Go West

1981 will forever be a year of mixed emotions. It was the year of my first proper relationship; it was the year I left school; the year my career plans went through the blender; the year I started working in Rock’n’roll – well, just off to the side a little, out on the fringes. It was also a year that new friendships were forged. Up until then, most everyone I met was through school and my friends were pretty much all school friends. Then as we drifted into the world of colleges and work, new blood came in to our lives.

I’m not sure how Steve Pillar came to become such a close friend so quickly. Obviously I knew him from school but he was several years above me. It was he though who brought Mark Pyatt into our fold, through college. Almost 40 years on and Mark is still here. Steve is out there but we are not in touch. A shame, I miss him so. And for a while the three of us were very close. On the occasion I am about to recount, probably far too close.


Someone thought it would probably be a good idea if we had a holiday. I mean, it was a stressful time for us. Having left school in June, we had been to Hemsby for a week in the summer but it must be time for a break. Well Steve and Mark agreed with that and we bundled our sleeping bags into – I think Steve’s orange Avenger – and pootled west. Nothing booked, we just planned to show up at the YMCA and demand sanctuary.

Good job we stopped to phone ahead and check. Seems you had to book YMCA in advance and those quilted sleeping bags we had were strictly verboten! Now we were stymied. Halfway to the West Country (I think we were at Mere) with no-place to go. Then Steve had a brainwave. He remembered that his father was at Lee Abbey near Lynton for a conference and thought perhaps he might get us a room there. Now Lee Abbey, for those of you who don’t know and until 30 seconds earlier that included me, is a Christian Retreat and Conference Centre in an old mansion amongst fields that roll down to the cliff edge. A very special place for the Pillars.

Unsurprisingly, with a conference in full swing, there was almost no room at the inn. Almost! Our stable turned out to be Tinkerbell, the honeymoon cottage that nestled amongst the trees at the very edge of the property. Grateful for anything we reset our satnav – me – and headed for Lee Abbey. On arrival we were fed at the main house then I believe we went down the pub with Steve’s dad. At this point he was still Vicar at Waltham Abbey but would soon become Bishop of Hertford. I enjoyed testing my atheism in conversations over a drink or two with Ken. I’m sure theologically he mauled me, but he always did it so nicely.

On returning from the pub we set out with directions and torches across a huge field full of cows until we reached the path into the woods. Shortly we came across this cute and very fairy-tale like cottage in the middle of nowhere. I can’t remember if it had electricity but it certainly had an outdoor loo. The bed was also very small even for a honeymooning couple. For the three of us it was very much a case of “and the little one said, roll-over” all night long. I told you we were close.


Emerging at first light for a fag, I discovered precisely how close we were to an unfenced path overlooking the cliffs. Seriously, I sometimes wonder how we survived our misspent youth.

So we stayed a further day in the area before Steve got on the phone to another relative, his auntie Joyce in Plymouth. I think she had a guest house – certainly it was a large property – and she was happy to put us up for a couple of days. All you need to remember is that after having a bite to eat with auntie Joyce we put on our coats to head out into the city for a drink. As we left she said, “Whatever you do stay away from Union Street” You can imagine where our first port of call was! However, Union Street, Plymouth features heavily in another story so I won’t dwell on it this time.

I think the only other event of note on this trip was our Saturday afternoon visit to Exeter for the football. We arrived about two hours prior to kick-off as we did at Spurs. This wasn’t White Hart Lane though and I think we probably beat the man with the keys to the ground. Certainly, an hour before kick-off we were sitting in the ground surrounded by all of 10 other fans. A policeman approached us and stated “You’re not from round here then lads” No, we weren’t, we certainly weren’t.



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