My Life – Page 09

National Service (i).  I was due to be called up for National Service and my papers came informing me I had to attend a medical examination. I was rather looking forward to going into the RAF if I could, anything to get me away from that appalling dead end job at the office. I attended, together with about 30 others in our group, some huge bleak hall, absolutely freezing cold, which was situated near to a prison, a bleak forbidding place. We were asked whether we wanted to join the army, navy or the RAF and were given examination papers to fill in. The papers seemed very simple to me, mostly deciding on sequences of patterns, and ticking the right boxes for what seemed to be straightforward questions. Then we were led into large room, told to take off all our clothes, leave them in a locker and stark naked had to sit on a long bench, upon which we slowly moved. Health and Safety would now have a fit.  I could not help thinking of matters of hygiene as we each moved up to the next warmed seat on our bench. No one spoke a word, I suspect we were all regarded as working class rubbish.  We were given a series of physical tests, the fact of my TB came up and I was instantly put on one side and stopped slowly sliding up the wooden bench. Shortly after that I was told I had passed the test to join the RAF which is what I had requested and then went into another room and was informed that I would not be passed fit for National Service. I was aghast, I really thought that National Service would take me away from my dreadful office drudgery and that I would be able to put some of the skills I had learnt at Lovedale. However, it turned out it was one of the best things that happened to me.

National Service (ii) Brian


Brian, prior to National Service 

Earlier, Brian, having postponed his National Service Call up as he was studying as an apprentice, had passed his National Service medical and served his time in the REME from 28 May 1953 to 12 June 1955. He, a qualified and now highly paid constructional plater, I never did work out what that was, spent his whole National Service as a clerk ‘in charge of receipts and issues’. When we first came from India he was a first class athlete, played football and ran races. I can remember my grandfather taking me to see Brian competing in a number of races at a local sports stadium.  He was slim and incredibly good looking and tee-total. The army taught him to be lazy, helped him put on a great deal of weight, and made him into a skiver and he stopped being tee-total which horrified his father.    

He was posted to Egypt of all places. He visited the Great Pyramid and seems, looking at his photographs to have had an enjoyable time.

Brian in the REME (standing second left) during his National Service

Hanging on the motor bike (right)


Brian centre

But he came back changed.  After he left the army he put on a considerable amount of weight and never played football or raced again and having been teetotal all his life, he now drank.  It must surely have been demoralizing for him to be stuck behind a desk with a typewriter he could not use, writing up and handing out receipts for two whole years. His official testimonial from the army states that his conduct was excellent, that he worked well and was very conscientious and carried out his duties cheerfully and efficiently.  His opinion was that that he had wasted two years of his life.

Brian just after he left National Service

Holidays in Gronant, North Wales.  In September 1955 we had our very first holiday since coming to England. Kind Mr Doyle, who had laid out our garden, owned a wooden chalet in Gronant, North Wales. My father had come out of the Sanatorium and Mr Doyle said he said he would be glad if we would make use of the chalet for a couple of weeks. He asked no money for it and indeed drove us all there in his large car, mother, father, Anne, myself, his daughter Carol who was a school friend of Anne’s and our dog Tumble. How we all fitted into the car is a mystery. But fit we did, and had an exciting drive to Gronant.  He was a terrible driver, but somehow we all got there in one piece with much laughter and singing, something we had not done much of as a family.   He really was the most kind hearted of men.  He left us with the keys and drove off, promising to come back to pick us up at the end of two weeks. The wooden chalet had been built in the sand dunes.  It had running water, a tap outside, but no sanitation other than a hut at the back with a bucket beneath a toilet seat. The chalet was very spacious, and knowing this, my family had invited my grandfather and Brian to join us. They came down by train where we met them and walked them back to the chalet. So there we were seven people and our dog Tumble, a stray that Anne had adopted back home. The chalet was one of a number which were scattered at quite far distances apart, all nestling among the sand dunes. We were in our seventh heaven. The sea, many times grey, looked beautiful. It was the first time we have seen the sea since sailing from India. Very different from the magnificent blue/green sea of Madras beach, but sea nevertheless.  It was also treacherous with a very strong current. But the golden sands of the beach stretched for miles and miles, backed by tussock strewn sand dunes, the air was bracing and sharp.  And we loved it. I think it was the first happy time we had all had together.

Gronant. I had forgotten how sad my father always looked. Buffeted between home and TB Sanatoria.

Somehow my mother coped with feeding us all. The kitchen was powered by Calor Gas, and Mr Doyle had kindly provided us with spare canisters and insisted we use them up.

Gronant. My parents with Anne and my grandfather, Carole a friend of Anne’s and ‘Tumble’ 

The photographs show us all happy and smiling, except for my father, newly returned from the sanatorium.  My grandfather looks less stern. He used to go out to swim each morning before we all woke. I did not know he could swim and it was he who told us of the strong currents and to content ourselves with paddling.

We were to go to Gronant for our holidays for many years to come

We walked for miles and miles along these beaches taking a picnic with us and returning in the late afternoon

Though surrounded by family, I was very unhappy, lonely and very mixed up


Taken on our last visit to Gronant
I suspect it was Brian’s colour camera that was borrowed for these photographs

Solicitors’ Clerks’ Course. When I informed the partners of my rejection for National Service they decided that they would pay for me to attend the Manchester College of Commerce’s newly created Solicitors’ Clerks’ Course which was under the umbrella of the Manchester Law Society. I attended some afternoons, during office hours and on a number of evenings each week. This was the first real formal education I had received since attending Tootal Road. I passed the course (3 years) with distinction and was awarded a prize by the Manchester Law Society of £3 guineas. Dorothy Brown in her usual generous manner insisted on paying for all my study books which came to a considerable sum over the years so that I would be able to study at home and not have to spend hours in the library, where I had found that it was not always possible to get the books I needed to study because they were being used by someone else.

Stretford Borough Council (i).  When I joined the course, almost everyone was about the same age as me, except one man who was very much older. Most clerks knew each other. I however did not know any other clerks and when I entered the classroom for the first time, I was faced with a large number of paired desks.  All were taken except for the one next to the older man. I therefore went to sit with him. It was one of those strokes of sheer luck. Firstly, that I had arrived late and secondly that no one had taken the desk next to him.  We soon became friends, he told me all about his wife and kids and his work. He worked for Stretford Borough Council as the Land Registry Clerk and they had sent him on the course. A few months into the course he told me that he has just been promoted, and that his post was vacant. It has been advertised in the papers: would I like to apply for it?  He told me his old salary was over £18 a week. He said there would be strong competition for the job, but the Council wanted someone young and not over experienced. He provided me with the advert and together we put together my application form – me with my pathetic uncertified education.  I was invited by the senior clerk at Stretford to discuss my application, and he more or less hinted that I was just the person they were looking for. I duly attended the interviews for the job and found myself among many much older people, no one of my age and I expect my lack of experience. I was offered the job. And I can still see the hurt and disbelief on the faces of my more senior fellow interviewees.  This was my first piece of great luck and put me on the path of reasonable success in my professional life.

I leave my Manchester employers.  I told the partners in Manchester that I had been offered and accepted a job with Stretford Borough Council. There was incredulity on their part and they asked what my salary would be, I told them and they murmured something about, no wonder the rates are so high.  I then went to the chief clerk to settle up my final pay and when I told him what I was to be paid, he was dumbfounded and told me that I was going to be paid more than he was. Considering he virtually ran the office, did all the accounting, drew up all the wills and a great deal beside, it must have been a wake-up call for him.  I heard he left shortly after and went to work for Manchester Corporation.  I now became Stretford Borough Council’s Land Registry Clerk. And finally we could afford for my mother to stop working.

Stretford Borough Council (ii)

My office was very grand, compared to what I had worked in before. It was on the top floor of Stretford Town Hall and had two large windows with a balcony view of the Old Trafford Cricket Ground. It was centrally heated, spotlessly clean and I had the use of typists from the typing pool to whom I could dictate letters and a young female clerk who looked after the small legal department, and would do my filing, and errands. I contributed to a pension fund and each day was served an excellent cooked lunch in the canteen. I found it was quite a responsible job and I was over the moon. I contributed a large part of my salary to my parents.

Setting off on my first day at Stretford. And clutching one of my radiators in my new office.  No wonder I look so happy 

The Town Hall itself was quite grand. Work had commenced on the building in 1931 the architects being Bradshaw Gass and Hope of Bolton and it was designed with Georgian features heightened with Adam characteristics. The building was covered with pink Darley Dale stone and had green roof tiles. On the staircase were two large bronze statues by the Bromsgrove Guild: on one side Electra holding a globe, on the other Niord with a ship and sea beasts. “Electra, one of the seven sisters in Greek mythology, symbolized the power of electricity controlled, whilst Niord, the Norse god of the winds and sea, represented Stretford’s connections with the sea. I also seem to recall that there was a statue of Mercury in the centre.  The Town Hall is now Trafford Town Hall, run by Trafford Council and has had the most hideous 29 million pound glass extension stuck on.  In my time, the town’s lady librarian was given a sum of money each year to buy paintings to embellish Longford Hall.  From what I could see her taste ran to pretty watercolours of flowers. I wonder what happened to them?

The Annual Ball of the Mayor Stretford. 1958
As a matter of historic record and because it is doubtful if this photograph has ever been published, this is the Mayor of Stretford’s Annual Ball 1958 which was held for the staff each year. I think it was taken in Longford Hall which was surrounded by the town’s Longford Park. I’m on the back row, eighth from the right my colleague and friend, to whom I shall be forever grateful is standing next to me seventh from the right.

Longford Hall, Stretford where the annual ball was held, was the home of John Rylands the industrialist, philanthropist and creator of the world  famous John Rylands Library in Manchester. He was also Manchester’s first multi-millionaire.  I see the Hall was demolished in 1995 though it had been described by Pevsner ‘as the only surviving example of the Italianate style of architecture in the Manchester district’. Unbelievable destruction of such an important building with its very historic connection to Rylands.

Paris 1958. I took my first holiday abroad. I went to Paris with a travel company run by NALGO – the National Association of Local Government Officers, who arranged subsidised trips abroad for members of the Union. 

My passport photograph

Visited the Louvre, saw the Mona Liza, very few people around in those days, you could actually stand in front of the painting quite alone, the Grand Gallery will all the great paintings, Versailles which was overwhelming, went up the Eiffel Tower and did all the tourist things one does in Paris. I was in a perpetual state of wonder.

Bottom row. third from left. Were we such a large party?

Paris. As we were all Local Government staff we were invited to meet the mayor of Paris at the Hotel de Ville and I think we were wined and dined there.   We stayed at the University City in student accommodation so I had a room all to myself, and we took most of our meals in the campus canteen. Once curious element to the trip was that each evening we were taken to a night-club. We were supplied with a free glass of champagne and were told that the management of these joints liking to see the place full of young people; used us as crowd fodder to attract customers.  We were given to understand that the glass of champagne was to last the whole evening, because if you finished your glass it would be replaced by a bottle of champagne at eye watering cost. The tacky cabaret in these places was so awful, mostly consisting of ladies snuggling up to one another and removing each other’s clothes or ghastly acrobatic dances featuring performers with little or no clothes. I only went to two of these offerings and made myself scarce thereafter. Very curious. Whilst at Stretford I was promoted to Conveyancing Clerk, a leap in salary.  I was now mainly dealing with mortgages, the Council having a scheme of loans for people wanting to buy their own houses, some of them were 100% loans.  Successful people had a choice of a fixed rate or a variable rate. I have forgotten what the fixed rate was, but I know it was incredibly small in those days, and even to my untutored reasoning, a fixed rate was quite the best bet. And though we were not supposed to influence people, if asked I said go for the fixed.  In view what happened to inflation, there are many people out there who benefitted from my advice in the long run.

Dorothy Brown.  A few weeks after leaving school I was invited to tea by my former teacher Dorothy. She lived in a house in Swinton, about 20 minutes’ walk away from home. I duly went. Straight away I was asked to stop calling her ‘Miss’. She asked me how I was getting on and we had a delightful afternoon together. She lived in what to me was a very grandly furnished house.  Her parents had died and she lived with a companion Celia, much younger than herself, who had also been taught by her at Tootal Road School. Thus began an extraordinary relationship, it was all give on her part, and sorry to say, all take on mine.


Dorothy Brown the greatest influence in my life



Introduction to the arts.  I have already said how she purchased all my legal text-books for me. Well she now slowly introduced me to the arts. At regular intervals she invited me to come to the theatre with her and Celia. In those days all the great West End productions in London were first tried out in theatres all over the country, this way I saw all the great actors and actresses of the time, Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Ralph Richardson, John Gielguid, Richard Burton (Hamlet) with Claire Bloom, Margaret Rutherford, Kenneth Moore, and countless others. She also took me to my first opera, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, ballets, operettas, The Merry Widow, musicals, I saw South Pacific, it had Sean Connery in the chorus (so I later discovered in my copy of the programme).  She often took me to concerts, The Halle Orchestra performances in particular, art galleries, starting with Manchester City Art Gallery, I had often passed its grand stairs, but never dreamt that I could go up them at any time and enter the gallery. She took me to Chatsworth, having persuaded her ‘Uncle’ Bob who had a car to drive us there. I was overwhelmed.


Chatsworth. Always found that I tended to ‘stand at ease’ on such occasions

She loaned me books from her collection and guided my reading and she asked nothing in return. She once said to me, ‘I am opening all these doors for you to show you what is behind them, it is now up to you, when you have the money, and inclination to go through them yourself’.  Strange to say, I often wondered if she enjoyed them herself, she never clapped at the end of performances, and I often caught her looking at me in the theatre, rather than at the stage, I think she came to like seeing my wonder and excitement. I could never have afforded any of this.

And even when I was working for Stretford, she never would accept money from me for the tickets she continued to buy.  I suppose Celia and I were her adopted family.  I would simply be told that we were going to the theatre on a particular day and that was all.   My parents thought it was a wonderful experience for me and said nothing. Though I now realise my mother must have thought about the adoption request by Dorothy and whether she was going to lose me anyway.  But there was never any such idea in my head. Home was home. I then went through a long period when I began to spend most of the weekend with Dorothy and Celia. Celia bought a record player and we often listened to music, though unfortunately Celia’s taste tended to popular music. Her mother had spent a fortune on Celia’s piano lessons, and there was a grand piano in Dorothy’s house but sadly she was not really interested in playing it.  She had obviously decided not to open the doors, but nevertheless she accompanied us to all the shows and outings and was always very jolly, very amusing and full of laughter and of course we had the wretched school in common. I have nothing but very fond memories of her.

The painting.  Dorothy’s house had been bombed during the war and the family had only been able to salvage a few pieces of furniture and one painting. It was of a Cornish coastal scene by Douglas Houzen Pinder (1886-1949), an artist of absolutely no importance. It was housed in an ornate gilt frame, I have looked at many of his works since then and am convinced that this is his masterpiece. It hung over the grand piano in Swinton and I fell in love with it. Dorothy’s father had bought it off the artist in Cornwall and had it framed. Many years later I visited the lady who had inherited it and when I found out she did not like the painting, I offered to buy it. She kept me waiting seven years before finally agreeing. It now sits on my wall as a permanent reminder of a truly great lady who was the biggest influence in my life.

Newquay and Cornwall.  Every year during the school holidays, Dorothy would set off for Cornwall, as she had done since she was a little girl. She stayed there for most of the school holiday period, at a small guest house. At the beginning of the holiday, she would travel down with Celia, and with Celia’s father and mother, the four of them would take the train from Manchester together with many, many other Mancunians. Celia and her parents returned after a couple of weeks, leaving Dorothy alone.  What she did with herself I have no idea. Newquay was then a quiet pretty fishing village, unlike the hell it has now become. There was the railway then, on which you could travel up and down the coast – now closed – and I suppose she may have done rail journeys or did she just sit in the harbour looking out to sea and remembering her youth and her parents. She never swam, and did not particularly like sitting on the beach. She returned to school, as brown as a nut.  In the summer of 1959, I travelled with her, Celia and her mother, her father having died a few years before.  We stayed at the Pendrelon Hotel, occupying a distinctive position perched above the harbour.

I fell in love with Cornwall. I only stayed a week, but have stayed in Cornwall countless times since.

We had a memorable time, travelling up and down the coast by train, spending most of the day in a new town or village, something that can no longer be done. Celia was bright and funny, Dorothy serious as always, though she seemed very calm and dreamy, Celia’s mother was a nightmare.  A heavy forceful coarse woman.  I began hunting in antique shops of which Newquay then had a few. She had never shopped in an antique shop before, so she would barge in, watch to see what I picked up to look at and the minute I put it down she instantly bought it. I could not afford to buy.  However…

Portrait miniature. I did buy my first portrait miniature at one of the shops, 18th century, English School, and have it still. It had a glass back with plaited hair with the initials WC intertwined in gold wire.

A sad short tale.  Celia had a cousin, I think on her mother’s side. He was brought up like she was in one of Salford’s terraced streets, but a bit more upmarket than Scholes Street. Anyway he was an only son, and was regarded by the family as a bit of a swot and a bookworm. Something almost unheard of in that family. But everyone was very proud of him as he apparently wrote poetry, filling many notebooks.  I have no idea if they had any merit. Though his eyesight was very bad, and he was thin as a rake, nevertheless the moment he became of age he was called up during the war and put in the navy. Never been to sea in his life. I think he was on a convoy ship. Within a week of setting off from England, the ship was torpedoed and sank and he was drowned.  I often wondered what happened to his poems. Presumably they were eventually dumped and he was erased. Was he a good poet, I do not know, maybe he would have become one, we shall never know. I wonder how many times this tale could be repeated. What a waste.

Customs and Excise.  In July 1960 my father got confirmed in his job as a Watcher in the Customs and Exercise Department, Old Trafford Docks; now no more. It came with a uniform and peaked cap and he cycled to the Docks each day, very early in the morning, and came back late in the afternoon, exhausted. My poor father.

I think my father spent his days checking whatever came off the ships and having accounted for it passed it on to the warehousemen for storage. Many American ships came in and he made friends with many crewmen. They supplied him with chocolates, and comics. He once took me to the docks and we boarded one of the American ships. We started a tour of the ship with two men whom he knew, but by the end we had attracted most of the crew around us. They showed me around, their cabins, the engine room, the mess rooms, and we walked the decks acquiring more and more of the crew.  It was all very bewildering but they were all so kind and welcoming and showered me with lurid American comics and glossy magazines ‘for your Mam’ and masses of chocolates which were all put into a large canvas bag. I was overwhelmed by this noisy jolly group of handsome young men all wearing the tightest of vests, tiny shorts, and small caps perched on the backs of their heads. Straight out of the chorus of South Pacific I thought. They literally danced and pranced about us. I loved the attention. I’ve been crazy about Americans ever since.

The three of us in the garden.  My poor mother began to put on an awful amount of weight which was, the medics found, to be something to do with her thyroid gland and once she started taking the appropriate medication, the weight just fell off her.  But it did concern her for some many unnecessary years   

 Switzerland and Germany.  My next trip abroad, by myself, was to Switzerland for one week and the Black Forest for the second. I bought a colour camera. Also on the same holiday were a couple who were on their honeymoon. We stayed at Kandersteg and walked and hiked up mountains all day and in the evening went to the local inn after dinner. The Inn was, I think, quite unique. They played classical music on a gramophone to a rapt audience. I first got to hear Mahler and Bach in that Inn. I was swept away, I had never heard anything like it before. The music I had attended at the Halle concerts had rarely strayed into the works of either composer.

For my second week I left to go to a small village in the Black Forest called Toodmos. What on earth was I thinking about, there was no local transport, I had no car and here I was stuck in a tiny village not speaking the language and utterly alone. On the first day I decided to visit Fribourg to see the cathedral, so I went on the road and hitchhiked. People were almost queuing up to give me a lift, mostly for part of the way and would leave me at a crossroads and waited till I got my next lift. The day was hot, I was thirsty, and I foolishly drank from a spring at the side of the road. I must have been mad. I made it to Fribourg, saw the cathedral, was driven all the way back by a clearly gay but kindly German, who did not make a pass and  who took me to the doorstep of the hotel.  It was just as well, as I was beginning to feel very strange. Needless to say I spent the whole night vomiting and sweating. The hotel manager became concerned; presumably by the noise I was making in my room and called a doctor. I spent the next three days in bed nursed by the hotel staff. On the fourth day I came down to the hotel for my breakfast feeling very weak and wobbly on my legs. Sitting at the next table were a middle-aged German couple who insisted I join them. She spoke perfect English, he did not and I spoke no German. I found they were visiting their daughter in a private boarding school nearby and they insisted that I join them for the remainder of my holiday. So I was taken around in their sumptuous car, I’d never travelled in anything go grand before, and for the next few days I went with them to see all the local beauty spots.  One afternoon we finished up on the top of a castle somewhere eating cakes and I could see he was very agitated and was bursting to speak to me. His wife translated and said he wanted to tell me how sorry he was for the war and how ashamed he was of his country and countrymen. Apparently he had found out about the Holocaust and what was being done to the Jews. He said he and his fellow officers were horrified. Indeed he was so ashamed of what was being done in the name of his country that he tried to commit suicide whilst on leave at home, his wife apparently found him hanging in the stables and cut him down before it was too late, and indeed he had the most terrible scar across his neck just under his jaw. He grasped my hand with both of his with tears in his eyes and said again and again how sorry he was and how ashamed he was for his nation.  What could I say. I think I patted his hand and said something like he should not blame himself and I hope that any forgiveness he was seeking from me was satisfied.  I have to say that by this time all three of us were in tears.  Poor man, I shall never forget him and his burden which he would clearly carry for the remainder of his life.

West Byfleet.  The couple I had met in Switzerland had just bought a houseboat in West Byfleet where they intended to live and were looking for a tenant for their spare bedroom. I had been considering coming to live in London one day, I needed to grow up and spread my wings and get out of the routine of home and life with Dorothy. I just felt lonely and restless; maybe it was time to open some of those doors on my own. My now I had realised that I was gay and that I was not ready to come out to my family and needed to do something about it, though what exactly I did not know. I had tried to read about the subject in the dictionaries in the library but that didn’t help much.  I needed to meet some of my own kind and I just did not know where to start in Manchester, maybe, I thought, London would open doors for me.   The couple on the boat were the first people I came out to, so that was a start.

Brian: the accident.  Brian out on his beloved motorbike was injured in a severe road accident. Most of his face was virtually ripped off, his jaw was smashed and he lost most of his teeth. People did not wear helmets in those days, or at least very few did, Brian was not one.  Many bones were broken, he had lost the sight in one eye, and his face was a terrible sight to see.  He had many operations to repair his face and put his bones back, but from being one of the most handsome men I knew, he was now a grotesque sight. His whole face covered in scars and strange bits of grafted skin.  He once told me that he could feel no sensation in most of his face, he put on even more weight, and I suspect came to the conclusion that unlike most of his friends, he would now never marry and settle down.  My grandfather and he had left Scholes Street after Joan’s marriage and bought a small house for themselves in Salford.  Brian has a great affection for my mother, whom I think he regarded as a mother figure and was always kind and courteous to her.  When I was reduced to borrow money from him, see later, he insisted that I repaid it to my mother.  He was handsomely compensated for the accident which was not his fault.

London for me  and a new home for the family.  So I decided to leave home and live in London, but I realised that my parents relied on my salary, what were they to do if I left? My parents then thought that maybe my grandfather and Brian could come and live with them and help with the finances, and they would also benefit from my mother’s cooking and would be of financial benefit for all to pool their resources. It was discussed and agreed, and then my parents looked to swap their two bedroomed, 3 Cleveland Avenue for a four-bedroomed council house. A swap was arranged; it was five minutes’ walk away, facing the local church and called 1 Vicarage Close. And I moved to London and my parents settled in with my grandfather and Brian.  My parents acquired a television set, my father having sold his medal collection which he had built up from nothing, and then found it was quite valuable, I doubt if he spent anything on the collection, many were gifts from friends and acquaintances, it had just simply grown over the years. My grandfather found the TV very strange and did not take to it at all, and time and time again would remove himself from the living room and go and sit alone in his bedroom. Something was clearly making him very unhappy, when I look back it must have been the beginnings of dementia as he was sometimes very confused and the TV clearly upset him.   Brian and he constantly had heated rows, mostly Brian berating him for something or other. Tensions ran high; my parents did not like the quite awful quarrels they both had and they often moved my mother to tears as she loved them both dearly. One day my grandfather packed a few things in a bag and without a word left the house and went to live with his daughter Joan and her husband Derek and their two young children, Lindsey and Beverley. My mother could not understand what could have driven him to do such a thing. It was all very upsetting and sad.

Derek Stokoe with his wife my aunt Joan with their two children 

London County Council and the houseboat – April 1961.  Meanwhile I applied for a post of Law Clerk at the London County Council and was accepted. It was a drop in salary but I was determined to go and there were prospects of promotion. So I packed a few things and set off to London, with my small amount of savings in the bank and started my new life. I bought a season ticket for London/West Byfleet and got off the train at West Byfleet, it was pouring with rain, I had some rough notes which I had memorised as to how to get to the houseboat which I had never seen. The rain was relentless, there was hardly any street lighting and my spirits sank. What the heck was I doing?  Had it all been a stupid mistake, could I undo any of it and go back home?  So in somewhat low spirits I finally got to the Basingstoke Canal at Byfleet, crossed the bridge and, bedraggled and sodden, I found the houseboat. At that moment, if I could have done so, I would have returned home. But, I had burnt my bridges.

The houseboat was a converted longboat.  It consisted of a series of rooms, each the width of the boat, at one end was the living room, next came the kitchen, a small hallway into which you entered the boat, my room which was eight feet long, with a bed on one side and small cupboards on the other, then the bathroom and toilet and finally the main bedroom. It had electricity; an electric fire heated the living room, which was the only source of heat in the boat. There was an electric immersion heater for hot water. The major drawback was that the toilet was not connected to the sewers and had to be manually emptied.  I was horrified at first, everything so small and cramped and that toilet. I lived on the boat for 9 months, during that time they introduced me to a strange religious sect, who slowly made inroads into my savings until I found I had none. Living from hand to mouth was not comfortable and I had none of my books and belongings with me. The boat was also extremely damp and I noticed that if I left a pair of shoes unworn for some time the leather turned green. I began to realise that I was paying my hosts an incredibly high rent which I suspect paid off their mortgage on the boat (they left the boat soon after I left them), added to this was their total lack of basic hygiene, which meant that I was constantly having stomach upsets. They were also involved in this weird religious sect into which I had been swept.  They and the sect bled me dry and made me into the devout atheist I have since become.  I wanted to be finally rid of them, the sect and the houseboat which was slowly emptying my pockets and  ruining my health.

William Arthur Swan (1925-2015).  I met Arthur during the interval of a concert at the Festival Hall in London. He was an American, over in England to teach.  It was my first intense relationship and it lasted only a few months during which time he taught me a great deal about myself and how to be proud that I was gay. He had been brought up during the depression in the United States and could remember being so poor as a child that he had no shoes.  He was a kind and gentle man, highly educated, well-travelled and cultured, over 10 years older than me but I felt like a child compared to him. I could not have found a better mentor. When he had taught me as much as he thought I needed,  he let me go to find my own way.  I think he was going to live in Germany; always restless. When we parted he gave me a book, The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie by Wagner illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1910) which was probably a first edition.  It was inscribed ‘from Philip’ and Arthur had added ‘And now to Derek from Arthur with deep affection and Merry Christmas greetings. 1961.’ I treasure it and shall be forever grateful to him for being Arthur and nurturing me the way he did and I often wonder where he settled down and hope he found his ideal partner.  Everyone should be lucky enough to find their Arthur Swan.   I acquired a small number of gay friends during this period, most of whom I lost touch with over the years.  I have recently discovered that after much travelling Arthur returned to the States and eventually settled in Long Island where he played chamber music and taught the flute. He died aged 90 on the 15 August 2015, in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. His partner Robert Hood had predeceased him and he had then married his carer and in 2014 settled in Tbiliski which was her home town. In his obituary he is described as a professional flautist, singer, teacher of music and literature, elementary school teacher and principal of the New Lincoln and Fieldston Lower schools in New York City.  His wife survived him.  He was one of the brightest moments in my life.

I find a flat in London, December 1961.  I searched through newspaper adverts and eventually found a modest unfurnished flat in 11 Grosvenor Gardens, Willesden Green, the rent was £3.3s a week, a great deal less than I had been paying and it was near the tube. I was reduced to borrowing £200 from Brian to finance the move of all my belongings from Salford to London. I travelled to Salford, packed and returned to London with the removal van. We arrived in London late at night; I realised during the journey that I had caught flu and was beginning to feel absolutely terrible. I then found myself at 10.30 in the night in a freezing cold flat, where none of the electric plugs I had fitted into the flat’s pre-war plugs. And I think I reached a point of absolute despair. My bedding and bedclothes were all mixed up and I could find nothing in the dark.   I did not know how I was going to survive the night, the only people I knew in central London were my former hosts parents in Swiss Cottage, how I got there I do not know, but I arrived at the door and fainted.  Somehow they managed to get me to bed, called a doctor, and kindly looked after me for a few days.  I returned to the flat which I had not really looked at very closely. It was in the attic of a semi-detached house, each floor of which had a different tenant. It had a hallway, a minute kitchen, a sitting room and a bedroom, both with windows. The electrics as I have said were pre-war and downright dangerous, I had never seen anything like those plug sockets, and I had to go hunting locally for them.  As for the fuse box, the fuses were no longer made and you had to be pretty adept at twisting wires around old fuses to get them to work. The flat was freezing cold, and uncarpeted. I felt terribly alone and homesick.


Next Page

Print Friendly, PDF & Email