andrewgodsell

Tales from an author

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

World Cup Football and a Flirtatious Finn

Hello again – a few more readers attracted. Here are some memories of the 1980s – football, politics, literature, and music. Thirty years down the road, I am still interested in these things. This piece was originally called “The Lion and the Unicorn” – wonder if the new title proves more interesting.

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 eighteen 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, and involvement in the debating society. I now 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, 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, 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 unable to get a job on leaving college, as Britain was suffering mass unemployment. After several months, my search brought success, as I was offered a job by the London branch of Dresdner Bank, based at Frankfurt, in West Germany.

My 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.

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 was lacking in confidence, but chat about football with the blokes, and readiness to be teased by the women, helped break the ice with colleagues. 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.

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, and I wished to be an active participant in British politics. 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 the Militant Tendency). The latter meeting was addressed by Dennis Skinner (the 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 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. A few months later, in January 1985, 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.

In December 1984, I went to the Dresdner Christ¬mas party, 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 of the follow¬ing year. 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 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 managed to buy 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’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 ten 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. Man¬chester United held on to the lead during the closing minutes. When the final whistle arrived, I again celebrated wildly. A few minutes later another magic moment arrived, as 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 part was even better, and included a stunning rendition of Because the Night. The concert ended with a lengthy medley of Twist and Shout and 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, 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. It might cost a lot to spend a penny. I preferred three visits to Wembley that Autumn, for World Cup matches, as England drew 1-1 with Romania, beat Turkey 5-0 (with Gary Lineker scoring his first international hat trick), and drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland.

Advertisements

Parallel Lines / The 1970s

Hello again – well the WordPress stats say a few people have been reading this week. As for me, highlight of the week has been attending a show by Milton Jones – some brilliant comedy. In a moment of whimsy (not sure that is the right spelling), I announced on Twitter that I would dress up as a chicken for the show, but I lacked the time to go to fancy dress shop (or lacked the pluck) to do so! A cousin of mine sent same tweet idea to Milton few months ago so perhaps Milton got the joke.

Now for a bit of nostalgia – some more memories of childhood, including holidays in the sun / Devon (memo to self – should add that phrase to the piece). End of the piece has joke about potatoes – perhaps you had to be there?

Many of my happiest childhood memories stem from Summer holidays 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 season’s 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. 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 mother’s parents, 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, who was in turn the mother of Ernest.

Having previously gained a place in the junior school’s chess team, I represented Court Moor at that game. I also appeared in a couple of reserve team football matches for Court Moor. In February 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 British Championship, during May 1978. That year’s 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. 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 saw the 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.

In May 1979 a General Election was won by the Conservative Party, with Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister. I felt the outgoing Labour government – in which Jim Callaghan replaced Wilson as Prime Minister in 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 remember 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, 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 obtained 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 December 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, as an excited 16 year old, I 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 her Easter LP 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 a biography of Bruce, by Dave Marsh, that a legendary track, The Promise, intended for the 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 one evening, I heard John White complaining, by telephone, 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.

The Fascination of History

Hello all – back again

I have decided to tell my story in a series of posts.

History has always been important to me, ever since I first visited Stonehenge as a child.

Sometimes stories develop, and expand, over a long period of time. Thirty five years after my first visit to Stonehenge, a piece about the place formed the opening of my book Legends of British History, published in 2008.

When and where does British history begin? For me it started at Stonehenge, which I visited back in 1973, aged eight. 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.

Work on the site that became known as Stonehenge commenced in around 3100 BC, when an earthwork, comprised of banks and ditches, was built with the use of primitive tools. The first set of stones arrived around a thousand years later, with the erection in about 2150 BC of the Bluestones. These stones were transported from the Prescelly Mountains, in the south west of Wales. It is amazing to think that approximately 80 of these stones, weighing up to four tons each, were moved across a distance of 240 miles as far back in time as four thousand years ago. The Outer Ring was constructed circa 2000 BC, using Sarsen stones, which were brought from the Marlborough Downs, about twenty miles north of Stonehenge. The journey was shorter than that taken by the Bluestones, but the transportation across land of the Sarsen stones, which weighed up to 50 tons each, must have required a monumental effort. At Stonehenge stone lintels were placed on top of the Sarsen stones, with these constructs being held in place by powerful joints. Further building at Stonehenge continued until around 1500 BC, at which point the Bluestones were re-arranged into what is now the Inner Circle.

Many theories have been advanced as to who built Stonehenge, and why. The most credible suggestions focus on the possibility that it had an astronomical, or other scientific, purpose. These are suggested by the alignment of the stones with the sun as dawn breaks on June 21 – the longest day of the year. Other serious contenders advance the idea of Stonehenge as a religious temple, in view of the importance that worship has always held in human society. Running alongside this is the possibility that Stonehenge was a burial ground for the leaders of the people that built this enormous edifice. There are many apparent burial mounds in the vicinity of Stonehenge. One of the most commonly-known suggestions is that Stonehenge was built by the Druids. This idea appears to have originated with John Aubrey (1626-1697), an antiquarian, folklorist, and owner of estates in Wiltshire, who is most famous for his authorship of the book Brief Lives. The theory is probably incorrect, as most evidence suggests that the Druids used forest temples as places of worship, rather than stone buildings. Nevertheless the modern-day Druids have regularly gathered at Stonehenge for the Summer solstice festival.

One of the books I grew up with was Wiltshire, a volume in Arthur Mee’s The King’s England series. Mee’s Wiltshire was first published in 1939, and my maternal grandfather, Ernest Collings, owned a copy of the 1965 update by C L S Linnell – Mee having died during the intervening years. Mee provides descriptions of the history, traditions, topography, and architecture of Wiltshire’s towns and villages. In a piece on the monument, Mee writes “It has been said of Stonehenge that it is an Ancient British work, a Druidical work, a Saxon work, even a Danish work, and a scholar has in our time suggested that it was erected by immigrants from Egypt”.

During the course of research for this narrative, I have found theorists seriously advancing alternative cases for the French, Bronze Age Greeks, or aliens from another planet as the builders of Stonehenge. The supposed scholarship on Stonehenge has become entwined with the fantastical. The most famous of the legendary explanations of Stonehenge revolves around traditions associated with King Arthur. The tale first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, written in the 1130s. During the fifth century, Hengest, an invading Saxon leader, massacred 300 British nobles, and Aurelius Ambrosius, the British high king, decided to raise a memorial to his fallen supporters. Uther Pendragon, the father of Arthur, led an expedition to Ireland, during which Merlin used magic to relocate the Giant’s Ring stone circle to Britain, whereupon it formed Stonehenge.

Very little of the original Stonehenge has survived into our current age. Over the centuries most of the stones have been lost – probably being plundered for use in other construction. It was not until 1918 that ownership of Stonehenge was transferred to the British government, and conservation became a priority. Visiting Stonehenge in 1973, I was saddened by the way in which recent generations had vandalised the site, with many people having carved their names in the stones. In 1978 public access to the actual stones, as opposed to the surrounding area, was curtailed. The restrictions have been continued by English Heritage, which has managed the site since 1984, balancing the need to conserve Stonehenge with a wish to make it accessible to the British public, and the many foreign tourists for whom it is a magnet. The work of English Heritage, and similar organisations, such as the National Trust, plays a vital role in preserving the physical presence of British history. In parallel, historians maintain and develop our history in written form. It is a wonderful ongoing process, and I seek to make a contribution.

Once Upon a Time

Back to the Blog after a long gap – and back to the start of my story

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifteen-Minutes-Fame-Andrew-Godsell/dp/1447858727

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 mum, 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 eleven 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 of that year, mum, dad, and I went on holiday to 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 nineteen months old (or should that be young?) at the time.
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 chronicle, my first response to stories is recorded at the age of two and a half years, which means mid-1967. That 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 our house windows on Winter days. I have few specific memories of my life prior to starting school, but recollect a happy time.
I joined Gally Hill Infants School, in Crookham, during January 1970, aged five. A few months later, we had a family holiday at Brean Sands, near Weston-super-Mare, in Somerset, being based in a Pontin’s camp. This was part of a long series of extended family holidays. Mum, dad, Mark, and myself generally went on holiday with my mother’s parents, Ernest and Dorothy, 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. I attended the infants school, which combined solid Victorian buildings with modern prefabricated classrooms, for two and a half years. Then 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. 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 with his old friend. 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 Noakes 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 had represented the RAF at youth level football, with the opposition in one match, during the early 1950s, 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.
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. 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.
I attended my first football match on February 17 1974, joining dad and some friends in seeing Aldershot draw 3-3 with Southend United, in the Third Division. In 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. The following year, 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.

Testing

Post Navigation