A few important dates and friends
I was born in Belfast in April at the end of the worst winter on record (1963 was wo0rse still but sunny). From January 22nd to March 17th, snow fell every day and there was no sun.
I met Geoffrey Dowse in 1947
I hated school – I was bullied and bullied back. I have no friends from school. Geoff and I went to a pretentious boys’ prep school which was utterly awful with plenty of corporal punishment. After that I went to a state secondary modern which prepared me for 13+ failure.
On the 1st of January 1960 conscription ended – oh happy day!
In 1961 I met Mr Powell (1942 Dieppe raid survivor), never knew his full name, but he taught me to write, to use my brain and to enjoy reading. Unfortunately, he died shortly afterwards but my life was changed and I thank him dearly for caring.
In 1964 I passed my driving 4 months after my 17th birthday and at the first attempt – please not Geoff!
I also scraped 6 ‘O’ levels at one sitting which was then the minimum qualification to do anything.
I met my cousin Atholl Blair first in Lyons Cornerhouse, Piccadilly in the early 1950’s when his family were over here from Canada but got to know him better when he arrived here to join HMS Conway and he told me that he slept on the floor of a basement flat I had in Chalk Farm in 1968. I have more recollection of Lyons Cornerhouse than I do of Gloucester Road which of course is now gentrified. I looked it up on Google Earth and blimey it is posh now.
I met Frank Speller RIP in 1966 and he took me on as a commercial apprentice with Philips Industries and my first job was in Tottenham Court Road in swinging London. I loved it and were it not for my accountancy exams it would have been much better but hey! I passed my exams – sorry no prizes. It was through Frank I first me George (now David) Mortlock in 1969 but more of that later.
In October 1969 I then packed my bags, record player, vinyl and took the ferry to Hook of Holland and eventually Eindhoven for nearly 3 years.
Pietro Bianchessi 1969
In Holland I was given a flat in Hertog Hendrik van Brabantsplein (still there as Google Street Plan confirmed) and my nextdoor neighbour was Pietro Bianchessi. The modern apartment was furnished with loving care by the Personnel Department from an office furniture catalogue. It was expensive and the only good thing about the place was my neighbour. Even so I moved out soon into a shared apartment in the north of the city. Pietro and Marijke have remained friends ever since.
We then drove to east Berlin. We smuggled west marks in and exchanged for east marks. We drank champagne at a tea dance which pissed off the soldiers entertaining their sweethearts with tea! I remember paling up with a student of architecture who we took to the Hotel Stadt Berlin on Alexander Platz to drink vast quantities of vodka as we had so much money to get rid of. We stumbled out of there and he undid his zip and started to pee all over the hotel steps. We got out of there quick but I sobered up quick thinking what if the police saw us – before we had cameras everywhere.
Car broke down on no-man’s land and I came through final checkpoint without a clutch.
Hitched to Istanbul via Romania and Bulgaria
Met up in Montreal in 1977, Luxembourg and subsequently in Barga. When in Luxembourg I introduced them to Craig and Linsey as they had just arrived in the Grand Duchy – they are still there now with Tsveta.
George Mortlock 1972
On return from Holland I shared a basement flat with George, Avon and Bonnie. It was called Sea View in Redcliffe Place, Chelsea which also has been poshed up since we lived there. We lost touch but I was in Sydney in 2005 and looked him up in the phone book and we met and as soon as we were talking memories flooded back.
Phil Harris 1979
I met Phil in Manchester in 1979 – he was just down from York, working for ICI and hating it. We met through the Liberal Party at the time of the rise in the SDP and Irene was a member of the SDP. I was Phil’s best man in 1981ish. When Phil got a job at Otago University NZ, Jean and I stayed with them when we did our world tour in 2004/5. They live now in Chester which is a bit more manageable. Phil stood against Gerald Kaufman in Gorton South and got a very satisfactory result. The Liberals were the official opposition on Manchester City Council at that time – this is no longer the case. I was his minder during the campaign and we visited bars all over the constituency – Polish, Catholic, all denominations we didn’t care. We both stood as paper candidates in Bradford Greater Manchester – neither of us had been to Bradford so we thought if we were standing there we had better visit – it was a bit run down and we became thirsty. We came across a real spit and sawdust place, walked in and all heads rounded on us – probably we should have taken the rosettes off but you live and learn – we had a pint and left.
Bill Gallan 1983
I met Bill on his first day at work in Shropshire on the day his mother died. We became firm friends and in retirement we have made many trips to Scotland in his vintage Jaguar. I remember visiting a village shop just south of Ullapool. I spotted an advertisement for malt whiskey 69% proof. The shopkeeper poured us a shot each and then disappeared. We drank our drinks and then she came back with the water and she was horrified we had drunk it neat – this was the first of our whiskey tasting tours and I don’t like Scotch I much prefer Irish – well I would wouldn’t I.
Keith Ford 1984
Keith sold me a hooky phone in Telford – he was the only tin shifter in the Town – his company kitted out the Inland Revenue. He was my sleeping partner for Sprayonmud – we sold mud to Brazil, Saudi, Australia, we had agents in Denmark and Germany. We were filmed for TV, chatted to radio networks all around the world. Geoff had an interview in London as I could not be arsed to travel down. We had a mud mine on Wenlock Edge – a film crew wanted to make a programme but I told them if we took them to the mine they would have to be blindfolded!
Tony Corke 1984
I met Tony when he came to my house one evening for a maths and costing lesson when he was studying to become a chef. I visited him in Brighton, London, Taverna del Colleoni, Bergamo, Cannes, Laguna Niguel – like Stephen Fry he has been to all 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii. When I Brighton he was a chef at a rather upmarket Italian restaurant. One day the head waiter came into the kitchen and asked Tony if he would do some chips for a special customer – Tony flew into a rage and said “Do you see chips on my menu”. The head waiter went down the road to the fish and chip shop, bought some chips, placed then on a silver flat and the customer was very pleased. But no one mucks about with the menu. I have been drinking in Tony’s restaurants for years (he taught me how to make a Cadillac Margarita) but I am especially happy that Steve Crawford could come tonight all the way from Northern California.
My nextdoor neighbour invited Jean to my New Year’s Eve party in 1993 and we were married in June 1997. We have been around the world together. We lived out in the sticks but now live in the middle of town that suits us just fine.
Ceri Jones 2001
I met Ceri, my business partner, on the day of 9/11 – we were working for the MOD at RAF St Athen. He made me an excel super user and I taught him to fiddle the books.