The Greatest Love of All

Well after rattling out 36 posts in 5 weeks, I hit a brick wall and stepped away for a while. Now I shall try and ease myself back into the blog with occasional postings. Today, for no reason in particular, I want to focus on one of the mentors in my life. The man who changed my life and the lives of so many others for the good. Richard Gentle.

He has featured in these blogs before though he has never been the central character. And though he hated being in the spotlight when he could push someone else – normally a young person – into the illumination of success, he is going to be the nub of these few paragraphs.

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I first met him in January 1987 when I started working at Cuffley Motors. I was doing a shift on the pumps and Richard was my opposite number. I’m slightly surprised that I had never come across him before as I was born and bred Goffs Oak but had a lot of connections in Cuffley where Richard had grown up. Then again, up to this point my life mostly centred around hedonism and alcoholic depravity.

Now Richard didn’t hang around long once his shift finished and nor did I so we didn’t get to know each other at handover very much. However he used to come back – he was living in Wormley at the time – and just hang around the garage causing mischief so I soon got to know him. In the summer of 1987 I learned that he was reopening the Youth Club that had been closed since Pat Cheetham gave it up. By October he had talked me into working there and my first step toward a new life was taken.

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So who was Richard? An incredible man that’s who. A printer by trade (I still shuffle wads of printer paper the way he showed me), he involved himself with working with young people from early on. Scoutmaster, manager of a Children’s Home on the Ridgeway, and then Youth and Community Leader. He was also, incidentally, petrol pump attendant, bar worker, shellfish stall owner, and loads more that I have forgotten or never even knew of.

He was also a man who got things done. Richard had a way with people. It’s true he was a bit Marmite and he had his detractors as well as his fans, but regardless of this he knew how to win the important people over.

But his passion was for young people. Not in any unhealthy, seedy, post-Saville kind of way (Though those filthy rumours arose from sewer mouths sometimes) but because he cared. When I first met him he had half a dozen kids – well adults by then – from the Children’s Home sharing his flat because they had nowhere to go when they turned 18. He was like a father to them. A kind, loving, decent father!

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I was talking about him getting things done. Every Sunday for a long while there would be a group of qualified tradesmen working for nothing down the Community Centre. Well not exactly nothing, it was their Community Service. Richard had chatted to the probation services and we had a seemingly endless supply of labour (and sometimes parts but the less said about that the better) refitting the community centre kitchen or decorating the halls.

Another early victory I am reminded of was when the clubs first started. Attendance for the older group was quite low and the Cuffley kids could be found hanging around the kebab shop smoking, most evenings. So Richard made sure they knew they could smoke in the youth centre. This was the late 80s, way before the ban on smoking in public places. And so, the ‘kids’ migrated to the club. Richard gave it six months – long enough for them to realise they enjoyed coming there – and then banned smoking. Now they just nipped outside for a fag but kept on coming to the clubs.

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Richard didn’t really do ‘no’ and as I have said, he had a way of getting people round to his way of thinking. I have said before how I gave up being on the council’s youth worker payroll to become a volunteer because I detested the soulless forms they expected us to fill-in. Yet within weeks of making that decision, Richard had persuaded me to fill in his forms for him. At one stage I was spending half my week down at the Youth Centre setting up the computer, helping Fiona, the secretary, selling adverts for programmes, and who knows what else. He also got me to come with him on holidays both to Belgium and elsewhere. And all this whilst I was descending into the abyss of alcoholism. And though I stopped going to the centre for a couple of years when I reached my nadir, I returned in sobriety and Richard reacted as if I had never been away.

I could hardly moan at my few hours unpaid work. Richard put in a seven day week, sometimes 12 plus hour days. It was his life and it damn near killed him from a heart attack when he was barely 50. It did persuade him to slow down a bit and he eventually got qualified youth workers in to run the clubs. A culture shock for our young people who were used to Richard’s ways.

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He even tried to relax and persuaded me to go on holiday with him. Firstly on a coach trip to see the Blackpool Lights. I’d never done a coach holiday before, let alone one with Richard. I’ll never do one again though we did have quite a laugh. The couple from Essex on the seats in front of us didn’t know what hit them. I also took him to Dartmouth for a few days when we visited Lindridge for the first time. I’ll talk about this Toc H centre again as it was where Hazel and I got it together.

But that big heart was wearing out. He used it up too quickly I suppose. He was put on the transplant list. We were due to go on another holiday together, this time to Norfolk but he got a call to say they had a heart for him. I went alone and waited for a call. Come the Wednesday Linda phoned and said he had had the op and was sat up talking. By the time I went to visit him the following week, he was unconscious. The heart they had given him, was as Richard declared to all and sundry ‘manky!

My friend died and so did an era. The era of pantomimes, shows and holidays to Belgium. But Linda started a new era, one that continues to this day. Long may it run!

His funeral was unbelievable. His coffin was brought up from the Community Centre to St Andrew’s Church on the back of a vintage truck. It was a compromise as Richard had wanted to be on the back of one of Vic Robert’s working lorries but the funeral director was too prissy for that. Vic was one of those ‘troubled’ young people who Richard had made time for and was now running a hugely successful haulage business.

There were wreaths in the shape of mobile phones (His was glued to his ear as he made one deal after another or talked to a troubled young person); the number plate of his car which he adored. Mine was in the shape of a crabstick. He did love his shellfish.

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650 people turned up that day. The church was packed and they overflowed into the Undercroft where the service was piped through speakers. At the wake at the Community Centre, everyone had a story to tell about Richard and they were all about how good a man he was, and they were nearly all funny too.

And what of his legacy. People mostly. People like me who were touched by his presence and are all the better for it. People who were thrown on the rubbish tip whilst still in their teens and picked off by Richard who helped them become human again.

More tangibly, Richard left money is his will for a rubbish bin to be placed by the shops bearing the message, “Richard Gentle 1945-2001. Still serving the community”

On The Street Where You Live

A conversation with a new facebook friend set me thinking about some of my old neighbours in the Drive and how close we were in those days. Today we live on a farm and our only neighbours are our landlords. Though even if we lived in a busy residential street, I doubt we would be as close to those around us as we were when I was growing up. Many of them were known as aunts and uncles to us kids and any of them were there for us in any way they can.

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My nan moved into the council house when my grandad became caretaker in the village hall around 1956 and my parents moved in with her when grandad died in 1961. When I arrived two years laters our immediate neighbours were, to one side Ted and Jean Dyson. A lovely older couple who often invited me round to sit and chat and get sweets. They were just like an extra (great) Uncle and Aunt to us. On the other side originally were the Russells. Their daughter Val went on to marry Nobby Dalton of the Kinks. I was quite young when they were there but just about remember Val from then. As it turned out our paths would cross time and time again in later life both on the music scene when I went to see John’s 80s band Cuckoo’s Nest and then when we worked together at Fitzpatrick.

The Russells moved away when I was about 5 and the Tredgetts came in. They would become lifetime friends and June is just about the last one left in the Drive. Russ and I were almost exactly a year apart in age and hung around together all the time until we went to different secondary schools really. We built camps, whacked each other over the head with branches and plastic rifles, and went off exploring the district and getting up to all sorts of minor mischief.

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We had an accomplice. Diagonally across from my house (or 5 houses round if you counted) were the Games. A large family with six kids (I hope I just counted right), the one closes to us was Steph. For a few years in those heady days of the late sixties, the three of us were almost inseparable. Sure there were others who came and went (e.g. Jeremy Coacher who lived next door to Steph, then when he moved out and the Fitzgerald’s moved in, Dennis joined us for a while) but we were the three. Steph’s dad Doug, was a nursery man and I have fond memories of driving round in his old grey van (An early transit maybe – I don’t really do marques and models) and playing at Steph’s aunt’s nursery.

Next door to Doug and Joyce (Mrs Game) was my other nan and grandad, my dad’s parents. Also my dad’s sister who married quite late and still lived at home when I was young. There was no shortage of places for me to have lunch if my mum was working and my nan was away.

Anyway, I could go through the rest of the street and mention the Blackfords, the Braces, the Hoskins, the Statukeanis (And no the spelling isn’t right) and the Phipps. Wyn Phipps may also still be around, she certainly was a couple of years ago. But if you didn’t know them they won’t mean much to you. So I’m going to spend the last few minutes of this post looking at the big photo (below and a large version at the bottom) taking at the Coronation party in 1953.

I’ll just flick over a name a few people. Old Goffs Oakians can amuse themselves by naming the rest. So, at the far left are Mr and Mrs Burly, Mrs B. being in the wheelchair. This picture makes me realise how early on she was in the chair. I rarely saw her out and about when I was growing up and mostly visited her at her bedside in the little bungalow she lived in. At the back row in front of the next window are Mr & Mrs Hornsey. Thing with them is, they lived at the end of the road all the while I was growing up and they looked pretty much like that all the time. A lovely quiet couple.

The kids are hard for me to identify now without my mum’s guiding hand. I think the lad in the sailor’s cap with the drum was a Hoskins but, I can’t be sure. The big kids are easier! The man at the front on the left in the bonnet and pigtails is my grandad Bob Smith (I’m sure I’ve told you before that my mum was a Smith before she married my dad so my family was full of Smiths. Both my nans were called Edith Smith). The chap in the Pierrot costume in the far right was our next door neighbour but one, Wally Brace. He and his wife were also lovely people though with one exception. If we were playing in Russ’ garden and the ball went over into Mr Brace’s he transformed a bit like the Hulk. If we did kick the ball over we would first check the driveway for his car (A light blue Vauxhall Viva, I believe). If the car was missing we would pull imaginary balaclavas over our head and crawl Ninja like through their garden to retrieve the ball. It was a difficult mission. A stone fish pond dominated the ground and was surrounded by pots and planters everywhere. Should Mr Brace’s car be on the driveway we would hold a quick wrestling contest and then send Steph to ring the doorbell and say “Mister, can we have our ball back please?”

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I can’t remember the name of the guy in the beret but I do not it was impossible to remove without surgery. He rode round the village of years with the beret firmly attached to hi shead and a little Jack Russel attached to his heel. My auntie Edna is in the middle of the picture in front of the chap in the back row with the glasses and behind the kid with the tiny Mexican hat. I think that’s her sister, my auntie Joyce, two to the right. Their mum, my nan, is the lady at the back between the window and the banner or whatever the cloth is. She is quite clearly standing on something as she was about 5 feet nothing in high heels.

Oh, and the lady on the far right who looks like she really doesn’t want to be there, is my mum! At least she showed up for the photo. Her mother, my other nan, doesn’t even appear to be there. Or maybe she’s taking the picture (ha-ha).

These posts are going to appear a little less frequently in future as I am neglecting some other projects. I’ll write one as the muse takes me and post it up. Thanks for listening.

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Radio Radio

We were already music mad, the lot of us. Perhaps that’s why our friendship survives 40 plus years later. Maybe, when we listened to the radio, we harboured secret desires to be DJs but I don’t ever recall voicing it out loud. So when Mark suggested we start a pirate station it was a bit of a surprise.

Now I have to make a confession here. Key to our enterprise was an acquaintance of Mark who had all the gear and the technical know-how. I can’t remember his name for the life of me and I never particularly liked him though without him Twilight Radio would never have happened.

Yes Twilight Radio, not Radio Twilight, we were insistent it had to be that way round, was for about six weeks in the summer of 1982, the best radio station in Waltham Cross. A very, very small part of Waltham Cross as even with the transmitter on the top of the precinct multi-storey car park, the range was a couple of hundred yards. But that’s not really the point is it.

We didn’t broadcast live. We used to go round Mark’s mum and dad’s house in the week and tape the shows to play back on Sunday night. This was good because Mark’s parents were incredibly hospitable to us. Fine with us smoking in the house, no problems with us drinking, a plate of sarnies every time you walked through the door. We watched all our televised football there. It was also a convenient 2 minute walk through an alleyway to the Temple Bar. A perfect radio station studio.

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So who were we? Well Steve Knaggs became Alan Carter. Named for the heroic Eagle pilot in Space 1999, Steve…um Alan, broadcast punk and new wave as far as I can recall. I think Mags (Andi) must have had a similar show. I don’t recall precisely because whilst the others were recording their shows the rest of us fucked off round the Temple Bar. You know this because occasionally our broadcasts will be interrupted by someone coming back from the pub, usually loudly. Mark also did a show though I remember him more for an exchange on my show which regrettably I have on tape. We both sound as gormless as any parody of a local radio DJ ever.

So, egoistically or perhaps logically, it’s my own show I remember most of all. As even back then I had very broad musical tastes I decided I would have a general oldies show. I chose Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive as my theme tune/intro. All these years later it is still good choice. A great sound, goes on for ever when you need to fill time and being instrumental you can talk over it as much as you like.

I renamed myself Steve Earl, the surname coming from the record Duke of Earl (recently a hit for Darts but originally a hit for Doo Wop star Gene Chandler, who himself had recently been back in the charts….enough of this sidetrack nonsense). Clearly an up and coming American country rock guitarist caught wind of my name as he stole. Though Steve Earle did stick an extra vowel at the end to avoid me suing him.

I tried to have a hook or theme for each show. I remember one was based on a tour of the US so I played New York Shuffle, Daytona Demon, Way Down Yonder In New Orleans etc. I also tried to play records for artists who were celebrating their birthdays. Like so much in my life, the idea was good but the delivery left a little to be desired!

I did make recording history on one show. I played the only known instrumental version of the Eagles’ Hotel California. Actually, I had a loose wire on one channel and the vocals on that song are all mixed to one side so didn’t get broadcast.

Despite not actually being a live show, we tried to maintain the pretence we were. You often heard us talking about “next Monday” only hastily correcting ourselves to “tomorrow”. We also gave out a telephone number so that listeners could call us. First it was Henry’s house but later we changed it to a telephone box in Park Lane, Waltham Cross right outside the Plough’s pub garden. Here we sat with our radio on, listening to the playback and waiting for the phone to ring. I think over the entire six weeks (or maybe it was eight) we got approximately, no make that precisely, no phone calls.

In fact, if truth be known, we got no listeners, other than very close relatives of the guy who set up the equipment for us. Well so he said.

It was this lack of listeners that led us to do something pretty stupid for our last show. CB was all the range in the late seventies and early eighties and our technical guy had a rig in his car. So on the last night we drove around Waltham Cross and Cheshunt playing the tapes through a popular CB channel. We pissed a lot of people off that night and I was grateful we hadn’t handed out promotional cards with our photos on. Even so we steered clear of pubs where CBers drank for years after that.

So, Twilight Radio was of no use to anyone but ourselves but I don’t regret doing it for a minute. It was a lot of fun, and Mark’s mum’s sandwiches were always delicious.

This blog is dedicated to Garth, who always helped us eat the sandwiches. Rest In Paws!

Once Upon A Time In The West

A few posts back I threatened to tell of when we went to Kilkhampton back in 1982 before I can do that I must first tell you about the sub holiday we went on first. The Pillars (See Go West) owned a holiday cottage in the Suffolk village of Hoxne. We stayed there a couple of times in the early eighties. We, in the summer of ’82, being me, Steve Pillar, Jeff Watts, Steve Knaggs, Mark Pyatt, and Andi Maskell. We had loaded Mark and Steve (P)’s cars with ourselves, some beer, and Maggie’s (Andi) stereo. Now I must point out at this juncture that the stereo in question was one several of has bought that year largely due to the fact it had a twin cassette and you could easily duplicate tapes. It was the Amstrad Tower System with record deck on top, radio, amps and cassette decks underneath and record storage below. It stood about 3 feet high and weighed a ton but it went to several places with us.

It was that very same unit that was tuned to Radio One on the Tuesday lunchtime as the new chart was being announced. I was outside when I heard Paul Burnette say that Freebird was back in the chart. I promptly dove through the open window in celebration. I did things like back in those days. My other memories of that little break were playing football under the multi-storey car park in Yarmouth during a storm whilst watching an endless string of women troop into a small terraced house opposite! Also, driving back through a Suffolk village we found it in darkness due to a power cut. We nevertheless ventured into a pub for a drink by candle light and gazing across the village green saw a telephone box all lit up. This caused us to hum both the theme from the Twilight Zone and OMD’s Red Frame White Light. It was the moment I learned that BT Phone boxes had their own power supplies shipped in with the phone lines.

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The other abiding memory of that week was doing naked sit-ups on the landing but Jeff still has bad dreams so I won’t dwell on that.

So anyway, we had no sooner got home from Suffolk when she shipped back out to Cornwall. A hell of a drive, no doubt made easier for me by a few tinnies. This time there were 17 of us in two chalets plus Neil and Graham in a tent nearby. (We went out mob-handed like this most Saturdays. I remember once rolling up in a tiny pub in Chapmore End and the barman asked in all seriousness where we had parked the coach).

It was a nice little site and the onsite bar was called Reg’s. This amused us as one of our favourite watering holes was the Coach and Horses in Newgate Street run by Reg Newcombe, father of Laura (Who has featured in this blog before). There was also a club attached to Reg’s where we boogied the nights away. I seemed to have a white suit with me that year. I’d like to deny it but the photos exist. The record of the holiday was without doubt Abracadabra by the Steve Miller Band.

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On one of the days we decided to have a beach day and headed for the coast. I cannot recall the name of the beach we went to despite having a good look on Google Earth. I can picture it clearly in my head but couldn’t locate it. Perhaps one of the others will know (Claire? Julie?). Anyway, we arrived en masse at a pub on the top of the cliffs and everyone had a drink. After one, several of them started to make their way to the beach whilst other stayed for a second. One by one, the drinkers departed to become beach bums until only Henry and I were left. I’m guessing we had about 8 pints when 2.30pm came around and we were kicked out. Yes, young people. In the bad old days, pubs shut between 2.30pm and 5pm!!! So Henry and I wander down the path to the cliff edge and look onto the beach. We soon spot our crowd. Hard to miss being so many. What we don’t see is the long, easy, gently sloping path to the beach that is off to our right. Failing to detect that, Henry and I decide to scale the 20 foot cliff instead. Now you have to understand that when sober I’m nervous about steps over 6” tall. Drunk though, we both descended that crumbling cliff face with speed and ease. It was later when I decided to go swimming in the sea, swam out a long way after a ball and got a massive cramp in the back of my calves that my life flashed before my eyes. But I survived.

I’m thinking this might have been the same night we ended up in another strange club attached to a country pub where I consumed an additional 13 pints and paraded around singing 21 today. I believe it was the first time I drank that many in the day. It was not the last time and it was not the most I drank but hey-ho, I survived.

1982 was also World Cup year. England were in the finals for the first time since 1970. We watched a few games whilst we were there. England managed to get kicked out without losing a game. Little did they know that soon their fortunes would be decided on penalties.

Well, we didn’t get kicked out of Cornwall on penalties. In fact we liked it so much we went back again the following year but that, I guess is another post.

In The Country

Let me tell you about the village where I grew up. I have already touched on bits of it when I talked of my childhood and my school days but I want to be a little more topographical now.

Goffs Oak is an ancient village centred around the spot where three roads meet. The road from Cheshunt in the east, the road to Cuffley and Northaw to the west and the road to Hammondstreet and Newgate Street to the north. Although the village has since spread in all directions with large housing estates being built throughout the 20th century, the village started here. There was once a pond at this site and next to it the village Smithy. In my day this became the Smithy garage. They built the War Memorial here after WWI. The Co-Op was here, where I got my first Saturday job. Most importantly of all though, the police station was here which was where my grandad found himself posted in 1947 after wartime service in Tottenham. That was when the Smiths arrived in Goffs Oak.

By the time I arrived in 1963 my parents had left Goffs Oak for Bury Green then an upstairs apartment along Goffs lane and finally moving in with my nan in the Drive after grandad died. Here, at 10.30pm on 1st July, I arrived kicking and screaming; all 93/4lbs of me. And here I stayed for 36 years.

I described previously how we had our own safe playground in the cul-de-sac – sorry ‘dead-end’ in our lingo of the time – that was The Drive and how we could play further afield on the playing fields or across 20 Acres. So let us look at some of the other places we could go.

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A favourite, during the holidays as it needed a bit of time, was to go down Jones Road to the ‘rough bit’. For those who don’t know the area (And you may get very bored with this post if you don’t) Jones Road starts on Cuffley Hill and for the first third of a mile is populated with nice residential properties. They also built a new primary school down here in the early 70s when we decided we didn’t want the riff-raff from that side of Cuffley Hill at Goffs Oak JMI. As I write, there is a debate going on about whether or not Woodside should be academised or not. I won’t add my twopenneth to the mix, as I am no longer a resident.

During the post war period they built a whole load of houses in roads that were fed off the side of Jones Road; Goffs Crescent and Pollards Close, Pembroke Drive, Pipers Close, Lulworth Avenue, Greenways & Moorhurst Avenue, Broadfields. They all have meaning to me. I knew someone who lived in each of them. Well, except Pipers Close. I never knew anyone in Pipers Close – funny that.

I may come back to some of the people I knew in those roads either later in this post or in another blog but meanwhile let me press on.

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After Woodside school on the left (Walking away from Cuffley Hill) were some more fields. Reserved for recreation rather than crops. We rarely played over there except the occasional game of football but they were big dog walking fields for us. Then you reached Silver Street and after that Jones Road became rural.  Walk another 500 yards and there was a white gate that could be closed. After that Jones Road was technically private but there was a footpath you could go down.  Further still on the right was a stile. Go over here and head towards the viaduct (Go past the stile and there was a beautiful ‘Snow White cottage’ and you could go all the way through to Crews Hill. It was possible to drive through in those days. A bit rough, totally trespassing but cut a good 5 or 6 miles off your journey. What do you mean “How do I know?” But that was when I was older. 8 year old me just went as far as the viaduct and Cuffley brook where we fished for stickleback with bent dressmaker’s pins and a bit of cold beef. Never caught a thing funnily enough.

With adults, you go carry on walking and end up at the back of Cuffley Youth Centre but us kids never went any further than the cattle grid. Sometimes that was because we had our ankle stuck in the cattle grid.

Now reverse back to Silver Street. Instead on continuing up Jones Road we turn left into Silver Street. The first things you come to are the egg farm on the left and the old army camp on the right. The later was used for keeping the former’s hens in but previously had held either internees or prisoners of war (I can’t recall which without Googling). They may have been the people who built our house. It was an Airey house, a Swiss made prefab. In the loft inscribed in cement were some German names and an hourly rate of pay. The Airey houses were only supposed to last 10 years. They are still standing though we had a nightmare with it in the 90s. That’s another blog though.

Further down Silver Street and you come to the entrance to Springfields. Another Sunday afternoon dog walk for all the family. Cross the fields and you come out on Goffs Lane near the Wheelwrights. Back on Silver Street though and the next surprise is the Adath Yisroel Cemetery (Now showing on Google maps as the Silver Street Cemetery?) Some found it strange having a Jewish cemetery in the middle of the country like that but having grown up with it, it was nothing unusual to us.

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The final stretch of Silver Street took you to Halstead Hill. Here were two or three big houses, one once home to Jo Douglas, the producer of 6’5 Special. Another (or was it the same one) had a collection of vintage post boxes dotted around its garden. You could see some from the road but needed to go in to see the rest. Did we? That’s for me to know and you to assume.

And now we are back at Goffs Lane and I’m tired from all this walking. At a later date I’ll tell you about the good stuff on our side of Cuffley Hill!

Happy Birthday

I said yesterday that I only had time for a short blog and then proceeded to write one of normal length. Today though, it really is only a quick one. You see today is Hazel’s birthday and we shall be celebrating as best as we can. Hazel is rather fond of birthdays whereas I couldn’t give a damn. It was not always like this of course. As a youngster I liked my birthdays as much as any other child but I suppose, if we are brutally honest, it was only so we could see what material goodies we would get.

I don’t remember having birthday parties yet the photographic evidence is there. They were very small affairs. My sister and I have birthdays just two days apart so they were probably joint parties. Normal guests would likely be me and my sister with our local cousins and one or two friends and neighbours sat round the table. I recall going to other people’s parties where they could push the boat out a little more. Simon Fishpool, whose family own the famous Fishpools department store in Waltham Cross had his in the garage. Only the garage seemed to stretch back for miles. It took several wallpaper tables to seat us all. Sally Patten’s dad was a talented and well-known children’s entertainer and I remember getting the full works there one year. Puppets (A flying saucer and a penguin are ringing bells) and I think balloon animals.

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When I was 18 my parents allowed me to have a party but not only were they to be there but several relatives were invited too. Actually, the mix of friends and relations worked quite well and it was good party even if I did have to keep sneaking out for a fag.

But it was my post-18 parties that became legendary. As one or two friends worked in town, we decided to hold my pub crawl celebrations in the city of an evening. Now the city after 6pm is a very different place than during the day (or at least it was back in the early eighties). We would begin in the Moorgate area about 5pm and then head up on to the high walk with various friends joining us along the way. As the night drew on we would loop back towards Liverpool Street where we would finally hit the last train home. At least I hope we met that train because the one thing I hated above all other things was catching the night bus home. And we did that often enough but damned if I was going to end my birthday celebrations by stopping every 30 yards and taking 2 hours to get to Waltham Cross. By rights I shouldn’t remember anything about those birthday pub crawls but I do, and they were quite delicious.

By the time I reached 40 I had found sobriety and celebrated my birthday in an adult manner at Cuffley Youth Centre. It was a lovely day with many old friends attending. Inevitably, some of us got all nostalgic about the days when we staggered blindly around London. You see, you can take the drink off of the boy, but you can’t really take the man out of the memories.

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Dogs

We are off to the Doggie Diner today. It’s Hazel’s birthday treat (Her birthday is tomorrow) but it’s also Bonnie’s first visit to one of our favourite places. For locals, it’s on the pier at Gorleston and is a simple café where dogs come before humans. So for today’s reminiscence I thought I would turn my attentions to dogs I have loved.

I am aided by my Writing Assistance Dog. Well, if lying sound asleep on the cushion next to my feet is assisting that is! Bonnie is never critical of my words or my frequent typos caused by rattling these blogs out at a hundred miles an hour. And over the years other dogs have given me their undying love and attention at different and difficult times in my life.

We were never without them growing up. Cats too but it was the dogs that meant the most to me. The first two were Flossie and Fly. I am going to try and find photos of them all so I’ll keep my descriptions brief but I remember Flossie as probably having some Dalmatian in her whilst Fly was black and shaggy. Sadly my enduring memory of Fly is when Mr King came up from Waltham Abbey to send her on her way to the Rainbow Bridge (I don’t normally do euphemisms but this can be hard). My memory is that I held her paw whilst she was put to sleep but my sister assures me that we watched through the kitchen window as he treated her in the lean-to. Roll forward 50 years to November last year and I was holding Charlie’s paw when he left us. And now I have to stop for a few minutes as I can’t see what I am writing. Bugger!

Dog

My memory of Floss however is also painful though physically, not emotionally. I was out with Uncle Jim walking her (I think with Fly as well). I had the lead or leads wrapped around my wrist. I was maybe 6 or 7? We went passed the Arkell’s house and their Alsatian charged out to see us at which point Floss (and Fly) fled for home. I was pulled over and dragged along the ground for several feet before they realised they weren’t huskies and gave my uncle a chance to catch up.

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Around 1970, things had improved for us financially, and mum was granted her wish to have a pedigree Cocker Spaniel. All our dogs up to then had been mongrels (Not X-Breeds or whatever else they call them today but mongrels, Heinz 57s) so this was quite a thing. We all went over to view the pups and mum chose the one she wanted. It was me who named her Honey because that is exactly what she smelt like to me. My mum had wanted to call her Lady (After Lady and the Tramp) but my dad said there was no way he was going to stand at the front gate at night shouting “Here lady, come here lady”.

The other dog in our life at that time has been mentioned before. Gaye belonged to my Great Aunt Flo and accompanied her everywhere, yes everywhere. Many a time we would sneak into a tourist attraction near Yarmouth with a Mexican Chihuahua stuffed into a shopping bag.

When Gaye died, auntie Flo replaced her with a Schnauzer (Miniature variety). And when auntie Flo died, we got Heidi. She was a bit of a strange one. I guess she never really got over losing her owner but she really made it hard to love her one day. Some disgusting human had left a packet of fish leftovers on the ground over the playing fields. Mackerel or something and it was all the bones and skin and head etc. Heidi found it and rolled in it. I cannot tell you how badly she smelt and how much coal tar shampoo we got through in the next few days!

When Honey died (I have a fragment of a lyric I wrote but I think I’ll keep it to myself for now) mum’s next desire was for an English Setter and thus in 1982 Fennel entered our lives

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She was the most gorgeous dog with such a good temperament (Even Honey had snapped at people a couple of times). She was also with me through my darkest days (Drinking) and never once judged me. The times she lay with me on my bed as I poured cider down my neck. It was important. I didn’t much love myself in those days so having Fennel loving me unconditionally mattered. Of course, it might have been ‘cupboard love’. She knew about the Indian Takeaways I was buying unnecessarily and was up for it. I have never known a dog so fond of chicken tikka and naan bread.

She was also the dog we had when I finally moved out of home and that was hard. When she visited my first flat she immediately marked my bedroom. I’m not sure if it was a ‘Fuck you for moving out” spray, or a “This means a part of me will always be with you” spray. She died soon after that. A rather amazing 17 years old. Not bad for a pedigree.

There was then a gap when I was dogless. It wouldn’t last forever. I met and became one with my gorgeous Hazel and discovered she was a dog lover too. The family had long kept (and showed) Wire haired dachshunds and still had one kicking around at home when I first met her parents.

Dogs

However, Hazel coming down with M.E. not only stopped us fostering Special Needs children, but it made dogs unlikely too. But then, settled in Norfolk, we reached a compromise by looking after friends’ dogs then short-term fostering for Hillside Animal Sanctuary. Eventually, I agreed that we could long-term foster. Hazel sorted it all out and we became volunteers for the Cinnamon Trust. Pretty soon Petra and Charlie were with us. Their owner had died and they both need rehoming. As older dogs (10 & 11 when we got them I think) there were few takers but we had already decided that would be our speciality.

We only had Petra a little over a year when cancer took her from us. Inevitably, if you foster older dogs you are going to have to get used to not having them with you for too long. Well Charlie was only with us for three years in all but bugger, he wrapped himself around my heart. Its four months since a second stroke led to us having him put to sleep and my heart is still bleeding. Whilst Fennel was very special to me, Charlie affected me like no other. Tears are streaming down my face again as I write this.

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When he died we said we would wait three months before doing anything. Then the Cinnamon Trust told us about Bonnie, an 11 year old poodle whose owner had just gone into end of life care. At the beginning of December she came to us. Visually impaired through cataracts and chewing like a puppy, she has made her way into our hearts. Today, we shall take her to the Doggy Diner and then on to Gorleston beach where, I shall explain to her, I spent so much of my childhood holidays!

Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley

Given that these days I would struggle to name the Spurs team although I do follow their progress with interest, it may seem hard to believe that I was an ardent supporter in the 70s and 80s. My earliest affiliation was with Manchester United; well I grew up in the era of George Best, so who wouldn’t. Then around 1971 my aunt and uncle bought a hardware shop in Broxbourne. It was a nice area 10 minutes up the road from Spurs’ training ground at Cheshunt and many players chose to live there. One of those was Mike England, who was obviously keen on DIY as he used my aunt and uncle’s shop from time to time. So one Christmas they bought my cousin and me a book of colour photos of current football stars and gave them to Mike to take to the club. At Christmas we got the books duly autographed by Alan Gilzean, Ralph Coates, Martin Peters, Martin Chivers, Steve Perryman, and Pat Jennings (Maybe another couple I have forgotten). Obviously from that moment on I was a die-hard Spurs fan.

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I couldn’t start watching them play until I left school as I had a Saturday job so regrettably I missed the 1981 Cup Final and Replay. I think the first time I went to White Hart Lane was to watch Enfield when they reached the fourth round of the FA Cup that same season. I then came up to a game at the start of the 1981/2 Season with my ‘cousin’ when I was staying with him in Kingston during my 2.5 days at University period (Oh, I’ll tell you about that sometime) and then in the autumn, divested of Saturday employment, I started to go regularly with my friends. The exact make-up varied but you perm any combination you liked from Andi Maskell, Steve Pillar, Jeff Watts or Mark Pyatt. In those days we just bought a normal standing ticket £1.80 normally or £2.20 if it was one of the big three (Arsenal, Man Utd., or Liverpool). Once in the ground we get our pint of Stones’ Bitter (In plastic pint glass) and then Mark’s mum and dad would chuck their season tickets down from the shelf and we would go up there with them. A slightly better location. I don’t think we ever got stopped even when they put photos on season tickets. I looked nothing like Mark’s mum either. Incidentally Mark’s mum and dad were two of the most wonderful people on this planet and will feature again in this blog particularly when I discuss my days in pirate radio!

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I may have missed the classic 1981 FA Cup replay but I had my fill of Wembley for a couple of years. Unfortunately the first time I saw Spurs play there it was a defeat, the first time Spurs had ever been beaten at the stadium. This was the Milk Cup, the recently renamed League Cup, and we lost to Liverpool. I wrote a song beforehand but I’m not going to print the lyrics here. Frankly I was better off leaving all that stuff to Chas and Dave.

The FA Cup had a happier ending. We followed Spurs on their away games too for the cup run (Otherwise the only away games we normally did were the other London clubs)  and I believe it was that season we discovered the joys of the pit behind the goal at Goodison Park. That was also one of the very few games where we witnessed violence. Luckily we could steer well clear of it. I have to say that, in my experience, the violence of the Football Firms that filled the Sunday papers, was easily avoidable. The only time that we nearly got into trouble was when Leeds came to the Lane. We had just parked up in one of the side streets and were walking up the High Street to the ground. Our timing was such that we got caught in a load of Leeds fans who had just unloaded from a coach. There was absolutely no problem with this and we are walking along with them getting on fine but as we passed the White Hart on the other side of the road, the bottles started to rain across from the Spurs fans. Thankfully there were no injuries. That was also the same match where the Leeds supporters managed to free the metal bar from the concrete stanchions by working it until it bent. Once done they simply passed it carefully to the front and laid it by the pitch. I don’t condone such vandalism but it was fairly impressive to watch.

However, that diverted me from the path to FA Cup glory. So, the first match on the Saturday against QPR ended in a draw and we needed to get tickets for the replay. Straight after the game we drove back to the Cheshunt area for a drink or three. I don’t remember where we went but around 9pm we left to go up to White Hart Lane to queue for tickets. The line already stretched a mile toward Seven Sisters so we said ‘Bugger this for a game of soldiers’ (A very popular phrase of the times) and drove to Wembley instead. There were a fair few people here too but we found them friendly and willing to hold places in the line. We ended up spending half the night playing football against QPR fans on Wembley car park. When the box office opened we got our tickets quickly – the jammy Mr Maskell ended up with a spare as two were stuck together – and we were back at Wembley the following Thursday to see Spurs beat QPR and retain the trophy.

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This however was not the greatest night of my football attending career. This would come in May 1984 when I was at the Lane for the second leg of the 1984 EUFA Cup Final. It was all square after the first leg at Anderlecht’s ground. This was thanks to a goal by Paul Miller. Pretty amazing stuff considering we all knew he was only in the team because he was shagging Irving Scholar’s daughter (Allegedly). What can I say about that night except I remember being lifted and moved forward about 10 yards when Spurs scored. I don’t subscribe to machoism and wouldn’t describe myself in any way as a man’s man but the camaraderie you get at a football match when things are going well is indescribable. And there were plenty of female fans at Tottenham even back then.

The night was made for me because of two of my heroes contributed in essential ways. Graham Roberts scored the 84th minute equaliser in normal time to get us to Extra Time and then penalties, then Tony Parkes – who had stepped magnificently into Ray Clemence’s boots – saved Guojohnsen’s penalty to give us victory. I’m smiling now recalling that night.

Other great times were the two occasions I persuaded my boss, Tim Rice, a committed Sunderland fan to come and do the half-time draw when Sunderland played us. This meant we got to watch the matches from a very cosy box. Actually, it was nice to be able to say I had been in a box but really I preferred the atmosphere from the terraces. And I liked standing too. Apart from the price difference, watching a game from a seat was not the same. I’m not sure I would have carried on going once the Taylor Report insisted stadiums went to all seats in 1995.

In fact the reason I stopped going was simply that I got another job that involved working on Saturdays and then later my drinking was such that going out was restricted to getting to the off licence. However, it is a sad regret that the last time I saw Spurs play in the flesh was the 1987 FA Cup Final. Not only did we lose to Coventry but another of my heroes and one of the nicest men in football, Gary Mabbutt, put one passed his own keeper. That’s not something you want on your CV. Gary, I forgave you instantly!

In The City

A short and brief reflection today as I have to go out soon but I have to escape terrorism and Brexit for at least a few short paragraphs. One of my escapist hobbies is hanging around a number of social history and local history groups on facebook and I recently posted a load of dad’s photos in a London in the 60s and 70s group. A number of these were taken from the roof of Great Arthur House which set me thinking about my several visits there during the sixties.

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It’s not exactly a tourist attraction. In a nutshell it is council housing in a great big tower block; at least it was back then. Let me explain. In the early fifties London was in desperate need of rebuilding after being decimated in the war. (I use that verb loosely since to decimate actually means to reduce by one tenth and I didn’t measure). At this time Cripplegate – a once thriving area of the city– was home to just 50 people, the rest having been bombed out.

A competition was launched for designs for a new estate to provide council housing in the area and it was won by a partnership of three Kingston School of Art Lecturers, Geoffrey Powell, Peter Chamberlin, and Christoph Bon. The estate that would be built became, and still is the Golden Lane Estate and it stands alongside the Barbican to this day. Most of the buildings on the estate were smaller three story blocks but Great Arthur House was the towering, 15-storey building that, for a brief period, was the tallest residential building in the UK.

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Unlike other council estates, Golden Lane was aimed at single people and most of the flats were one-bedroom or studio flats. This would be how my auntie Jean, recently divorced in the mid-sixties and a telephonist in the City of London, came to reside in the first floor of Great Arthur House. It was also why, several times a year, her sister (my mum) and us would go to visit. Those visits have stuck in my mind for a number of reasons.

Firstly it was the journey there. Normally made on a Sunday, we took the train to Finsbury Park and changed for Moorgate. This was still the old underground and not the direct overground service to Moorgate which didn’t open until 1976. The reason we went to Moorgate is that most City stations, including Barbican, were shut on Sundays. I loved walking through the City on a Sunday in those days. Often, once we had got to my aunt’s, we would all take a stroll around the area. You have to understand how quiet it was in those days. Even now the City is relatively quiet at the weekend, compared to its heaving weekday self. Then though, it was almost deserted.

The silence might be broken by the fire engines of the London Salvage Corps screaming out of their HQ on Aldersgate Street, or occasionally by the bustle of a film crew making an episode of the Avengers or something similar. To be honest, we probably saw the latter once but it so excited me that my memory wants to say we saw it often. Of course, what we did see often was the places where things had been filmed. For me, a budding Doctor Who fan, just going on the underground was evocative of the Yeti roaming through it in Web of Fear, and approaching St Paul’s up the steps that a few Saturdays ago, the Cybermen had come down in the Invasion was enough to send me into raptures.

And then we approached the tower block. So obvious with its bright yellow panels that defined the estate. On the forecourt as we approached were a number of concrete walls. As you got closer you could see they formed circles and as you looked over the wall, hoisted on to it my mum or dad, you realised there was a 30 foot drop into an underground car park.

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And then the flat itself. My aunt was on the first floor – I don’t think there were any residences on the ground floor, just lifts and utilities. It was a one bedroom flat and small but not cramped. Coming in from the hall a small kitchen and bathroom were just ahead of you then you turned into the body of the flat. Essentially just two rooms separated by a sliding glass door, it looked so futuristic. And then, behind the bathroom and kitchen – a balcony. I had never seen such a thing.

Two other things remain burned into my memory about Great Arthur House. One was the rubbish chute. At home we put everything in a dustbin which the dustman came and got once a week. Here you bagged stuff up and walked outside, opened a chute, and dropped it in. Crazy! The other was the roof garden. Ride the lift to the top of the world and go out on the very roof of the building. The views, oh heavens those views.

And then in 1974 my aunt remarried the man she had divorced in the sixties and moved to Hoddesdon. Our trips to London reduced to occasional tourist forays.

Little Children

I talked about my move to ‘big’ school in 1974 but, other than some references to my musical and acting careers, I haven’t yet revealed much about those halcyon days twixt 1968 and 1974. During that time I spent my term-time days at Goffs Oak Junior Mixed Infant school in Millcrest Road. Later to be where Victoria Beckham got her start in educational life, it was then a relatively new school that had replaced the old village school down St James Road. By co-incidence, said village school was later lived in by some school friends (The Fairchilds) and subsequently by the Beckham family, whose daughter….well, you know the rest.

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At Goffs Oak JMI, as we hipster kids called it, I was looked after by the formidable talents of headmaster Mr Thomas, deputy Mrs Blake, and a host of teachers including Mrs Gaze, Mrs Bishop, and Mr Rees. I missed by a year or two, the more Draconian headmistress-ship of Miss Broad. My sister caught the tail end of that. However, despite her retirement, I wasn’t totally free of her vigilance as her house lay on our route to school and she would be there, either watching out the window, or standing in her front garden on finer days. And we passed that house four times a day – well at least I did because not only did I journey to and from school but I also went home for dinner at lunchtime (If you’ll pardon the mixed nomenclature). I only had lunch at school once whilst at primary school, and that was when we were being shipped off to Wembley for the Intervarsity football match and need to leave straight after our lunch. I can’t remember the score but I do remember lunch was a slab of spam. I was not impressed given what my nan or mum would normally provide me with!

I don’t remember hating any lessons as I would once I moved to St Mary’s, though I don’t totally recall what we did learn. I do know that we were in that period where decimalisation was planned but had not yet arrived so I learned both old and new currencies. I also have memories of learning to write with an ink pen. We had these cheap blue Platignum things that you pushed a cartridge in to. With these we honed and sharpened our handwriting. It has to be said, and many reading this will concur, that in this one element of my education, Goffs Oak JMI failed me. Fifty years later, my handwriting remains as illegible as it was when I was five, and I would no more pick up a fountain pen than I would a machine gun.

Other memories of lessons include sport. In recent years there has been some sort of swimming pool on site but in those days we jumped on a coach to Waltham Abbey for our weekly swim. There was gym of sorts but also Scottish Country Dancing under the wing of Mrs Blake. And of course there was football. I was always enthusiastic if not proficient but after the day Mr Rees said I reminded him of Bobby Smith (Spurs’ leading goal scorer in their double-winning season) I played my heart out for him. A marked contrast to Mr Powell’s later tongue-lashings at St Marys.

Football also took part on the playground during breaks. That tennis ball could really hurt when you were hit in the face. Although the soccer may have come a bit later because my first playground memories are of re-enacting Marine Boy on the asphalt. You may not remember this Japanese demi-classic animation from the sixties but I certainly do. The hero was Marine Boy, who thanks to the marvellous Oxy-Gum could chew and swim underwater for hours on end. Blonde haired (like me), slim (Like me in those days), and generally good-looking (like me), I can’t remember who played him but I was Splasher the Dolphin. Not that this was such a bad thing as it meant Sarah Singelton(?), as Neptina the mermaid, used to ride on my back. Let’s move on before I get myself into trouble.

Splasher

Talking of getting into trouble; for one year, possibly my penultimate, we were in Mrs Calleljuh’s class. Forgive the spelling, she was married to a French man I think. Like most of the classrooms, there was a bucket of white glue in one corner, there for the copious amount of crafting we seemed to do. It was literally a blue bucket with no lid, filled with that cheap white glue.

In that classroom we also had a gerbil in a cage. I think you got to take it home at holidays, not that I ever remember looking after it, but for overnight and even weekends, it was left to a lump of celery and its own devices. I remember coming in one Monday to discover the gerbil was gone. It had managed to chew through something and the cage door was wide open (Unless of course the local ALF had been in but they didn’t leave any leaflets so I’m guessing not). Gerby was nowhere to be seen. A pre-assembly search of the classroom found nothing and Gerby was declared MIA. Missing that is, until the first time a group did craft in that classroom. At that point one very sticky, very white and very dead gerbil was recovered from the glue bucket. I’m sure many of my classmates acquired PTSD that day and are still working through their issues.

JMI 1hat else can I remember about those days? Well aptly given we were talking about crafting, I recall a couple of extra-curricular projects. There was to be some sort of Sponsored Fancy Dress Walk around the field so Peter Morgan and I set out to make a papier-mache Dalek. It was an ambitious project involving a wire coat-hanger frame and a lot of newspapers and wallpaper paste. It failed completely as I recall. Slightly more successful was the construction of the Titanic out of cardboard boxes that Steven Syrett and I carried out in his garage. Surprisingly well done, the project was slightly marred when Steven sliced open the web between his thumb and forefinger with a Stanley knife. This was even more gruesome than the time my dad cut off the top of one of my fingers with a pair of hedge-cutting shears (Mum ran it under a cold tap, stuck the huge flap of skin and flesh back in place with a plaster and let it be. There is a tiny white scar visible under a magnifying glass!)

There will always be accidents even in halcyon days. It didn’t spoil them. They were my last days of innocence.