UNIVERSITY 1979 TO 1982
I can remember my mother once telling me that my biggest problem was my inferiority complex! I was very surprised at the time because it wasn’t the sort of thing I expected her to say. She never pursued it any further and to tell you the truth, I didn’t want to know about it at the time. However, 20/20 vision comes into play again and I can see now that there was more than a grain of truth in what she said. It might seem a surprising thing to say, and for all I know, it might be a common human condition, but in any new situation I usually start from the position that my peers are better qualified than myself, and there is the possibility I might be in the wrong. Nowhere was this more true than during my first days at Lancaster.
In its wisdom, the university got the new intake on to campus three days before the rest of the students and put us through an indoctrination course which gave us some orientation. It was a very polished performance and I remember saying at the time that I was amazed by the fact that they could give the amount of information and guidance that they did and still leave me feeling like an individual. I suppose that sub-consciously I was comparing it to my first few days in the army which was the nearest I had been to this situation since I went to Grammar School. I don’t know precisely what the affect was on the younger element but from conversations I had I think their experience was very close to mine.
I got settled into my room and found that my companions on that floor were, with one exception, third year accountancy students, the exception was a bloke from Haslingden in his third year of studying Ancient Archaeology. I knew there was an age gap and an even bigger experience gap and to be fair, it must have been as difficult for them having this old fart in their midst but I have to say that on the whole their behaviour was loutish and fell a long way short of what I would consider to be acceptable standards. Before anyone immediately condemns me for being inflexible let me point out that I’m talking about things like a total lack of hygiene in the communal kitchen to the point where, after one of them had vomited over the dirty dishes in the sink one night, this mess was left to fester for days while they all ignored it hoping it would go away. I didn’t make myself popular by lining them up and telling them that if they didn’t get their act together I would take whatever measures I thought fit. Nothing was done so I rang the Public Health at the Town Hall and we had a visit from the inspector. There was a sudden and rapid improvement in standards.
I was very wary of my motives when making any judgements about these lads because I was only too well aware that I was old enough to be father to any of them but, against this, I set the fact that I had lived in these circumstances in the army with a far rougher bunch of lads and had no problems. What we were looking at was a total lack of discipline, personal pride and any consideration for other people. Bad manners in other words. I took some advice about this and soon realised that I had been put on this corridor quite deliberately in the hope that my presence would modify the behaviour of a bunch of lads who had been a pain in the arse for the authorities for the last two years! In a funny way this made it easier for me because I was assured that the fault didn’t lie with me but with them. They actually were louts and everyone else saw them in this light. Eventually, as they got to know me they quietened down, I think they realised I had a point about living together being much easier if everyone showed a bit of consideration. It didn’t do me any harm when they found out that the Old Fart’s car was faster than any of theirs, and as time went on and they discovered that I was a good source of advice and help when things got tough we came to an understanding but I could have done without the distraction and expenditure of effort.
I should mention here the situation that arose towards the end of their final year when, in addition to cramming for Finals they were going the rounds of contacting accountancy firms trying to get a job. They were singularly unsuccessful as a whole, the one exception was the archaeologist who informed us one day that he had a job, as an accountant! His dad knew someone and they agreed to take him on as an improver in a firm in Haslingden. The fury of the other blokes knew no bounds, they couldn’t get over it and I’m afraid that I have no idea whether any of them ever entered the profession.
I soon started to come to some conclusions about university. The first was that so many students seemed to be doing courses of study that they had no interest in. It seemed to me that a third of the intake changed their major after the first year and a third left after three years convinced they had done the wrong course. I am sure that this is too sweeping a condemnation of the system but there is more than a grain of truth in it. The other fault I saw was that so many of the intake had come directly from sixth form and actually believed that they had a right to do the university course. Very few of them regarded it as a privilege. It seemed to me that if everyone was forced to do at least a year in industry or commerce in the real world it might help sort the wheat from the chaff a bit. All right, I know that this was me saying that everyone should conform to my model but again, whilst this isn’t a complete answer, there is a certain amount of sense in it.
I had of course taken a lot of advice about what my major should be and the consensus seemed to be a course called Independent Studies. Basically this seemed to mean that I would be able to carry on with my studies into the textile industry and local history and I made this my major. It wasn’t long before I started to have second thoughts. These were largely triggered off by an interview I had with a man called Vernon Pratt who wore a fair-isle fisherman’s smock. I liked his mate Bill Fuge, he seemed a good bloke but I’m afraid my first impressions of Vernon did the department’s case no good at all. One of my first year courses was in the history department and there I was lucky enough to come under the influence of two men who shaped my future at Lancaster. One was my personal tutor, Austin Woolrich and the other was Steve Constantine, all I can say about meeting these two is that it was my lucky day.
Austin was an academic’s academic. From what I can gather his main claim to fame was that he knew absolutely everything that happened at the Battle of Naseby! I’m sure this is an exaggeration but I cling to it as my mental picture of him because it fits him so well. He was (and indeed still is) a considerable expert on wine and I think that one of the things which helped our relationship was the fact that he felt fairly safe in having a glass of wine with me during our meetings, after all I was a mature student! I sat down with Austin one day and told him of my misgivings about Independent Studies. He gave me his opinion and, whilst there was no pressure on me, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t ready to fly free in Independent Studies, what I needed was the discipline of a good old fashioned history degree. I have never regretted the decision.
The courses in the first year were deliberately diverse, I did English Literature and Linguistics and found to my surprise that in the latter I had a head start. A large part of the course was grammar and I found out to my surprise that grammar hadn’t been taught in English schools since 1956! I was possibly the only student in my year who knew the difference between a noun and an adjective before I started. We were lectured to at length by Professor Leech but most of my seminars were with a good Scotsman called Mowatt. I think we got on fairly well because he knew I was very conscious of my dialect and, I suppose based on his experience, having a good Scots brogue, he assured me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with this and that in many cases the dialect was better English than Received Pronunciation. I remember how pleased I was one day in another context when I was congratulated on the precision of my speech. I gradually began to realise that my dialect was more of an advantage than a handicap.
I enjoyed the course, was baffled by the supposed importance of linguistic analysis and bored to tears by Professor Leech’s lectures. The man had a gift for putting people to sleep, I’ve seen him hypnotise a lecture hall full of students in ten minutes. I was sat listening to his lecture one day and next to me was another mature student, a German lass with long blonde hair. I’d seen her about and we’d nodded to each other in passing but I knew nothing about her. After about five minutes she said to me “There must be better things in life than sitting here listening to this!” I agreed and said something like I’d rather be having a smoke and a cup of coffee. She said “I agree, we go!” and with this she gathered her papers, got up and set off out of the lecture room! I had to either put up or shut up so I got up and followed her. They tell me that ten minutes later half the students had walked out! This was unheard of at Lancaster and the funny thing is that the lectures improved, I think Professor Leech had got the message.
I remember another incident connected with lectures at that time. We were all sat waiting for John Walton to lecture us on Regional History when a young man hurried into the room, took his place at the podium, arranged his papers and started to lecture us on what I think was low temperature physics. After a couple of minutes he faltered, stopped speaking and said “I’m in the wrong lecture room aren’t I?” There was a collective nod from 150 students and he retreated with a red face to a burst of applause. At this moment John Walton walked in and thought we were taking the piss out of him for being late! It was a pleasant diversion. I told John Mowatt about it and he steered the conversation round to the Leech walk-out which had evidently caused quite a fluttering in the department. He told me that when he was at university, I think it was Edinburgh, there was a tradition that if you didn’t like the lecture you threw pennies at the lecturer. In those days an old penny was quite a substantial missile! I got the impression that he thoroughly approved of what had happened and that he thought that on the whole, the students at Lancaster were a little too subservient.
For English Literature I had Norman Sherry. Norman was a world authority on Conrad and when I knew him he was engaged in writing Graham Greene’s biography. Norman was a funny little bloke and I’m sure that in any other context I would have marked him down as a little shit and avoided him like the plague. However, he was a wonderful and passionate teacher and I really enjoyed the seminars with him. We soon found out that there was a problem. Because of my age no doubt, I had no qualms about entering into debate with Norman and the result was that nobody else got a look in. Norman told me that I wasn’t to see this as a fault, I was using the seminar properly, the problem was with the younger students who didn’t have the confidence to speak. Norman came to an arrangement with me, I would only speak if spoken to for the first twenty minutes of the hour long seminar, after that the gloves were off. It was a good ploy because the others soon realised what was going on and fell over themselves to get a word in before Norman turned me loose. He said we made a good team and that the young ones had opened up much faster than would otherwise have been the case. Both at Lancaster and in the States I found that faculty at colleges and universities usually saw a leavening of mature students as a good thing. They were usually more committed and focused than the youngsters and set them a good example. Also, they weren’t afraid of speaking up in seminars and other discussions and could be a useful catalyst.
Norman’s secretary, and the person who did most of his work, was a lady called Maureen Jex. Mo was brilliant, I think she enjoyed the fact that I was different and certainly understood many things about me far better than I did. She picked up on things that it took me fifteen years to sort out but had the sense to leave me to it. We are still talking to each other twenty years later so I think I did all right there!
Apropos of Norman, I have never forgotten an incident that happened in my second year. I had popped round to have a cup of coffee with him even though he was no longer one of my tutors and when I went in his room he was busy photo-copying documents on a large portable copier in the middle of the floor. He immediately put me in charge of the copying while he brewed the coffee. “Two copies of each dear boy!” and away I went. I couldn’t help noticing that the first document I copied was a letter from Edward Ardizone to Graham Greene illustrated with one of his famous line drawings! The next was from Vita Sackville-West, Harold Nicholson’s wife and the one after that from Harold Macmillan! I realised I was copying Graham Greene’s personal correspondence! Just then Norman said something that was a complete non sequitur and I never replied. “Personally, I don’t know what you’re pissing about at dear boy, you’re quite obviously a writer.” That statement has haunted me for years, flawed man though he was, Norman was definitely a writer and an opinion like that from somebody like him must surely call for attention. I stored it away in the back of my mind and got on with my job.
I think it was about this time that it dawned on me that I had passed my dreaded 42nd birthday and was still alive! I began to realise that my instinct had been right but my interpretation had been wrong. It was quite fair to call what had happened in 1978 a rebirth and not a death. God knows where the original thought came from but if you were to ask Vera I’m sure she will remember me talking about it very early in our marriage. It may be just a weird coincidence but I’m not too sure, I think that sometimes we have access to faculties and instincts that we don’t really understand. The best thing to do is to listen to the voices and take note.
There was some bad news in March 1980. Vera rang me to say that Fly, our old dog, who had stayed with the family, was very ill. He had cancer and the vet said the best thing would be to put him down. Vera asked him to come back the following day because it didn’t seem that he could last the night and as he didn’t seem to be in pain she wanted him to die naturally. The following morning the vet came in and Fly was still alive. Vera told me the vet sat in a chair and Fly got up, made his way across to the him and rested his head on his knee. Vera said it was the first time she’d seen a vet shed a tear. They injected him and he went wherever good dogs go. It makes me cry just to think of it. I had kept away from him so as not to disturb his life but I missed him dreadfully, he had been my constant companion for years. Vera discussed it with me and we had him cremated at Crawshawbooth and his ashes scattered there. Neither of us could bear the thought of him being thrown away like a piece of rubbish. She gave me the certificate when it came and I had to laugh when I read what it said; “Your pet Fly was cremated on…….” The thing about dogs is that they are one of the surest sources of unconditional love. There are many good things in my life now but one of the key ingredients is my little Jack Russell terrier, Eigg. How anybody can dislike dogs is a mystery to me.
By the end of the academic year it was fairly obvious that the people who had assessed me and given me the chance to go to Lancaster had been right. Beneath the wagon driver and the engineer was no academic but a more than adequate scholar. I did well in the first year exams and in fact was so successful in English that Professor Leech sent for me and tried to persuade me to change my major to English. I told him no, the reason I gave was that just because I was good at English didn’t make me want to do it as a degree course. I wanted to devote my energies to what interested me, the study of history. Privately I had another reason, if studying English meant I had to get as good as him at putting people to sleep, forget it!
We have to step back a bit here there some matters of any other business which have to be inserted before we get too far out of sync. If you remember, I bought a plane ticket in late summer of 1979. I had done the first term at Lancaster and in early November, I got myself down to London, left my car with Roger Perry and his new lady Annie drove me to the airport to catch the polar flight to Los Angeles. At this time, this was the longest non-stop flight in the world and we are talking about a bloke who has never been out of the country apart from National Service and has never flown before! Apart from anything else, the machine fascinated me, the concept of something weighing 400 tons flapping its wings and actually getting into the air was like a miracle to me.
Here I have to do an even bigger flash-back and go back to my days working for Drinkalls on the cattle wagon. I think it must have been about 1971, I was driving up the coast road where it skirts Prestwick Airport and I saw one of British Airways new Boeing 747s taxiing towards the end of the runway next to the road. I had seen this plane from a distance for a week or two and knew it was the biggest commercial airliner in the world. BA used Prestwick for pilot training because it was the least fog and weather affected of all UK airports. They had this plane loaded up to maximum weight and were training pilots in take-offs and landings with it all day. I realised it was going to start its take-off about 100 yards from the road and so I pulled up to watch.
As I did a police car stopped in front of me and the driver got out. He walked back towards me, “You can’t park here, can’t you see the signs?” I told him yes I had seen the signs but did he realise that this plane coming up towards us weighed 400 tons and it was going to do the impossible? The bobby considered for a minute and then he said, “You’re right, the roads quiet, I’ll pretend I’m having a word with you and we’ll watch it” He was as interested as I was! I can still see the tyres squidgeing over on the rims as the massive plane swung round and waddled to the end of the runway. We felt the blast as its engines opened up but, as we were directly behind it we saw no movement, just the impression that it was shrinking. Then it rose off the ground and seemed to go straight up into the air. I have never seen anything so impressive in my life. The bobby looked at me and winked, “On your way and don’t do it again!” I never forgot this and now, eight years later, I was going to go up with it!
As we were driving to the airport from Roger’s house we were in plenty of time and Annie suggested we call in at Kenwood House and have a cup of tea. We were sat in the café enjoying our tea and I was listening to the snatches of conversation that drifted over to us. One in particular caught my attention when I heard this ladies voice “Personally, all I can say is thank God for modern obstetrics!” I looked at Annie who had heard this as well and we were about to comment when the same vice drifted over again; “Yes I know who you mean, he used to be a ballet dancer but he’s a bricklayer now and doing rather well!” I looked at Annie and we decided it couldn’t get any better, it was time we left! We got to Heathrow in good time and I settled down to wait for my plane.
The surprising thing to me then and now is that I wasn’t nervous at all. I was fascinated by watching the other passengers and noting how their behaviour was modified by the fact they were travelling. I had read a poem not long before by Roger McGough which spoke of entering an iron womb and surrendering control. I had to read it a couple of times before I realised it was a metaphor for flying. The trick was to accept the fact that when you checked in you surrendered your life to the airline, lost all control and it wouldn’t be returned to you until the doors opened at the other end of the journey and you were free. I reckon this explains all the aberrant behaviour you will see at airports and the syndrome where everyone is up on their feet as soon as possible and waiting to get out after the plane lands.
I soon learned that the best way to remove the romance from travel is to get on a long-haul flight. It took 13 hours to get to LAX and boy, was I ready to get off that plane and reclaim my life. Susi was waiting for me and it was wonderful to see her. We got back to the car and there I was being driven through Los Angeles on the freeway, it was just like the movies! This was reinforced by a news item on the radio. The announcer reported that there had been a brush fire near Laguna and that local people had been evacuated from their homes in bitter night time temperatures of 57 degrees! I decided that this might be a good place to be! To say that the stay in America was a culture shock was to put it mildly. I know now that in many ways I was totally screwed up in the head because of all the change I was going through. I am sure that Susi must have had her doubts at times about me, I was definitely not as other men and wasn’t to be for many years. However, this didn’t mean that I didn’t have a wonderful time. For a start off, Susi had planned a trip for us and if ever anyone got maximum impact first time in America it was me.
We got to Susi’s house on Painter Avenue in Whittier and even in the short ride from the airport I was blown away. The sun and the colours, the road signs with names I knew from the movies, the cars, the freeway itself, everything was totally different, larger scale and completely new to me. The house itself was an old (for LA) wooden two storey structure but looked more like a bungalow from the outside. There was a veranda right across the front and a small garden in the rear with an avocado tree and a banana tree next door! The house was full of what I soon found was Susi type memorabilia. If ever anyone meets her and wants to give her a good time, take her to the local tip! There were some wonderful things she had salvaged, cleaned up and hung on the wall. I remember the first time Steve Constantine came into my house and I asked him what he thought he said that I had ‘colonised my own space’, that applies to Susi as well.
After a couple of days to recuperate and do the laundry we set off north eventually getting on to the Camino Real which is the original Spanish road through California. I should say here that the trip Susi had arranged for me was one night in each of the best three hotels and motels in California! The first stop was the Santa Barbara Biltmore where we didn’t have a room but a bungalow in the grounds. I went in and had a look at the appointments and appraised Susi of the fact that the bath was defective, there were holes in it! She came in and had a look and said “Goody, it’s a Whirlpool!” and immediately filled it and climbed in. I soon found that the holes were connected to a system that pumped the water round and injected air, the effect being a powerful massage. The other memorable event when I was there was when the smoke alarm went off when I lit my pipe by mistake in the room. I rang reception and they sent this wonderful engineer who rejoiced in the name Aloysius who simply ripped the battery operated alarm off the ceiling and threw it through the open window into the shrubbery! Problem solved, a couple of dollars changed hands and that was it, the American way!
The following day we set off again up the coast towards our next motel which was at Monterey. Our route took us inland, past Los Alamos and we stopped for lunch at the Madonna Motel at San Luis Obispo. I have to take a deep breath before I start to describe the Madonna Motel, I’m sat here vainly trying to find words to describe the impact it had on me but I’ll just have to tell it like it was. As we approached the place I thought something had gone wrong with my colour vision, everything seemed to be pink! As we got closer I saw that the reason for this was that everything was pink, the buildings, the gas pumps, the pick up truck outside reception and when we entered, the reception itself and Mrs Madonna’s cat suit!
We went into the restaurant and the first thing I saw was a half size scale model of Santa in his sleigh with reindeer and the whole thing was animated and lit up. There’s something vaguely disturbing to a northern lad when he sees evidence of Christmas with the temperature is in the low eighties and the sun blazing down. We had a meal and admired the way everything was embellished, the windows were bevelled glass and cut with Madonna designs, the bar top was solid copper, or rather, and this disappointed me a bit, solid brass, copper plated and the plate was wearing off. I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t gone for the real thing. The tablecloths and the napkins were, guess what? That’s right, pink. I went down into the basement to the toilet and when I got in I was slightly bemused to see three blokes peeing in a fountain! It took me a second or two to realise that this was one of the urinals, the other had a working water wheel in it! I asked the three blokes if they minded if I did a picture of them peeing and they said to go ahead. They came from Texas and were on holiday. Later I found that the roll of film with that picture on was the only one I have ever lost in my life!
After lunch we set off again up the Camino Real. One of the glories of the road is the mission churches which punctuate your progress, we stopped and looked at a few and I was intrigued by the above ground burials in small mausoleums. We went through San Simeon and left Hearst Castle unexplored but viewed, we were short of time. Further up the road we came to Big Sur and stopped for while watching the massive breakers coming in off the pacific, no wonder it’s surfing country up there. We stayed that night in Monterey, looked at what was the original Cannery Row, Salinas was just inland from there and this was Steinbeck country. I was fascinated by the donkey heads on the oil wells nodding away as they pumped petroleum out of the ground. The following day we drove into San Francisco. Susi had excelled herself , we were staying at No 1 Nob Hill, the Mark Hopkins Hotel. It’s funny what your first impressions are but apart from the cable cars and recognising that the front of the Mark Hopkins was where the opening shots of ‘Bullit’ were filmed, my most vivid memory is that when I switched on the TV the programmes that were on were Monty Python and the Benny Hill Show! I thought I was in America but what we had was ‘The English Hour’!
I think we spent three days in San Francisco, I got emotional about the Golden Gate Bridge, the most beautiful and wonderfully sited bridge I have ever seen before or since. We went to Marin County and looked at how the west coast rich lived. Susi introduced me to ‘The Serial’ and I started to say things like “Could you relate to a coffee?” We went in the best ribbon shop I have ever seen, the colours were fantastic. I remember there was a large crane with a bucket dredging the marina and that made my day! Back in San Francisco we walked the Embarcadero, looked at Fisherman’s Wharf and had a drink in the Buena Vista bar. I was to meet a lady called Evelyn later, one of the highest paid psychiatrists in California and she told me she started her career as a whore in the Buena Vista! I suppose this would be a useful experience if you were going to become a therapist! We went shopping in a very up-market centre with an Italian name but I forget it, I remember that on the way out I found some money and had terrible qualms of conscience. I regret to say I quelled them and we spent it on dinner!
There were so many new sights that I was on information overload most of the time. Where else would you see a juke box with a man inside, when you put money in he sang the tune. There was a man with his head in a green plastic whistle, don’t ask me what for. There were people imitating statues, they were completely motionless for long periods and when they did move they were like automatons. I saw men walking hand in hand, I was seeing gays being absolutely open about their preferences for the first time. I remember getting into a conversation with one bloke and I asked him why the term ‘gay’? He said it was an acronym for ‘Good As You’, I don’t know whether that’s true but it made sense to me. We went to look at Coit tower and I speculated that it was a huge phallic joke. We walked round looking at the wonderful colour schemes on the ornate fronts of the wooden houses, it seemed to me that there was a competition to see who could use the most colours. To cap it all, on the Sunday morning as we left the city we met a house being moved on a low loader from one site to another. Moving house in San Francisco means exactly what it says!
We drove the 400 miles home to Whittier, had a shower, changed and drove 50 miles out to Evelyn’s house which stood on a ridge overlooking a valley on one side and on the other we could see out over Hollywood and later watched the fireworks at Universal City. Now I want you to imagine the scene, this poor northern lad has been bombarded with new sights, sounds and sensations for about a week. I was in good nick but I was ready for a quiet evening. When we went in the apartment there was the biggest bed I have ever seen in my life and what’s more it was round! Another first, I’d never seen a round bed. I threw my camera bag on it and for a moment thought my eyes had gone funny, then I realised that not only was it round, it was a water bed! I turned to Evelyn and asked her what it was like. “Comfortable, but no traction!” was the verdict.
At this moment somebody suggested we should have a swim. I was about to make some comment about the fact that it was a shame I hadn’t brought my bathing drawers with me when somebody shouted “Oh goody, skinny dipping!” I remember thinking to myself that if anyone thought I was going to take off all my clothes in front of a bunch of strangers, forget it! Five minutes later I was in the pool and still can’t believe that I found the courage to do it. There was a jacuzzi where the temperature was about 110 degrees and the pool would be about 75, the same as the ambient temperature. There was wine in abundance and plastic glasses for safety and food laid about all over. We watched the fireworks and later I remember Susi and I were relaxing in a corner of the pool and Evelyn swam over, “How’s it going Stanley?” I told her “Things could be worse!”
I realise I’m going over the top here but it’s an indication of the impact everything made on me. Memories flood back, no doubt some of them belong to later visits but who cares? The point is that it was the first time I had been out of the UK since the army and in terms of what was happening here, that doesn’t count! I was, to all intents and purposes, a single man, a free agent and was being bombarded by new experiences, new places even new colours! I had to rethink my photography because the light and the colours in California were completely different. I used my camera as a shield, I could always get respite by taking some more pictures. On reflection I should say that I was confused, I needed time to process all the new information. This implies no criticism of Susi, she couldn’t be expected to fully appreciate the degree of change I had already undergone in 1978. On reflection, it says much for her insight and common sense that I was able to crawl on the plane to go home in a better state than I was when I got off. This was largely due to the fact that she had already dealt with many of the problems which I had and so had considerable insight into many of them. She put a grounding into my thinking about change and managing my new life which was, and still is, invaluable. I can still hear her saying things to me that I didn’t really understand at the time but stored away. Their meaning and the common sense behind them have unfolded very slowly over the years. Sorry Susi, you picked a slow learner!
Come to think of it I can’t have blotted my copybook too much because I came away with an invitation to come back to California in the summer. I attended to that matter as soon as I got back to UK!
Back at Lancaster my street cred with the accountancy students rose to new heights when they realised where I had been for Christmas. I think they began to suspect that there was a bit more to the old fart than they thought. Whatever, things got better.
One of the problems I identified early on at Lancaster was the fact that beyond the structure of the timetable of lectures, nobody gave you any clues as to how much work you should actually do. I am sure I was far better equipped to deal with this situation than students straight out of sixth form, I had spent my life managing time, wagon driving is essentially a fight against the clock. I soon came to the conclusion that the thing to do was put in a genuine eight hours a day and have Sunday off for R&R. This was what I did throughout my three years course and it seemed to work. I got my head down and worked all week and usually went home to King Street on Saturday for a night in my own bed and the Sunday papers. I used to go back to Lancaster first thing on Monday morning. Early rising was no pain to me and I used to be in my room and ready for the day before the others on the floor had even got out of bed. I’m sure they thought I was crazy but my schedule was a lot less punishing than theirs!
Time soon passed and the end of the first academic year ushered in the summer break and another trip to California and Susi. I had missed her a lot but it wasn’t too bad as I knew if I buried myself in the work, time would fly past. This was a pattern I was to take to excess over the next fifteen years but I never noticed it creeping up. It wasn’t that I became a workaholic, I was always good at switching off but I certainly made sure there was always a challenge in front of me. I developed this into a management theory; ‘Wall of Death Management’. Basically the principle is that it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you keep going like hell. There are lots of things wrong with the concept but its great virtue is that as long as you pursue it you have little time to worry about anything else.
There was a significant event at the college in summer 1980. I had called in to see David one evening and we were sat there chewing the fat when Elsie came into the room. In a very calm voice she said something like “Excuse me David but I thought you’d like to know the Onward Building is on fire.” “Thank you.” David said, then he did a double take, “What did you say!” We then realised that this was no joke and Elsie was serious, the college really was on fire so we rushed out and went to where the activity was. Sure enough, the Onward Building, a separate, wooden, two storey annexe behind the main buildings, was well ablaze. Evidently there had been some painters working on it that afternoon and they must have started a small fire in the roof space while burning paint off and not noticed. It had spread through the upper floors which were empty at the time and by the time it was noticed, the building was well alight. Noel Kershaw was there and I saw him in deep conversation with two firemen in full breathing apparatus. They went into the building and emerged ten minutes later supporting each other. One had a brief case clasped in his arms which he delivered to Noel. “What was that all about?” asked David. It transpired that Noel had sent them in for the College insurance policies as this might save time making the claim!
It was an impressive fire and we all stood there watching the firemen do their best but it was hopeless. At one point the fire chief asked David if anything had to be saved from the building, David said they had to rescue the lecturer’s notes or else half of them would never teach again! I overheard one lecturer I knew talking and he said that there was one good thing about the fire, it meant that at long last they had got rid of the squeaky blackboard in room 110. I asked him about it and he said that this blackboard had been a source of annoyance for years as it squeaked terribly when you wrote on it. He had got so exercised about it that one summer holiday he had bought some special paint, spent two days sanding the board off and the rest of the week giving it three coats of paint. When he came back after the holidays he found that one of the cleaners had polished it with wax polish and it was squeaking again!
Eventually the brigade got the fire under control and several of us repaired to David’s office and I went out and got fish and chips all round. David found a bottle of wine that Stan Barker had given him, a particularly sweet Barsac as I remember, and we were all sat there eating chips and drinking wine when a reporter from the Leader Series came in to interview David. When he had gone I commiserated with David on his bad luck. “Oh, that’s all right, these things happen. The main thing is that nobody was injured and the fire is under control.” I told him I wasn’t talking about the fire but the headlines that would appear in the paper; “College Principal eats fish and chips and drinks wine while college burns down.” Just for a moment I had him going, I could see the light in his eyes but he soon recovered, “No, it’ll be all right, he’s a mate of mine.” It must have been all right because the report was simply about the fire. One thing that did strike me at the time and it was that erecting a wooden building to use as a school wasn’t necessarily the best economy. The Onward Building was replaced by another, exactly the same.
At the beginning of July I found myself in the marvellous old main hall at what I always call Ringway Airport. I sat there looking at the concrete flags of the airlines, many of them now defunct, the ornate chandeliers and the way the place was laid out with all the seats facing the main entertainment, the activity on the airfield outside. So many modern airports are built so that it seems that the last thing the architects wanted the passengers to do was take any interest in flying. This may suit some travellers but I always want to see the wonderful machinery that is going to carry me unimaginable distances high in the air at great speed. I still think that the telephone is a miracle, I know how it works probably better than most but it’s still a thrill to dial a number and hear a voice from thousands of miles away. Flight is but another miracle. As I said to that bobby on the side of the road at Prestwick, it’s obvious the bloody things are too heavy to get off the ground but it’s going to do it!
As I was sat there I heard an announcement that the flight was delayed three hours. There was a groan from the other passengers but I wasn’t worried, I was on holiday for God’s sake! I went for a walk and located the barber’s shop. I went in, sat in the chair, and when he asked me what I wanted I said “The Lot!” He got over his surprise and said that it was the first time in thirty years as a barber that he’d had that request. I settled back in the chair and had a haircut, shave, shampoo, facial massage, beard and moustache trimmed and a nice scented oil dressing to finish off. In case any eagle eyes think they have spotted a mistake there, nope, you still need to shave round the edges of a beard if you want to look neat and tidy. It’s just occurred to me that I have never mentioned my appearance, I had a full beard and moustache at that time and didn’t shave it off until early in 1984, more of that later. An hour later, I strode out of the barber’s £10 lighter but feeling like a million dollars, I’d recommend the ploy to anyone in a similar situation.
After another boring flight I arrived at LAX and was met by Susi. I coped better this time and took in the sights a lot more easily. We had a wonderful summer, I met Susi’s long-time friend Larry Scher and we had time together on the beach. I remember we stayed at Laguna in a friend’s house. I got up early in the morning, pulled on a pair of shorts and went out of the house. As I passed one of the trees in the garden I picked an orange, peeled it and ate it as I walked across the road and on to the beach. I walked straight into the sea and swam for about ten minutes, then, out of the water and back across the road. By the time I reached the house I was almost dry. I picked four more oranges, went into the house and squeezed them and then woke Susi with fresh orange juice for both of us. I made some remark about the fact I could get used to this.
Much has been written about the differences between California and the East Coast. I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer as to why this difference exists but I suspect it is something to do with the climate and easy living. I reckon the white settlers were all good puritans and the fact that things were so easy got them worrying. This forced them into deeper levels of self-examination than most people and resulted in the proliferation of shrinks, groups and outlandish psychological theories. This implies no judgement as to whether it’s good or bad, it’s different and has to be accepted. I remember we had a meal one night with some of Susi’s friends and I had a very good piece of steak. I enjoyed it so much that I asked the waitress for some bread and mopped up the gravy. While I was doing this I realised that everybody was watching me. There was no criticism but it was obvious that there was a culture difference between the affluent Californians and a lad who had been brought up with food rationing and taught not to waste anything. I found out later that my behaviour was a sure sign I was orally obsessive and anally retentive. Even now I have difficulty with finding the logic in that diagnosis!
Years before, David and I had jokingly said that we would know we had made it when we met up on the side of the Pacific Ocean and had a drink together. That summer Susi and I took a trip down the coast to La Jolla and San Diego. We rubbernecked our way round the Coronado Hotel which featured in the Marilyn Monroe film ‘Some Like it Hot’ and then went for a meal at the Charthouse nearby. We were in fairly elevated company that evening as there was some sort of British Council/National Theatre shindig going on at the time and Bob Bogdanov and other members of the National Theatre Company were there. Bob was at that time, notorious for his recent production ‘The Romans’ which featured a lot of nudity and slightly veiled sex. Also present was DJ and the assembled company couldn’t really understand why these two mature blokes were stood on the veranda, arms round each other and shedding a tear. They pulled our legs but we ignored them, we knew why we were emotional, we had both come a long way! I have to report we got slightly the worse for wear and finished up walking down the beach listening to Bob declaiming Shakespeare to the Pacific.
I had an agenda while I was in LA that summer. There were certain things I wanted to do and one of them was go to a drive-in movie. No sooner said than done, we arrived at the place, drew up on our podium, hooked the speaker up to the door and settled down to watch ‘The Electric Horseman’. The following day at Rio Hondo College, we were talking to one of Susi’s colleagues, Lorin and he was questioning us about the film because he had heard good reviews of it. It soon became apparent to him that we hadn’t seen much of the movie and eventually his face lit up and he said “You don’t mean you were……… You mean just like the fifties?” He never let us forget this. Lorin had a Rambler estate. It was about thirty feet long and had an eight cylinder engine. He and I were going out for a coffee one morning and I asked him when he had last serviced his car as it was only running on about five cylinders. He assumed a hurt expression and said “I have this car serviced every two years whether it needs it or not!”
We had another cinematic experience one night. We were sat at home on Painter having a quiet drink and the conversation got round to blue movies. It turned out that neither of us had ever seen one. There was, and perhaps still is, a chain of movie houses in LA called ‘Pussy Cat’ and they showed exclusively blue movies. There was one in Whittier so we decided to go down and see what we had been missing. We slid into our seats feeling quite embarrassed and watched the film. They were about twenty minutes long and they showed them one after another. After the first one Susi and I consulted and agreed it was mildly titillating, after the second I was getting bored, ten minutes into the third we had got blue movies out of our system and went for a margarita. There was one bonus, the theatre was built in the 30’s and was high Art Nouveau, it was wonderful and had been built to a very good standard. We spent more time wandering round the foyer looking at the fittings than we did in the auditorium. (Well, nearly!)
Something happened while I was with Susi that caused great rejoicing in the halls of Lancaster later on. Among other things, Susi taught remedial English at Rio Hondo College to students on degree courses who, for one reason or another had missed out on this essential skill. As part of this course she had written a sort of idiot’s guide to essay and report writing which she called the ‘Package Deal’. She gave me a copy to read and I realised this was just what I had been looking for. My essays were good in content but bad in structure. I was in the same position as Susi’s students, nobody had ever told me how to structure an essay beyond giving it a beginning, a middle and an end. She presented me with a copy and I studied it thoroughly.
All too soon my stay in LA came to an end. It had been a magical summer thanks entirely to Susi and her willingness to open her world and friends up to me. There was still a large element of culture shock but I was learning fast and really felt I was coming to grips with the differences. The more I got to know Susi the more I liked her. Like me, she had seen her share of life events but had surmounted all the difficulties. She shared a lot of this experience with me and laid the foundations for my own rehabilitation. I’m not saying that she solved all my problems but at least I had a road map and an assurance that in the end I’d get there. I remember particularly telling her one day that there had been times in my life when I was convinced I was going mad. She burst out laughing and told me that it was OK, it was the ones who were convinced they were sane that actually turned out to be mad. As I’ve said before, I think I was a slow learner, something to do with a Puritan North of England upbringing perhaps but for all this, there were signs of progress and I climbed on to the plane a happy man but sad to leave Susi.
The flight back to Manchester was interesting. I noticed when I boarded that there wasn’t anywhere near a full load. I asked the stewardess why and she suggested I have a word with my travel agent when I got back as this was the last flight before a ‘shoulder’; a change in fares. If I’d been on the next flight it would have saved me £60! I put it down to experience and looked forward to a comfortable flight stretched out across five seats in the centre row. I noticed while I was winding down for sleep that there was a bit more vibration than usual and that every now and again there was a shudder and it was almost as though a ripple went down the fuselage. This intrigued me but I wasn’t worried, I was in their hands!
Because there were so few passengers the captain decided to be very old-fashioned and walk round to have a word with the passengers. When he came to me he said ”Mr Graham?” I said yes and he told me that we were neighbours, he lived in Gargrave. He sat down and we had a short chat. I asked him about the ripple and wondered whether he had the wick turned up for some reason. He told me that they were still running three hours behind schedule, but that on this flight they had a light plane, a very strong tail wind and they were trying to make up enough time to get the slot back. He said that it would be the fastest flight ever from LAX to LHR but that nobody would ever breathe a word about it. Our speed over the ground was approaching 700 mph! I think we gained over two hours and they got the slot back.
Susi had told me that she was doing a house and job exchange with a teacher from Montreal that winter and she said I should come over and have a look at Canada. It seemed like a good idea and she said why don’t you bring Janet? She had met her in Barlick. When I got home I had a word with Vera and it was all arranged, she got a passport and started to look forward to winter in Canada.
Back at Lancaster I started my second year as a full time history student. Part of my degree course was American Studies and I fell under the influence of a man who was to be another long term friend, Doctor Robert Bliss. He was an American who had been over here for about ten years then I think. He had a deep voice, a beard, an imposing stature and a great capacity for whisky! We got on well from the start except for the fact he hated my essays, he never ever gave me a good mark. He told me years later that he couldn’t understand why he liked me because my essays annoyed him so much. He said I did all the right things but never came to a conclusion. I reckon it was because he intimidated me!
Shortly after I got back, Steve came to me one day with one of my essays and said “Where did you have the operation?” Years later I heard from Bob that he had gone to Bob and asked him if he had noted any improvement in my work. Bob said only marginally, I still wasn’t coming to conclusions! They agreed however that something had happened and when asked I told Steve about the Package Deal. He told me it had definitely worked and I began to get the occasional first class mark, very gratifying. Years later the subject came up again and both Bob and Steve asked if I still had the Package Deal. I thought I’d lost it and it took me months to find it. In the interim, I asked Susi and she said she’d lost track of it years ago and regretted losing it. It had of course been done on a steam typewriter before the days of word-processors so there was no master file or disk. When I found it I sent the original back to Susi and made copies for myself and everyone else who needed it. I reckon the PD made the difference between a first and second division degree for me so another debt was chalked up to Obler!
Time soon passed and came the day, Janet and I set off down the country in the Fulvia, parked it up at the airport and boarded the flight for Montreal. I shall never, as long as I live, forget watching Janet as the plane took off. I’d made sure she had a window seat and she strained forward against her seat belt to watch the ground drop away. Her face was a picture and I don’t suppose she will ever forget the moment, I certainly haven’t. I told her that travel was dangerous because once you’ve started it, things are never the same again. Later, when we had got back, we were driving up the M1 and she turned to me and said “Everything looks small!” I reminded her of what I had said, she would never see the England in the same way again. It showed later on, she was the traveller and still is, I don’t know whether the same genes drive her and me but we are happiest when we are seeing new sights. She’s clocked up many more places than me, I have no desire to compete with her but I’ve seen some of her pictures and they are wonderful.
We landed at Mirabel airport which was surreal, I suppose it’s different now but at that time it was a large modern airport waiting for something to happen, it was almost deserted. As we dropped in over the Laurentian Shield I was struck by how bleak it is. Hundreds of miles of rock, snow and deadly cold. I suppose there is life down there somewhere but how the hell it survives I’ll never know. Susi met us and we drove to Claremont Street where she was installed in a very comfortable house which, like all houses in the city was well insulated and heated. They have to be, the temperatures were dropping way below zero Fahrenheit and all the cars had block heaters which you plugged in at night to keep the oil fluid in the engine. Realising what a shock the temperatures would be for Susi I had gone to Damart at Bingley and got some Long Johns and vests in the thickest thermal fabric they wove. I sent them to her before she left. I remember her reaction when she got them in LA was to hoot with laughter and tell me that if I thought she was going to wear anything like that, think again! I asked her to take them anyway just to please me. She told me later it was a good job they dried overnight as she was never out of them. Even a genius can forget what a temperature differential of 100 degrees can do to a system not inured to it. She said when she first stepped out into the cold she couldn’t believe how savage it was.
We soon settled in and started to explore the city with Susi. Janet took to it like a duck to water and soon wanted to go out on her own with a few dollars in her pocket. I was horrified at this thought, my little Janet trolling about in this strange foreign place full of criminals and perverts. Susi took me to one side, gently grasped my throat and told me to stop acting like an Old Fart! She was right of course, I suspect there was more reason to fear for the safety of Montreal than Janet. However, there was no trouble so I suppose they were ready for her. With hindsight, (again!) I was a pain in the arse. I kept asking Janet if she was all right and Susi played hell with me about it. I didn’t mean to be a pain, it was as much about my insecurity as anything, probably unavoidable in the circumstances. Give me credit Janet, at least I got you there and back safely!
One day Susi was doing some cooking and while digging in the freezer found a packet of herbs and we decided that it must be hash. I’d only tried it once in my life and all it did was make me very tired! I remember I just lay on the floor and listened to the Verdi Requiem twice! Susi decided we were going to try it and I was despatched to get papers. We rolled a couple of joints and smoked them and were assessing the results when we both came to the same conclusion. I doubt if anyone has ever got high off smoking Basil! To date, that has been the sum total of my drug-taking activities apart from tobacco, achohol and medicine.
We had to go to a doctor with Janet while we were there, I forget the exact reason but I think it was her ears, all the kids had ear problems and at the time it was suspected that it was due to being reared in a household where there was a smoker. I felt guilty about this for years until the same problem hit my granddaughters who had never been exposed. It’s a thread which runs through the family and has caused all of them problems at one time or another. I’ve never had earache myself and can’t imagine how bad it is but I remember going to Arthur Morrison once and telling him about Margaret wakening in the night with terrible pain which Vera and I couldn’t do anything to alleviate, we used to feel terrible because there was nothing we could do. Arthur gave me three small white tablets, he broke them in half and said that if things were really bad we could give half a tablet. Vera took charge of them and I don’t think she used them more than a couple of times, I don’t know what they were but it was magic, sleep came instantly and the pain went away, they must have been a very strong opiate but that was what it took to stop the pain. Janet wasn’t as bad as this but was in severe discomfort, the opinion was that it was the very low humidity due to the extreme cold and a mist humidifier in her room seemed to cure it. This low humidity was a problem in Montreal and houses had humidifiers to put moisture into the air to prevent damage to furniture and anything made of wood. One ran permanently in the hall and I put about five gallons of water a day into it.
Another problem we encountered, or rather, were lucky enough to miss was what was known locally as the ‘Annual Dog Shit Melt’! Nobody will believe this but I swear it’s true. Montreal has permanent snow during the winter, it is ploughed from the streets and pavements and gradually settles into a solid block of compressed snow in the gutter. During the winter dogs tend to foul this and a fresh fall of snow locks the shit in deep freeze. When the season changes and the warm air starts to come in from the south there is a thaw and during this time the winter’s harvest comes out of the freezer. I am told that the results can be horrendous and anyone who can, gets out of the city for a few days while the problem goes away with the run-off from melting snow. We were very lucky because the thaw combined with heavy rain and the whole process was over quickly and with no smell. Even so, it’s nice to know about these things.
We had quite a few trips out, we went to Lake Placid where the winter Olympics had just been held. They had a sale on at the time and you could buy Olympic toilet paper and napkins and a host of other goodies. I bought the official olympic three hole punch from the accommodation office and still use it.
Another interesting meeting was with a colleague of Susi’s who was an educational psychologist. His speciality was treating children who had been diagnosed as hyperactive. He treated them with caffeine and dance, the caffeine pushed them over the top and tended to calm them and the dance got rid of excess energy. It all seemed to make good sense to me and his work was very successful. He said something to me which stuck in my mind; he said that every period of progress was preceded by a period of regression. I think he may have been right and it’s certainly a comforting thought many a time when things seem to be going from bad to worse!
I’m not sure what the connection was but Susi knew a bloke called Bob ? who worked either for the local TV station or the newspaper. I remember him because he took us to the press club which was where the journalists used to go for a relaxing drink after putting the paper to bed. There were some marvellous conversations and stories flew around after a couple of drinks. Once again, I was having something entirely new opened up to me, this was a world I knew nothing about.
All too soon we had to leave Montreal, once again, the memories flood back, the place seemed to be full of enormous convents, public sculpture and shops with amazing names which were a mixture of French and English, I can remember a bar called ‘Le Paddock’, ‘Jules and George, Hairdressers’ and the bottles of Lea and Perrins in the supermarket which had ‘Worcestershire Sauce’ on one side of the label and ‘Sauce Worcestershire’ on the other. The funniest label I saw was on an ‘own brand’ dog food which said ‘Confeiture du Chien’ Correct me if I’m wrong but I think the literal translation of that id ‘Dog Jam’! Very strange.
Janet and I went out to Mirabel, boarded the jet and flew back to England in the spring. I went back to Lancaster and she returned to her life at New Road School and, I am sure, digested her experiences in Canada. I don’t know how much it influenced her but as I said earlier, she became a traveller. I’d like to think it was partly because of that trip to Montreal.
Back at Lancaster I plunged back into becoming a brain box. There’s little to relate about this period as far as the course was concerned, I was a dedicated student, end of story. One thing was certain, after so many people having helped me to get there and at what I saw at the time as a personal cost, there was no way I was going to let myself or anybody else down.
I was living in Barlick and going in to Lancaster about three or four times a week. My library grew and I got into the habit of long periods of study and writing in the little house in King Street. Mother was happily settled in across the road and kept an eye on me. Living in the middle of town I gradually began to integrate more into the life of Barnoldswick. I met more people in the town than I had in the previous twenty years put together. People often ask me if I know So and So and I have to admit ignorance. They are surprised because I have lived here forty years now but of course what they don’t realise is that I spent so much time away. When I was at home my world was Hey Farm and the neighbours, the rest of Barlick and most of the sixties and seventies passed me by!
Being the devious underhand people that we were, a couple of other mature students and I soon got together, arranged our schedules and pooled the transport allowance. I provided the car and they provided the money. Marie Worden and Richard ? and I terrorised other users of the M6 as we motored swiftly up to Lancaster. We used to do the Guardian crossword on the journey and it was slightly surreal to be driving at 100mph up the motorway and working out anagrams in my head! Funny thing was that we used to be overtaken almost every morning by an old blue Granada 3 litre. If you are on the road regularly at a certain time you soon begin to recognise other motors and drivers who’s schedule you are coinciding with. This Granada used to steam past us between Samlesbury and Broughton before turning off towards Blackpool. It had smoke pouring out of the exhaust, was always flat out and contained an elderly couple. The man would be hunched over the wheel and his wife was always knitting! We used to watch out for them each morning, it seemed so funny.
Marie and I were seen together so often that people began to assume we were an item. In fact this was never the case, we were both far too busy! I think it was late in 1981 that it became obvious that Marie was expecting a child. Two and two was put together and the word was soon being spread that it was mine! I knew about this and didn’t really mind, I thought it was quite flattering in a way. However, it bothered Marie and she told me who the father was as I had a sort of a vested interest. No, I’m not going to tell because it’s privileged knowledge and would do nothing but harm, but I have to say that when I knew who the father was I was very surprised, he was married and had a responsible position. What intrigued me was the level of deception that was involved on his part. I couldn’t understand how someone in a permanent relationship could do this and further, how could he pay maintenance for the child without his wife knowing?
20/20 vision kicks in again here and yet again I realise the value of writing this account. It seems clear to me now that there were two main reasons why I was shocked. The first was that I believed that a man must have a fairly lousy attitude towards his wife to do a thing like this, the second was that mentally I was still functioning as a partner and measuring another person’s actions against my values in the same role. I’m sure now that this is a reasonable attitude to adopt and that as far as I am concerned, the quality of a relationship varies in direct proportion to the amount of respect, trust and affection invested into it. My version always was, and still is, that monogamy is an essential component. As Maureen said to me once, “Once you’ve squeezed the toothpaste out of the tube, you can’t put it back in!” Not a bad analogy.
Incidentally, when Marie eventually had the baby, a little boy, she carried on with her course and so our morning trips to Lancaster involved an extra passenger asleep in his carry-cot on the back seat. He grew well and I swear he was the heaviest baby for his age in the world. I learned this to my cost one day when lifting him out of the car. I have to admit that a Fulvia wasn’t the ideal vehicle when it came to lifting anything heavy out of the back seat. The problem was that you could only get your arm in and so it was a very unnatural position. I was lifting the cot out one day and suddenly a pain shot through my shoulder and up the side of my neck. I had done something, probably trapped a nerve, and boy, did I suffer with that for years. I should say in this connection that I was no stranger to pain. Years of lifting heavy weights had taken their toll and I had a couple of worn out vertebrae in my back. At one point Arthur sent me to hospital to have this investigated and the consultant decided that he wanted to x-ray my spine. To do this they had to inject dye into my spinal column to make everything stand out nicely. I took one look at the size of the needle that they were going to use and opted out. I told them that there was no way I was going to allow anyone to shove a sharp instrument that size anywhere near my spinal column. The nurse told me I was a coward and I agreed with her! Years later I found that this was actually very dangerous, not on account of the size of the needle but because the dye they were using could cause deterioration of the nerves in the spine. Arthur laughed when I reported this to him but he said on the whole I was right to refuse treatment. What they would have done was operated to fuse the vertebrae together and Arthur said that nature would do this for me if I waited long enough. Once again the old bugger was right, as long as I am careful about lifting and sudden movements I have no pain in my back at all for 90% of the time. For thirty years I had permanent pain so there are advantages to getting older!
Round about this time Arthur and Mrs Morrison were thinking of retiring. I went down to see him one day because I had a persistent headache which was most unusual for me. Arthur examined me and then said that as he was retiring shortly he wanted me to go and have an MOT test. He sent me to Skipton Hospital and they performed every test known to man. I had blood and water taken out of me and was x-rayed until I glowed. Everyone treated me with great kindness and I started to get worried. I asked what they were testing for but nobody would tell me.
Eventually, after about ten days, Arthur summoned me to the surgery and I went down feeling slightly apprehensive. As soon as I got in I asked him what he had thought was wrong with me when he sent me to Skipton. He told me that I was exhibiting all the classic signs of a brain tumour! Deep Joy! Then he said I had no need to worry, the tests had shown I was perfectly OK except for a deep seated sinus infection which he said was the reason for the headaches. He told me that it was a consequence of man learning to walk upright! Evidently our sinuses are only capable of draining naturally when we are on all fours, as soon as we stand upright there is greatly reduced drainage so we tend to suffer from infections. He said the cure in the old days was to put a spike up the nostril and crack the bone at the top of the nose, this made a hole for it to drain. No, he wasn’t proposing we did that, his advice was to soldier on!
He did ask me one question though which produced a surprising and fascinating fact. He asked me if I had ever had a very severe blow to my head. I said yes, it was in Ferrand’s Garage at Skipton and I had knocked myself out when a spanner broke as I was using it under the wagon. He showed me the X Ray and it showed I had fractured my skull at the time, a clean break right across the occipital ridge. Good job I didn’t know at the time, I’d have lost wages.
During the early part of the year, round about Easter, I had a visitor, Ethel Sussman from New York came to the college again and stayed in England for a holiday. She visited me and we started to spend time together. At this point I must have lost my presence of mind. Our relationship became about as close as you could get. We had a whale of a time and at one point visited an old friend of hers in Lincolnshire, they had worked together on educational exchanges for many years. We stayed for a couple of days and visited a wonderful couple called Donald and Betty. He had been an officer in the Parachute Regiment and had bad hips from too many drops. While he had been saving civilisation in the army, Betty had been running a very successful estate agency back at home. When I met them they were both retired and living a quiet life in a very nice property out in the country.
One of their passions in life was croquet and Ethel and I played with them. I had ventured into the world of croquet only once before when we visited Daniel’s parents at Washbourne and I had gained the impression then that it could be a fairly devious game. This was reinforced when Daniel told me the story of when he went home for a visit while he was living in Nelson. He was surprised when he got home to find that the lawn wasn’t laid out for croquet. He asked his sister why and she told him that it was because her husband, Martin, had accused Daniel’s father of cheating and in a huff, Mr Meadows had ordered the equipment to be locked away in the gardener’s shed. Daniel said “But everyone knows he cheats!” and his sister said “Yes, but nobody has ever told him before!”
Donald and Betty took the game just as seriously. Ethel played with Donald and I partnered Betty. I wasn’t very good and Betty had to keep shouting instructions at me, she was very good at that. I can still hear her shouting “Don’t get your balls in the ha-ha!” The game finished with Donald and Betty having a furious row as to who had actually won. I have a wonderful picture of the confrontation and both have their mallets raised! I think Ethel saved the day by suggesting we have a drink. I realised then that croquet is a dangerous and corrupting occupation and should be avoided at all costs. If playing is inevitable no person under the age of forty should be allowed to participate on the grounds it will do them irreparable damage.
Ethel went home and it was agreed that I would visit her in New York that summer and then go on to LA and a visit to Susi via Boone where I had a standing invitation to visit friends at Appalatian State University. I bought my ticket, made my plans and settled down to work. As time went on I became aware that all was not well. There was nothing I could put my finger on but I was very jumpy and not sleeping well. I was sat at my desk one day and I started shaking, I grasped the edge of the desk and that started shaking too! This went on for quite a time and I realised that my body was trying to tell me something. The only trouble was that I didn’t know what it was, or if I did, there was no way I was going to admit it. All this was to become clear later on.
New York was another new experience, I took to it like a duck to water. I soon came to the conclusion that there was more difference between New York and Los Angeles than there was between London and New York as they are both Protestant/Irish/Jewish communities and feel very much the same. The weather was nearer English weather as well. I hadn’t realised that NY is a walking distance town, and the walking is easier because of the gridiron layout of the streets. When Ethel was working I did a lot of walking around. Out of curiosity I went in the police precinct house that featured in a TV series that was popular at the time; ‘Kojak’. The police were very friendly and took me on a tour of the whole place including the cells. I told them there was no way that could happen in England and they were surprised, they had all been brought up to believe that British bobbies were friendly and approachable.
Once again, as I try to describe my first experience of New York I fear I will lapse into what will almost be s stream of consciousness. Please forgive me before I start. I don’t think it would be possible to have a better guide to NY than Ethel was to me. She loved the town and knew all sorts of strange things about it. Her being Jewish was a help as well because her culture was another fresh field of enquiry for me. Mind you, very early on in my visit I made a gross error through lack of thought. I was brought up in a society where the phrase “To be jewed” meant to be cheated or short-changed. I had used it in this context for so long that I had lost sight of the actual root of the word. I used the expression one day whilst in conversation with Ethel and she was, quite rightly, incensed. I apologised straight away but felt terrible, I have to say I have never knowingly used the phrase again and have protested when I have heard other people use it.
One of my passions in life is bookshops and New York is book heaven. We trawled the Strand Bookstore and other big shops but one day Ethel took me to a building where we had to go up in the lift and identify ourselves before we could be allowed in. This was the most left-wing bookshop in New York and I got some wonderful stuff there. The man who owned it told us a wonderful story about the MaCarthy era, he said they had the pleasure of watching the thought police raid the headquarters of the Boy Scout Association of America on the other side of the road while they sat secure in their eyrie nursing the best collection of books on Communism in America!
Shortly before I went to NY I had read McCullough’s book on the Brooklyn Bridge and so we went to have a look at it. My neg. file tells me that I fell in love with it and I was intrigued to find out that the headquarters of the Brooklyn Bridge Preservation Society is in Amsterdam! We went on the Circle Lines boat trip around Manhattan, this included a concert by Arlo Guthrie at which he sang ‘Alice’s Restaurant’, I was thrilled. Ethel picked up on the fact that I knew about Arlo and, more importantly, his dad, Woodie and she arranged for us to go to a little concert in New Jersey in aid of the clean-up of the Hudson River. When I got there I found the artist was Pete Seeger and that he was a friend of the Sussman family. I’ve always liked Pete’s stuff and it was great to meet him. We went later to a political meeting outside the United Nations where he was a speaker and also sang some songs. I shame to say it but I have forgotten what the meeting was about, I know it was connected with some people in Central America who were being oppressed at the time but have forgotten the details.
It turned out that Jack Sussman was a card carrying member of the American Communist Party and had been since the thirties. In his younger days he had associated with Paul Robeson and Woodie Guthrie and at the time of the Committee on un-American Activities under the leadership of the notorious Senator Joseph MaCarthy, he had been hauled up in front of one of the hearings. Jack was a dentist in the Bronx and his exposure as a ‘commie’ led to some interesting decisions for his clients. Many of them tried to remove their custom to other dentists but found that these were mostly friends of Jack and wouldn’t treat them. They were left with the choice between their toothache and being treated by a red. In most cases Jack said that the toothache won! Jack didn’t spend a lot of money on his office and when a film crew came to the town and enquired where the oldest and barest dental office was in the town for some reason everyone they asked in the profession pointed them at Jack. They visited him, liked what they saw and used it for a crucial scene in the film they were making. They also paid Jack to coach the male lead in the correct use of the instruments. The film was ‘The Marathon Man’, the star was Laurence Olivier and the scene was where he tortured Dustin Hoffman in the dentist’s chair!
While I was in NY I did a summer school at NYU in Washington Square on Modern American History. I had remembered Mo Parkinson from Nelson and Colne College asking Harvard for a free course so I went to NYU, found the professor of History and asked if I could have a free summer school course and be graded. He said yes, and when I asked him how many free courses they gave he said none, nobody had ever asked before! There is a message there, don’t ever assume that something is impossible or not on offer until you have asked.
The teacher on the course was a wonderful Jewish Professor called Jill Beerman. I remember her taking me into the corridor when we had done the mid-term exam. She held me up against the wall with one hand while she waved the multiple choice exam paper in my face, “Multiple choice doesn’t mean multiple answer dummy!” I’d never done one before and was being too clever, I could think of arguments one way or another for some of the answers but that wasn’t what the course demanded. As Jill pointed out to me, she knew I was right, I knew I was right but the paper only wanted to test one thing, whether we had been listening to the facts she gave us in the classes. Once I understood it was all right. I struck the contentious answers out, did the rest of the course and got a straight A. Very interesting experience. It appeared that the genesis of WWII was Japan and the perceived threat of attack to the west coast of America. Fascinating!
We set off into the city one day and Ethel said she was going to give me a treat. She took me to ‘The Tombs’, the prison in lower Manhattan where the ‘Night Court’ sits for almost 24 hours a day. This is actually the district court for Lower Manhattan and all sorts of charges were dealt with, some summarily, others passed on to higher court. All human life was there, a group of ‘business ladies’ as Ethel called them who were hauled in off the street on a rota basis, fined and then let out again. There was a young man who had been caught committing his second offence of smoking on the subway. He was fined $50 and warned by the judge that he was in danger of becoming a hardened criminal! Next was a large black lady who had thrown her husband through a fifth floor window that morning, she was imprisoned on remand on a charge of murder to await further investigation. I could have sat there all day, all these individual stories passing through the court, becoming partially public and then disappearing into the system.
We ate on Second Avenue every night in the couple of blocks between Stuyvesant Church which was on East Tenth Street where Ethel’s apartment was and Eighth Street. You could have different ethnic food every night for a month and not exhaust the possibilities. I liked the Hungarian Restaurant best, this was where I first discovered borscht. There was a small coffee shop on the corner of Tenth and Second Avenue and the first morning I was there I went in and asked for coffee and BLT on a bagel. The owner looked at me with great pity and said “You’re a Limey aren’t you!” I had to confess that I was. “You don’t ask for bacon in a kosher shop!” I apologised and asked what I could have for breakfast. He looked round to make sure nobody was about and whispered, “You can have some of mine, I’m just doing my breakfast!” So, every morning, as long as I was early and there was nobody about I had a kosher BLT in a bagel for breakfast. Ethel thought this was hilarious but said it didn't surprise her, the great thing about the Jewish race is their pragmatism. No proper Jew ever starved because there was no kosher food!
It was in NY that I learned that it was impossible for a Gentile to eat kosher food, as soon as it touches the lips it becomes non-kosher. I also learned about that great Jewish joke, kosher wine. There were two main brands, Manischevitz and Shapiro’s. Both were terrible! The advertisement for Shapiro’s was “Wine that tastes so good you could cut it with a knife!” I was doing a picture of their shop front on the Lower East Side when Ethel grabbed my arm and bundled me into a Checker Cab that was passing. I realised why when I got the film back, I had inadvertently photographed a drug deal taking place and the dealer was heading towards us! Trust Ethel to have her eyes on things like that. She is the only person I have ever met who could stand in front of a building and say “Let’s case the joint!” and sound convincing.
Another ‘wine’ I learned about was ‘Thunderbird’ and ‘Midnight Express’. These were the cheap, blended wines the alcoholics bought and spiked with vodka to get a quick high. I notice that Thunderbird is being sold in this country now in the supermarkets as an expensive American import!
The shops on Second Avenue were great. I loved the delis, every tenth shop seemed to be one. They smelt wonderful and all sold my favourite food, sweet herring pickle. We were in one once and I saw a sign on the wall, “Interesting brownies. $1.00” I asked Ethel about it and she silenced me, when we got outside she told me they were baked with special herbs - like marijuana! The dry cleaner fascinated me. They had a service whereby you took all your winter clothes in for cleaning and left them there in store until the Fall, essential for a city where space in apartments was at a premium. The clothes were stored on hangers on a monorail system and when you went in for yours the system had to pass all the hangers behind the counter until it reached your number. The whole building must have been full of clothes! Nearby was the Masonic Thrift Shop where you could get a jacket or a good shirt for a dollar. Later in my trip I told a woman in Boone about this and she was scandalised that I would wear second-hand clothes. She told me that “speaking personally”, she would never buy a used house again! Mind you this was North Carolina and there was a bit of a culture clash going on at the time between me and the locals, it was the first time I had come up against Bible Belt Republicans..
Ethel’s mother and father lived out at Paramus in New Jersey and we went out there frequently to visit them. Jack pursued his business cum hobby of second hand book dealer, the cellar was a treasure trove of socialist literature. We had brunch there one Sunday morning and I was having a good time with the bagels, cream cheese and some white pickled fish. I apologised for hogging it but Jack pushed the lazy susan round and told me to enjoy! I later found out that I was eating pickled sturgeon at about $25 a pound! Serious money for food in those days but it was worth it!
I met Jo, Ethel’s sister who was on holiday from California where she lived. She had attended the Julliard School of Music and she and her friend had a competition to see who could date the best violinist in the school. Jo won and her mate came second and got Ishtak Perlman! She told me that there was a coterie of Jewish musicians, Perlman, Barenboim et al. In New York, a close associate was Zubin Meta and the group was known locally as the ‘Kosher Nostra’ and Meta was reckoned to be an honorary member. We went to concerts at the Lincoln Centre and best of all, to a jazz club on Fifth Avenue just above Washington Square where a lady called Alberta Hunter sang twice nightly, five nights a week. She was wonderful. She was an established blues singer during the war and I think either wrote or first performed “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out”. She fell out of favour and went nursing for 25 years but was then re-discovered, re-united with her old pianist and established in the jazz club. I got to know her quite well and corresponded with her for years. She was about eighty years old then but was possibly the sexiest woman I have ever met in my life!
Ethel told me another story about Jo, her sister. She was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph system and they treated her with chemotherapy. I don’t know what it is like now but in those days the side effects were very bad. Her doctor told Cele, her mother, that it was a little known fact but marijuana could, in many cases, alleviate the worst of the side effects and he recommended that Jo try it. Cele asked if he could prescribe it but he said no, it was illegal. However, he knew someone who could provide the necessary, it turned out to be his son. Cele went off into NY and scored on Jo’s behalf but, being a good Jewish mother she decided she wasn’t going to make her daughter ingest something she hadn’t tried herself so she went into her bedroom, rolled a joint and got pleasantly loaded. Satisfied that it was all right she and Jo established a regular afternoon routine where they mellowed out together. Years later, Jo was completely cured and living in California and Cele was still getting loaded when the fancy took her!
Ethel’s apartment was in a building close to the corner of East Tenth and Third Avenue and I used to love to go and stand there and just watch the world go by. I was in the company of a group of business ladies and once they had got over their natural suspicion I was accepted as part of the street furniture and had interesting conversations with them. It got to the point where the policeman on his beat took me on one side to satisfy himself that I was totally innocent! The girls were fascinating, I don’t pretend to be an expert on prostitution but it seemed to me they were being abused by society. If they didn’t sell their bodies they were destitute and many of them were single parents. If you disregard their trade but concentrate on the actual physical work they did they were hard workers and none of them was making a good living. They had a healthy disrespect for the punters especially the Chasidim, ultra orthodox Jews who used to come round every morning in the school bus after it had finished taking the children to school. They were so strict about segregation that there was a curtain dividing the girls from the boys. The girls said that they all wanted unusual services. The Chasidim firmly believed that they were doing their wives a favour because they weren’t asking them to do things which they considered demeaning. Worse still, the Rabbi encouraged them to do it because if their manly nature forced them to do something indecent, it was far better to do it with a goyisheh shikseh than a good Jewish girl. One of the surprising things I found out was that Mormons call non-Mormons ‘gentiles’ so the most rabid Chasidic Jew can be a Gentile. I’ll bet not many of them know that! I went away from NY with a new insight into the business ladies lives and on the whole I have a great deal of respect for them. They are victims of prejudice and society.
Ethel had a good friend who lived on Montauk Island at the end of Long Island so we went out there for a few days. On the way we stopped with another friend of hers who was a widow. She and her husband had helped farm a big potato farm together with his two brothers and their wives. All the brothers were dead, the farm was sold and the widows lived in three houses separated by about half a mile on the sea shore. While we were there the dish washer broke down. The repair man came out but couldn’t get it going, he said he’d call the next day and have a look but it was going to be cheaper to get a new one. I had an idea I knew what was wrong so I asked Ethel’s friend if she minded if I had a look at it. I was lucky, ten minutes work found the trouble, a piece of bone lodged in one of the valves. I took it out, laced the washer back up and it was as good as new. I was immediately offered a summer job whenever I wanted it, all I had to do was half a day each day, five days a week, doing odd jobs for the three widows and the rest of the time was my own. Ethel said I should take it and I have to admit there were times in the next three or four years when I looked back and wondered whether the offer was still on.
Long Island is good, that’s the reason why some of the most expensive rural real estate in America can be found in places like Westchester and the Hamptons. It gets better the further out you go and Montauk is like a fishing village. Almost all the jobs are either agricultural or marine and it’s a very sensible pace, nobody seemed to be rushing. There was a grass field just outside town and a sign which said Montauk International Airport. Ethel said this was because it was only a short flight to Canada.
One great trip that Ethel and I took was to ride the Staten Island Ferry. Everyone who goes to NY should do this and on that day we had a welcome guest, David Moore was in town so we got to goof off together. It was very hot and David persuaded me to carry his jacket and shirt. Years later I went into his office one day and he congratulated me on my elegant German linen lightweight jacket and a very striking shirt in blue, yellow and red stripes. He said he used to have a shirt like that and then the light dawned in his eyes! “You bugger, that’s my shirt and jacket, how did you get them?” I reminded him of the day when I had carried them all round NY for him, I said I had decided that as he didn’t want them I’d take care of them permanently!
That same day Ethel and I went to Ellis Island. At this time it hadn’t been opened as a heritage attraction, we saw it just as it had stood for years. There were wheel chairs in the medical section and the forms in the main hall looked as though they had been in use just yesterday. It was a strange experience and in my mind’s eye I could still see the hordes of tired immigrants coming up the steps under the watchful eyes of the ‘six second specialists’ who, on the evidence of watching them climb the stairs made decisions about their fitness to be admitted to the country. We decided that the Statue of Liberty would be an anti-climax after Ellis Island so we gave that a miss. Anyway, Ethel said she objected to being described as ‘wretched refuse’ which is part of the verse inscribed on the base of the statue.
There was much more but I fear I might start to bore you, the worst meal of my life in the ‘Windows on the World’ at the top of the World Trade Tower, the Empire Diner where the walls of the toilet were lined with mirrors so you saw repeated images of yourself plus equipment stretching away into infinity, the kids playing in the water from the fire hydrants in hot weather and genuine grid-lock on July 4th coming back from New Jersey. Just one last thing must be said about Ethel and her trusty Saab 90 car, she was the most expert parker I have ever seen. Ethel in car-parking mode was a force to be reckoned with. In NY car parking was a major problem, God knows what it is like now! Ethel’s ploy was to cruise the block until she saw a space and then pounce on it. Sometimes we would go round the block for 15 or 20 minutes before we were lucky. If a space was three inches longer than the car Ethel could get into it. If it was three inches too short she simply put her bumper against the car in front and pushed it forward, then a quick shunt to ease the one behind a bit and another successful parking manoeuvre! Very, very impressive! My way of dealing with it was to park on a hydrant, this is only an offence if you leave the car. If you sit there long enough someone will move their car and you can jump in.
All too soon it was time to leave NY and Ethel. I boarded the Greyhound Bus in Lower Manhattan and headed out through the Hudson Tunnel for North Carolina. I stopped over in Washington for the night and took in the Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian. I walked into the Smithsonian and the first thing I saw was a large Nasmyth steam hammer from Manchester! I felt quite at home. I walked up to the Lincoln Memorial past the Washington obelisk and was impressed but when I went into the Jefferson Memorial tears came to my eyes. It is wonderful and if you get the chance, go and see it. My hotel was lousy, 100 degrees, 100% humidity, no air conditioning and bed bugs, I was glad to get on the Greyhound and be on my way. I remember that on the hotel register I was described as ‘transient’. One thing that did strike me was the fact that we are all used to seeing the images of the White House, the Mall and the other great buildings but we never see the poverty which exists in Washington within a mile of the government buildings of the wealthiest nation in the world.
Later that day I rolled into Boone, North Carolina where I was the guest of Dean Dudley in his mobile home. Dean taught at ASU and the connection was that he and Leland Cooper had visited Nelson and Colne College earlier in the year and I had been wheeled out to entertain them. Boone was strange, the road into the town was lined with brand new churches, one for every religion in the town. They were very cagey on the subject of black people. I was in the local bar one night and I asked if there were any black people living in the town. You could have heard a pin drop! Eventually someone observed that they thought there was one family living behind the general store but they weren’t too sure. It all passed off but I got the impression that blacks weren’t welcome in Boone.
I was sat with Dean in his mobile home one night and he asked me if I’d get up. I did and he lifted the cushion in the bottom of my chair, reached inside the box base and pulled out the biggest revolver I have ever seen, I think it was a .44 Magnum Colt. He loaded it, shoved some cartridges in his pocket and said “I’ll be back in ten minutes.” A couple of minutes afterwards there was the sound of shooting, I looked out of the window and Dean was firing the revolver into a dirt bank. He reloaded a couple of times and did the same thing and then came back in. I swear he blew down the barrel of the gun, I can still smell the cordite fumes, he let out a big sigh and said “That’s better!” I knew guns were a phallic symbol but I’d never seen a man have a surrogate orgasm with one before!
During a conversation at the college I learned that it was a well known fact that Dean was seriously attracted to Marilyn, one of the secretaries at the university. There was some good natured speculation about him and I told them I didn’t think there was anything in it because I had seen his underpants and they had holes in them. I said I couldn’t see anyone getting serious about a woman without doing something about the holes in his shorts! Later that night, after a few drinks back at the mobile home, Dean unburdened himself to me. He told me was deeply in love with Marilyn but he was leaving for a new job in California in ten days and was dreading leaving her behind. “Have you asked her if she wants to go with you?” I asked. The reply was “No.”, so I told him that what he did was his own affair but I thought it would be a good thing if he broached the subject with her before he left. The following day I got on the bus and forgot all about it. Three weeks later I got a letter while I was at Susi’s to say he had married Marilyn and they were living in Clovis, California. He said it was all due to my advice. I immediately wrote back to say I accepted no responsibility in the matter!
I had decided earlier in the year that I wanted to cross America on the Greyhound bus. I think the ticket was about £85 and in terms of value for money it was a good deal. I was driven from Boone down to Charlotte where I was to join the bus again. I remember that as Dean drove me down he kept grabbing the microphone of his CB radio and saying “Breaker, breaker.” Into it. The only problem was that nobody ever answered him. His last piece of advice as he dropped me at the bus station was that I should remember two things; Many Greyhound passengers were perverts and criminals and that I should never go into a restroom alone. I digested this for a minute and then said “Let’s get this straight, are you telling me that I have to stand in the concourse and ask someone to come to the restroom with me?” I think he got the point. In fact, the bus is used by the poor and underprivileged and I met some very nice people as we drove across America.
There’s a C&W song called “The Truckers Prayer” written by Red Sovine and the punch line is his request to God that before he dies could he please be allowed to overtake a Greyhound bus! This was in the days of the blanket 55mph speed limit and the Greyhound did 70 all the way. They were disregarded by the police as the government wanted to encourage the use of buses because they were so fuel efficient. They even passed the police cars! Even so it took 43 hours non-stop, apart from comfort breaks, to get from Charlotte to Los Angeles. What a trip, my ankles swelled up and I ached so badly from cramped seats all the time but it did the trick as far as I was concerned, I really felt I knew how far it was after that journey! Texas is 24 hours!
There were some good conversations and some funny moments as well. As we travelled through the Deep South there were more black people and I remember we pulled into one town, I think it was Memphis, and the bus filled up until there were only two seats left. A very big black lady got on and sat next to me. I immediately started to go into territorial mode, making sure I established my inalienable right to one half of the seat. The lady looked at me and drawled “I guess you’se right Honey! I’ll sit with the piccaninny and have more room”. There was a laugh around me and I smiled at her, one or two had seen the exchange. Then the sky went dark as another lady got on, she was absolutely enormous! There was only the one seat left and she took it. As she sat down the whole of that section of the bus erupted into laughter, they could all see the funny side of it and so could I! We started to talk and I asked her how heavy she was. “I weighs 320 pounds, I’m the biggest, the blackest and nobody is ever going to marry me!” She turned out to be a lovely lady, she was a teacher and was going on holiday to Los Angeles! This meant we were going to know each other very well before the night was out.
Much later on, in the middle of the night, I awoke from a deep dream of peace and found I was engulfed in the black lady. She was hard and fast asleep and had flowed over me. There was nothing I could do and so I huddled there under her weight and tried to see the bright side of things. One thing I remember very clearly was the smell, no, you’re wrong, she didn’t smell sweaty or bad or anything like that. The nearest I can get to it is that in the days when I was vetting cows for Richard one of the things you took note of was how the cow’s breath smelt. Acetone meant possible glucose deficiency and a sour smell was an upset stomach usually. This lady smelt like a healthy cow. I know that this is going to be seen as some sort of sexist or racist remark but it isn’t. It was a lovely healthy, pleasant scent and I had no problem at all with it. In fact I’ll hazard a guess that she smelt a bloody sight better than I did! The following morning she bought me breakfast when we stopped and we got our leg pulled by the other passengers. When we got back on the bus she had a seat to herself and I have to say that though I had more room, I missed her!
We were deep into the desert now and it was hot. The bus was supposed to be air-conditioned but it soon became clear that it wasn’t working. We stopped and the driver got out and lifted the cover over the engine compartment at the back. Of course I got off with him and looked over his shoulder. It was obvious what was wrong, the compressor for the air-conditioning was driven by three belts off the engine and they were all missing. Not only that but in breaking they had damaged the compressor. The driver evidently didn’t know what was wrong so I told him I was an air-conditioning engineer and my professional opinion was that it was buggered and all he could do was to open the windows on the bus and drive like hell to the next stop. He said he couldn’t do that as company rules were that the windows had to be kept closed, in fact, on the new buses there was no way to open them. Ours was an older model and the windows could be opened so I pointed out that the regulations didn’t take into account the fact that the air conditioning was broken and we had a shade temperature of over 110 degrees. Just then a lady got out and showed the driver her thermometer which she had in her bag, it was reading 125 in the coach. The driver saw the point, we opened all the windows and he drove to the next stop about an hour and a half away. The hot wind cooled us down a trifle as it evaporated the sweat but we were all glad to get into the freezing cold concourse at the air-conditioned bus station.
One thing I noticed in the desert, and I asked about it afterwards, was the fact that the plants looked as though they had been deliberately planted in rows. Evidently it is nature’s way of ensuring equal distribution of water. They all need a certain space to collect water from and so don’t grow where they can feel the other plants roots. The result is equidistant development and it looks artificial but isn’t.
Susi met me at the bus station and I had the longest shower ever. I was almost human again and we went out for a Margarita. It was great to see her again but there was a problem. It wasn’t Susi, it was me. I was feeling guilty because I’d spent time in New York with Ethel and then come across to her. It felt like, indeed was in my terms, bed hopping and I’m afraid I couldn’t deal with it. Susi tried her best to convince me that it was OK and that she hadn’t exactly lived a celibate life while I was away but it was no good. Maureen was right and I had learned a very hard lesson, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Having said this, it was still an enjoyable stay but the magic had become blurred, it was still there but there was a barrier and it was entirely of my own making. When I left to go back to work and the start of my final year it was a sad parting, I think we both knew that it was the end. All I can say is that I regret the effect I had on Susi but nobody can ever take away the magic of exploring the west coast with her and all the good advice she planted in my head. She had opened up vistas of life to me that were entirely new and I shall always be in her debt.
Months after writing this I have come back to it in the process of revising and correcting and I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Susan, my daughter that is, last week. I mentioned to her my conviction that I couldn’t have a relationship with more than one woman at a time as I felt that was cheating. She surprised me by telling me that this was a very old-fashioned attitude. I suppose this might be true but I’m entitled to my opinion and frame of reference. Attitudes change and I’ll respect the right of other people to pursue their lives as they see fit but the only time I tried playing the field it blew up in my face. Once bitten, twice shy!
Back at Lancaster it was get serious time. We were in the run up to the finals and there was only one thing to do, nose to the grindstone, leave no stone unturned and shoulder to the wheel. Get the picture?
The rest of the summer passed like lightning and surprise, surprise, I found myself at Manchester with a return ticket to New York. Christmas was to be spent with a Jewish family. No, I haven’t made a mistake! I asked Ethel’s mother Cele as she was getting everything ready for Christmas dinner why it was that a Jewish family celebrated a Christian tradition. She told me that “A holiday is a holiday!” There was no way they were going to miss out on a celebration!
It was bitterly cold in New York that winter. I remember hearing the weather report on the radio one morning and I said to Ethel “Oh, you’ve gone metric have you/” She said no, and why did I think they had? I told her I had just heard the weather man say it was minus ten degrees, it dawned on me then that what they meant was 42 degrees of frost! I went out of the door and it reminded me of winter in Berlin or Montreal, my nose hairs froze instantly and it was bitterly cold. There was a wind as well so God knows what the effective temperature was. We went out later that morning. Ethel got in the Saab, pressed the starter and it fired up immediately, it was good to tell it had been designed in Sweden!
We went for a walk over the Brooklyn bridge and I remember how cold it was. By the time we came back to the Manhattan end I was bursting for a pee but there was nowhere near I could go. There was nobody about so I dropped back, ducked behind one of the tower bases and relieved myself, I can still see it freezing the instant it hit the stone. I’ve never seen that before or since! We decided we would go up the World Trade Tower. At that time it was the tallest building in the world. As we walked across between the two towers the wind was funnelled against us and Ethel passed out with the cold, I had to half carry her into the foyer. She recovered quickly in the comparative heat and we went up the tower. We couldn’t go out on the roof, it was reckoned to be too cold but the view was wonderful. The air was like crystal and I still have the slides I took that day. You can make out every detail of Manhattan as far as the eye could see.
Once again, it was a good stay and we did lots of stuff, I renewed my acquaintance with Alberta, we went to funny little music clubs in the Village where visiting musicians would borrow an instrument and do a turn. I even bumped into Andy Kertesz one day but was too embarrassed to tell him how much I admired his pictures. I door-stepped the Magnum office and kissed Eve Arnold’s hand before going out to lunch with Philip Jones-Griffiths. They had some of my pictures on file for some reason and they were in the same drawer as his, I was very flattered by that. There were many good times but there was also an underlying tension. Ethel had shown a great interest in my visit with Susi the previous summer and I realised that she had some sort of an agenda. At this distance of time I can’t remember all the details but what was clear was that Ethel wanted more of a relationship and a commitment than I was ready for. Just for once, I think I was seeing things clearer than her. The previous three years had been golden and out of time. I had a bit of money left over from the sale of Hey Farm after I had bought the houses and it had all been relatively easy. However, crunch time was coming, I was going to be out of university and I had to have a job. My grant would finish and the full weight of payments to Vera would come on to me. Even if I wanted to, this was not the time to be taking any steps towards long-term relationships especially, and this is a major point, especially when there is 3000 miles of water in between. One thing I had learned was that long distance relationships are fraught with all sorts of problems. Apart from the obvious ones about who moves where eventually, a dodgy relationship can be quite successful if limited by distance to letters, phone calls and occasional visits. I was much clearer about all this than Ethel was and, as it turned out, she was to have her own share of upsets in her life very shortly afterwards. So, when I parted from Ethel it was again, not very happy. In this case I don’t accept so much of the blame, it was Ethel that was trying to make the running at the wrong time. I remember that my main conclusion was that there was evidently something wrong with me and my relationships with women. Looking back, this was certainly true after 1978 and the problems were mainly mine. In some ways it is understandable but at the time it was doing me no good at all. I knew now why the desk had started shaking that day in King Street, Susi was right, the body never lies and it saw the problems coming before I did. All part of the learning curve?
Back at Lancaster once more and the final rush of lectures, essays and then solid revision. While this was going on Ethel had a major shock, she was suddenly told by the Council for International Educational Exchange that her presence was no longer required. She was shattered by this because everything seemed to be going well. It so happened that I had just heard about this when I was involved in a conversation at Lancaster with a couple of the faculty about the growing necessity to attract more Junior Year Abroad (JYA) students from the States. I told them that ideally what they wanted was someone who had spent their whole working life in educational exchange, was based in New York, had contacts with all the major colleges and had the time to bother with a small university like Lancaster. They agreed but said how do we find such a paragon. I told them easy, just ring this number and I gave them Ethel’s address and telephone number. I hear from the grapevine that she’s still working for Lancaster and other institutions as well. I’ve never heard from her since even though I have written to her and what’s more significant I don’t even know if she knows how she got the job. Nobody, either her or anybody from Lancaster has ever said thank you Stanley. It would have been nice!
Came the finals and I got a surprise. I had been dreading them coming because everyone was going to find out I had been faking for three years. I went in for the first exam and came out not certain I had passed but very certain I’d enjoyed doing the paper. It was the same with all the others. I’d done good revision and I think I was settled in my mind because I knew I’d done my best. The end result was a 2nd class, first division pass, which pleased everybody including David Moore, Open College had its first degree from scratch. One happy thing that happened in the run up to the finals was that the university wanted to know what name I wanted on the degree certificate, I said Stanley Challenger Graham. I had never had the name Challenger but I thought it would be nice for mother to see her name on something after all those years of living a lie and paying for it. I had the certificate framed and gave it to her to hang in her front room and she burst into tears, I really do think it was the nicest thing I had ever done for her.
Daniel came up for the degree ceremony, David was on his way but was diverted by some sort of an emergency at the college. Ethel was in the UK and came as well. Mother was there of course and I have the pictures of her looking very happy and proud. I was pleased as well, I was the first person in any of our families to do a degree and I still think that is a good example to set for your children. Janet did one and Susan has been back to college and got an English degree to match mine, a 2nd class first division. One other thing about that day. Princess Alexandra is Chancellor of the university. She handed me my degree and as she did she spoke to me. I had noticed she spoke to about one in five of the graduates and didn’t expect her to say anything. She asked me what I was going to do now, I said I wasn’t sure, but I still had my heavy Goods Licence! She actually laughed out loud and everyone wanted to know what it was about. Remembering John Pudney and the ‘Man who repaired the Queen’s refrigerator’ I told them it was covered by the Official Secrets Act and I couldn’t possibly reveal a confidence.
I think you might be able to appreciate what all this meant to me. It had been a long hard road and there had been prices to pay. There was also a lot of joy involved, not least in the fact that so many people had been so kind, understanding and supportive. Without them I couldn’t have done it and I shall never forget this. I was now ready for whatever came after 42, surely everything was going to be a bit of an anti-climax now.
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