CONTRIBUTION BY GERARD MULHOLLAND (RIP) 1955/1961
Gerard wrote this in 2008. Sadly he died on 5th July 2009.
THE LADS IN UPPER VI MODS 1959-1961
I know that of my year (1955-1961) at the Jailhouse both Chris Walmsley and Brian McCarthy are dead.
Brian died horribly young. He went to do French at Liverpool and after a bit he went on exchange from Liverpool to Aix en Provence for a term and never went back! When he turned up back in Blighty he took a job humping furniture around as a removal man for that company at Lytham whose name now escapes me. Townley's? Not sure. I bumped into him in mid-removal once. Arguably the brightest of our class, though very quiet about it. I liked him a lot. Civilised. He told me that he had been mortally embarrassed at having been Panker's favourite. Able to discuss all sorts of serious things and not just crap like politics. After 10 years or so he shuffled off his mortal coil. Alas. Logically it cannot be objectively true but somehow it does seem to be the case that it is often the good who die young.
Chris Walmsley was an only child so there's nobody left to recount this bit of background: His dad was Fred Walmsley of the Blackpool, later Lancashire County, Police. In the late 1940s young PC Walmsley, patrolling on Central Drive, found himself looking at a face that he stared at each morning on a 'Wanted' poster at the Police Station. He arrested its owner. The victim of PC Walmsley's acute memory and sense of observation turned out to be wanted for murder and ended up swinging on a rope round his neck in Manchester Strangeways Prison. PC Walmsley became Sgt Walmsley with the Queen's Police Medal and was so rewarded with further rapid promotion that in the early 1960s the illegal cash bar (and the equally illegal drinking at it) at the first Jailhouse-Layton Hill VI Form dances benefited from Inspector Walmsley's arrangement of benign neglect of oversight by Blackpool's finest. I hope the bloke on the rope would have appreciated it.
Chris' mum was born 'Roberts'. She was a scion of the old Blackpool family whose Oyster Bar was -when I last looked- the last remaining piece of Victorian Blackpool (apart from the Tower) still functioning on the Promenade. 'Roberts' was Chris's middle name. Chris, who missed being an MP by a couple of hundred votes in a by-election, died at an Executive meeting of the European Liberal Democrats in Brussels. His widow (second wife) got a peerage instead of him and -having remarried herself- is a leading light of Tom McNally's team on the red leather benches. Chris was a BBC radio producer; he started at BBC Radio Manchester and created a scandal discussing the behaviour of the (lady) Lord Mayor of Manchester's skirt in a high wind during the two minutes silence at the Cenotaph. Tom McNally wrote him a half page obituary in The Guardian.
And how many are there who remember Tom McNally (another of our year) threatening lines for anyone in the III, IV, Lower V and Upper V who didn't vote for him in The Historical Society elections after the Hustings in the Hall? Ah! Politics! He sure started early! One thought about Tom McNally. I read of his confession to being an alcoholic. I'm very sorry for him. It's an awful disease. I've known a few victims thereof. But it isn't how I remember him. At School and at University, Tom's problem with alcohol wasn't that he drank too much of it but that he couldn't hold it and for this reason he drank very little. In the No.4 he used to nurse a half all evening while Mick Forde and John Dev and I swilled down the pints. Chris Walmsley used to drink only halves as well. But several in an evening.
Then there was Mick Forde who lived very near the school with his widowed mum and so their home became a sort of after-school refuge. I don't remember Mrs Forde smiling. Very hospitable, very practical and very friendly but clearly devastated to have found herself widowed and alone. I admired her determination and perseverance. Mick was very nearly the victim of a horrible incident on one occasion when he came, with several of the others, to our house in St Annes. We had a Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Beauty. We'd had her since she was born and she was about 5 at the time of the incident. As my mother went (with Beauty, as usual, leading the way) to open the door, the dog suddenly leaped and lunged at Mick very clearly heading for his throat. He, not surprisingly, took a step back, she lost her trajectory and before she could recover for another go, my mother had her by the collar. I know it gave Mick a nasty fright though we all tried to brush it off. It taught me that there really is no dog of those categories generally considered dangerous that you can 100% trust. Beauty lived to be 10 and in all her life that was the only time she ever went for someone. We never understood why she did that but we did know that she was tenacious - once she'd made up her mind about something, that was it. She once ate half a packet of my dad's cigarettes which had fallen on the floor and could not be prised from her mouth! I often think of Mick and his lucky escape whenever I read of dangerous dog incidents. I last heard of him running a pub somewhere.
John Devlin was also in our year. He was the one with the dodgy eye (as the result of an air rifle accident when he was 14) who once walked from Talbot Square to Fleetwood with a placard round his neck saying 'Ban The Bomb'. John was ever so proud of being still an underage drinker when he appeared on the Granada TV News as a regular at the temporarily smallest pub in Britain. His dad's local, The Dog and Partridge in Lytham Road (almost at the corner of Waterloo Road), was being totally rebuilt. The law required that somehow the pub had to stay open throughout the rebuilding in order to preserve the licence. After a last night party of which I am sure there will be those who still speak, the much loved -indeed hallowed- old place was cruelly demolished leaving one tiny corner of the snug bar standing. Formerly used for carry-outs, it was now (for nearly six whole months) the entire pub It could hold three people if they were thin and didn't breathe. Otherwise the pavement was the pub. John, with all the confidence of 16 years old going on 40, waxed eloquent to camera about the old place and about the good times that had been had in it, of atmosphere breathing out of every rest and bench and of memorable parties long ago. Classic. He married Cassie (surname forgotten, I'm shocked to realise), also Layton Hill, and they had a son called Liam for whom John bought a Little Red Book of the Thoughts of Chairman Mao Tse Tung as a christening (well, naming) present. After University, John became an arms salesman, vacillating between BAE at Blackburn and Marconi down in (I think) Portsmouth. He switched between them a couple of times and then suddenly in the early 1980s -at the time of the Marconi torpedo affair when all sorts of people kept turning up dead in unusual circumstances- he and his family disappeared off the scene. Neither I, nor anyone else with whom I have been in touch, have heard peep nor whistle of them since and fear the worst. Any news would be appreciated.
Also I haven't heard anything of Jim Simpson who spent a couple of years trying out being a Carmelite monk at Faversham in Kent and faded out of sight on leaving. (I visited him at Faversham once and made the acquaintance of a girl visitor with the hysterically and unbelievably appropriate first name of Mercedes). Ah! the joys of youth!
Nor have I heard any more of our Maltese boarder Mike Fenech.
And that's it. We eight were our entire Upper VI Mods.
UPPER VI SCIENCE
John Wilkie's dad was a surgeon from Thornton whose right arm got blown away in a Field Hospital on the Normandy battlefield. He spent the rest of his professional life utterly frustrated as a Ministry of Pensions Medical Assessor in the Norbreck Hydro – one of those thousands of hotels, mansions, schools and entire moorland villages requisitioned by the Government in 1939 and not returned till DECADES after the war – and in some cases, never. John followed his dad into studying Medicine at The London Hospital in Whitechapel (Jack The Ripper's local) and I last heard of him in practise somewhere in the West country in the 1980s. Of all our VI Form John, it seemed to me, had the seriously thought-out highest principles; It was somewhere around the IV or Lower V that he rejected the buffoonery and hypocrisy of the Catholicism practised by the Christian Brothers and developed a personal -and far more responsible- ethic instead. Robustly honest he considered deeply the ethical implications of using the results of Nazi Concentration Camp medical experiments. I remember having several conversations with him about that at my digs in London. On a lighter note he invited me to join in a London medical students' overnight 53 mile walk from Chelsea Barracks ( the central London SAS I later discovered) to Brighton with the incentive of an entire tanker of Guinness waiting for those who made it. Of COURSE we made it. I managed three pints and fell asleep! I'd love to meet up with him again if he's still around.
One of the Peter Ellwoods was in Upper VI Science (last heard of designing motorway toll systems in Spain in the late 1960s - was he the Peter Ellwood who'd kept the press cuttings of the radio Luxembourg incident? I certainly remember the 'incident' well. I think he probably is that Peter Ellwood : are you still fell-walking No. 1?) as was Vinnie Naylor of whose illness I am very sorry to hear and Chris Pownall of whom I occasionally get news and is living in the Fylde somewhere. Any news of Philip Duffy? Or of Mick Foster who ditched the RCs when he was in the VI Form and was last seen clashing the cymbals in the Sally Ann?
'O' LEVEL DEPARTURES
Of those who left us in 1959 after 'O' Levels:
Tony Milnes went to Ushaw, gave it up, became a Probation Officer, fathered two sons (one of whom lives not far me in the suburbs of Paris) and now lives in tranquil retirement near Strathspey. And he doesn't drink whisky! It really isn't fair! Tony Ashcroft went to Upholland, was one of the first Ordinands in the Wigwam at Liverpool (40 years ago this year) and is now in retirement and chaplain to the Little Sisters of the Poor Rest Home in Preston where he succeeded another Jailhouse Old Boy, Francis Worden, who died in 2000. David Elder (I think he was Upholland as well) is a Parish Priest somewhere in the Fylde. Barry Ratner (in whose Ford Prefect he and I listened to John F Kennedy's Inaugural Address live on AFN -the American Forces Network- while driving down the central promenade just after 5.15 pm on 20 January 1961) became a Solicitor at Ingham, Clegg and Crowther's then set up on his own. I hear he is now retired. His brother Louis lives near Oxford in the former vicarage of the Church where CS Lewis is buried. Raymond Chadwick (Chadweeeek) and Paul Robinson both went off to join the Navy and I never saw nor heard of either of them again either. Nor of Raymond's brother Derek. Paul's dad was an interesting bloke. He was a Lieutenant Commander in charge of a motor torpedo boat in WW2. Same, as it turned out, as JF Kennedy. And another JFK similarity - the pater was politically deeply incorrect. Kennedy père, as pre-war US Ambassador in London, tried to persuade Franklin D Roosevelt to back Germany instead of Britain. Pre-war Robinson RN was a Lancashire organiser of OzMoz's British Union of Fascists but, as he told me, when war came it was OzMoz himself who said that patriotism took precedence over everything. And most of the UK Adolf Hitler Fan Club joined up and did their stuff as part of the greatest generation. Now not many people know that. Despite Paul and I being both concerned by and in politics and being about as far apart in that milieu as it was possible to be, we enjoyed arguing about that and discussing a thousand other things. Often of a Saturday morning over a scotch in the lounge of the St Annes Hotel in St Annes Square. Does anyone know what became of Peter Goldthorpe, one of our two class protestants? I'm ashamed to say that -although I can picture him- I can't remember the other one's name.
I'm really sad about Joe Ennis' recent demise. I was an altar boy with him at Our Lady Star of the Sea in St Annes. When he left that scene on having his accident I succeeded him as MC. I'm grievously sorry to have missed him. What a hilarious Adieu he has left us on your website! I laughed myself sick reading about Louise Scholes. Joe, an atheist's blessing on your stalwart, brave and confident soul!
I also have good reason to remember sporty PJ McCarthy. As I mentioned elsewhere, I used to do cross-country. I was quite good at it, winning quite often till someone told me I was doing it all wrong and instead of hareing off out of sight at the beginning I should 'pace' myself and put in a big spurt at the end. I never came in anywhere near the front after that. Anyway on one occasion I had just come in the gate at the bottom of the field when I heard a shout clearly directed at me. So I stopped. THWAAANNNG! A javelin landed in my right pump (remember pumps? - sports shoes of yesteryear) and a horrified PJ McCarthy came over, clearly shaken. I extracted the javelin and looked at the hole. No blood. I took off the pump. Still no blood. Ditto sock. Ditto. The javelin had landed between my big toe and it's neighbour. I vaguely remember in the ensuing hoo-haa that PJ's prime emotion was that this could have ruined his career. I was not impressed. A few years later, when I was President of Debates at the University of London Union (ULU) I visited Manchester University Students Union for a debating societies conference dominated by one Bob Marshall-Andrews from Bristol (who has turned out to be one of the few Labour MPs not to be seduced by Bliarite trash). It was Friday, 16 October 1964 and our proceedings were interrupted all day with news - that in Moscow Kruschev had been overthrown and replaced by somebody called Brezhnev, that China had exploded its first atom bomb and finally -at about 3 in the afternoon- that Labour had finally gone over the magic number of seats in the counting of the previous day's General Election, Harold Wilson had gone to the Palace, the Tories were out after '13 wasted years' and paradise was just around the corner .....Great was my amusement to find exhibited on a Union notice board a copy of a letter sent just two and a half years previously by the then Union Social Secretary, one PJ McCarthy. The letter had been sent to Brian Epstein and turned down his offer of a group called The Beatles for some derisory sum on the grounds that 'Manchester University Students Union only employs established groups'. How I laughed. I gather he landed up back in Blackpool teaching but I've heard no more and as he's nowhere to be seen in these contributions I suppose he too must have gone to the great javelin training school in the sky.
Does anyone remember McGinty? Or McNulty? Or Dave Mason (who I did run into in London in the late 1960s)? I remain in touch with David Rose to whom I actually owe my sanity and my life. He picked up the pieces when I was widowed in 1981. He did Engineering at Manchester, was i.c. TI silencers at their Squires Gate depot until 1979 when he gave it all up to be a poet and musician which he still is and a very good one too. His memories of the Jailhouse are mostly unprintable and he has no desire to even try to set them down.
I am not surprised at what I read about the Brothers but -judging by some of these contributions- it wasn't only them, was it? I must say at this point that never once did I experience any improper behaviour to me nor did I hear of any such behaviour to to anyone else in all the time I was there. I have heard such observations since leaving. I do not in the slightest doubt others' reports. I am just heartily glad that I was never a victim myself. I am also heartily grateful that Paddy O'Brien seemed to take a shine to me. He bawled at me but never raised a finger to me. Strapped a few times but in that madhouse that was normal. I found him to be a wonderful history teacher and I recall that Tom McNally and Chris Walmsley got on well with him as well. Stan Liddane, I now realise, must also have been an unexpectedly good teacher. I'm surprised to find myself writing that but I can still remember all that maths he stuffed into us so he must've been good. Another one strap-happy, though. And I really liked Josh O'Leary. Brilliant teacher. I have loved Latin and all languages all my life because of him. I had no idea he was so violent to others. Strapping as a routine, of course. Shit, it hurt. But there seemed to be no malice in his actions. "We take a vow of Poverty. D'you know what that means? Through in the house, if I'm in the lounge reading the paper and the Bro Superior comes in and asks for it, I have to give it to him because I own nothing. Yet I can go down to London and visit the most expensive tailors in Savile Row and order up a dozen suits of the finest cloth and say "Charge it up to St Joseph's College". Now THAT's poverty!". He seemed such a wonderful man. And yet, I now learn from other contributions, another sadistic maniac. Joe Snow was an old friend of mine. I was at St Edward's Primary School ('Runneymede') in Liverpool from 1950-1954 and then in II alpha for a year. Bro Dowling was there then and was known as 'the Mekon' (Dan Dare, anyone?). I remember having a conversation with him in 1951 when I was 8 and I was expressing regret at not getting down to London to see The Festival of Britain. He consoled me "Well, I can't go either and I'll never have another chance. You've got a chance to go the next one. You'll only be 108!" When he arrived in Blackpool we struck up our conversational acquaintance again.
Not many mentions of Gandy in these contributions. Bro. Dolan, the last Holy Joe's Headmaster who didn't thoroughly disgrace himself. Clearly named for Mahatma Gandhi to whom he bore a more than passing facial resemblance. But his height was about twice the little Mahatma's. I had always found him quite forbidding but I discovered that he had a more sensible side. In Autumn 1956, while the Hungarians were trying to shake off their Soviet allies and the British, French and Israeli Armies were invading Egypt, Chris Walmsley had the idea of a Union for the boys (the SSU - Students Scholastic Union, what a terrible name) and he and I wrote a magazine to publicise it and Chadweeeek's widowed mother organised a gelatine printing set up for us to run off copies; it created a brief sensation. Membership -and the magazine- were free and it seemed like the entire IV and III years joined. We went round collecting autographs of support from the lay masters and a surprising number obliged. Our next edition bore the Headline 'MASTERS SIGN!' and great repercussions were expected. I ran into a frowning Gandy on the stairs in the main building and decided to broach the subject before he did. I asked him to recommend a patron saint for the SSU! He visibly melted and said he'd let me know. The Christmas holidays arrived. Events moved on and the SSU returned to the realm of imagination from which it had briefly emerged. Great times.
How about Bro Sreenan's sex lesson? In Lower V alpha (with that tempting proximity of the Collegiate fence) he suddenly asked us if we sometimes wondered about things "getting stiff" when riding a bike? We were not to worry. It was normal. End of our entire sex instruction at St Joseph's! And t’other side of that fence was, of course, the Collegiate playing fields. Funny how the bit near us was rarely used .....I do remember however a crowd of Collegiate girls admiring Billy Wright, our in-house Elvis Presley lookalike, as he insouciantly preened his quiff.
ST EDWARD'S COLLEGE, LIVERPOOL
Anyone remember Bro Hooper? A rare Englishman in that Sinn Féin cell. He was the Head at St Edward's when I was there. That redheaded screaming psycho Bro Coffey was there as well. One St Edward's story for you. The Music master was a Mr Boraston. All the Department Heads had their own office on the same corridor as the Headmaster. They all had their names on a plate on their door. Except Mr Boraston. All he had on his door was a plate that said 'PUSH'. So guess what his nickname was.
LAY STAFF AT THE JAILHOUSE
Solly Coombes I detested. He kicked me once while we were waiting for the start of a cross-country. I wouldn't stand for that and got my dad to go and shout at Bung. Did the trick. The bastard never came near me again. Slobbering whingeing Pank was my bête noir. For reasons that always escaped me he hated me and made a point of sneering at me and belittling me in every single class. I failed French 'O' Level because of him. Buggered off to a seminary for a term and re-sat and got 75%. How he hated that when I came back! When I heard he'd died, I made a trip back to Blackpool for the sole purpose of finding his grave in Leyton Cemetery and dancing and pissing on it which I did. Boy I still feel good about that all these years later!!!!! Anyone remember Horace? He was a civilised man. Opened my eyes to proper journalism. In particular 'The Spectator'. Lifelong anti-Tory that I am, I still love that magazine. Dicko Howe's commando war stories were wonderful and, at times, mesmerising. Though he could be strap-happy at times as well. Bob Freeborough had been at St Edward's in Liverpool with my brothers and was a family friend so that was a bit difficult. Glad he never taught me, good though he obviously was. Les Charles was a wonderful teacher. Whatever happened to the strange Mr Bolger, the art master who hid in a hut with a painting he never finished? Or was he St Edward's and the Jailhouse man hiding in a hut with a painting he'd never finished either was someone else? Strange but I'm not sure. And Ma Coakley the dinner supremo? 1956 was the year of Mr Scholes. He of the wee bottle in the desk. Does anyone know why he was called Louise? I always wondered .... Every time he entered the classroom someone -often Joe Stott- would start singing 'All the little trees seem to whisper 'Louise'. Maybe that's what the violinist played (see Joe Ennis' contribution).
I also remember our Pilgrimages to Lourdes in 1958 and 1961. In 1958 in London, awaiting our departure for France, John Wilkie and I took off from the Assembly Point in a Convent School near Westminster Cathedral and in one hour found Buckingham Palace, the Mall, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Downing Street, Scotland Yard, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Astounding. London suddenly didn't seem that big. In Lourdes, whenever we got out of sight of the Brothers who were supposedly supervising us, we were exploring the excitement of what we fondly imagined was legal drinking at 14. I now know that even in France it's not legal till 16 (sex is 18 - right t'other way round from UK) so when we drank our way round Lourdes again in 1961 we were 17 and legal! In our 1958 Hotel we taught one unfortunate French waitress some grossly inappropriate phrases to use to any English speaking Bishop she ended up serving .... We occasionally wondered what had happened to her. April 1958 France was in political chaos right at the end of the Fourth Republic - I have since read that the then President, René Coty, said that the worst thing about the job had been constantly being woken up in the middle of the night to receive the Prime Ministers' resignation. I remember they were on what turned out to be the last of that quick fire succession of Prime Ministers before De Gaulle, a bloke called Pflimlin ('little plum'). The French press had more serious things to occupy it though. One headline -about the private lives of our own dear Royals- screamed 'Elisabeth et Tony! Margaret et Philippe!'. I realise now that they were probably right .....Our 1961 pilgrimage started on a very different note. All three London evening papers had the same headline. 'MAN IN SPACE'. It was Yuri Gargarin's day.
The 'Assembly Point near Westminster Cathedral' to which I refer above and which a few of you will remember, was a large hall in a well hidden Convent school half way between the Cathedral and Victoria Station from which our boat train left (the Channel tunnel was the stuff of science fiction then). I was to revisit that hall several times many years later with a tremendous sense of recherche du temps perdu as, during my last years as an RC, I was a member of the Westminster Pastoral Council which met in that hall with Cardinal Heenan in the chair. He was another really civilised character, by the way. Not a stuff-shirt at all. Always good for a chat over tea and a cake about whatever. I once mentioned once the odd juxtaposition in Canterbury Cathedral of the last Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury's tomb (Reginald Pole) straight across the aisle from the tomb of the only Cardinal ever to turn Protestant - a French Huguenot called Odet de Coligny. He said I was to remind him of that at our next meeting. I accordingly did so and -with a gesture reminiscent of Tommy Cooper or Ken Dodd- he fished out of his pocket a small box. I opened it and found myself staring at Cardinal Pole's ring which someone had bequeathed to Heenan! Amazing. I don't know why I found that surprising but I did. I wonder what became of the ring ... Huge light pink stone ...
Anybody have news of the girls? What happened to Anne Newns whose dad was the Chief Fire Officer in St Annes? And Deidre ('DK') Cannon from St John Vianney's? And Marie Ogden likewise? And Carol Holcroft? And Christine Caldwell from Collegiate?
I did Law at UCL (Chris Walmsley in the same faculty and Tom McNally over in Pol-Econ), farted around Gray's Inn a lot but gave up the law as being fundamentally dishonest. Yes, I know. But I just couldn't handle the thought of spending my life in a system where 'justice' goes to the side with the best advocate. After a speech I made in Gray's Inn Hall at a debate one evening the Solicitor General of England and Wales congratulated me and invited me to join his Chambers. That made me reflect deeply. I had just won a debate by employing several devious little debating tricks to make people think that they had no choice on that occasion but to support a point of view with which in other circumstances they would not normally dream of being associated. I decided that I didn't want to find myself putting such skills to work to deprive someone of property or liberty (or life) simply because they didn't have the best lawyer or to save somebody simply because they did. I can't think of a better system but I didn't want anything to do with that. So instead I spent 30 years travelling all over the world on other peoples' holidays. I've had a ball. I dabbled a bit in politics myself and, in representing the Liberal interest in Blackpool North in the General Election of October 1974, I learned a few things about Blackpool that I hadn't known before. I began to feel that I was in Prohibition-era Chicago. I got to visit St Joe's one last time to lobby several of the Brothers for their vote. All they were interested in was abortion which, in the circumstances, as I reflected on my way back down the Drive, was objectively not at all surprising but subjectively a bit weird to say the least! I had had to point out to them -as I often did to others- that although the Abortion Act had been introduced by the then Liberal MP David Steel ('the modern Herod' somebody wrote to me) the main opposition to abortion was organised by SPUC (the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child) whose President was another Liberal Parliamentarian, Viscount Barrington and one of its loudest opponents in the House of Commons was another Liberal MP, Cyril Smith. The issue was a personal one for each MP and candidate but not a party political one. A lot of our mischievous opponents spent a lot of time deliberately confusing that. I stopped the conversation -as usual- by saying that I agreed with St Thomas Aquinas' 13th century analysis of the situation. Nobody ever admitted not having a clue what Aquinas had written and always assumed that it must be 100% anti. In fact, like David Steel, the Doctor of the Church St Thomas Aquinas thought that the abortion of an embryo was perfectly legitimate but that the abortion of a foetus was murder. The problem, then as now, was telling when the one had become the other ... See what I mean about debating tricks? I also finally got to visit Layton Hill where the VI Form gave me a good -and well informed- grilling about the contemporary Liberal Manifesto. The other candidates didn't waste their time on non-voting schoolgirls but I reckoned that as I wasn't going to do better than third place and as my result would totally depend on the national trend, I might as well do my bit to influence future voters. At the end one girl came up to me and said 'Excuse me, I think your my godfather'! And indeed it was so. My sister and I had stood in at the baptism of a holidaymaker's unexpectedly early arrival and voilà! I'm afraid my reply began "Well I'm glad you put 'god' in front of it!"
I got to know the local Tory Agent very well the following year when he was the Blackpool organiser for the 'Britain In Europe' campaign for a 'Yes' vote in the Referendum of June that year. A highly professional, affable and extremely capable man. He and the Blackpool North MP I had vainly sought to replace were the only two Blackpool Conservatives I met whom I liked and I quickly discovered that this was their view as well! About the other Blackpool Conservatives, that is. They liked each other but were revolted by the local party they served. I had lunch with Norman Miscampbell (the MP) a few times in London and roared out loud disturbing the entire restaurant as he regaled me with tales of their criminality and boorishness. I shared Referendum campaign platforms with both Miscampbell and Peter Blaker, the Blackpool South MP. Blaker was later a Foreign Office Minister under Thatcher - his reward for having been a part of the MI5/6 clique that used outrageous innuendo and blackmail to replace Ted Heath with Thatcher as Tory Leader and tried so hard to get rid of Wilson and then Callaghan by the same methods so as to install Thatcher in Downing Street earlier than they did. I didn't like Blaker from the start. The only thing about him with which I sympathised was the look of distaste with which he showed what he thought of the Blackpool Conservatives but he would never, ever be caught expressing such a view. He and Miscampbell were on polite but distant terms.
I discovered in that political rôle that Blackpool's politics were quite different from the rest of the country. In the context of what I am about to write, please remember that I am referring to the state of play over 30 years ago in the mid 1970s. My only knowledge of modern Blackpool politics is two names I recognise among the Lib Dem Councillors both of whom -30 years ago when they were young- I considered to be the salt of the earth. I have absolutely no knowledge nor reason to suppose that they have changed. So, hopefully, none of what follows is still true.
However, it seemed to me then that at least two of the three local parties didn't really behave like local branches of their national parties but instead conducted themselves as branches of one local party -I called it 'The Blackpool Nationalist Party' (yes, 'BNP' : no relation!)- and that it was really only for their mutual convenience that each was affiliated to a different national party. Even that wouldn't have been so awful but for the self-evident motivation behind that 'BNP' set-up. Public Good? Bollocks! The crumbling state of the town where not a penny had been spent on infrastructure since before the war testified to the ludicrousness of that idea. It was the personal enrichment of the leading lights of the two branches that was their only -and I mean only- objective. I got one leading local freemason very pissed several times and he regaled me with lots of his Masonic 'secrets' which included the astounding news that they were all secretly spiritually related to the buggers who'd built Solomon's Temple. It wasn't that he believed that that bothered me. It was that he thought it mattered! He also explained to me how Blackpool had more Masonic Lodges per head of population than anywhere else on earth outside of California and that the municipal government of Blackpool was conducted in certain of those Lodges. The local Rotaries were used as 'candidate' organisations to which to invite people in whom the Masons might be interested. Anyway, the then Tory Leader of the Council -a butcher by trade- gave himself the contract to supply all the meat, cheese, eggs etc. used in every municipal catering establishment and the Liberal Leader had the contract to supply all the soft drinks ditto and thanks to the Masonic ring, these both included an awful lot of outlets that the public thought were private and completely independent. Hard though it must now be to believe, the Liberals actually ran Blackpool for a year while we were at St Joe's (and they nearly won Blackpool North in a 1962 By-election) but their decline was rapid and by 1975 the Liberal ex-Leader of the Council, shunted out of the limelight, had to make do with the contract to run the model railway. The then Tory Housing Chairman was the person designated to collect the bribes for planning permissions and for night club (and some other liquor) licences which in some cases were paid in the form of suitcases stuffed full of used notes handed over out at low tide at Squires Gate under the watchful protecting eye of the constabulary parked at the end of the promenade. All in accordance with an extended perversion of Masonic tradition of the invention of which Lord of the Flies William Golding would have been proud! It was eventually I who paid a wee visit to Scotland Yard to discuss all this (and especially the police involvement) and this initiated the train of events which led to a lot of changes including the Lancashire Chief Constable's sacking. He had been promoted to that job from being Chief of the old Blackpool force when the Tory Council Leader got himself made Leader AND Chair of the County Council.
If any of you ever noticed and wondered why every 10 years or so the Town Clerk of Blackpool committed suicide, now you know. It was as though it was a secret part of their work contract that they discovered too late. When the corruption threatened to be exposed - they took the blame for everything but their families were well looked after! Three of them. Poor bastards.
In fairness, I must say that, hard though I looked, I never nailed our Labour opponents into any of this corruption. Several leading Liberals of the time assured me that the Labour luminaries were also well wrapped up in it but looking back, perhaps I shouldn't have been so ready to believe that ....... Perhaps it was only the two of the local parties that were out of sync with the rest of the country. I don't know ....... Anyway, it was all a long time ago. So long ago, in fact, that it was back in the days when both the Labour and Liberal Parties were still on the Left of politics......
I have, incidentally, discovered to my disgust that the European Parliament in Strasbourg has something in common with those Blackpool Tories I mentioned above - used notes. In the Parliament's case, expenses are paid in brown envelopes, though, rather than in suitcases full of them.
WHAT HAVE I BEEN UP TO?
I have spent thirty years travelling all over the world by land, sea and air and have never lost my childish enthusiasm and delight in resolving silly questions I'd been asking myself since jailhouse days. I have resolved for myself such things as what an altimeter does when the 'plane drops below sea level (in Death Valley, California - it announces that you are at 99,999 feet!) or in which hemisphere the GPS navigational fix says you are when you're slap on the Equator (it reads all the zeros followed by the 'N' or the 'S' of the hemisphere you've just left). I discovered for myself that Genghis Khan's homeland in northeast Mongolia looks just like Scottish glens without the lochs, that the most refreshing water on earth comes from the deep wells beneath the Arabian desert and that when an Icelandic geyser blows tons of water into a 100+ foot high column, the pool it normally occupies is completely empty and looks like a volcanic crater leading down to the bowels of hell.
I've met a lot of interesting people, some nice and some not so nice. I have several times taken Jewish concentration camp victims (numbers tattooed on the arm, all that) back to the scenes of their nightmares and seen the triumph explode in their faces as they looked around and finally realised that they had really won. I once took an ex-SS concentration camp interpreter back to Dachau as well and that was a very different story. After the war he'd escaped to Australia via Sweden and spent his working life as an Australian Immigration Officer! I've had a girlfriend who was a Major in the Israeli Army and another (not at the same time, I hasten to add) who was an ex-member of the Hitler Youth. The former invaded Egypt and got to the Suez Canal in 1973 and the latter travelled all over the occupied Balkans in the summer of 1943 (when I was born) on one of those trains with anti-aircraft guns at each end, in a Concert party to entertain the German troops. I guess I grew up to be her toy boy. In 1938, aged 9, she was taken by her dad to see Hitler arrive in Vienna at the Anschluss. She's now 79, hale, hearty and horse riding and we chat twice a year - at Christmas and on her birthday. A couple of years back, discussing NuLabour, she said ''The last time I heard a government constantly telling me that I'd misunderstood and that in fact everything was going from better to best, it was Dr Josef Goebbels who did the telling!''
I have been married five times, divorced three times and widowed once - an experience I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Henry VIII only overtook me in wives per year of age when he married his fifth at 48, the age when I had my first open heart surgery to repair one of my heart valves. I finally became a dad shortly after I married a fifth time when I was 50. It is with some surprise as well as pleasure that I remark that this time my marriage has lasted for 15 whole years and that it really looks like staying the course.
I attended -front row at the barriers in St Peter's Square- the last ever Papal Coronation (Paul VI in 1963) and, although it was because of a childhood pure accident of being in the right place at the right time, I am now one of the (for the time being) dwindling minority who have actually seen a real King of England with their own eyes - and I saw King George VI three times. For a short time -during the Lib-Lab Pact- I had access to the corridors of power in Westminster and Whitehall and have seen what's underneath the House of Commons Chamber - the Library. I have had tea in the House of Lords ('a nice lady with a trolley bearing three huge samovars asks you 'India, China or Ceylon, sir') and I have had a few beers in a nifty little bar where there's a really comfy red leather armchair with an extended seat to accommodate gouty right legs. I've no idea what left-legged gouty lords do. Drink somewhere else, I suppose.
I have always enjoyed conversation and particularly hearing personal witness of events long ago. My grandmother used to tell me about the psychedelic sunsets of her 1880s childhood (how I thought of her when I got to sail past the re-growing Krakatoa volcano island whose explosion in 1883 had been the cause) and about how when she couldn't get to sleep they would tell her to close her eyes and keep them shut otherwise ''Boney would come and get her''. Boney? That was Bonaparte! He'd only been dead then about as long as Hitler has been now. Wow. She also regaled me with stories of the world when the only means of transport were powered by sail or steam, horse or human feet. For the last seven years of her life she flatly refused to believe that the space age had dawned. ''If God had meant us to ....'' My dad told me about his childhood in pre-WW1 Crosby where they would cover the street with straw outside the homes of the sick who were rich to deaden the sound of the carriages and wagons and the horses' hooves. Back in 1962 I spent an evening in a pub in London talking to a Chelsea Pensioner veteran of the Boer War and in about 1970 I spent a happy prolonged lunchtime in a pub in Kent hearing all about Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee service in 1897 from an old geyser who'd been a choirboy at it and who then regaled me with his memories of watching the Battle of Britain going on above him while he toiled on the farm where he worked. I recall one vivid phrase of his, describing a journey he made across Kent to Maidstone: ''There wasn't any place in the County you could stand without seeing a wrecked aeroplane''. Wow. Also back in the early 1960s an ex-Desert Rat (who was drinking himself to death in the Vaults of the St Annes Hotel aforementioned) recounted his nightmares remembering a jeep-full of Italian soldiers that he and his mates had buried up to their necks in the sand and left ... And when I once asked an Australian with a gammy leg (with whom I was travelling round China) he told me how it had happened on a forced march through the jungle that the Japanese had made him do after capture to a POW camp in the New Hebrides. He'd got his own back, though. On arrival at the camp he found an officer-less group of Ghurkhas who, seeing the Crown on his shoulder which said that he was a King's Officer asked him if he had any orders for them. ''Yes'' he said. ''Kill the Japs''. So they did and he got them to carry him back towards the other end of the island where liberation would shortly be coming! It was hilarious the way he told it but it's really boggling to realise that he was recounting his youth. Seventeen years ago -when I had thought to have long before met my last WW1 survivor- I spent a fascinating morning talking with a Dough Boy - an American First World War veteran of Pershing's Army in the trenches. Six years ago I sat my then 9 year old son down to talk with my neighbour's then 96 year old dad who, at my request, told him all about watching Bleriot win an air race flying in circles round the Bois de Vincennes (the park in the east of Paris) in 1909.
In 1989 I passed several weeks in the company of a Polish American glazier who had created his own business and finally sold it for a million dollars in the days when a million was still a fortune. After two weeks in China he wanted to know why they didn't ''eat proper food'' and after three weeks in China told me that he hadn't realised that he was going to be visiting China at all as he'd only asked to travel home to Poland on the trans-Siberian railway. And this man had made a million with his bare hands! Mind-blowing.
But the most awesome conversation I ever had was on another occasion when I spent four days on the trans-Siberian from Irkutsk to Moscow in the company of a man whom I already knew (from my briefing) to be a retired White House photographer who had worked for all the US Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. He told me a fund of amazing stories, some funny and some shocking. I already knew from other sources that Lyndon Baines Johnson had been the crudest bastard ever to occupy the White House. One of the few politicians to resist his pressure was Harold Wilson who steadfastly refused to send British troops to die in America's illegal, unjust and unwinnable war of aggression in Vietnam. The call-up would have hit all of us of our generation. May the name of Harold Wilson remain for ever blessed in the annals of British history! And would that Tony Bliar had had the same resolve.
I once helped Lady Attlee pull Clem Attlee up a staircase he was having difficulty mounting. I once shared a joke with Ted Heath with whom I found myself riding up and down in a lift several times in one evening. An Irish Taoiseach -Garret Fitzgerald- once telephoned me at home to verify a letter of mine that had been published that morning in The Irish Times. On another occasion I had a wonderful two hour conversation with Sean Macbride, founder of 'Amnesty' and of 'Justice', former Irish Foreign Minister, the only person ever to be awarded both the Lenin and Nobel Prizes for Peace, who told me how in his earlier manifestation as Chief of Staff of the IRA he had once spent half the night recounting the history of Ireland to Joe Stalin in order to explain why they needed money and weapons from the USSR only to be rebuffed by one wonderful Stalin question: ''Tell me, how many of these Catholic Bishops have you hanged?'' The most frightening conversation I ever had was in the 1970s over aperitifs with a Californian who owned his own bank and who seriously assured me that because the Bible says that the world won't end until it has been translated into every language on earth and because there are hundreds of languages spoken in the jungles of the Amazon and of Papua New Guinea, therefore it is perfectly safe to have a nuclear war. That was my first inkling of the Rise of the fundamentalist religious nutters in the American Right.
I have eaten cat, dog and monkey in Sichuan in central China, the best noodles on earth in an (alas now drowned in that awful tsunami) seaside village on the Indonesian Indian Ocean island of Nias, Beluga Caviar on the trans-Siberian express, reindeer steaks in both Norway and Sweden (really delicious) and a steak as big as a Sunday joint at Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, Texas - just opposite some bank that was once robbed by Bonnie and Clyde. I have drunk the two best (and entirely well named) cocktails in the world - the Filipino 'Whang Whang' (the little mule hidden in the first of which waits till you've just started the second to back-kick the insides of your brains) and the 'Suffering Bastard' (the most heavenly taste I ever experienced which takes two full glasses to lower you down to a state of complete submission to whatever's going on) served at Gladstone's Restaurant on the beach at Malibu and I have mixed (non-alcoholic) cocktails for Billy Graham in Norwich while talking with him about his late 1940s education in public speaking at Speaker's Corner, Marble Arch.
One of my neighbours was the lady who invented the Daleks, two others separately reached No 1 in the Top 20 (what used to be called The Hit Parade) and I have passed delightful evenings in flats where the unexpected entertainment was musician neighbours playing for themselves - Ravi Shankar on one occasion and Yehudi Menuhin on another. I used to attend Parish Council meetings in the parlour of the house where Gerard Manley Hopkins spent most of his priesthood and I once had the run of Disraeli's old home Hughenden Manor in Berkshire where, curiously, a corridor was then occupied by the only partly built world's first (mechanical) computer (called an Analytical Engine) built by one Charles Babbage in the 19th century.
A TUNNEL TO THE CONVENT?
I note that in his contribution, Joe Ennis mentioned the scurrilous rumour that Chad Valley was the start of a tunnel to Layton Hill. I was tickled to find that an old Layton Hill girl called Juliette W Gregson who writes in various weird magazines about ghostly goings-on in Blackpool reckons that there are tunnels under the old Convent building some of which ''lead off to a church nearby''. What was she doing with the caretaker in secret tunnels underneath the Convent anyway? Do the ghostly tunnels from Jailhouse and Convent meet up after all? Would Louise Scholes have been impressed? I think we should be told! What a hoot!
And now I live in a tranquil southern suburb of Paris run by one of Europe's last Communist Mayors and Municipal Councils and in a Department (County) run by one of Europe's last Communist County Councils. We have the most luxurious municipal cultural, social and sporting facilities imaginable and -in the best Communist tradition- its all paid for by the property and business taxes squeezed out of France's enormous National Wholesale Market (named for the neighbouring town of Rungis) a little over half of which is located within our municipal boundaries. Hilarious. Fab. Brill. I didn't have time to arrange to be the richest man in the cemetery because I've been too busy having a ball and non, je ne regrette rien.
That's all I can think of for now. If anyone found all this interesting, you're welcome. If not, well you didn't have to read it all anyway!
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