector delivering a gift on behalf of the church for the many years of service provided by Kerry in banking various church funds. An elderly gentleman who had been a regular customer for many years but who hadn’t been able to visit the post office in person for some time because of growing immobility, arranged for his son to take him to see Kerry in the post office . “I don’t actually want anything,” he said. “I just had to come and say goodbye and thank you.” This had Kerry in floods of tears. In fact, Theo explained, much of the last few days of their post office service had Kerry in tears. Theo herself smilingly admitting that she was the stalwart one not given to showing such emotion.

Another customer had arrived to thank Kerry on behalf of his now dead parents who he knew would be very upset if he didn’t go in to do so on their behalf. Kerry and Theo know most villagers and, as Theo remarked, not just those all around but half the cemetery as well! The couple are quick to remind us all that they have only retired so will be able not only to share more time with their children and eight grandchildren, but also to continue their friendships within the village and enjoy such village activities as the fetes and Christmas celebrations.

What more can be said except to say, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” Patsy John

On Saturday 21st August about 100 residents along with the deputy Mayor of Bromley, Cllr Tony Owens, gathered outside Farnborough Post Office to say goodbye to Kerry and Theo Kokkinos who are retiring after 41 years. They have given loyal service to our village community over that period as Postmaster and Postmistress and will be sadly missed. On behalf of residents FVS Chair Sue Ellis presented them with a commemorative picture of their Post Office. This generous couple then further rewarded the village by donating funds collected by villagers for a retirement present to the Christmas Lights fund for the benefit of us all - a true inspiration for Community Spirit at its best.

The Deputy Mayor presented them with a certificate from the Council and signed by the Mayor of Bromley, Cllr Russell L. Mellor in recognition of their long standing service to our village.

Residents welcomed the new owners, Mrs Swarna Arulanantham and Mr Arulanantham Ramasamy who attended the event.

Sue Ellis

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