Roberta Jane Cook Birth Pains – new book draft. October 26th 2021

Roberta Jane Cook October 25th 2021

Knowledge Of A Nobody by R.J Cook

Images are cut due to publisher’s restrictions for forthcoming book/ 2023 , awaiting court judgements. Captions remain for information purposes.


  1. Introduction
  2. Part 1 Community & Identity
  3. Part 2 No Direction Home
  4. Part 3 A Complete Unknown
  5. Part 4 Wasteland


‘To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge’ – Benjamin Disraeli

I am just another corpse in waiting , wondering why I bothered. I know it was for my mother’s sake. This is my 71st year. I dreaded getting this old.  My father was 41 when he died. My mother caught c difficile in a filthy NHS hospital mixed sex ward – which included a wandering male heroin addict among its inmates – and died there due to poor care – aged 83.

Over  the years much has changed, inside and outside  for me and the world. The rich have gotten  much richer. The top 500 global corporations control two thirds of the world’s economy. The word democracy  has never been so overused, but without definition from those at the top. Only 2,400 people control 62 % of global wealth , and therefore control our fake democracies.   The United States contains 6% of the population yet consumes more natural resources annually than the rest of the world put together – 52%..

A British Empire has made way for the global economy and an advanced British Police State. Allegedly wisdom comes with age but I cannot be sure my generation of ‘baby boomers’ ever grew up. Many of my parents’ generation never had the chance to.

This is the era of international virus pandemics which some suspect as being  biological weapons engineered by one or other of the global super powers vying for supremacy in a time of climate change and world overpopulation. Floods flood and forest fires rage across the globe as I write.

My maternal grandfather William John Close, seated, from Dublin , flanked by his sons Fred , Arthur and Charles. He left his  family in 1919 to work with horses in England. The depression meant a move from Winslow to London where his fifth child, my mother, his second daughter, was born in 1924. His wife died two weeks later, so mother was brought back to Winslow in Buckinghamshire to be raised by her maternal grandparents, as the poor relation of prominent local builders.

  • R J Cook. Image Appledene Archives.

At this moment of writing I am still in my birthplace of Winslow, Buckinghamshire. This is a much bigger town than the one my father came to when my parents left London in 1948.  London was a feral world. Ex serviceman brought back side arms and psychosis from the battlefield. It was already a thriving place for racketeers during the sentimentalised romanticised war years.  Pickpockets and handbag snatchers thrived in busy crowded Oxford Street.

My mother had been raped there in early 1947 and their best friends’ lost a child in a fire. I am aware that my father knew my sister was not his child. I reversed this truth in my novel Man Maid Woman . implying I was the bastard because it suited my text and theme. That put an end to both couple’s dreams of a new life in Canada. My sister was born at the end of 1947 and they decided to leave. I was born at home , I was born in North Buckinghamshire the a ‘Wednesday’s Child ’ so full of woe.

 around 3 a.m the hour of the wolf-in December 1950 when my father was a lorry driver for the nationalised British Road Services.  It was snowing heavily and father had to walk the length of the town to get the local nurse, Mrs Rolf , relation of ours. Mother said my father virtually had to skate up the road because it was so cold. When I emerged from the womb, I wouldn’t breath. My this time Dr Murphy had arrived and spanked my bottom. That made me breath and scream.

My late father never liked Winslow. He described it to me as ‘Knee deep in cows shit and you could never buy what you wanted.’  Winslow is a very different place now. Farming started to die when the Winslow Hall estate was sold off for development – the acclaimed Wren building was nearly demolished. The farmland was sold off for £100 an acre. Soon there were houses sprouting up all over it , selling for £5,000 each, mainly to aspiring London overspill.

My  Uncle Charles  was killed in action with the London Irish Rifles in 1944. Uncle Arthur was invalided out following evacuation from Dunkirk, afterwards being assailed by moralising women handing him white feathers with accompanying insults, He was a Blitz fire warden at the time.

These uncles of mine were all ‘privileged white males’ , would be rapists and wife beaters according to the oddly named liberal elite who are part of a conspiracy to rewrite history.

When I went for a Naval helicopter pilot’s commission in the mid 1970s, after university, I was asked – by an upper middle class female psychiatrist if I could kill. When I hesitated, she coldly supplied : ‘That is what it may all come down to in the end.’ In those days I was a Royalist, conservative and believed in Britain with its elite led wars having a moral cause & purpose. My boys comics were full of World War Two heroics..

Of course I was being  brain washed. Elites have never worried about sending millions off to war and exposing civilians to raining bombs. They are placating today’s feminists with stirring tales of women doing their share in the name of God and Freedom. Reality for my parents generation was growing up with death and destruction.

The concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder didn’t exist. However , there was some serious psychological fallout. My parents London was littered with bomb sites and troubled by violent crime. West Indian immigration started in 1948. The first black man I ever saw was sitting at the back of a trolley bus. He was like all the others I saw in the early 1950s, wearing a hat. My parents decided to leave London not long after the birth of my sister in 1947. London was rife with crime .

That romanticised version of Britain and the empire was why I joined the Air Training Corps, wearing a real RAF uniform , going off to camp, square bashing  , stripping down our big old Lee Enfield .303 rifles, marching through town to the firing range and being taken up into the sky taking control of a de Havilland  ‘Chipmunk ’ , a two seater single engined tandem trainer. They had replaced the more excitingly dangerous Tiger Moth bi plane and  were kept in RAF service until 1996..   

The world and my little England has changed beyond recognition since my childhood days. There’s a website called Deagel, which among other things supplies defence information to the U.S government. They forecast world population numbers based on economic and other factors. They’re currently suggesting that the UK population will be 14 million in 2025, down from 65 million now. That’s a 78% drop. Similar for many other countries. What do they know? We live in interesting times.

My parents are long dead and buried. Only now , many years later looking at the anomic ‘faulty culture’ world around me, do I come close to understanding them. I say close because as an elderly man told me during an interview in 1996, ‘You will never really understand older generations.

‘We grew up in different times. Changes do not cease. We had different standards and values. We had to live our lives . You should not judge us by yours.’  

In these woke times, I tend to agree. However, whether they knew it or not because there was no label, far too many had been traumatised by war.

There was a dis juncture as they came out of that misery and terror with official promises of a bright future. London, as I saw it in early childhood , was being rebuilt. It was a feral society with ex army weapons and violent crime. Glittering new buildings epitomised by Hyams  ‘Centre Point’ offered an illusion of better mind sets. Girls hemlines rose way above their knees. Pop music moved away from sugar coated lyrics to more menace and rebellion. Time would tell just how much of an illusion this drug enhanced ‘freedom’ was.  Ordinary hard working people were in the hands of some very corrupt selfish people. That has not changed. It is more sophisticated and , thus more dangerous.’

Part One Community & Identity

Chapter One Blackout

Television was a magic box to me in the 1950s. The first ones were big pieces of furniture with large polished wood cabinets and flickering blackish and whitish images on tiny screens. There were only two channels , BBC and ITV. To have an H Shaped  aerial attached to your chimney was a status symbol like owning a car. They swayed with the breeze and attracted lightening. Golden rule was to unplug the aerial at first sign of a thunder storm.

I vividly recall the chinks of light coming through the gaps in the wood panels separating my bedroom from the steep narrow staircase in our little terraced house , and all the familiar sounds of tired prematurely aged parents getting up ( sometime as early as 2 o’clock ) in the morning and never later than five). My dad was off to work at the brickyard.

We never had a car. Dad rode a bike 10 miles to his long day’s work as a lorry driver. He did that in all weathers.  He was one of the many ex servicemen lucky enough to find a  driving job with the London Brick Company.

Just before his accident, he stepped up in the world purchasing an NSU pale green moped called a  ‘Quickly.’  He was fluent in German and had fought the Germans during the war , but we had German relatives and he admired their engineering.

The war had a serious impact on my parents. They were both Londoners where the blitz maimed , cooked and killed people. Mother lost a brother and RAF bomber crew boyfriend.  Our television arrived in 1957 and I was allowed to watch it without censorship until 9 p.m.  Our front room was twelve feet square. The television was in one of the corners near the busy main road. Into this corner flowed all the world’s news from BBC and ITN. The 405 line black and white picture wasn’t very good but we knew no better

The front door was to the left of the T.V, by the window. Small as it was , the room became a hive of life , hope and happiness.  Dad had three days off for Christmas , There was a fir tree dug up and brought in from the garden where it joined all the other decorations , decked out with multi coloured baubles, lights and tinsel, brown ale, port and sherry flowing . dates , fruit , chocolates and assorted nuts  as our annual delicacies. In the end, the tree was so tall dad struggled to get it through the door. Dad also had his Christmas bottle of whisky.  

The iron  fireplace was the focal point of the room , where we burnt scavenged wood mixed with coal delivered from an ex army red Bedford OW lorry, driven by Les Rowe and his mate from the Co-op coal yard. The yard was by the railway station. Trains did a lot of work carrying coal.

The last Christmas before my father’s accident , my parents had bought an interior sprung mattress from Marshall Ward’s catalogue. It was the only luxury they ever had. The payments were still outstanding when he had to give up work. So were the payments on all the toys they had bought us for Christmas. It was a good job the landlord was my mother’s uncle.

Christmas toys were wonderful. I struggled to sleep on Christmas Eve , afraid my wakefulness would put Santa off. I thought I could hear his sleigh passing over. My parents struggled around Aylesbury Christmas shopping in 1961. Father’s operation had failed. He was dying. That was the Christmas I got my first Tri-ang double O gauge train set.  My parents used to creep in while we slept, putting our toys into a crinkly paper sack with Santa’s smiling colourful face printed on it.

Television brought the black and white news , soap operas , war and cowboy films , where death was always heroic.  Indians were portrayed as baddies. War films interested me, but it was not until 1962 when my father ended up on a terminal ward in Aylesbury that I heard the real sound of slow painful death while we visited him , on a  regular basis. The sound of the death rattle was horrible – haunting. It marked the end of a life.

Eventually it was my father’s turn on that ward to die. He was 41. Brought up as an agnostic, I had no doubt he had gone for good. There would be no meeting in heaven , only more hell on earth.  

Very poor already, due to his long illness, our situation got worse. Life seemed horrible, so I wanted to go too. I wished I had never been alive then there would be no death and grief. I lay on the grass outside the hospital hut which was Ward 10 , listening to my father dying and sobbing alone. Afterwards , my mother said that when she looked at her husband and sweetheart’s corpse : ‘He looked so young. The years of work and worry had fallen away. ’The card on the giant floral cross she had made by her florist friend Elsie Beadows, said : ‘From your broken hearted wife.’

Afterwards it was my role to look after my mother, doing jobs before and after school , including long hours on the farm where life and death of animals was quite normal.

My first memory of desperately wanting to die comes from just before I went up to university. I had become very anxious that something might happen to my mother and the lonely prospect of being in a world without her. There was a busy railway line running through Winslow. I would have stood in front of a train if I hadn’t been needed to look after my mother.

The difficulty with the suicidal impulse is that , in my experience, it is like one of those old wartime blackout curtains that we still had on our front windows in 1960. It closes out all light and therefore any sense of hope.

So, after university, while working for the Inland Revenue in Havant, near my beloved Portsmouth, I got lodgings with wonderful Londoners Bill and Jean Neal in Lymbourne Road. They were like second parents to me. I wish I had never left them. Bill was brick layer who had lost a leg after a hit and run accident when he was 24 – the same age as I was while lodging with him. The stump used to rub on his metal leg causing him blood poisoning and hallucinations on summer nights. Still he was always a smiler with a great mop of grey hair.

I had recently been dumped by my girlfriend, Helen , because she found me too depressing. I was writing a lot of poetry at the time, including lines about this person that I wanted to kill.

The person was , of course, myself. When the blackout curtain came down I saw nothing else but darkness. I went to my Havant doctor and he prescribed amitrytyline, better known as tryptizol.

It would take a lot of explanation as to how I reached this stage, but my ex girlfriend , Helen ,observed when we first met in Norwich that, in her words ‘You are very insecure.’ She did her best to help me but psychology is a blunt instrument where a scalpel is required. No such tool exists in that field of medicine, beyond lobotomy.

Before I took the pills , I wrote my poem called ‘Rain’ :

‘Rain is a place on the map inside my time,

where it’s always wet and windy and the leaves are green and fine.

Where I sit and count the footsteps that fall upon the street,

Mumble through the darkness and stand upon my feet.

To walk on feet forever making footprints in the dark,

Where one can’t see the ugly for the rain inside the park.

In this place I walk forever, learning things I’ll never know,

Giving sorrow to the sad ones and music to the show,

But it’s only sounds they’re hearing , not feelings I can give

I’m sad because I’m lonely and can’t show them how to live.

So many people know how to buy and sell a friend,

but these things are much too precious for me to even lend .

If only I had told her what I’d really meant to say,

She’d know I much I’d loved her and have never gone away.’

The year was 1975.  Back in 1974, my final year at the University of East Anglia, the English folk singer Nick Drake had died from an overdose of tryptizol. As an aspiring folk singer myself, I knew that. The drug is a tricyclic antidepressant with sedative properties. The maximum effective dose is 150 mg per day.  It was a Friday. I collected my prescription from Boots in West Street , on my  way home from the tax office just around the corner. The tiny pills were crammed into a little brown glass bottle.

My lodgings were a short walk away. I was home in time for dinner with Bill and Jean. They always went to the British Legion Club in South Street on Friday nights. I went up to my little back bedroom and swallowed all the pills. In my hazy half sleep, I heard them come home that night, then nothing until Monday morning.

Unhappy to have woken up, I rang in sick and took time to recover.  A few weeks later, I returned to my doctor asking for extra pills because I was going away on holiday. Something people miss about those of us who become suicidal is that once we have decided what we are going to do it, we put on an image. So I got the pills and drove home up country to the house I then owned in Winslow, where I took lots of the pills, spending another two days in a coma.

Coming out of it was like swimming up from the depths. It was a struggle , but I saw signs of hope along my way. I persuaded myself that I was going to become more than a tax man. I was going to be a great writer and folk singer.

Over the years , all that hope was gradually taken from me. Living without hope is terrible. If those who lead us take away our hope, they should at least help us to die as comfortably as possible. After my marriage turned into a nightmare , living with physical and mental abuse, along with coercive controlling behaviour, I went on to attempt suicide by hanging in March 2007 and another overdose in 2016 , following 7 traumatic court hearings before my victory over the police and their lies.

Of course the police never give up and are still in my life , at time of writing.

So still I was unable to get at the truth, which I cannot talk about now for legal reasons because another prosecution is pending. They are bringing charges for saying the same things about them and writing up a report of the last two cases which they lost , along with the background of police corruption and misconduct.

After the stress of seven Crown Court hearings in 2016, so I took an overdose of tamazapam whilst on leave from truck driving work in December 2016. There were efforts to persuade me that I am transsexual stemming from me having a book published on the subject. It was a novel called ‘Man Maid, Woman’ about a  troubled young man who becomes his own girlfriend – a man made woman. The final report on the matter noted that I have a ‘strong female identity.’

This led to a psychiatrist following up with the deluded paranoid personality disorder diagnosis and prescription for anti psychotic drugs.These drugs cause memory loss , incontinence , balance , liver and motor control problems.

I came to the conclusion that these people cannot be trusted and that the only identity I have is the one the police gave me on October 9th 2008 when they created malicious  intriguing and life destroying records , meant to be secret , that I was a violent stalker of a prominent police family of my then laws.  They placed a PNC Criminal marker on my car and still refuse to explain why. I found out by chance , as I will explain later on in my divorce memoirs which take up from where this book finishes. When there is crime there is always a motive or psycho explanation. Things don’t just happen outside of the religious or magician’s world..

It wasn’t until a second court case in 2012/13 – because I complained about the police not stopping my ex wife contacting my home-  that I found  records of having been recorded as a domestic abuser mentally ill , attacking every member of my family – including my mother – except my eldest son Kieran who was said to be ‘just like his father’ , over a 20 year period.

One cannot get much more hopeless than carrying an identity like that one. It is near impossible to earn a living that way and was expanded to incriminate my eldest son Kieran.  For the moment I will just say that my now ex brother in law was then an Assistant Chief Constable with the offending lying police force, going on to Deputy responsible for the Plebgate cover up and now a Chief Constable with the Civil & Nuclear Police. He had a financial interest in my divorce from his sister.

My mother died because of all this stress. As I said, life without hope is a terrible experience. If it had not been for the support of my eldest son who also depends on me for reasons I am not allowed to mention, I would be dead.

When the blackout curtain is drawn, one sees nothing but darkness, which is why I nearly succeeded in strangling myself with my tee shirt whilst in police custody back last August 25th 2020.  I had been arrested again for publishing details of what had happened to me , including the 2018 efforts to prosecute me for being a ‘gay escort’ working for my son from home and sending dirty pictures to key officials including my ex wife’s boss and top cops.

I was prosecuted in Crown Court for swearing at them for not keeping me updated about their so called investigations – and not returning my property. The whole matter was an act of malice for which they had no evidence or grounds to raid my home and put me in the cells. They have never closed the case , even though their PC Granger said ‘This job is going nowhere. When do you want your stuff back ?’

Death, where is thy sting ? I would overdose again. I am not supposed to say why, and no one , except my son, of believes me anyway, which is why I have been labelled a paranoid personality, schizophrenic and deluded. Who am I to argue with the state and its officials ? It would be kind of them to give me euthanasia instead of leaving me plotting to kill that someone who is me.  Still I laugh when I keep hearing about our British Democracy , where freedoms are removed to keep us ‘safe’ ( sic ).


Chapter Two New World Order  

Some of us remember the revolt against the Christian Church in the 1960s. We were not all drugged out of our minds. As a child in the 1920s, my mother was confirmed as a member of the Anglican Church. By the end of World War Two she had lost a brother and an RAF aircrew boyfriend. She met my father while he was on guard duty at the famous Firs munitions factory. He was a military police NCO , lucky to have survived Dunkirk when only 21 and a regular soldier. Like many soldiers, he had joined up to escape the poverty of inter war North London.

Each one of us is more than Shakespeare’s actor on a world stage. We are all the epicentre of our own drama or soap opera that is our life span. My drama is approaching its final act. The scene shifters, with all their power and money, are preparing the stage for new players who may well be entering the opening scenes of a new ice age as the Gulf Stream falls away, magnetic poles shift , so does the jet stream .

 Third world war or worse beckons humanity into an abyss.  The Jews of Israel are living on a knife edge while the liberal elite embrace , in Angelina Jolie’s words, ‘ the beautiful religion ‘ of Islam. Islamaphobia has been identified as a race hate crime. On the other hand, Islamists apparent fear and hostility toward the non Islamic world, especially Christians and LGBTQI , has no equivalent nomenclature.

In this context we have multi cultural atomisation and perception based on retrospective value judgements as the new script dynamics. Mary Whitehouse did her best to defend the Christian life while trendy Oxbridge type media folk ridiculed and destroyed her credibility. They were the parents and grandparents of the new Woke tyranny.

The brilliant Susan Howatch analysed and reflected the Anglican Church’s death throes in a series of religious novels, starting with ‘Glamorous Powers’. Blasphemy laws gathered dust and were forgotten in a 1960s hedonistic Britain, while France effectively became a secular state from 1905. 

Swearing on the new hip BBC 2 was cool ; the channel where trendy Kenneth Tynan famously was first to use the ‘f’ word. On air. Joan Bakewell , another smooth and elegant Oxbridge talent provided the eye candy on ‘Late Night Line Up’ . She was described as ‘the thinking man’s crumpet.’ Her mini skirts were so alluring she had one spooky letter with the opening line ; R’emember Charles Manson.’

Colour TV brought even more sex and excitement.  Productions included Jean Paul Satre’s ‘The Roads to Freedom’. I bought all three books , becoming a fan of French philosophers when I was 17. Albert Camus’s ‘The Outsider’ and Herbert Marcuse’s ‘One Dimensional Man were among my other pre university favourites. The year before going up to University, my friend Steve took me to Foyle’s bookshop in London.

There were so many books. I realised I would never read many of them. With limited funds, I bought ‘Selected Poems’ by Siegfried Sassoon and the ‘The New Industrial State’ by the long forgotten ground breaking economist John Kenneth Galbraith. I remember when we got back to Aylesbury, waiting for the late night bus in Aylesbury Market Square , under the Cherry Blossom trees, when Steve told me rather nastily ‘ You are just an insignificant little speck on the face of the earth,

This was now the age of mini skirts, starting off when model Jean Shrimpton shocked the fine ladies as Melbourne races wearing a dress revealing her pretty knees.  Now we have the language and thought police. Funny how what goes around comes around, to coin an annoying phrase. I have always wondered why the coming of mini skirts in an era where bikinis were normal , could be so shocking. Humans are far to obsessed with how things look rather than what they are.

Thatcher and her governments were an odd lot, riding the sea of change that never quite came off in Harold Wilson’s era when he promised a  ‘white hot technological revolution.’ That damp squib turned into ‘stagflation’ . My great uncle and aunt were still running the Labour Party Committee Rooms for the 1959 and 64 General Elections when I was a boy.

I first met the local Labour candidate  , Robert Maxwell , in 1959.  I got his autograph in my little home made autograph book. Our Tory towns people were shocked when Maxwell won the Buckingham seat in 1964. During that campaign , my aunt taped a poster in her front window.  In big letters , it read ‘Let Harold and Bob ‘ finish the job.’  Hypocritical Britain had turned against the Tories over the Profumo sex scandal, where this Minister for War was sharing prostitutes with the London Head of the KGB.

Wilson never had anything like a working majority. His era ended mysteriously. Peter Wright’s MI5 expose ‘Spy Catcher ‘ implied Harold was a Russian spy. Wright went into detail about how his department were spying on him and other cabinet members , including Post Master general John Stonehouse . Stonehouse mysteriously disappeared. It was easy to create new identities in those days, so no surprise when Stonehouse turned up working as a postman in Australia , looking forward to a new life with his young House of Commons secretary secretary, Sheila Buckley. He was spared spying charges.

At the same time, Britain was being strangled by a greedy backward looking elite and aggrieved Trade Union movement , referred to by Wilson as barking dogs.

Wilson’s successor as Prime Minister, following Heath’s defeat in 1974 and a brief second period in office, was former Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer James Callaghan . His alleged arrogant airport comment of ‘crisis, what crisis ’ was later denied as a press invention. This pompous bombastic overtly self satisfied man was from my adopted City of Porstmouth . There was jubilation in Havant tax office when we heard on the radio that this local boy was now Prime Minister.  A lot of my colleagues had been sailors and Callaghan had also worked , like us , for H.M Inspector of Taxes.

Times were a changing. His predecessor , Wilson, was a natural on T.V , much aided by Joe Haines and sidekick Marcia Williams.  By comparison Callaghan was cumbersome. On his watch, busted Britain entered the age of the ‘spin doctor’ and image over substance. His manner wasn’t good  and a consummate failure during the ‘winter of discontent, just after I foolishly left Portsmouth for lust filled London.  

Murdoch’s ‘Sun’ won over the majority of the moronic forty per cent who bothered to vote.They ran a headline, that if Labour won , ‘The last man to leave Britain must turn out the lights’ or something like that.  So Thatcher succeeded him , going on to exploit war with Argentina over the disputed  Falklands. It was a vote winner, wiping out awareness of all the industry she’d destroyed to enrich city fat cats and destroy the unions. One of my crazy old school mates died in the conflict – it was never officially a war. Thatcher famously said she had no need of the Equal Opportunities Commission. . Of course not , she had rich old Dennis Thatcher , a Tory grandee , to back her. Most women and greedy print workers were easily fooled.

Maggie might just as well have had a penis for all the cock ups , abortions and monstrous outcomes she caused. She helped lay the foundations for the vile global greed economy that has done so much to destroy the planet and give us Covid lockdown lunacy. She only came to grief in 1990 because she was paranoid about European socialism.

She never really understood her own party. Ironically she was stabbed in the back by senior Cabinet member Geoffrey Howe .  Howe made typically upper class references to her being the cricket captain who had broken his stumps over Europe.  Being in House of Commons , jousting  with Howe, was , according to Labour’s former army major and distinguished war veteran Dennis Healey , ‘like being savaged by a dead sheep’ .

Healey was said, by many, to be the best Labour Prime Minister of the day that Labour never had. That was thanks to him being stabbed in the back by the petty jealous Viscount Sidmouth, a one time hereditary peer better known as Tony Benn ,  a posturing ponderous pretentious pipe sucking dubious excuse for a socialist.

I was in the Labour Party at the time. Benn’s selfish egotism split the party and led to the ridiculous rise of dotty one time CND campaigner , Michael Foot, being chosen to replace Callaghan as ‘the compromise candidate’ Along with the resulting accompanying ‘militant tendency’ this kept Thatcher in power until 1990 when so much terrible destruction , by which time terrible damage had been done to the economy and society. It was the rise of greed and globalisation and rolling wars. Of course people, to this day, including most feminists , consider electing a female Prime Minister was a great step forward for women, equality and Britain.

Still not bad for a Grantham grocer’s daughter. Grantham , like most of Lincolnshire in my experience is flat like bad beer. She famously said :’I did rather well, in spite of my Oxford University education.’ What a horrible woman she was.

This is me on stage at the Grange School, Aylesbury attempting to look and sound like Margaret Thatcher on Red Nose Day 1988. It is my own hair which I had decided to grow long in protest over having a promotion blocked by the Tory County Council Education Committee for using my BBC links to get my Nuclear Winter song on local and then national radio in 1986. It was performed by three 2nd years ( now called 8th ) with a 6th former , John Newton arranging on keyboards , arranging and recording.

Aylesbury Plus news cutting , picture and report on Robert Cook’s ‘Nuclear Winter.’Robert’s promotion was withdrawn and he was threatened with dismissal for politicising in rampant Thatcherite Tory Bucks Education – a system presided over by Thatcherite Cllr Gillian Miscampbell who was also a leading light in the local health authority.

At the time Thatcher had a war on coal miners , wanting rampant expansion of dangerous Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors. Anti nuclear campaigner octogenarian Hilda Murrell paid with her life to stop her reporting against Sizewell B. According to Judith Cook ‘s book ‘Unlawful Killing ’ , she was murdered by British Democracy’s black ops, made to look like burglary and a sex attack. She was 78 when her battered body was found in a field near her Shropshire home in March 1984. As a teacher processing kids for Thatchers mass unemployment and world of broken home, I hated Thatcher and her government.

Thus I became a hate figure at this Tory School. I had a second virtually full time job with the ‘Aylesbury Plus’ newspaper , using my power to ridicule sacred cows in my education column using the pen name ‘Junius.’ Here I exposed the rotten Bucks education system.

The song I  wrote and was singing in the picture of me on the school stage , as Thatcher, at a lunch time concert, where my audience was mainly students but  included  Tory councillor and governor Zena Williams , along with headmaster Ray Jones, included the following verses :

‘There’ll always be an England as long as there is me

‘There’ll always be a golf course and Dennis on the tee

‘Oh we have sold the gas works, the telephones as well

‘And we are busy thinking of other things to sell

‘My plans they know no limit, I’m going on and on

‘And England as you knew it will pretty soon be gone.’

Post Gulf War One and the new oil wars against certain Middle Eastern States , there has been a flood of migrants from that area and North Africa facilitated by Libyan regime change. The door was opened courtesy of Blair, Bush and their followers. The fact these migrants all have darker skin specie adaptations to local climate makes it easy to label all Muslims as a race. Christianity was never so termed. Christians are manifestly not a race. Nor are Jews.

Iraq  was set up to provoke an oil crisis and price rise by encouraging them to invade Kuwait .  Supported by Thatcher , George Bush senior -needed to please his Texas oil baron backers who objected to Iraq flooding the oil market with cheap oil. So with the U.S.S.R falling apart  in 1990, it was safe and easy to invade and defeat Iraq.  Bush was wise enough to leave the his country’  old friend Saddam Hussein in power as a bulwark between  Sh’ite and extremist Sunni Muslims . The war had done the trick, forcing oil prices back up.  

Bush’s backers were pleased. Hussein had saved the day again, as with Iraq’s proxy war for the U.S against Iran which caused Hussein to flood the market with cheap oil for money to rebuild his country , in the first place. But the U.S has an insatiable demand for resources to feed their rich. So worse was to come. The U.S has just over 6 % of global population, yet consumes over 50 % of all natural resources used each year. However, the U.S is burdened with millions in poverty.  Imagine bringing all people up to the same living standards , with population continuing to double every 50 years ! the obscenely ever exploitative ruling elite won’t take an cuts to their hedonistic selfish life styles. They have the money and call the tune. Democracy is bull-hit.

Still the WOKE folk distract the masses with drivel about fighting for racial and gender equality. They can only mean levelling the masses down. The rich make the laws , owning everything of importance including the police and mainstream media. So for all the self interested elite bombing of the Middle East , the race label takes the issue beyond blasphemy placing Muslims on an ethereal pedestal. Here in Britain their leaders are demanding more ‘respect.’ The fact that old Britain thought it was secular or that there is no evidence for the existence of the Judaic/ Christian/ Muslim God , doesn’t matter.

I was one time head of RE at the Grange School in Aylesbury. I am no fan of organised religion or other ludicrous identity politics. None of that nonsense is compatible with the ‘science’ we are all supposed to worship because our education system is so bad , the masses are blinded by it.

This is the age of ‘woke’ culture and these three churches Judaic/ Christian/ Muslim represent the same mindset that locked Galileo up for presenting his evidence that the earth orbited the sun and was not the centre of God’s universe.

Quote from Gareth Bacon MP.

Extreme violence , including burning dissenters at the stake, was at the heart of enforcing religious power and bigotry. Egypt was a most advanced society before Islam was imposed on it. Christianity was as bad. The Bishop of Worcester took nearly an hour to die burning at the stake under ‘Bloody Mary’ Tudor’s so called Christian command. It took so long , his eye balls melted and his arms fell off.  So much for Jesus’s tuning the other cheek. Religion was politics , hence the Crusades. Wasn’t Jesus a pacifist ? Today I heard an Iman saying that homosexuals should be buried in molten rock then stoned to death. The mind boggles.

My early childhood years saw the return of warmonger  Winston Churchill who was knighted by the then recently crowned Queen Elizabeth II on April 24th 1953. Britain still had an empire and was the land of hope and glory. He coined the phrase ‘ Iron Curtain’ and wanted to nuke Communist Russia because it scared rich privileged blusterers like him.

Looking back across the years , with so many things happening to me and all the things I have done, along with what has been done to me and my son, my perspective has changed. I remember a lot that I would like to forget and forget what I need to know. Mind and body decay, though for most more slowly than they did for the pre baby boomer age.

Working men were broken down by the age of retirement and many didn’t make my age at all. Worse still , so many babies died. Childbirth was dangerous , my maternal grandmother dying two weeks after giving birth in 1924.

War does much to inspire and develop new technology, but we shouldn’t need war if we are mini replicas of the creator we are supposed to believe in. As the British pulled out of the greatest and cheapest empire ever seen, Africa and India plunged into religious driven chaos, Africa having more than its fair share of dictators and big business exploitation to this day. It is deemed racist to mention that so called ‘developing countries ‘ are overpopulating, with African women averaging 15 babies each,  disease ridden and war torn. This is the age of the woke liberal products of the kind of schools where I used to teach, now powerful where it counts in media and politics.

I have never been on message with my peers. Knowledge should have freed us all , and attended to what was and is sustainable , long ago. But two world wars solved nothing. Both ended with a planet of the same haves and have nots, the same divide and rule con tricks, the same scapegoat mentality. The wealth gap is now so extreme , some speak of the haves and the have yachts.

To question diversity and or multi culture – I call it faulty culture – is to commit hate crime. Atomisation has replaced what used to be binary. Human nature must be re engineered, we must be locked down if the elite say so, for the greater good, the elite’s  good.

Churchill has been identified as the greatest ever Englishman in a recent poll, with the Royal Family desperately being re branded as an icon and totem to hold us together. All rather hopeless in my aged view. I have never heard the word democracy bandied about so much and pathetically in a land where it is , at time of writing , currently illegal to breathe the same air as our neighbour. It is also a country hell bent on extraditing war crime whistle blower Julian Assange to a lifetime in a dreadful U.S jail.  Among other things, Assange gave us a timely warning not to entrench in Afghanistan.

Chapter Three  High Horses

Nubar Gulbenkian , a class act an Armenian Jew, riding with the Whaddon Chase Hunt, 1958 – the name literally ‘Goldbanking’. I remember him well. My mother , brought up to know her place , thought it a privilege when he spoke to her, looking down from his high horse. His catchphrase was ‘It is my job to keep people on their toes.’ A friend of mine recalls him trying to get his hand up her mini skirt in the ‘swinging sixties’ local party land.

Image Appledene Photographics Archive 

The home I grew up in was what the snobbish British would call ‘poor working class.’  I find it hard to write the truth about my childhood.  My ex soldier, truck driving dad was poorly paid. When a stack of bricks fell on his chest, his upper middle class brusque  womanising wartime Royal Navy doctor told him he had bruised ribs and sent him back to work, driving a big truck.  My father had been an army NCO, transferring to the Royal Military Police after being wounded at Dunkirk. He trusted his doctor and knew his place in the social order.

My parents wedding , VE Day May 1945.  Wedding bells ringing out from this church were a frequent sound during the author’s childhood years, Not so now. – Appledene Archives

British trucks didn’t have power steering in the 1950s and early 1960s. The effort of driving, especially on rough building sites, worked a broken rib into his lung.  The lung had to be removed and an infection- they didn’t call it MRSA in those days, did the rest of the job of killing him.

I was eleven when he died after two years of misery on National Assistance. Had he known he had had a life threatening accident, he might have reported it.  He was just another piece of British white working class rubbish who had been lucky enough to survive wounds in World War Two.  He grew up on the mean streets of Islington North London in the 1920s.  You wouldn’t recognise that area now. It is gentrified.  Many of the working classes fled its bomb sites after World War Two.  

By the 1960s, most , like my Uncle Fred ,had been pushed out of their terraces, into tower blocks by high rents. The upper middle classes moved in.  New Labour’s Tony Blair had a pad there. This Oxford educated public school boy had a brief spell as a barrister before moving into the manipulative upper middle class domain of British politics- that world is little better in the U.S.A.

Looking the part of a 1960s hard case ,Robert Cook c1964

Appledene Photographics Archive



An old painting of Sheep Street Winslow by Robert Cook 

painted c 1962.

The burial of local historian Norman Alfred Saving May 2019, St Laurence Church.  My hard working exploited loving late mother was married at this church on VE Day 1945. She is now buried here with my father who died in 1962. The burial ground is a history book for those of us who know the town and its past. 

I do not profess to be a local historian.  I write what I feel , hopefully know and what I think. As a former local reporter and senior town councillor, I made many bad decisions and enemies. For the sake of community and history, I originally joined the council to save the town’s new burial ground site which councillors wanted to sell off for development.

That may have been right to do, but my lack of vision was to freeze the town in its past, which I romanticised . Now I understand no one can stop decay, new growth and change. My preference is now for cremation because I seek no memorial and only to be remembered by the only living who cared for me. At this moment there is only my son and long time friend Ann.

One should be concerned simply to help improve on what is and what was. We are at best links in a chain. Memories and history are places to go if we want the past to remain with us.

While I was writing this little book, my old local history guide and mentor Norman Saving died, aged 83 . On April 26th this year I visited his widow Ann who had been our next door neighbour from 1958 until we moved in 1993.

It was a moving experience once again, standing in front of ‘Penny Cottage’; which was in very close proximity to my old family home and birthplace. So many memories came flooding back. I was only 4 when the Savings moved in.  The year was 1955.

The Saving family’s history in Winslow goes back to the 16th century and Norman was a man with many memories, an instinct for local history and a man I often argued with but always respected. Without his wisdom and knowledge my first book on the town would never have happened. He worked in various labouring jobs , taught himself to read . write and research. Something of an outsider with , in his own words  a tendency to fire from the hip’, Norman was a wonderful sceptic who knew more than he, and many on the Town Council ever realised or appreciated.

When I was working on my original ‘The Book of Winslow’ I spent much time talking and walking the boundaries and back ways of the tiny town with Norman. He warned me never to trust the memories of the old folk. In spite of our differences, Norman and I shared a distrust of authorities and self serving unaccountable remote careerist bureaucracy.

The day before Norman’s funeral. my property was robbed by travellers.  The police told me there was nothing they could do about it. I lost over £2000 worth of property and can expect more of the same regardless of all the taxes I pay. The police have other priorities for their computerised PC remote careerist bureaucracy.  

That is the world I must now live in until it is my turn to go.  In the meantime, who knows what is coming next in a very perplexing and uncertain world.

Like my local history mentor Norman Saving and long time next door neighbour, I have always been one of the awkward squad, not an easy way to be. As Shakespeare put it: ‘To be or not to be, that is the question, whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles.’

Ann Saving at ‘Penny Cottage’ closing her gate in April 2019. Norman carved a plaque for the front walL , inscibed ‘NAS’ 1955.  Her and Norman were both assaulted and robbed on this path, after being followed home from the post office on pension day.  The robbers were not pursued, so not caught.  My old house and birthplace is on the right of ‘Penny Cottage.’  When I was a poor boy, few folk could afford to go away on holiday.  So when asked where they were going, they never said Margate, they said Ourgate! We never locked our doors because we had nothing worth stealing.

Robert Cook standing, with Michael Sellar on sledge, during the very deep snow of January 1962, Tennis Lane Winslow. ‘My father was at home in our little house , just beyond the trees , bed ridden with 9 months left to live. He was soon to be taken to hospital where he died the following October.’

I remember looking up out from my green framed pushchair toward Winslow’s grandly named High Street, for the first memorable time, realising that I existed.  The year must have been 1954, the springtime sun shining, but weather was cold enough for me to be wearing what was called a siren suit, after Prime Minister’s Churchill’s predilection for the one piece he wore ready to take cover when the air raid siren went off.

It was a bewildering defining moment. I have been confused ever since, trying to make sense of things, often going against the grain of allegedly normal life.

Seeing things, hearing smelling life for the first time was an overwhelming experience.  I was just over three years old.

As time passed, the little North Bucks market town of Winslow made stronger and more vivid impressions on me.  I began to make out the detail inside the vast chamber of Hawley’s grocery shop- now ‘One Stop’.

The front of the tall building was covered in ivy. The bricks were thus out of sight, so it looked as if the whole building had grown out of the soil. Within this joyous big cave, there was a strong aroma of tea.  

This pervading pleasantness escaped from big plywood tea chests when the silver foil membrane had been cut open so that tea could be scooped up, put into blue paper bags, then weighed out by the ounce on the big white painted scales set upon the high wooden counter. Cheese was also personally measured, cut with cheese wire, weighed, then wrapped in greaseproof paper for sale.

All about the place, on its wooden floor, men and women wearing white coats with long aprons were noisily moving boxes, packets, bottles and tins. They had a rival from a similar enterprise, the Co-op on , on the opposite side of the market square, but Hawley’s had class.  

Young Peter Hawley had been an RAF bomber pilot, cut down in his prime, but not forgotten in the churchyard.  Bob Holmes, meantime rose to be the cheeky chappie who managed the Co-op. When I was pre school, he gave me sweets for reciting naughty ditties taught to me by my sister’s girl friends in the street. 

Busily Hawley’s customers, mainly women, but also some crusty old farmers from surrounding villages, wearing dirty coats coarse shirts and baggy dusty old chord trousers held up by lengths of string or braces, their battered moth eaten hats and caps askew, waddled in for supplie here – and at Midgeley’s ironmongers also on the market square. Smokers were commonplace amongst them. Tipped cigarettes were for wimps. The cancer link was then unknown. The town had a thriving cattle market, the last one in the county to close.

These people came and went. Most were bulbous women in long dresses, drab coats, green, black, brown or blue. Dresses were cheap and worn way below knees, fat varicose veined legs covered by thick stockings. Head scarves were worn like turbans. They were hiding piles of hair in curlers. Honest sweat was the natural odour without gender bias in summer, the season of flies and rural fragrances from the fields.

These were the days long before the boom in hairdressers,  Home perms were about as exotic as it got for most people. Ladies with perfume and make up on were scarce and better off in money matters. There were some very posh ladies , well dressed, perfectly straight seamed stockings and expensive perfume. They had things delivered , only ever carrying nice handbags. I would eventually become a delivery boy riding a trade bike with a frame for boxes up front. I did this on Saturdays regularly standing in for a friend and seeing how the better off lived.

There was a lot of head nodding and talking between these mainly plump red faced  shopping women. They had much to say to each other, ‘ooing and ahhing’ faces moving in judgement laughter or shock, depending on the gossip. They all seemed to have the same laugh and the same accents if they were not posh.

Of course I didn’t realise what gossip was, only that these people knew each other and liked talking. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as middle and old age. People seemed to have arrived ready made. I had seen gravestones , not realising the dead had ever lived. At my age , in the push chair, then, I knew very few words, so the sound was a song like blur. They might just as well have been birds chattering. We need words. We need a common language, words or signs.

Next shop for us was the Co-op butchers, a pokey little place at the top of the street, on the other side from Hawley’s.  There were no zebra crossings in those days, but traffic was not so heavy as now. On warm evenings , the main road was very quiet. The girls stretched a long rope across street, two of them holding either end while others skipped , long skirts billowing from the draught. They sang along to their play.

A lot of the butcher’s shop floor was covered with saw dust spread over the floor, to absorb blood and fat droppings, to stop folk slipping. Men with steel choppers were hacking at bones covered in animal flesh on bloodstained benches. Choppers thudded on to the benches shaping joints, with saws and knives for finer butchery.

There was a certain sickly smell. The bespectacled man in charge was Bert Goodman, a man I later learned, while working for him, was too fond of beer – every lunch time then , in 1967, I crossed the road to the back door of the Windmill to buy his pint of Guiness . Half sides of pigs hung head down from hooks stuck into them, attached to sturdy chrome plated steel rails connected to the ceiling.

The lumps of meat being hacked at were not obviously once live creatures, but these half sides of pork were such remnants. They looked like the animals that paddled about in the mud in the little paddock opposite our tiny house, number 21 Sheep Street. They represented the difference between life and death.

Of course I didn’t then know what meat was. I remember seeing it all, on looking back.  I understand. But I was still on baby food, not interested in what grown ups ate.  Didn’t even know the bigger people were grown ups, didn’t know I would become one. As far as I knew Winslow and me would always be the same.

On the way to the butchers we had passed the post office to collect the family allowance.  By this time I learned that I was a boy and girls were different. They were so mysteriously different. My sister was three years older than me. She had her weekly wash in our tin bath, in front of the living room fire. We had no running hot water. So it was all boiled once a week in kettle and saucepans on the gas stove- I had to be kept out of the way while she bathed.  I realised it was all to do with the thing between my legs and that my sister didn’t have one. This made me uneasy about myself and was the first sign that there was something highly significant about the difference. Gradually, I realised that the with and without people of all ages dressed and behaved very differently , as if they had different beliefs. Over the years to come, my sense that being female was ever more manifestly like  a religion became stronger.

In contrast, when it was my turn to be bathed, anyone was allowed into the room, including neighbours. Girls’ clothes were different too, so many clothes, colours. patterns and elaborate.  I wondered why.

So it was slightly disturbing when a curly haired lady behind the high wooden post office counter, who I later knew as Doreen Tofield, looked down at me , a ‘toddler’ in my little pale blue hooded siren suit, asking in a singing warbling sort of voice: ‘Is it a little girl, she is so pretty, she must be.’  At the time, all my blonde curls were peeking out from under my hood, like the halo of a saint, a picture of proverbial innocence. Girlish innocence ( sic ).

Chapter Four ‘A Country Bumpkin.’

The author and angst ridden thinker Robert Cook, summer 1964, Sheep Street back garden. This garden had been my playground, a wonderland full of imaginary cowboys and Indians, Germans, World War battles, space stations and so much more.  I buried toys in that garden to keep them safe. Obviously I was very insecure.  That garden seemed such a very big place back then. A year used to be such a long time when I was a child. My favourite day was Christmas. After my father died, my mother did her best to keep the presents and happiness going. Cold made it warmer somehow as we clustered together.

My family background is eccentric. Winslow was, and still is, the English class system in microcosm. Mother was from the comfortably off Walker and Cripps building families on her mother’s side.  Her Great Uncle Harry Cripps was the County Highways engineer who drew up plans for council houses and by passes in the twenties and thirties..

His big house in then posh Buckingham Road, where he lived with wife Ruby, was called ‘Gubblesgore’. The garden was so big it was sold off for housing in recent years. I remember Harry’s childless fur coat wearing widow, Aunt Ruby parking her black Ford Pilot car outside our house to deliver strawberries picked from her garden.  My mother told me that when Aunt Ruby died . they found a whole room stacked up with old newspapers dating back over many years.

Mother’s father was a wandering  Irishman from Dublin, coming to town during the harsh post World War One years to work, as many Irish did, to hated England, for employment as a groom at one of the big houses during the 1920s. So much for the luck of the Irish.  

World Trade Depression followed soon after him. So off he went for menial work in North London. He is buried with his wife in Finchley Cemetery.  

My mother was his fifth born with my maternal grandmother dying from what they used to call milk fever two weeks later. The year was 1924.  So she was brought back to her Winslow grandparents to be raised.

The woman , who brought her up, she had thought was her mother died fourteen years later.  Then my mother was sent out to work as a cleaner for the post master’s wife.  War came in 1939 to broaden her horizons.   

The RAF moved into Winslow Hall in Sheep Street, commanding local airfields as HQ to 92 OTU ( Operational Training Unit). Mother got a cleaning job there. RAF bomber crew survivor Sergeant Dickie Dyson married local girl Mavis Byford. Her father was on the ship that fired the last shot in World War One.  Dickie told me: ‘When I was based at RAF Little Horwood, the CO told us that the Bell Hotel was for officers only.  Phil and Bill Neal, who owned it replied to this with a message, we decide who drinks at The Bell. ‘  One has to ask what working people thought they were fighting for?

The local airfield was built on flat farmland between Little Horwood and Great Horwood Roads. It was 97 Operational Training Unit , for Bomber Command , flying Vickers twin engined Wellingtons.

So arriving with the RAF, was 17 year old Bill, the love of my mother’s life who came up to speak to the woman he called ‘blondie’ , on Winslow Market Square.  Being from the North East, my late mother had trouble understanding him.

She had just washed her long blonde hair at the town pump because her home had no running water. and was drying it in the late summer’s day warmth.

Her Bill was a rear gunner on a bomber. Bill’s plane was shot down over Minden. She always said Bill was scared of being burned alive because it was hard to get in and out of the rear turret. Aircrew had a one in three chance of dying, So it wasn’t long before she was alone again.  

Their first sorties, out on Wellington bombers, were propaganda leaflet raids. Night training was dangerous.  My mother saw two Wellingtons collide over the North Marston and Granborough  villages sky. She told me that all the little pieces of aeroplane were like fiery stardust floating down to earth.

The worst local disaster killed many just behind the High Street.  The young pilot lost his bearings during night training, thinking the High Street was the airfield runway.  Only young Sergeant Harrington survived.

Winslow Town Centre 1988. Winslow Hall, RAF H.Q stands tall, top left in the street where Robert Cook was born and bred.

Soon after this happened, mother left her cleaning job at RAF HQ, Winslow Hall, to work as a lathe operator at the Firs bomb making factory in Whitchurch, a place affectionately known as Churchill’s Toy Shop.  My free thinking mother did not like Churchill, referring to him as a war monger. No doubt the death of her brother with the London Irish Rifles coloured her judgement, along with the loss of her sweetheart.

She met my military police man father when he was on guard duty at the gate outside her workplace . Edward John Cook ( the first ) had been a regular soldier wounded at Dunkirk in 1940.  He was a hard man from the grim back streets of Islington North London, close to where my mother had been born. Transferred to the Military Police, he trained Alsatian dogs.  

So it was his ambition to own an Alsatian of his own. That’s how dad came home from work one March Saturday, on his birthday in 1957, unleashing the starving beast one of his dog breeding workmates sold him on the cheap.  ‘Prince of Winslow’ was five months old and had been returned to the breeder as untrainable. That’s how he ended up with us.

Dad thought he could tame him, nearly losing an arm in the process. We had been for a walk one Sunday evening. Prince was pulling on his choke chain. My father used a technique of hitting ‘Prince’ on his long nose. His threats to have ‘Prince’ put down because of that, roused me to one of my few moments of rebellion.  ‘Prince’ was left alone to be himself after that.  He was given a truly Royal life style, reposing like the Sphinx on our back room dinner table, removing himself only for long walks, meat eating and tea drinking from a bowl. ‘Prince’ became my very best friend. As with my mother and father, I have never stopped missing him.  

I have never liked hard men or hard women, but discovered dad’s softer self while sitting at the bottom of his painful death bed, he talking about his life. He didn’t like telling me about the war , but I liked him talking about trucks – he called them wagons. I was only eleven years old, before they took him away to hospital to die.

I stayed home from school in the January winter of 1962 to be with him , missing my 11 plus grammar school exam. The house was very cold, we lived on National Assistance, family allowance and the pittance my mother earned as the ‘lollipop lady’ seeing kids safely into the school at the top of the hill in Sheep Street. Father had a big Meccano set and made me things , like a working army truck searchlight. He taught me to use all sorts of tools.

A stack of bricks had fallen on my father when he was delivering to a building site.  The rather condescending ex Royal Navy womanising arrogant Doctor Rudd told him he had bruised ribs rather than a broken rib sticking into and ripping one of his lungs.  Removing the lung did not stop the infection that killed him.  

As an ex NCO, my father had the utmost faith and trust in the officer class even though he did not believe in God.  He was very English and knew his place, so in that sense he suited Winslow more than I ever did.

Father had used to cycle over ten miles to Bletchley brick works and back every day in all weathers- it was such a privilege to be a ‘man’ back then, nearly killed fighting for his country, then finally killed by his job and medical neglect.

Though we could not afford the cost, the electric fire was on all that winter time. Our house was draughty, so a lot of the heat went out under the doors and through ill fitting sash windows.  There was no double glazing. Mum used to heat up bricks in front of a fire using mainly wood scavenged from local fields,wrapping them in bits of old blankets. These warmed our beds. Warmth is essential to life.

I sat close to the fire in dad’s bedroom. We talked all day. Every so often he would wretch into one of many old toffee tins as phlegm built up in his one lung. There was a bucket on the tiny landing for his toilet. I loved listening intently to my father’s stories, so that one day the heat started scorching my favourite blue jumper. If he had not smelt the burning I would have caught alight as I was too cold to notice.

As a child, we were so poor,  and as I said ,we slept under piles of old coats, with bricks heated before the open fire, to warm the bed. Going ‘wooding’ in local fields eked out the coal. March winds were a bonanza in this respect.  Coal came to town via the railway.

Here the wagons were unloaded into the Co-op coal yard, then delivered in sacks by Les Rowe from an ex army red blood coloured Bedford OW lorry.

Coal delivery men wore black leather bibs, carrying the coal on their strong backs, coal dust painting them and clothes black too.  

Father is long gone, so young when he died and just another working man.  

Soon I will be gone too. Dad once said to me that Winslow was a very boring place, you could never buy what you wanted and everything was knee deep in cow shit. Lucky for him he was a lorry driver with the London Brick Company.  So he travelled in his lorry, to places where he could get what he wanted.  Luckily for him he had a house rented at a peppercorn rent from my mother’s property owning Uncle Tom Walker of Southampton.

It was a pretty basic place but better than most had, on the sunny side of town and a welcome escape from the bomb sites and hovels of North London where my parents spent the first three years of married life , also where my sister was born in 1947. My father used to taunt me that mother, him and my sister were cockneys, while I was just a country bumpkin.

My mother often said that the best thing about the war was bringing new blood to Winslow.

Chapter Five  ‘ A Religious Ruler ’

Royal British Legion Remembrance Day Parade entering High Street in 1956. Approaching his death when I was nearly 11, father told me that those who had really experienced the carnage of World War never celebrated or talked about it. I learned from his short life and death, the importance of scepticism {Author’s Collection}

Before I started school my best friend was the publican Frank Warner’s son Tony Warner. He had an older brother Brian who I never really knew. The pub was and still is called ‘The Nag’s Head’. There I sampled, thanks to Tony, beer and my first cigarettes, though we never really knew how to smoke. The pub was popular with working men, very different from today.

Forever in mischief, I believe Tony fell from a tree in the fields that became Elmfields Estate behind the old street where we lived He went off to hospital, his parents quit the pub for the council houses so I was left alone. There were other children around me when I started school, but they were tough council house boys, alien to over protected me. So it came to pass that I never played football as they did down the council house estates. ‘Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man’ said the Jesuits.

Of course there were the nicer softer girls, but they were even more alien to me. According to my sister, boys were made of slugs and snails and puppy dog’s tails, while girls were made of sugar and spice and all things nice.

One Sunday Tony and I were playing in the street when he started shouting and banging on the wooden gates of the Curtiss’s home, former Black Horse pub (which closed by order of Lord of The Manor printing magnate McQuoradale in 1924 because he didn’t like the noise so near his stately Winslow Hall) , next to ‘Penny Cottage’ in Sheep Street. Here, Peter Curtiss had a side yard full of cars for sale. Tony’s behaviour annoyed him.

So I was amazed and amused when a bucket of water slowly appeared above the gates, tipped and drenched little Tony who went screaming, shaking himself like a drenched puppy and running back to the ‘Nag’s Head.’

Another Sunday, a young rather elegant sweet smelling young lady called Joyce Hawkins trotted down to us on her stately high heels and in her Sunday best frock, rustling over petticoats, asking if we would like to come to her parent’s house and watch television.

We both said a delighted ‘Yes please.’ She reeked of perfume and hygiene. She thus instructed us to go home and wash our hands first. It was the first time I ever saw such magic, rather concerned that all the little people in the box might escape and cause me harm.

By the time I met Tony again he had found Jesus, via the nurses in hospital. My parents, in spite of mother’s Christian upbringing- her grandfather Walker earned the nickname ‘Pius Walker’, his house on the market square being called ‘Perseverance House’ – were at best agnostic. So I would have none of this.

As a pre school child, and until my father’s terminal accident when I was 10, our only holidays were going back to my parent’s birth place and relatives in North London. It was an area then with many bomb sites, crime , poverty and slums.  Unfortunately, even as a young child I was too questioning.

My father was one of the first, if not the first cockney to set up home in Winslow.  He was an outsider, who as a regular soldier aged 21, survived wounding at the fiasco of Dunkirk- after which Churchill sacked his commander Gort because Gort refused to stand fight to and kill to the last man. He had been a young officer experiencing World War One’s carnage first hand, while young Churchill organised the Gallipoli fiasco.

I could read before I went to school. So I read a poster on the Post Office wall while my mother was signing her family allowance book. It featured a mushroom cloud with something about an H Bomb. There were also stacks of pamphlets advertising careers in the army and navy,

When I went next door to my aunt Flo Cripps’s house I asked what an H bomb was. I learned the worst. That is when she told me about the Americans bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

She told me that a local man named Bamsey had been a prisoner of war with the Japanese. When he came back home he was a bag of bones, so the Japanese deserved the nuclear bomb.  

Researching for a book in 1993, I interviewed another former wartime prisoner of the Japanese following Percival’s incompetence and cowardly surrender at Singapore , Bert Vicars.

I asked him what he thought of the Japanese today.  He replied : ‘Put it this way. If I was walking down that pavement outside my front window, that pavement would not be wide enough to pass any Jap coming the other way.’ So I asked him why. He told me some terrible things. He told me , with a smile , of the night when a Korean guard entered their hut , asking them all to line up and punch the man next to them in the face. Bert said, ‘Being a clever young bugger , I was first in line so there was no man to punch me. But I reckoned without the Korean guard who set the standard by punching me in the face.  I digress , but am setting the scene for talk of nuclear war. Please be patient.

Having survived two years of infant classes behind the iron school railings, with all the hard knocks of being bullied by the bigger boys, knocked over onto the hard playground many times, I made it into Standard One, the first junior class hosted by the feared Miss ‘Polly Parrot’ Green.

Miss ‘Polly Parrot’ Green as sketched by me during one of her lessons in 1957. They were the days of ink wells and wooden desks with hinged lids and little spaces for our stuff. Those classrooms, torture chambers to generations sent off to war, had a peculiar smell.The ink was cheap and watery. Ink monitors used to fill our little china pots. Floors were bare wood, with a smell I liked.

 I never understood why I won so many art competitions while I was at secondary school though my teacher Mrs Taylor was inspirational in many ways- yet again I am ahead of my story.

The Christian religion was then the backbone of Winslow’s social order.  Locally Lord Addington ranted about the dangers of the 1870 State Education Act, emphasising the need for bible teaching to be its mainstay.

So it came to pass that we sang ‘All things bright and beautiful all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful. The Lord God made them all, the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high or lowly and ordered their state.’  Reverend Canon Beamish was a frequent classroom visitor , but I had heard my mother gossiping about his liking for choir boys so didn’t think he would like me. I missed her hidden meaning.

How I hated school and clung to each moment of the long summer holidays. I remember one happy Sunday morning coming out from Swanbourne on to the Aylesbury Road, walking ‘Prince’ with my mother. Father was at work. We saw a man laying in the grass by the bank. He was a tramp.

Sometimes we saw old Mrs Gaskin parked up by the wooden bench seat, with her friend Miss Holt, with old Mr Gaskin barely sentient , covered by a blanket , in his wheelchair. He had been old Mr Sellars plumber’s mate. The line up was then continued by the Sellars and Gaskin sons.

One of my few memories of my sister in childhood was her walking with mother , Prince and me one Saturday , hoping to meet father coming from Aylesbury in his empty lorry in the summer of 1959.  She was rarely civil toward me.

She told me about the Corgi toy sticker packs for number plates, tax discs and GB plates. I couldn’t wait to get up to Dan’s newspaper and toy shop to buy some. I let my sister apply them. So we fell out because my Corgi car transporter already had one on the trailer end. So she scratched it off so that she could fix a matching pair. We had a few moments of joy together, but as she approached a troubled womanhood and loss of a father, those moments ended.

The impact of two world wars made many ordinary people doubt the love and power of God for good.  Other more earthly powers had been seen at work, captured and recorded on film and tape for future generations. The power of science at war had been revealed awesomely.  The days of religious propaganda and simplistic explanations for life and death on earth were in doubt.  

When my infant class teacher. Miss Cole, told us about dying and going to heaven, I wondered why I could not just get into an aeroplane like the Comet IV jet airliner and be flown there right away – sometimes my father took me in his brick lorry out to Hayes and Hounslow, sometimes parking by London airport’s fence, so I saw the Comet taking of and landing. It was different to the other airliners , with its whistling engine sound as it came into land. I couldn’t wait to save six shillings and sixpence to buy a Dinky Supertoy model of that plane. I knew I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up.

However, rural people were slow to change. The majority deferred to their betters , always voting Tory, crediting Churchill for defeating Hitler rather than wondering why Hitler came to power in the first place.

And so it still was when I entered Standard One.  Polly Green was one of God’s finest warriors. So, on a day in the autumn of 1957, Polly was sat high on her perch, in front of her old stately wooden desk, her hard leather wrinkled face topped by a pile of grey curls to rival Marge Simpson.

That morning, after playtime, Miss Green was telling our class about how the Bible was written. Maybe I was the only one listening.  I noticed the girls always acted like angels, never noisy, looking pretty, ribbons in their fluffy long hair. Polly was talking about ancient parchments and tablets being dug up in what she called, in softening respectful tones, ‘The Holy Land.’

As she spoke imperiously ex cathedra like The Pope , her beady brown eyes squinted and scanned the young helpless subjects.  Thin unpainted lips were pursed while she shared the secrets of the holy book, a grim black bulging copy of which lay under her gnarled 70 plus year old left piano player’s hand. Her beady brown eyes were very alert , scanning us all over and over again. I could feel the beam of her brain and listened very carefully while she told us how all of this wisdom was excavated 2000 years earlier, then turned into a book called The Bible, telling us all about our creation and about what was right and wrong.

When she had finished, I cautiously raised my tiny young hand. A runnel of tension curled excitingly in my stomach.  She looked down like a bewigged old judge out of touch with my lowly reality.  ‘What do you want Cook ? No you cannot go to the toilet. You should have done at play time.’  ‘No miss, please miss, I want to ask a question.’

‘Question, question, I never said anyone could ask questions. I am telling you the word of God. There are no questions.’ she squawked. Her old leathery unmade up face was going red.  What you saw with this tiny woman was what you got. Never any perfume , except the smell of Lifeboy soap . No  jewels about  her person. No nonsense. That is why I liked her  She fascinated me.  I still feel the same about her , looking back.  She was inspirational.

‘But miss, I don’t understand.  ‘When I was young’ – I felt very old after already having been shut in this horrible Victorian style building for two years; the Sheep Street National School opened in 1903 and Miss Green looked as if she had worked their since day one.  ‘Young, young, what do you mean. Do you think you are more than a little boy?’ Then with an evil smirk, she leaned back in her high chair, deciding to give me enough rope to hang myself, I suspect.  This gargoyle of a woman was her own truth.

Undeterred, I followed my childish logic. ‘I used to bury my toys in the garden. I used to read Noddy books.  I believed in Noddy.  Does that mean that if I buried my Noddy books in the garden, then there was a big nuclear war, and in 2000 years time the survivors dug up my Noddy books that they would believe in Noddy.?’

Polly was parrot by nickname and a bird by nature.  She swept down from her perch, her red cardigan flapping open, baggy blue cotton dress billowing behind her, beak of a nose pink with blood pressure, sensible shoes making her sure of foot.

To me she was more vulture than parrot.  It was not as if I had not been warned by my sister and her friends who had passed through her wrinkled grasp before me.

So like a vulture she swept me up from my little wooden seat, claws on my skinny shoulders and flew me out of the room. ‘Stand there, don’t move you horrible little boy.  I will see to you later.’ Bare legs trembling, fighting back tears, I stood like a shaking incompetent guard at Windsor Castle.

‘Polly’s classroom door opened into the school’s only corridor. Its walls were gloss cream painted brick, no plaster, no faking niceness. The floor was dull red ochre tiled. Just past the headmaster’s door, on the end wall, a big clock tick tocked.

Always a nervous child, I had yet to master the skill of reading time in the pre digital age. Standing there, legs quaking wondering what I had done and what punishment to expect, time stood still for me.

Then at last I heard the bell ring, I heard the scraping of little chairs over the rough splintery unvarnished parquet floor, squawked commands, then the door flung open. Children scuttled past me, girls first as always. Then for long moments time stopped once more.

At last out came ‘Polly Parrot’ beady evil eyes looking me up and down, twelve inch ruler in hand.  Not a word was spoken, Swiftly she bent down, aiming the springy wood at my little bare legs. There were scabs on my knees from where big boys had pushed me over for laughs so many times.

My long grey socks were down around my ankles, making my calves a softer target. I looked at the pile of grey curls, smelt her well soaped body, then felt the sting as she crouched slashing at my legs in her biblical frenzied revenge.  Still not a word was spoken. Up she got, turned on her sensible flat heeled shoes, scuttling back into her cave.  

I was too surprised to cry. So many years later, I am grateful for that valuable lesson she gave me.  There would be lots more lessons and teachers, but that was more than six of the best.  Polly was very religious ruler. It doesn’t matter whether or not I agreed with what she did to me. I was content with her honesty, nothing devious about her. She did what she thought was right – and what she thought was best for me.

Chapter Six Fun in those Days

Les Brazier outside the Bell Garage in Sheep Street 1963.

I always dreaded being old.  My father was 41 when he died in great pain.  Mother said he was over the moon when I was born on a cold winter’s day in December 1950.  

Every birthday she told me the same story of how, in the early hours of December 6th, he skated on frozen ground his way up Sheep Street, High Street, Avenue and Park Road to rouse Nurse Rolfe, a distant relation on her side of the family.  

The street lights went out at midnight in those days so he did it all in the dark.  Traffic was scarce and we poor folk had no telephones.

Born during the so called ‘hour of the wolf ‘ in the upstairs front room of number 21, apparently I refused to breathe and Doctor Murphy had to be called urgently.  

A bowl of cold water and smack on the bottom did the trick. So I have been here ever since, though it has been touch and go. As with all of us, my time will soon come.  ‘All things are bounded and temporal as one of Winslow’s old vicars, Rev H. I. I. Denny said long ago.  ( see ‘The Book of Winslow by Robert Cook ).

Relieved to hear me crying for the first of many times, there was celebration, though dad would soon be back behind the wheel of his old AEC brick lorry.

My passion for cars and trucks came from my dad’s work as a lorry driver and truck mechanic, skills learned during life in the army. I grew up with the smell of diesel oil , brick dust and petrol, riding in my father’s brick lorry along with the rest of the family at weekends and in school holidays. Dad kept petrol for his moped in our back room. We had open fires , so it worried me.  He kept the moped there too.

My school boy sketch of my dad’s brick lorry waiting at six in the morning to pick us up for a summer time excursion into the ever expanding house building sites of South Bucks in the 1950s. We never knew until the night before where we were going.  The most exciting place was Hayes in Middlesex, close to Heathrow Airport.  If dad had enough spare miles he would park by the airport’s boundary fence so I could watch the airliners landing and taking off. That was when I saw the world’s first jet airliner, the DH Comet.

I admired my father’s trade so much, I could not wait to grow up and drive a brick lorry of my own. He had built me a soap box cart complete with braking system when I was about 8 years old. So in my mind it was a brick lorry.  That was when I decided I wanted more carts and to build my own truck fleet and pretend brickyard.  They would be a fleet with numbers on.

When dad was building his chicken houses and chicken runs in the garden, he dug down to get some sand to mix cement, passing through clay.  He explained it all too me. So when he had finished, I dug holes, dug out the clay, made cubes which I left to bake in the sun. (Read my book ‘Bucks Bricks’.)

Then I loaded them on my cart, got a neighbour’s boy to push me into town delivering my bricks in people’s front gardens. My father soon closed my brickyard down because he and mother kept tripping over all the little holes in the garden.

The Bell Garage at the top of Sheep Street, just before the High Street was another wonderful place for me.  The proprietor was Les Brazier, a farmer’s son who loved engines more than farming.  There were all sorts of cars there, filling up with petrol or being mended.

I interviewed Les for a book in 2000.  He told me:  ‘I bought the Bell Garage in 1952. At one time it had been run by the Bell Hotel.  I bought it off Peter Curtis who carried on working for me.  I remember we had an old Hillman Minx down the side of the garage.  Peter said we ought to start it up so we could sell it.  We got a battery and turned it over.  No good, so we poured some petrol down the air cleaner.  All of a sudden it backfired, caught the can of petrol alight that was in Peter’s hand.  He threw it in the road right in front of a man riding his bike.  Lucky it didn’t hit him, but we did get it started.

‘We were right on the main road which was often busy.  Mr Wigley- a prominent auctioneer and land agent- senior used to drive across the Market Square to get petrol.  We’d stand there directing him.  He was very deaf and would sit in the middle of the road in this old Austin 10.  By the time he’d got it in gear there was something coming, so we’d shout ‘Stop’ and he’d say ‘You said go’.

‘He’d ring up a night or two later and say ‘Mr Brazier, would you come over, the car’s in the rose bushes.’ He’d had one too many.  We’d go over to Steeple Claydon and we’d get it out.  We had some fun in those days.  Cars were still pretty basic.  There was no unleaded petrol.  You were mostly taking the heads off the engines and replacing the valves.  Not many cars did more than 40 mph.’

There was no breath testing in the good old days and quite a few local road accidents to my knowledge. I remember a BBC personality living locally, I think his name was McDonald Bailey, killed with his wife driving home from a social even in London to Horn Street Winslow in about 1957, near Shipton. He lost control of his big  black Austin car at the top of No’rs Hill. His wife was propelled through the windscreen and over the hedge. But with increasing traffic there was worse to come.

Winslow had its own police station in Station Road, run by Sergeant Barringham. He had one grim black four door Ford Prefect police car for himself and driver. The rest of his large team rode bicycles except for the one on the black motorbike.

The worst crime I recall back then was when the local school was burgled, the thief taking a stop watch and starting gun, God knows what for. The magistrates court adjoined the police station, overseen by Captain Micklem.  When the session was over The Captain would adjourn to the Bell. Micklem had a tin leg.

Interviewing local deli owner Maurice Newman for the Aylesbury Plus newspaper, back in the 1980s, Maurice told me that local Tory stalwart Captain Micklem was his CO in wartime Oxford, Beds and Bucks light infantry.  I said ‘Oh yes, he was a war hero, lost his leg.’  

Maurice laughed. ‘He lost his leg fooling around with a rifle, drunk in the barracks one night, shot himself. He never saw action. ’  Obviously I found that hard to believe, but ‘who knows, as a local top cop once said to me!  There is no doubt the Micklems were prominent, and all families have their troubles.

Those were the days when the fledgling TV advertisements promoted drinking with ditties like ‘Guiness, Guiness gives you strength.’  The town had nine pubs in the 1950s, counting some members of the local constabulary among their regulars.

Getting ahead of my story again, I recall serving drinks to Barringham’s successor, then staggering Sergeant Gilchrist, at a local dance in 1971.  He was in the company of equally inebriated Dr Patrick Murphy – the doctor who delivered me. As a matter of interest, the good doctor had served in the merchant marine on the Russian convoys during World War Two.

When Doctor Murphy wanted lunchtime relaxation. he told me, he had a problem.  There were no secretaries or answer phone at Norden House.  He explained to me, during an interview for the ‘Aylesbury Plus’ newspaper: ‘I would ring up Mr Carpenter- a retired chimney sweep- at Winslow Telephone Exchange and maybe say: “Mr C, I’m off to the Folly for half an hour.  Let me know if any urgent calls come in.”  Mr Carpenter would often reply: “I suggest the Shoulder of Mutton, doctor, most of your friends are there.” ‘

Chapter Seven Just the Ticket

  • Mr E.M Cain started his bus company with his brother and uncle in the early 1920s but was forced out of London when London buses were nationalised into London Transport.  Here is one of Red Rover’s ex London Transport buses in Winslow High Street, being driven by Mr Reg Howlett, the man who founded Acclaim Travel with his wife Grace Durham who can be seen chatting with him in this late 1950s picture ( Grace Durham. The Red Rover Story by Robert Cook )

The word omnibus means for all. The word was shortened to bus, but buses have never been for all. Wealthy people didn’t use them.  Buses were intended for the workers. Railway trains also used to be affordable for the lower orders, even if they had to travel third class.

These days the nationalised railways have been virtually given back to, rather than profitably  sold to private capitalists by the locally admired Tory Government. Ticket prices have soared for the rail commuter market from dormitory towns, better off locals driving their BMWs at break neck speed to Milton Keynes and Aylesbury stations for well paid jobs in other town and London’s.  A few miles from here they are building the massive interchange between the re opening rebuilt East West Rail link and the HS2 at a point where HS2 follows the old Great Central line. The fact that both lines were ever closed in the 1960s tells us much about the calibre and scurrilous nature of our politicians. The fact they are redeveloping these lines tells us it is all about money , convenient travel and housing for the better off.

Work to reopen the east west railway line has caused much environmental and road damage. In spite of the 1968 commencement of work on the new town of Milton Keynes in 1968 ,the line was closed by an order in 1967 signed by Transport Minister Barbara Castle to , in her words ,’boost the British motor industry’. The rebuild is well under way.

As a result my friend Reg Waters lifelong home at Swanbourne Station has been demolished because new high speed trains from the West Coast line and Oxford won’t be stopping there. The line is to be a supply feeder for building HS2 and an expensive commuter link. Reg ’s brother Mick had a heart attack when he heard the news, having hoped his station house and platforms would be part of the new locally focused transport initiative and development. He died of the stress.

These high paid folk have pushed house prices through the roof – 15 % predicted before line completion- while council houses have been sold off at a song, then re sold at vast profit.

I made my loathing for Thatcher clear during my time teaching in a Tory dominated school in Aylesbury and in my work as a journalist for the Aylesbury Plus.

I was the Winslow reporter and Junius columnist ridiculing and exposing the incompetence and corrosive political correctness of Bucks County Councils Education service- a service so awful that I had to expose Chief Education Officer Steven Sharpe for sending his 12 plus failure daughter to school out of County in Oxfordshire’s comprehensive system.  He told the reporter I sent to photograph and interview him , that his wife was responsible for the decision not to send his daughter to one of his secondary modern schools in Waddesdon near the old Rothschild manor.

That sounds rather like local Buckingham MP  and Speaker , John Bercow’s lame excuse for saying the anti Brexit sticker was on his car because it was his wife’s car, even though it was in the House of Commons car park.

I first encountered Labour Parliamentary candidate Bob Maxwell when his glamorous entourage visited my uncle and aunt’s house in 1959.  They ran the Labour Party Committee rooms at 23 Sheep Street.  Maxwell shocked the well to do by winning the seat against Tory grandee Sir Frank Markham in 1964. Hustings on the market square were exciting, especially Robert Maxwell parked up in his red Land Rover, booming out from a megaphone, we local urchins cheering him on while sitting on the bonnet. He knew how to play to the gallery.

Class is not just a Winslow thing.  It is a British thing. Feminism, anti racism and diversity are smokescreens.  Thatcherism killed old Labour. Union vote winner under dogs were ultimately replaced by feminists and the BAME to get Labour votes.

Now, with Brexit, the country is supposedly confused. That is nonsense. Our elite are just trying to fool us into thinking a deal where we stay in the union with no MEPs to represent and cause upset is actually Brexit.  Believe that you will believe anything. No surprise that Boris Johnson’s terrible deal and EU vindictiveness has the provinc of northern Ireland back back up in arms.

We hear too much about diversity in Britain, a euphemism for fragmentation. Two twentieth century world wars accelerated technology, though the profits have not been shared with the ordinary folk who did and still do the fighting.  

Winslow Station, (sketched by the author), on Thomas Brassey’s 1851 old Oxford to Cambridge line, crucial during World War Two, derelict in 1985 abandoned after being used as a workshop in the 1970s.  

The line was closed by order of Minister of Transport , a distinguished tax inspector’s daughter, raised in a rank socialist home, Oxbridge graduate Barbara Castle, a lady who knew so little about transport that she could not even drive a car- see ‘The Richard Crossman Diaries’.  Castle mentored Jack Straw, another Labour high flyer.

It amazes me how Dr Beeching still gets the blame for closing the line in 1967, the year they started building Milton Keynes.  That is politicians for you.  When I interviewed the last chairman of British Rail, Sir Bob Reid, for a magazine, he told me that Prime Minister John Major was clueless about railways, just wanting to privatise something like his heroine millionaire’s wife Thatcher, and British Rail was one of the few things left to do that with.

Sir Bob Reid , last chairman of British Rail.

In its heyday Winslow’s station connected the town to the West Coast mainline, East Anglia, Oxford, and Banbury.  Castle ended all that- not Beeching.

R J Saunders shop in Winslow High Street. 1956. Reg was also a part time fireman.  Conveniently for him, they built the new fire station opposite this building, which was his home and shop.

The new fire station featured an old air raid siren on top to alert the crew who might be at home or at work all over the little town. Saunders sold my dad his bicycle, which I still have.  

Best of all, Reg Saunders sold Dinky Toys and Hornby Model Railways. Bert Small the barber was next door. I hated the barbers so mum always bribed me with a Dinky toy to get my hair cut. The money for the toy usually came from a  rebate when the gas man counted the money in our gas meter.

Two twentieth century world wars were all about empires and greed of the interbred European ruling elites.  While 8 was lecturing in political history at Aylesbury College of Further Education in the early 1980s, many students didn’t like hearing this and complained. A lot were feminist social worker types, improving career prospects doing evening A level classes. Too bad, the truth always hurts and the comfortable and ignorant do not like it.

On the plus side, for all the mass slaughter and misery, science, technology and manufacturing moved forward apace.  

Television was first broadcast in 1936.  Twenty years later H Shaped TV aerials popped up on chimney pots all over town.

My Uncle Charlie Cripps next door to us had more money because he had already had the first of his terrible accidents on a building site. So we used to go next door, sitting on his sofa to see the world through the little screen front of the big Pye television set that had cost him a lot of money.  Sunday afternoon was for the big film and the first time I saw Fred Astaire and dance with Ginger Rogers. The first TV advertisement I saw featured a tiny puppet and a fizzy glass of water. The puppet was called ‘Speedy’ and the product was Alka Seltzer.

Bricklayer, Uncle Charlie loved his television, especially Tommy Cooper’s show, always keeping up to date.  Leaving school unable to read and write, he had a sad life.  I recall him telling me how good an impressionist Tommy Cooper was.  He said:  ‘When he puts on a policeman’s helmet, he looks just like a policeman.’  Charlie painted water colours.

The black and white 405 line system of 1956 was not so clear as you can imagine if you were not there.  But it was better than the old static images of the so called magic lantern given to me by the Lambournes on the opposite side of Sheep Street- along with my first grown up brass bedstead bed, because they were getting rid of stiff before moving to the council houses. Winslow was a self supporting community in those days. Men went off to work , women no longer needed to skivvy for the rich in big houses. They formed a support network and looked after the kids – I write only about my own class.

We got our own TV set in 1957, installed by a team led by ex field promoted army officer and radio expert Arthur Adkins, uncle to one of my best ever friends Steven- we went off to university together after being club and county athletes together. Steven was a runner of world class potential, but that is another story. Like me, the decadence of university student life got the better of him. He was also my rival in many ways, as we were aspiring intellectuals. He once told me how much he enjoyed talking to me.  

When I asked him why, he smoothly replied:  ‘Because you are so ignorant.’  We were about 17 at the time, in the back seat of a car, on the way  to compete in the National Cross Country Championships.  He was reading Samuel Butler’s ‘Erewohn’ at the time. The novel was a satire on Victorian society , published in 1872. Like ‘Polly’ my friend Steve was inspirational.  

This was the 1950s and early 60s in small town Winslow. I was a kid who still made model aeroplanes and played with his model railway. I took my Uncle Charlie’s empty beer bottles back to the ‘Nag’s Head’ to get full ones, collecting the deposit for me to save and buy more track for my railway. One straight section cost one shilling and three pence.  So I was indeed ignorant. Steven’s contempt inspired my interest in literature.

Back to the main story; for the masses, it was television that was shaping the new consciousness.  As Winslow moved into the 1960s TV drama, pop music and news were re shaping the world and Winslow.  Moralising Dixon of Dock Green and Sunday Night at the London Palladium with leggy sequin bedecked tight leotard wearing Tiller Girls opening the show, and a finale with stars the likes of Gracie Fields and Shirley Bassey . They were fading TV interests, fuddy duddy and shows of the past. Still legendary television entertainer Bruce Forsyth made his name as host.

Britain’s empire was in decline and the local newspaper brought us the thrilling story of local hero Gunner Chowles help in fighting a rearguard against Aden’s Moslem rebels.  

The world was changing.  My father was still listening to his record player, probably the first home built stereo in town, buying his records form Hallahans, another TV and radio shop fronted by Miss Andrews, on land now occupied by Elmfield Gate’s road exit on to High Street.

My father was dying then, along with the old ways of Winslow, all the cow shit he hated getting lesser everyday. No more grumpy old Jack Hone, McQuordale’s man putt putting up Sheep Street on his high old Fordson tractor stinking out the street with clouds of blue tractor vapourising oil-  TVO as we nerds call it.

Stan Blake, pictured above , my mother’s cousin- mother’s aunt Violet Cripps married spiv, con man and travelling salesman Barney Blake- up from Kent , sitting on a farm machine by the iron railings of Winslow School.  

The school was a place I hated.  The picture was taken c 1929. Winslow Hall’s roof can be seen peeking over the hedge in the background.  The school’s outside toilets are visible left.  There was no full roof, so boys used to compete to see who could project their urine highest over the wall on to the playground. This was another sport I failed at.  The standard was high, one boy managing to drench the deputy headmasters, Jim Hall’s head with his piercing jet stream. The school was sold off in the early 1990s for luxury housing,

When I started at Winslow School, the leaving age was 14. Those who passed the 11 plus transferred to grammar schools, as my clever late sister did. She and I were never close so I have few memories of her there, other than teachers telling me that I was nowhere near as clever as her. On the plus side, the headmaster was an ex Parachute Regiment soldier Norman Bevan, a man from a wider world than Winslow.  

The school was not the same after Bevan left to head the new secondary modern school at the other end of town and snobbish village school master Arthur Chapman took over with his even more overtly snobbish wife being my last teacher before I left aged 11. The school also lost a good deputy head, Jim Hall because they would not give him the job.

Jim Hall, a severe looking man with slicked down hair, thanks to Brylcream. He was another ex army man and a stickler for PE. Our school had no playground, so until the secondary modern school was built we used to trek up the Little Horwood Road, then climb over an old grey rotting wooden style by the double bend, walk down the footpath where the cycle way and Elmfields are today, to the old long gone recreation ground to play cricket.

This was every Friday afternoon from May to September, excepting holidays and I hated it.  Being on the receiving end of a hard wooden ball, with  a heavy bat to defend my poorly coordinated self, was not my idea of fun.

The secondary school changed all that.  We were going to play football for the first time.  Jim gave us a briefing in the school canteen hut.  He said it was important to stick to our positions.  At the time my father was supposedly but not recovering from his failed operation, so he had no wages. Wanting to look the part, mum persuaded Uncle Charlie to buy the boots from Hilton’s shoe shop, along with socks and shin pads.

Off we went down the hill from our primary school, two by two like the animals boarding Noah’s Ark. The new school at the end of Avenue Road looked amazing as we went through the front gate. Dividing us into teams, Jim- whistle around his neck- organised us in positions. Probably because I could at least run fast, I was near the middle where a circle was marked at the centre of the pitch. That was the half way line dividing the team ends.  Still aI had no idea what the game was about because I paid no attention when he had briefed us the week before.

One sharp burst from Jim’s whistle and we were off. Well everyone was off except me as I had no idea what was going on.  We did not play football in Sheep Street.

Apart from me, the boys were very excited, calling out to each other, slipping over, desperate to get the heavy leather ball then kick it between the goal posts.  Boys got peer group respect this way. Modern girls , inspired by feminism , ego and dreams of money want that too now. They want everything men have and more. It is called empowerment and an excellent distraction from social class inequalities which are getting worse.

At half time there was lots of gasping, laying down and rubbing calf muscles and excited chatter involving all except me. The field sloped quite steeply, so my team did a bit better when we changed ends- though still losing.  I did not care, never understanding the passion of football or its supporters.  I have never watched Winslow United play.

So at the end of the match Jim called to the boys, ‘Come on, gather round Cook. Now, look at his feet.  He hasn’t even got his boots dirty.  Little angelic me just looked up into his red seemingly angry face and said: ‘But Sir, you did tell us to stick to our positions.’ Instead of getting my class mates to laugh at me, they laughed at Jim.

The country may then have had hopes and illusions about its future, but after Bevan left the Sheep Street school to head the new secondary, so did any hopes I ever had.  As for illusions, I had none by that time.  New headmaster’s wife Mrs Chapman, my last teacher, made it quite clear she thought I was thick. Her glasses were Dame Edna Everidge style, her cheeks chubby, giving the impression that she was always smiling, though often rather nasty. She was the only other teacher at that school to hit me. I don’t recall why, probably for talking out of turn.  

I remember Chapman dragging me from my seat, pushing me tumbling between rows of wooden desks, then tugging, in a rage, directing me to her classroom door, slapping my head from side to side as she pushed me out. By modern standards , she was a horrible abuser.

Teachers had a licence to hit, some of them , like Mrs Chapman, obviously enjoyed it.  There was something very Dickensian about those old school, teachers attitudes and the smell of wood and cheap ink from the ink wells in every pupil’s desks.

As for hopes, growing up in poverty and hardship at the bottom of the Winslow pile, I never had illusions or delusions.  I have none now.  

As for Britain, the Brexit con and fiasco says it all.  This is a new and sinister age of elite control and censorship. Little Winslow is not an island, but some of its people live in a bubble.  Criticism is a dirty word as far as the elite and vested interests are concerned.

One of my most disturbing memories of Winslow is the workhouse.  There is an old peoples’ home built on the site now. Years ago we used to see a trail of old men and women walking holding hands like school children, all down the High Street, Sheep Street, Little Horwood Road to the railway bridge and back.  Hard to imagine that those poor old folk were once some peoples’ children.

They walked out every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, like little children, innocent smiling faces, except for the one mum called Albert who had no friend’s hand to hold.  He trailed behind the rest. We saw them always on Sundays while walking ‘Prince’ down to let him loose in a field by the railway bridge a mile out of town. Prince enjoyed those moments of freedom, as we all do. That little field by the railway banks where the cowslips once grew, is now a compound for workmen rebuilding the railway line.

Though of clean and tidy appearance, their clothes were unusual, men with stiff winged collars to their shirts, double breasted suits, turn ups and brogues, women in floral dresses and flapper style hats from the 1920s. Their clothes seemed to have come through  a time warp, their bodies withered  by the heat of the journey.

Self important Dr Rudd , a lay preacher , wrote a patronising pamphlet about this horrible ‘hospital’ for his audience of admirers.  It was apparently about his role as medical officer for these sad old folk who lived in the workhouse.  Rudd made no mention of why those people were in there.  Truth was these women wearing 1920s clothes , chattering like children, had been sent there when young and troublesome to parents . Good people lived in a religious snobbish hypocritical England.  Rudd made no mention of young girls being put into that horrible place because, because they had babies out of wedlock.

The young women never saw those babies. One of my many arguments with Norman Saving, probably the worst, was when I told him I would tell the tale of the young Turney girl, , aged 19, condemned to death for drowning her baby in Granborough Brook in 1924- the year my late mother was born.  

I told him the story would be in ‘The Book of Winslow’ (1989).  He told me that I was displaying my tabloid journalist mentality. One did not have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out the back story.  This poor girl, described in the vulture like press, as having a mental age of 12, had been in service with a wealthy family in Guildford- the master of the house a wealthy powerful man. This little country is all about class ,with official secrecy and lies.

Local history and its exponents talk amongst themselves and for themselves.  I am not a local historian, but am Winslow born just after a murderous world war and now living in a crazy dangerous complex age.  Human instincts are ultimately religious, reproductive, selfish, superstitious, fearful , hypocritical , cowardly , and ultimately animal.  Those instincts will out, however strong the boxes. Even coffins rot away.

Looking back on my first school days, three women were definitive.  Miss Cole, the wonderful innocent infant teacher, Miss Green, a woman of her own truth and justice, and Mrs Chapman, a toady to the local class system who influenced me in unintended ways. Winslow is fertile ground for shrinking and narrowing minds. 

Mother told me of a little girl class mate who lived in a home run by Captain Lambton’s spinster sister . Her parents were inter war tramps. She  was let out of class to meet them in the Horwood Road opposite the school.

My water colour sketch of McCorquodale’s obseqious brown coated estate manager Jack Hone astride his Fordson tractor, taken from my book ‘Before the Supremacy of the Motorcar’ 1982, That memoir of mine pictures him at what is now the entrance to Elmfields Housing Estate.

As a child I remember tramps coming round to our back door in the 1950s, hoping to have their ‘billy cans’ filled and maybe a few scraps of food. Carpet salesmen were common place , door to door. They were always Sikhs.  

Life at the bottom of Winslow ’s pile, was hard for me and others, but worse for those tramps. Poverty is relative. I thought we had seen the last of that lifestyle along with labelling misfits and society’s victims as mentally ill. Unfortunately the mad houses and anti psychotic drug makers have never been busier.

Another back door caller in the 1950s, I remember was a Sikh wearing his turban, pulling up with his Ford Poplar car full of carpet samples. The only caller my parents responded to was the Odhams Press encyclopaedia  salesman. My parents loved books and my mother had worked for the local stationer’s shop in the 1930s. She used to deliver books by bicycle to the villages, from the one penny library.

Snobbery was rife in Winslow and still exists. Their are two kinds of snob, the ones who look up to their ‘betters’- inverted snobs as my mother called them- and those who look down on their inferiors.  That order was reinforced by church and school.

Deprivation with all of its humiliations and insecurities is difficult to endure.  For me the most moving words ever written about Winslow were found inscribed on a wall in Winslow Workhouse:

‘Of all sorts of business

The cadgers are the best;

Because when he is tired ,

He can sit down and rest

Here lies a poor beggar

Life always tired,

For he lived in a world

Where too much is required.

Friends grieve not for me,

That death is severe;

For I am going to do nothing

For ever and ever,

Poor old M is dead and gone,

He’s gone to a place

Where there is no breaking up stone.’

Part Two  No Direction Home

Chapter One Best Days

‘The class of 1965, bound for Vinslov in Skane , Sweden , where we all had penfriends, mine was Kirsten Johnson . My old secondary school no longer exists.

When headmaster Norman Bevan retired in the 1970s, the new head lost control. It was closed in 1988 by money grabbing Tories who amalgamated it into a factory school 6 miles away in Buckingham. Our teacher in this picture was Robert Britten , brother to composer Benjamin and himself a fine musician. He was very brave to take us all by various trains and boats , via Holland, Germany and Denmark , all the way to Sweden.

I recall our ferry passing Britain’s first North Sea oil rig, called ‘Sea Gem’. A flame was darting upwards from the tip. North sea oil and gas was apparently going to make the whole country rich. I also remember young blonde teenage Helga , who laid her head on my shoulder as she slept her way across Holland on her way home to Hamburg. I remember wondering what could have been so bad about the Germans that Britain wanted to kill them in two World Wars. How little I understood of life.

‘Only opened in 1959 , my school was closed on the excuse of falling rolls by money grabbing Tory Councillors in 1988. By this time a local council member and teacher, I fought against closure , explaining at the public meeting how absurd it was with Winslow rapidly expanding. It was closed regardless of facts , the building’s life prolonged as a community centre.

Now, along with neighbouring youth centre it has been demolished to make way for luxury retirement homes and more money for Bucks Council to waste on its massive self serving bureaucracy – for which I spent nearly 20 years working in two departments , highways and education. Robert Cook is sixth from the left , standing.’

I have never known life without education , so have never really appreciated it. I took it for granted. I always thought everyone else knew more than me and things that I would never know. In time I realised that some people were incredibly resistant to knowledge. So instead of having  a hundred experiences , they would have the same experience one hundred times.

Even when singing hymns at primary school ,  I thought about the words we were singing , words like : ‘ I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, until we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.’ Now perhaps it is , more like ‘until we have built Palestine.’ As for mental fight, well we have record numbers apparently mentally ill with Prince William , heir to the throne, their champion. This is a new age of censorship, knowledge and control.

Looking back, I realise that there are different kinds of knowledge and people learn different things and learn differently. There were high hopes for building a new Britain after the horrors of World War Two.

My mother’s grandparents could not afford to send her to grammar school in the 1930s. My father’s parents had the same difficulties. So father went to work for Exide batteries and then in a warehouse , Mother worked first as a cleaner for the postmistress , both leaving school aged 14. They were the depression years.  Mother recalls her headmaster , George Pass ,as smelling of alcohol. Maybe he needed it.

As a child I recall my father trying to frighten me , with his 1930s memories, into eating my vegetables with tales from his hungry childhood, when many children  were taken to hospital and dying from malnutrition.

Police acted as class traitors in those dismal days. My late University friend , Mick Birrell ,told me what his father witnessed one night when returning from war work in Birkenhead , Lancashire. “Me dad saw a little boy smash the window of a cake shop. He was barefoot and very thin. The boy grabbed some cakes an’ were runnin’ off. A copper saw him, noticed the kid were bare foot, grabbed an’ empty milk bottle from someone’s doorstep. He threw it in front of him, smashing bits of glass over the path so the kid would cut his little feet and not be able to run away.”

There are a lot of myths about World War Two , with little mention of spivs , looters and people being robbed while sleeping on the London Underground platforms. Then there were all the young men , husbands, fathers and sons being slaughtered as cannon fodder – not to mention 20,000 army deserters.

One of my favourite stories is from ‘The Peoples’ War’ by Angus Calder. He wrote of a London East End family of  a mother with her tribe of urchins being evacuated to a Suffolk Vicarage. All were seated on comfortable furniture, having tea and biscuits with the Vicar’s wife. Suddenly one of the urchins stands up by the coffee table , unbuttons his flies, then starts urinating on the carpet. The shocked host screamed ‘Stop it. Surely your boy knows better than that ? ’  The scraggy young woman  replies : ‘Course he does. Johnny go and do it in the corner.’

Chapter Two Freedom

‘The University of East Anglia 2005. Art historian Kenneth Clark visited the University of East Anglia, Norwich and presented part of the ground-breaking documentary Civilisation (1969) in front of the famous ziggurats.’  ( Image Robert Cook 2006 )

My working class parents wanted the best for their children. I never understood my parents until my mother’s sad lonely death in a filthy mixed sex NHS hospital ward . Both of them played their part in a world war which , their leader Churchill et al, had proclaimed as being about freedom. It was only his class’s freedom that mattered. Elite in- fighting  caused World War One. Punishing the German working classes for the lie that they alone had war caused the first one caused the second. It was no wonder Hitler and the Nazis came to power. Germany’s rich backed the movement  because they feared Communist Russia next door.

My father was strict and disciplined.  After battle wounds , he transferred to the Royal Military Police, ending his active service in Birkenhead, Lancashire. If he had been killed then, I would not have been born – the ultimate freedom . My father took up smoking Woodbines during army service. There was no recognised PTSD in those days , but he had many reasons for smoking 20 a day. Then he started rolling his own.

But, as freedom went, outside of school, I had freedom of growing up in the countryside of the fields , a little brook , woods and my imagination. There was no gender bending in my 1950s world.  

For all of his fighting , my father had little to leave us. His father had been a cabinet maker. My father was good at that too, but never did it for a living. He had wanted to be an electrician. But post war London’s unions dictated that electricians had to be in the Communist party to train. Trade unions were ultimately their own worst enemy.

When Thatcher destroyed them early in her reign as Prime Minister, Labour spent 18 years in the wilderness fighting against nuclear weapons and stirring up women’s and ethnic grievances. They needed new under dogs to replace the increasingly marginalised British working class male. This type of male would end up marginalised as racist , wife abuser or , at best feminised in an increasing number of fatherless families. Along with this process came rising crime, alcoholism , drug addiction , many more suicides and homelessness. Working as a secondary school teacher during these dispiriting times was challenging to say the least.

I understand why my father did not like trade unions. He had a lot of tools for many trades and had trained as a fitter in the regular army. One winter’s  Saturday , he opened the door to the little back bedroom where his tools were stored in army order. He , said proudly , one hand on my bony right shoulder, hugging me in a rare display of emotion : ‘One day son this will all be yours.’ Within four years he was dead. Every good father wants something better for his son , as I did for mine , before the power to help them was taken from me by the British Police State. More of that later.

Life at a secondary modern school in the early 1960s wasn’t difficult. I made the A stream. The rustics from surrounding villages were mainly in B and C. There were some bright villagers. One of my favourite classmates was Clifford Canon . He is eighth from the left in my school picture , next to Michael Hills. I remember Clifford saying to me , rather earnestly, during our final year : ‘Robert , do you ever feel your head itching on the inside ? ’ I thought for a moment, then he said ‘That’s when you are thinking , it is your brain working.’

Clifford knew exactly where he was going in life. He was going to be a nuclear physicist. He told me he wanted a job at Harwell research station. I thought I knew where I was going as well. The idea of flying gripped me from the moment I saw a biplane flying over Winslow Church , when I was  out walking with mum and aunt Flo , aged about 4 at the time. I was plane mad after that !

Those were the non PC days when you could buy Airfix plastic kits of German war planes complete with Swastika transfers. After my father’s death , I moved on to building balsa wood flying models. This helped my understanding of aerodynamics , enhancing my enthusiasm for a career in aviation.

So when our eccentric O Level English teacher who dressed like a 1920s ‘flapper’ , Mrs Horner, asked the class to give talks on our special interests. Clifford chose the workings of a nuclear reactor. I was the only one to ask questions after his talk. I chose aerodynamics.  Clifford was the only pupil ( we school kids weren’t called students back then ) to ask me questions.

By the way , Mrs Horner told my mother , at a parents evening , that I had an excellent brain , but ‘it was a shame it wasn’t plugged in.’  I don’t think it ever has been. While at Aylesbury College, a senior tutor observed on a report : ‘Robert is backward at coming forward.’ More recently , while working as a lorry driver for Fresh Direct , my  boss Conrad accused me of over thinking everything. He was a great boss and he was right.

I don’t know what happened to Clifford , but a  lot had happened to me and my family after father’s death in 1962. We needed money, so I did a paper round, delivered groceries and worked on a farm.  Being rather shy, I caught the interest of Michael Hills’ father, Arthur who managed the local butcher’s shop.  He had his  super confident son befriend me and did up my father’s old Raleigh Lenton Sports bicycle. That bicycle , which I still have, was another source of freedom. In my mind it was many different vehicles, racing car, truck aeroplane etc , depending on the game I was playing. I could now travel for miles. My friend and I even rode 30 miles to Northampton, via Silverstone because I wanted to see the race track, and back one Sunday.   

Prince was still alive , so Michael and I used to take him for walks. Then Michael got his own Alsation, called ‘Major’. The dog was fine with me but had to be put down for biting the vet rather badly. Meanwhile , in September 1963, Michael and I had started following two of the town’s newcomers , on our bicycles , while they trained for their running club ‘Southgate Harriers.’  One of them was international athlete Ron Gomez. They had migrated north from London. Gomez was an ex navy physical training instructor ( PTI ). Their houses were over the garden wall . built in the in the fields where I used to go ‘wooding’ with mum and Aunt Flo and play as a child.

Michael was old beyond his years , so he chatted up ‘the runners’ about helping us train for rugby , which the Welsh P.E teacher , Howard Goldsworthy Higgs , imported into our football loving school. Within a month of training , we ran our first boys race for Southgate Harriers at Enfield. I was number 404 and about third from last.

It was a bad start , partly due to my aversion to physical pain. However , it wasn’t long before I was addicted. Michael and I both reached County standard and were respective captains of House Athletics and Cross Country teams. I determined to beat him in our final inter house cross country match in March 1967. Goethe wrote ‘You have to be a good hater.’ The Coventry Godiva and British International athlete Dick Taylor once said ‘You have to hate to win races.’ I don’t know what Michael’s secret was but I had yet to understand why some people turn to hate.

My sister was very much ahead of me on that score.  I had very little idea of what she was doing during the few years after dad’s death.  I knew she was mad about pop and young male TV stars. She pinned their picture all over her bedroom wall – with the actor who played TV doctor Ben Casey on the ceiling above her bed, so she could admire him from her pillow.

Michael and I were runners in a different class to the the rest of the school. Apart from each other , our closest rival was my other good friend Stephen Adkins. I mentioned him as the bookworm who said he enjoyed talking to me because I was so ignorant. Stephen was a natural sprinter , too broad and heavy with muscle for good distance running and lazy about endurance work.

So when the race started , Michael and I went flying off into the countryside , gate vaulting in good style and neck and neck until the last 400 yards, when Michael came close to my shoulders , whispering ‘I’ll take over from here.’ Maybe I was too scared to push myself harder or just a spent force. I staggered over the finish line to the sound of clapping and teachers echoing ‘Well done Cook.’ I certainly did not hate my rival and good friend. He told me the following week – when we were pursuing our other joint interest in the art room – ‘You had me worried.’  That countryside is now full of houses and new life.

A few years later , I read Alan Sillitoe’s ‘ The loneliness of the long distance runner.’ This is the story of a poor Nottingham teenager called Smith, in the 1960s. For most of us in the working class , the sixties weren’t swinging and we remember that decade very well. Smith resorts to petty crime and careless romance before ending up in Borstal , where his talent for running away from police is nurtured by the Governor. He is given freedom to go outside and train. On the big day of competition with the local public school , Smith is a few yards from the finish line, well ahead of the rest. Smith deliberately stops to let the public schoolboy pass because he doesn’t want to be used as a pawn to condone the system which , in his experience, abuses and exploits the lower classes.

Michael  Hills became a father aged 17 , going on to study and work in agriculture – becoming a farm manager. Mother had gotten us both jobs on a local farm and Michael was a natural. In conversation with a farmer , in preparation for a recent article, I was told how worried he is about the future. He said ‘ Climate change is a big problem. There is no future for small farmers or opportunities for the young.’

Like Stephen Adkins, Michael was a great undeveloped athletic talent. I continued training and competing right up until my final year at university, it gave me a sense of freedom. By 16 years of age I was road  running – not jogging – 60 miles a week. By the time I gave up in 1973, I was running 100 miles a week and competing for the University of East Anglia ( UEA ). Stephen and I were close friends. He followed me to the same university , attracted by the Norfolk location and high ratio of female students. We wanted a kind of freedom from Winslow’s social restraints.

Chapter Three Necessity

Over the years I have heard and read many definitions of freedom. Philosophers have relished the subject over centuries. Physically freedom must have limits. Politically it must have limits too. But a society where free thinking is allowed has been a post industrial revolution ideal. Before then , religion was the limit to mental freedom.

The Freedom theme was popular with serious song writers in the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s. By the and of the seventies, an unpleasant greedy Thatcherite government changed the mood.  Alienation was in. Two note guitar chords were emotionally neutral in the era of Kurt Cobain.

Those kids were emotionally neutral too. There were new drugs for so many kids in an age of broken homes, women’s lib, rising unemployment, unashamed elite greed and state sponsored free anti psychotics like Ritalin for kids.  I know because I was teaching kids to play these death tunes to guitar pupils in my spare time. I had started out teaching classical stuff , but this was not a classical period of time.  Government were killing steel, coal industries and vehicle industries. State firms that made money were privatised.

My father was mad on music and I learned to play the violin at school. I still have an instrument , but the consequences of my PTSD has destroyed my interest in music. Back in the late 1960s and 70s it was much more of my life. Songs with meaning mattered to me. In 1968 , I bought a cheap Dubliners long player – we didn’t call them albums then . It was on an EMI imprint called Music For Pleasure. Maybe it put me in touch with Irish ancestors. Who knows how these things work ? But I knew I had to have a go. I wanted to be a folk singer like Luke Kelly with his haunting passionate vocals and solid 5 string banjo playing. They sang songs of freedom and freedom from the tyrannical British elite.

On stage as Dolly Carton playing my 5 string banjo.

Gaining four A levels at Further Education College, I spent two years working at odd jobs, including a butcher’s shop , the same one I had been wheeled into as an infant.  I didn’t like it , but there were interesting moments between long times of excruciating boredom. I went on to work in a wine bottling plant and , after that , a paint warehouse.

Music played all day in the wine bottling factory. I recall a Radio One favourite by a group called ‘Family Dogg.’ They had a song called  A way of life , with interesting sound and lyrics I have never forgotten , an extract here for you :

Cowboys playing, young men slaying

Old men praying, the world will change

Schoolgirls dating, daughters mating

Mothers waiting to rearrange

Trendy worker, factory shirker

Social nurture won’t let you down

Tinker , tailor, soldier , sailor ,

rich or poor man’s wife.

Some may wish to change their dish ,

but it’s a way of life’

It suited the spirit of the Percy Fox Wine Trader’s Consortium on Aylesbury’  Gatehouse Industrial Estate Aylesbury , just off the Oxford Road. .  The company had moved up from Aldgate in London.

The warehouse was full of bottled wine packed in stacks of cardboard boxes piled on racking from floor almost to ceiling. Tankers came daily, filling up huge tanks. The people working there were at first sight , like zombies. We were all given a pint of beer at lunch in the canteen, to discourage us from sampling the wine. It didn’t stop us.

They went through the same routine every day. The best one could hope for was a breakdown in the conveyor belt carrying the clattering empty bottles through the sterile bottling carousel to be filled and corked , out to pass another branch where labels were applied.  It never happened while I was there. Filled with wine , bottles exited the filling chamber, then they rumbled now because full of wine, to reach Sandy standing on her box where she pushed plastic covers over the corked necks. I watched and admired as one of her deft little hands dipped in to a box full of these covers then with both hands she forced the plastic down. Her age was 16. I was 18. Her father worked there too, in the depths of the warehouse. He was very proud of his Ford Poplar 100E escort of 1950s vintage – not to be confused with later Escorts.

Sandy had only just returned to her job after time off because she had cut her wrists. She told me she wanted to die. When it came to time for me to leave, she pleaded with me to come back and see her. I promised, but knew I wouldn’t.

My job was no more fun than hers , except I had Ray Isadore for company. Ray was a powerfully built young West Indian , in his thirties. His home island was St Lucia. Ray disapproved of my long blonde hair. He told me that young men in England disappointed him.  Back home , all men had proper hair cuts and wore hats.  He intended me to be insulted when he said I looked like a girl and should be ashamed of myself. He spoke his mind , which included complaining about an Indian man in the bed sit next door to him. Ray said : ‘He stinks the place out with his curries.’

I judged Ray by his actions not his throwaway comments, Ray protected me from a man called Alan. This man was from Manchester, an ex paratrooper approaching 40 , still sporting a number 1 haircut flat top. He wore a brown coat and drove the fork lift. He was a big man, with a small head, beady eyes and a big mouth. He liked to correct people’s speech with frequent reference to ‘the King’s English.’ When I corrected him , he would punch me. When Ray saw him punch me one time , he hit him so hard I was never punched again.

Peace and love were the themes of my university experience. I was two years late getting there , but still looked about 16. I worked all 20 weeks of my university vacations. At the end of my first year . I was working my long summer vacation with Irishmen building a dual carriageway , north of Milton Keynes.

A old ganger by the name of McGary asked me if I had any ambition. He laughed when I told him that I was going to be a writer. He replied, ‘You won’t be doing that because you need a good education.’  When I told him that I had been to university – an exclusive world in those days, available to only 3 % of the population before Thatcher expanded them to hide unemployment – he laughed at me. ‘No you can’t have. You are only about 15.’ When I told him I was 21, he said, reassuringly , ‘Never mind , you will grow old all of a sudden.’

I got that road job through my sister’s husband . He was from Donegal in the Irish Republic, coming to England when he was 16. He told me his first job was on his local railway station , where he fell in love with the station master’s daughter , but considered not good enough for her. So he joined the one out of three young Irishmen who migrated to the mainland every year. He came to my home town , Winslow, to work on the new electricity sub station just out of town. He told me about the day he had seen a helicopter being used by contractor Balfour Beatty. It crashed after hitting power lines with fatal outcome. That was life on the buildings in those days. Three men were killed during the four months I spent on the Milton Keynes job , but we were well paid , with tax free lodging allowance. No one cared, or had even heard of health and safety.

I was taken on specifically to deliver pipes to the gangs. I had a driving licence, lessons paid for from my odd jobs, but no car. My brother in law , who was ten years older than me, had made my sister pregnant while she was in the sixth form. It turned out that he was already married with two children and another on the way – that’s another story.

Anyway , young as I looked, I learned to drive a tractor and trailer on the farm when I was a boy. However, this was rather more challenging on building sites because I had to get into some awkward and dangerous places. I had an assistant, a young man near 30. As we were loading the trailer , he started singing

Goodbye, Johnny dear, when you’re far away,
Don’t forget your dear old mother far across the sea
Write a letter from time to time and send her all you can,
And don’t forget where e’er you roam that you’re an Irishman

I stopped what I was doing to listen. It was a sunny dusty day in the long hot summer of 1972. His voice resounded of sadness, loneliness and longing. I waited for him to finish singing , asking him to complete the song. When he finished he said ‘Do you ever want to go back there Robert ? ‘ I said ‘Back where ?’  He replied : ‘Ireland.’  I looked back puzzled, blurting out ‘ I have never been there.’  It was his turn to look puzzled ‘ But you’re Bill’s brother aren’t you ?’  Those were the days before computers and background checks. Jobs with major contractors were easy to get if you were strong and Irish. Being a bit Irish was enough for me to get the message. ‘Only joking I said. But I’d rather forget.’  This was a closed shop for Irishmen which is why my brother in law had lied.

When I reached 18 the whole world seemed to go black. I feared a very lonely , friendless hopeless future.  So the gloom set upon me. My ambition and hope went. My hopeful new life at university was tarnished. Leaving home for the University of East Anglia. I had lived in a very small world , focused and built around my mother. Moving to a city made me realise that I was mere dust. Self concious dust. My mother was dust too. We were painfully nothing. I dreaded the day my mother would die. Life as a skivvy and widow had worn her out.  She was only 48 when I left home for Norwich.

On that first building site where my sister’s boyfriend took me to work, I saw countryside being ripped away to make room for the massive new town of Milton Keynes. The Irish workmen lived in a big compound full of mobile homes.  The man I would later meet as my section foreman , Jim Conway, lived in one of them with his wife and son.  They moved on with every job the big contractor sent them to.

Jim Conway was a tall well built Irishman. From his accent , I guess he was from the west of his country. He always wore a grey suit and cap. I recall him advising me that whenever I saw him coming I should ‘Pick up a piece of wood or something and walk around in a circle, always look as if you are doing something.’ His transport around the site was by a long wheelbase grey company Landrover, in touch with base on walkie talkie radio .His poor son was deluded into thinking he was a prize fighting boxer lined up to fight Cassius Clay. Still the boy made himself useful on the site fixing gullies and odd things.

Life was hard for these workmen. They fascinated me. I wasn’t there long before Jim  transferred me to Jim Cassidy’s pipe laying gang. There were three of us in the gang, and Paddy Brogan driving the big hired Hymac 580 digger. I was the tallest. Paddy was the smallest , leprechaun size. He always wore an old black suit and check shirt. I suppose drinking so much helped keep his hair looking thick and healthy’  

It was a hot summer in 1972 , but he never took his jacket off while swinging his digger boom, and rotating the carousel of his turret. Paddy was barely 30, looking like a cheerful schoolboy as he chomped down into the clay and chalk, seventeen feet deep, piling his excavations high along both sides of the deep trench where we laboured , laying 29 inch concrete sewer pipes.  The advancing trench was supposed to be shuttered to prevent collapse. Shuttering cost the contractor time and money.

Every so often , when a long enough section had been cleared, the digging stopped , gravel was poured in and levelled , so Paddy could hook up some of the big pipes  -which I had been my previous job to deliver- to lower them down for us to bed and join with rubber rings to seal. It was heavy  hot work. One day , one of the big dual engined earth movers running empty and fast, loosened some of the clay piled up, so a big lump of clay nearly hit me on the head. I said to Cassidy , ‘We should be wearing helmets.’ He laughed, saying to the other Irishman who went by the name of Brown , ‘Hear what the young fella says. We should be wearing helmets.’

These men were well paid , like I was. But they lived for the day. The earth movers were nicknamed ‘Euclids’ after the U.S company that built them. To get the earth moving under way, they had to be pushed by a massive Caterpillar D20 tractor. That tractor was driven by a young Irishman. A lonely young man, like so many of us there, but at least I was not abroad. One Monday morning I was surveying the scene before work started. Little Paddy looked unusually serious approaching me to say, ‘You talk of life being sad. Look at that machine.’ He was pointing toward the D20 tractor. ‘Do you know why it isn’t moving ?’ ‘No.’   ‘The fella who drives it was found dead in his caravan. He choked on his own vomit after drinking a bottle of whisky on Saturday night.’

One afternoon , way out in the open , there was a violent thunderstorm. Sudden death came to mind because the big machine was a lightning conductor. So three of us crowded inside the cab of the Hymac.  We were very much on top of each other when one of the Irishman started talking about Edward Heath, the Tory Prime Minister. ‘He said ‘To be sure that Heath is a queer fella because he has no wife at home.’

Working class life has always been cheap and ignorance encouraged though poor education and mass media. A group of redundant Jacobs biscuit factory workers had  come down from Liverpool. One of them told me he had been a fireman on the steam railway engines but was made redundant when they went over to diesels. There is nothing inherently privileged about being white – but the ruling elite are rewriting history. That is just more of the divide and rule trickery that has been used by the elite since the year dot. In recent years it has been ramped up by upper middle class feminism and elite funded BLM.

Death is a terrifying word but an everyday reality which I encountered at a very early age. When our infant teacher told us that when we died we went to heaven , I wondered why we couldn’t all board aeroplanes and fly straight up there. If hell was down under , then we were too close for comfort. I got very confused when I moved up to Miss Green’s Standard One class , she told us that Australia was down under. She said if we had a really long knitting needle, we could push it down in the garden and it would come out there. That was when I first started digging holes in our little back garden. Miss Green said it was daytime there when night time in England. I wanted it always to be daytime because I didn’t like long dark cold winter nights.

I had my chance to dig deep on that road building job in the summer of 1972. Paddy Brogan was usually love lorn and prone to drink. He slept three in a bed in a Stevenage doss house. He and many others came up the M1 from St Albans in transit vans everyday, to work . Some slept two in a bed in doss houses. One day he was very much worse for wear.  I was standing by the back filling one morning when he said ‘Robert , get up on the Hy mac.’ I looked back at him , puzzled, then said : ‘ I don’t know how to drive it.’  ‘Oh t’is easy, You’ll work it out.’ Well, I had seen him playing with two long levers and spinning it around. So I got in and started playing.

I never heard the words health and safety mentioned in the same sentence back then.  Paddy used to lower the pipes ,down to us, using a hemp sling attached to the the digger boom by a metal bar. The digging bucket was pulled back for the purpose. One day I suggested to Paddy that the bar was very short and might get knocked out of position as the pipe bumped against the loose sides of the trench. ‘Oh we lost the right bar. We are using a jack hammer bar.’

Keeping the trench level, at such depth, depended in the first place, on the eye of the digger driver. This had to be checked using a boning rod. The trench was worked in sections between level markers, the cross pieces painted red. The boning rod was a portable level which was planted in the trench at various stages as the work progressed. One of the gang would look across one level to the distant one, checking that the mid point boning rod level was in line. At 17 feet, the rod was a series of makeshift lengths of wood nailed together. To hoist it up, I took it hand before was elevation riding up in the digger bucket.

The first time I did this, Paddy thought it would be fun , once I dropped the rod away, to pull the bucket back and rotate me like I was on one of the six penny roundabout rides I had taken at the local fair, during my enchanted childhood days.

I had only been on that job for four weeks when my sister’s Irish boyfriend , Bill,  had a row with a colleague. They used to call it ‘rearing up’ in those days. He stormed off shouting ‘You’re all fucking wankers.’ I happened to see him go. Why I didn’t run after my only means of transport, I do not know because I was at least 18 miles from home, way out in the countryside.

I suppose it was a matter of necessity because , although I had a full student grant, I was buying my mother’s house on a bank loan because otherwise we would be kicked out. Mother’s Uncle was long dead and his daughter down in Southampton was selling off all the property because she was very old. The house had been sold to a developer.  

So I took to cycling to and from the building site until October when I returned to university. With Bill gone, I took over his job driving an old grey painted Fordson Major tractor. It had no roll bar or any other safety features. It had a big air compressor attached to the back and a jack hammer connected.

My job , that long hot dusty summer,  became travelling all over the massive site to cut holes in the manhole rings to connect up the big sewer pipes. The day I had to collect the tractor , I found it pointing up a loose bank of earth that had been excavated from the  deep trench behind it .  I asked the ganger how I was expected to get it out. He laughed , pointing up the steep bank. I said ‘You are joking.’ ‘No I am not.’ I knew about tractors, That model started by pulling a lever. It fired up, then into low gear I chugged up the loose mound. She was a steady old machine, going up and over like a First World War Tank .

Manholes were made by piling these big rings one on top of the other. A jack hammer is basically a small pneumatic drill. You have a thick metal bar attached, squeeze the trigger and it bashes away into the concrete around the diameter lines you draw with chalk. Vibration to the hands , arms and shoulders was considerable. I expect they have better technology now. I had no hard hat , just an old cloth army hat like the Aussies wore to keep the sun off,  a filthy mask and goggles because of the flying bits. I never wore the mask , using my handkerchief instead. Few of the men looked after their health. One man cut his finger nearly off. A colleague told him he could have got compensation if he had lost it , so he tried to pull it off after it had been stitched and bandaged.

Chapter Four  Space

I mentioned none of this when I returned to the University of East Anglia , pretending my sun tan came from time spent on my non existent daddy’s non existent yacht in the Mediterranean.

As I have written already , my childhood friend Stephen Adkins, had followed me to UEA to read English Literature , inspired me toward reading classic literature. Among the mountains of words I have read was Thomas Wolfe’s ‘You Can’t Go Home Again.’ The hero of my novel ‘Man, Maid, Woman’ is called George after George Weber in Wolfe’s book. Weber was the hero of Wolfe’s book.  The book tells the tale of a rising literary talent  whose acclaimed book makes reference to his home town of Libya Hill. Because of how he treats the townsfolk , he gets hate male and death threats.  

My George character is based on a young transsexual I met in the ‘Mayflower Club’ while researching a book called Southampton Past & Present in 2003. This person told me how much ‘she’ was looking forward to her operation, then getting a little country cottage, falling in love and growing flowers. From her account of family life it was obvious ‘she’ was hoping to create a world she never had as a child of a broken home.  However , there were those who wanted to believe that George was me and the hate crime started – extending to my sister’s family and my now ex in laws who included a man who is , at time of writing , a Chief Constable.  My life story is rather more complicated than George’s.

The longer I spent at UEA , the more estranged I was from my home town and my sister in particular. As a child , she had chased and cornered me into the alleyway leading to my Uncle Charlie’s back door. She was carrying a big old rusty bicycle wheel that had no tyre. I cowered as she threw it at my head. I can still see it spinning towards me. I closed my eyes and reeled in pain. When I was born , at home, she had been shown baby me, uttering petulant words ‘I don’t want it , take it back.

She seemed to live in a 1950s time warp – and still does. Her boyfriend had left his wife and three children in Saffron Walden to start a second family with my sister. Their second child had been born the year I went up to UEA. The third one came soon after. Her daughter has children by three different men , yet like her mother is a sexual moralist.

They rented three upstairs rooms in my Uncle Charlie’s house next door to our Sheep Street home , which I had bought on a bank loan , meaning I had to work all my student vacations to pay the interest. The rooms cost my sister two and sixpence a week. But with a baby and two dogs, there were soon serious environmental issues to put it mildly. Dog pee dripped down into Charlie’s rooms as the plaster became saturated and on one occasion baby clothes drying by a paraffin stove caught fire. So ,my sister , who had been very deferential and helpful to local Tories, jumped the queue – because they needed ‘more space’ – to get a council house nearly a mile away. Here she spent all of her life ever since the early 1970s. She died in August this year, almost 13 years to the day our beloved mother died as a result of an MRSA infection caught in filthy Milton Keynes hospital and poor after care. That will be covered in more detail in a follow up volume called ‘Unreasonable Behaviour – Divorce.’

My student life didn’t fit well with my roots. I was probably more at home on the building sites , places like where so many of my ancestors toiled – some of them running their own businesses. My Great Great Uncle Harry Cripps was County Highways Engineer , which is why I got a glowing reference to work in that department after graduating .There is no doubt I should have chosen maths and science for my degree as my headmaster advised. The Humanities and Social Sciences were already becoming ideological , re writing history for social engineering. Logic and facts had no place in this new world order.

Having grown up in poverty , as the son of a poorly paid lorry driver who was nearly two years dying, I wasn’t used to having spending money. Now , at university, I could buy alcohol and more books.

My mother walked me to the bus stop the day I went away to university in late September 1971. She insisted I take a large food supply as well as other necessities. So I had an ex army ruck sack and two battered old suitcases.  Before we left the house, holding back tears, she said ‘Well. every son must leave home sometime.’  Then walking up Sheep Street , heading for the bus stop and a bus to Buckingham to catch the express coach to Norwich and Yarmouth coach , she said with little worried face and a catch in her voice : ‘Don’t go getting mixed up with those drugs.’

My mother never had much more than her children and grandchildren in life. But she was a great reader , loved newspapers and watching the television. She was more clued in to the world than I was. I had never heard of drugs and wouldn’t dream of smoking. I had spent the years since my father’s death focused on athletics training , relaxing with my model railway, making models ,reading technical magazines , athletics weekly and classic literature. Among the literature I had read was ‘The Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell’ by Aldous Huxley but I could see no point in drugs for the purposes of hallucinations.

My friend Stephen was with me on the coach. He read his book all the way. I had a peculiar interest in buses so was quite interested in riding on an Eastern Counties Bristol RELH luxury coach.  The journey took five hours. I spent a lot of time worrying about my mother. The coach didn’t follow the main road all the way. So I saw some interesting countryside, including Thetford Woods where they filmed some of the ‘Dad’s Army’ T.V series.  The journey ended in Surrey Street bus station, a 1950s version of modern public amenities. It was a grim place. Awful as it was, its modern replacement is just another version of bleakness. Or maybe it is my spirit that has been eternally bleak.

Norfolk is famously flat and fertile due to the Ice Age glaciers slowing and melting down as they moved east, depositing a rich mixture of material that had gouged up and collected while crossing the country. So the area was key to the best of British arable farming and once famous for lots of windmills. Consequently Norfolk was otherwise lacking in industry and employment. The 1960s ferro concrete University of East Anglia was thus an employment boom for Norwich. Set in the spacious Earlham Park , it was in an ideal setting for my favourite hobby of long distance running. There was lots of space.

Unfortunately , during my first year , I was billeted in an old RAF Station, Horsham, on the other side of the city. The airfield had become Norwich Airport.  The old camp grounds had lots of underground piping which was a haven for feral cats. The original camp bar was still in service and an immediate attraction. With my full grant , backed by all my holiday earnings , I was soon abusing my freedom by drinking too much beer.  Assigned to a double room K34, I was relieved when my room mate Bob found a girlfriend and moved in with her.

So I had a double room for the price of a single, at £5 a week. I still feel guilty at not accepting student activist pressure to share it with a striking coal miner who was on picket duty at Norwich Power Station. Looking back on it, I think it would have been very informative. Lord Joe Gormley was then head of the National Union of Mineworkers with young Arthur Scargill heading the virulent Yorkshire branch.

My ex father in law was attached to the Ministry of Defence ( MOD ) in Whitehall at the time. He told me that Whitehall gossip was that Gormley had upset furniture in the Number 10 Cabinet Office , shouting at Heath that he was going to have him out of office by the end of the month. There is no doubt that Gormley played a big part in the destructive 1971 miner’s strike which led to a return by Harold Wilson’s Labour and Thatcher replacing Heath as Tory leader. Interestingly it transpired when Joe Gormley became a Lord that he had been working for MI5.

Chapter Five Fresher’s Week

So there we were standing in Norwich Bus Station , two yokels in the big city. Steve and I took a taxi to the campus to register. Then I was told I had to take a bus ride of about seven miles to Horsham student residences. I arrived very late to find Bob Dean my room mate most at home. Due to the length of my hair he assumed I was a rock music fan rather than someone with an aversion to hair cuts.

The reason I didn’t like hair cuts has nothing to do with what I wrote about George in ‘Man,Maid,Woman.’  I disliked Bill Small’s barber’s shop from the very start.  It smelt peculiar and it was full of old men , many were farmers. Farmers were more important and allowed to jump ahead of me.

When I was small , my mother used to bribe me to go to the barbers by buying a Dinky Toy car from the Saunders’ shop next door. I loved cars and lorries and could recognise every model on the road – all British -by the time I was 8. By 9 years old I was having regular copies of ‘Motor; and ‘Autocar.’ The latter had a wonderful edition on the new E Type Jaguar, including an exploded pull out cut away diagram.

When I was 12,  I even built a petrol driven go cart with an old Vincent engine and parts a friend and son of the local iron monger stole from his dad’s shop. He was also my test driver. It was the year after my father died. I fancied myself as Colin Chapman , the Lotus boss and hero worshipped Jim Clark his brilliant driver. I was devastated when he was killed in a Formula 2 crash. A puncture made him fly. into trees by the track at Hockenheim -in April 1968.  I kept all the cuttings.

My petrol powered go kart Summer 1963. It actually worked after I un ceased an old Vincent Firefly 50cc engine left behind by my dead father. We had to sell his NSU moped for £12.

As I grew older , after my father died, I found it boring waiting because the barber would often say ‘You don’t mind if this old boy goes before you , do you lad, only he has to be back at work.’  Needless to say my old headmaster used to complain when my hair got to collar length. But when I left , aged 16, I let it grow. Mother didn’t mind and it looked cool at Aylesbury College.

That college , in my subject area, attracted a lot of public school failures and drop outs. Their parents sent them there as a last resort. I met similar types at UEA. There were only 3000 students at UEA in 1971 and the majority were from well off parents and so on minimum grants. I had an inferiority complex in spite of my qualifications.

We started Fresher’s Week  with an induction by the Vice Chancellor Frank Thistlethwaite. His academic background was in engineering.  He started his talk with a memoir of being a post graduate in the U.S.A. He said a friend took him for a drive in his Ford Thunderbird. A fellow engineer, this student had fitted his car with a voice alarm announcing the words ‘You are on your own now’ as soon as the car reached 70 mph.’  It was a warning to us because he knew how reckless students of the 1970s could be , in the wake of the 1960s sexual revolution. He completed his warning with the tale of the young student who had set out to start his UEA student life, waving goodbye to his mother  , then going on to have a fatal crash on the A14 just outside London. The message being that we don’t all live to realise our dreams in this wicked world.

The oddest speaker at the induction was the medical officer. Doctors can be most odd, with some inclined to be kinky. Maybe it is compensation for seeing to much of our bloody and fragile bodies along with what they are made of. So he spoke of reading a story about a TV documentary crew visiting a remote Italian village, asking ladies who they would most like to resemble.

Inevitably there were women who wanted to be like film  star Sophia Loren and others favoured Gina Lollobrigida , who had been voted the most beautiful woman in the world. Then the interviewer got to an old lady. When he asked her the same question, she said ‘ I would like to be like this woman who was in the paper. Her name was Virginia Pipolino  ( misreading pipeline ), laid by 500 men in 10 hours.’

We were directed on to the Societies Mart. For some reason I avoided all the interesting ones because the posh students on the stalls put me off. I settled for the cross country club  ( fronted by a fellow called Tony Corcoran and a posh guy called Charles – both had very short hair , sounded serious and wore spectacles ) the wine making society , the psychology society where I learned about wonderful Dr R D Laing and the Socialist Workers Party , run by an intense bespectacled young man , second year student John Seabird, who wore a cowboy style fringed brushed leather brown jacket , black horn rimmed spectacles and strong glasses. Many years later, I was informed by a radical lecturer turned Blairite MP , the late Dr Ian Gibson – at one of his annual House of Commons parties to which he foolishly invited me,  that Seabird had become a respectable Norwich solicitor. During my first year, Seabird lived next door to me in K35. But I turned out to be rather a political disappointment on the radical demo front line.

Dr Ian Gibson MP addressing affluent students for contributions to UEA funds at the Terrace marque House of Commons. September 2003. I was a regular guest at these functions until we fell out over his betrayal of socialist principles supporting Tony Blair’s leadership just before the vile criminal invasion of Iraq – based on lies with the long term misery , destabilisation and mass migration from the tormented Middle East. It was all for oil wealth in thnner and social event at the University of East Anglia.  He was in the company of aristocrat , aristocrat and actor Tim Bentick of Arce name of so called western style democracy. I last saw Gibson at a diher’s fame. As soon as he saw me he said ; ‘My God , he is here, the last radical. .

Image Appledene Photographics. R J Cook.

The Socialist Worker Party brought some interesting speakers to the campus. I vividly remember a young Arthur Scargill preaching class war. Jimmy Reid was a more softly spoken Scotsman representing the workers who had taken the lead to save Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

These were the final days of Edward Heath. Margaret Thatcher was a rising star of his government , as his the Secretary of State for Education. The first student protest I witnessed was against ‘Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.’ It was on campus so I couldn’t miss it.  This demonic woman , and ultimate icon for female empowerment, was cutting free milk for school children.I hated school milk at Primary School and would not drink it – even though I was occasional milk monitor as well as filling up he class inkwells

.Chapter 6  ‘A Dollars Worth of Chemicals.’

As a student of social sciences , I had to study , economics , economic history , sociology, anthropology . social psychology and philosophy.

Surrounded by affluent and sophisticated young students, many from public schools or good grammars in an era when only 3 % of the population went to university , I felt uncomfortable.  People like me were at best suited to lower status polytechnics ,

I felt lonely and insignificant. Back home I had been very close and supportive of my mother and missed her. My whole world had vanished. UEA felt like another planet. I looked the part but had no youth culture identity. My hair was misleading. I was used to work and watching our out of date 405 television. Here I had no confidence , ambition or sense of direction.

The first philosophy lecture I attended dealt with the reality of what we were made of as people. The lecturer listed our chemical constituents , pricing them at a dollar. He paused melodramatically , surveying the staggered lecture theatre audience , maximising the drama. Then he said ; ‘ A dollars worth of chemicals, is that all we are ?’

As my old trucking boss Conrad said to me in 204, I over think everything. So I took the ‘dollars worth of chemicals statement to heart. Is that all we are ? My dad was buried and so was my beloved Alsatian dog. I buried Prince in the garden , crying as I did so. I was 18. He was another specie, but ‘Prince’ , whose bark was worse than his non existent bite, was a great friend and communicator. Prince shared my bedroom and slept on my bed. I vowed never to replace him and the sadness of parting once again. I lived in fear of losing my mother. Running was my comfort. Writing this makes me profoundly sad. It is like accounting for my existence, adding it all up.  ‘ Man born of woman has but a short time to live. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’

I always felt inadequate struggling with philosophy texts. The ideas seemed to need lots of complex sentences and structure. There seemed to be no way I would ever grasp it. So I was very surprised when my young David McCallum lookalike tutor told me my first essay was brilliant and that I should consider the subject as a major.  I was too shy to ask him why it was an A plus, Nor did I think that philosophy was a real subject. It was going to be economics and economic history for me in my second and third years.

Meanwhile my friend Steve was sharing a room with a northern grammar school boy called Roger. He was doing English and American studies and had a brilliant stereo and record collection – records were called albums.  Roger was from Lancashire and long haired like me , and mystical.

Roger was away on my birthday on December 6th , so I didn’t take the bus back to Horsham. Earlier that day I had attended a play on in the university village , with professional touring players,about the Oz ‘Schoolkids’ issue trial.  The play was an attack on sexual hypocrisy and censorship , invoking details of the 1924  D H Lawrence Lady Chatterly trial.

Pornography was a big cause for social concern in the early 1970. Police were colluding with pornographers and pimps.  Action was demanded, collusion between the ‘pornographers’ and the police.  The press knew all about it but Britain was and still is, very corrupt , but excels at cover ups. 

So when the radical Australian originated Oz ran their school kids issue in 1971 , edited by 18 sixth formers, all hell broke out and the adult editors faced charges of corrupting young people and obscenity. Their jail sentences were overturned on appeal.

This was the age of rebellion and sexual freedom for peace loving anti Vietnam war hippies .Ironically this generation have invoked an even more Draconian censorship and battery of laws than their young selves would ever have tolerated. I didn’t see the significance of the play at the time and can’t remember why I bought a ticket. Maybe it was my birthday treat to myself, having reached the grand old age of 21. My mother bought me a transistor radio and  arranged for loads of people to send me cards, but only Steve at UEA knew it was my birthday.

He took me down to the city where he bought me a whisky in 21 different pubs. On the way back we waited at a bus shelter opposite the Roman Catholic Cathedral. We were waiting for the number 11 bus. I was so drunk that I hadn’t noticed where Steve had gone. Then I saw him rummaging in the shadows , rather too late. He had picked up a lump of concrete which I only saw a split second before it hit the reinforced glass of the bus shelter where I was standing.

Steve and I both took classic literature and its symbols seriously. So I guessed he was expressing his feelings toward me by aiming that rock at my head. We both developed a preoccupation with D H Lawrence’s sexual undercurrents.  Steve pissed me off as well. So when we were back in his room , with his supply of booze to hand, Roger’s  stereo record player up at high volume, Steve handed me a copy of Tolstoy’s ‘War & Peace.’ I said ‘ My god they give you some boring stuff to read.’ He looked crestfallen , replying ‘So you don’t want it ?’  

I returned the compliment the following spring, buying him ‘The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.’ I knew nothing about what are now called gays. So I was surprised when he was in my room and asked me if he could get into bed with me. He and a mature student on Steve’s floor , who collected the milk money , was the model for ‘Sailor Dave’ in ‘Man , Maid , Woman.’ When I wrote the cover notes for that book , I mentioned experiencing the gender bending years at UEA. I had certainly witnessed it but had no idea what was going on at the time or why.

Chapter 7 Down the Pub

The campus was a work in progress when I moved on to the site with a second year room in Waveney Terrace. There was no security worth the name in those days. Locals from the city were free to wander around and use the pub. It was easier for me to visit the city and to drink when I felt like it , in interesting company.

Waveney Terrace was named after a local river which I was going to fall into in January 1973 because I lost sight of our cross country course due to heavy snow , when I was well ahead of the field in a competition with Essex University. The cold was a shock and turned my rather brief white shorts transparent. I digress.

The UEA student bar was moved that year from The Village a long walk from the main campus , to a purpose built pub inside a large new student , administration and retail complex in 1972. It was then that I made some new and in some cases, dangerous acquaintances. I was hanging out in the bar every night with some brilliant Cambridge post graduates and Derek , the big and powerful young bricklayer who was like a a pet representative of the working classes that these upper middle class students purported to care for. Obviously I kept quiet about my curious complex class background. Marxism was in and increasingly applied to all women as being key members of the lumpen proletariat – regardless of how posh they were.

There were posters advertising Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’ prominent in the student book shop and on faculty noticeboards. This was an increasingly other worldly atmosphere for a country bumpkin like me. Though becoming accepted as one of the posers , I felt very self conscious and fake. I was losing my edge as a runner and drinking too much just like the rest of them.

My four months on the road building site before returning to UEA in October 1972 had opened my eyes to many new things , but the student world still made me ill at ease. Being one of the university’s best sportsman was a nerdy world. There was no money glamour or career in running in those days. But sport led to my second trip abroad. Norwich City Council were twinned with Rouen.

So I was one of those chosen to represent Norwich at a big sporting event. We flew out in an old Vickers Viscount airliner , I think it was Dan Air, to France , with a coach ride to the civic reception. There was so much good food and wine , I soon forgot that I was there to run the 1500 metres , never my favourite event because the short distance demands a painful consistent turn of speed.

After the main competition , there was a bigger banquet with amazing food and wine – followed by a disco where a charming young woman tried chatting me up for obvious reasons. In spite of the drink , I was far too shy to know how to respond.

We were billeted in comfortable dormitories. A fellow student decided it would be fun to smuggle in some of our girl team mates. I added to that stupid idea by suggesting we all walked down to the docks where bars stayed open all night.

As with what they said of the 1960s , if you were there you won’t remember. I can vaguely recall the dead beat sailors , seedy bar man and women of ill repute. The worse thing was that none of us could remember the way back to the billet because we had drunk too much.  It was almost time to catch the coach back to the airport by the time we found our way.

I remember falling into my Waveney Terrace bed, pillow near the open window , looking up at the blue sky , thinking of the plane ride and wondering about renewing my ambition to be a pilot. My enthusiasm for a military career had been dimmed by years of Vietnam War reports.

I had begun to realise that the glories of World War Two which had so inspired me were pure propaganda covering for years of political failure ,elite greed , oppression, lies and subservient ignorant masses. Without realising , I was changing . I realised how horrible the world was and regretted being alive and part of it.

By the end of my second year , I was still a virgin , had not touched drugs , still had no ambition , still performing well academically , still running and going home to work on more buildings sites for the next four months.

With my long blonde hair and appearing younger than my 22 years, I looked the part. In the Waveney Terrace room directly opposite mine across the narrow corridor was a young man called Lloyd. His ancestors were from Peru, but he had arrived there from Birmingham. He had an enviable black Afro and a liking for loud cool music.

I didn’t realise until chatting with him in the university pub , that he smoked a lot of cannabis and went on LSD trips. I learned this in response to my question about why he repeatedly checked his room’s door was locked when he went out. I wondered why he had so many friends.

Another interesting character from that corridor was a thin faced skinny boy of just over five feet tall. His hair was medium length. There was an enduring smirk on his face. I didn’t understand why a rough looking kid frequently arrived by moped to spend time with this posh little student.

Then one day we were talking in the kitchen. The student told me that he bought the Norwich boy the moped for services rendered. He was reading French and philosophy in the EUR ( European Studies ) department. He told me ‘Reality is a warm prick or a moist c-nt. I am bisexual so I double my chances.’  Thinking of him reminds me of the poor nervous little working class Scottish English literature student I met in my final year. He used to buy ‘grass’ and come round to my room to get me rolling his ‘joints’ for him.

Upper Middle class students dominated all years and postgraduate places.  They may have been clever , but they were animals and hypocrites when it came to sex. Obviously they were going on to top jobs in public service , as lawyers , media folk and everything else that mattered in shaping our society – just like their parents before them.

Joining in the protests never occurred to me. However, I used to pray for an end to the Vietnam War.  There was something hideous about it.  I recall coachloads of righteous students travelling down to demonstrations outside the U.S Embassy. The Irish conflict was another hot potato for those students flexing political muscle.  Having spent time with Irishmen on the buildings , I couldn’t sentimentalise a conflict involving religious bigotry with blind faith in either Republicans or the Crown. The men I worked with , from both sides , got on well and didn’t care.  

One Irishman , while I was working at the paint factory in 1968 , told me about his recent holiday back home to Dublin. He said he was drinking in O’Connell Street when a student girl came in with a pile of her college newspaper for sale.  The headline said ‘Blow up Britain.’ Barney said to her : ‘Why would I want that. I live there with my English wife and family.’  The scary thing is that these young people were the ones who went on to create our modern Nazi nightmare Police State world.

A few years ago I was on a long multi drop truck run around Exeter and Plymouth. There was much time for me to discuss matters with my co driver , born in Oxford to Irish Catholic parents. He told me he lived for five years in Derry , Northern Ireland. He was living in a high density Protestant area .

This was due to him following his Protestant girlfriend back home. He said ‘One day the RUC ( police ) stopped us while she was driving.  He asked to see her driving licence.  She said it was at home and was given a ticket and a few days to present it. But she didn’t have one. This was before all the computers. That night we were watching television when there was a massive explosion. We went outside to look. The police station was just down the road and had been blown up.’ He added, the Protestants took being British so seriously that they painted the kerb stones red white and blue.’

Chapter 8  Out Of My Mind.

As usual , I went home to Buckinghamshire to find myself another building site job for the long vacation. The advantages of growing up in the world of building , farming and brick making , along with life at a secondary modern school before health and safety madness, was the opportunity to learn and do practical things. There were also no eternally damning background checks.

So off I went , responding to an advert for unskilled workers for a prefabrication housing project at Netherfield , Milton Keynes. There was a works transit bus collecting us from Winslow High Street.  I knew the driver who had done time for firing a shotgun into a pub. He was a big man with a big voice. The most irritating thing about that work ride was the driver’s 8 track tape recorder was playing  Nancy Sinatra on a loop. I particularly disliked the track ‘These boots are made for walking’ with the line ‘One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.’ The van’s tinny acoustics made the experience much worse.

The firm I was working for was called Llewellyn . I became very good friends with the managing director, Bill Barton who helped me with several books in later years. We had a mutual interest in motorcycles and I enjoyed visiting his home to enjoy his memories and a few pints of ‘Murphy’s.’ His mother helped with my very successful Havant & Hayling Island book.

When I criticised the Milton Keynes  Netherfield quality of build , he said : ‘We built exactly what the Milton Keynes Development Corporation asked for.’

My job was building the floors. It was hard hot work. There were a lot asbestos sheets being cut up and I did not relish the dust, so I decided to leave after 2 weeks to earn more money helping to widen the Winslow-Buckingham Road – A413.

I was now working for a small outfit called MAC Civil Engineering. It was owned by a man called Mitchell. I got the job through his site agent Cliff Mallet who had gone to school with my mother. Mitchell had the road job through his association with Bucks County Council big wigs – and no doubt membership of the Freemasons. That was normal practice for County awarding contracts.  The site foreman was Frank Warner , Tony’s father and friend of my late father. The work demanded muscle and endurance , of which I had plenty.

I knew from childhood that Frank left running ‘The Nag’s Head’ pub to his wife while he went off labouring on the railway.  Seeing him at work on this job , I wasn’t sure he knew what he was doing.  The work consisted of taking an average 3 feet off either side of the carriage way. Trenches had to be dug six feet deep.

We had two Massey  Ferguson diggers being bought on instalments from George Brown, a supplier in Buckingham.  The material excavated from each side of the road was dropped into a Dodge tipper truck on hire from Toby Taylor’s plant hire. We had traffic lights , generator and oil road marking lamps to protect the trench left open but roped off at night. I used to fill and light all of these lamps.

The hot tarmac was delivered from Chipping Norton way out in Oxfordshire. The material was tipped for the two diggers to convey and measure out to the trenches. We had no dumper. Our on hire tipper was loaded up and drove a few miles to a disused rubbish tip. While the truck was away we would be spreading and rolling the tarmac. We used forks and rakes, with a brazier burning continuously to burn off tar that had stuck to them.

Trouble arose when a fuel pump failed on one of the diggers. Mitchell was an infrequent site visitor. There were no car phones. He had another job on building a sports pavilion on the other side of Aylesbury. So Frank took up the lorry driver’s offer to drive to Brown’s in Buckingham , purchase a new pump then come back and fit it. It was a simple but crucial job.  Had Brown’s been involved directly the digger would have been repossessed because of instalments owing.

Then one day the contractors tipper didn’t arrive. Added to that , the traffic control lights and generator had been stolen by that contractor in lieu of unpaid truck rental. That led to court action because they were taken at night , causing danger to life.

On occasions I was sent in the company of an old worker called George White who lived with his brother in a nearby village called Nash. We were trouble shooting jobs that the firm had previously messed up. The first time I went on a job with him , he drove about four miles before backing into a farm gateway. Then he invited me to take one of his collection of girlie magazines from behind our seats.

During this interlude he told me he would liked to have been a doctor so that he could examine all the young women. I was reminded of Fresher’s Week at UEA when the entertainment included a showing  of Dr Martin Cole’s controversial short sex education film, ‘Growing Up.’  Students flocked to the village to watch what was a rather clinical but revealing look at sexual differences. The scene that most outraged the hypocritical and tabloid press involved a young school teacher called Jennifer Muskett. She was shown masturbating which was something we were not supposed to admit that females did. Jennifer was suspended from her school teacher job. As I look back over the years , I wonder what I ever saw to get so excited about in sex.

Because I made my feelings known about the chaos of MAC Civil Engineering , I was sent to help out finishing off the sports pavilion in Aston Clinton. It was the end of June and lovely weather.  My job became mixing the cement , or muck as they called it.  The van brought in the two outside workers from Bletchley and then we went on to Aston.  By the way , Aston Clinton is near Aston Hill in the Chilterns. There used to be motor hill climbing trials there in the 1920s. Aston Martin competed there and took the name Aston from that place.

We arrived on site around 09.30. By mid day Cliff Mallet would arrive and it was time to clean the cement mixer using brick bats and water while the otherwise empty mixer was running. Then we drove down the road with Cliff to the now long gone ‘Rising Sun’ pub.  

This was a poignant location for me. It was before the A41 dual carriageway by pass was built and situated on a busy crossroads.  Over 10 years earlier , Uncle Charlie was passenger in Maine’s little builder’s van waiting at the cross roads when another van shunted them into the A41 traffic ,causing a major collision, throwing Charlie out and under his own van. His injuries were life changing.

Part Three Complete Unkown

Chapter One Final Year

I was never in a hurry to return to UEA. The student subculture was alien to me and I didn’t like the music. Folk music wasn’t trendy but I had already discovered Bob Dylan. I had been writing poetry since I was at school – in the wake of my father’s death. During my early years in school , violin playing , I went in to the lesson and told the teacher that he was wrong.  ‘Wrong about what?’ ‘You can play pop music on a violin.’ I was 12 going on 13, the teacher looked down on me , sneering at my effrontery. What did I know ? I played ‘Telstar’ for him , by ear. ‘All right , now let’s get on with the serious music.’ he responded.

I gave up playing after two years. Music theory lessons were equally boring. A year later , my mother having bought me an overstrung piano for £5 , I continued to muse with song writing. I could play the National Anthem by heart. I worked out my own approach to learning. All that stuff about transposing was so boring. Once I knew there were only 12 notes – key notes , with tone and semi tone gaps, I realised you could start a tune at any point so long as you left the right gaps. Music was just another language. Later on , after lots of guitar lessons I worked out an easy way of teaching people of all ages to play.

So with my tax rebate from working for MAC civil engineering I bought a cheap stereo. Then I set about collecting records. I had grown up with 1950s and 60s pop , but I heard more interesting stuff coming from student rooms. By this time , in my final student year, I was enrolled in a film club where we saw some interesting French, Italian and East European films. There was also stuff from the U.S , like Andy Warhol. The Bergman season was  spell binding. I recall ‘The Seventh Seal’ and ‘The Hour of The Wolf.’  Both were plays around death. That was the first time I ever  saw Max von Sydow on screen. Some stuff I didn’t get , like ‘Kanal’ from the East European season. The most puzzling film I recall from those days was called  ‘Belle de Jour .’ 

I could not understand or take seriously the idea of  posh pristine comfortable surgeon’s wife taking a daytime job in a rough whore house – ultimately becoming involved with dangerous young gangster who follows her home, shooting her husband, leaving him crippled and silent.

The closing scene is of La Belle de Jour behind her husband’s wheelchair as they both look from their balcony at the plush neighbourhood apartment buildings. Her gangster loved had been shot dead by the police.The film suggested that she needed to be humiliated.  Many years later, a female friend bought me the book upon which the film was based. The book’s introduction featured case studies where this need was grounded in a reality that is anathema to feminists.

Still , at the time I first saw the film ,in spite of all I had observed of my sister’s antics, I still idealised women , believing only men could lust or act perversely. Many years later , a female friend – the one who bought me the book- described sexual desire as ‘an itch that needed scratching.’The psychological introduction explained a lot. I always regret lending that book to another female friend because she lost it , having no intention of reading it in the first place. Suffice it to say , I have more realistic expectations of women nowadays.

Films were shown on Sunday night in a lecture theatre. Steve Adkins and I always arrived early. The period of waiting for the film was filled with the organisers playing Neil Young’s wailing haunting , album ‘After The Gold Rush.’  I had never heard Young before and was enchanted. At first I thought his voice was female. My interest in music then took an important turn. I was captivated. My mother bought me my first electric guitar the following Christmas.

The music of that era was in harmony with the drug culture. The previous academic year I had spent Sunday nights in the gym doing weights for upper body strength.  My enthusiasm for running was waning. Other students were cool. They had girlfriends. I needed to be more relaxed. I needed to smoke Gauloise cigarettes like all the other posers. These cigarettes looked and sounded French but were just another brand of poison from the Imperial Tobacco Company.

Smoking looked relaxing and sexy. I don’t know when or how it happened, but I let my mother down. My friend Steve had already abandoned athletics. He was smoking dope and had hired a prostitute in a Norwich backstreet. The thought of that revolted me. We were in ‘The Coach & Horses’ near Norwich Castle when he told me how it happened in backstreet gateway. He had failed to control his excitement but still paid full price.

Sadly Steve’s drinking was going off the scale. I was back up in Winslow one weekend that autumn with my mother and Steve’s parents in the local ‘Nag’s Head’ pub.  Steve’s Scottish mother commented on my heavy drinking. So I said ‘ Well , your son Steve likes his whisky. It’s the Scots in him.’

I thought nothing of my casual remark. So back in the luxury of my Suffolk Terrace student residence , I was at my desk looking out across the local broadland. It was a sunny late autumn day. There was a knock at my door.  I had already succumbed to a friend’s offer of a joint. It is hard to explain how quickly and subtly the weed had changed my out look on life. Nothing seemed to matter.

Fortunately my senses had not been totally deadened. I had forgotten about having locked my door. The door knob was being turned back and forth furiously It was being rattled so much I thought it might break. Politely I got up , crossed the green carpeted floor to open the door.

There was a narrow corridor outside. The door opened inwards. With the door open I could see my broad shouldered friend Steve glowering at me. He was wearing his favourite and only jacket. His words were delivered as if from an old John Wayne movie : ‘This is to teach you to keep your big mouth shut.’

Knowing what was coming and having no talent or interest in fighting, I tried to push the door closed in his face. We both had strong runner’s legs. So he put one of his feet to the wall behind him, then both hands on the door he propelled himself into my room. I tried vainly to stop him. He had the edge , so quickly and immediately I stepped back toward the centre of my room.

As he lunged toward me, I gave him a karate blow to the nose while simultaneously kicking him between the legs. He ran straight into my  moving fist and foot . Looking back on that event, I have no doubt that the cannabis kept me calm and accurate about my business. Blood spurted all over my blue denim shirt. His glasses lay broken on the floor and he was yelping in pain, torn between which of his wounds to nurse first. For all of my exercising, I had never felt particularly strong or had a fight. So I was surprised by my achievement. Steve grabbed his glasses and turned tail. I watched him go before grabbing a cigarette from a pack of trendy Gauloises .

The world that Steve and I had shared since school infants classes was falling away. We were starting to behave like tormented characters in the novels we read. Life was becoming more dream like and dangerous. I applied myself to smoking weed with the same enthusiasm that had me running 20 miles around Norwich ring road at a steady 6 minutes a mile every Sunday morning with a friend who went on to become physicist  Dr Vaughan Voller. He was a guy younger and wiser then than I will ever be.

So with my good friend Steve now my enemy , things could only get worse. This was my final year. The model student was dead. A few years later Neil Young wrote the lines: Why my mind is moving so fast. And the conversation is slow. Burn off all the fog. And let the sun. Through to the snow. Let me see your face again. Before I have to go.

Those lines summed up the feeling in my head for the rest of that academic year and a fair time beyond. Cannabis slowed everything down around me. I lost my sense of danger. The campus was rife with upper middle class rebelling druggies , pushers and undercover cops who could be spotted a mile off. They would hang out in the Union Bar , trying too hard , looking a bit too old and together.

So, after surprising myself by decking my best friend , I sat back down again , smoked too many cigarettes while listening to my stereo. Time passed. The Union Bar, quaintly named ‘The Pub’ was open. Off I went to drown my lonely sorrows.

There were two bars, the public and saloon. The former was large with amusements like table football. I had been leaning on the bar and was on to my second pint of Guinness when I spotted Steve with a mutual friend sitting by a window. The moment we caught each other’s eyes , I saw the rage. He was quickly on his feet and coming my way. I lingered , not wishing to lose my beer. Too late , he was aiming his fists at me. A group of students grabbed the pair of us seeing the danger. Ignominiously I explained I had no quarrel with the other bloke and wanted to leave. The students restraining Steve were his English literature friends and seemed rather half hearted about it. Fortunately I escaped upstairs to the student union. Here I smoked more cigarettes in the lounge before heading back to Suffolk Terrace and a worried sleep.

Chapter 2  Impossible

Some things are impossible. Square pegs don’t fit comfortably in round holes. On the building site in 1972 , my colleagues were obsessed by a puzzle. I had watched them inscribing a pattern in pencil on the wood of trestle tables in our mobile canteen. When I inquired , I discovered the puzzlers were trying to connect water, gas and electricity to three houses without crossing over the connecting lines. For all the wonders of today’s technology it cannot be done. The pieces don’t fit.

We are a long time past when Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote eleven verses entitled ‘Know Thyself.’  Emerson believed that ‘to know thyself’ meant knowing the God which Emerson felt existed within each person.  Here is the first two of the 11 verses.

If thou canst bear
Strong meat of simple truth
If thou durst my words compare
With what thou thinkest in my soul’s free youth,
Then take this fact unto thy soul,—–
God dwells in thee.
It is no metaphor nor parable,
It is unknown to thousands, and to thee;
Yet there is God.

He is in thy world,
But thy world knows him not.
He is the mighty Heart
From which life’s varied pulses part.
Clouded and shrouded there doth sit
The Infinite
Embosomed in a man;
And thou art stranger to thy guest
And know’st not what thou doth invest.
The clouds that veil his life within
Are thy thick woven webs of sin,
Which his glory struggling through
Darkens to thine evil hue.

To me it seemed impossible to undo the conflict between Steve and I.  All seemed rather complicated. Cowardly me just hoped we would not bump into each other again. I took to drinking at pubs outside the campus. Then one day , I was sitting in the coffee bar when a young South African lecturer , with a special interest in phenomenology, and post graduate acquaintance of mine, joined me. We used to discuss philosophy together. I hoped he might use his knowledge to solve the problem. He did. His simple advice was to suggest a note in Steve’s pigeon hole with an explanation and apology. I was to suggest a meeting place and time on outside neutral ground.

When I met with Steve, he was wearing taped up broken glasses and had a bloody scar on his nose. He wasn’t wearing his favourite jacket. He had a new one. I apologised for both matters. He smiled painfully explaining I hadn’t caused them. He invited me back to his Norfolk Terrace room. Here I saw the remains of his jacket. He explained his scar , glasses and jacket as being the result of defending a small male student from the thug previously mentioned , also called Derek ; the intellectual students pet proletarian.

Derek had dragged the young man from his seat in the bar because it was crowded and he wanted to sit there. Steve lectured Derek about bullying. Derek rose to anger , insisting that matters be taken outside. Here in what was called ‘The Street’ . Steve was given a really good hiding. Steve explained that matters had come to a head and he was now going on sabbatical. I was sorry about that because he had always been like a brother to me and I knew UEA would be lonely without him. Alcohol had gotten the better of him. Cannabis made matters worse. Both of us went to UEA looking for intellectual fulfilment and romance . Neither of us had a girlfriend after to years. It wasn’t our looks. We saw some seriously ugly and unpleasant young men making out. But it was something that was wrong. We didn’t fit the times or the place.

Chapter Three Inevitability

Without my daily training schedule and reliable but equally troubled friend Steve, I was heading for disaster. New friends were abundant but from a different class. I had a veneer of the bourgeois about me because of my mother’s better off relations. But Winslow had taught me to know my place. My contemporaries were rebelling against their well to do parents while pretending they were against the system. From my perspective , having showers with hot and cold water was a luxury , made even more comfortable by central heating.

I was by now seriously against the system. The word career was repellent because careerists were essential to the problem. The future did not look good. I wasn’t following my course. I was reading more and more stuff that wasn’t good for conformity.  All the energy that helped me train over 100 miles a week at six minutes a mile, was turning to matters that were likely to destroy me.

Not long after losing Steve , I met Mick Birrell. Mick was from Lancashire. A mature student , he had a heart of gold. His parents were working class , his mother a hairdresser and both of them Irish. He had a sister , a jaunty and lovely woman. In later life , she used to phone me up to sing her Irish folk songs. Her favourite was ‘The Rare Old Times.’ ‘Danny Boy’ was another frequent request. I was singing to her up in Burscough , Lancashire, on October 4th 2008 , when according to a malicious PNC Criminal Marker and damning records made by West Mercia Police’s top brass, I was stalking my ex brother in law, then their ACC, many miles away in Shrophsire. More about that fascinating story in volume two.

My friend Mick Birrell , Norfolk Terrace, University of East Anglia 1973.

Michael liked his drink and his philosophy. He introduced me to an erudite group of Cambridge post graduates. We all met frequently in the Student Union Bar. L.J.J Wittgenstein was our favourite because this man had been a Cambridge academic from 1929- 1947. He specialised in the philosophy of mind , maths and language. Interestingly Wittgenstein published only one book , the Logical-Philosophical Treatise , a mere 75 pages. Nevertheless , Wittgenstein’s offerings gave us much to talk and over think about while we got steadily inebriated every night.

One of the first philosophical questions I was confronted with in 1971 was : ‘What is best , a fool satisfied or Socrates dissatisfied. My late mother never asked this question out loud. She could not have named a single philosopher. However , she had the perfect answer to the question which she often espoused. The answer was and maybe still is ‘Where ignorance is bliss it is folly to be wise.’  Five years earlier my outlook had been equally straightforward. I had sat in my father’s once new armchair, his pride and joy in 1947, but worse for wear now with springs exposed, watching the World Cup on the 1957 Murphy two channel black and white 405 line T.V. The year was 1966.

My mind filled in the gaps left between the  405lines and added colour. The whole tournament had been most exciting uniting English people with a simple pride not known since VE Day. England , under managership of the taciturn dour Harris tweed overcoat wearing Alf Ramsey , had defied the odds. Bobby Charlton , my mother’s favourite proved that British people could overcome anything as the team achieved the impossible. Yet as I write this , the delayed  European Cup 2020 tournament is being played.

All I see is millionaires on the field, hectoring messages about all us whites being racist , knee bending and regular episodes of foul play driven by ego , churlishness , glory hunting and greed. Simple satisfaction isn’t evident. The fools seem to be the ones watching it , their moods rising and falling as if their teams fortunes are their own. Fools satisfied maybe , depending on which side they support. Happiness is a zero sum for them , belonging to one side or the other. There are no easy answers. Only manufactured ignorance is allowed. Conformity is all. Square pegs can now enjoy round holes. Woe betide them if they disagree. The police and psychiatrists will be along with anti psychotics , needles , tasers and transport to the cells or hospitals. Finely tuned and open minds have to be closed down in the name of freedom – a subject already covered in this book.

For many of my student contemporaries , the sensible ones , freedom would come with high powered jobs , fat salaries , power , perfect homes and families. Fools like Birrell and I were taking all these books and education too seriously. Philosophy was best applied to maths and science , kept safe in the classrooms and lecture theatres. Our working class background made us more delusional than smoking dope , dropping acid or getting drunk ever could. My worst delusion was yet to come when I met Helen in June 1974 .

With my new cool appearance I had the opportunity to lose my virginity but turned it down. It was early in 1974. Being spaced out had become normal to me. Suddenly I saw the hidden life of students not apparent to me before. There were even those claiming that heroin could be taken safely. I bought more records , more Neil Young , Bob Dylan and ‘Yes.’ albums. Suddenly , laying on my student room floor listening to ‘Yes’ for hours on end seemed more worthwhile than reading or going to lectures.

I only recall one course from that year. The rules dictated two per term , but for some odd reason I can’t recall, I enrolled on a third. It was called ‘United States Two.’  For a week I forgot about this until receiving a note in my pigeon hole from a Dr Alan O’Day. He wondered why I had not attended his seminar. I went to see him and apologised.

Apart from Dr Rosemary Crompton , he was the only academic who was  ever able to interest me by force of personality. Maybe ‘force’ is the wrong word in Alan’s case. He was a softly spoken Irish American and the only academic I ever enjoyed a drink with , even sharing coffee with him in my Suffolk Terrace room. Here he noticed all the pencil art work on my notice board. Smoking pot was calming after a life of worry and anxiety. I would sit and sketch for hours. My themes ranged from beauty to fear. He suggested a job going that might suit me in that field at Kent University.

The U.S 2 course covered United States economic history in the twentieth century. We were only a small class , so Alan conducted  seminars in his office. I recall two note taking girls and only comment one of them ever made. Alan chose to illustrate the depression years through discussion of art and film. So one of the girls asked ‘Why did Hollywood focus on glamour themes , with stars like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers . Why not more about the poverty, misery and unemployment’. In the pause that followed, I butted in :  ‘Because the people were living with that and went to the cinema to escape.’

Not long after , one of these girls made an official complaint about Dr O’Day’s relaxed teaching style.  I didn’t realise it at the time that Alan and his predecessor John Skinner, teaching me political history at Aylesbury College, were going to influence my approach to teaching and writing later on. They brought the subjects to life. Oddly , I chose not to be examined in U.S Economic History because I didn’t need to. It had been an extra subject , chosen on a whim.

Chapter Four Lives Become Careers

My attitude to cannabis was far too relaxed. I had forgotten why I came to UEA and , sadly for my mother, my visits home were less frequent. Neil Young was playing in my head when the stereo was not at hand. I had bought the album with the track ‘Here we are in the years’ , where this line rhymed with ;lives become careers, children cry in fear , let us out of here.’ It was a very hippy song with all good lines , like ‘Go to the country take the dog. Look at the sky without the smog.’  The other  Neil Young son that impressed me was the title track; ‘After the Gold Rush.’ It made the apocalypse sound poetic and haunting.

I never really believed in the hippies. I hated the sight of the UEA careers centre. My post graduate prospects had faded due to lack of work , though oddly I got a place at Stockholm’s International Graduate School , and a place at Keele to study criminology. My academic adviser had not lost faith in me, but there was the small matter of needing to do almost a years work in a month. At least the cannabis calmed my tendency to panic.

My smoking habit was a serious problem by this time . I wondered how I could last for all the three hour long examinations covering my major and minor subjects. I needn’t have worried. I read for hours on end. Luckily I had what was called a photographic memory. One student cracked up at the prospect of failure so put his right hand on a hot cooker ring. He was lucky to avoid amputation.

In my case , as soon as we were told to start an exam , I forgot all about cigarettes , becoming so irritated by all the smokers turning to sweet munching, I complained to the invigilator.

Weeks of exams behind me, I relaxed on my Suffolk Terrace balcony going brown while pretentiously reading the ‘New York Herald Tribune’ and other masterpieces. The rent was paid up until July and I had an extension. Originally I was going to stay on in Norwich having been invited to be the drummer in a band. A literature student, Alf Russell from Wolverhampton was the brains for this band. He was on the same floor as me in Suffolk Terrace. I was among his friends who used to sit in his room smoking Moroccan black from a shared pipe, listening to the Grateful Dead, the group we hoped to improve on. Their lyric from ‘Working Men’s Dead’ sticks in my mind : ‘Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any more , because when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.’  We were ‘Dead Heads.’

I lost my way on that one because I found a building site job , for myself and friend Birrell. Worse still I met Helen.

Helen’s sister Beverley had been reading European Studies. She was in another student circle I was vaguely associated with. Her year abroad was coming up and her boyfriend Steve from Hemel Hempstead was going with her.

Beverley was a pretty and petite blue eyed blonde. Steve had long lank hair , bloodhound eyes and a walrus moustache. He dressed the part and had been a diligent worker. Beverley had chosen well.. I was just a nobody with nowhere to go or direction home. I was  – to borrow more from Bob Dylan – a complete unknown.

By the time I first saw her , I had walked around Norwich ring road in yet another hot summer, looking for building site work and full of bullshit, appearing and sounding the part. So I had got Birrell and myself a job with Norwich Corporation concreting footings and council house platforms. It was a medium skilled job , but I knew what I was doing. I had worn a red athletics vest with blue jeans to show off my fitness. I am a mimic so decided to sound local.

No one worried about helmets , high viz or protective footwear back then. All you needed for legitimate work was an insurance card. There were no background checks – this at least meant the misguided and villains had a chance to get back on the right track.

So there I was in the bar that momentous late June Friday morning , before my Monday start back on the buildings , when smoothie Steve came in the bar hand in hand with beautiful Beverley and one other almost identical young blonde, this one even more stunning than Beverley, wearing  along cotton dress, sandals , and sexy gold rimmed octagonal rose tinted glasses. I thought jealously ,’ My God , he has two of them , how does he do it ?’ This girl was Beverely’s younger sister Helen. She would change the path of my life. I should have had more sense. Every time I think of her , I am reminded of the Irish folk song , ‘On Raglan Road.’  it was a story of unrequited love. It was written by Patrick Kavanagh about his brother Peter’s girlfriend. Here  is an extract.

On Raglan Road of an autumn day
I saw her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare
That I might one day rue

I saw the danger, and I passed
Along the enchanted way
And I said, “Let grief be a falling leaf
At the dawning of the day”

On Grafton Street in November
We tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen
The worth of passions pledged

The Queen of Hearts still making tarts
And I not making hay
Oh, I loved too much and by such, by such
Is happiness thrown away

I always thought that there is a danger that as an aspiring song writer I was attracted more to the romance of blighted love than the tedious monotony of a nagging ever present wife. There is no beauty about the latter. But beauty is like alcohol , source of temporary pleasure and ultimate despair. Is there a lesser of two evils ? Is there any truth in romance ? Feminism has certainly tested the notion as women’s groups make clear that empowerment is their icon. They want it all. That is not romantic. The quest is a white bourgeois dead end in more ways than one.

My poor late mother was born into material poverty but was rich in spirit. She had little in life and many took what little she had , including her will to live.

Steve saw me seated by the window overlooking the UEA ‘Street.’ He had bought the drinks and was escorting his women in my direction. Steve was a nice guy, very serious, but I never saw him really smile. They sat down , Steve and Beverley on one side and Helen next to me, so close I felt the electricity of her being. Unlike the night when the French Student Union barmaid Monique had thrown herself at me in late 1973, I could offer no resistance to Helen’s being.

We met again in the pub that night and were soon contentedly holding hands. It was like my energy at last contacting earth. Beverly was clearly concerned when we went back to Helen’s temporary room in Norfolk Terrace. I wasn’t nervous as I had been when I rejected the worldly French girl. Sleeping with Helen was my first time in bed with someone else since mother , sister and me had huddled together in the front bedroom the night mother got the news my father was going to die of his illness within the net 10 months. We were dirt poor , living on National Assistance and charity.

There is no beauty in describing what we did. It was very natural, like two opposite pole magnets we clung together and were happy. I had no experience but could tell she had. It all came naturally. I am not going to debase my feelings for her then with titillation.

The next day was Saturday. We tried hitch hiking to Yarmouth. I had bought some cannabis of my little Scottish friend whose name was Chris . I had lots of friends. He was reading English.

My friend Georgio Langdon had gone home to Italy. He always seemed to be worried about my recklessness. I visited him in his final year. He told me he was going to be a diplomat. I have always regretted leaving Georgio alone in the bar that night, during my visit, lured away by a Helen lookalike whom Georgio told me was a bitch. Georgio had tried teaching me Italian and told me I should move to Italy where there were lots of beautiful girls. He complained that I spoke Italian with a German accent – I was teaching myself German at the same and spoke it badly.

So that Saturday morning, wearing my flowered shirt and best brushed denim suit, long blonde gleaming just like petite Helen’s, we set off.  We had just passed Norwich Catholic Cathedral where my friend Steve had nearly killed me in 1971, when Helen said she loved me and wanted to spend the rest of her life with me. I was surprised because I hadn’t thought that far ahead. But it was an exciting prospect , so unexpected that I had no words, only a smile, holding her hand more tightly.

We walked miles thumbing away before we both realised that she would have to be on her own to get a lift. So I suggested we took the train from Thorpe Station.

It’s not easy to write this now , so many years later when I thought all was forgotten. We left Yarmouth Station , heading for the beach where I had first visited when I was only four , on a Nag’s Head coach trip with my parents , sister and the Warners previously mentioned. As soon as Tony and I saw the sea we were way down the beach and in the pretty waves.

It was a warm day but there was a chill to the water. There was also the screams of our frightened mothers and strong hands of fathers rescuing us from the North Sea hunger. We would have drowned , mother said. Our clothes were taken from us and hung out to dry while we turned attention to building sandcastles.

Laying on the same beach then , in 1974 , with Helen, I thought about how much had changed since that day. We were smoking the cannabis resin that had been in my pocket. My friend Alf taught me how to roll joints  using the card from the Rizla cigarette paper packet to make the filter.

We were resting our backs against the low wood piles holding up  footpath watching the gentle water ripple. Two typical young flower power hippies, we shared the joint, altering our world view , bringing us into foolish harmony . Mother’s parting words about not getting mixed up with drugs whispered in my memory. My imagination recreated a picture of Tony Warner and me , two long lost little boys.  Twenty years seemed like a long time back then.

We fell short of love making on the beach in spite of an encouraging audience of local yobs. I just closed my eyes pretending they were not there.

I remember little else about that day. Helen went to the public toilets to change out of her long hippy skirt into blue jeans. Next thing I remember was being on a corridor train London bound via Norwich. We sneaked into a first class compartment. We were very distracted when the old British Railways ticket collector slid open the door. He was smiling like Father Christmas when I started to apologise. ‘Tha’s alright boy. We are all young once. ‘ He slid the door closed ,ambling off smiling thoughtfully , probably with his thoughts of his own young life. That is how the world used to work.

I don’t remember how many weeks Helen stayed at the University. It was like the best dream I ever had. On midsummer’s day we drank and held hands in the bar. Helen attracted a lot of attention from posh smoothie students trying to get her interest. Beverly probably sent them across. They were more plausible than me with better prospects. I hadn’t seen my exam results yet but expected and deserved to fail for all of the serious academic work I had done. I couldn’t remember doing any work at all in my final year because I was always stoned. I had betrayed my mother’s hopes just as my sister had done.

I remember the self confident poseurs strutting around the campus. Here they were in Helen’s face. I knew they were of the sort she would marry. They wanted sex and a perfect wife. She was sex to them and worth more than I could give. She had already told me that I was insecure.

I was, for all of that a romantic. Now I don’t understand why any of it mattered. I regret bringing my two sons into this world. My underlying sense of doom seems to have come real at the time of writing , with crazy Covid lockdown and climate change. The rich have never been richer.

The Third World population is moving to live in the First , most bringing Islam with them , because its’ corrupt leaders have been selling its riches to the global elite  for years and those countries are seriously overpopulated , hideously poor and disease ridden. They are bringing those problems here. The last twenty years of Anglo U.S meddling in Afghanistan and the virtue signalling now going on to cover another grotesque regime change failure says it all. Our elite , focused on suppressing a far right white response, can’t see that Muslims can and will try a regime change for the west.

My peace and love generation have caused this mess. My strutting fellow students were bigger fakes than I was. They were the phoney radicals that I could never convincingly join. They went on to good careers , making best use of their upper seconds and firsts in English Literature and Sociology. Romance is now beyond my understanding. When I think of myself then , I am thinking of another person.

That person had Beckett’s poem ‘Cascando’ handwritten on his notice board, among the sketches.


why not merely the despaired of
occasion of

is it not better abort than be barren

the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives


saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words

terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending

I and all the others that will love you
if they love you


unless they love you

Helen read it there when she came to spend her first night in my student room. I had another poem alongside of it.

This read :

 ‘I would like my love to die…’
by Samuel Beckett

I would like my love to die

and the rain to be raining on the graveyard

and on me walking the streets

mourning her who thought she loved me

I had become very interested in Beckett during my final year. I never did English Literature before university because it clashed with the maths I needed for my degree course. But had , because of my friend’s mockery, read widely as I pleased. Winslow had a good library and as a teen I saved up money to buy Penguin books, placed on shelves I had built in my bedroom. Father taught me how to use tools , Secondary Modern taught me so much more about practicalities. I started reading Beckett in French to improve my language skill and appreciate why he wrote with it.

Helen was perplexed by ‘Cascando’ and feared the second poem was about a man wanting to kill his woman. I knew it was about a man who feared losing a painful love , thinking of how much safer and exquisitely painful it would be if she was dead and buried. The rain symbolised tears and a beautiful image of life turned to death. The writer in his dark clothes and hat would spend a mortal eternity in  predictable gloom.

I explained this to Helen, though I doubt she remembered. Months later she showed me a library book of his poems that she had been reading. She told me she was going to do a typing course at Highbury College in Portsmouth so she would be able to type my books. She had a confidence in me that I never had in myself. I played Donavan’ s Turquoise song on my stereo . The lines expressed how I saw Helen quite perfectly :


Your smile beams like sunlight on a gull’s wing
And the leaves dance and play after you
Take my hand and hold it as you would a flower
Take care with my heart, oh, darling, she’s made of glass

Your eyes feel like silence resting on me
And the birds cease to sing when you rise
Ride easy your fairy stallion you have mounted
Take care how you fly, my precious, you might fall down

In the pastel skies a sunset I have wandered
With my eyes and ears and heart strained to the full
I know I tasted the essence in the few days
Take care who you love, my precious, he might not know.

I had no hopes for our relationship. She was from a better class and , though of age , far too young. So morbidly I told her , while playing this record : ‘ I would like to see when you are 80. See what you have done and who you became.’ This thought had been inspired by two old ladies I had seen at the last surviving gate of Derby Road. Norwich , opposite our building site compound.

There were always fresh flowers in their front window. I imagined these women had grown up and spent their lifetime in the road’s last house left standing , and due for demolition. I had wondered about these women, their hopes and lives before coming to this stage. My building site colleagues didn’t seem to notice them. Only I did, understanding why they loved at us with hatred. They must have lived simple lives , with no means of understanding what was happening to them. Their clothes , like the women shut up in Winslow’s old workhouse, came from another age , when they were young and flighty. How can there be a God ? What would the millions of believers do if they were told the truth ?

That Saturday night Helen and I went upstairs to the Union to watch a film called ‘Easy Rider.’ It was the coolest movie of the 1970s. I sat on the floor , Helen sat on my lap while we both watched the big screen and I first set eyes on crazy enthralling Jack Nicholson.

There had been lots of old films on with Peter Fonda’s dad Henry. He excelled at playing the underdog , his voice so perfect fr expressing sadness. His performance as Tom in ‘The Grapes of Wraith’ was heartbreaking. His son Peter and daughter Jane represented a different more hopeful age. Henry was still playing the underdog in 1976. This time he was a 60 year old trucker whose truck was repossessed by the finance company. The film was the Great Smokey Roadblock. He played ‘Elegant John’ with his truck called ‘Eleanor.’  Men idolise women as I did my mother and Helen.

Being with Helen  sitting on my lap and watching that film , I was oblivious of the past , wider present and dangerous future. I had my job on the Norwich Derby Road council house building site.  It was , in the words of the Newsom Report that established post was Secondary Modern Schools , ‘Practical , Realistic and Vocational.’

As I said, it was seeing the two withered glowering little old ladies standing by their gate opposite our builder’s compound in Derby Road – their end of terrace being the only surviving property – that inspired me to think of Helen in her 80s. I could not imagine her in such a sad situation. She was going to be a winner , but not with me.

I knew where our relationship was heading and did not relish the pain. We headed for the bar every night where I drank too much Guinness. Then the results came out. We walked from my Suffolk Terrace room to the Arts Block where the typed list had me listed for a lower second. Not bad for someone who spent his final year on idle pursuits and good enough qualification for a building site labourer. I actually expected to fail. It was good enough for celebratory drinks in the bar, more cannabis and love making in Suffolk Terrace.

The following week I was on my own. Helen and her sister had gone back to their sedate Portsmouth suburb. Birrell had returned back up north. His stoned and bewildered company on the building site had made the work fun. Sitting in the tea cabin I would recall comic scenes like when the suction for deep trench concrete pulled his Wellington boots off.  Then there were the two thirty something hard cases who were just out of the local jail. They were burglars and totally amoral. One had long blonde hair like me. He asked me if I wanted to buy dope. He explained the delights of sniffing Evo Stik. This was his big discovery while doing some formica laminating as a ‘trustee’ in jail. He said him and his mate used to sniff it in the toilet – security cameras were more scarce then

Anyway , I decided to go home to Winslow, thinking this was goodbye forever. Helen had my address , but I did not expect to see her again. Sweden was off because I needed a job , money to pay interest on my big bank loan along with getting a mortgage to replace it. My military career was no longer an option because I had absorbed the anti Vietnam war propaganda. In spite of the 1970s, its gloom, three day week and fuel crisis, I was never out of work. I never believed in the UEA hippy fakes , with all their anti Vietnam war , anti family and peace loving mantra, or the spaced out drug music.

Without ambition beyond the dream of becoming a worthwhile writer, any old job was going to do. My experience in construction took me in that direction. Drinking with Bert O’Dell in ‘The Nag’s Head’ , the subject of my mother’s Great Uncle Harry , a pioneering council house designer and County Highways chief engineer came up. There were good prospects for me under his command at the local highways depot. He told me I could go on to college to study civil engineering and before that , get my HGV licence. So I said yes. Not long after a letter arrived in a pretty little envelope, with my name and address scored in neat and lady like writing.

Part Four Wasteland

‘I think we are in Rat’s Alley now

Where the dead men lost their bones’

T.S Elliot

Chapter One Back Roads

So I drifted into becoming a Bucks County Council road man. My Great Great Uncle Harry was mentioned by the superintendent Chris Gurnett , several times, as if I was descended from a God of the County Council Highways Department.

There were some interesting characters , all of them puzzled as to why I had descended amongst them. An Ulster man named Jimmy Brown was vocal in his disapproval. He had known me since I was an infant because I grew up less than a mile from his tied cottage.

Jimmy knew his place in the local pecking order , having been one of two labourers on Lady Cruise’s estate. Sir Richard Cruise had been eye surgeon to the king.  The Cruise’s large home , complete with Tennis Courts was just east of Winslow , on the Swanbourne Road where Tory Ian Duncan Smith is married into the local Fremantle dynasty.

Hearing Jimmy’s high pitched rant everyday , in the cab of the little Bedford J type tipper lorry , I concluded that he thought he had personally paid my full student grant for three years , then let him down by not rising to a higher station in life.

Pretty soon I had my first invitation to visit Helen down in Lovedean , a few miles north of Portsmouth. It’s embarrassing to recall my stupidity and romantic delusion. Helen’s parents obviously thought it best to humour their daughter. They must have known they had a wild child because Helen knew more about sex than I did. I had never heard of fellatio , having no idea of what she was doing that first night in my room.  She explained that she had lost her virginity to a mature sailor in Portsmouth , a worldly man by her account, when she was only 14.

Helen’s father was to me, an intimidating man with the emotional footprint of the engineer that he was.  I never really got to know him and was never at ease in their home. It was very different to mine. They seemed comfortable. The was a gulf between my world and theirs I had no empathy for Helen’s complaints about her family life or the stress between her parents. I thought the atmosphere during my weekend visits was because they didn’t like me.

They certainly didn’t like my smoking , although they did rather elegantly smoke sophisticated John Player Specials  after dinner. I remember more about that time than I care to mention. Helen was my muse for so many poems as well as for my novel : ‘Man, Maid, Woman.’ It wasn’t true that I set out to be here and win her approval for mimicking her beauty.  

The book had many real life influences and seriously different undertones. Obviously it was not received well by critics because it implied that the boy George changed sex because females had messed up his life , including a mother whose lover had murdered her husband , after cheating and fathering George. Lacking a male role model , the boy George fails in romance , so seeks security with acceptance in the body of the young woman he adored. These days in media with related social world , baddies can’t be women or black. So another problem with the book was George’s affair and then settling with an older man who was black. In 2003 , when the book came out , the PC lobby were entrenched.

Helen’s father , John , took a dim view of a prospective son in law working on the roads. I was only on the job for two months before going to work in a paint research laboratory. Those days tarring the back roads were enchanting. An old way of life was passing.

One day , the driver Roy Briggenshaw and I were sitting in the tipper truck near Stewkley , when a wrinkled old face popped up by the open driver’s window. It was shaded from the son by an old brown cap. “’ello boy , how be e’ gettin’ orn. Nice day e’nit. The old gal’s got me bit o’ grub on the table. Hatta get oorn me way. Got a young ‘en helpin’ , any good is ‘e ? These young ‘uns dorn’t know meanin’ o’ work. Too easy, sparin’ the rod. Good hidin’s did us good.”

We resurfaced the road in three strips, right and left then sealed them down the middle. The tar tanker driver , working for a sub contractor called May Guerney ,was from Norwich, joining with the others in being mystified by a University of East Anglia graduate working on the roads. So I decided to pack it in , seeking more money on a building site in Aylesbury. There isn’t much to be said about that job The firm was H.C Janes of Luton. The most interesting thing ever said to me was when a thirty something close cropped bulldozer driver asked me if I would like to appear in his porn films. He said I had the right look, adding how much money he and his wife were making on the side. I was a bit prudish , so I said ‘No thank you.’

The bald headed foreman was a man named Frank.  He was , like many foremen, up the bosses backside. My first job was dumper driver. It was a pig of a thing to start in the morning , with a cranking handle. I used it to drive up to the deep holes around the piled manhole rings, then tip concrete in to hold them firm. Occasionally I did other things , like tunnel under the kerb stones with a pneumatic drill , where the engineers had forgotten to place the gullies.

I also had the pleasure of unloading the articulated lorries which came in laden with heavy long kerb stones and the channels which were laid in front of them.

I used to stand on the trailer , directing the driver around the big site, throwing channels and kerbs alternately. We didn’t have safety gloves . S when it was raining it was difficult to free the closely packed and heavy blocks. I had a small dark haired English assistant called Fred. His mind was not on the job. He liked telling dirty jokes. Fred also lacked strength, struggling to throw the heavy material, so often a kerb would land on a channel and snap. Foreman Fred caught him doing it too many times , so sacked him.

Meanwhile , I was getting more criticism from Helen’s dad. He asked me when I was going to get a proper job. My mother , by this time, had arranged with Uncle Charlie, to get me a car on hire purchase. To add to this good impression and cutting my journey time to Portsmouth, I found a job in the laboratory at the paint factory where I had spent two summer holidays during A levels. When I went for the interview . the manager said ‘Yes, we definitely want you. You did some very good work here.’

Among other things, they recalled how I reorganised the commercial paint section  of the warehouse. Prior to that , I had attempted to get a job as a quantity surveyor back  at Llewellyn Construction in Milton Keynes. It was a peculiar interview with a cocky forty something manger. He was impressed by my knowledge of building materials and measurements. But then he threw me an odd ball. He asked what I would do if he asked me to stand in the middle of a fields, take my trousers down and sing ‘God Save The Queen.’  I said I would ask ‘Why.’ He replied , ‘I would not do that. I would do whatever my boss asked me to do. I will be in touch.’  I never heard another word.

Chapter Two  Chemistry – I am Love

It was strange being back at Aylesbury College studying A level chemistry. The tutor and I recognised each other from my previous stint there as a teenager. He didn’t seem to like having a graduate in his class . His manner was off hand and patronising. I started skipping my day release class and meeting with my girlfriend Helen in London.

Problems piled up because I needed the chemistry to advance my skills in various experiments. My work in the marine paints department involved rapid weathering tests. It was interesting but I was soon out of my depth. I made the further mistake of using the workers toilets which I had used during my warehouse days. This was a dingy venue , where sitting on old paint tins, smoking and talking with the other skivers ,  you got used to the smell.  The place was like an unofficial common room for workers relaxing on shift. Barney Dumphy was one such worker. He was a bit of a philosopher. I recall time spent there on unofficial breaks there, listening to his views on the deadly effects of the flu jab which the management insisted that we have.

Obviously as a white coated worker, I was not meant to mix with the lower orders. I had gone up in the world and should have always used the staff toilet and staff area of the canteen. For some odd reason, I was drawn to the wrong people in the wrong places, to hear their stories. I wanted to store up all of my encounters for stories I would  eventually write.

Inevitably, I had no choice but to leave the job. Still I wasn’t out of work for long. Mother got me odd jobs at a local car repair shop. Then I moved on to work at Perry’s Stoke Autopoint  on the A413 south of Aylesbury. It was a lowly position as a petrol pump attendant. In the meantime my relationship with Helen had ended. It was hard to take but inevitable. The chemistry between us had gone. She needed to fly to a better place , starting as a student at Highbury College in Cosham north of Portsmouth.

My world seemed empty without her. Lots of sad songs about her formed in my mind. Mother bought me my first electric guitar but I was always too self conscious to think I could be taken seriously as a song writer. I kept up with Neil Young and Bob Dylan’s work. On he day I went after Helen to get her to make up , I saw in her face she had met someone else at College. So I came out with the Dylan line ‘So it’s all over now baby blue.’ Helen looked at me with contempt , coming out with the scathing line ‘You and your songs.’

I passed Christmas 1974 at Perry’s meeting all sorts of people with all sorts of cars. I remember a few of them. There was a beautiful dark blue Rolls Royce Corniche in the show room, on sale for £11,000. I used to admire it every night when I was alone on late shift – a dangerous time to be alone with a pile of cash. Luckily there was a night safe, so I never let the cash pile exceed £200 before dropping it down the tube in the manager’s office.

My daytime companion in the petrol station kiosk was a Mancunian named Harry, Lord Cottesloe’s  chauffeur. Cottesloe was descendant of Baron Cottesloe of Swanbourne and Hardwick . The first Baron was the son of  Admiral Sir Thomas Fremantle , enobled on March 2nd  1874 for his work as a Conservative MP and Chief Secretary for Ireland. The family are still a big noise in Swanbourne and a major reason why it has not been over developed.

Harry was not affected by his time with the nobility and the Fremantles treated him well by all accounts , giving him the fine house on the road to Mursley as reward for his years of loyal service.  Working at Perry’s was a  retirement job for him. He was good company , with lots of stories , including surviving Dunkirk. When I asked him what he did in the army afterwards , he replied : ‘Those of us who had been at Dunkirk had done our share of the fighting.’

There were some interesting customers. One typical of Britain’s sexual repression and hypocrisy was the sixty something workman who filled up mid week and then again on Saturday afternoon. His clothes mid week suggested builder or labourer. He wore a cap. The first time I saw him, he came in to the kiosk to pay.

We were not self service. He carried a sack which he handed to Harry who tucked it under the counter. After the man had gone, I asked Harry what was in the sack. ‘Have a look’ he answered with a smile. It was full of copies of ‘Playboy’ and ‘Mayfair’ magazines which the man in the cap saved up for Harry. I was surprised because Harry didn’t look at all sleazy. I had never seen inside these so called ‘top shelf’ magazines until George had shown me his collection in the back of the MAC civil engineering van during the summer of 1973.

I was surprised by their effect on my manhood. I was further surprised when I saw the cap wearer again that Saturday afternoon , parked by a petrol pump. The stern faced voluminous woman , primly planted in the Mk2 Cortina’s passenger seat, who scorned make up and wore a sensible hat and overcoat, making her look even bigger and redoubtable, was obviously his wife. She had a shrinking effect on my nether regions. It was obvious why the man needed his magazines.

For my few weeks of service leading up to Christmas 1974, the garage manager gave me a bottle of whisky and a bottle of sherry. By the following January , my application to join the civil service in Portsmouth had been received and processed. By this time I had wrecked my own car one night on an icy country road. So  I was using an old banger of a van borrowed from the local garage where I did odd jobs. So I hired a Mk 3 Ford Cortina from my employer and drove down to Portsmouth dockyard.

Helen had spent months nagging me to move down to Portsmouth where there were lots of jobs. I didn’t want to leave my mother alone again. Perversely it took the end of my relationship for me to move there, lying to myself that I would pursue my lost love. Her grandfather lived quite close to me in Deenshanger. He seemed to like the idea of his granddaughter settling with me. He said : ‘You will do well in this life if you can find a girl to pull with you. I was lucky that I did.’

I was convinced that Helen was too good and too beautiful for me. There were little things feeding my insecurity. On Navy Day August 1974 , she invited me down to stay at her house. Her father was an engineer who had worked in North America on the Space Programme.  Helen was born in Canada. Here mother was very pleasant , but I had been warned her parents had difficulties. Her mother worked in Halfords in Waterlooville. John , by then , worked as an engineer for Marconi on the old Portsmouth Airport. They had moved down from High Wycombe in my home county.

I usually slept in her younger brother’s room. When I arrived , her mother said we had to find a bed and breakfast place for me because sister Beverly ‘s boyfriend was staying over. So we went down to Waterlooville two miles away. I asked where we were going to look. Helen said ‘Nowhere.’ ‘What ?’  ‘Nowhere. We will say everywhere is full up.’ ‘But your mother will check up.’ ‘No she won’t. I lie to my mother all the time.’

The following Bank Holiday Monday we visited the Royal Naval Dockyard. We went down with Helen’s parents in their car. After looking at a submarine and going on board the ill fated HMS Sheffield , Helen skilfully lost her parents and led me away to  pub somewhere near Victoria Park. She obviously knew it. She looked amazingly pretty in little heels, tight silk blouse and figure flattering blue jeans.  Eyes turned on her when we entered the bar. Gleaming long blonde hair has always been an attention getter.

The juke box was playing , the air was noisy and smoky. It took me some time to get back to her with the drinks. When I got there , she was standing up with her back to me. A man in dark clothes and trilby hat , maybe mid fifties was talking to her. He was much taller than her five feet. It was like looking at teacher and pupil .

When I got near , he was handing her some money. I heard him command ‘I want you to put Peters and Lee on. I like them.’ I cut in jealously. I said ‘I’ll do that for you.’ ‘No , she has to do it.’ Helen was blushing. I didn’t like to ask why she put the coins in the Juke box, while the man who had given her the money, watching her all the way there, watching her put the money in and walk back.’ In that moment I knew that Helen and I would never be together.

We didn’t talk about it. She obviously needed to leave the pub. We left and took the bus back to Lovedean. As soon as we were in the room she shared with her then absent sisters, she took her trousers off displaying knickers with a padlock motif. I commented on the padlock’s location. She smiled demurely, replying sweetly : ‘It doesn’t keep anyone out.’

Helen’s mother , whose name I think was Beryl , had already told me that she wanted her to ‘grab what she can.’  It was clear that for all of the comforts her husband had supplied to her and the family, this was a very discontented woman. Her young son must have been about six and was a really nice child. I recall mending a puncture on his bicycle and giving him my Transcontinental 2335 locomotive from the train set I no longer used or needed. The look on his face when I arrived with it that Friday night, was wondrous.  My mother had scrimped and saved for the 42 shillings it had cost her for my Christmas present in 1963.

Helen and I had used to meet in London.  One time, when we were leaving the British Commonwealth Institute, I recall her saying : ‘If my parents made love, then I am love.’

Chapter Three Revenue Man

My interview board for the Civil Service was in January 1975. I took a workmate from the garage for company on my day out. Security wasn’t so tight back then , all I needed to get through the main gate at Portsmouth Dockyard , was my interview letter. With newly cropped blonde hair and a smart new three piece black suit, I looked very much of the establishment – and I felt like it because I still believed Britain was the best country on earth and in history.

The board were quite intimidating but I soon made them laugh. When asked what newspapers I read , I told them I did not read any because the news changed every day.

I was warned that with my degree I should be aiming for a higher grade post and that  – it has to be remembered that only 3% of the population went to university in those day so degrees were good job currency however stupid you were – my new work colleagues would be jealous. I was told they might well set out to make my life difficult.

The reason I didn’t apply for a higher grade was because Portsmouth was Helen land. So though I was too scared to face the humiliation of chasing after her and being rejected, I thought we might meet by accident. A higher grade would have meant being mobile. I was stupid , with no mind for making money.

When asked which Civil Service Department I wanted , I said ‘The Ministry of Defence please.  Definitely not the Inland Revenue.  They smiled and didn’t comment. I sensed that I had been accepted.

I couldn’t wait for chance. So after spending time in the city , I drove us around to Highbury College approach road.  It was dark and not long before I saw Helen walking past in close company with her new boyfriend.

My heart sank. I quickly turned the car around and headed north , up to Havant , Petersfield, across on the twisty A272 to the A34.  We didn’t stop again until I pulled into Oxford City Centre. Found a backstreet parking space and a crowded pub. A brilliant band was playing, all hairy young men and a name on the drums that said ‘Uriah Heep.’ My mind turned back to guitar playing and song writing , where I could bask in the exquisite agony of seeing my love lost to another man.

My posting to Havant tax office , a few miles north of Portsmouth, came through in February. So much for my request for the MOD.  I was told by someone later on that the way to get the department you preferred, in the British Civil ServIce, was to say you didn’t want it. David Niven made the same point about the military.

Since wrecking my Hillman Minx , my new car was a very old 1963 Austin A40 that cost me £50. Had I kept and preserved it , the vehicle would be a collector’s item , with Battista Farina’s body styling. The model was introduced in 1958  . Mine was built in 1963. It was one of Britain’s earliest hatch backs.

So the car was handy for packing up all my luggage for a Sunday night drive down the A34 to Portsmouth. The Civil Service had very kindly sorted my lodgings at Mrs Olive Marsh’s bed and breakfast at 38 Auriol Drive near the Farlington marshes. It was , and still is , a very expensive area. Mr Marsh was a retired Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander who ran a fencing business.

It was a miserable night as I turned off on to the twisty A272 near Winchester. The car as underpowered and sluggish with a mere 850cc engine. I bought it from the Winslow repair shop where I used to work. The A34 was a bad road because there was not enough dual carriageway. The sections  that were dual were dangerous because the bottlenecks led to frustrations and subsequent speeding.

So at least the A272 , where I headed for Petersfield and the A3, was quiet by comparison. However , it was misty and cold. By the time I arrived , complete with my first adult suit among my luggage , I had missed meal time.

I was introduced to another  young tax man and lodger, David Fussell. He had been in the job for over a year. We chatted in the lounge among the other guests. An older man there was named Arthur Barnes , down from London working on a road building project. I would have been happier going to work with him. The prospect of office work was new and I wasn’t sure it was for me. I  remember Arthur simply because he had the same name as the local Winslow vicar.

Sleep didn’t come easy , but the bed was a double and the room most well appointed. I rose early for Breakfast , but Arthur was already on his way out to the waiting ‘Transit’ van. Breakfast was full English in a pleasant dining room that overlooked the marshes. It looked like a waste land.  I wondered how and why I had come to be here. I knew the place and the job was not for me. But who was ‘me’ ? I didn’t know. I saw nothing except what was immediately before my eyes.

There were no other prospects. I had come back down here because of a delusion, attributing something mystical and irreplaceable about a girl who was gone. It is only years later that I realise one should never have those deluded feelings or ever chase after a woman who does not want you. One should be realistic  caring firstly for oneself and expecting nothing long term from young girls declarations of love.  

Feminism has come a long way since the 1960s. Outside of the always hypocritical upper classes, where cheating is recreational, there is no ‘till death us do part.’ Ordinary women need always to find themselves and be self actualising. At best , they are now married to the state. White men are labelled ‘privileged’ , in relationships where they raise voices in peril of convictions for abuse.

Outside of the Islamic communities , it is difficult to see how these new increasingly one parent families are going to produce well adjusted offspring. Men are , not surprisingly killing themselves at increasing rate, many through drink and drugs. Mental health continues to fail.

All of these undercurrents were there when I walked into Havant tax office for my first day.

Chapter Four  Office Politics

Havant tax office and Labour Exchange staff car park was behind the long thin three storey red brick building. It now forms part of the bus station. The office block is now a mix of Wetherspoons on the old Labour exchange ground floor, with the next two floors ,which were tax Schedule E and Schedule D respectively , turned into flats.

David Fussell took me in through the back door, There was no security in those days, though I was trusted with my own set of keys. Since tax records had yet to be properly computerised, there was highly sensitive irreplaceable material in that building.

Mr Fussell took me up the stairs and along the first floor corridor to meet Mr Christmas , the management Inspector in his spartan office. There were no lifts in the building.

Mr Christmas had no beard, but a shock of grey air and a kindly paternalistic air about him. This was place where all men wore suits. He wore an nice expensive looking grey one. I guessed he was well into his sixties , but he was pleasant and animated in his welcome toward me, a firm but not too firm handshake. Mr Christmas was a gentleman. It was hard to imagine him being a mixed up young man like me – a man who had developed too much liking for beer and cigarettes as my comfort blanket.

It was at times like these I needed a smoke. Smoking was a curse left over from smoking pot at UEA. Alcohol was not such a problem. I wouldn’t need a drink until lunchtime. I knew the town well , with several pubs close by this building. The building was in Park Road South , next to the park where I had first walked out with Helen in my only summer of love. I knew she had not been as real as I imagined and that there would be no other fantasy girl like her. She was why I was here, wasting time in a dream world.

So I sat in Mr Christmas’s office daydreaming until a younger forty something fellow entered the office. He was a little shorter than my five foot eleven , dark haired with friendly welcoming face. ‘Mr Cook, I am Les, Deputy DI for my sins I am going to take you upstairs to see Mr Eavis, our boss , the District Inspector.’

He shook my hand and off we went. He made small talk about the weather , my trip down to the south , were my digs O.K and was Mr Fussell looking after me. Then we were at God’s door. Fred Eavis sat sternly at his desk. Neither of us smiled. He wore a sports jacket and tie. His thick crop of silver grey hair was cropped army style. Every thing about him smacked of the military he had served during the last big war.

‘Sit down Mr Cook. Now you can see in front of you there is a document. It’s very important and you must now sign it before you do anything else or go anywhere in our offices. It is The Official Secrets Act. You may come from miles up country but careless talk when you are home can travel back here. This is a very small country.’

I can’t recall  much else of that first meeting. I was led back down stairs and along the corridor leading on to the PAYE or technically known as Schedule E floor. PAYE stood for pay as you earn.

This was my first sight of office life. A massive shelving system floor to ceiling ran down the centre of the office space, with two rows of desks stretching off into the distance on either side. I learned that the furthest desks on the right, where the length of windows stretched further, was for tax officials dealing with higher rate tax payers. At the very opposite end of this side was a cluster of desks known as the movements section. I noticed that the people on my right field of view were mainly women. On the other side it was mainly men. Because of smaller private offices , that side had a shorter run of desks and it was apparent that women were in the majority here.

As I surveyed the scene , wondering how I might be of any use here, a bespectacled balding middle aged man approached. Les exchanged some words, then left me to this new man who introduced himself as Mr Skinner – he was to be my line manager. I recall little of what he said other than him telling me I was over qualified for the job so better prove that I was exceptional because the whole office knew I was a graduate – so much for official secrets.

I learned that they would want to show me that I wasn’t as clever as I thought I was and also I would not be content with £2,500 the Inland Revenue were paying me. Skinner summed it up with the welcoming line ‘I don’t think you will make it.’

It soon became obvious that he had a plan for me. It was a plan to demean me by placing me on the movements section where I was the only male person. I understood that this was by way of an introduction to the work of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Taxes and was only supposed to last for a few weeks. As it turned out I was on that section for four months.

I was soon befriended by 42 year 0d Vernon Church. He was a very black West Indian from Trinidad.  Vernon kept nagging me to complain about being stuck on movements , but having absolutely no interest in tax work, I was comfortable being left alone with the only women in the office who were not vicious gossips and careerist cut throats.

The movements girls as they were called, were all married bar one. That one was Rosemary. In all of those passing years, this is the first time I have thought of teenage Rosemary since I left the office in July 1977.

The other women were middle aged Georgie, red haired, gruff voice and big glasses, her friend Dot, a softly spoken kindly woman, another lady whose name was Janet , a red head with freckles. Geogie did all the talking. Her husband was a Royal Navy diving instructor. Then the thirty somethings : Barbara Privet and Pat Grace, two very beautiful and likeable women from an age before feminism made feminine a dirty word.

These last two became my best and only female friends in the tax office. Vernon became my only male friend. I was too stupid to recognise the feelings that quickly grew between Barbara and myself because I was dwelling on an errant sense of a lost love called Helen – a girl too young for me.

So , with all my introductions over , I was settled in to work with the movements girls. When I got home to my lodgings that night , driven by David Fussell , he told me that his promotion to higher grade tax officer had come through and he was being posted back to his home city of Exeter.  I congratulated him. Then Mrs Marsh informed me of her impending holidays  and my need to find alternative lodgings for the duration.

Chapter Five Movements Girl

It was my privilege to sit at a desk in between Barbara’s and Pat’s. Both were most pleasant company, well turned out and perfumed women in their early thirties. The three older women sat directly opposite us with their backs to the door that led to the public counter.

I grew up in mainly female company , so I was quite comfortable amongst them , enjoying their harmless banter and chatter. I was used to their clothes and ways. It was what was happening in the large office space behind me where the real danger and malice thrived. The people behind were prone to a mix of jealousy, ambition and resentment.

Movements was a very simple business. As I said, we had no computers helping us in Havant Tax Office of 1975.  But other big centralised offices , like Centres I and 2 in Glasgow and South One just down the Portsmouth Road near the big Hilsea Roundabout, had them.

When a person left a job they were given a P45 in three parts , two pages were carbon copies. They were about half the size of what we now call A4.  The employer sent the bottom copies to the tax office and the taxpayer took his copy to his new job or the dole office or to claim a rebate.  

The new employer sent his copy to the tax office dealing with his business. We received these P45s in the movements section. Then it was our job to make up a ‘dummy file’ . The next thing was to follow the tax reference on the P45, and send for the taxpayers papers from his old employer. Then we sent him a P6 notifying him as being on emergency week one code. Sometimes the papers were a long time coming and taxpayers working at local factories or other businesses would get anxious about money and call to complain. If their previous job had involved being taxed at one of the new computerised offices, we had another problem because often the files contained only sections of paper computer tape which we could not decipher.

Barbara and Pat were the ones who answered the initial counter inquiries.  The counter wasn’t far away from our desks, just on the other side of a doorway. Once the taxpayers employer reference was taken , the movements girls would go and find the person responsible for their case. There were two grumpy old men who did not like answering counter calls during their lunchtime.  

Ulster man, Mr Watson who had prostate problems was the worst. But I recall his annoyance when I, after being moved on reluctantly from movements, took the counter calls for him. He had a friend sat next t him, whose name was Sweet – but his nature was not. Their section leader, Brian Bailey was , however, the kindest man on the floor. He was desperate to transfer to social security because he didn’t like the office politics. I recall him lending me his took kit, neatly packed , when he diagnosed the reason my mini wouldn’t start was oily plugs.

I did not realise how well off I was in my little tax office job, living so close to the wonderful seaside city of Portsmouth, a place of charm and great history for all of its faults. I never expected to go on to write several books about the place as well as its infamous Tricorn Brutalist concrete complex.

I wasn’t the only tax office  renegade , but with me it was more obvious. It was the same old sense of not really fitting in anywhere, thinking others knew something I did not. In the company of my lady friends, an expanding group I started taking out to the pub in my mini at lunch time, was when I felt most comfortable.

This group added another marvellous woman to our entourage. We were now a foursome. Jill Eyre was a real caution, a girl from Tamworth with an engineer, Mike as husband. Another sadness in my story relates to Jill. The beautiful blue bikini clad sunbathing teenage daughter she introduced me to at her Emsworth home, was knocked off her bike and died.

Life is so sad and cruel. We all sense how vulnerable we are. For some religion helps. I last saw Jill, by coincidence, after I was married.  Both of us were on holiday in Penzance. We met and chatted in Causeway Head. My young  wife and I were down from our new home in London. My wife was visibly jealous and cut short my conversation with my good old friend.

Havant Tax Office Colleagues just before their move to new offices in Park Road South. Mr Christmas , wearing glasses is seated almost centre , with my wonderful friend, dark haired and beautiful, Barbara Privett almost directly behind him, wearing a white top.

Anyway, back to my beloved Barbara always favoured tight  skirts and tops. Her skirts were sophisticatedly knee length and her slip used to rustle against the linings. She was a tease and knew the older males were always gawping and excited because they could see the imprint of her suspender buttons through the material. Her heels were not excessive, but the tapping as she walked confidently back and forth to the counter, always well made up and perfumed  was what we used to call feminine. I recall her buying me a Mary Quant mug , several shirts and ties as our relationship developed. I made a big mistake letting her go , thinking it wrong to break up her marriage.

Barely more than five feet tall, she exuded individuality and brought many a tired old factory worker back to life as soon as he set eyes on her ample bosom presented in a lacy bra easily visible through her gossamer blouses. She should have been an instant cure for my love sickness and she soon made her interest in me very clear, culminating at the Christmas Party when her husband found us sitting on the floor together in a quiet corner.  He had come to collect her and I asked him if he had a spare room !

I was nominated bar man at that Christmas Party. On a training course at Stanmore B Inland Revenue Training course, I had met an incredible gifted , yet self destructive mixed race girl called Carol Winston. She liked white men and was married to one , a lecturer at Kent University. She was originally from the U.S , with a very American middle class attitude to life. Like me , her ambition was to be a writer.

The Americans that I have met have been most interesting. I would eventually go on to work as a progress chaser for an American defence company, Selectro on Portsmouth’s abandoned airport. I liked their no nonsense ‘just get it done’ attitude – that is changing as the nation struggles with its identity.

Carol Winston was very direct in her approach to me.  She invited me to a lunch time drink. We drove off to stupefying Stanmore’s shopping centre. She had told me as we got into her Ford Capri, that she wanted to do something dangerous. When I asked what , she said ‘go to bed with you’. By this time she was aware of my Irish ancestry on mother’s side and seemed to have a fetish for things Irish. I made the most of this weakness because she was an attractive woman in more ways than one. It was sad what happened to her. Still blackmailing a man over his homosexuality while having achieved her ambition to be a barrister, was inevitably going to ruin her life.  I read about it in the Daily Mail many years later.

Like me she wrote poetry and wrote one for me. It was called ‘Gone’ including the line ‘gone in one tiny second, all of the child.’  I wasn’t aware of racism or homophobia until I met Vernon who introduced me to the work of James Baldwin.  I just liked her. Nor did I think that this was the second married woman I had become involved with through my work with the Inland revenue.

Because Carol was groping me and trying to fit her long thin car into a tiny parking space at the same time, she hit the car in front, breaking a light. I looked at her very haughty composed expression. ‘What are you going to do?’ I asked , trying not to seem concerned. She had pulled a little pad from her bag, then studiously started writing. She wrote : ‘ I am writing this because people are watching and they think I am leaving my name and address.  Sorry.’ She calmly climbed out of her low slung car, tripped on her high heels to the damaged vehicle. Then she got back in her driver’s seat , turned to me with a smile , saying ‘Now let’s get the hell out of here.’  Enchanted by her , I laughed as she roared off down Honeypot Lane , in search of a suitable pub. We had to go a long way, quite far from the centre.

It was a warm day.  The pub had a garden. We sat there at a table, drinking cocktails involving Bacardi , Lemon and something I have long forgotten , it wasn’t coke. It was nice. We talked about our ambitions to be writers. She had completed a novel called ‘Buggsy Brown’s Bid For Bread.’ So we forgot the time and that we were at work.  That meant we were very late back and I was the one called to account. The Centre’s director opened up his admonishments with the line ‘Mr Cook , you are either a fool or a nave.  Which one is it ?’ I didn’t answer.  I apologised for my poor conduct and being slightly intoxicated , not just by the drink. Carol , like Barbara, who had been to art college in London, was an individual. Both of them gave me a world to talk to and I let both of them go. Maybe that was the right thing. Obviously I never forgot them.

Chapter Six  After The Party

Making me Christmas office party bar man in 1975 was rather foolish. I used Carol’s lessons at cocktail concoctions to become totally drunk. That’s how I came to be on the floor in a dark corner of the staff room , talking with Barbara snuggled up to me, but still hearing District Inspector Fred Eavis droning on to his second in command Les , about getting the Capital Gains assessments out on time in January.

My friend Vernon was very opposed to me travelling home to Buckinghamshire that night , but I didn’t listen. Ever the loyal friend, he escorted me with my travelling bag, the short distance to Havant station  where he saw me off on the London train. It was late and dark.

I have little memory of that journey to Waterloo, other than losing my bag and jacket , then walking up and down the train trying to find them. Next thing I recall was waking up in a dark carriage because a middle aged woman with a West Indian accent was calling through the door ‘Are you comin’ or goin’ young man ? ‘  I soon sobered up and was escorted to what was called ‘The Time Office’ where a bag that might have been mine had been handed in. They asked me if I could tell them what was in it.  I said a book called ‘Visions of Cody’ by Jack Kerouac.

That was good enough. My ticket on to Bletchley was inside a zipped up compartment so I continued my journey still somewhat inebriated so I struggled to read the departure board at Euston to which I had arrived by taxi.

The following day, I phoned my friend Vernon at the tax office when I was horrified to learn that Barabara had spoke of a divorce threat with me being named as correspondent.

Still , back in Havant we continued as friends until I met my future wife at a Southsea night club in June 1976. I left the tax office to join Selectro , then follwed my new wife to London where she was to train as a nurse.

My PA at Selectro noted that I didn’t seem to want to get married to my fiance. I told her she was correct but that it would be cruel to dump her now. I was 26 and thought I needed to be married by then. It would be many years and a traumatic intriguieng divorce before I would ever knw who I really was. The month was August 1977.

My subseqent 31 years of marriage produced two sons who were raised in a version of hell – hoepfully I will eventually free to discuss this in the third volume of my memoirs which will be called ‘Unreasonable Behaviour.’

In London , we found an expensive flat on Dartmouth Park Hill , NW5. I was working as a highly paid tax adviser to a West End accountant. The work was immoral, helping rich people to avoid tax while working people were being taxed almost out of existence – during the last days of Portsmouth boy , ex RN and tax man Callaghan’s atrocious Labour Government. So I answered a Sunday Times advertisement about getting into journalism . I was interviewed in a Fleet Street office , by one Captain Wriggler who recommended me on the basis of chance comment about being passed A1 by the RAF at Biggin Hill – side issue not worth explaining here as my military delusions embarrass me now – as an engineering buyer for the Nitrate Corporation of Chile. I stuck that for about 14 months before leaving to do post graduate teacher training at London University’s Goldsmiths’ College. My background working for Chilelean military and their British cronies attracted the young feminist who interviewed me in her basement office in a terrace on Lewishma Way , New Cross. The room proved large snough for her seminars. I recall it was a bit dark. There was a poster on one wall with the words, ‘Say no to the knitting needle. I was accepted and about to begin training as a teacher warrior in the war against sexism and racism.. My wife meanwhile abandoned the reality of nursing at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, winning a place at Imperial College to read Life Sciences.  

We both thought we had died and were on the way to heaven. Still young and hopeful , we celebrated with a picnic and bottle of wine on a grassy hill in Parliament Hill Fields.It was time to leave NW5 and our patronising landlord , academic Dr Sam Aaronovitch , and head for a new flat where our landlord was to be Humphrey Barclay , head of London Weekend comedy deparment, who lived with his upper class actor friend Christopher Asante. More of that to come in volume two , ‘Left Right.’ Suffice it to finish with a quote from Sam Aaronovitch’s girlfriend’s response to the news that we were moving to SW3, ‘Oh dear. You will suffer terrible culture shock..’

Notes for Volume 2.

T. S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets “In my end is my beginning,” 

We live in an era when our rulers flaunt policies and laws that are based on lie ansd deception. The pieces do not have to fit.  Everything is for theirs and their paymng. Psychiatrists have never been busier.

No need for that if you are of the common folk. The State with its police , political and financial elite don’t just know you. They define you. You can be in any of the permitted groups, LGBTQI , BAME , BLM , Islam and feminist – noasters benefit,. Police corruption for all the declarations of transparency and accountability , is off the scale. This is the world of multi culture , or faulty culture as I prefer to call it because it is more befittit so sure about Christian.  

These groups all come under the umbrella of an inclusive multi culture. Whites, however , must atone for their ‘privilege’ and check it. Covid 19 has given a perfect excuse for vaccine passports , adding to the trials of police background checks and secret files before we can get jobs.

Without jobs we can’t get anything and would be better off dead than sleeping on the streets. I am no longer known to myself, I am known to the police who tell those who ‘ need to know’ who and what I am. I will go on to explain as I roam through some memories of my last difficult 14 years on earth , my life ruined by corrupt police – along with the ruin of my son’s.

So here am I closed to my end and the beginning of what might be an eternal void. More thoughts come flooding back in no sensible order as I struggle to come to terms with this. Being born into poverty meant I had low aspirations. So any improvement in my circumstances was remarkable and temporary. I never expected to end up better off.

My mother had high hopes for her children, but my sister was too clever. She thought she knew it all and that it was best to know her place. I saw so little of her after my father died that I am not sure exactly where that place was until she moved in to join forces with my sister to have me sectioned during my divorce. It has been very revealing to me.

I was always one to save and hope for better things. My mother did much to encourage me and mind jumps back to the Christmas she bought me my fur collared car coat. I was by now too old for model trucks and train set accessories. It was in a big cardboard box. I put it on to walk the dog that Christmas morning in 1966, a great year for British football and a fleeting moment of national solidarity. I ‘Prince’ up Tennis Lane , looking back over Home Close toward the church where bells were ringing. They even rang for peoples’ weddings , but not these days.

This is an extract from my first draft of Volume one. Volume two will be called ‘Left Right – the Teaching Years.’ Volume three will be ‘Unreasonable Behaviour – the learning Years.’ Meanwhile I have t write stuff for money. Nobody wants this shit.

Roberta Jane Cook October 25th 2021, after another appearance at Crown Court.