Interesting first post……..when will the saga continue?
Interesting first post……..when will the saga continue?
On World Book Day I thought I would post something that looks back to the start of my attempt to be writer – 30 years ago – and other things happening in the late 1980s.
With bold ambition, I began writing A History of the Conservative Party on September 30 1985. As a member of the Labour Party, it seemed natural to plunge into literature with a critical history of the Conservatives, despite being aged only 20, and lacking any experience of writing for publication. I drew inspiration from Antonio Gramsci and Aneurin Bevan, two great Socialist politicians. Gramsci was imprisoned by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship in Italy. After his arrest, Gramsci wrote to Tatiana, sister of his wife, Julia Schucht: “I am obsessed by the idea that I ought to do something for ever. I want, following a fixed plan, to devote myself intensively and systematically to some subject that will absorb me and give a focus to my inner life”. This led to Gramsci writing the Prison Notebooks (between 1929 and 1935), which rank among the most profound political writings. Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, by which a ruling class asserts and reinforces its position, along with his advocacy of ways that the working class can counter this, have been a massive influence on Socialist thinking and action.
Bevan’s Why Not Trust the Tories? was published in 1944, when victory for Britain, and her allies, in the Second World War was in sight. He drew parallels between the contemporary situation and the position after the First World War, when a Conservative and Liberal coalition government proceeded to condemn the hopes of a nation to the scrapheap. Writing about Tory procrastination over development of the welfare state, Bevan suggested the approach was “Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today”. Several years later, I realised Bevan had borrowed this curious idea from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There. The White Queen offered Alice work as a maid, for “Twopence a week, and jam every other day”, going on to say “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today”. A Labour government took power in 1945, with a landslide election victory, and delivered the welfare state. The defining achievement of Labour was the National Health Service, with Bevan, a Marxist agitator, being the architect. The Conservatives responded with vehement opposition, voted against establishment of the NHS in Parliament, and have continued to undermine its principles.
My book, which would be published in 1989, demonstrated that the Conservative Party has merely acted as the representative of the ruling class, following reactionary, and anti-democratic, policies while displaying an incoherent political outlook. Amidst lots of adverse comment, the narrative had a single hero, with Disraeli being a man of imagination, who brought drama, and comedy, to politics. An unusually enlightened Conservative, Disraeli (albeit reluctantly, and out of opportunism) gave the vote to urban working class men (but not women) in 1867. I showed how wishful thinking by the Conservatives had credited him with developing the idea of “One Nation”. One of the many villains of the book was Margaret Thatcher, who approached the NHS, and other Labour achievements, with the rationality of the Queen of Hearts.
The book opened with the formation of the Conservative Party in 1830, and ended with the 1987 General Election – which meant the final part of the book covered events that unfolded as I wrote. Thatcher’s government discarded monetarism during the Autumn of 1985, realising it had failed, but maintained the general plan. Although there had been some economic improvement, mass unemployment was only gradually reduced. At the beginning of 1986, two Cabinet Ministers, Michael Heseltine and Leon Brittan, resigned amidst a dispute over the ownership of the Westland helicopter company. Thatcher’s position appeared threatened by revelations about her role, but she survived the crisis. Work on the book about the Conservatives did not go as well as hoped, and I took a break, starting in February 1986.
I retained enthusiasm for writing and, within a few months, the 1986 World Cup finals prompted a decision to write a history of the competition. England made a poor start to the tournament, held in Mexico, before enjoying successive 3-0 victories against Poland – with a hat trick from Gary Lineker – and Paraguay). In the Quarter Finals, England lost 2-1 against Argentina, with Diego Maradona grabbing two goals within a few minutes, early in the second half. The first effort should have been disallowed for handball (the infamous “Hand of God”), but Maradona’s second goal was a brilliant solo effort. There was a late onslaught from England, in which Lineker scored, but it was too little, too late. Argentina went on to win the World Cup, beating West Germany 3-2 in the Final.
I began work on The World Cup on August 18, the day after returning from a visit to Portugal. I spent a week at Estoril, and took regular walks to the neighbouring town, Cascais. One lunchtime I enjoyed a variant on fish and chips, with the main part of the meal being fried swordfish. Having left the restaurant, I was chased down the road by a waiter. I thought that he thought that I had not paid the bill, but he was actually checking I was sure about the (slightly larger than usual) scale of the tip left in appreciation. In November I bought Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live / 1975-85, a five LP box set. One of the inner sleeves featured a photograph taken at a concert by Bruce, and the band, at Wembley in 1985, and I appeared in this picture, stood in the crowd – a wonderful link to a hero. The real highlight of this collection was the first release of Springsteen’s version of Because the Night, taken from a 1980 concert. Bruce’s rendition replaced Patti Smith’s performance of the song as my favourite record. During the latter part of 1986, I produced a mass of notes, and statistical material, for The World Cup. In the early months of the following year, I wrote the narrative section of the book, completing the process in May 1987.
As a Labour Party activist, I was involved in a General Election campaign for the first time in 1987, hoping we would prevent a repeat of the Conservative landslide of four years earlier. The outcome would subsequently be reported in the final passage of A History of the Conservative Party, which in turn is re-cycled as the remainder of the current paragraph. Thatcher called a General Election for June 11, and issued a Conservative manifesto entitled The Next Moves Forward. In the Foreword, Thatcher made the curious claim that her government was fulfilling the “One Nation” ideal. Thatcher led a poor campaign but, with the opposition weak, the Conservatives won 375 seats, Labour 229, the Alliance 22, and the others 24. The Conservatives retained power with a majority of 100 seats. Reconstruction of the government included the sacking of John Biffen, who had been Leader of the House of Commons. Biffen responded by saying that Thatcher’s government was Stalinist. As Thatcher entered her third term in office, the thinking of the Conservative Party was characteristically incoherent.
I went to Wembley, in August, for a match that marked the centenary of the Football League. A Football League selection beat a Rest of the World team 3-0, with two goals from Bryan Robson, and one from Norman Whiteside. I was thrilled to see Diego Maradona and Michel Platini play for the Rest of the World, combining magically in midfield. Pele was introduced to the teams prior to the match, as guest of honour. A few days later, I began a holiday at Funchal, on the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira. For Sunday lunch – far away from England – I ate up-market fish and chips, sat outdoors at a restaurant, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. A lovely meal could have been improved with a thematic cherry cake.
Back in England’s green and pleasant land, I attended the fourth day of the match that marked the bicentenary of the Marylebone Cricket Club, with an MCC team playing the Rest of the World. I returned to Lord’s the next day, only for play to be rained off. I will admit to being a bit pedantic sometimes (or more than sometimes). I once noticed that the 1986 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack incorrectly stated that Michael Mates, the first MP to score a century for the Lords and Commons team, represented Petersfield. In 1988 I corresponded with Graeme Wright, the editor of Wisden, and Mates, suggesting a note be put in the Errata section of a future Wisden, as Mates was MP for East Hampshire. Wisden and Mates each attributed the error to the other, but declined the idea of a correction. Mates gave his views in a scrawled handwritten letter. Wright stated electoral constituencies could be confusing, adding “a sound grounding in the works of Lewis Carroll would seem essential were one to take them seriously”.
My diary entry of Sunday October 18 1987 began with a promising event in my writing career, and moved on to the awful effects of the British hurricane:
Much has happened since my last entry – including the lights going out! On Thursday I was pleased to receive a letter from Collins Willow which suggests that they are interested in The World Cup, and wrote the reply that they asked for (giving biographical and bibliographical details). This seems to be a major breakthrough and I am excited about it. On Thursday night I went to bed only to be kept awake by a tremendous storm for literally hours.
On Friday I discovered the details of the storm. It had in fact been a hurricane. It has caused widespread damage throughout south east England. I saw some of the local damage, in our back garden, and in a short trip with dad in the car, followed by a walk back. We were without power from the early hours of Friday until Saturday breakfast time. I spent Friday evening alone by candlelight, having gone round the shops in the afternoon to get some candles. That afternoon I posted my letter to Collins Willow. I had always thought of hurricanes as something that occur in other countries, but not here. It appears that the last one to hit Britain with such force was way back in 1703. The damage done, and the loss of life, have been terrible. We lost power again shortly before I began this entry, and have yet to receive it back.
Collins Willow were part of William Collins, one of Britain’s largest publishers. Across a period of several months, leading into Spring of the following year, I had dialogue with Michael Doggart, an editor at Collins, who came close to offering to publish the book, before eventually deciding against this. The World Cup was rejected by a steady stream of publishers, although quite a few considered signing me up for their team.
After a break of two years, I returned to writing A History of the Conservative Party, in March 1988. I decided to leave Dresdner Bank, having worked there for more than four years, and have a spell in which temporary work would overlap with concerted effort to get a writing career underway. On my final day at the bank, May 13, I invited colleagues to join me for a drink-up at a pub. In an echo of my twenty first birthday celebration, I was visited by a stripagram lady. By leaving the bank, I exchanged a secure job for an uncertain future, but felt excited by the possibility of becoming a writer. When Benjamin Disraeli persuaded the Conservatives to take a gamble by passing the second Reform Act, in 1867, Lord Derby, Prime Minister and Party Leader, described the action as “a leap in the dark”. I was following the example of Disraeli, taking a personal leap.
In June I made my third visit to Yugoslavia, spending a week at Bol, a village on the island of Brac, in Croatia, accompanied by Phil, a friend I worked with at Dresdner. Brac was quiet, but picturesque, particularly the Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape) beach near Bol, this being a promontory that emerges from a pine wood. At the hotel, Phil and I sampled a local drink, mishmash, composed of red wine sat on top of orange juice, with the two components kept separate in the glass. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band toured Britain in the Summer, and I saw two concerts, the first at Villa Park, in Birmingham, and the second at Wembley Stadium. Both shows featured Because the Night. The Wembley concert lasted three hours and 35 minutes, as Bruce sang 33 songs – including 10 encores, in response to loud, and lengthy, calls from the crowd for more songs.
A couple of months after leaving Dresdner, I resumed the role of something in the City. At intervals over the next two years, I worked on an agency basis for a long list of banks. These were London and Continental Bankers (British), Rabobank (Dutch), Sanwa Bank (Japanese), Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (Italian), Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank (Japanese), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (you guessed), SDS Bank (which was Danish), Norddeutsche Landesbank (based in West Germany), Tokai Bank (Japanese), and Arab Banking Corporation (based in Bahrain, but jointly owned by the states of Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Libya). I said it was a long list.
Dorothy Collings died of cancer on September 13 1988. Dorothy was a wonderful woman, who was to be sadly missed by her family, just as Ernest, her husband, had been. Following granny’s death, we learned that Ernest had been illegitimate, but concealed this. The revelation prompted resumption of work on my family history, put on hold a decade earlier. Helped by membership of the Society of Genealogists, I was able to discover a great deal of information over the next few years, taking my known ancestry back to the 1700s. Later progress, to earlier dates, will be outlined subsequently in this book (well it makes sense to me).
I visited France in October 1988, spending a long weekend in Paris with Phil. We visited historic sites, and I went to places of personal interest. At Montparnasse cemetery, I found the grave of Alexander Alekhine, a Russian who became a citizen of France. Alekhine was world chess champion from 1927 to 1935, and then 1937 until his death in 1946. I also followed in the footsteps of George Orwell, along the Rue du Pot de Fer, where he lived while writing his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (published in 1933). In December, the Clapham Junction train disaster caused the deaths of 35 people. I was very lucky not to be involved in the crash, as I regularly travelled to work on one of the trains that collided, but did not use it that particular day.
I attended an Amnesty International concert, at Wembley, in September 1988. The headline performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band followed impressive sets by Youssou N’Dour, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, and Sting. I became a member of Amnesty International, supporting the battle for human rights throughout the world. I also joined the Chile Solidarity Campaign, which participated in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Chile. The country had ceased to be a democracy on September 11 1973, when Salvador Allende’s government, which was transforming Chile into a Socialist society, was overthrown by a military coup, and replaced by a Fascist dictatorship. The achievements of Chile’s Socialist government provided a great deal of inspiration for the British left, and Allende was one of my political heroes. At this time I voted in a Labour Party Leadership contest, supporting Tony Benn, as he was a committed Socialist intent on a clear programme of radical reform in Britain, but Neil Kinnock won. During the Spring of 1989, I attended the annual general meeting of Chile Solidarity, chaired by Judith Hart, a Labour MP dedicated to Socialist causes. I also stood as a Labour Party candidate in the Hampshire County Council Election.
In May 1989 a publishing company offered to publish The World Cup. This was followed by a cruel change of fortune, as a few days later the company mysteriously changed their mind. Refusing to be beaten, on the day I learned of the rejection, I set to work on producing an expanded version of the book. During June, I saw England beat Poland 3-0 in a World Cup match. Prior to this I had seen England draw 0-0 with Sweden, and beat Albania 5-0, in their 1990 World Cup qualifying campaign. In the space of a few days, either side of England’s match against Poland, I saw concerts by Elvis Costello and Lou Reed. Elvis Costello performed a solo acoustic set at the Royal Albert Hall, in which the highlight was an amazing Alison. Lou Reed’s show at the London Palladium (a venue that looks better on television than it really is) started with his playing most of the songs from the recently-released New York album, one of the peaks in a long career. This was followed by earlier material, including Rock and Roll plus Sweet Jane, from the Velvet Underground days, and Walk on the Wild Side. The back cover of the New York album had a note from Reed, advising “It’s meant to be listened to in one 58 minute (14 songs!) listening, as though it were a book or a movie”. Lou Reed, who died in 2013, was a great role model, with the gift of self-parody (too often under-rated).
There was a rapid return to the electoral front, in a Hart District Council By-Election. On polling day, the Labour candidate was midway through a holiday, at Playa de las Americas in Tenerife. Phil and I climbed the peak of Mount Teide, besides spending long nights in the bars and discos of our town. Here is a diary account, written on June 16, of helter skelter events:
As the polls were closing in Britain last night, Phil and I were off for what proved to be a remarkable night. The first stop was a pub called the Waikiki. After the Waikiki we went to a couple of other places. At one of these I got talking to a soldier. He told me about being shot twice by the IRA. I decided not to get into an argument about Ireland. The early hours of this morning saw our daily visit to the Crow’s Nest. At this venue I found myself dancing at one point with about eight girls. It seemed fun at first, but events took an unfortunate turn. These girls literally ripped my shirt off, and refused to return the torn remnants. It was the shirt I got in exchange for my spare Bruce Springsteen ticket, at Birmingham last year. I did not wear the shirt much, but I am annoyed at having lost it. The girls tried to take my jeans off. I managed to restrain them. I then left the disco. I waited outside to see if Phil would follow. When he did not I walked back to the apartment alone. The man at the reception reluctantly gave me our key, complaining that I should have been wearing a shirt.
Phil soon returned and we exchanged stories. He said that while I was being attacked he was snogging with a girl he had met. Her friend wanted to meet me when Phil said it was I who had been attacked, but I was by now gone. Phil also bumped into the soldier we had met earlier. Phil managed to knock the soldier’s pint of lager all over the pool table. Besides buying a replacement drink, Phil had to pay the barman the cost of damaging the pool table. The good news of the night is that Phil arranged to meet the two girls he was with. We are due to meet them at the same venue at midnight tonight. Walking home from the Crow’s Nest last night I felt demoralised, but Phil’s story brightened me up. Today we have been able to look back on last night as quite funny. It was certainly different.
Immediately after the holiday, I arranged publication of The World Cup with Nimrod Press, based at Alton, in Hampshire. I was delighted with my bouncebackability. Is that a real word? If not, it should be. I soon completed re-writing the book, which was scheduled to appear in the Autumn. Continuing research included trips to the headquarters of the Football Association, in London, having arranged access to the library with its custodian, David Barber. On one visit, as I sat in the reception of the Football Association, admiring a replica of the Jules Rimet trophy, Graham Kelly, the Chief Executive, walked through, casting a disapproving look at the casually-dressed young man, who had somehow been admitted to the plush building. I corresponded with the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), based in Switzerland, and received positive letters from Guido Tognoni, head of public relations. In the light of points I made, FIFA corrected errors in the official World Cup statistics. My efforts were also recognised by a freebie from FIFA, as I received a set of postcards, combining reproductions of publicity posters for each World Cup tournament, and match statistics.
As always: I’m sure it was my fault, and not the book’s fault, that I abandoned it. (Except when it was the book’s fault). And also: “Abandoned” doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t come back to some of these books. (One of them even ended up on a list I made earlier this […]
After a break of a few days, during which I have been feeling anxious and unwell, I return to this Blog.
I have decided to post another chapter of my new book, Obsessive Compulsive Asperger, looking back at events in the years surrounding 1984.
Much has changed since then but, more than 30 years later, a lot of the interests I had as a young adult feel familiar.
George Orwell, a man who probably stuggled with Asperger’s, remains my favourite author. His warnings about the dangers of totalitarianism lurking in our dubiously democratic society are as relevant as ever.
Despite the scepticism of many people, I have remained interested in politics, and (just about, in view of this years purge) a member of the Labour Party, intent on tackling the Tories.
So here are my memories, in a chapter entitled The Lion and the Unicorn.
In the Summer of 1981, our family went on holiday to Newquay, in Cornwall. This was not particularly enjoyable, as we stayed at a poorly-managed hotel (worse than the establishment in Fawlty Towers, but not funny), with most of the staff departing during the course of our fortnight there. A few weeks after I left school, a results slip showed I had passed six “O” levels. Failures in English Literature and Computer Studies did not prevent me subsequently writing books with the aid of computers. I became a student at Farnborough Sixth Form College in September 1981, studying for “A” levels. I also played for the college chess team, participating in a local league and national knock-out competition, the latter sponsored by the Sunday Times.
Excitement on sitting down to watch England’s first match in the 1982 World Cup finals, against France, live on television, grew as Bryan Robson opened the scoring after just 27 seconds. England beat France 3-1, but goalless draws in the second stage, with West Germany and Spain – the latter being the host nation – meant England were eliminated, despite being unbeaten in the tournament. West Germany later reached the Final, where they lost 3-1 against Italy. During August I saw Manchester United win 3-1 at Aldershot, in a match that raised money for victims of the Falklands War. Following this I visited Spain, as we had our first foreign family holiday, the location being Lloret de Mar, near Barcelona. We stayed in a large hotel, which was impressive, apart from unpalatable food. A year later I went on an extended family holiday for the last time, at the village of Cala Bona in Majorca.
I reached the age of 18 at the end of 1982, and made plans for the future. I decided against going to university, having spent enough years in formal education. A growing interest in politics was strengthened by frequent discussion at college. As a member of the debating society, I made a speech advocating that Britain should withdraw from the European Economic Community. A college assembly attempted to follow the format of the BBC’s Question Time programme, with myself on the panel, providing a critical view of the Thatcher government’s approach to unemployment. Thatcher proclaimed herself a “conviction politician”, opposed to consensus. Her major preoccupation was an attempt to revive British capitalism, through monetarism. Thatcher’s policies proved a calamity for Britain, with reduced public expenditure, reduced taxation (especially for the ruling class), an attack on the trade unions, and the sale of public assets. When Thatcher took power, more than a million people were unemployed. The number of unemployed people increased to two million in August 1980, and three million in January 1982.
I read lots of the works of George Orwell, and was particularly impressed by The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius plus Nineteen Eighty-Four – fact and fiction respectively. The latter book is a brilliant warning about the dangers of totalitarianism, and a satire on the politics of the era in which it was written. In the character of Winston Smith, who starts to write a diary on April 4 1984, Orwell conveyed the outlook of an individual battling to express a minority view – “sanity is not statistical”. During the Spring of 1983, I read the first volume of Karl Marx’s Capital, one hundred years after his death. I felt the influence of Marxism as an approach to politics, economics, and history, being persuaded by Marx’s critique of capitalism, which is shown to be exploitative, and prone to recurring crisis. Capital ranks as a monumental piece of world literature, full of illuminating quotes and allusions.
In May 1983 I voted for the first time, supporting the Labour Party in a Hart District Council Election – Hart covered Fleet and surrounding villages, including Hartley Wintney. The following month, I voted for Labour at a General Election, and felt demoralised as Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives were returned to power, with a majority of 144. Shortly after the General Election, I made the first in a series of visits to the House of Commons, observing proceedings from the visitors’ gallery. On that first visit, I saw Edwina Currie, a newly-elected Conservative MP, make her maiden speech. Edwina was immediately followed by Harriet Harman, feted as Labour’s most glamorous woman MP, who won a By-Election a few months earlier. I was joined by granddad on one trip to Westminster, during which we saw Margaret Thatcher at Prime Minister’s questions.
I passed three “A” levels, but was unemployed for several months after leaving college. Then I was offered a job by the London branch of Dresdner Bank, based at Frankfurt, in West Germany. Employment with Dresdner, as part of their audit department, began on December 28 1983. The bank was situated at Frederick’s Place, a cul-de-sac adjoining Old Jewry, just off Cheapside, in the City of London. The building was a wonderful labyrinth – I initially worked in a mezzanine office, tucked away in a corner, at a tangent from a staircase linking the ground floor with the first floor. Benjamin Disraeli worked in the building as a youth, a fact commemorated by one of those distinguished blue plaques on an exterior wall. During his employment with a solicitor, Disraeli was told by a female friend “You have too much genius for Frederick’s Place: it will never do”. Indeed it did not, and the young man set out on a series of adventures.
I started writing a detailed diary on January 1 1984. This opened with a combination of activities and opinions, linked to interest in politics, and the works of George Orwell – themes destined to recur down the years:
I begin this diary on the evening of the first day of 1984. The year is one that has long been awaited in connection with George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. As expected, the general view of the connection as put across by the media has been distortion – or at least misunderstanding – of Orwell’s views. It is being asserted that the book is prediction and wrong, when in fact it is both a clever satire and a useful warning. I hope that if anything is to come from the connection of the book and the present year, it will be increased understanding of Orwell’s views. Given the current state of the media in this country, I believe the myths surrounding the book will largely remain. The book opens with Winston Smith beginning a diary.
I decided a few months back to keep a diary, to provide a record of my thoughts and actions, which I could then refer to at future dates. Besides simple nostalgic sentiment, such reference has intellectual value. George Orwell, in his As I Please column, in the issue of Tribune dated December 17 1943, wrote “One way of feeling infallible is not to keep a diary”. In the March 22 1946 issue of the same newspaper, Orwell’s In Front of Your Nose was published. In this essay Orwell advised that keeping a diary, or record of one’s views on events, was of value. If this was not done it is possible that “when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it”. I propose to record in this diary a regular account of my activities and also my opinions, hopes, fears, predictions etc. When these are set down to be read, and re-read, it will not be possible for me to believe that opinions I held once, but then wished I had not, were not held in the first place. In this of all years I believe that to be valuable. I saw the New Year in with a Channel 4 programme hosted by David Frost. Ken Livingstone predicted that this year might be a bit worse than last or a lot worse. I expect the former myself, but am optimistic about the long term.
When starting to write the diary, I wondered whether it might be published one day, far in the future. By a convoluted process, some of which happened in 2007, extracts from my diary have now found their way into this book.
Dresdner provided a contrast to the efficient image of both banking and the Germans. There was disorganisation, plus strange procedures, but a generally informal atmosphere, and working at the bank was entertaining. At the start of my time as something in the City, I lacked confidence, but chat about football with the blokes, and readiness to be teased by the women, helped break the ice with colleagues. My anxieties in the working environment continue to this day.
I joined the Labour Party in September 1984. I had been born in a National Health Service hospital, and educated in a comprehensive school, while I believed in democratic Socialism, equality, free trade unionism, internationalism, and Britain playing a positive role in the world. These factors made me a natural supporter of the Labour Party. That Autumn I took a holiday in Yugoslavia, staying at the village of Porec, in Croatia. I was attracted to Yugoslavia by a combination of excellent climate and innovative Socialism, based on industrial democracy, decentralised power, and non-alignment – but unfortunately not parliamentary democracy. The weather was rainy, but I enjoyed my visit, and the drinking of Slivovitz, the local plum brandy. Back in Britain, I attended a couple of Labour Party meetings, staged at Farnborough, which focussed on the national strike by coal miners. Each meeting featured a speech by a Labour MP, the first of these being Dave Nellist (member of Militant). The latter meeting was addressed by Dennis Skinner (legendary “Beast of Bolsover”), a former miner, and impassioned critic of the “casino economy”. Dresdner Bank was conveniently situated for visits to Parliament, which I often made after work. One trip to the House of Commons in 1984 was followed by a letter to Bernard Wetherill, the Speaker, asking about the public availability of amendment papers for Parliamentary debates, to which I received an encouraging reply. At the start of the next year, Timothy Wood, a Conservative MP, handed me a copy of a Local Government Bill, as a Commons committee debating the legislation adjourned for dinner. There is no such thing as a free bill, however, for I had already bought a personal copy – besides financing it as a taxpayer.
On October 17 1984, I attended my first World Cup match, as England commenced their campaign in the 1986 qualifiers, beating Finland 5-0, with Mark Hateley scoring twice. I talked with two pretty Finnish young ladies, working in Britain as au pairs, who sat behind me in the stadium. Afterwards, travelling by tube train from Wembley to Waterloo, I found myself sat next to another lady from Finland, and enjoyed a chat with her, which stimulated laughter, and suggestive comments, from several other passengers. Mentioning my encounter with her fellow nationals, I asked the lady if she was an au pair. This flirtatious Finn announced she was a nanny, who thought it would soon be time for me, as a naughty boy, to go to bed. (Dot dot dot? Actually nothing more to report).
The 1984 Dresdner Christmas party was held at the Churchill Hotel. Several people did party pieces, and I sang John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over), oblivious of the possibility the Germans might not like this. For Christmas our family visited mum’s parents at Salisbury. We had a great Christmas, dividing our time between eating, drinking, and watching television at home, and visits to the local Conservative club – some of the family were members, and I did not wish to spoil Christmas with a boycott. Granddad was a staunch Conservative so our political ideas had little in common, but we enjoyed discussing them. Sadly I never saw my grandfather again, as he died suddenly from a heart attack on May 5 1985. This was a traumatic event for his family. Granddad was a wonderful man, and I was to miss him in the following years.
In March 1985, at Wembley, I attended the Final of the Milk Cup – the name at that time of the League Cup – in which Norwich City beat Sunderland 1-0, with a fine performance from Steve Bruce, in defence. Earlier in the season, I had half-seen Norwich win 4-0 at Aldershot, in a Third Round replay, amidst very thick November fog. Mick Channon, in the twilight of his career, was among the goalscorers that day. I returned to Wembley on May 18 1985, hoping to buy a ticket for the FA Cup Final, in which Manchester United met Everton. I negotiated purchase of a ticket from two officials of the Surrey branch of the Football Association. Prior to the match, an emotional minutes silence was observed in memory of the fans who died in the fire at Bradford City’s ground the previous week. During the first half both teams failed to produce impressive football. Play improved as the second half progressed, but the game remained goalless. Twelve minutes from time, United’s Kevin Moran became the first player ever to be sent off in an FA Cup Final. The continued absence of a goal meant that the match went into extra time. With 10 minutes remaining, United’s Norman Whiteside charged with the ball through the Everton half, and into the penalty area, scoring with a curling shot. As the ball hit the net, I erupted with joy. Manchester United held on to the lead during the closing minutes. When the final whistle arrived, I again celebrated wildly. A few minutes later, Bryan Robson lifted the trophy.
Another great Wembley occasion followed on July 6, with a concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I arrived early, and managed to get a place near the front. For hour after hour, I stood in the crowd on a very hot day. It was uncomfortable, but totally worthwhile, as I got a great view. Bruce displayed amazing energy, and built a rapport with the fans, while his band provided tremendous support. The show began with Born in the USA, and continued with a succession of fine songs before Bruce took a break, following Thunder Road. The second set included a stunning rendition of Because the Night. The encores ended with a lengthy medley of Twist and Shout / Do You Love Me. Bruce had been on stage for just over three hours, with a performance that was almost unbelievably brilliant – witnessing it was an inspiring experience.
During August, I returned to Yugoslavia, staying at Ulcinj, in Montenegro, a few miles from the border with Albania, the most isolated country in Europe. On a tour of the area, I saw part of the border between Yugoslavia and Albania, marked by a line of trees, viewed from a distant vantage point on a hillside – an eerie moment. In the Autumn, I went to Dresdner Bank’s belated Summer party, at the Savoy Hotel, and felt a bit uncomfortable in the luxurious surroundings. A man in attendance in the toilets commented on my not wearing a jacket. When I asked why this was worth mentioning, the man said he assumed my wallet was in the jacket pocket, and I could have given him a tip. I could have observed that it might cost a lot to spend a penny.
One of the more positive aspects of my being an Asperger is an enthusiasm for stories – they feed an already lively imagination.
Stories are obviously central to my work as an author.
Beyond this, I take delight in piecing together links between my favourite books, films, television programmes, and music.
The following piece, simply entitled Story-Telling, tries to convey the process.
“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop”. This advice was given by a King to a White Rabbit, during a bizarre trial, staged near the conclusion of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (published in 1865). There is a lot to be said for starting stories other than at the beginning – I often begin in the middle, hop backwards to the opening, and meander through several digressions, before reaching something like an ending. The curious world of Wonderland has been an unlikely influence on my story-telling, as an imaginary counterpoint to the facts I normally rely upon. Following this short diversion, it is time to mention I have been fascinated by stories for almost as long as I can remember. Good stories entertain and inspire us, often providing vital insights into people’s lives. Stories can be fact or fiction – and sometimes a hybrid.
Shortly before becoming a teenager, I moved from stories aimed at children to reading books primarily written for an adult audience. Football and history books were consumed with particular enthusiasm. I discovered the James Bond novels and stories, written by Ian Fleming, and read all of these during a spell of about a year. Bond led an intriguing life as a spy, with missions in exotic locations, while Fleming brilliantly described the thoughts and actions of the character – including Bond’s shower and breakfast routines, plus his appreciation of fine food, sophisticated drinks, and beautiful women.
Besides being an avid reader, I appreciated other types of story. A notable example was television situation comedies, with great programmes from the BBC in the 1970s including Are You Being Served?, Butterflies, Fawlty Towers, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and The Good Life. I also enjoyed comedy sketch programmes, such as Morecambe and Wise, The Dick Emery Show, and The Two Ronnies. The part of the latter show where Ronnie Corbett would sit in an armchair, telling a joke, surrounded by several minutes of tangential rambling, irritated me at the time. In retrospect, Ronnie Corbett’s style of story-telling appears to have had a great influence upon me.
In my youth, I planned to develop the enthusiasm for books, by becoming a writer. I started to read the works of George Orwell, who remains my favourite author, due to his profound ideas, expressed in a conversational prose style. Besides books published in his lifetime, I enjoyed The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, a posthumously-compiled four volume set. The series opened with Why I Write, an essay from 1946, in which Orwell gave a summary of his literary career. Orwell argued that writers are motivated by four factors, the first of these being “sheer egoism”, caused by a wish to be recognised as a clever person. Next came “aesthetic enthusiasm”, which could follow from appreciation of external beauty, the taking of pleasure in the usage of words, and a wish to share experience. The third factor was “historical impulse”, with an author finding facts to be used for posterity. Orwell’s final motive was “political purpose”, with writers seeking to be an influence on people’s ideas about the direction of their society.
What is my motivation as a writer? I think – we cannot always be certain about motives – that the central factor is a wish for communication. I feel a need to connect my enthusiasms, ideas, and knowledge with those of fellow human beings – often the effects of Asperger Syndrome make it more comfortable to do this through writing compared with other interaction. I also seek to give permanent record to experiences, many of which would otherwise be forgotten – probably a manifestation of my OCD. Enjoyment in the creation of a piece of writing is followed by a sense of satisfaction when it is published, read by others, and discussed. From the preceding sentences, it appears the second and third of Orwell’s themes are predominant for me. I must confess that ego plays a big (too big?) part, while politics has often been a feature of my writing. My books may appear diverse in nature – spanning history, politics, football, and autobiography – but they form part of a logical progression, as writing is interweaved with other activities. The books and experiences are twin facets of the developing story of my life, with personal activity placed in a wider context (I could say “the bigger picture”).
I have developed a role as something of a raconteur, offering funny (sometimes slightly exaggerated) tales of my experiences. Stories are told, in animated fashion, at social gatherings, sometimes fuelled by alcohol, although audience participation (or even heckling) often proves a more effective stimulant. I have a love of trivia, and thirst for knowledge, taking delight at links between odd scraps of information. Interesting turns of phrase are often adapted to new purposes in my writing. I also make (I think) good use of irony.
Inspiration arrives from diverse sources. One of my heroes is Bruce Springsteen, many of whose lyrics take the form of extended narrative. Bruce often tells thoughtful, or comic, stories to introduce songs during concerts. Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, released in 1978, was re-packaged in 2010 within The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, a stunning set, in which three CDs plus three DVDs are housed within an extensive book – itself placed within a box. Bruce’s masterpiece, a 43 minute album, has been expanded into discs that stretch to eight and a half hours of music and film. This is story-telling in the grand manner. Another great musical act are the Velvet Underground, an American band, managed at one point by Andy Warhol, who (supposedly) produced their debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, and (definitely) contributed the front cover banana design. The Velvets sold few records during their creative peak, in the 1960s, but have built a legendary reputation, as innovators who influenced countless other artists. One of the strangest recordings by the group, and among the first I heard, as a teenager, is The Gift. A freakish short story, packed with telling incidental detail, is recited (not sung) against the backdrop of a monotonous piece of music. It is a work of genius. The words of The Gift were written by Lou Reed, and narrated by John Cale, in his native Welsh accent, this being an incongruous delivery of a tale taking place in the USA. Several years later, Cale produced Patti Smith’s astonishing debut album, Horses – which takes us to a land where poetry merges with punk rock. Patti Smith subsequently co-wrote Because the Night with Bruce Springsteen. In 1981 I read Dave Marsh’s Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story. This included a reference to the novel You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, which prompted me to read the latter book in 1984, when it was re-issued by Penguin. Wolfe’s novel, based on his experiences as an author, is outstanding, although rather patchy – it was compiled by an editor, Edward C Aswell, from an unfinished manuscript after the writer’s death. One section of Wolfe’s novel originated as a short story, with the clever title A Great Idea For a Story.
Hopping back over the Atlantic, from the USA to Britain, the television dramas and films of Stephen Poliakoff throw eloquent light on contemporary British society, characteristically featuring great ensemble acting, sumptuous settings, and atmospheric music. Poliakoff’s achievements as a writer and director include Perfect Strangers, depicting a large family gathering, with genealogy a major factor in a drama where secrets are unveiled, and Shooting the Past, which revolves around a photo library. Alongside film, I enjoy live theatre. One outstanding piece is Les Miserables, with dramatic action, and brilliant songs, making up for an almost impenetrable plot, set in nineteenth century France. I generally dislike films that are musicals, as the format appears false, but find the theatrical equivalent entertaining, with productions of Cats, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (from Ian Fleming’s non-Bond novel), Peter Pan, and Wicked springing to mind. Non-musical plays I recollect as being impressive range from an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the modern O Go My Man, written by Stella Feehily. The latter is a comedy about relationships (the title being an anagram of monogamy), set in Dublin. In the novel of Frankenstein, the (self-taught) monster reads books which include The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the real world, I have read Goethe’s amazing epistolary novel (a true original), plus his two part poetic play, Faust. Goethe worked on Faust at intervals across a span of 58 years, and referred to this masterpiece as “a private fairy tale”, having modestly decided the second part would not be published until after his death.
The oldest surviving stories in the world are The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer, possibly dating from around 700 BC. It is arguable that Homer was not really an author in the modern sense, given that his works were composed, and delivered, as oral poems. In presenting the adventures of Odysseus, Homer uses disjointed chronology, in an account full of repetition and circumlocution. This is a type of narrative that engages the attention of the reader. In the twentieth century, Homer’s The Odyssey provided a basis for Ulysses by James Joyce, who moved the action to Dublin. In a similar way, the novella Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, set in the Congo, was adapted to a new setting, with a fictionalisation of the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now, a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Another of Coppola’s works is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which rates as one of the best cinematic portrayals of the tales of Dracula. The original Dracula novel by Stoker, set in Romania and Britain, during the late nineteenth century, is full of political symbolism and repressed eroticism. In 1993 I started to write a novel, (imaginatively) entitled Dracula, advancing the story first set out by Stoker, a century earlier, to the contemporary world. My novel is uncompleted, and dormant, awaiting possible revival in the future – just like a sleeping vampire – but that is another story for another day.
Great contemporary novelists include David Lodge, author of the academic romances Small World and Nice Work, plus Martin Amis, whose London Fields, published in 1989, looked ahead to a turn of millennium that is now part of our past. I have recently discovered the brilliance of Julian Barnes, through his Booker Prize winner The Sense of an Ending (2011), and flown back to Flaubert’s Parrot (1984). There is also A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989), a “novel” that is actually a cycle of linked short stories, mixed with some factual elements. The concept is original, and the book features some brilliant story-telling by Barnes, as various themes echo through the pages (I wish I could manage something like that). Another unusual novel is How to be Both by Ali Smith (2014), which features two stories – one set in the fifteenth century, the other contemporary – that overlap and complement each other. Half of the copies of the book were printed with one story at the beginning, while the other half of the copies start with the other story. Much earlier, the gentle writing of Henry James brought us The Bostonians and The Portrait of a Lady, described as “the two most brilliant novels in the language” by F R Leavis, one of Britain’s most influential literary critics – he strangely received a mention in the film of Bridget Jones’s Diary. In 1984 Merchant Ivory Productions released a film adaptation of The Bostonians – starring Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave, and Madeleine Potter. It is a fascinating work, in which the (admittedly unappealing) character of Basil Ransome seeks both love and success as a writer, amidst Henry James’ political satire and subtle comedy – “The Master” was a consummate story-teller. Five years earlier, during 1979, the same film production team had offered The Europeans, a dramatisation of another novel by James. Merchant Ivory have also filmed three of the novels of E M Forster, A Room with a View, Maurice, and Howards End (the latter being the book that gave us the phrase “only connect”). Moving from the sublime to the surreal, another cherished piece is The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien, a delightful fantasy about strange creatures. I was enchanted by a work that Tolkien introduces with the words “This is a story of long ago”. It also appears to be a tale from a far away land, judging by the strange maps, drawn by Tolkien, that appear in The Hobbit.
I take pleasure from the physical feeling of a well-produced book, preferring a solid hardback to the less sturdy paperback. There is sensual delight in the freshness of a new book, but I also enjoy the mature scent of an older book. In many cases, books are enhanced by attractive presentation. During the 1990s, I was a member of the Folio Society, which issues works of excellent quality. Folio publications I have read include The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, Memoirs of My Life by Edward Gibbon, and The Folio Anthology of Autobiography, edited by Angela Thirlwell. Another outstanding Folio book is Columbus on Himself by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, which combines extracts from the writings of Christopher Columbus with biographical commentary. A visionary explorer, Columbus was also an eccentric, and often slipped into delusion. I am fascinated by the story of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in 1492, and his attempt “to learn the secrets of this world”. Back in 1993 I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland plus the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There. The Folio Society edition of Lewis Carroll’s linked novels, the latter of which places Alice’s experiences within an oblique chess problem, consists of books with matching design (including blue hardback cover with a red cloth spine) presented in a blue slipcase. Renewed mention of Alice echoes the start of the current essay. I have reached the point where I will stop this example of story-telling, but elsewhere countless tales continue to develop, and be told, in a process full of wonder.
Hello I am back, with more thoughts linked to my new book.
The first chapter is a summary of my condition, adapted from a piece I wrote for this Blog a few months ago:
This is followed by a short account of my childhood, and the origin of some anxieties that remain with me, set out below:
Once upon a time, fairly long ago, but not far away, it was a foggy Winter day. To be precise, this was Monday December 14 1964, and I was born at 5.20 in the morning, the location being Aldershot Hospital, in Hampshire. I was the first child of Phillip and Jill Godsell, who had set up home in Fleet, a quiet town five miles from Aldershot. Dad was a civil servant, working at the National Gas Turbine Establishment, part of the Ministry of Defence. A Labour government had recently taken office, led by Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. The Beatles were at number one in the singles chart, with I Feel Fine – featuring feedback introduction, courtesy of a deliberate error by John Lennon.
My mother, who may be biased, has often recalled I was a lovely baby, who did not cry much. I was baptised at Christ Church, in Crookham (a village adjoining Fleet), on February 14 1965, but have since converted from the Church of England to atheism. Mum noted progress in a Baby Book, from which it appears I was a slow starter. I did not begin to crawl until the age of 11 months, and stood up for the first time five days after my first birthday. A few months later, I learned how to walk, taking the first steps without help on April 7 1966. During the Summer, mum, dad, and I went on holiday at Paignton, in Devon. I learned how to kick a football at around the time England won the 1966 World Cup, beating West Germany 4-2 in the Final, at Wembley. My parents vaguely recall that I watched the match live on television, sat with my father. I was only 19 months old (or should that be young?) at the time. Within a few years, I became aware of the enormity of England’s success in winning the competition. I was destined to publish a book entitled The World Cup, in 1990.
On February 14 1967 mum gave birth to another son, named Mark. I do not retain any memory of my brother as a baby, but have been told I was fond of him. In mum’s record, my first response to stories arrived at the age of two and a half years, which means mid-1967. Strikes me as surprisingly late, considering my subsequent fascination with stories. In the Summer of 1968, mum, dad, Mark, and I had our first holiday together, visiting a caravan site at Rockley Sands, in Dorset. Mark and I were unwell during the holiday, and my being sick in the caravan one evening is my earliest definite memory – not an ideal starting point. In 1969 our family had a caravan holiday at Selsey Bill, in West Sussex. Drives around southern England often took us along “George Carriageway”, this being my name for dual carriageway, which I thought was built by a man named George. Another favourite phrase was “cold wind”, something I would say when looking out of windows on Winter days. I have few specific memories of my early years, back in the 1960s, but recollect a happy time. I often wonder what would happen if we could only connect the past and the present.
I joined Gally Hill Infants School, in Crookham, at the start of 1970, aged five. There was an anxious start, with tears in the first few days. I felt a lot of worry at school, despite being a good learner, struggling to integrate – I remember collective lunchtimes being daunting. I was often picked upon by one of the boys, a bully who was older than me. At the same time, I was befriended by a girl in my class, named Nicola, who attempted to guard me from threats of violence. Many times in my life, I have looked upon females as protectors. I attended the school, which combined solid Victorian buildings with modern prefabricated classrooms, for two and a half years. It felt a rather gloomy place. On the brighter side, I enjoyed Friday afternoon breaks, wandering around the playground alone, looking forward to the weekend, and the comforting surroundings of home.
A few months after I began school, we had a holiday at Brean Sands, near Weston-super-Mare, in Somerset, being based in a Pontin’s camp. This was part of a series of extended family holidays. Mum, dad, Mark, and myself generally went on holiday with my mother’s parents, Ernest and Dorothy Collings, plus my mother’s sister Sally, her husband Neville, and their sons Stephen, Gary, and Martin. The visit to Brean Sands was repeated in both 1971 and 1972, following which there was a holiday at another Pontin’s site, located at Camber Sands, in East Sussex, during 1973.
In the Autumn of 1972, I moved to Crookham County Junior School, known as Sandy Lane, after a nearby road. In the first year I was unsettled by my teacher, Mrs Stark. She was a pleasant woman, but could be stern, and reduced me to tears on several occasions. Another source of anxiety was inability to tie my shoelaces, until I received patient lessons from a girl named Carol. Mrs Stark said I was the cleverest boy in her class, and remarked that I never gave up trying to achieve things. Perseverance is a quality I have retained.
My father had been a close friend of John Noakes during the 1950s, when they served in the Royal Air Force. In 1972, with my brother and I regular viewers of BBC’s Blue Peter, dad wrote to John Noakes, seeking a reunion. One day a neighbour told us that John had arrived looking for dad, while we had been out, and left his telephone number. Dad called John, and our family met up with the Noakes family at their home. We encountered Shep, the Blue Peter dog, looked after by John, but there was not any sign of sticky-back plastic. Mark expected to meet Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton, and was surprised the three Blue Peter presenters did not live together. Following this, John and his son made a return visit to us at Fleet. This was my first brush with celebrity, and I learned that John Noakes was basically an ordinary bloke, despite having found national fame. Meeting John sticks in my mind as a great childhood experience, and a story I still enjoy re-telling – here’s one I did earlier (could not resist that).
Dad represented the RAF at youth level football, with the opposition in one match being the Wolverhampton Wanderers youth team, featuring Ron Flowers. Within a few years, Flowers was a part of a Wolves team that won the Football League, and appeared in the fledgling European Cup. Flowers was also an England international, playing in the 1962 World Cup finals. My father enjoyed being an amateur player, for Bemerton Heath (in Salisbury) and Fleet Spurs. I developed into a football fanatic, and followed Manchester United, enthralled by dad’s stories of watching the “Busby Babes”, a team decimated in 1958 by the Munich air crash, which caused the deaths of eight players. Manchester United became the first English club to win the European Cup, a feat achieved in 1968, but the team, starring George Best, rapidly declined during the next few years. England were also losing their way. At the 1970 World Cup finals, played in Mexico, England were beaten 3-2 by West Germany, after extra time, in the Quarter Finals. The 1974 World Cup saw England eliminated in the qualifiers for the first time, as they lost 2-0 away to Poland, and were held to a 1-1 draw in the return match, at Wembley. I watched live television coverage of both games, played during 1973, being gripped by the drama of the World Cup. Another early football memory is mum and dad allowing me to stay up later than usual, at the age of seven, to watch the first half of the 1972 European Cup Final, live on television. When I went to bed, the match was goalless, but Ajax went on to beat Internazionale 2-0, with a pair of goals from Johan Cruyff. Subsequently a golden era for English clubs saw the trophy being taken in seven out of eight seasons, between 1977 and 1984, by Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, and Aston Villa. As an adult, I would write about this, and much more, in the book Europe United: A History of the European Cup / Champions League – published in 2005.
The Easter holiday of 1973 included a visit to Stonehenge. I remember being captivated by the aura of Stonehenge, with the ancient stones sat in quiet isolation, holding thousands of years of memory. This was a wonderful survival into the modern era of our earliest past. I felt the power of history, something which still holds my imagination. Sometimes stories develop, and expand, over a long period of time. Fully 35 years after the first visit to Stonehenge, a piece about the place would form the opening chapter of my book Legends of British History, which arrived during 2008. There will be some material from that book later in this chronicle. The trip to Stonehenge occurred during a weekend with granny and granddad, at their home in Salisbury. Mum, dad, Mark, and I frequently visited granny and granddad, and retain happy memories. There was tea-time, with lots of cakes, followed by our eating suppers of crusty bread with cheese and pickle, before retiring to beds where the sheets and blankets had been tucked in very tightly by granny. In the sitting room, a large clock ticked solidly, and chimed each hour. Displayed in a bookcase below the clock, granddad had a collection of books, mostly history and novels, some of which I read. Alice Rattue, my great grandmother, was a lively character, and I recall visits to her home in Green Croft Street, in Salisbury, the street in which she lived for most of her life. Always seeming to wear grey pleated skirts, Alice swore quite a bit as she recounted disputes with a next door neighbour. Although illiterate, Alice was able to write her name. Alice had been born in 1892, a few months after William Gladstone became Prime Minister for the fourth time, and died during the first of the two 1974 General Election campaigns. The February Election led to Labour regaining power, nearly four years after losing to the Conservatives.
I attended my first football match on February 17 1974, joining dad and friends in seeing Aldershot draw 3-3 with Southend United, in the Third Division. During May, dad took me to Wembley Stadium, and we saw England beat Northern Ireland 1-0, in the British Championship – this was exciting, although the atmosphere was not all it could have been, with the crowd far below full capacity. A few weeks later, I was thrilled by the World Cup finals, despite the absence of England. West Germany, the host nation, beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the Final. In 1975, dad, Neville, Stephen, and I went to a European Championship game, seeing England beat Cyprus 5-0, with Malcolm MacDonald (sometimes “Supermac”) scoring all five goals – four of them from headers.
Many of my happiest childhood memories stem from holidays in the sun, at Goodrington, a village adjoining Paignton. Mum’s extended family visited Goodrington in each year from 1974 to 1980. On the first of these trips we stayed in a cramped boarding house, owned by a grumpy couple, which did not live up to an enticing name, Paradise Lodge. In subsequent years we based ourselves in the comfortable Goodrington Lodge Hotel. We became friendly with the family, named White, who owned the hotel, and several other regular visitors. The hotel was a short walk from Goodrington Sands, the two parts of which are known as the “morning beach” and “afternoon beach” respectively in our family. We used to rent a beach hut at the southern end, which had soft sand, and base ourselves there in the mornings. We would move to the northern part of the beach, with compacted sand, in the afternoon – to enjoy swimming, making giant sandcastles, and playing tennis. The tide comes in fully on the “afternoon beach” so in practice it could not always have been used – but I have the recollection of many afternoons on that beach rather than the opposite. On Wednesday evenings there was a regular disco at the hotel, hosted by the manager, John White, who endeared himself to young and old alike by inadvertently introducing records by Showaddywaddy as performances from Showaddyshowaddy – seemed even more of a tongue-twister. The discos were preceded by cricket matches in the neighbouring park, with our family being joined by other guests. The games got rather competitive, from my perspective – there were arguments about the rules, plus displays of frustration with opponents and team-mates alike.
Cricket was a sport I followed with interest, including attendance at a few Hampshire matches. During 1974, I saw part of a County Championship game, in which Hampshire (the previous seasons champions) beat Worcestershire (who went on to win the title this year) by an innings. The trip was organised by Neville, who was a keen cricketer, playing for Droxford, a picturesque village near Hambledon, “the Cradle of Cricket”. In 1977 Fleet was the scene of a benefit game for Barry Richards, the brilliant South African batsman who played for Hampshire. An injury prevented Richards from playing that day, but I was able to get him to autograph my copy of the benefit brochure. The progress of the England team featured in excellent BBC coverage, with television pictures being complemented by Test Match Special on the wireless – the word dad used for radio.
Dad was my hero as I grew up, with his offbeat sense of humour, and enthusiasms, being a great influence. Mum was the more practical, and steady, member of the family. Mum was also, as dad often remarked, an excellent cook. My parents grew a variety of fruit and vegetables in the back garden. I had lovely moments on Summer afternoons, sat in the garden, eating blackcurrants or strawberries, and watching butterflies flit among the flowers and plants. Each year we travelled to Cheltenham, the home town of the Godsell family, for the August bank holiday weekend, staying with Yvonne, a sister of dad, her husband David, and their daughter Elaine. Dad and David took Mark, Elaine, and I on visits to Pittville Park, with another cousin, Linda. I recall boat trips, with my poor steering rendering return to the perimeter of the lake problematic. On one occasion, reaching an island, I rapidly hopped onto land, whereupon Linda tried to do likewise, but fell into shallow water, and had to wade ashore. We would also visit my dad’s parents, Christopher and Phyllis (nee Cook-Cove). It was saddening to see Christopher, my grandfather, suffer very poor health for several years, leading to his death on March 19 1976.
I made my first journey abroad at Whitsun in 1976, joining a junior school trip to France. We stayed at Dieppe, and visited other sites in Normandy, including Fecamp and Rouen. In September I became a pupil at Court Moor Secondary School, where my mother was a member of the kitchen staff. Dad continued to work at the NGTE, with his role including the testing of Concorde engines. I developed an interest in family history, which was initially to last for a couple of years. Uncle David drew up a family tree of the Godsells, which prompted me to produce an equivalent chart covering my mother’s family. Ernest and Dorothy, my grandparents, provided information, some of which we found in a Family Bible, printed way back in 1877. The genealogical notes in the Bible opened with the marriage of William Pillar and Bessie Collins, at Dawlish, in Devon, during 1883. They were the parents of Alice Pillar, who was in turn the mother of Ernest.
I played in a couple of reserve team football matches for Court Moor. In 1977 pupils and staff went to see England play the Netherlands. The Dutch masters gave a brilliant display and won 2-0, inspired by Johan Cruyff, who later described this as the best performance of his career. On another school outing to Wembley, we saw England beat Northern Ireland 1-0, in the 1978 British Championship. That years World Cup finals were held in Argentina, but England were not there, having been eliminated in the qualifiers by Italy, on goal difference. Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1, after extra time, in a bad-tempered, and dramatic, Final – on a pitch littered by an amazing ticker-tape (actually strips of toilet roll) greeting from the home crowd. Two members of Argentina’s squad, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, joined Tottenham Hotspur a few weeks later. In September, I saw Villa play for Tottenham, when they drew 1-1 away to Aldershot, in a testimonial match.
I attended filming of an episode of Are You Being Served? at a BBC studio in London, during November 1978. With mum having obtained dozens of tickets, a coach trip was organised, with mum, dad, Mark, and I being joined by lots of friends. It was fascinating to see how the programme was made. Prior to filming, we found ourselves in a studio corridor, alongside Wendy Richard and Penny Irving, who were dressed up as Miss Brahms and Miss Bakewell respectively. Dad exchanged hellos with Wendy and Penny. As a curious teenager, suddenly catching sight of a prominent pair of ladies from the exciting world of television, I was left in silent admiration.
Having previously gained a place in the junior school’s chess team, I represented Court Moor at that game. My place in the Court Moor team was secured by a good position in a school chess tournament in the latter part of 1978. I became rather obsessive about chess at this time, with enthusiasm turning to stress about my performance in the competition. My GP referred me to a paediatrician, who prescribed a course of Valium. I took Valium for a few weeks, did not feel any better, got worried about being on the medication, and stopped taking it. I was wrapped up in wider anxieties, about school work and my future. For some reason, which I did not really understand, I was lonely during the latter part of my time at Court Moor. Having been outgoing and popular, I became rather introverted, and was suddenly lacking in real friends. I was a bit of an oddball, who did not fit in, and suffered some bullying.
In May 1979 a General Election was won by the Conservative Party, with Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister. I wrote about this grim event in the book A History of the Conservative Party, published a decade later (1989). I felt the outgoing Labour government, in which Jim Callaghan replaced Harold Wilson as Prime Minister (during 1976), performed fairly well. The Labour government’s position unravelled during the “Winter of Discontent”, as the effects of industrial disputes were exacerbated by severe weather through the Winter of 1978-79. Long afterwards I can still recall (picture this) myself walking home from the centre of Fleet, on a cold day in February 1979, with lots of snow on the ground. I had just bought Blondie’s Parallel Lines LP, this being the start of a record collection, which grew rapidly in the next few years. Besides Blondie (fronted by Debbie Harry, an adorable illusion), my initial favourite artists included Elvis Costello (lyricist of genius), and the Sex Pistols (leaders of Britain’s punk rock movement). In August 1979, I bought Because the Night by Patti Smith, a passionate love song that had been a major hit on its release the previous year. I also purchased discs by Buddy Holly, tragically killed in an air crash back in 1959, at the age of just 22. With a great admiration for the Beatles, I became interested in John Lennon’s solo records. The senseless murder of Lennon, in 1980, left millions of people around the world with feelings of immense sadness.
I acquired several records by Bruce Springsteen during 1980, starting with the Born to Run single. Next I bought Bruce’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, a remarkable album, released two years earlier, portraying a life in which struggle is combined with optimism. On May 30 1981, an excited 16 year old attended a concert by Bruce and the E Street Band, at Wembley Arena, which lasted nearly three hours. The highlight was Because the Night, a song Bruce recorded for Darkness on the Edge of Town, but decided not to use. A tape of the song had been passed to Patti Smith, working on Easter – an album with an alluring cover picture of Patti – at the same studio complex as Bruce. The intermediary was Jimmy Iovine, multi-tasking (or multi-tracking) as engineer on Bruce’s album and producer of Patti’s record. With Bruce’s approval, Patti penned changes to the lyrics. Bruce performed Because the Night in concert with his set of words, but had not released his version as a record. I learned from Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, a biography by Dave Marsh, that a legendary track, The Promise, intended for the Darkness album, had also been omitted, and wondered when I might get to hear the song.
Our family had a seventh successive Summer holiday at Goodrington in 1980. Some members wanted a change, but the only problem I could see (or feel) was some hard potatoes, served at dinner in the hotel restaurant. Walking through the reception of the Goodrington Lodge one evening, I overheard John White on the telephone, complaining to the supplier that the potatoes would not go soft when boiled, which meant residents were not eating them. John had raised this with a delivery man, who said the hotelier was going soft in the head.
I have just published a book with the above title. For the moment it is only available on Amazon Kindle, but a paper version should arrive in a week or so.
The book is an attempt to explain a constant experience of feeling different to most people.
“Variety is the spice of life”, as the old saying says. Across many years, with a lot of multi-tasking, I have played the roles of writer, public servant, political activist, something in the City, minor television personality, very amateur footballer, raconteur, publicist, winner of table tennis plus disco dancing competitions, and English eccentric.
Most of this activity has taken place in obscurity, but there have been numerous moments of public recognition, at intervals across several decades.
There is usually more than one side to a story.
In contrast to the upbeat impression I like to convey, the book stems from my dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Asperger Syndrome. I have been gripped by many obsessions, alongside a range of enthusiasms. The writing is an attempt to provide insight into the thought processes of somebody with a mental health condition, or combination, which can be defined as Obsessive Compulsive Asperger.
In one respect, my book is different to any other that I have read. The passage of time is something that features constantly in my thoughts. References in the text to dates during my lifetime are highlighted in bold. Words linked to my feelings of anxiety also appear in bold. This may not make for the easiest reading, but it does reflect the experience I have of focussing on dates and sources of anxiety.
Another obsession is the search for something magical – perhaps unobtainable. Amidst frequent difficulty with mental health, I am blessed with wonderful moments of happiness – as beautiful and fragile as the life of a butterfly.
I hope this has been of interest to readers. The plan is for this to be the first in a series of posts about the experiences that have led to the book.
Thank you for reading
I have not Blogged here about the Labour Purge for several weeks, but I have had a piece on the subject featured by Labour Insider.
Since I wrote that piece, many other members of the party have also had their suspension lifted, but with a warning. There are still many party members suspended, one of whom, Glynis Millward, is taking legal action.
The Purged and recently Unpurged continue to work together to challenge the process, with some of the detail set out on the Blog below.
As for my case, the Information Commissioner’s Office are looking at a Data Protection complaint I have raised regarding the Labour Party, and I have taken legal advice. I continue to correspond by email with Labour HQ, but their legal team seem unable to respond in detail to valid points. Here is a summary I sent to Labour HQ on November 7:
Hello (yet again) Labour Legal
Your email of November 4 is another example of the Labour Party evading issues surrounding my suspension.
There are numerous unresolved issues from my previous emails to yourselves.
The most pressing points – in the view of myself and my legal advisor – requiring a response at the moment are:
1 For the third time I have been sent evidence that I did not Retweet the message relating to Angela Eagle. You claim “This retweet has since been removed from your twitter, however the Labour Party is in possession of evidence that it was once there (namely for a period following 6:48pm on Thursday 30th June 2016)”. Why has this evidence not been sent to me? Why is it not included in your responses to my Subject Access Request? How was the evidence obtained – was it a human or computerised process? How long do you think the alleged Retweet was on my timeline?
2 My email of September 6 said:
“My Twitter profile states “ReTweet not always endorsement”. I often Retweet things I do not necessarily agree with, as part of the sharing of information on Twitter, and I know many other people do likewise. I cannot see why the Labour Party is using resources trawling social media, looking for evidence of alleged abuse, that can be used to suspend members, when that alleged abuse took place prior to the publication of the rules for the leadership election. Such trawling of social media is contrary to a recommendation of the Chakrabarti report. In view of this, the suspension of myself, in the mistaken belief that I had Retweeted derogatory comments about Angela Eagle, would be particularly unfair”.
Why have you not responded to this point? Please respond now.
3 I do not agree with your decision to protect the confidentiality of the person/s who made the original allegation, given that I believe it to be a malicious and unfounded allegation. I presume the Labour Party has some written record of the allegation, and therefore request that this is sent to me, along with an explanation of its absence from the SAR response.
4 I have been a Labour Party candidate in local elections on 10 occasions. Why is there no material about this in the SAR response? What other types of material are missing?
5 Please issue another letter, offering a clear apology for the incorrect decision to suspend me from the Labour Party.
After sending six emails, and having three lengthy telephone conversations with Labour headquarters, since receiving the “evidence” for my suspension more than a month ago, the long-promised written reply to my challenge finally arrived two days ago.
As I had asked a series of specific questions, I thought I might get specific answers, but all that the helpful Compliance colleagues managed was a few standard sentences, one of which claims to remove my right to appeal:
Apologies for the delay in responding to you.
Your Subject Access Request has been posted to you and should be with you within a week.
There is no ability to appeal an administrative suspension. Suspensions are put in place while an investigation is carried out therefore you will have the opportunity to put your case across as part of this investigation. You will be contacted shortly regarding this.
Having given myself 24 hours to calm down, I tried another patient and diplomatic appeal, which I emailed yesterday. I do not know if there will be any meaningful response from party HQ, but at least I have more evidence of my trying in good faith to resolve the issue – when the party finally address the case:
Thank you for replying.
I maintain that this process has been mishandled, and am disappointed that nobody in Compliance or Legal seems able to respond in detail to the points made in my series of emails below.
My email of September 8 reports telephone conversations in which Compliance and Legal said they would look at my response to the evidence, and lift the suspension if they agreed with me that I had not Retweeted the relevant messages. Why has this not happened?
I have been suspended for 7 weeks, and lack a right of appeal. The party has failed to meet its obligations under the Equality Act, and the situation is harming my mental health.
Your email states “you will be contacted shortly” about the investigation, but I have been told this several times across 7 weeks without anything happening. Please can you be more precise about a timescale?
I am copying this email, for information, to Jennie Formby, who has taken up my case within the NEC, and Simon Letts, leader of Southampton City Council. I have worked, and campaigned, with Jennie and Simon for several years, and they have both expressed a wish that the suspension be lifted, enabling me to return to Labour Party activity.
Please can somebody see sense, and lift this mistaken suspension?
It is now day 50 of my suspension from the Labour Party. I still lack evidence to substantiate the reason for the suspension, or any prospect of an appeal hearing.
The party machine continue to frustrate efforts to tackle this.
Having received an email inviting me to a meeting of Southampton and Romsey Labour Party, I sent the reply below yesterday.
I have been suspended from the Labour Party for 7 weeks due to unsubstantiated allegations that I have broken party rules. Despite numerous telephone calls and emails to party headquarters, I have not been given a timescale for an appeal hearing. Party HQ are aware this is having an adverse effect on my health, but refuse to deal with the matter.
Given that thousands of other party members nationally are in the same position, I wish an opportunity to raise the matter at the next All Members Meeting. Please can you advise who I should contact to get the suspensions issue added to the agenda.
I received the response below, banning me from the meeting I had been invited to attend, and refusing to allow discussion of the Labour purge (whereas many Constituency Labour Parties have passed motions asking for an end to the purge)
Dear Andrew – Ken has passed me your email below.
I shan’t be putting this as an item for All Members Meeting for the following two reasons.
Firstly, as you are currently suspended, you are not permitted to attend any Labour Party meetings.
Secondly, even if you were, as previously advised in my email of early September, the local party has no say on your suspension or the timing, or outcome of, the national party’s consideration of the matter giving rise to the suspension. This is a matter for you to resolve directly with party HQ. I appreciate you may have been waiting a while but, if you feel you are being unfairly treated by the national party, you may wish to consider getting some independent advice. The local party cannot, and will not, interfere in the process.
I hope that clarifies why the matter will not be discussed at the All Members Meeting. If you have any issue with my reply, I suggest you contact Louise McGee, the Labour South East Regional Director, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chair of Southampton & Romsey Labour Party
I sent the following email to the Regional Director, but I doubt she will be in any hurry to reply.
Please see emails below.
The lack of support from a local party I have worked hard for over many years is very disappointing.
I left telephone messages with your office on October 7 and again today, asking for a call back to discuss a timetable for my appeal, but this has not happened.
If I am prevented from attending meetings – in apparent contravention of the Labour rule book – I wonder why I received the email at the start of this chain inviting me to a meeting. I have also received other recent emails inviting me to Labour events.
Please can I have a prompt response to the points I have raised.