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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

A knife in his chest

Unlike Sheila Pound, I can’t quite remember how we met, or how we became friends. It just happened. Because of your middle name (St. John) you were frequently called ‘The Saint’ after the series on TV at the time, and I seem to remember the Simon Templar motif on your bag. I also remember the theme tune - DA -DARA - DA - DOM - DOM - DA. (Bloody hell, I’d forgotten that. The early books were a little darker and more gritty than the sanitised TV version. I re read one of them recently - They evoke post war Britain perfectly)

In my first year I was unfortunate enough to be persuaded by my parents to wear the College Uniform, a green jacket with braiding around the collar and cuffs a pocket badge depicting bees and a hive - and the word ‘Industrial’ springs to mind. (This uniform must have hurt deeply for you to remember it so well) I felt a right pillock and would have fitted in well at St. Trinians. You on the other hand wore a polo neck shirt with a brown corduroy jacket and brown suede shoes. I’m not to sure about the trousers but feel sure you wore some.

Some of the people I remember:

A blonde girl with Olympic calves and child bearing hips, spoke with a lisp, and believe it or not had no eyelids - like a fish.

Jennifer Gee. Dark hair, pretty, a bit posh with a turned up nose. She was the first girl to kiss me one Christmas at College. My legs went to jelly unlike another part of my anatomy.

Justina Atoyabe African, traditionally dressed and wore open toed sandals, even in winter. The mean-minded subjected her to vile abuse and she would retaliate by throwing kitchen knives at them.

Sheila Connolly - sat next to Justina and was a trainee nun (must be another word for that)

John Passey - Although not in our group and in his final year, deserves a mention. He was the person everyone liked and wanted to be seen with. Although John had a crowd of followers he still found time to acknowledge me and frequently gave me a lift home when a seat was available in his yellow Reliant three-wheeler. John sadly died of bowel cancer a good number of years ago, and although I felt he was destined for great things, he lived and died in Widnes. Even so I still envy his charisma and remember him with great affection.

The Fletcher Maffia. The Tonge brothers and their followers were the hard boys of the college, George in particular. I was in the changing rooms with Tony Alexander, or Alex as we called him, and one or two others from our year, when George came in and took out a 10 inch Sabatiere knife. He was larking about and then lunged with it into Alex’s chest. George’s expression didn’t change as he removed the knife from Alex, just watched the blood pouring down from his chest. Alex was taken to hospital for treatment and was told that the knife had just missed a main artery, that he was lucky to be alive. Ronny Tonge was as crazy as his brother. When his girlfriend, Tina, finished with him, he took a knife and slashed both of his wrist.

Well Mike, I could rime on for hours about our memories - the Chinese business lunches for 2/-6d with Sheila and Jennifer - the trip to New Brighton instead of attending lectures and getting caught and scrubbing copper pans for three days afterwards. Mike, it seems like yesterday. Thank you, Mike for giving me the opportunity to re-live and value those very happy years.

Which is what this blog is all about. Thanks Mike, I really enjoyed reading this We’ll share a drink soon.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Mike Adams

Mike is a gifted chef and has cooked for the rich and famous. I taught the poor and infamous. Thanks, Mike for the memories. Your letter, interspersed with the odd comment is below. Part two continues tomorrow.

Well, Mike, this is the start of my contribution to your blog. I’m sorry for the delay but, as with all good ideas, I started with great enthusiasm then life got in the way.

I failed the entrance exam to Mable Fletcher Technical College, which was an achievement in itself as a reasonably intelligent ten year old could have passed it with ease. However, after a phone call by my father to the Careers Officer I was accepted on a six month trial. (A great morale boost)

As with you, Mike, I clearly remember my first day, walking to the bus stop in Widnes, and waiting for the bus to Liverpool. Waiting for the same bus was Alan Dixon who I thought I always thought of as a Rod Stewart look-alike (umm, I don’t see that - sorry Alan) He was a student at Mabel Fletcher and doing the same catering course. He offered me a cigarette, which I felt too embarrassed to refuse, thus starting a habit that was last many years.

College had begun two weeks prior to my starting, allowing the other students to form relationships, but leaving me like a fish out of water. Having been deserted by Alan Dixon, I eventually found the classroom and was already ten minutes late. I knocked and walked in…There was a sudden silence. All eyes were on my red glowing face and I became very conscious of my large ears and the spots that Clearasil had failed to clear.

Mr Byers told me to take a seat at the front of the class (not at the back as I was hoping for ) next to a girl with platinum blond hair. She told me her name was Sheila Pound, and to this day, she remains the prettiest and kindest girl in my life. At the end of the lecture and sensing my obvious discomfort at being left on my own amongst a crowd of strange faces, she made no attempt to leave me, and stayed by my side as we walked to the next lecture, and once again we sat together. (I remember the two of you well and often felt jealous. She was nice - probably still is…somewhere)

Can you remember our first day in the kitchen. We all looked very uncomfortable in our whites and, to crown it all, the tall chefs hat! Mine was balanced on my ears, while yours hung at the back of your head, giving the illusion of speed even when motionless. The thing we made was Tomato Soup, and we were both delighted when it actually tasted like Heinz.

Right, Mike. It is 9pm and I have just poured the first of many large whiskeys. Now do I carry on and slowly sink into gibberish (yes please) or give up while I’m ahead. I must say, I’m very tempted to carry on (drink has that effect on me too.) But I also know there is a good chance that I’ll press the wrong button on the keyboard and lose the lot. This being the case I will continue in pencil….

Tomorrow, bloody duels in the changing rooms!

Friday, 25 January 2008

'There is a tide in the affairs of men....'

After the Lemuria debacle they took in hand my political education. I was pretty certain I wasn’t a Marxist; trouble was I didn’t know what I was - a fairly enviable state. Dave Galashan invited me for a drink. We met in an ornate Victorian pub in the centre of Liverpool. He was waiting for me and so was a pint. On the table were a collection of books.

We drank several pints that night and I learnt how a ‘Socratic dialogue’ worked. You basically said ‘yes’ or ‘you’re right’ to each culmination of a short question and answer routine - not out of a slavish desire to please but because each series of questions were designed to give only one answer. The climax was an analysis of Engels’ The Family, Private Property and the State. At it’s end I realized with blinding clarity that I was a Marxist. There was no way out of it. I saw, understood and agreed with the basis of Engel’s argument. To be honest it was the joy of understanding a complex argument that finally won me over. This was a far cry from Basket Work.

Shortly after that, I re-started Walton Young Socialists and in true Bolshevist fashion was elected its secretary. Every so often a few of us met in the homes of Terry Harrison and Ted Mooney, self-taught men of clear convictions and great integrity. We sat around a highly polished table. Here they explained and analyzed, chapter by chapter, Marx’s Das Kapitol until my head hurt, and I wished I was sitting under the table clipping strange patterns from the Liverpool Echo.

But a door had been opened wide for me. I was surrounded by serious people, clever people, University students and others on their way there. And almost without thinking about it I realized I was as good as them. I was reading Lenin, Trotsky, Marx, Kautsky, more stuff than a cook could stuff under his hat. I was arguing, listening, understanding. Here my education began.

Just in time in fact.

I was finishing Catering College.

I had an application form for trainee manager in a Lyon’s restaurant in London, and every time I looked at it, my heart sank.

I didn’t want to go.

Someone suggested I do my GCEs.


The Liverpool Institute of Further Education

Why? My parents asked, and how long?

Because I’ll get a better job in catering. I knew I was lying. It’s only one year.

So now I was no longer going to sea or being a cook; now I was a student. I managed five O levels in a year, and the following year took three A levels ending up to everyone’s surprise at Swansea University.

‘There is a tide in the affairs of men…’ and I was riding it flushed with pride and happiness. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do but I was at a better place.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky has a lot to answer for

The first issue of Militant and the first serious paper I read and identified with.

The Last issue of Militant. By this time I was in a more cynical place

It was in Mabel Fletcher Technical College I first met Ken Pimlett, severe of face and hair cut in a neat but spiky brush. He in turn introduced me to the Young Socialists, and in particular Garston Y.S., which met in the offices of the Boilermakers Union. I owe them a debt, which I acknowledge to this day, but more about that later.

Two things stand out: Ken Pimlett’s bedroom, which was covered from ceiling to wall with photos, clippings and posters. I thought it the coolest thing. Our bedroom was pale yellow emulsion with a single crucifix as its main decorative feature. The other was the spartan meeting room of the Boilermakers union in which it was easy to imagine ourselves as Russian revolutionaries.

Music and revolution seemed to go hand in hand, and it was at Kens I was first introduced to Rhythm and blues - John Mayall, Chickenshack with Christine Perfect. Sometimes we played along on air-guitar; sometimes I got criticized for my appalling rhythm on an empty four-pint beer tin. And once we all sat round and listened to a Paul Butterfield Blues Band album - Ken’s finger rising gravely when the bassist fluffed the note we were listening out for.

We met in Garston once a week and discussed Marxism. Sometimes we had speakers, one in particular, a Methodist minister who had been cynically invited to bond us in our vehement mockery of God. Within thirty minutes a smiling man had been reduced to banging his fist on the table, telling us we were all damned.

We were harmless and of good intent, but possessed of certainty.

I wasn’t. Not then. But that was about to be taken in hand

We were always short of speakers, most of the meetings based on one of us taking the floor and talking about an aspect of Marxism. That was easy for the likes of Geoff Fimister and Dave Martin, both doing their A levels and enroute to University, easy too, for Dave Galashan who lived and breathed Marxism, along with Clint Eastwood movies and small black cheroots. But what could I talk about. I didn’t know diddly squat - apart from making sausage rolls.

Talk about anything, they said.



My talk was on the lost continent of Mu. It was the first time I’d ever stood up and talked in public. Within ten minutes I had a roomful of Marxists in hysterics.
The talk began promisingly as I assembled the geological evidence (there was none) and the concurrence of myths that suggested the existence of a sunken continent in the Pacific. Mu, or Lemuria both are essentially the same, I asserted confidently to rows of disbelieving heads. They just stared.

The rot set in when I began talking about the Third Root Race

“How many Root Races were there then? “Somebody asked.

“Seven” I said. A serious question, a serious answer. “There were seven root races.”

I went on to describe the Third Root Race - seven-foot tall, egg-laying bipeds. I heard the first titter. The tittering spread as I went on to describe in detail a previously unknown race of bandy-legged reptilians who hopped rather than walked,and of how the Lemurians' mindless cross-breeding with mammals had angered the gods.

The laughter was becoming hysterical and I realized much of it was coming from me.
But still I continued, describing with passion Lemuria’s cataclysmic demise. Bodies doubled over. John Ward nearly fell off from his chair. This was deviating slightly from an analysis of Das Kapitol.

I was wheezing, infected by ribaldry, choking out the words in between giggles. What was I doing here? What was I saying? Where was the door?

But they had to know. They had to know that the survivors of Lemuria now lived in a network of tunnels beneath Mount Shasta in Northern California . . .white robed figures gliding over scree.

There were few questions. Somebody asked me about sources and I made the mistake of telling them about Madame Blavatsky and of how Tibetan wise men had revealed to her The Book of Dyzan, a pre Atlantean book. Confidence returning I told them of Alice Bailey with her stanzas of Dyzan, dictated to her telepathically by a Tibetan mage called Diwal Kul.

They never asked me back for a follow-on lecture on Atlantis. I don’t recollect them asking me to speak again.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky has a lot to answer for

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Astral projection and conjuring up demons

I believed in Lost Continents, too. Much preferred Lemuria or Mu to Atlantis. A better class of people lived there. Reptilian by all accounts. This book I pored over, marshalling the 'facts' pondering as to what might lie beneath the Mersey.
Another classic of its kind. Von Daniken's Chariot of the Gods was thin milk after such heady stuff as this!

I’d fasted for two days, drinking only water. I was ready. My parents had gone out, my mother reluctantly, suspecting bulimia or perhaps anorexic tendencies but reassured when I told her these two syndromes wouldn’t be invented until the 1980’s. Even so, she knew something was up.

When the front door clicked shut, I lay on a blue cotton eiderdown in the back bedroom and closed my eyes. No naked ladies crossed my mind. I had a different task in hand: my very first try at ‘astral projection’

I’d read all the books…so much rubbish in so short a time, especially the pen and ink diagrams of comatose men, their spirits floating above them attached by an ‘astral cord’. I’d spurned the Charles Atlas adverts with their promise of a perfect body and gone for something even more silly. I’d bought the promises that one day I’d be able to direct my spirit to any corner of the world, along with the warning that, initially, I might only manage the ceiling, or perhaps the top of the wardrobe in the far corner of the room.

I remembered just in time another warning. Malign forces were out there waiting to break the astral cord and possess a consequent vacant body. I opened my eyes and scanned each corner of the room. “Should body or spirit be in danger the astral cord will drag your spiritual self back faster than you can imagine. Your whole body will tremble and shake as the two merge once more as one." Or something like that. The words reassured me and I closed my eyes once more.

I don’t know how long I remained there in some kind of psychic doze but all of a sudden the telephone rang and I bounced on the bed shaking and vibrating from head to toe. Had I projected say an inch or two before the malign forces of British Telecom dragged me back, or had I been mildly startled?

My psychic adventures continued: The Ouija board, which really did create a very bad atmosphere in the house. Never done that one since, at least not in any house I actually live in. And once, accompanying Keith Davies visiting his girl friend in Ilkly, North Yorkshire, I came across my first ‘witch’. Well, he said he was. He said many things.

We were talking over a few pints close to a blazing fire. A Yorkshire pub on a winter’s night. The Yorkshire moors then, and maybe still, were a popular place for covens. He told us of how they had tried to conjure up Ashtoreth. We listened, spell-bound as one would, listening to a witch. He describe in minute detail the ceremony and several of the incantations and of how a mist began to appear in the centre of the ring.

“What happened then?” I asked, my drink forgotten, so powerful was the spell.
He looked at me and paused. “We all buggered off,” he said, “Shit scared.”

Monday, 7 January 2008

A Magical World

I grew up in a magical world, surrounded by mystery, a sense that things were not as they seemed.

Alleyways might lead to somewhere different next time I tried them

If I just went down here…

Angels might open their eyes,

Ghosts touch me on the neck

Grave diggers vanish in mist

I dreamt of going to sea.

I never wanted the magic to end

The worm wriggled between my fingers, which were green, stained with grass and privet leaves. Before me was a small pot filled with dead insects and neatly cut foliage, a minestrone of hope, a witches brew, a necromancers draught of death. Once I hoped that newspapers, cut in a certain way would serve as a magic carpet and usher me into hidden realms. Page after page of the Liverpool Echo were folded and snipped into ever more abstruse patterns, but I remained earthbound, hidden beneath the kitchen table, until called out for tea.

The witches’ brew was a later manifestation of the same desperate hope, which ended temporarily when my mum refused to let me have one of her pans to heat what might have been the medicinal discovery of the century. Cutting up paper was one thing. Cooking worms another.

Catering never had the same magic. Bouillabaisse, fricassee, goulash, Bogbash or Bigos, none held the promise of the witches’ brew I was forced to pour down the drain. I bided my time.

Thwarted but not cowed. I retained the belief that the apparent was a skin behind which lurked countless realms and dimensions. How to break through was the problem.
With adolescence, the feeling became more intense. There had to be more to life. As reality settled and walls closed in, both world and future appeared more and more bleak. But I was too old now for paper clipping and concocting foul brews. It was time for something more bold. Astral projection!
But that’s another story.