The Nips Are Getting Bigger

A month or so ago I documented my descent into alcoholism. I promised I would pick up that thread and run with it again – so here I am. I think I took it up to the early nineties then but I missed a few bits so I’m going back to the late eighties again first.

I knew I had a drink problem fairly early on. Well, when they say that admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, they lied. In fact knowing I had a drink problem just meant I worried myself sick when I was sober so I started drinking. Once the first glow of alcoholic satisfaction had overtaken me, everything was rosy. I would quit tomorrow and everything would be alright. And so I carried on drinking until I fell asleep/down/by the wayside.

Drinking 1

Perhaps admitting I had a problem to someone else would solve all my troubles. Well, it wasn’t going to be my family. They knew I drank of course but since I had given up throwing up and could actually function reasonably well, they had little idea quite how bad the problem was. My sister had an inkling but then she saw my financial situation in some detail. Even when I was hospitalised, I claimed it was due to stress. And speaking of medical matters, did telling my GP help? Well, not majorly but it made a difference. Dr Susan Wakefield was a model of patience and of concern. I had previously been under the care of her husband but he was already thinking about his next role at the QEII hospital (When I was there as an inmate I bumped into him looking all official and self-important). Susan though listened to my complaints about my throat and stomach (The alcoholic gastritis I think I have mentioned) and let me slowly, carefully tell her I was an alcoholic.

She even managed to get me a place at a rehab clinic in Cockfosters but I refused. At that point I didn’t know how I could explain that to my parents. So we tried some home detoxs. I was bloody terrible. Popping Librium during the day to keep the shakes at bay and drinking at night. They just enabled me to get through my day job without drinking. Most of the time a bottle of vodka in the desk drawer worked just as well.

Anyway, Susan never gave up and we actively fought my drinking together for some years. And though it was my other saviour, Penny Fitzpatrick, who actually got me into Farm Place in the end, I will always be grateful for Dr Wakefield’s unending patience and for never giving up on me.

Drinking 3

So what was happening with my drinking. Well, I hadn’t quite isolated myself in the late 80s and was still regularly going down the pub with various friends. One memorable night, though heaven knows how I do remember it, involved me consuming about 20 pints of Guinness at the Queen Vic then going back to the house where Maggie’s then girlfriend was living. Being an NZ girl, Jo didn’t travel far without a stash and we went up to her room and for a smoke. Now I have said before that alcohol was my drug of choice and I didn’t often do anything else. Given the effect of smoking a little weed after 20 pints of the black stuff, it’s a bloody good job too. The room, which had been perfectly stable up to that point, suddenly began to spin like a top. I decided to make my excuses and leave. I suppose it was about 1am in the morning and – and this is important – it was January/February time and fucking cold.

Jo waved me off from the front door and I lurched down the garden path. At the end of the path there was a stream and a little bridge that crossed it. Kelly will know exactly what I am talking about as it was her family home. As I reached the bridge, I suddenly felt incredibly tired and I lay down on the bridge and started to fall asleep. I swear I could feel the frost forming on me as I drifted into oblivion, damn near permanent oblivion. Then a little voice in the back of my head spoke. “Get up you fucking twat”, it said. Somehow, no matter how drunk I was, part of my brain remained sensible. It stopped the worst excesses of behaviour (though that didn’t include singing Lurkers’ songs at the top of my voice whilst walking home) and sometimes kept me safe. That night it certainly saved my life.

So I struggled to my feet and set off home. I guess it was about a mile by road but I think I walked three that night. I was staggering from one side of the road to the other. The most zigzag of a route I could have taken. Which wasn’t too bad for the first bit but somewhere up St James Road my bowels opened. Guinness and weed don’t mix people. The remainder of my walk was both long and unpleasant. Once home, the jeans went straight in a black bin-liner and I climbed into a bath trying not to wake the household. Don’t let anyone tell you alcoholism is glamorous.

Let me illustrate that further. I have just rediscovered some notes I wrote back in the day.  In this case, January 1995. Let me quote them verbatim.

“The death of Peter Cook last week has scared me. I remember reading in the Jack Kerouac biog that haemorrhaging of the stomach (it’s got a posh name but it slips my mind for the time-being) is the classic alcoholic’s death and I think that’s what’s gonna happen to me soon. I know the answer is to get myself checked back into hospital but I can’t afford to jeopardise the job. Classic Catch 22 or what!”

Drinking 2

Now though, let me finish on a positive note by reproducing something I wrote back in 1998 after a Farm Place (Rehab Clinic) reunion.


I write this on the evening after the 1998 Christmas reunion. Those who were there will remember how the rain had beaten on the marquee in which we had held the meeting. It turned the grass verges up the drive into a quagmire causing some poor unfortunates who had parked there to get bogged down. I was one of those who helped push a couple of the cars out of the mud which is why there is a pile of dirty, mud-stained clothes lying on my bathroom floor. The grateful drivers were most apologetic about my getting filthy on their account but I honestly didn’t mind. In fact I found it kind of fitting because one year earlier, almost to the day, I had been somewhat stuck in the mud and a number of people from Farm Place, and elsewhere, helped me get out.

I had been battling with my alcoholism for at least 10 years before I walked into FP. Even four stays in a psychiatric ward had failed to keep me sober for more than a few weeks at a time. I read of celebrities being checked into the Betty Ford Clinic and envy rose in my throat. Then, during a particularly bad binge (were there good ones?) in December 1997, my boss, Penny, called me on my sickbed, and told me she was coming to see me. If I had had any ‘get up and go’ that day I would have started writing a new CV then and there. My alcoholism was after all, known to her, and this must have been my sixth spell of time-off that year. I would have been scared stiff had I been sober enough to care.

However, what Penny brought over that night was not my P45, it was a Farm Place brochure. It was an opportunity that I didn’t feel I deserved though Penny clearly did. It was like Christmas coming early for me. So, unlike so many people I wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming into FP. I grasped the chance tightly although given my track record of short-term recovery and relapse, I didn’t really rate my success. Of course, as anyone who has been to FP knows, the magic that takes place there is quite unlike anything that, I at least, has ever experienced before. I came to understand myself so much better. I learnt to be honest with myself as well as with others, and I even started to love myself a little. And I learnt the simplest lesson of all – I don’t have to pick up ever again.

Tonight I have been sober for 361 days, and today I am not going to drink. I know I shouldn’t project but I can’t help thinking about reaching my first anniversary on Thursday. I truly believe it will just be the first of many annually incrementing anniversaries I shall celebrate each December. Anniversaries I shall celebrate because someone believed in me enough to send me to Farm Place for Christmas 1997. Thanks to that person’s belief in me, I am now able to believe in myself. I will never get another Christmas gift as good as the one Penny once gave me.

Steve S.

Let’s Eat

I sometimes wonder where I get the inspiration for my blogs and today’s is just such a mystery. I guess something came up in one of the many social history groups I belong to in facebook. Some soul mentioned a foodstuff I had long forgotten about and it got me thinking. Do you have foods whose nomenclature you thought was unique to your household? It probably wasn’t as unique as you thought. For us Yellow Fish was always what we called smoked haddock. It was years later I learned that the garish yellow colour was completely artificial and that a bit of smoked haddock really should have a pale almost pastel yellow hue. If we buy the supermarket prepacked stuff I am delighted to see it is still available in dayglo Norwich City kit.

It is one of the few fish I will eat – my usual line in avoiding the stuff is ‘I peed in that ocean – and perhaps one of the few foods from my childhood that survives. As a younger child, I didn’t stay at school for school-dinners as my nan was at home and it was a 15 minute walk. Thus we always had dinner at lunch-time and it was a fairly rigid menu too. Monday was Shepherd’s Pie made with leftover meat from the roast minced up (The proper way) and it was always Shepherd’s Pie regardless of whether it was lamb or beef. Mincing of course was done on the Maid Marian in the lean-to using one of those hand-cranked oojamaflips that attached to the table with a G-Clamp. I’m sure I helped!

Food 2

Tuesday was usually Ox Heart. Cooked like a roast and sliced with mash and peas. Sometimes for variety we would have some lamb’s hearts and nan would make a semblance of stuffing them by sprinkling Paxo over them. Come on, if life is too short to stuff a mushroom, its way too exciting to stuff a heart. Somewhere along the way nan or mum experimented by dropping rice in with the cooking heart. It absorbed all the juices and swelled up into a delicious kedgeree; mashed potato, you are so 1968!

Wednesday was mince. Cooked in the white enamel dish that the hearts had been done in and often layered with sliced boiled potatoes whilst Thursday was faggots (Brains of course) and Birds Eye Sliced Roast Beef in Gravy. The latter is remembered because of the TV advert that I finally found online recently. Thomas and his friend are turning a spit of meat over the fire in a medieval great house. “One day Thomas, roast meat will come in little boxes” “Aye, and one day a man shall land on the moon”. The ad was, of course, broadcast around July 1969.


Fridays was, of course, fish and chips. Home fried in deep oil in an open saucepan on the hob top. At some point mum must have seen one of the fire brigade safety films because she bought an electric deep-fat fryer. I’m kidding of course, she bought it because she wanted it not because of any film. Blimey, if she’d listened to Charlie I’d never have been allowed out of the house.

Saturdays were our most variable day when it could be her meatballs, Aberdeen Loaf, barbecue chicken or something else from the Woman’s Weekly cookbook. These are the childhood recipes my sister and I attempt to recreate when we visit each other for lunch. Porkies (Sausages wrapped in streaky bacon and cooked in condensed tomato soup) is a firm favourite.

As for desserts, well make your choice from jelly (Water and milk – the milk jelly was my alternative to vomit inducing Angel Delight), Creamola (Such a bugger to cook), tinned fruit cocktail and vanilla ice cream.


Well’s that lunch out of the way. What about tea? Well at some point there was a sea-change (or should be a tea-change?) in our tea-time habits. Before the change tea was bread and jam, boiled-egg and soldiers, poached eggs (Poached in little metal cups) with cheese sauce, weird pastes and spreads, or perhaps a Saveloy or two. Then there was, the coming of Bejam. More accurately the purchase of a freezer. This happened around 1970/1 when dad changed jobs and got – by his standards at the time – a considerable pay increase. Suddenly he learned to drive and we got a car, we had a pedigree dog instead of a mutt, and, as soon as the Wizard of Oz appeared on TV for the first time, we got a colour TV too. Now a whole new teatime world opened up. Findus Crispy Pancakes, barbecue spare ribs (Probably the first mechanically reclaimed meat we had ever tasted), frozen orange juice concentrate, reformed reshaped reconstituted fish lumps (I think we had previously had fish-fingers, probably just bought on the day we were to eat them and stored in that tiny little freezer inside the fridge) and Arctic Roll, of course, Arctic Roll. And that was it. Tea was never the same again. And gradually our eating habits changed to the extent that the occasional Chinese takeaway eventually entered our lives. It was the one takeaway that everyone in the family liked, even my nan!

Food 4

Speaking of whom, let me end with an embarrassing moment for my nan. One day when young me was ill in bed, she thought a tin of vermicelli in milk might tempt me to eat. She stood at the bottom of the stairs and yelled up

“Do you want vermicelli for lunch?”

“What’s that?” I responded

“Long thin worms in milk” retorted nan, just as the postman arrived at the door!

Ambulance Blues

Tomorrow I am going into hospital to have my stents removed so it seems an appropriate time to recall my first ever hospital stay. I was about 7 – it was 1970 anyway – and I’d been ill with a stomach ache for several days. Eventually it was so bad that mum called the doctor and he came out quickly. They did in those days! After prodding me about a bit he declared I had appendicitis and called an ambulance. Apparently he should have diagnosed it several days earlier when it was still grumbling but had missed it and it was now acute.

So twenty minutes later I’m in the back of an ambulance for the first time ever being blue-lighted to the hospital. Well, I like to think I was blue-lighted and hopefully some two-tones too but I really don’t remember. The ambulance men (Paramedics were probably just army doctors of the Parachute Regiment at that time) took me to Hertford Hospital. I’m not sure why I didn’t go to Chase Farm, probably Norovirus (or more likely Black Death back then). Ditto the QEII which I thought might not have been open but on checking find it opened in 1963.

Hospital 1

Anyway, Hertford it was, and just in time. They certainly took me straight into theatre and – if my sister is to be believed – got it out just in time. In fact, she enjoyed telling me, it burst as they were removing it! I would insert one of those pensive little “Hmmm” emoticon here if I knew how.

And so I was saved and bundled off to the Children’s Ward. A good old fashioned ward with a dozen beds stretched out along both walls. Mixed sex, indeed my new best friend would be Maria, who was in with two broken legs after seeing if she could jump out of an upstairs window at the farm where she lived.  Apparently jumping is easy, it’s the landing that fucks you up!

One other abiding memory is that in the cupboard stuffed with books and games was a copy of the Dalek Annual for 1964. Oh, I was torn. I so coveted that annual. You see we were allowed one annual each at Christmas. My sister opted for Blue Peter whilst I went for Dr Who. If we got extras it would be something our aunts and uncles decided to get us, not one of our choosing. So every year I got the Dr Who annual but the Dalek Annual remained a picture in my mum’s catalogues. Now, all I need to do was slip this book in the bag with my dirty pyjamas and get mum to smuggle it home for me. I resisted. I’m proud of myself. In fact I might look on eBay and treat myself to a copy. £30-80 blimey, I wish it stuffed it in with me stripeys anyway!

Hospital 2

I was expected to stay in hospital for a week. I know; if you have your appendix out now they are helping you into your coat as you leave the theatre but it was different then. Anyway, on day six it was kick-about time in the Children’s Ward. We, (and I have no recollection of anyone in the ward except Marie and I don’t think she was up for football with two broken legs), had found and inflated a large beach ball and were pretending to be George Best or Dennis Law (Everyone supported Man Utd in those days). We had a great game but the score is lost in the mists of time.

A little later I was in the loo and I untucked my vest from pants only to find it soaked in claret. I recall being quite calm and took myself off to see a nurse. To her credit she was pretty calm too and informed me that I had managed to burst my stitches. Ah yes, that was why they kept you in in those days, the thread was shit!

So my week long stay turned into a fortnight as they watched my new stitches heal. I missed my dog so Honey was duly brought over and they stood on the hospital forecourt where I could see her from the window. I don’t think she saw me so she must have wondered what the hell was going on. And finally, I went home.

And that was the last time I spent a night in hospital until my pancreatitis attack 18 months ago. There were a couple of day surgeries including a frenuloplasty (Look it up if you care) but I managed to avoid anything serious as a patient. Oh so many occasions as a visitor though. Mostly for ailments of the elderly but also a stabbing, a handful of ectomies, a transplant, and a replacement or three. The parking fees I must have paid!

London Boys

Now I can’t pretend to be a Londoner, and though I often say my dad’s family were Londoners, it was really just a stopping place on their journey from Kent to Hertfordshire. However, two things have recently got me thinking about the London of my past. Firstly, last week my sister and I travelled to Highbury and dropped off some memorabilia to Ambler Road infant school where our nan and at least two of her siblings went to school a century ago. Secondly, I have just started reading Robert Elm’s London Made Us, which is his personal memoir of growing up there. And though I never lived in the city, I visited relatives, did the tourist bit, and worked there for several years. I am at least in part, made by London. In this blog I randomly recall memories made in the Smoke!

London 2

We did of course visit the capital as tourists on several occasions. We went to most of the popular attractions and dad took loads of photographs. We also attended the Lord Mayor’s Parade several times and dad and I went to the Royal Tournament. We were outside Buckingham Palace for the Silver Jubilee (and I went with mates for Di and Charlie’s nuptials). These though are wanderings through mainstream London. Much better are those away from the tourist tracks.

Back in the sixties and seventies we still had relatives living in London that we visited. Ironically they were not dad’s family who had mostly moved out of the East End to North London suburbs or, like his parents, to leafy old Hertfordshire. The rellies still in London proper were mostly on mum’s side. My great uncle Jim and auntie Flo lived in in Canning Road, Highbury. No.5 had been Flo’s parent’s home and the family had previously lived at No. 1. Indeed, when my great aunt finally moved out in 1997 the family were not far short of living in the street for a century!

London 3

We visited no.5 many times. It was a peculiar house at least by our standard of a fairly traditional Airey house in Goffs Oak. There was a narrow hallway after the front door with stairs leading up to the right. On the left was a Front Room stuffed with comfy chairs, sofas with antimacassars and cabinets full of china. The only time I ever remember using that room was after my great uncle Jim’s funeral. Next on the left was another room. This had long been converted into a bedroom. I guess it saved them having to go upstairs. On the right was the door down to the cellar. More a coal hole than a full-blown basement but big enough to move around in. When we cleared the house we found a lifetime’s supply of light-bulbs nestled amongst a forest’s worth of newspaper. Back to the hallway and you continued down some steps to a small room half the size of the two rooms we had passed. Here my great aunt and uncle lived their life. A table and chairs, a dresser, one comfy chair, a small black and white TV, and a wireless was pretty much everything in it. Another step down took you into the scullery which, in their house was the kitchen. A sink, a small oven and a tiny fridge was everything. Microwaves were used in radar and dirty clothes went to the launderette in Blackstock Road; dishes were washed by hand of course. Upstairs on the first half-landing was a toilet and a small bedroom whilst on the top floor were two further bedrooms. No, I haven’t missed out the bathroom – there wasn’t one! If I will always remember two things about that house they are these. From an upstairs window you could see the pitch at Highbury, well half of it anyway as the stand roof obscured the rest,and in the garden was a cage where the family monkey used to live. Yes, they used to have a pet monkey rescued from a banana crate at one of the markets apparently. Before my time sadly.

From Canning Road it was a short walk to Highbury New Park where auntie Flo’s brother Don lived. It was a walk through a residential area which was very quiet back then. I didn’t realise that had we gone a different route we could have enjoyed the colours and bustle of Blackstock Road and seen some real London rather than genteel Highbury.

Don and Peg lived in the basement of a big house in Highbury New Park, a stone’s throw from Wessex Studios where the Pistols later recorded. Not that I knew that until many years later. Now Don and Peg liked a party and often after a night in the pub they would invite everyone back to their flat for a knees-up. My great uncle Jim would go but would normally stay in the kitchen. The reason being he was an Inspector with the CID and half of North London’s villains were normally in the parlour at these parties. Of course, we never went to these dos but I do remember a big family bash in the flat probably for one of Don and Peg’s wedding anniversaries. They had a grand piano (Maybe a baby grand?) in the parlour which trumped the little upright I shared a bedroom with.

For my next London memory I am going to jump forward 15 years to the early eighties when I was working in London. I used to walk over from High Holborn to Smithfield regularly to see my personal banker aka my sister Julie. She worked for what was then the Midland Bank in West Smithfield. One of the main reasons I liked going over there is that I could get a drink at 8:30 in the morning. You’ve gotta love a market pub. It was a great area though. Rich in a history that I probably didn’t appreciate much at the time, the sights, sounds and smells would kill a true Vegan stone-dead. That great Victorian meat emporium was a magnificent place. May years later I would attend a conference there at a centre built into the market itself.

All around the edges were great warehouses. Some did what they said on the front whilst others were fronts for all sorts of things. If you believe every conspiracy story you have ever read, the British Secret Service had quite a settlement round and about. Back then though, I was more interested in filling my stomach. Down Cowcross Street one of the best hot Salt Beef sandwiches in London awaited and once consumed I would head into the Three Compasses for a Guinness (Jewish to Catholic in 20 yards!). Here I would sometimes see the boxer John Conteh, standing on the table preaching the word. (Jewish to Catholic to Evangelical in 25 yards!). Finally, I would realise I was supposed to be at work and head back to Holborn via Fleet Street (for another bevvy).

Now let’s jump ahead another 20 years. I’m sober and more able to appreciate other things in life. I’m now with Hazel and she still lives in Brixton, a in a top floor flat in the Effra Road. I often stay over. Brixton is of course alive. At night it’s a little edgy; constant sirens make the nerves tingle a little; and sudden shouts from groups of young people across the road tend to cause an increase in pace. On a Saturday morning, walking through the market and Electric Avenue, it’s a different world. The friendliness is all around. There’s a lot of that underrated form of conversation we call banter. Banter a half dozen different patois. Fruit and veg that would have been unrecognisable to my great aunts and uncles but just made me want to go and cook a goat curry that evening. And music, of course music. Mostly reggae but not wholly so. Electric Avenue was so called because it was the first street in the area (In London?) to have electric lighting but it could have been called so for the atmosphere it projected. I was quite sad when Hazel moved in with me in Essex as it meant no more stays in Brixton.


And finally, another view of London. Around the turn of the century I worked for Fitzpatrick who held several London road maintenance contracts for TfL. One of these involved us closing down the Blackwall Tunnel every Tuesday night so work could be carried out. I visited during one of these closures and walked through the empty tunnel where the only sound was the buzz of the fluorescent lamps. We came to an evacuation/ventilation shaft and clambered up the iron spiral staircase. We emerged from the ground a few hundred yards from the Dome. We were in waste ground and the gentle hum of the sleeping city was only background noise. It was magical in the same way those streets around Covent Garden were magical when we were delivering fruit and veg in the early hours (See previous blog for that). There is something very special about being about in the hours between midnight and dawn. And there is something very special about London!

London 4


This week is #MillionsMissing week and Sunday is International Awareness Day for myalgic encephalomyelitis or M.E. It shouldn’t be called CFS – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an umbrella diagnosis for a number of illnesses – and certainly not the damaging Yuppie Flu. You see M.E. is a very real and very debilitating condition that affects millions of people across the world. I know this because I am one of those affected! Not that I have M.E. myself but the woman I love has had it for some 15 years and so of course it affects me too.

One of the first things that attracted me to Hazel was her forthrightness. I saw her asserting herself at the check-in desk of a charity briefing we were both attending regarding the hearing loop in the room. I can’t remember the exact issue – Hazel is hard of hearing in one ear and uses a hearing aid – but I remember liking the way she handled herself. I also liked the fact she was there. I was almost five years sober and throwing myself into charity projects with Toc H. Hazel was like-minded, both working and volunteering in the charity sector.

I’ve explained the crazy circumstances in which we got together – the dyke and the drunk – so I won’t repeat them here. I will say that our relationship was what I wanted. It was one of equals, in all senses of the word. When Hazel and started going out together, I had not long come out of a brief relationship with a South African woman. Her idea of a partnership was that she was a WIFE, which to her stood for Washing Ironing Fucking Everything. Despite having her own career she tried to stop me lifting a hand in my own flat. You might think I loved it but I didn’t. With Hazel it was different. Sure, we each had different skills and specialisations but generally we shared chores out as fitted our lives. Moreover, she was independent. Of course we did stuff together but we also did stuff on our own. A good job too because clubbing until 6am in the morning was not my cup of tea.

Hazel 002

And then, something was wrong. I think stomach problems were the first signs. Then the fatigue; real bone-aching, ball-breaking, depressing fatigue after the slightest exertion. We went to the doctor of course but he could see nothing obvious and recommended a specialist. Thankfully I had private health insurance at the time which covered Hazel so we got seen quite quickly. A good job too because when they discovered only symptoms not illness we were sent on to another consultant, then another. I think we saw 5 or 6 inside a year – had we done that on the NHS we would probably still be on the waiting list for some. Eventually, as condition after condition was being ruled out, we were heading in an obvious direction. In October 2004 at the National M.E. Centre in Romford, the diagnosis was confirmed.

Over the year, Hazel had declined considerably. She had had to give up work as she just couldn’t concentrate. Ironically at the time she was working from home phoning BT employees who had been long-term sick and helping them adjust back into work. The Disability Consultancy she worked for were very quick in letting her go!

By the following spring, she needed a wheelchair to travel any distance outside of the house. Thanks to the local Lions and Toc H we got her a mobility scooter so she could be a bit more independent. We made our last two trips by plane that spring but found the whole business of taking wheelchairs through the airport too draining for her. Also, when we went to Italy, the equipment she needed meant our excess baggage cost more than our tickets. We decided then to only go where we could drive though that has never stopped us going out to our beloved Belgium.

I was finding being a carer quite a challenge. It’s not that I wasn’t used to working with people with a disability and certainly not that I wasn’t used to cooking or cleaning. I think it was the psychology of suddenly being put in a position where you have to take responsibility for someone else that put a strain on me.

On top of that, the Fitzpatricks had recently sold the company I worked at to a Dutch master, and since I was close to the family, my job had lost its appeal. That’s when I decided to jack it all in and we chose to move to Norfolk. It was dangerous decision, to give up a near six figure package, and when the flat failed to sell quickly, it damn near crippled us financially. That said, I don’t regret it one little bit.

So, yes our lives changed dramatically but it would be unfair for me to moan about my lot. What #MillionsMissing is about is what the people with M.E. are missing out on. That’s why Hazel’s badge – my current facebook profile pic and cover shot – says that since 2004 Hazel has been missing from Work, from volunteering, from socialising, from travelling, from dancing, and from walking hand in hand with me. Of course, we do all of those (except work) to some small degree but it has to be on much changed terms from before. When we go away, we have to programme a complete rest day doing nothing either side of a day out. And by day out – I mean maybe out for 3 hours max. Even travelling leaves Hazel grey and unable to speak.

Hazel 001

We hope one day this wretched illness will lift as swiftly as it descended, and it might, we know of people who have improved. Maybe one day there might even be a cure though they are still working on a proper diagnosis so a cure could be a while.

Meanwhile, we manage the best we can. We live our lives the way that suits us and do not bend to other people’s expectations. That’s cost Hazel some friends but that can’t be helped; true friends support us still. We are still partners, lovers, soul-mates and friends, and still very much in love. Oh, and we do walk hand in hand sometimes but with only one hand on the steering column of her scooter, it often ends badly!

Green Onions

I recently reconnected – through facebook  – with another old chum of my childhood, Jamie Thrussell. Now running a business in America, the connection got me thinking about some of the things we got up to. Not least in my mind’s eye was a wonderful overnight trip to Covent Garden. Mr Thrussell was one of many people locally involved in the whole market gardening industry. The Lea Valley was after all the glasshouse of England. He regularly ran product from the nurseries of Goffs Oak to Covent Garden and on this occasion Jamie and I were allowed to go with him. I was only about 11 so I have no idea what my mum had taken. I am surprised now that she let me go up to London in a lorry, overnight. OK, I was with a responsible adult but just the same.

I know this was 1974 because Covent Garden had just relocated to Nine Elms. Wiki tells me that New Covent Garden Market opened 11 November 1974 and we visited soon after I’m sure. Perhaps in the Christmas holidays.

Well we travelled up in the cab of the lorry. I think Jamie’s older brother John was with us too so it would have been a bit of a squeeze but I don’t think I would have cared. We left Goffs Oak around 10-ish and drove up the A10 to London. Traffic would have been relatively light back in those days and certainly by the time we had wound our way into central London – I think in the restaurant area around old Covent Garden/Soho – it was past midnight and the streets were surprisingly quiet. I remember depositing boxes of cues and lettuce and heaven knows what else at the back doors of some of these restaurants. It was eerie and creepy stuff. Street-light glow, cats and rats, and rubbish everywhere. It would be a couple of hours yet before the rubbish collectors swept through and cleared the place.

And then we headed south of the river to somewhere called Nine Elms. It was near Battersea which I had heard of but we never ventured south of the river much, it gave us nosebleeds. Now I had been to markets before – at Waltham Abbey and Romford to name but two – but Covent Garden Market was something else. I think we stopped at the Flower Market first. A huge warehouse, must have been the size of 3 or 4 football pitches (Bear in mind I was 11 and size is relative) stuffed to the gills with flowers. I don’t recall a heady perfume but the colours, oh boy!

After dropping some stuff off there we headed (over the railway?) to the main market where the Thrussells had a stall. Here was a vast concrete site where electric vehicles like milk floats buzzed around. Over there was a pub – the originally named Market Tavern if I recall correctly – open at 3am in the morning. The atmosphere at that time of day is so special.

Jamie 1

Well we helped unload the lorry and set up the wares and hung around for a short time. Then we got bored and went off exploring. The main thing I remember is finding the multi-storey car park and climbing to the very top then coming down by jumping between floors. It was probably safer than it sounds but it stuck in my memory.

And then about 8am it was time to go home. This time Jamie and I travelled in the back of the lorry, almost empty bar a few unsold boxes of cucumbers and some assorted tat. We spent the journey being tossed about like corks in a stormy sea and being shouted at to sit down from the cab. We lifted the rear roller door as high as we could before the chain tightened and made rude gestures at the cars behind us. We generally arsed around as 11 year olds did. It was a night I shall never forget.

So what else did Jamie and I get up to? I remember building a decent camp in their back garden. It was a good site as the alley between The Drive and the shops (Previously mentioned in this blog) ran alongside its entire length. Thus from behind the safety of a hedge and within our camp, we could assail passers-by verbally or with the occasional lobbed crab apple.

We sunk pallets into the ground to give us a sturdy floor and drove posts in hold up the walls. My word, the camp-building experience I had gained with Russ and Steph was coming into play now all right.

Jamie 2

However Jamie and my next adventure was almost grown up by comparison. We were in the Sea cadets together and had some grand adventures, some of which I have already touched on though doubtless more will come to light. Those were such great days and now Russ is gone, Steph lives miles away in another part of the UK, and Jamie is in another country. Thankfully I have the memories (supplemented by photos). That’s me third from right in the back row and Jamie, second from right in the front row at RNAS Culdrose in 1978.


Shop Around

As someone who hates shopping with a passion, it seems strange that the subject of shops should make up today’s blog. However, as someone who was born, raised and resided in one village for 34 years, the shops and shopkeepers of Goffs Oak form an important part of my life. Here is my meander around those shops over my formative years.

For those that don’t know the village, there are basically two parades of shops then and now. The first, Mason’s Parade, is just through the alleyway from The Drive where I grew up. The second streams east from the junction of Newgatestreet Road and Goffs lane as far as Valley View. Add in a small cluster almost opposite the Goffs Oak pub, a lone Children’s Clothing (later hairdressers) on Cuffley Hill, Morgans (Brynfield) nursery and a Grocers (Later dress shop) just the other side of the new Wheelwrights and I think we have just about sewn up the retail outlets of Goffs Oak.

SHops 1

The first shop encountered as you walk through the alley from the street where I grew up was for a long time a hardware shop. I was sent there on many occasions with a couple of plastic fuel cans to get paraffin for my nan’s space heaters in the greenhouses. I’m pretty sure these days they would be reluctant to serve a seven year old with inflammable materials like that but back then they didn’t worry. We also bought household items like fly-strips and washing up clothes from there but dad didn’t buy his woodworking paraphernalia like screws and nails there as he preferred to go to Bishop and Cain in Cheshunt. The original proprietor was Mr Hockley but when he retired Mr Harnett took over. They were both lovely old men and after his own retirement Mr Harnett often came over from Broxbourne to visit my nan and admire the garden. When he left the shop was transformed into a beauty salon run by an old school friend, Linda. It still appears to carry out that function today though I couldn’t tell you who runs it.

Next door was Mr Shaw, the butchers. Mum had to tread a fine political meat-purchasing line to ensure she did just enough business with Mr Shaw (Mince, offal and bacon mostly) to ensure she didn’t upset Mr Cheshire (See below). I think she succeeded. When he retired though it seemed Goffs Oak couldn’t support two butchers any longer and Bob the Fish took it over, initially as a wet fish shop but later became a frier. Up until then, our wet fish man had been John Halsey, legendary drummer with Patto, the Rutles and Joe Brown. The man even drummed on Lou Reed’s Transformer only to flog cod and haddock from the back of his van outside the Goffs Oak pub 20 years later!

The first of two greengrocers was next to Mr Shaw. The Cuttings greengrocery was where we got most of our greengrocery requirements. It was a friendly and happy environment – at least until the great apple wars of 1971 (Or whenever, my memory’s not that bloody good). It started off as chucking windfall apples at each other. Two gangs with me, Russ, Andy Carr and others on the hone side and Andrew Cutting and friends on the other. A harmless, if occasionally painful, war of attrition. Then Andrew Cutting starts bringing eggs from the shop to the fight. Most unfair. No bloody surprise he joined the army. When the Cuttings left the shop it became an off licence. I spent a lot of time in there and ran up quite a line of credit. I had to really because half the time I couldn’t even write a cheque out I was shaking so much.

Then it was Mrs Perrett’s grocery shop, later a Wavy Line. She ran both this one and the newsagent at the end of the parade. The latter was ‘managed’ by the friendly yet fierce Mrs Harris, who lived in our street but was my most visited shop for comics and sweets. That was later taken over by John, one of the first Asians in the village and a lovely man – a complete contrast to our other Asian newsagent (See below). But going back to the former shop, in 1981 when it was a Wavy Line, your cold meats, cheeses and cream cakes would likely be served by me, or Mrs Hoskins, or even Dawn.

Thus endeth Mason’s Parade. Let us scoot to the Co-op and pick things up there. Not sure when the Co-op opened but when I was young it was split into two halves – grocers and butchers – and the outside had that wonderful green tile on the façade. Mum, or me as her proxy, took a shopping list round on Thursday or Friday and gave it to the lady behind the counter. On Saturday a man in a grey Morris van delivered a cardboard box with your groceries. On Monday, one of us went round to pay. I hope Tesco don’t think they invented home delivery! Later the Co-op would be modernised and knocked into one. I spent two years there as butcher’s boy, my first Saturday job.

SHops 2

Next to the Co-op was the Chemist, which is still is although I se he has expanded to take over Sanjay’s old newsagent. Now Sanjay was the ’other’ Asian newsagent’ I referred to earlier and was not everyone’s cup of tea. I got on just fine with him tough but I had to really as he held the village’s only supply of porn videos! He did come across as pretty miserable most of the time but he had a wicked sense of humour if you could find it. Many a time I watched the shop for him whilst he went out back for something or other.

There was and still is a Dry Cleaners next, then after the alley which let through to Mr Maske’’s first flat was the Post Office. Originally in a smaller shop opposite the pub, it has been where it is for many a year now. In my day it was run by Mavis, whose husband David farmed Brook Farm in Cuffley. As well as the PO counter it was a veritable treasure trove of toys and magazines.

Then came Mr Cheshire’s – Ted – the butchers. It was where we got our weekly joint. It was also where Tottenham got the Turkeys they handed out to all the staff and players at Christmas. More fame for such a tiny little village. Above Ted’s was his niece’s(?) hairdressing salon where my mum always had her hair done and so did I until I was old enough to go with my dad to the barber. Jean the hair now lives in Norfolk and is still a family friend.

The Onion was the village’s second greengrocer and to be honest, one of the few shops we never used. Our loyalty was to Cuttings always. Though I must admit, we half-inched the occasional potato from the sacks outside the shop when we were getting low on ammunition during the Great Apple Wars of 1971 (or whenever).

Finally in that parade was the shop(s) where my nan got all her wool. And the lady’s name was at the tip pf my tongue until I came to write it down and now it’s gone. Anyway, the Whiskers later turned a perfectly useful shop into a bike shop! Oh and hang on, wasn’t there a plumbers there too? See, I don’t remember everything at all.

The Love Parade

Since I don’t really have a stock of Easter related stories to recount, today I’m going to look at what I can accurately describe as my international carnival career. Even as I started to write this, I had forgotten quite what a part these parades had actually had in my life.

As a child my carnival caperings began as a spectator rather than a participant when Goffs Oak, in common with virtually every other town and village in the country, held its own annual carnival parade and fete. It was no small thing either. The lorries, many provided through the generosity of local garden supplies’ merchant Colin Edward, plus vans, and decorated cars, stretched up Newgatestreet Road from outside the Methodist Church to almost Beehive Road. Every organisation in the district was represented. I’m pretty sure my grandad was in it one year with the Goffs Oak Horticultural Society. Majorettes, Carnival Queens, floats galore and people in fancy dress rattling buckets. This was Carnival how the Brits did it. Barely a feather head dress or glittery sparse bikini in sight – well not unless the Second Cheshunt Guides had chosen a Polynesian theme for their float that year which was highly unlikely in the scheme of things.

Carnival 5

The parade, watched by most of the village and several hundred more, wound its way through the streets of Goffs Oak before ending up on the playing fields where the fete was held. The fete itself was always opened by a ‘celebrity’ and though I struggle to recall just who, I seem to remember the boxer Billy Walker doing it one year. Possibly because I have photos of the event to remind me.

And then it died away, or did I just stop going? I recall taking part in a number of parades whilst I was in the Sea Cadets although they were mostly Jubilee related bashes not traditional carnivals. And yet, there is a photo of me in uniform on the back of a float. Cheshunt carnival I suppose though I honestly have no recall of that at all. There was the Battle of Flowers in Jersey too which I have mentioned before but we were just crown control and beer bottle openers at that event.

Carnival 4

Then sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, Richard dragged me along to a Carnival Committee meeting. I think that Cuffley Carnival had been dormant for a few years but a new committee – for which I had apparently volunteered – was working in conjunction with the neighbouring village of Northaw to revive the event. It was actually a huge success – much due to the generosity of local garden supplies’ merchant Colin Edward, who supplied half the lorries, and Vic Roberts (Previously mentioned in this blog) who provided several more including the youth club’s. It must have been a success because I think it carried on for several more years. I have seen photos of the youth club and/or Toc H in later carnivals though I must admit I wasn’t involved.

In fact you have to jump forward to about 2000 when I next clamber on the back of a float. Someone at Fitzpatrick (I know it was you Michelle Turner so don’t bother hiding) thought it would be a spiffing idea for us to dress up in costumes and enter Hoddesdon carnival. I note I was the only Senior Manager to get involved which shows something though I’m not sure which. The theme chosen was the Wizard of Oz and I was Lion. I very nearly made the newspapers for all the wrong reasons when, as the Lady Mayor was judging us, I let out an almighty roar right in her ear’ole almost causing her to expire on the spot. Despite that, we won first prize in our category.

Carnival 2

Al this though, has just been a build up to the real thing. The few short years I took part in the Poperinge Carnival. Now the Belgians like a good parade and they are quite good at it, many groups building the elaborate costumes and floats you often see on the continent. The local Toc H, buoyed by members from Toc H in the UK had long taken part. I was a late come to the scene which meant I missed being a Mad Cow, a Telly Tubby and a member of the Royal Family. As I said in the blog about Dougie it was 2003 when I first joined in. Dressed as ‘agrid, I led our little group jointly with our Harry, followed by a procession of Hogwarts students, Dumbledore, and a flying Ford Anglia complete with a papier-mache Dobby strapped to the bonnet and Moaning Myrtle waving regally from the back seat. It was an inspired choice and we won a prize.

Those weekends were fun-filled affairs. They began on Friday with a Children’s parade that involved the flinging of a lot of confetti. On alternate years we did a party for disadvantaged children instead of entering the parade. That meant we still got to dress up but had less walking to do.

Carnival 1

The other actual Poperinge Carnival that springs to mind was the one where the Belgian Toc H’ers decided that the momentous occasion of the moving of Poperinge library into new premises deserved immortalising in carnival. We were all given instructions to make elaborate ebookworm costumes. The Belgians duly started making theirs sometime before Christmas whilst the Brits turned up in Belgium on the Thursday before the Sunday Carnival with a couple of sewing machines and a roll of material. The museum space at Talbot House was like a Philippine sweatshop all day Friday and Saturday whilst the costumes were turned out. The Belgians scratched their heads and muttered about Brits not leaving things until the last minute (Just wait until Brexit rears its ugly head, I didn’t say). Come Sunday though we were all on parade with our barrow full of cardboard books. Not that the barrows remained full of cardboard books. Every time the parade came to a halt, which is the way of all carnival parades, one of us would distract Gregory (one of the Belgian Toc H stalwarts), whilst the rest of us hoiked bricks and other handy heavy objects into his barrow and covered them with cardboard books. By the time we reached the finish line poor Gregory was wheeling most of the old library building with him. He looked very tired!

All in all I think I preferred the children’s parties. As pirates, dwarves and explorers we took part in an array of party games (Mostly Belgian in origin) to the delight of the guests. Many were children with learning difficulties and I was in my element. They included the wonderful Arne. A 14 year old almost my size whose English was perfect and no-one knew why or how. They were glorious days and I miss them.

Carnival 3

My carnival career was not yet done though. About With Friends would turn up to the opening of a fridge so of course we took part in Cromer Carnival. It is, I believe, one of the biggest surviving traditional British carnivals. Over the years I was variously a Teddy Boy, Mad-Eyed Moody in a return to Harry Potter, and Augustus Gloop (though it was unanimously agreed I looked more like Where’s Wally). Good times, equally missed.

And since it is a solemn day, I will mention two other parades with religious connections that I won’t be recommending. The first I witnessed in Belgium one July and was a parade of endless crosses known as Maria-Ommegang and the second, no less endless, was the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. Clearly aimed at our American cousins, there are only so many Pipe and Drum bands one can handle before the lure of green tinted lager drags you into a bar. You see not all carnivals are equal!

What Made Milwaukee Famous Made A Loser Out Of Me

Regular readers of this blog will know that my drinking gets mentioned more than a few times. I make no apology for this. You have to understand that, for the best part of seventeen years, drink was either integral to my life or indeed, the point about which it revolved. So today’s writing is going to focus on how that developed. It may not always be a pleasant read.

I grew up in a household where alcohol was always on offer to guests as well as a cup of tea. It was part of everyday life and yet it was never all consuming. My nan had a Guinness every day, a habit she picked up in the sanatorium recovering from TB. She liked an occasional brandy too but never to excess. My dad was highly disciplined with his drinking. Down the Wheelwrights every Sunday for two pints and always home by 1.15 for Sunday lunch. A couple of cans at lunchtime on a Saturday and again in the evening. He didn’t drink on weekdays until after he retired and then it was strictly controlled. My mum drank most days but it was usually only at family parties where she overdid it at all.

Me, I suppose I got sips of beer from friendly uncles as I was growing up but my parents were quite law abiding about alcohol and I can remember clearly the day I was first allowed to have a drink in the pub (The White Horse in Framlingham if you really want to know). I was just 16 and was only able to have the drink legally because we were having a meal.

Now I deliberately used the term law abiding rather than strict because I didn’t want anyone to think I started drinking as a reaction to being forced to abstain by adults. It just wasn’t like that. Later when I was going through all sorts of processes to help me quit drinking we looked hard for a reason that I started drinking. I think I have mentioned before that HAPAS, the Hertfordshire Alcohol Counselling Service, were convinced that abuse as a child would be at the bottom of it. That was the trendy diagnosis of the eighties. Arseholes!

Drink 1

The truth is I was in my late teens, questioning everything, feeling a little hard done by that I had been brought into this world without being asked and was close to having to go out and make my own way through it. Therefore a little hedonistic pleasure with my friends was well deserved. Problem was I was quite good at it. When we first started drinking in the Green Dragon, perhaps one or two nights of the week only, two pints would last my friends the whole night. I however would have three. Smudger’s infamous inbetweeny round started from the very off. A couple of years on, my friends might drink 5 or 6 pints over the course of an evening but I had 9 or 10. And I was going out 3, 4, 5, 6, then 7 nights a week. I would have gone out 8 nights a week if I could have managed it in any way.

At first, the only damage it did to me was my wallet. From 16-18 there were several vomiting incidents usually after a Saturday night party but come 18 I stopped being ill and I became immune to hangovers. I’ve talked about some of the holidays away with friends. Well I was almost certainly the one who drank the most each night but I was also the one first up cooking a full English for everyone the next day. I don’t say this with any boastfulness but simply present it as fact.

Despite the massive intake of calories I managed to keep my shape vaguely as it was through sport. We did a bit a kick around football in the park and also played in a 5-a-side league at Waltham Abbey. Aside alert: I wasn’t very good but I enjoyed it though I did get myself a bit of a reputation. At one point I injured my knee pretty badly and had to watch the next week’s game from the gallery. It so happened one of the referees was also watching from up there and on seeing me he just said, “Oh, I see you finally got a ban then”. Bastard.

Back to the drink, it was that knee injury that led to me dropping sport and soon after the weight began to pile on and I do mean pile on.

Drink 2

I had been out to work for a few years now and had started the legendary lunch hour crawls that I have written about elsewhere, so now I am drinking all day.

Somehow I managed to go on. I had quickly become a high-functioning drunk. So long as I could keep my alcohol levels up I could do anything. In fact the problems started when I stopped drinking.

One of the first health issues (other than increased weight) was alcoholic gastritis. By the mid-80s my gullet was raw. When sober I often felt I was choking. I wasn’t but that was the exact sensation. I also started having panic attacks at this point. The solution was easy. Have a drink. It cured nothing but relaxed me entirely. So now I took to having a drink when I was working too. Pouring vodka in to coke cans behind the cover of an open briefcase on my commute, later having a stash of cans under the counter at the garage.

And at night too. I would crash out after drinking all day at 9pm, often laying still fully dressed on top of my bed but would wake in the very early hours. At first there was enough residue alcohol in my system to stop any physical symptoms but the mental torture began. I was in a deep hole. I recognised I was an alcoholic but didn’t know how to deal with it. I felt like a failure, a wastrel, and a fool. I spent the darkest part of the night listening to talk radio (only to discover that the people who called the phone-ins were every bit as fucked up as me); masturbating to take my mind off things; and awfulising. Awfulising was a word I didn’t learn until I went into rehab but I was doing it way back then.

After a couple of hours like that, the physical symptoms would start. Sweats and shakes and the choking sensation described earlier. I would try to resist it as long as I could but eventually I would track down some alcohol. It might be the remains of the cider I was drinking the night before, now flat in a glass by the side of the bed. I might have to raid my nan’s Guinness stash which involved a stealth like mission to the shed without waking the household. Or it might mean pouring half an inch of every bottle in the drinks cabinet to make a vicious cocktail without giving away the fact I had been stealing the booze.

Then I can’t tell you how quick the transformation was. Once I had sufficient alcohol inside me, everything was going to be fine. The physical symptoms were vanquished or masked and I believed that today would be the last day I would drink. Tomorrow I would quit. And I could feel that good all day as long as I kept my alcohol levels topped up.

And I’m going to leave this about here for now. I am pretty close my nadir in the very early 90s. My liver is apparently three times the size it should be. The rest of my body probably the same. I was a fucking mess although once I had a drink in me, everything was going to be all right.

And friends, to leave this on a better note, eventually everything WOULD be all right!

Queen Bitch

I don’t usually do requests – simply because no-one ever requests anything but my good friend Glenn, has asked that I recount some of my adventures with our mutual friend Dougie. This probably means that WordPress will shut this blog down unless I do some serious editing. Thankfully Dougie doesn’t do computers or else he would bring his own, special contributions to the table.

So who is Dougie? I first met him on a trip to Belgium with the youth club. He had spent much of his life working at hospitals like Cell Barnes in St Albans. It was through Toc H coming into this hospital for people with learning disabilities that Dougie came to be known to the organisation and thence to Cuffley Youth Centre. John Burgess asked him, and another Toc H volunteer Bob, onto our trip.

Dougie 2

So the first thing you need to know about Dougie is that he is openly gay. No big deal. More importantly, you need to know that at the flick of switch he can be as camp as the Queen of Sheba. He has his foibles, as do we all, but he is funny as fuck if you’ll excuse my old German. The tales he tells, though some are embellished and some are probably completely fabricated, always bring a smile to my face.

He is also a loving, caring man who I have had the pleasure of seeing work with people with special needs at various Toc H events here and in Belgium. Today, he is virtually bed bound in his bungalow in London Colney. We speak every week and I am off to see him next Tuesday. He doesn’t get too many visitors any more.

On that first trip away with him he was quite well behaved. It was after all a youth club trip and though they were the older members of the group, some decorum was required. I recall him causing confusion by sounding off a realistic little dog yap when people were least expecting it. Honestly, I have seen restaurant staff looking under tables trying to evict a completely non-existence dog.

Dougie 1

I can’t be sure which particular Belgium trip it was as I must have done a dozen with Dougie but I remember one incident with a mixture of trepidation and hilarity. First you need some context. In Belgium drinking is generally a more laid back affair than in the UK. I may have already recounted my dismay when I found few places in Belgium use pint glasses for instance. This is one of my frequent asides though as by the time I met Dougie I was sober and he doesn’t drink either. It’s not the alcohol that matters here, it’s the glasses. You see every make of beer in Belgium is served in its own unique branded glass. To an inveterate collector of pretty things as Douglas is, the temptation is too much. For, after spending an incredibly pleasant evening sat outside our favourite (at the time) drinkery on the square in Poperinge, we stood up to go back to Talbot House. Dougie picked up his sizeable holdall from under the table and it rattled like a chandelier in the wind. Assuming a position of responsibility quite unlike me normally, I unzipped the bag and demanded he put back on the table the very impressive collection of glasses he had assembled. Even back then Dougie’s mobility was slightly limited and he had, like some special interest Fagin, send various members of the youth club around the tables collecting the pieces he required. Let us not dwell on this dark day in the relationship between the UK and Belgium. Suffice to say we kept a very close eye on him in future.

Probably the time I got to know him best was on the first Poperinge Carnival I did. On the Friday night the local Toc H had arranged a fancy dress quiz. Dougie and I, both being larger chaps, had dressed as a nun and a cardinal, since long flowing robe-like costumes suited us best. Now Belgium is still a fairly devout Catholic country and as we walked the streets I expected a few looks of curiosity, if not pure disdain. Instead, I told Doug to get a move on because I was pretty sure any time now someone was either going to prostrate themselves at our feet or ask to kiss my ring (No sniggering at the back).

Dougie 3

Two days later, at the Carnival itself, Dougie sat in our ‘flying Ford Anglia’ carefully crafted from a little Citroen hatchback, waving regally at the crowd. I was up the front of our little group feeling genuinely overwhelmed by the crowd’s calls for ‘Agrid, who appeared to be a popular character on the continent. Glenn, who asked that I write this blog, was our Harry.

Dougie 3a

It may have been that trip where Dougie travelled with me in my car. On arrival at the ferry – our preferred mode of travel in those days – we went into the disabled access lane whilst the others went into the normal loading lane. Dougie and I were kind of surrounded by lorries and after about 30 minutes of inactivity I called the others up. But we’re loaded and on the move they said so I went and looked and sure enough the ferry was steaming away to England. Unsurprisingly my demands to the men on the dock received a Gallic shrug and Dougie and I had to sit for two hours until the next ferry. Brexit holds no fears for me, I’m delay trained!!*

Dougie 4

So, what else of Dougie. Well, he had a very good friend who was chief cook for Barbara Cartland at her estate in Essendon. She was often away and Nigel would invite Dougie over. I am told, and I have no desire not to believe it, that on one occasion they went through her wardrobe and each chose a frock that best suited them. Suitably attired they took the Rolls Royce out for a spin. However, it obviously hadn’t been serviced properly for somewhere on the A1 it ground to a halt and our two miscreants were stood on the hard shoulder with a broken down Roller looking as if they were on their way to a garden party.

The other Cartland story that I can recount was at that grand old dame’s funeral. She requested a cardboard coffin but the day was gloomy and wet as funerals used to be. So wet, Dougie tells me, that by the time they were carrying the coffin to the burial site, Dame B’s nether regions were suspended though the soggy bottom of the environmentally friendly coffin. It’s probably not true and it’s probably a bit disrespectful but the first time Dougie told me, my coffee erupted through both nostrils at once.

Those days are over but thankfully he still has the stories. Glenn teased me with one about a poodle and glass table. You’re going to have to use your imagination.


*This is actually bollocks as Brexit scares me lots and I am the most impatient person I know!