I Have Your Father in my Possession

I Have your Father in my Possession’

As I reach a certain age, and before my memory crumbles into complete oblivion, like the residues of a decent pint’s ethereal film of froth, I thought it appropriate to jot down a rather unconnected series of events that display the life and times of Robert Ernest Chapman (1910-1982) and to a lesser extent, through no fault of her own, Marion Edith Chapman (1918-2006) his wife and my mother.

Although the events may not follow in the chronological order ordained by purists, as the narration develops, the reader will discern a common denominator or two that depict a mode of living now lost in a world of political correctness and lost freedoms.

FAMILY HISTORY

I have made tentative research forays into family history and found a thread that father’s side of the family emanated from the Prince of Wales’s loins, (Albert Edward, later Edward VII) via one of his mistresses. There was possibly something in it as I can remember father saying his side of the family emanated from The Protestant Archbishop of Ireland, a title given by the British Monarchy to their nearest and dearest (when the whole of Ireland was still under the British Crown) . However, cannot find any 100% references to back this up.

His mother’s maternal line, however, can be traced from Anglo/Irish ancestry and includes Oscar Wilde who was (I think) my grandmother’s uncle. Anyway her maiden name was Wilde and the old dosh flowed quite freely as she seemed to spend most of her summers ensconced on the ski slopes of Switzerland. That was an era when the riff raff we see whooping down the slopes of the Matterhorn in modern times were busy sliding down the slag heaps of Birmingham on tea trays when it snowed. Although both my paternal grandparents were alive when I was born, they died before I could store any memory of them.

Father was born in Bristol in 1910, the eldest of three brothers, Harry and Brian, both became doctors. Harry, married a harridan called Mary and became a GP in Wolverhampton and their three boys (my cousins) became I know not what, apart from Richard, the eldest, who is now Sir Richard and a High Court Judge. A good bloke I could tell a few tales about, but do not want incarcerating in the Tower of London. Brian, father’s youngest brother, married a girl (Barbara) whose father owned half of Kent and settled down to a life of Gentleman farmer and adviser to the Government on mental health matters. A lovely bloke, though. I think he also had three sons but have no idea what happened to them apart from one who went into antiquarian books and opened a shop in Hay on Wye, but that was in the nineteen sixties.

EARLY DAYS

Fathers family, living at No 6 Frederick road in Edgbaston in Birmingham, could be said ‘a scholarly lot’. His father was a don at Cambridge University and wrote numerous books and journals about the psychology of teaching. Both father and my grandfather had a little-known side; they were both brilliant engineers, especially where the motor car was concerned. Father remembers when they both described a new form of internal combustion they had designed to a motor engineer in a pub in Birmingham in 1928/9. They drew it out on an empty packet of Players. This engineer worked for a motor car manufacture Frazer Nash, who patented the idea, which was bought out by Auto-Union (who later became Audi) and they sold the rights to Mazda under licence. The engine is used today, it’s called the ‘Wankel’.

A little-known aspect of his life was a love of botany. He spent his school holidays, mostly in Devon, driving around with his father in very ancient motor cars analysing the goings on in ponds and hedgerows. This activity, that I think he must have caught from his father and the knowledge he derived from this exercise never left him and he could give a detailed account of the most obscure ‘weed’ or mollusc years later.

SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY

Father went to school at King Edwards Grammar School in Birmingham, a highly prestigious public school and befriended another pupil he thought too clever for his own good, a certain Enoch Powell. He passed the scholarship for Cambridge University at sixteen but had to wait for two years apparently (something to do with a minimum eighteen-year-old rule) so spent two years at Birmingham University, studying ancient Greek. He was interviewed for Cambridge and asked mainly about his sports prowess. (He played cricket and rugby rowed and swam) and it seems father rather took umbrage at this and went to Oxford instead, where apparently they were more interested in his scholarly aspirations.

He was given a stipend (pocket money) of 7/6d a week (37.5pence) by his parents, who I feel had fallen upon hard times, and told to compress his 5-year course into 3. He read ‘Greats’ ( a detailed study of Roman and Greek History and Philosophy) His friends and contemporaries at Wadham College included Donald Hurst , a Lord Chief Justice who was a bit of a lad apparently, Michael Foot, whom he detested and a couple of Cabinet Ministers who were also very naughty. A hint of father’s derogative attitude towards the African race, that grew as time went on, started whilst up at Oxford. An African fellow student offered him a cigarette from a white skinned cigarette case with the epithet that the skin could have come from his father which was removed prior to eating the rest of him!

This is when the cushion of alcohol first emerged. He won a ‘blue’ for water polo and told me he worked for 17 hours a day, swam for 3 and slept for 4. This took its toll and on the day of the finals his mind went blank and he only got a 3rd. Still, he passed. Alcohol was a cushion. Most highly intelligent men, which father undoubtedly was, have to have a cushion in life, some turn to other women, some to religion, some to drugs but mostly, in those days (pre 2nd World War) alcohol was the favourite. He regaled me with the story of drinking 52 pints of bitter in one day and driving, with the aforesaid Lord Hurst KC, etc., and a fellow student who became a dentist (a chap called Whacker who lived in Birmingham and once had a delve into my molars… the bastard!) home over a golf course, getting stuck in a bunker and getting some irate golfers to pull them out. Whose car it was, he didn’t say. I know he knew the Chief Constable of Oxford quite well and was advised by him of the deployment of various police patrols in the area, in order to avoid any unpleasantness vis-à-vis driving under the influence. His driving artistry under the ‘influence’ stayed with him all his life, but more of that later. It was while he was up at Oxford that his interest in all things spiritual reared its head. He had a flirtation with a Jesuit society but rejected it in favour of a more cerebral aspect. This characteristic involved intelligence rather than emotions or instinct and although he became a Mason, his spiritual side was somewhat complex. Although Christened and confirmed into the Anglican faith, (and saw to it that I was) he was by nature a ‘free thinker’ and his classical education and the thoughts of the great philosophers were always drawn upon when deciding matters of faith.

193O’s

I don’t know much about his life between 1932 and 1937/8 apart from the fact that he obviously lived a life of undiluted penury due to an exuberance of profligacy in London society whilst studying law at the Inns of Court (‘Middle Temple’, I think). He took part in ‘Amateur Theatricals’ when his demeanour was patently bolstered by visits to Yates’s wine lodge next door and the Ritz Cocktail bar up the road. He couldn’t have acted when sober, he was far too nervous, (as his later court appearances proved) He recalls having a ‘butler’ at one time and weekend house parties but generally talked about being financially discomfited during this period. (A characteristic he lived with until he was well into his sixties) He obviously mixed in rather sublime company (Bertie Wooster comes to mind) and made lifelong friends with some of them although at this period of his life it took a lot squeezing out of him, he had to be well into his cups, to recall anything. I know he spent quite a lot of his time in West Cornwall with a friend from his Oxford days a certain Jocelyn (something or other, who became involved with the (I think) daughter of Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854–1931), a founder of the Newlyn School of art and quite a famous painter in his own right. Anyway, his friend Jocelyn married Gotch’s daughter and the Gotch granddaughter apparently chased father. He went off her though after discovering she had thick ankles. (Not the racehorse ankles he so admired in a female form) This period of life also rejuvenated his love for poetry and watercolours. He was quite an accomplished painter (by his account) and his poetry was of the deeply romantic variety with a propensity of ancient Greek mythological thought processes thrown in.

He supplemented his meagre allowance, for a while, by teaching at Mill Hill School, which had a reputation then of feeding pupils to exalted office in the ‘Upper Chamber’, and swears he gave one or two later members of the ‘Privy Council’ a sore posterior, for which they probably have been highly appreciative of ever since. In 1935/36 he also took on the position of private tutor to a certain Colonel H. P. Snowden’s MA Hon’s, MC, etc., eldest offspring Marion Snowden, (Anne) my mother. She was 15 or 16 he was 23 or 24. She was very shy very slim with waist length hair and rather stunning, he was also very shy and reminiscent of a young Robert Redford. The Snowden’s residence contained a number of students from abroad as well as Britain. Why they had students is another story. (Which I shall regale you with later because it deserves a book on its own). It was a large house in the London suburb of Dulwich with ample grounds for tennis courts and various elements that were deemed necessary for gracious living. The Snowdens were living in an air of old world British empiricism and they lived in this wonderful world no matter what financial restraints demanded, with house servants, gardeners and chauffeurs. The Colonel taught history at Dulwich College and was actively engaged in any matters military into which he could inveigle himself. Dorothy, the Colonel’s authoritative wife, my grandmother had theatrical leanings and definitive leanings towards the psychic side of life.

The tutoring consisted, from all accounts, of father trying to distill some knowledge of Pythagoras into his pupil’s head whilst she gazed into his eyes with glazed adoration. As father’s eyes were probably glazed as well, from a distinctly different source, they were well suited. I think he was ‘Called to the Bar’ around this time but seemed to spend his waking hours attending to mother’s needs and long weekend house parties around the home counties. He ran a 1925 14/40hp. Sports Model Sunbeam* at this time, a motor car pretty well on par with Bentley in the prestigious stakes showing scant regard for the usual financial restraints, particularly Gin and motor cars, which continued all his life. I remember being told that mother was taught to drive by father, an undertaking which once involved her passing so close to a cyclist that he rode into a ditch. After stopping and upon enquiring about his health and so forth, father determined that the poor chap was so traumatised he had emptied his bladder and bowels as a consequence of the closeness.

*It was destroyed by one of Herr Hitler’s bombs, whilst garaged in one of the ‘Colonel’s’ houses in London.

WAR YEARS

When Hitler intervened into the natural order of things, he immediately, like many other ‘young blades’, scooted down to the RAF recruiting centre and offered his services as a Spitfire pilot (The Brylcream Boys). He was turned down on medical grounds, apparently, he had flat feet, an aspect that had up to that time escaped him, and had certainly not curtailed his swimming and other sporting attributes. Having been turned down by the RAF he went post haste round the corner and in a fit of extreme grievance signed on as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery at the local recruiting centre.

He had what I suppose could be construed as a ‘good war’. Although his six weeks training at Catterick Army camp in Yorkshire certainly proved to be an eye-opener. Never before had he came into contact with ‘the common man’, let alone found himself being ordered about by one. This aspect certainly shook him and it is to his credit that such a profound shock instilled in him forever the plight of the underdog.

Father and mother must have got engaged around this time, he got on very well with mother’s father (Gaff), a veritable repository of scholarly profundities, who gained a double first in ‘greats’ and ‘theology’ either side of the 1914-1918 War, despite being badly gassed at Paschendale. I can remember them conversing in Latin for hours at a time in Gaff’s study, about what I have no idea but as both had a fairly wicked sense of humour and much jollity ensured I surmise it was not about the price of fish.

Father was posted to Scotland, where he graduated through the ranks to Captain, due to his expertise in Law. He was deeply angered by the lack of lack of counsel given to soldiers in Courts Martial activities. As far as his active service went, he did tell me he thinks he once saw a Mechersmidt in the far distance one day, but he wasn’t too sure. I don’t know what he did militarily and I don’t think he did either. His ‘good war’ seemed to consist of dropping hand grenades into lochs and selling the resultant stunned salmon to various local hotels in order to pay his mess bills. These mess bills must have been enormous as mother also had to send him money and as she didn’t earn much, ‘supplying aid and comfort’ (father’s words) to the troops as they attempted to deter the Luftwaffe hordes, at a South London anti aircraft battery. She also spent much of her time ensconced with various service types in air raid shelters. I don’t know what her job was at the Battery, I don’t suppose she had much idea either. However, she told me those years were the best years of her life. It was at this time that the family saying ‘Ay Annie in’t it a boogger’ emerged. This classical expression was used by a member of the battery, a Lancastrian sergeant in the Pioneer Corps, as they stood on the high ground in Upper Norwood and watched London burn in the blitz. The Snowden family were bombed out three times during the war*, and mother said she used to receive phone calls from her mother telling her that they had moved home that day and gave her the new address.

Gaff, incidentally, trod the steps of the War Office away at the outbreak of hostilities, desperate for a job. He must have been close to sixty then but they eventually gave him OC (Officer Commanding) transferring of German prisoners across London, and the Home Counties.

Father and mother were married in March 1941, a date that is easy to trace due to an extraordinary episode that concerns Do (pronounced ‘dough’, mother’s mother as she was affectionately known). As I said previously Do had a psychic side and on hearing that her eldest daughter was about to ‘trip the light fantastic’ all night at the Café de Paris on her wedding night, suddenly went into a trance. Father reckoned at the time she had been sipping overzealously at the sherry bottle, a trait developed in semi-secrecy. Anyway, upon snapping out of her coma she grabbed father by the arm and pronounced that she felt a feeling of dire jeopardy was in the air regarding that grandiose establishment. She told him under no circumstances was he to take her darling daughter to a certain death. Father and mother shrugged it off and went anyway. Half-way through the evening, they went to meet father’s brother Harry, a doctor in The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) at the Caprice for dinner. It was a period when the German bombing of bombing London was less than usual, but half an hour into their dinner a call went out for doctors because a direct hit by a German land mine had hit the Café de Paris and killed pretty well everybody. It was the only major bomb to drop on London that night.

Father’s war continued in Scotland, unhindered by any enemy action, maintaining the habit of running up massive mess bills whilst mother’s former life continued unhindered by father, ensconced herself with servicemen of varying nationalities in London cellars and bomb shelters.

In September-ish 1944 father came home to mother on a 48-hour leave and pleasured his wife, without taking his boots off, only being interrupted by the dinner gong banging away in the hall. I was the result. This information was imparted very loudly to me and half of the Midland Law Society, by father in a Gentleman’s club in Wolverhampton when I was about twelve and was father’s only reference to any inquiry I may be about to solicit regarding fornication and its ramifications.

Mother kept me in London after my birth, in 1945, probably to say goodbye to all her war-time ‘boys’ of the ‘ League of Nations’. Father had been demobbed and resumed his ‘barrister’ status by being invited into become a junior member in quite a prestigious ‘Chambers’ in Birmingham. He rented a flat and waited for his wife and son to join him. Well, he had to wait until I was nine months old because a tearful wife was still busy waving goodbye to departing troops as they departed this country, back to their homes around the world. Mother joined him and only then because he went up to London and wrenched mother and presumably me away from the troop ships.

*Twice bombed and once doodle bugged (VI).Nobody was killed as far as I know.

BALFOUR CRESCENT

After about six months we moved to a house in Balfour Crescent Wolverhampton, rented for £400 a year from father’s uncle Maslin-Jones, a solicitor. It was at this large ‘Mock Tudor’ house that I first remember life in the ‘Chapman’ territorial domain. My first memory of father was when mother carried me into his study on a Sunday morning and I stood watching him soldering wires together whilst making a wireless set. He was very well versed in wireless technology. He made me a crystal set at that house. Our mode of transport was a 1920’s Austin 16. This was complimented with a 1922/23 Crossley 15/30 Tourer, which spent all of its time being repaired by father, but didn’t stop a stray cat giving birth to two kittens in it, Peter a tabby and Chris a long white furred beauty, and named after mother’s two brothers. They were well loved and stayed with us for years. A mongrel dog, ‘Nippy’ was added to the family after jumping on to my pram from a wall, whilst out walking with mother, and taken home flea infested…hence the name.

Financially we were in a bad way. Young barristers did not make much money in those days and although both father’s parents must have died, no money was forthcoming. However, this facet didn’t stop the employment of maids, the purchase of old motor cars, various bar bills and my introduction, at the age of 3 years 10 months to prep school*

You will have gathered from the chronicle so far, that alcohol played a rather large part in my father’s life. Indeed his father also held an affinity with intoxicants and I seem to remember mother saying she was told by her mother in law that alcohol played a huge part in the family’s daily life style, and had done for many generations.

Father’s life in 20 Balfour Crescent was mostly a mystery to me; I hardly ever saw him, his work consisted mostly with ‘Legal Aid’ cases which brought in 2 guineas (£2.10) a time, and was lucky to have two of these a week. Post Second World War Britain was a very.austere place, food rationing was still in place and I think it was obvious, even to father, that we couldn’t continue to live in the pre-war world of grandeur on the pittance that a young barrister earned. In 1953 we moved to a small (then) village in Codsall, about six miles north of Wolverhampton.

*Parkdale Prep School in Tettenhall road, curiously about 100 yards from where both Jacqueline and Julie were born

CODSALL

The move itself was somewhat remarkable in that we arrived in a 1927 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, complete with glass partition (for the chauffeur) and brass speaking tube. Who lent this motor car to father, I have no idea but it caused quite a stir when we arrived in Codsall, A semi detached 3 bedroomed 1930’s house costong £1,350), as the only other car in the road was an ancient Austin 7 .

I was sent to the local primary school, made up of mostly sons and daughters of the local farming community, which was quite a shock. My reading and writing were well advanced compared with anything my fellow classmates could muster but my knowledge of arithmetic was a blur of disconnected numbers purporting to mean something. A facet that has stayed with me ever since.

We now enter a period of life for father, that for me at the time was highly embarrassing, but now I can look back on as a series of hilarious episodes and a world we will never quite see again.

The hardship side of the family fortunes, during the next 20 odd year. I shall dispense with quite quickly, as the memory generally shoves the bad times into the background and luckily only laughter remains. Because of the lack of dosh we seemed to spend quite a lot of time without telephone, water, electricity and gas, although food never seemed to be a problem, or at least not a problem until mother got hold of it. She was a ghastly cook (never having had to cook anything in her life) and I learnt to prepare and cook a serviceable meat and three veg whilst still in nappies for preservation’s sake. What dosh father did make was spent in various hostelries and mother’s housekeeping (£5 a week in 1958ish) was reduced by the day as father needed petrol or rail fare. Horrendous overdrafts were run up at the bank, (the BankManager and father were drinking pals) and although the bailiffs were never called in, though God knows how he kept them at bay, the family struggled through.

The fact that he was undoubtedly an alcoholic in the excepted sense is in no doubt, but he had tremendous will power, if it suited him. The ‘Lent’ periods gave him the chance to prove, to others and probably himself, that his dependence on alcohol and tobacco could be overcome and therefore he could prove he was the master of his own destiny. This period was conducted with no great hoo-har. He did not boast about it, he never boasted about anything come to that. He suffered in silence, after all for most of the time he was consuming up to two bottles of gin a day plus sixty fags, plus the comradery of fellow boozers, and to give up this life -style must have been a hell of a shock to the system.

For the other three hundred and twenty odd days of the year life continued with a life style for the family dependent on father’s alcohol levels, and consequent financial strife. The way that mother and I dealt with it all could or perhaps should have degenerated into absolute despair; however we both accepted it as a norm and faced it all with a sense of humour, which, looking back was our saving grace. Father’s stoic adherence to a high set of ideals, a sense of right and wrong based on ‘gentlemanly’ behaviour and the unspoken gracious laws of cricket was paramount.

The ‘unalienable right to conduct himself completely to his own satisfaction characteristic was certainly apparent when dealing with neighbours. Broadway was a road of semi-detached houses with a majority of ‘God fearing’ middle class families and father must have been an immense disappointment to them.(Arriving in a Rolls Royce must surely have boded well). In reality off he went to work in the morning complete in wing collar, bowler etc., covered in cat hairs but striding along like a guardsman and back he came in the evening like a disjointed puppet with half the strings broken, covered in ash or snuff, stinking like a brewer’s slop tray. This went on for the next 30 odd years. And the neighbours certainly knew how to twitch curtains when father returned home. When we had a car running it was worse. We had to continually collect father from any number of houses on either side of us. He had only a vague idea of our house’s location after a surfeit of gin, and as most houses looked the same in Broadway he was quite likely to be trying desperately to turn his key in Mrs Thomas’s house, four doors up. After driving home every evening, from The Bull and The Wheel, his last two ‘watering holes’ his arrival home,was announced by a long and noisy burst on the throttle pedal. He said it was to charge the battery for the next morning!

One of his friends at the Bull, a local Squire named Pritchard, used to host the Scout’s Fete once a year. He had a lovely house and gardens plus a large Swimming pool. The fete, held on a Saturday afternoon was always well attended and on this particular day the highlight was a competition for the best village under water swimming distance. Father had, as usual ensconced himself in the Bull’s Men Only Bar that morning and espoused the view that swimming under water was easy, if you knew how. The challenge was on; bets were taken and father, who hadn’t swum in anger for over twenty five years, was forced to enter the competition after mortgaging his life away. When he came home to collect mother and me he seemed somewhat agitated and rushed up stairs. We both thought he had wet himself. After lots of draw banging and Latin oaths he appeared at the top of the stairs holding a woollen bathing costume, which consisted of a one piece vest and leggings, circa 1910. Father accounted for his actions on the way to the fete and on arrival immediately deposited himself in the beer tent to further augment his strength.

The time came for the competition and we saw father trying to resist an army of beer quaffing cronies who manhandling him to the changing rooms. Mother and I positioned ourselves in the lea of an old oak tree, ready to dive for cover if and when our dearly beloved made an entrance. Firstly though all the young bloods, muscles rippling and stripped to the bare necessity made their entrance, parading around the pool like strutting peacocks. They started the competition and some managed a length and a half before surfacing. Mother and I prayed father had fallen asleep saving us the terrible embarrassment, a fate worse than death. The last of the entrants had competed his swim when a great cheer went up from the beer tent as father appeared. It was worse that we could possibly imagine. The costume was not only woollen and lacked any elastic; it was full of moth holes. The whole fete erupted into laughter as father staggered to the pool, as thin as rake, as white as porcelain. He stood on the pool edge and shivered; mother and I were helpless, then he straightened up, spent two or three minutes deep breathing, bent over and made a perfect racing dive which fare took every bodies breath away. Father’s shambling awkward gate on dry land was transformed into a sleek shark like beauty in the water. He seemed to glide from end to end with no effort save the rapid movement of his feet. He surfaced after three lengths to great cheers of encouragement. I’m sure he could have swum another length but for the drag on his costume which on climbing out hung loosely around his frame gushing gallons of water through the moth holes. He was carried shoulder high into the beer tent and didn’t have to pay for another drink all day. We were so very proud.

MODES OF TRANSPORT

Modes of transport to and from work, or to and from anywhere, come to that were dependent on father’s ability to get any one of up to five motor cars dotted around the front and back garden repaired. That and the necessary shekels for running one of them. The cars in the back garden were usually beyond repair. Father used to drive them onto the back lawn and I buried them. To this day, fifty or so years later the present occupants must still be digging up bits of Armstrong Siddeley, Lanchester, Sunbeam etc. In the front we could squeeze, if the front lawn was utilised, three cars in with a push, plus another on the road outside. None of any of these cars cost more than fifteen quid and mostly bought from scrap dealers.

At this point it is worth mentioning that the house was also utilised as a workshop and it became second nature to have to step over, walk around or kick out of the way various engines, gearboxes and back axles plus the inevitable oil and grease that were dotted about the hall, dining and sitting rooms. They could be there for years and lent a certain style to a world of quaint if not unique quality. This aspect was brought home when neighbours and friends called and were asked to move a camshaft off the chair, before they sat down. They were then served with tea or coffee from silver heirloom salvers and Spode china by mother who, living in a world of the permanently bewildered, saw nothing wrong with the paradox.

Because of the lack of motor car availability for weeks on end, father used the train to commute to his Chambers in Birmingham, The train on the outward journey was the 8.17 a.m. Liverpool to London Express. How he managed to get to stop at Codsall, a station with minimal importance, I never found out for sure but I seem to remember an old University crony, later Lord Thorneycroft, a Minister for something or other in the Lords had something to do with it. A restaurant car was added to the train in Wolverhampton and the only other stop on the way to Paddington was Birmingham. Father would buy the ‘Times’ in Wolverhampton, repair to the restaurant car, pull a hard boiled (boiled at home before he left) out of his pocket and get served with toast and egg cup etc, plus a miniature ‘Gordons’ and tonic by the attendant and kick his brain into gear by completing the crossword before the train got to Birmingham, a journey of some twenty minutes. He said that if he failed to complete the crossword by the time the train stopped he would get off, change platforms and return, via various hostelries, home (The Bull) because he didn’t feel up to the day’s rigors. If father saw the day out in Chambers, and caught an evening train home Terence Hughes, the porter at Codsall railway station, was instrumental, for many years, in bring father home He was often seen trundling father back, complete with brolly, bowler and brief case, on the station trolley. Father would be left propped up in the porch. Terence never got a tip, as far as I know.

LIVING WITH FATHER

It was during the 1950’s that I became aware of having two fathers. Both were in the same body but completely different in character. This Jekyll and Hyde characteristic was evident during the period of Lent when father would stop drinking. He would stop smoking as well (he was on 60 Players a day) and this phenomenon would last for exactly forty days (and nights). He suddenly took an interest in his family’s welfare. The house would be painted, cars mended and new overdrafts arranged. Electricity, water, telephone and gas bills would be paid. Above all, he was a much nicer person even taking note of my education or more likely the lack of it and tutoring me in the same intricacies of Pythagoras etc, which he did with mother many years before. Another aspect of these alcoholic abstention periods was the quietness emanating from mother and father’s bedroom during the night. Father, when not abstaining would talk in his sleep and I enjoyed an insight into the adult world listening to father recounting his day’s cross-examination of various felons. Foul language and sexual deviations were recounted in detail during the dark hours. I expect the neighbours enjoyed them as well as the details were normally shouted out for the world to hear.

The way that mother and I dealt with this life style it could or perhaps should have degenerated into absolute despair; however we both, fortunately, had a sense of humour. The family’s fortunes staggered on, father staggered anyway and Belinda arrived. Quite why mother and father wanted another child is beyond me. Father’s ability to contribute anything of material content to the conceiving process was knocked on the head as he reckoned a bad bout of scarlet fever in the late nineteen forties, rendered his sperm count non functional, and they decided to adopt a baby girl. Belinda was not a dainty child even from day one. She was six weeks old when she arrived. I came back from school, took one look and decided my time would be better spent hanging around the road outside a girl called Oonagh Trench’s house. A girl whom I imagined showed an interest in me. I think it must have been my short grey serge school trousers that did the trick. Father had already arrived back home apparently and also taken one look at this new addition to his charge then disappeared post haste back to the Bull. Mother was convinced that Belinda’s blubbery appearance was due entirely to puppy fat, a notion that had an element of truth in that the blubber turned into muscle. She scared the death out of everyone. Her marriage, to a short, corpulent and incomprehensible ‘Black Country’ yokel is worth recounting, later on.

Father’s work at the ‘bar’ continued, he seemed to gain a reputation for defence briefs and his modes of cross-examination were held in high esteem. This mode varied considerably depending on the time of day. In the morning, his cross-examination of witnesses was slow and ordered, with much thought and deliberation. In the afternoon, his Olympian brain now fuelled by a bottle or so of Gordon’s Gin, after the lunchtime adjournment, ran at full speed with a breadth of vision that was truly memorable.

ADVANCE & RETREAT

In about 1960 father was appointed Wolverhampton, and later Midland, Acting Stipendiary Magistrate by the ‘powers that be’. Mother would accompany him quite often and watch him dispensing justice; she would sit with the police and knit as Madame Thérèse Defarge did when watching the aristocrats lose their heads courtesy of the guillotine during the French Revolution. His remuneration for this position was £3,500 a year, which was wonderful considering the spasmodic pittance he received as a barrister. He was running a 1936 Austin 7 cabriolet, initially, with a fabric roof made out of an old army blanket and brass name plates on the bonnet denoting the name ‘Gerti’ (We kept this car in the family for years. Mother used it later and eventually gave it to me. Rose learnt to drive in it, she still has the name plate.) The Magistrate had his own prominent parking places at various courts and to see father arrive and park this vehicle alongside the Daimlers and Jaguars was indeed a sight for sore eyes. Other motor cars included a 1937 Sunbeam Talbot convertible, a 1931 Talbot 65, a TR2, Morris Eights numerous Daimlers and Lanchesters and a Mulliner bodied Austin Sheerline, an elegant carriage with built in cocktail cabinet. It was reminiscent of a Bentley, but had a 4 litre lorry engine under the massive bonnet.

One of his courts was set in the rural environs of Hereford when he would adjudicate on among other agricultural type of misdemeanours the felonious cases of poaching. The finewas always about two quid and a severe warning not to re offend. On his way home, father would invariably stop off for a couple or so and used various hostelries inhabited by the aforementioned felons. Needless to say, he always arrived home with a boot full of rabbits, hares and game birds, given to him from appreciative felons.

Another amusing episode during this time on the bench concerned his friend ‘Stiffy’ Griffiths. Why he was called ‘Stiffy’ is unknown but I remember him being a very ‘tweedy’ sort of chap in the ‘Colonel Blimp’ mould. Father and Stiffy were ensconced, as usual, in the Bull one Saturday evening, and it occurred to father that it may be a good idea if Stiffy drove father home (in father’s car, Stiffy not having driven a car since 1929) and picked father up again on Sunday morning so they could continue where they left off on the previous evening. This was accomplished with much grinding of gears and not a little damage to gateposts and hedges plus the added impediment of Stiffy being picked up by the police, after depositing father, for driving under the influence. These were the days before the ‘breathalyser’ and consisted of walking a white line and counting to ten. The outcome of this fiasco was that Stiffy came up before father in court and pleaded not guilty, thinking father would find him innocent of all charges. Father of course made it known that he knew the defendant (After all it was his fault ‘Stiffy’ was in the dock in the first place). He also realised that the local press had cottoned on to the possibility that he was acquainted with the defendant and had filled the press gallery with eager reporters waiting for a scoop vis-à-vis a gross miscarriage of justice. Father therefore gave ‘Stiffy’ the option of appearing before another court. Stiffy stood in the dock, rubbed his hands together and declined the offer.

After listening to the facts,’ said father in his judgement, ‘I have rarely heard of a worse case of drunken driving and find the defendant guilty as charged. Fined fifteen pounds.’ The fact that Stiffy’s driving licence had expired in 1941, wasn’t mentioned. Stiffy was most put out with this and even though father paid the fine, Stiffy never spoke to father again.

The Acting Stipendiary Magistrate episode, that was for an initial nine months dragged on for two years. We all hoped it would be made permanent but it wasn’t to be and a permanent Stipendiary was appointed. Father went back to the bar and tried to pick up where he left off two years before. It was a bitter blow, but ‘silver linings’ were in the offing. Initially he struggled on as before picking up briefs here and there with a couple of murder trials and high profile divorce cases, but mostly mundane motoring and burglary cases which didn’t exercise his brain or bank account. The administrating of justice, rather than pleading on behalf of plaintiffs, had really tickled his fancy and the ability to apply his logical mind and approach difficult decisions from lateral points of view suited his undoubted talents. Adding to the bleak outlook it was at about this time (1960ish) that mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Nothing much was known about this debilitating condition at the time, and she went through many tests before the illness was correctly diagnosed. It must have been a real struggle; father trying to resurrect his career at the Bar, mother becoming more and more incapacitated and the old story of severe financial restrictions.

FORWARD ONCE MORE

The first inkling of a resurgence in father’s fortunes was an appointment to sit on Mental Health Tribunals as the judicial voice when deciding the release of lunatics back into the community. This was very much a part time job that only took place three or four days a month, but it was a start. One story re regaled me with concerned a visit he made to one asylum and after parking the car noticed an inmate gently weeding a nearby flowerbed. Having a few minutes to spare father went over for a chat. The inmate told him he was up before the very ‘release board,’ that father was sitting on later that morning. He then left a very good impression on father by describing in intricate detail the soil conditions and a deep knowledge of the plants that would grow well in the asylum gardens. He asked father to look upon his application for release with sympathy, a fact that father had already deemed probable. After a few more minutes of chat father moved off, much impressed with the chap, but hadn’t gone more than ten yards when a large clod of earth dislodged his bowler and spattered his neck. Upon looking around, he found the inmate about to propel another broadside and shouting ‘You won’t forget will you?’

The next upturn, (1966ish) was an appointment as deputy County Court Judge; a well paid little number that although not involving criminal law involved much travelling around the country enabling him to visit many hostelries and Judge’s lodgings that were not known for their abstemious nature. Father’s extraordinary feats of drinking and driving are legendary, and during this time when his financial restraints were somewhat relaxed, his exploits became even more so.

His exploits were encouraged because his job was initially, until a Midland Circuit became available, a filler in for Judges that were ill or on holiday etc all over South West England and South Wales, and It was in Cardiff that father set off to one day whilst I went off to debauch a few hours at Wulfrun Collage in Wolverhampton. Upon returning, at six ish I was surprised to see his car in the ‘Bull’ car park. I ventured into the bar only to be met by ‘Paddy’ the Irish village copper waving his truncheon about while scoffing the froth off a pint of mild and bitter.

Christ’ he burbled, after focusing with difficulty, ‘tis bloody Kit’.

‘Christ’, says I avoiding his prodding truncheon.

‘Christ’, says he, continuing the religious theme.

I glanced into the ‘Gent’s Only Bar’ through an open serving hatch. Father was regaling Francis, a Church Chorister and renowned ‘piss artist’ with tales of ‘daring do’ in the courtroom.

‘Don’t tell yer’ dear mother,’ says Paddy, ‘God bless her.’

‘I never tell her anything,’ says I, blessing my good luck. A free pint or two may well be in the offing.

Eventually the story came out. Father was indeed on his way to Cardiff that morning until he noticed Paddy waiting at the bus stop, outside Codsall Police Station; he stopped and Paddy hopped in. The erstwhile custodian of the law was on his way to appear in the Wolverhampton Police Court as a witness for the prosecution in a burglary case. At what stage of the proceedings during this lift that both decided to veer off course and make their way to Penkridge, near Stafford is unclear, but it must have been jolly quick as the turn off to Penkridge was only half a mile down the road. The attraction of Penkridge was ‘Market Day’, a day when the pubs opened at ten and even earlier if you know where to go. A good time was had by all and a good number of establishments were blessed with their presence. They pub- crawled all the way back and ended up in the ‘Bull’ for a final one…or two.

Be-Jasus’, a terrible man yer’ father,’ says Paddy, hijacking meself on me way to do me duty. But I know me station, be-Jasus. Every Public House we went in yer dear father went in the ‘Lounge Bar’ and I would go into the ‘Bar’. I don’t think anyone noticed.’Penkridge was a favourite watering hole for father.

Another time mother and I answered a knock at the door one early evening to find a cattle lorry parked in the road and a farm labourer assisting father up the garden path. Father was covered in cattle dung and straw. He looked like a windswept haystack that had been viciously attacked by a manic manure heap. He smelt like one as well. The two labourers had the decency to bring father back after finding him in a field asleep in his beloved 1937 MG 2 litre. Father explained, whilst travelling along a narrow country lane near Brewood, a speeding lorry coming in the oposte direction was taking up the whole road and he had taken avoiding action and escaped certain death by driving into a ploughed field through a hawthorn hedge. The two labourers, by chance ardent church goers, with an abhorrence of alcohol but with a Christian outlook of helping their neighbour deposited father in the back of their cattle lorry, after smelling his breath.

Mother was oblivious to father’s antics. She had the, possibly wonderful, ability to dismiss from her mind any facet of life that was disagreeable. Of course, she knew he liked a tipple, she spent most of the evening trying to retrieve his head/foot/arm out of the fireplace, where they had come to rest after father slithered off the chair in a drunken repose. It was quite interesting in the winter when we had a roaring log fire. A smell of charred hair or fabric would usually be the first indication of imminent human combustion. His eating habits were very much hit and miss. A boiled egg in the morning seemed to be his only meal of the day. The burnt offerings that mother dished up would shoot off father’s plate when he arrived home in the evening; he would fall into a chair, attempt to stab whatever was on the plate and quickly fall asleep. Our dogs broke many a tooth on mother’s attempts to create fodder for the family.

JUDGEMENT

The end of his County Court Judicial duties ended in farcical circumstances, a fact that didn’t escape the national press or Quinton Hogg the Lord Chancellor. Lord Hailsham, as he was then. He and father knew each other vaguely at Oxford in the 1930’s, where they both studied ‘Greats’. In 1968 Father was sitting as a County Court Judge in Worcester, a city that was one of his favourite venues because the place was sprinkled with excellent places of ‘refreshment’.

Rose and I were then living in Lea Road Wolverhampton together with our newly born daughter Jacqueline. At about 6.30pm I received a phone call from a rather distressed Pub Landlord of the King’s Arms in Ombersley, a couple or so miles North of Worcester. He told me father was in hospital with a suspected broken leg. He also insisted that on my way to visit father I call in at the Pub first.

Jacqueline was deposited with my mother and Rose and I made our way to Worcester Royal Infirmary, via Ombersley, a journey of perhaps one hour. The Landlord recounted how father and a Solicitor friend had entered the Pub at about 1pm and refreshed themselves with copious ‘pink gins’. Apparently, father had adjourned the court for luncheon; it was due to re-convene at 2pm. They were still there at 4pm (well after closing time), together with a well-known heavyweight wrestler. (I never found out who) A discussion then ensued regarding the theatrical nature of wrestling and father put forward the hypothesis that the wrestler’s antics on the canvass were nothing but orchestrated showmanship, whereupon their wrestling drinking companion gave father an ‘Irish whip’. (A distinctly disorienting type of manoeuvre that entailed father being thrown into the air, turning a tortuous somersault and landing flat out on the floor). Not content with this fine example of the wrestler’s art the perpetrator then sat on father breaking his leg in two places. According to the Landlord the Solicitor was oblivious to this illustration of the said ‘art’ as he was fast asleep, snoring, in a fireside chair and had been for an hour or more.

At this point the Landlord showed great presence of mind. He got rid of the wrestler, put the Solicitor upstairs to bed, father, feeling no pain, was helped to a chair and also fell asleep, then phoned for an ambulance. He told the medics, when they arrived, that this gentleman had arrived at 6pm, just as they were opening, tripped on the doormat and had fallen awkwardly. He also mentioned that he had never seen him before in his life. (The King’s Arms had been a favourite pub of father for many years). Rose and I, agreed with the story and made our way to the Royal Infirmary in Worcester, ‘post-haste’ in order to tell father what had been concocted. It was too late, the doctor realised that father had been sedated enough by the ‘pinkers’ and was feeling no pain, therefore he didn’t feel the need to sedate him or administer any other pain relief remedies. Father, however, whilst in a stage of blissful ignorance explained the unwholesome nature of an ‘Irish whip’ to a nurse. She, obviously sensing things were not as they seemed informed the press and the story was out. We told father the processed story, but he was not quite ‘with it’.

We, at home, were not aware of this complication. Father had, a day later, been informed of the ‘official’ story and agreed this was indeed the case. As he couldn’t remember being placed in orbit or consequent events anyway, it mattered not a lot. I was acquainted by the impending furore a few days later when Bill Warilow, the Landlord of the ‘Wheel’ in Codsall that the ‘News of the World’ had been onto him. They wanted to publish an expose of ‘Drunken Judicial Antics’ and so wanted to see me as soon as ‘poss’. Rose, mother and me had a family meeting. Well it was Rose and me really, mother was more interested in knitting, who decided to call in Uncle Peter, a ‘rake’ of immeasurable dimensions.* Peter arrived and took over. He told me he ‘paid the press off (£6000)’. Well, we had no more snoopers from the press from that moment on, so ‘one never knows’. I went with Peter to collect father, after six weeks in hospital, and we obviously went home via the ‘King’s Arms’ to celebrate father’s release. I remember carrying father in (he had a plaster casted leg) and Peter hoisting him up over his shoulder on the way out, accompanied by applause from the assembled drinkers.

A couple of weeks later father received a communication that The Lord Chancellor would be appreciative if father could pop in and see him. Father, still on crutches went rather pale and introspective, expecting the worst. In the end it turned out for the best. The Lord Chancellor, in a benign mood, advised father that it may be a good idea if he was taken out of the ‘limelight’, as it were, and moved to a more secluded position, one which would not, perhaps, attract the attention of the more vociferous members of the press. It so happened that a new trend in ‘Industrial Relations’ was developing; one which involved ‘Industrial Tribunal Courts’ and would he like to take over the Chairmanship of such an enterprise in the Midlands? The remuneration was £26,000 a year (a huge salary in the 70’s) and as a member of the Civil Service, an ample pension would be forthcoming plus the hint of an eventual knighthood. (If he behaved himself).

*Uncle Peter deserves a book of his own. He was, by his own admission, on first name terms with all known Royalty and ‘Captains of Industry’. He made a habit of marrying beautiful rich widows.

OH! HAPPY TIMES

Father of course needed no convincing and immediately agreed to such an arrangement. He set up shop in Greenfield Crescent in Edgbaston, Birmingham and began to employ a staff of amenable civil servants and appoint various Judges. I, by chance had an office in the same road. I worked as a ‘rep’ for Rubery Owen in Darlaston, covering the East of England (A territory I rarely ventured on) and many an extended lunch time was spent with father, in the ‘The City Tavern’.

I think that this period was one of the happiest in his life. He purchased a Jaguar 3.8 (£350), A Mini (£200) and An Austin Princess (£550). Their use was limited, as at any one time was it rare for either of them to be roadworthy (not that this aspect ever bothered him) but broken down in some Pub car park or at Smithy’s Garage hammering out body damage. His first new car arrived, a Wolseley Six. He didn’t it drive much though for the first year as he was banned for driving under the influence (3 times over the limit) after colliding with a Police car after a session in the ‘Newbridge Public House’ with me and a few cronies early one evening. He was on his way home, via the ‘Bull’ but ended up in Wolverhampton Police Station instead. I went to the scene to find father sitting on the curb, completely unhurt but more or less oblivious to it all. The Policeman, who was a passenger in the Police car told me he had waited for twenty years to nab father as he was the cause of his demotion, when he was a Sergeant and father had proved, in court, that a prisoner had been beaten up whilst in his custody. Father was given a fine of £120 and banned for a year. He often referred to this period as ‘Being excused driving by the Queen’, and resumed his daily commuting to Birmingham by train, with hardboiled egg, Times crossword and miniature bottles of Gin.

The ‘Major’, a retired Indian Army type arrived on the scene at about this time. He was a classical music aficionado, drove a MGB and created quite a dash. Father and he used to meet in the United Services Club in Wolverhampton and listen to Wagner and sum such. The ‘Major’ drank only ‘Booths’ Gin and father only ‘Gordons’, they were known respectively as ‘Salvation Army, and ‘Relief of Khartoum’.

After getting his driving licence back, the threat of driving under the influence mattered not a jot to father, he continued where he left off. Father loved his days out at Edgbaston and went often. It was around this time that I answered the phone one evening.

Is that Christopher Robert Chapman?’

It is’.

This is Police Constable XYZ, number 123,Birmingham Sub Division 456. I have your father in my possession.’

Father, after watching cricket all day and imbibing as usual all day, was found asleep on the steps leading to the car park. According to the Policeman, when Rose and I arrived at the ground, father had explained he couldn’t find his car amongst the hundreds there, so decided to have a nap and wait for the car park to empty.

Another call, this time from father himself, entreated me to meet him at the United Services Club in Wolverhampton as he had bought a Bentley. He wanted me to drive his other car home. Well, I arrived to find a dilapidated 1936 3 Drophead Coupe, which he had purchased from some bloke in a pub for fifty quid. It wasn’t, by his admission, entirely roadworthy due to it having been resting in the middle of a farm yard for the last twenty odd years. Never mind that, he had organised Smithy Motors of Codsall to tow it home, where it would be restored to full glory. We ensconced ourselves in the bar and awaited the arrival of the tow truck. It arrived quite quickly, driven by old man Smithy himself, who, in the convention of the time joined us for refreshment. Two hours later we ventured back into the car park to find night had fallen. Father, by this time in a confidential mood hung a red road lantern (pinched from a local road works) on the back of the Bentley and set off in jolly mood towed by an equally confident Mr Smithy. They both decided that the engine had seized (many years ago) and father informed Mr Smithy that he would try and un-seize it if the tow truck could perhaps accelerate to a healthy lick down the Tettenhall road whereupon father would try and engage a gear and let the clutch in an attempt to get the old pistons moving. I followed at a safe distance and watched the performance, and what a performance it was. With a horrible grinding and a noise synonymous with a World War 2 air raid siren father managed to find a gear. The Bentley jumped two feet in the air and the propeller shaft shot up through the floor, narrowly missing father and exploded through the roof like a V2 rocket. The back of the lorry didn’t fare much better as 2½ tons of tortured metal tore half the back off it as father and Bentley resumed contact with the road and stopped dead. I took both of them home in father’s other car and Smithy returned the next day with a low-loader and kept the Bentley in his garage for years. We later found out that the bloke who sold father the car for about fifty quid was getting his own back after father had ‘sent him down’ many years before for receiving stolen goods. I eventually sold it for 25 guineas ‘for spares’.

Around 1972 that my ‘dear’ sister, Belinda got married. She had blossomed into a hulk of muscle and low intellect. Father did not have much to do with her much anyway but all communication stopped entirely after she pushed him through her bedroom wall, leaving the outline of a flailing body in full flight through the lathe and plaster, reminiscent of a ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon. This demolition of part of the homestead resulted in two bedrooms being knocked into one. Anyway she married a much smaller obnoxious boy, called David whose family came from the heart of the ‘Black Country’ and command of the English language was obscure to say the least. They knew what they were talking about, so broad was their accent, but everybody else was completely mystified. Mother christened them the ‘am yows’ (As in, ‘Am yow cumin with we up our ’ouse’). The reception was farcical (Ask Rose) Father decided he would give the reception at home. Home, 17 Broadway, was a haven for slugs, built as it was on a waterlogged marsh. Slugs left slug trails and consequently adorned every wall and floor. We had lived with them for so long they became part of the décor, unnoticed and rarely disturbed. Before the wedding No 17’s lavatory overflowed and blocked. A plumber was called but didn’t arrive in time for mother, father and the bride’s departure to the Registry Office. Upon returning with numerous guests including the whole of the ‘Am Yow’ tribe, there was no sign of the plumber. The ‘Best Man’ was busy parking his car when the plumber arrived but mother mistook him for the car parker and ushered him into the sitting room with a plate of cucumber sandwiches and cheap sherry. If he was slightly bewildered about this welcome it was nothing compared to the befuddlement of the real ‘Best Man’, he arrived shortly afterwards and was sent straight upstairs to relieve the sewage pipes. He probably thought it was a ritual of some sort, but he managed it. Another feature of the reception was the figure of a rather pretty girl, dressed up as a ‘French Maid’ cavorting about with trays of drinks and Swiss roles like a demented ‘Bunny Girl’. Where father had found her from remains unclear but I will bet my life she was a ‘Bar Maid’, from the Bull. The photographs show elegant slug trails adorning the walls above the happy couple as they toast their unforgettable day and just about sums up the whole hilarious affair. We didn’t see much of Belinda after that, she found her original family in Stoke, had two obnoxious sons (Earrings and crew-cuts at an early age) divorced David and was last heard of driving a bus in London.

The upturn in the financial prospects brought forth Elsie (char) and Gordon, (gardener). Elsie was a somewhat short sighted lady always covered in talcum powder and was of course an ex barmaid. Gordon was a very old and filthy character who never bathed and was regularly fumigated once a year by the local council. (Ask Jacqueline) Gordon once spent a couple of months digging up our back garden and planting grass seed. On the morning that he finished father arrived home with a bag of seed potatoes (from a friend in the Bull) and being oblivious to any plans mother and Gordon had for a green swathe of manicured lawn, planted, quite haphazardly as it turned out, the spuds in the tilled earth. It was quite a sight to watch potatoes sprouting through a newly laid lawn and was unique in Broadway and probably the world.

Father’s ‘bladder’ had been misbehaving for years and he often had a wet patch, which embarrassed everyone else, but not him. The trouble was traced to his ‘prostate gland’ (Why I don’t know) and he went into a private hospital to have the bugger out. The Matron in charge was the mother of a friend of ours (Paddy) and was very much aggrieved at being found guilty of ‘driving without due care’ and fined £10 or thereabouts by father when he was sitting on the bench many years before. She gave him hell apparently. But it more or less stopped him wetting himself.

Father moved into new a office and court complex in Frederick road Edgbaston, ironically the new complex was built on the grounds of his family’s old house that had been bombed in the war. He delegated authority very well and was always propping the bar up in the ‘City Tavern’ by 10.30 am, and made great friends with Lance Gibbs, the West Indian fast bowler who having retired from first class cricket with Warwickshire and the West Indies still had something to do with the coaching. Father bowled a wicked off spin ball in his time and probably tried to give Lance Gibbs a few hints. He also grew a huge handlebar moustache, I think it was to impress the band of pretty secretaries, it certainly didn’t impress mother, she got Elsie to cut half of it off when father was prostrate under the bird cage in the sitting room one evening, after his usual meal of burnt offerings.

Rose, Jacqueline and Julie and I were living in Cornwall at this time and Father visited us as much as possible, retracing his old 1920’s and 30’s haunts. We used to go fishing occasionally in a boat he brought down. The car that towed it was a Daf which Jacqueline learnt to drive on (ask her). It was one on of these holidays that father had his first heart attack. He went into a local hospital and I took in a bottle of Gin every day to aid his recovery, a service that the doctor highly approved off. It was, however the end of his career, he was about 68 I think, and he retired.

Life didn’t change much; he ran a Rover 3.5 litre (Ministerial type car) and made the pub opening time of 10.30 every morning and the 6.00 one every evening. Saturdays and Sundays were a treat; he had an old and probably best friend, Richard (Dickie Boy) a dentist from Wellington. Dickie hailed from the valleys of South Wales went to Birmingham University and stayed in the Midlands. He was a promising fly half and had a trial for Wales before the war came along. Dickie flew seaplanes in the Pacific against the Japanese and was one of the nicest blokes you could ever wish to meet. He drove over every Saturday, arriving at ten to six in the evening and collected father en route to the Wheel. There they would consume vast amounts of gin and return home to entertain mother with Frank Sinatra records and more gin. Father would take mother over to Dickie’s abode on a Sunday morning arriving at precisely 12noon. Dickie, by chance lived in a Pub and was secured in a ménage à trois with the Landlord and his wife, and had been for years.

While studying for my Chief Engineer’s exams at Hull University in 1981/2 I stayed at Codsall every weekend. I would meet father in the Wheel every Friday night at about 7pm. and have a jolly good time. On Saturday mornings father and I would repair to the Bull and after a couple or so heart starters father would engage himself with the laws of physics and applied maths, my course work, which had me baffled. His brain was still in excellent working order and although he probably hadn’t studied these subjects for fifty years he always came up trumps.

I was on leave in the summer of 1983 and met up with mother and father in Purley, London, the home of Aunt Peggy, mother’s sister, where they often stayed. Father was busy finishing off the Times crossword on the sofa and waiting for opening time at a nearby Hostelry when his heart stopped for good. It happened very quickly and he was cremated at the east Sussex Crematorium.

I once told him, on the way to the Newbridge Hotel, that when he died I would empty a bottle of ‘Gordons over his grave. ‘Make sure it goes through your kidneys first, my boy’ he said.

One day I might just do that.

Kit 2009

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The art of Essay writing

Upon formulating the necessary ingredients for an essay we should, before kickoff, satisfy the following criteria.

 

Firstly one must be sitting comfortably; I find a partially inflated car tyre inner tube to be ideal padding. Placed on the seat of my portable commode it gives one a feeling of aggrandisement plus, of course, alleviating of any possibility of exploding haemorrhoids taking one’s mind off the job in hand.  It is said essayist Charles Lamb started the trend by sitting on a pig’s bladder which assuaged the pain caused by an exquisitely painful carbuncle on the fundament. What it did for the pig isn’t recorded. This, in turn, led to a number of hostelries to be named after the renowned writer’s posture.

The visual aspect, the background and the lighting should be in absolute harmony. I sit next to a window overlooking a valley and just within sight of our own Pig and Bladder pub which gives me the added incentive to finish the bloody essay before closing time. Pin-ups of Betty Grable, Winston Churchill and Mae West adorn the walls together with a photograph of mother-in-law,  I use it as a dart board, with darts affixing scraps of paper as reminder notes to feed oneself and the dogs occasionally. Well stocked shelves of supportive tinctures of an alcoholic nature and various versions of the hemp family are essential for boosting failing creative juices.

 The need for absolute silence from any human sources around the home is crucial. I send the memsahib away for the duration to a home for the bewildered usually for a couple or so weeks, or until the need for washing dirty plates, cutlery, socks etc mounts up to an insurmountable level and call her back for a couple of hours. Vomity Evans, a very friendly barmaid, will function in this capacity if the Memsahib desists.

The need for absolute silence does not, of course, preclude the need for music. Samuel Johnson, before the invention of the gramophone, used to employ a bagpipe quartet to play popular tunes of the day in near proximity for inspiration. In this enlightened age, we have a massive choice. I personally employ Mr Johnston’s method, what was good enough for him etc etc.

The mode of dress, or undress, matters considerably. I believe Marcel Proust was wont to work completely naked, apart from a strategically placed pickelhaube l. I prefer a silk smoking jacket, cravat, cavalry twills, plus fours, and deerstalker. Clothing gives one a feeling of poetic rhythm, or in my case warmth.

It is not a good idea to leave the workplace for food whilst engaged in composing. Leaving the room, even for a second or two, throws one’s concentration, disperses any ideas that are forming and leaves one open to abuse from spouses.  So a couple of platefuls of fodder should also be at hand to ease any hunger pangs. Victor Hugo, who knew a thing or to about essays, was a trencherman of the first water, he had platefuls of frog’s legs and snails at his fingertips. While not advocating such delicious trifles, for me a dish of pickled beetroot and a slice or two of spotted dick pudding is adequate sufficiency.

At this stage of the proceedings, all the basic accoutrements for writing a rip-snorting essay are now within ones grasp. One can now vigorously attack the qwerty with the knowledge that once a subject is decided upon there is no excuse for lassitude. I find two or three games of solitaire and free cell are undertaken to free up the joints before embarking on the actual essay. What the essay is about now depends on one’s mood. If no preconceived ideas are held I suggest a long stare out of the window. Ralph Waldo Emerson was known to stare out of the window for days at a time. What he was staring at is not recorded but rumour has it that his next door neighbour, a lady of ample proportions, was prone to sunbathe in her garden au naturel in all weathers, which may account for his habit. I stare at grazing sheep, a habit which has brought some comment from the village inhabitants and even a visit from the police but after explaining that I gained inspiration from their svelte locomotion,  seemed to satisfy their unwarranted assertions.

Pour yourself a heart starter and try to recall the ideas that flooded into your conscious last night just before Morpheus played his part. You promise to remember them, but can you; I’m buggered if I can. Try as you might the most wonderful scenarios you could possibly imagine refuse to surface. The promises to always take a notepad to bed every night in case of such eventualities never materialise. I took a biro to bed once and managed a few scribblings of magnificent concepts on the pillow, but woke up in the morning with a face resembling an over ripe aubergine and a scream from a hysterical memsahib. T. S. Eliot was lucky. He used to talk in his sleep and employed a shorthand typist to sit by his bedside and record every utterance. Apparently she made a fortune in later years by publishing his other thoughts, those totally unconnected with essaying.

For the serious essayist, there are probably a number of thoughts nestling in the hard drive or flash stick. The trouble is in choosing one that suits one’s present state of mind or sobriety. The choice is sometimes taken out of your hands by a pre-ordained subject requisite. This can be tricky but the accomplished essayist can manoeuvre any subject, even those that bear no relation to the proposed subject to one of insurable interest so long as the subject is mentioned occasionally. George Orwell, for instance, wrote many an essay, one, his 1946 essay ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’  was adapted from a former essay entitled ‘A Horrid Cup of Coffee’ and ‘Riding Down from Bangor’, modified from  another piece entitled ‘Cavorting with Dawn from Cardiff,’ and got away with it. With the expertise apparent in Literary Endeavourists, this should be a piece of cake, which is possibly a good title for an essay in itself.

Whatever title one decides on, there are one or two hints that may be considered before deciding. It is advisable for the title to have some connection with the content. Virginia Wolfe, for instance once submitted an essay entitled ‘What every woman really wants’. The content describes how to assemble flat-pack furniture, but that’s Virginia for you. Thomas Carlyle submitted an essay entitled ‘A Treatise on Quadratic Equations’ which had very little to do with the content by telling the reader, in graphic detail, the mating habits of wandering Bedouins. So be very careful; it is very easy to wander off into realms of fantasy. I have wandered off into paroxysms of psychotic hypnosis, usually after half a bottle of gin, on more than one occasion when an idea forms that has no relevance to the subject at hand, but the fingers twitch, the qwerty is fondled and before you know what has happened a thousand words appear on how to erect a chicken coop titled ‘The Life and Times of Thomas a Becket.’

So good luck my dear friends and pleasant qwerty stroking.