I Have Lived many Lives – 7

Saturday 30th December

It was almost dawn when we arrived at the homeless hostel, Blue Star House at Archway.  There was a communal dining area, a kitchen, toilets and showers and sinks.  But each family – and there must have been around twenty housed there – each had one room.  And like public toilets the thin dividing walls started a foot off the floor and ended two feet from the ceiling.  You could hear everything, every sound, every cough, every snore, every spoken word.  But we were just thankful not to be walking the streets.  I still had my job and left for work after a brief sleep.  We had an interview that evening.  And were told that the waiting list for a council flat was pretty long – we should expect to be in the hostel for several months.  But one of the questions they asked was did we have any furniture.  Carol said no, but I corrected her, remembering our double bed back at her parent’s home.  I said that actually we did have furniture, enough to start with anyway.  This pushed us way up the ladder.  After just a few weeks on the hostel we were temporarily re-housed.

I could never get used to, or just accept, life in the hostel.  It wasn’t the people, though many were African and spoke different languages, or Irish – though a few were English like us.  It wasn’t the strange cooking smells coming from the kitchen which we never used, preferring to eat take-away fish and chips or in cafes.  It was the lack of privacy, the constant noise, the babies crying at night – and the not knowing how long we would be forced to live like this, this half-life.

Every day I at least escaped and went to work, poor Carol was stuck there day in and day out.  In the end we were only there for a couple of months.  Then another interview and we were shown a property.  It was a large old Victorian house in Hornsey Rise Gardens.  It was destined to be demolished in a few months along with a few other streets to make way for new roads and a council housing estate.  We were offered the ground floor, there was an open staircase to another re-housed family upstairs.  We had two large rooms and a kitchen and scullery and toilet and sink.  No real bathroom at all.  But it was a start – and crucially we were promised that prior to demolition we would get a proper council flat. The walls were bad, plaster crumbling and paper peeling, there was a hole in the floorboards in the hall, there was no heating just a small hot water boiler at the kitchen sink, the windows were draughty, but it was a start…

Now, at last, we were going to make it.  Carol and me the baby boy – we were going to be happy.

Democracy is the Trouble

Friday 29th December


What a couple of years.  And democracy is the trouble.  In America they elected Donald Trump – the less said the better.  In the UK they voted for Brexit, and many (according to the pollsters) are now regretting that decision, or at the very least are amazed that nobody explained to them just how much it would cost, how long it would take and how difficult it would be to negotiate a reasonable exit. And the trouble is Democracy,  And not as you might expect in the general population.  Ordinary people are not to blame.  The issues around Brexit have always been complex.  That is the very reason that people should never have been given the decision.  We elect M.P.s to make these very difficult decisions, to listen to the arguments and to decide on our behalf. The real trouble is Democracy within Parties themselves.

It started with the LibDems – one member one vote.  And they elected Clegg.  Who has almost single-handedly destroyed them as a Political force.  Then the Tories, who used to be elected solely by the M.P.s decided to give their members the final choice, once the M.P.s had whittled the contenders down to just two.  And what did we get?  Twice, the best candidate Ken Clarke was beaten by mavericks.

Labour, in a fit of ‘not to be left out-ism’ decided too on one member one vote.  And Jeremy was the result.

The reason is simple.  The membership is far more radical in their Politics than most M.P.s who have sat for hours listening to debates where the arguments are thrashed out in detail, and by and large, decisions agreed on which most of the electorate are reasonably happy with.  The membership of both the Tories and Labour are far more right and left wing in their views than most voters.  Consequently we are faced with more and more extreme policies at election time.  The Tories opting for more and more Privatisation at the expense of a shrinking state – this is extremely popular with the only electorate which matters – the Tory party itself, which will elect the next Leader.  Likewise – the Labour party leadership and Shadow Cabinet has one eye fixed on the membership who will be electing the next Leader.

So for the next few elections I think we will be presented with more and more radical ideas.  Pity the poor public who will have to decide which to choose.  At least it isn’t boring anymore.

Safe Return

Thursday 28th December

We have spent quite a few days in England.  Christmas and family and friends.  And while all of that was very enjoyable, and really couldn’t have gone better, it seems as if I have been living in some sort of dream state, or suspended animation.  Waiting, I suppose for my real life, back here in France, to begin again.  I haven’t even, as I am sure you will have noticed, been writing this blog.  It used to seem so important, but because my routine has been so altered, I just never seemed to find either the time or the motivation to write anything.  Mind you Politics seems to have gone into the deep-freeze too, with the exception of the downfall of Damien Green.  But somehow even that couldn’t seem to inspire me to write anything.  Reflecting on that now, I do have to wonder why these guys are so vehement in their denials.  It would have been so easy to have admitted that he was informed of pornography being found on his office PC at the time; he could have then denied it was him, as several of his staff used to access the machine, and apologized for the misuse on behalf of his office.  Instead he brazened it out with absolute denials – denials which must eventually be exposed.

Anyway – we are back.  A pretty horrendous night drive home.  We had originally planned to drive back on Wednesday daytime, but our expected Boxing Day failed to materialise so we changed our plans and crossed about 4.00 p.m.on Tuesday afternoon.  We drove and then slept for an hour or so, then drove on again.  But the weather was awful, strong winds and lashing rain all the way, which made walking the dogs difficult.  But, actually they were pretty good, hunkering down with us for the long journey.  It got dark pretty soon after hitting Calais.  We glided through Paris around 11 at night, barely going slower than fifty all the way.  In fact one of the things we have noticed is that we do not hit a single traffic light in France, whereas in England it is traffic lights everywhere.  The early hours were a bit grim, but eventually the sky lightened for the last couple of hours of driving.

All in all though, we achieved everything we set out to do, bought all the paint and other stuff we had planned, visited all the relatives and friends, had some good meals and it couldn’t have gone better.  I suppose it is just me.  I never seem to feel really happy at the time, only in anticipation or on reflection.  Oh well…


Sunday 24th December

‘Hello, Harriet.  Are you okay?’ June asked rather tentatively.  Considering how their last conversation had ended she was more than wary of her oldest daughter.

‘I’m okay mother, considering the circumstances.  I suppose you have still heard nothing from our Dad?’  she replied, at least this was straightforward, and she had dropped the sarcasm.

‘No, nothing.  He never even said goodbye the morning he left.  You know, the same day you went back up to Leeds, he just ate his breakfast, drunk his tea as normal, which considering the awful night we had the day before was strange in itself, but I just thought that that was his way of dealing with it.  You know, just acting as if everything was normal.  I was as shocked as anyone when I learned he had disappeared.’

‘God, what a mess.’ Harriet said. ‘What have the police said, do they think he will just come back home, or are they out there looking for him?’

‘Both I think.  But honestly I don’t know what to think.  I had no idea he was in any money trouble at all.  That was a real shock to me, I never suspected him of doing anything un-towards.’ June said, not quite honestly, because she had thought it strange that he was out so often in the evenings, but at the time she had put it out of her mind, and then she supposed, like most things you just get used to them and then stop even questioning them.  But actually she had never thought Phil would do anything really dishonest.

‘So what happens now?  Are we just supposed to wait until he turns up?  What are we doing for money?’ Harriet, practical if nothing else.

‘I honestly don’t know.  I have been spending money I had put by for buying Jane clothes with on her birthday in a month’s time.  I have no access to your father’s bank account. I don’t even know which bank he is with.  He used to handle the money and pay all the bills, and if I needed money for housekeeping or anything I had to ask him for it.  He never let me know there was any sort of problem.’

‘Well I suppose you should go into his office and speak to his partners and find out just where we stand.  Nothing has been proved against him yet, has it?  They can’t just let us starve.  It isn’t our fault he has run away.’  She was amazingly practical.  June hadn’t even thought of any of these things, she was still waiting for Phil to return and sort it all out.  Harriet was already thinking further down the line than that.

*  * *

“Where will all of this end I wonder?  I might even go to jail, I suppose.  That would be a miserable end I must say, but no more than I deserve.  One of the things people don’t realise is that although I was getting away with my deceptions and eventually misusing other people’s money for a few years I was never happy doing it.  I was almost waiting to be caught, and in fact the longer it went on the more miserable I became.  I knew I would be caught one day, though I always held out the ridiculous hope that I could turn things round and pay everyone back.  But things were just going from bad to worse, and I had to keep stealing more money to hide the other mistakes.  It was all a house of cards really, and any day it could have come tumbling down.  So, in a way, although everyone blamed June for my running away, it was just my way of bringing it all to a head.  I needed to get away, to think about my life, and what I wanted to do, about June and my marriage, or what might be left of it, but also about the crooked business.  I couldn’t face a few more years of shoring up my mistakes by even more reckless thefts and deceptions.  It was better this way.  At least it would soon be over.  I couldn’t quite believe no-one had found me yet.”

*  * *

And for a day or two it all seemed okay.  Harriet was just like she used to be before she went to Leeds, before the drugs and before she found out about their mother and Uncle Ted.  She even helped with preparing the dinner and washing-up, something she would never have stooped to a few months back.  And Jane’s mother was trying to be cheerful too, making an effort for the first time in days.  They even watched television together, and Harriet was just so nice, almost polite and really helpful, Jane started to believe they might have turned some sort of corner, that things might turn out alright.

But on the Tuesday night when the police came round, there was a glint, some spark in their eyes, and they just couldn’t keep it to themselves.

‘We think we know where Mr. Wilkinson might be, after all.’ The Sergeant smiled. ‘I am going there tomorrow with my Detective Inspector, and hope to apprehend him and bring him back for questioning.’

‘Where is he then?’ said June, with a tremor in her voice.

‘Confidential information I am afraid Mrs Wilkinson.’ as he tapped the side of his nose.  ‘And I cannot at present divulge that, especially to his spouse, as I am sure you understand, but by all accounts he is safe and well. I will let you know tomorrow how we get on.  I have to be off now, but rest assured this matter will soon be over.’

Well it would be of course for the police.  Another missing person found, and another crime cleared up no doubt.  But it suddenly hit them that this thing would just go on for them now for some time to come.  There would be some sort of trial, the whole money thing still to be sorted out, what would happen to the house, what would happen to their father come to that.  And then Harriet, what would she do?  Go back to Leeds or to London as she was always threatening.  And what of Jane?  Would she just go back to school as if nothing had happened?

*  * *

Harriet did try, when she went back home that final time, but it wasn’t easy.  She was still pissed at her mother for her part in their downfall.  In fact Harriet was sure June was totally to blame.  Her father would never have gone off like that if she hadn’t been screwing Uncle Ted, and even if he had been doing a few dodgy deals he might well have cleared it all up and managed to sort it all out somehow.  Anyway he was clever enough to have even carried on getting away with it if he had wanted to, and no-one would have been any the wiser.  Her mother had gone to pieces after her Dad went off, and someone had to start pulling it all back together again.  Jane was about as much use as her mother, so Harriet just naturally started to take over.  She felt she was the only person thinking straight at all.  She had to worry about money and stuff like that because her Dad wasn’t there to do that for them.  So, she insisted that her mother go and see Dad’s partners, which she very reluctantly did.  They assured her that though they were most worried about monies which appeared to be missing they would continue to pay his salary for the present.  They sent her to see the bank manager, who of course knew that Dad was missing, but did allow June to have access to some money so at least they wouldn’t starve.    And then that night the police sergeant told us they thought they knew where their Dad was and were going to collect him tomorrow, exactly a week after Harriet caught her mother.  At least now they might have some sort of resolution, some answers to the questions which were crowding her mind.

We Have Been Rather Busy

Thursday 21st December


The last few days have been somewhat of a whirlwind.  I returned from my usual monthly trip to England on Tuesday the Twelth.  And straight into preparations for our party the following day.   This ahd been planned a few weeks earlier, but still lots to do on the day.  Outside lights, indoor lights, moving furniture and so on.  It was a brilliant success.  We lost count of how many people came but it must have beena round 70.  Burgers and live music and a good time had by all – I hope.

Very little sleep and up early on Thursday morning for the market.  Quite busy in the café, then home to clear up most of the aftermath of the party.  And to pack the car for England.

We left around four on Friday morning, stopping for a break at Brive La Guyarde.  Then the long stretch to Paris.  A bt slow going through the city but out the other side we saw a plane take off right above us as the runway of Charles de Gaulle Airport go right over the motorway.

We got home (well, to one of our homes) around nine, UK time on Friday night. Saturday was unloading the car and some shopping.  And Sunday we went to Northampton to my sister’s for the annual family gathering and present exchange. Lovely to see everyone, especially the little ones.  Monday was decluttering the London house and more shopping.  And Tuesday we drove to my house in Walton with a car full of chairs and a fridge for storage in my garage.  Changing a light bulb in one of the bedrooms I stupidly stood on the bed and then fell of injuring two fingers and an elbow.  Werves me right in a way, but it didn’t half hurt. And still does.

Wednesday – more shopping, this time for paint for France and back, again visiting more relatives on the way.

To say I am shattered must be an understatement.  But we will still be busy until Christmas itself with two more meals out planned and a few repairs still to do to the London house.

I have been almost too busy to even write this…

I Have Lived many Lives – 6

Sunday 17th December

The long coach journey back to London.  The humiliating meeting of my and her parents, the interviews and caution by the Police.  None of this stopped me loving her; in fact it now became a War.  Us against the World.  I was determined that our love would win through, that nothing would stop us.  And so, the chaos continued.  We had short spells of living with her parents, and a crazy few weeks in a flat in Stockwell with some drunken Canadians.  We got married there and spent two days at Southend for our honeymoon.  I was trying to save money for a proper flat and for the baby but never seemed to manage it.  We did buy a double bed and a few things for baby but, as I have found so often – it is easy to save living on your own, but harder when you are a couple.

Then inexorably the time came for the baby to be born. I could write a separate chapter about that alone, but after a long labour, Justin finally arrived.  We were back at her parents by then and things weren’t going well.  Constant rows, Carol and her mother, Carol and her sisters, Carol and her father – I was beginning to realise she was a difficult person, but still I blindly loved her.  I would have died for her, or that was how I felt.  Eventually one night her Dad came in drunk as usual and suddenly hit me really hard in the face.  I have never been a fighter – a runner, yes – but never a fighter.  He threw us out, baby and all, late at night.  No idea where to go we went to the Police.  And at about three in the morning they took us to a homeless families hostel in Archway.

Driving Home For Christmas

Thursday 14th December

The sad news that Chris Rea had collapsed on stage a couple of days ago brought to mind one of my favourite Christmas songs “Driving Home For Christmas”.   It is simply beautiful, both the melody and the words.  I hope Chris will make a full recovery soon.  We cannot afford to lose another good one just yet.

And we too will be driving home for Christmas tomorrow.  The car will be loaded up with presents and a couple of cases of wine too, plus a small mattress and bedding for rest-stop naps.  I used to quite dread these long drives back, over 600 miles, but now I am either more used to them, or have simply learnt to accept that as Harry Chapin (another lost hero) used to sing “It’s got to be the going not the getting there that’s good”.

So, although we have just been incredibly busy, with trips and Christmas preparations and the party to end all parties last night in our house (not many people have a barbecue in December – big thanks to Graham) we will be just as busy in the next few days.  A big family get-together on Sunday for present exchange and lots of friends and family to see.  So, my blog may not be appearing with quite the frequency you are already tiring of over the next week or so.

If I don’t say it later – Have a safe and happy Christmas – especially if you are driving home for it.

A Winter’s Tale

I was just 11.  My first year at Grammar School.  My parents had sacrificed to buy the uniform from Wards, the only supplier in town.  As well as blazer and tie and cap there were shirts and socks and new shoes – but that was just the start of it.  Gym kit, rugby kit and cricket whites too.  I can remember parading, a reluctant model, for relatives.  Partly because the uniform was so expensive and partly because I was so small (but expected to grow) my parents sensibly bought my clothes a couple of sizes too large for me.  My blazer came down well over my bottom, and the shorts (obligatory for the first two years) came below my knees.

In those days everybody walked to school, or everyone from Stowmarket anyway, many kids arrived by coach from half-way across the county.  It wasn’t a terribly long walk, especially if you took a short cut across the field at the back of our house.  Well, 1963 was a cold year.  In fact, one of the worst.  It started snowing in early January and continued through to April.  And when I say snow, the recent dusting in England is simply nothing compared to the snow we experienced that winter.  My sister and I were stranded for two days at our Aunties.

But it was walking to school I remember mostly.  Unlike today, the school never closed.   Teachers and pupils were expected to attend despite the weather.  Almost every day there was fresh snow, and even in wellies the snow would still get into your socks and feet.  The roads were barely gritted and the cars struggled and skidded, or simply gave up.  But most families didn’t even have a car.  Everyone walked.  I can remember cliffs of ice, snow and black frozen slush along the roads as we trudged to school.  It was so deep that my shorts were often sodden too.

We even played football in the snow a few times, running around simply to keep warm, no idea who had the ball even.  And then showers of scalding hot water and trying to dry ourselves with tiny towels and clambering into still damp clothes.

There was a huge slide in the playground which became a rite of honour.  We would run over the compacted snow and jump onto the patch of ice, surrounded by a crowd of cheering kids and even a few teachers.  There was no attempt to stop us or to salt the ice slide even though most of us went down it on our bottoms.

It seemed a never-ending winter but somehow we got through it.  Nowadays most kids are driven to school and are kept in the classrooms whenever there is the mildest flurry of snow in the air.


Y – is for Neil Young – This Century – A Never Ending Story

Tuesday 12th December

The pace of Neil’s releases has not slowed down.  If anything it has increased, and alongside his new stuff he has embarked on an Archive series of old live concerts and even old abandoned albums.  He has also written two autobiographical books and is trying to develop an electric car.

Rarely has there been such an Artist.  Most artists find a ‘groove’ and stick to it, giving their fans much the same fare album after album.  I can only really think of Bowie and Dylan who have never been concerned about what their fans want to hear. A couple of years ago Neil left his long-term wife Peggi for a younger actress, and has got himself a new band.  I haven’t bought the last few albums – not because I don’t want them, but more because I simply cannot keep up with him.  If Neil were my only favourite artist maybe I could…but as you probably realise he is one of many.  Besides I already own over 50 Neil young albums and don’t really have time to listen to these that often.  But, even though a few have been challenging, or even a bit boring, they have all contained a few gems.

My life would have been poorer without Neil Young.  But I could easily say the same about BobDylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni…and so many others.

Our generation have been so lucky to have known and lived through so much wonderful music.  I almost pity the youngsters, their heads buried in computer games and Social Media.  Everything is so available, so immediate – with Youtube you never need buy a single record.  We had to discover it all by ourselves from songs heard on the radio or on a jukebox or at a party.  Walking home from the record shop with our new album and putting it on the turntable and reading the lyrics and sleevenotes – nothing can replace that feeling. For each of us it was a road to discovery – one I am still happily treading.

I Have Lived many Lives – 5

Monday 11th December

A very few weeks into my new life I met Carol.  At Stoke Newington Swimming Pool.  It was a pretty run-down pre-war building.  There was always something about her, from the first moment I saw her.  She was a little bit chubby, with blonde hair and light blue eyes.  And it was the eyes I fell for.  She was hesitant and tried to fob me off.  If only I had been fobbable – my whole life may have turned out differently.  But in the games we play there is always an undercurrent.  And maybe the undercurrent was that we both fancied each other.  And we started ‘going out’ .

I had had a couple of girlfriends before, but either I was too scared or they were, but we never progressed that far at all.  But now, with my new-found freedom, and far more importantly, my own bedsit we became lovers.

And I say the word lovers deliberately.  We were young, very young and in love.  Now, many songs have been written about love, and books and poems – but nobody can quite explain how it works with some people and not with others.  We were actually head over heels and blindly crazily besotted with each other.  So much so that we ignored everyone else and common sense into the bargain.

Within months Carol was pregnant.  And she was scared, crying, begging me to help her.  She was terrified of her father, a heavy drinker and violent man.  She couldn’t face telling her mother.  And it seemed there was only one solution.  We would run away to Scotland and get married there and have the baby and start our lives anew.  Within days we were on our way.  A complicated series of bus journeys criss-crossing the country, partly to put people off the scent and partly to go back to Stowmarket to draw out my savings of a just over a hundred pounds.  Then a long coach journey to Edinburgh.  I don’t think I slept at all on the overnight trip, Carol snuggled into my thin coat, my arm around her as I stared out of the bleak wet  window.  I was really scared – not even eighteen myself and now I was really in trouble.

We pulled into Edinburgh bus station to a cold November morning.  We just needed a place to stay, then I would get a job.  That was the sketchy plan.  A few streets away we saw a sign “Rooms to let”.   I dragged our one battered suitcase up to the top floor of a tenement; I particularly remember that the wide granite steps were hollowed out in the middles by all the footsteps over the years.  I left Carol and went out looking for a job.  Almost straightaway I found a bar that would let me start straightaway, cash in hand.

I almost leapt up the stairs to tell Carol the good news.

“Please don’t be angry Adrian” she said, “I’ve just phoned my mother, she says I can come home.  I want to go home.  Please take me home.”