The President’s Club “do”

Well well, that was a bit of to do about those President’s club men having a night out on their own.  Their annual “charity dinner” at the Dorchester.

Their problem, I reckon, was they are too rich.  Wearing a tux at a really really posh expensive hotel, that’s where they went wrong.

After all the working class have being doing it for years.  And the middle class.  They still are.

Years back, when I worked for a local constabulary we used to have what were called “gentlemen’s smoking evenings”  I went to one up at the old   Commodore  on Nuthall Road.    It wer well attended, constables, inspectors, superintendents, detectives they were all there.   It was a night of alcohol with comedians making graphic sexual jokes, alcohol with strippers, alcohol with young pretty waitress in classic waitress uniforms, skimpy of course.   All interspersed with raffles and auctions and collections for local charitable causes.     The jokes were foul, in subject and in language – Roy Chubby Brown standard, bit worse really.  Oh yeah, lot of racist jokes.


There wer even officers on duty.  Uniformed and CID.   The CID guys left early, called out to investigate something urgent, probably a rape or someat.

Organisers were making a fortune for these “gentlemen’s smoking evenings” they were popular as hell.  Firemen, bankers, sales meetings, doctor’s conferences, college lecturers, we were all at it.


And the pubs in Nottingham, and I’m sure in every other cit.  Many many had their “gentlemen’s attractions” .   I used to have a drink from time to time at the Duke of Cambridge on the Carlton Road.   It was where the local labour party branch met.  Manvers ward.   Chairman was the local vicar.   On Thursdays, the entrepreneurial landlord would have a topless barmaid night.   Very popular it was.  Often met labour party colleagues there “just for a drink” you know.  Probably still going on, if the pub still there.  Barmaids will be pensioners by now.     Caught on in quite a few pubs, the March Hare, just up the road, stared its own topless night to compete with the Duke of Cambridge.  Manvers branch started to meet there too.


But it still goes on.   Not even with any great subtly Have you been to a live show of some of the mainline BBC and every other bloody channel comedians?  Put the Presidents Club do into the ha’ penny place.   But big difference is that they are attended by both men and women, all paying top dollar for foul vernacular language, graphic misogynistic sexually explicit jokes and stories.    They’ve cut the racist jokes, but its just as bad, worse in fact.

I went, up in Edinburgh, year or so ago, to a huge gig  by Jimmy Carr, tax dodging doyen of  all the TV  comedy chat shows.


He picks out a pretty girl from the audience.

“Your boyfriend asked you to piss on him?  guffaw guffaw guffaw.  Did you like it? guffaw guffaw guffaw”

He shows a slide of a drawing of a man masturbating himself with the hand of a dead arm belonging to a man in a coffin, sperm spurting onto his coat:  guffaw guffaw guffaw.Ha ha ha ha guffaw,

“Anal sex is a load of shit, Ha ha ha, guffaw  “And it hurts like buggery, ha ha guffaw  ha haa And it bores my wife ha ha oh ha ha oh guffaw guffaw ha ha:

There was a heckler, angry about him dodging tax. “where’s your accountant?”  he shouts.

Guffaw, Ha ha ha. He’s at your place fucking your mum. Ha ha ha ha guffaw ha ha. Go home and wipe the cum off her mouth: ha ha ha guffaw ha guffaw ha ha,

What a put down. What wit.  What misogyny, what respect for women.  Was it that bad at the President’s culb?

The audience, the sophisticated festival loving, well heeled, university educated, guardian reading, leftist  bourgeoisie, packed into the venue in their hundreds,  they loved it, roared their appreciation, lapped it up

He invites woman from audience to join him in a “playlet” he has written.  She is pretty, of course. He gets her to read her part in the play from a prepared script.

“ I want you, Jimmy, for your large fat cock” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha .

There’s a collection at the end.  Its , for abused children he tells us. With every £100 we can buy their silence; ha ha ha guffaw guffaw ha ha ha ha .ha ha ha ha”.

The Presidents club?   Small beer mate.  We all need to take a hard look at ourselves, and our television comedic heroes


Trying to organise the Youth Opportunites Programme in Nottingham

Boy from CotgraveI lived up Sneinton way.  The Union office was up in Sherwood Rise and to avoid the city centre traffic I would go across Carlton road, up through St Anns, drop onto the St. Anns Well Road, take a left and then a short right and a dog leg up Curzon Street, that would bring me out on Huntington Street, near to the Mansfield Road, clear of the city and only minutes from the office.

Curzon Street, at that time was just an open space of derelict buildings, the  last remains of the St. Anns slum clearance programme which had demolished the crowded acres of back to back terraces with their smelly  outhouses, and replaced them with spacious, well-lit social housing with indoor toilets and bathrooms

It was November and bitterly cold when I noticed, as I took the dog leg, a number of lads clearing the derelict sites, collecting bricks and timber into piles and doing a general tidy-up.   They looked miserable as hell and I stopped the car and asked them what they were up to.

Turned out they were trainees from a Youth Opportunities Programme.

Asked if they had a site hut?  No.  Where was their safety gear?  Got none.   What did they do for shelter or for toilets?   They pointed to a few old doors leaning against a wall.  They would shelter under there for a fag.  Toilets were another couple of doors further down the site although they only went there for a slash – anything else they would go over to the bus station in the Victoria Centre.

“You need a union”   I said, “get this fucking sorted”

I had union membership applications in the car and signed them all up, there and then.   The proper union for such work was probably the Union of Construction and Allied Trades, or perhaps the General  & Municipal or the Transport & General.  My union looked after manual and ancillary workers in local authorities, the health service and other public bodies.   But, what the hell, this looked pretty serious and they werein a miserable condition and  keen to join and get things sorted.

I forget now the name of the particular Youth Opportunities Scheme that they belonged to but I allocated them to membership of the Nottingham Social Services Branch of the Union and got one of the Branch’s senior shop stewards to come with me to the YOP agency offices to try and this sorted.

It frustrates me that I can’t remember the name of that senior shop steward.  He went off to Wales a year or so later and has never been heard of again.  He was a member of the International Marxist Group which had quite a strong presence in the city.   I felt it prudent to counsel him  to let me do the talking and not to get too militant or stroppy.

The Agency had offices in Emmanuel House at the bottom of Hockley.   It may have been an old department store once, probably a Woolworths or something similar.   It was now, downstairs, a centre for the homeless where they could pick up donated clothing and such like.   The YOP agency had taken the first floor as their offices.   It was an odd shaped office, as Emmanuel House did a kind sharpish U turn at the bottom of Hockley.   The manager’s office thus had windows overlooking both Hockley and Lower Parliament Street.  It was in the U bend on the first floor of the building.

The manager/sponsor of the scheme was an ex-army major and he looked like an ex-army major.  And spoke like an ex-army major, in short clipped sentences.    We were given tea and biscuits, served by a young girl who was obviously another YOP trainee.

I wanted to make clear to the major that I was a bit more than an ordinary trade union official and stressed to him that I sat, for the TUC, on the Manpower Services Commission Board which was responsible for approving and funding YOP schemes and that he really needed to pay attention to what we were going to ask him to do.

It was pretty simple really.  We wanted him to close the site with immediate effect until they put in place a proper site hut, a portaloo, and gave the boys proper safety equipment, hard hats, safety boots and gloves, donkey jackets.

He said he would get those things pretty soon.  Would be helpful, he suggested if the funding was a bit better, but he couldn’t close the site as he only had a limited period, from the contractors, to clear it.

I knew, and reminded him, that the funding provided by the MSC ncluded provision for safety gear and equipment and he really needed to close the site down and get this sorted.

But he wouldn’t have it.

So I put the pressure on a bit.   “Those boys have all joined my union” I says, “this is not an academic request and if you can’t close the site then I’ll close it for you”

“They can’t join a union!   They’re trainees not workers, Manpower Services won’t allow that, I will sort out the safety issues, but it’s going to take a bit of time., you’ll have to wait.”

“I don’t care what Manpower Services think, they all joined and we want you to recognise the union and if you can’t close down the site then I am going to do it for you.”

He sat back in his chair and looked at us with a degree of military contempt.  “Look, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t like Trade Unions, they cause more problems than they solve.   And in particular, your union, NUPE is it?  I’ve heard of you lot and I’m terribly sorry but you will not getting any formal recognition from me.

I glanced across at the International Marxist, he was looking at the major with steely grey Trotskyist eyes.

We had a cup of tea in our hands, sipping the tea and holding the saucer.    I looked at the major.  I  banged the tea cup down on his desk and stood up, fuming with anger and outrage.   The chair fell backwards.

“Right, major, we tried to do this the nice way now were going do it the hard way!  Those boys are on strike and they’re not going back until you get this bloody sorted!   I strode to the door, and grabbed the handle, I turned back to him, “We will be back major, and you will sort this out and you will recognise my union”   I opened the door and walked straight into a cupboard.

It was the Marxist who let me out of the cupboard and showed me out of the proper exit, and we stamped down the stairs onto Lower Parliament Street   I was still fuming but my Marxist shop steward was dancing a little jig and laughing his head off.

We walked across to Curzon Street and told the lads they were on strike and they were quite delighted.  We took them over to the Peacock public house on Mansfield Road and they had bowls of hot soup in the back room.   I would bught them all a pints but there you are, they were old enough to strike but not old enough to drink.

One of the pleasures of the union was to see disputes resolve in your favour.   Often, it has to be said,  quite a rare pleasure. We arranged to meet the boys at the site the next morning, to decide whether to picket or not.     When we got there, about 7 am, there was a truck delivering a half size porta cabin, it had a little kitchen and a generator so they could brew up; and there was a portaloo positioned in a more discrete part of the site.   The boys were asked to go down to Emmanuel House and they emerged shortly afterwards all with yellow hard hats,  brown safety boots and wearing donkey jackets that were slightly too large for them. and industrial gloves.     And a grin on their faces like they’d just won the lottery.

Me and the major, we  became bosom friends.  But I still can’t remember his name.

There were consequences, of course.   We tried to recruit YOP trainees on a much wider scale for there were dozens of these schemes popping up all over the place and the trainees were very vulnerable to exploitation.   But it proved a difficult if impossible task.  There was a rapid turnover of trainees in every scheme; they were paid an allowance rather than a wage and it was a bit unfair to take a full union subscription from their allowance, besides it became very difficult to collect the subscriptions. .    Even where we were able to agree “check off” arrangements (deduction of subscription before they got the allowance) the arrangements  quickly fell apart for these schemes did not have human resources departments or experienced personal officers and the administration of such arrangements constantly collapsed.   And above all, our first priority was our core membership in the local authorities and hospitals.  This was the age of Thatcher and she was cutting us to ribbons and most of our time was rightly allocated to the fight against Thatcher;s cuts.

We did manage to tighten up the union approval of such schemes.   The public sector unions developed  an almost Stalinist like central committee that examined all YOP proposals and was such a good filter that by the time the proposals reached the Board of the Manpowere Services Commision then all the basic problems had been sorted out.

We still halted some schemes or refused to fund others.   One that stands out in my memory was a scheme proposed by the Nottingham Evening Post.   In truth it was quite a well-designed scheme, one of the better proposals that came before the Board.   But the Evening Post was under boycott by the Unions.   There had been a bitter year long dispute at the Post.    They were the first newspaper to introduce the new printing technology, long before Murdoch at Wapping or Eddie Shah at Warrington.   They systematically destroyed the print unions and at the end of the dispute they refused to re-instate any of the print workers or journalists who had taken part in the dispute, including my old friend, I am pleased to remember him, George Miller the blind journalist who, if it’s not unfair to say so, had a real eye for union stories.   There was simply no way the union reps would approve of an Evening Post YOP scheme, no matter how good it was.     Uproar followed with the Employer representatives of the board being outraged and the civil servants incandescent.   The post ran front page stories condemning us as irresponsible.    But they never got their scheme.  I still don’t buy the Post.

Walking into that cupboard had quite an effect upon my reputation amongst the Nottingham left.   The tale spread rapidly around theTrotskyist grapevine, often grossly exaggerated but mostly in my favour. What can I say, it probably opened afew doors for me.

The Bus Pass

13 busUsed my bus pass for the first time today. Caught the No: 13 from outside of  the Guinness brewery at St. James’s Gate; top deck front seat, out of the liberties through scruffy scruffy, down at heel Thomas Street,  out onto the glories of Christchurch and then down the gentle slope of Dame Street in all its seasonal dressing, past the Olympia theatre, quick glance up at the lower Castle gates and down on to college green and the smug superiority of Trinity College, and left towards the river and across O’Connell bridge, past the passionate statute of Jim Larkin which always touches my heart and then the GPO and the silver spire until the bus discharged me onto the broad pavements, a fully paid up, certified, bus pass carrying genuine old codger, off to breakfast at the Patisserie Valerie, eggs Benedict and a pot of tea.

The Taxi Driver

I am not working this year.  Not that I have retired, the official reason is that I have taken “leave of absence” from the law and in theory will return to the law at the end of the year.  Whether I will or not remains an open question, for I am very tired now.

I took the leave to care for my son.  He is gravely ill.   A year ago we were striding across Edinburgh and Rome and the world, he was fit and happy and funny and a joy.   Now he is frail and getting frailer.  He looks like a survivor from a concentration camp, except he will not survive.  He is in a wheelchair and must be lifted from the wheelchair into and out of bed, onto and off the commode, his legs are lifeless and his energy, all gone.

I don’t care for him on my own.  It is shared, with my wife.  In his Dublin flat.  I will stay for three or four days and then Patricia will take over for the next few days.  And so it goes on, relentlessly, week after week after week.   And we are both exhausted.  Physically from the lifting, emotionally from the tragedy.


After my turn, I hesitate to call it my shift, for that word is too mechanical, too cold, after my turn, I go home.  To our house in Kildare where we keep all our treasures from our years together, the books, the paintings, the music.  We are never there together now and it is just a place to crash out, exhausted, to recover for a few days in the empty house before returning to my son in the Dublin Flat.

I travel home on the bus, Dublin to Naas, a large comfortable warm bus.   But I am zonked out and hardly notice it rushing south down the motorway towards home.   At Naas I must take a taxi, for our home is deep in county and there is no public transport to the wilds of rural Kildare

It is dark. There is one cab on the rank by the post office in Naas and I slump into the front seat.   It is one of those hybrid cars, the engine is hardly audible, it purrs.   The driver is a black man and he seeks, as taxi drivers do, to make small conversation with his fare.    I am too tired to talk, I want only to lie down in a dark room and recover.  I need to recover for my son.  For my son.

He is from Nigeria, the black man.  He has a very beautiful wife he tells me.  And children.

“Do you have children sir” he asks and were they home for Christmas with you?”

The African English comes out sounding blunt, the sentences are stilted

I am looking out of the window into the dark as we leave the lights of Naas and rush into the unlit country roads.   I don’t want to talk.

“My son”   I said, there were tears, I was talking to the window, “my son was not well enough to come home this year”


There is a silence, only the purring of the quiet engine, the darkness rushing past.  A long silence.  The small talk has run its course.

After a while he asks in his stetted English

“What is the matter with your son sir?”

I can hardly talk, hardly say it, I am still looking out the window and I am crying now, quietly, to myself.

“Can, cancer” I say and bite my lip and hold on to the seat belt across my chest, hold on for dear life.

There is another longer silence

“What is the name of your boy sir”   he says

I am in bits now

“Gavan, his name is Gavan”

We drive on, in the darkness of the Kildare night, we are off the main road now moving down a narrow boreen, the headlights of the car throwing shadows onto the hedges and banks.   It is very quiet and we turn into the driveway of my home where the hedges and trees form a long tunnel up to the yard.     The meter shows a charge of twelve euros and I round it up, take out three five euro notes and hand them  too him.   I am still in my seatbelt

He takes my hand with the money, this black man, and holds it on the dashboard.   It is dark, only the red and green lights from his dashboard.  It is quiet.

“Sir” he says, “I want to pray with you for the life of your son Gavan”

And he lifts his head to the heavens and calls on God to come to this man’s house and save the life of Gavan, for Gavan, he tells his God is a child of the Lord as are we all, and you must come here”, he says, “to save the life of Gavan”

There is nothing I can say.  I cannot speak.  I release the seat belt and step out of the car   I look at him and the tears are streaming down my face, but I cannot speak.

I am in the house now, the empty house, standing in the kitchen, in the dark.  I am not a man of God.  I have no faith but I am moved, terribly terribly moved.  This total stranger, this man with the very beautiful wife, this black man who has chosen to live amongst the Irish has called on his god to save the life of my son



Gavan died on the 29th January 2018







Letter to Feedback

wheres the f in news

Dear Feedback,

What the fuck is going on.  For fucks sake.  The B. B. fucking C using the fucking F word in the fucking title of a fucking programme!   What the fuck happened to fucking standards?   The fucking BBC, for fucks sake!   They used to set the fucking standards for the fucking use of the fucking English language.

There can’t be any fucking mistake as to what the fuckers want us to fucking read. Where’s the F in   news.  They think were fucking simple or something?    It’s a fucking double enten fucking dree.  And not a very good fucking one either.   They are supposed to be fucking funny, and just a little fucking offensive.  This is not fucking funny and very, for the fucking BBC, offensive.

I don’t object to the fucking use of the fucking F word if it’s in fucking context.   Wouldn’t even mind if it was used in the fucking Archers.  It’s about fucking time someone told fucking Linda Snell to fuck off.  But what I fucking don’t want is the fucking continuity announcer saying “And after the news the fucking Archers”   or “next, “You and fucking Yours followed by Melvyn Bragg with “In our fucking time”

And what the fuck is a women’s programme doing using such a fucking macho fucking aggressive word.   Are they leading the fucking way?   Are we to expect a re launched “Fucking Women’s Hour”.


I sometimes fucking despair of the fucking B. B. fucking C.


Yours faithfully


Miss Trestle

Tunbridge Wells

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy reveals the love notes she was sent



When we choose our members of parliament we have a number of expectations of them which must be fairly common to all MP’s of all parties. They include that they are fairly robust characters who can handle themselves in most social situations; that they have some experience of life and all that life can throw at you; that they know, from the history of the world, that politics is a dangerous profession, full of intrigue, conspiracy, malice, back biting and ruthless ambition; that they will be thanked for little and blamed for much. That they appreciate all of this, can deal with it and are not, to use a fairly new appellation, “snowflakes”

They will be aware, from common knowledge that a good looking young woman, or a good looking young man will, attract attention; attention that is often unwelcome. They will be chatted up, complimented, treated; there will be come on’s, chancers who fancy themselves as Lotharios, seducers and unpleasant men, or women, who under the influence of alcohol, or perhaps without the assistance of alcohol at all, who will cross the line, put a hand on the knee or a squeeze on the buttock. Or worse. Much worse.

We would reasonably expect the type of person elected to be an MP, man or woman, to be confident enough and wise enough and robust enough to take such matters in their stride. To say NO with sufficient assertiveness to bring such unwelcome attention to an end. To say, if necessary “piss off” “no chance” “get lost” to slap, to punch, even stub out a cigarette on the unwelcome straying hand,, to reject in no uncertain terms any such unwelcome approaches.

We must accept that there are, of course, men and women, many men and women, who would not be so confident or assertive, who might be in a position of being subject to the power of he or she who makes unwelcome approaches. They are unlikely to put themselves forward as members of parliament.

Mr. Hopkins MP is one who made, according to his colleague Ms McCarthy MP, such unwelcome approaches. We followed with suitable horror the unfolding allegations against him and waited with baited breath to be appalled by the gruesome details of his offences. Ms McCarthy, as one would expect of a public figure, a political figure, is skilled in the art of the press release and the embargo and she warned us to expect the disclosures as being bang to rights evidence of Mr. Hopkins sexual predatory instincts and behaviour. It was going to be bad, very bad, for their relationship, as fellow members of parliament, was not characterised by one being in a position of power over the other. They were equals and yet the predator had still struck.

And now it has come. She has, Ms. McCarty, the usual familiarity of members of parliament with the ways of the press. A full set of press emails addresses, personal contact with selected journalists; daily contact with armies of reporters seeking scandal and stories. And she put them all to use.
And the great disclosure was a set of letters and notes, ancient notes, from a time before emails and texts, from a besotted Mr. Hopkins, framed in flirtatious language, designed to be a chat up, an attempt to be more if she would be willing. Nothing more. Not even a hand upon the knee.

She had kept these notes and letters all these years without ever telling Mr. Hopkins to get lost. Denis Healy would have called Mr. Hopkins a silly billy. And he would have called Ms McCarthy a silly billy too.

The average young woman at Tesco’s would have told him to get lost. The woman on the Clapham Omnibus would told him to stick his letters up his nose and that he had no chance. Go away, they would say. Perhaps in a more vernacular style. They would take this nonsense in their stride and get on with their lives. Had it been something more serious, an unwelcome hand on the knee, a crotch rubbing then Mr. Hopkins would deserve to be in greater difficulties and advising him to get would not have been enough..

There is something else. Ms McCarthy claims she makes these traumatic disclosures because she was emboldened by the bravery of another woman who has made allegations against Mr. Hopkins.

There is widespread coverage of the other allegations. Most of us will have read of them and most of us will have seen the response of Mr. Hopkins. His defence may or may not be correct but in all justice and fairness it demands that the allegations against him be subjected to cross-examination in an effective investigation before they are accepted at face value. His response and the written evidence he proffers in support of the response suggests the allegations will not survive an effective cross examination. But of course in the new culture no one must throw doubt on sexual allegations. The victim must be believed.

It is only in the adversarial domain of the witness box that real questioning of both sides can take place. And that, in the new culture, is not necessary, not to be allowed.

Ms McCarthy, as a member of parliament should be, it is suggested, more alert to the needs of fairness and justice than the ordinary mortal. Yet she did not even tell Mr. Hopkins, at any time, of her alleged distress at the notes. More important still, she did not tell him of her carefully prepared and circulated press release of the letters and notes
Some great British sense of fairness is flooding out of us in this new culture and we are now urged, even commanded, to believe allegations of this nature without question, without investigation, without cross examination.
There used to be a similar culture in the United States of America. It was called McCarthyism.

A child of the Army of the Rhine

Viersen. It must have been a small agricultural village at one time. Set in vast acres of open fields of sugar beet and potatoes which ran all the way to the Dutch boarder. It became a satellite village, or a town, to Monchen Gladbach but I suspect it retained its primary agricultural nature until the coming of the railways. A major permanent way was built across the fields to the south east of the village, with sidings and sheds and workshops and a very handsome bahnhof. The rail line ran all the way into Belgium and Holland and North to the industrial Rhur. It was undoubtedly this that attracted the attention of the occupying British forces at the end of the second world war. It became, with its easy rail access to the ports at Antwerp and Ostend, the perfect place to locate a forward supply depot for the Army of the Rhine. Initially they took over the railway sheds and workshops but eventually built a vast depot that employed hundreds of local German civilians and lots and lots of soldiers.

For the soldiers families, they built a series of terraced married quarters, clustered fairly close to the bahnhof. They were not at all unpleasant, not the kind of terraced housing of coronation street or industrial England. They were of good quality with a mix of local German civilian housing, both social and private, with large gardens and well-kept parks and open areas. Being military, they were of course, all painted the same colour with the same coloured doors and the same coloured curtains and the same inventory of furniture inside each property. But we children wouldn’t have noticed such things. For us it was a wonderful place to live. There were five children in our family so we got an end terrace, right next to an open park, 32 Lessing Strasse.

We would go down to the Bahnhof area to watch the trains and to play on the wooded banks of the railway lines. It was the age of steam and the German trains were handsome black beasts snorting and steaming and chuffing and clattering along the tracks, some at high speed others, towing long industrial wagons and cattle trucks of cargo, crawling along for what seemed like hours. On the wooded banks, we would play at soldiers. And why not? All our fathers were soldiers. In fact, most of the regular soldiers, Sgts and so on, had fought in the second world war and had chests full of medal ribbons. Some had been here as occupiers and were now, no longer occupiers but defenders of democracy and the western way of life. The Germans had so recently, within the past 10 to 15 years, been the greatest enemies known to civilisation. It was natural for us to play at soldiers killing imaginary Germans on the banks of the Deutsche bahn. We had picked up, mostly from a regular diet of Commando comics, the
necessary bits of German language with which to play war games. “Achtung!”; “Donner und Blitzen”; “Mien Gott”; Kamerad!” Yawholl mein Kapitan”: “for you Fritz, the war is over” “Britisher tommy, Kamerad Kamerad!”.
We would play for hours, with wooden stick tommy guns and bazookas, ambushing each other and killing Germans until tea time. The elderly Germans tending their allotment gardens at the base of the railway banks would pause and look at us at play and perhaps wonder how the hell it was that they lost the war.

There was a baker’s shop just around the corner from Lessing Strasser, on Schiller Strasse, and my Mum would send me there each morning to buy some freshly baked bread rolls. It was of course, an ideal opportunity for one to practice and display ones increasing command of the German language

“Achtung!, funfh brochen bitte mien Frau” The lady behind the counter would always smile and say “Ahh, Englisher kinder, you would like five bread rolls? “Yawholl mine frau” You see she understood me immediately and without the slightest difficulty.  Supplied with my fresh and warm bread rolls, or brochen, in a brown paper bag, I would then cross the road to the butcher’s shop on the other side, always busy with rather stout German ladies buying sausages’ Again I would display my command of German, “Achtung! Ein viertal shickenwrust bitte” The butcher would smile and say “Ahhh, Britisher kinder, you would some slices of ham sausage like” “Yawhol mien Herr” And he would go to his slicing machine and would often say, for he liked to practice his English “Zee weather is not so gut, ya?” “Yawhol mein Herr” “You zink it rain might?” “Yarwhol mien Herr, vielendank mien Herr”

I am a modest enough chap but I do think they appreciated and were impressed with my attempts to speak their language, certainly I was myself, although I admit to some surprise when, many years later, I failed my German ‘O’ level exams. Back home we would have a warm brochen with butter for breakfast, we were obviously quite sophisticated, we were having continental breakfast before continentals were even invented. And we would have another bread roll mit schinkenwurst, to take to school for lunch. School was in Rheindalen and there was a military school bus to take us there each morning, driven by German civilians, usually ex-Wehrmacht types who all wore old rather shabby field green Wehrmacht uniforms. Getting on the school bus was another opportunity to practice your German. “Achtung!, Gutten Morgen Fritz” “Miner name ist Hans” he would say, and touch the soft peak of his Wehrmacht forage cap and wonder how the hell they managed to lose the war.

There was a rather superior house, a private German residence, on the other side of the small park. There lived therein a fierce German lady who often complained about the noise of the British children playing war games in the park. She ran a business from the house selling overcoats. I know this because my mum bought a coat from her and I went to the house with Mum to choose her coat. The front room was full of rails of overcoats. They were all pretty much the same as far as I could see. Long heavy lengths of woolly material that hung straight down, like a tube, to just above the ankle. I don’t think fashion had been invented then. The German lady was a walking advertisement for her coats and would move around the area in a long tube of material looking terribly fierce. If we saw her coming we would ambush her with our wooden stick tommy guns. “Achtung, donner und blitzen, here Kompt der mantle frau” and we would riddle her with British bullets. I suspect her coats were probably bullet proof. I suppose it might be helpful if I was to put in a footnote or two translating these odd German phrases into English. Especially for those who never picked up the language. However I don’t want this piece to be too academic and if I may be so bold as to suggest that if you are having difficulty then you might just type them into Google translate.

For my thirteenth, or maybe my fourteenth birthday my Dad bought me a bicycle. It changed my young life. It was second hand. The army were closing an accommodation block in Viersen town, used since the war. It was a billet for the National Servicemen, it was on the hill as you pulled out of Viersen en-route for Rheindalen, Anyway the soldiers had the use of these bikes and now, National service was finishing and my Dad had bought one of them for me. It was a Raleigh racing bike, with drop handlebars and a long uncomfortable leather saddle. It had a crudely hand pained white WD  008 serial number on the black frame. I suppose it is possible it was previously owned by one of those 00 M.I.6 agents, but in truth that is hindsight for I do not recall that for the period I am writing about that James Bond had yet been invented. It was a little battered, but for me it was as if it was solid gold and encrusted with diamonds for there was never ever, since the beginning of time, or for all eternity a better present for a boy than a racing bike! The world became our oyster and we would ride through fields and orchards, woods and forests, lakes and rivers and to Monchen Gladbach, White City, Wildenrath, Krefeld and Wickrath and Rheindalen and all over the world. Of course, most German roads had dedicated cycle paths so it was quite safe, and predatory paedophiles had not yet been invented so we always felt secure and happy, our bikes, a brochen mit schinkenwurst and a few deutschmarks to buy a bottle of coke or an ice cream.

I had a lot of friends in Rheindalen and would often cycle up during the school holidays. It was about 10 miles away. We would meet friends in the woods and forests that edged the garrison married quarters. It was there, with, I think, Teasdale and Griffiths and a few others that we discovered bomb making. Tin cans filled with a mixture of sugar and weed killer and detonated with cheap bangers from Brooks fireworks boxes. We spent a glorious day or too blowing up every can we could find, until we ran out of bangers. Proper little jihadists. Of course today we would probably come under surveillance and our every movement tracked by computers and satellites, but then, well, boom boom.

And it was the bike that conveyed me to my first ever date with a girl – of the opposite sex, you know.

It was Janet, who was in my class at Queens. Her dad was in the RAF and she lived out in Bruggen but I met her for a date at the Astra cinema in Rheindalen
for a Saturday Matinee. We snogged in the back seat. My first ever snog. Janet’s too, I think. It had a strange physiological effect upon me, all that kissing. I got the most enormous protruding erection. Didn’t quite understand why. Nor did Janet. Sex education hadn’t been invented then, but we knew it had something to do with all that kissing. It was all a bit embarrassing really. When the lights came up for the intermission before the main feature came on I left Janet to go and buy a couple of tubs of ice creams from the cinema usherette. The physiological phenomime would not subside and I walked down the aisle with an awkward projection beneath my trousers. At least it was pointing in the right direction. Today, whenever I see those Hagen Das ice cream adverts I tend to have erotic thought about Janet. Not that we licked ice-cream off each other, although there was rather a lovely cold vanilla kiss, it just that, well, ice-cream, Janet and the Astra cinema, in some respects life doesn’t get much better than that.

I said goodbye to Janet with another snog round the side of the Astra, by the bike shed where I had parked WD 008. Again, that strange reaction. Janet was rather small and I may have given her stomach or possibly her chest a rather difficult to understand sensation. The reaction would not subside, even when I got on my bike to ride home it persisted. The first two kilometers or so were rather uncomfortable on that hard leather seat. But at least I was pointing in the right direction. I never saw Janet again. Her father was posted out to Singapore and suddenly, she was gone. That tended to happen quite a lot with service family friendships. Made you a bit wary in the end Another advantage of the bike was that it enabled me to take up a paper round. Each Sunday the guardroom at the big supply depot would send a car to Rheindalen to collect the English newspapers. We would cycle to the guardroom and select the newspapers as ordered by each married quarter. All the other rank houses took the News of the World. The officer’s houses also took the News of the World but they liked it inserted inside the Sunday Telegraph or the Sunday Express. Off we would go to deliver the Sunday papers. The tips we received were extremely generous for the soldiers and their families loved getting the English papers, it was really important, there was no telly and news from England was so welcome and they were just delighted to see British schoolboys doing such an English thing as a paper round.

Once a week the estate, if I may call it that, was visited by a mobile NAAFI van. An occasion of great excitement for the families. It was if a relief column had reached an isolated group of survivors under siege in a foreign country. The mobile shop brought us a bit of England, real English products, boxes of Kellogg’s cornflakes, Scots porridge oats, jars of marmalade with golliwogs on them, Marmite and mars bars and packets of spangles. And of course tea. Teabags hadn’t been invented then and tea came loose, if I recall correctly, in small oblong red boxes. It was the highlight of the week for quite a few rather lonely service housewives.

And once a month a mobile library came. It was run, I think, by the WRVS it was there I discovered the famous five novels. I’ve still got one that I perhaps ought to return.

My neighbour, a few doors down, Orwell, had a fantastic collection of dinky toys. All military dinkys. Great rows of tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, trucks, artillery pieces, tank transporters, bren-gun carriers. He would line them all up in the front room. His father was a Sgt in a big vehicle depot in Monchen Gladbach which had acres of real military vehicles drawn up in endless lines, tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, trucks, artillery pieces, tank transporters bren-gun carriers, motorcycles. He was obviously trying to recreate the vehicle depot at home. Practicing I suspect. Orwell may have become someone important in car-parking when he grew up. He used to come to my house with some of his dinkys. I had the most amazing model trainset. A German make, Marklin, yards and yards of track with electric points and signals, model train stations, tunnels and bridges, carriages and wagons. He would blow up my trains with his tanks or we would put the Dinkys on flatbed wagons and watch them go around and around, under the settee and the dining table, into the kitchen and through the tunnels. I think service children did very well for toys. We usually inherited them, really cheaply from soldier’s families who were being posted elsewhere. That’s where I got my train set from. When we left it was all sold to some other family much to my despair. I have this fantasy that when I retire I will buy another railway set, just for me. Of course now that Brexit is here it will have to be a Hornby set rather than a Marklin. But if that is the price of sovereignty, then I shall face it bravely. Another neighbour was Billy Carter with whom I had a fight about Manchester Unitised. I knew nothing about man united or about English football. But
Billy was a fanatic. I must of said something derogatory about them and he cracked me across the head with his arm that happened to be cased in plaster of Paris. I’ve been planning my revenge ever since.

And there was the Hartly girls. The freckle faced Hartly girls. I really fancied the eldest one, Anne I think she was, we got quite close to a snog on the school bus. But after the experience with Janet in the Astra I was a bit worried and it all came to nothing. Its one thing to have a physiological reaction in the dimmed lighting of the Astra cinema, it would be quite another in the broad daylight of the school bus, with Fritz keeping his eye on us all.

I eventually signed on for the Army at the great supply depot where my father worked. I was fifteen and a half!. There was very little else for a service family to consider in the way of work. I did have a spell at the NAAFI shop in Rheindalen before I finally left for my Junior Leaders regiment. Quite enjoyed that. They put me in this small section which sold duty free booze and duty free cigarettes to service families. Very busy as service men seemed to drink and awful lot of booze and smoke an enormous amount of cigarettes.