I can’t remember which year my Dad retired from Manchester Corporation. He died in 2000 and he was 72 so I suppose it must have been 1993 or earlier.
Every week day prior to that he rose for work. He had porridge for breakfast, mounted his battered old bike and taking his shoulder bag with his box of sandwiches my mother had made for him and his brew can, he left for the ride to work. He did that every day of his working life and, come rain, snow or sunshine, he rode his bike work. In the mid seventies we moved to a new Manchester overspill estate and the result was a much longer journey for him.
He was a fit man, much fitter than me but sadly he and I wasted such a lot of time when we were younger, not getting on together. One day something tragic happened to me. Perhaps tragic is not the right word although it seemed so at the time. Anyway, I knew I would have to tell Mum and Dad. I couldn’t face Mum so I told Dad. Instead of getting the negative response I expected, my Dad was full of support and from that day on our friendship never looked back.
When he died, those wasted years always seemed to haunt me, but then, we were people from such different generations. Young people and their parents are so much closer these days in terms of cultural identity but for me and my Dad things were not like that. He came from a background where he was given an apple and an orange for Christmas whereas my brother and I, who received a sackful of presents on Christmas Day, were part of a new youth culture involving music, television and film that he struggled to understand.
Dad had served in the South Staffordshire regiment and I remember once my brother did some research and found the regiment had been merged with the North Staffordshire regiment in 1959 and later with other regiments to become the Mercian regiment. He told me that when he had called the regiment to enquire what kind of records were kept, they had asked him various questions. When my brother replied that Dad had done his national service as a private they said rather coldly that records of enlisted men were not kept!
Perhaps then it is only officers that matter to the record keepers of the army. I don’t know why but whenever I think of that phrase ‘enlisted men’, I tend to think of that old film with Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty’ where press gangs roamed Portsmouth to press unwitting men into service with Her Majesty’s Navy.
However they were enlisted, they served and did their duty, just like my dad who was proud of his army service. He served in Northern Ireland, Germany and Hong Kong, and told me many stories about his army life. In fact not long ago when I posted a picture of him at work for the council highways department, one of his old work mates replied mentioning the stories he used to tell his workmates about his army sergeant major.
There have been so many versions of Mutiny on the Bounty but the one my Dad and I loved was the Clark Gable version. He saw it first time round at the cinema and I saw it on television. If you haven’t seen it, and I can’t for moment believe you haven’t, it is the supposedly true story of Captain Bligh who so ill-treated his crew that they mutinied and set Bligh adrift on the high seas in a long-boat. They took the ship back to Tahiti, together with some natives and came across Pitcairn island. The island had been marked incorrectly on the British naval maps of the time so they decided to settle there. The ship, the HMS Bounty, was stripped of everything possible and then burned, stranding the mutineers on the island.
The settlement descended into conflict and jealousy with disputes between the mutineers and the natives. The natives resented being treated like slaves and there were further arguments involving the small group of women on the island. Fletcher Christian was reportedly murdered but there were constant rumours he had somehow returned to England.
Whether events happened as they have been portrayed in films is anyone’s guess. Was Bligh’s conduct of his men so poor that they were compelled to mutiny? Or was the truth that the pleasures shown to them on the Pacific island of Tahiti were too good to leave? I have to say that if I had been one of the mutineers, the thought of spending my days on a distant deserted island would have not appealed to me and the burning of the Bounty would have been a disaster, stranding the mutineers on Pitcairn. Fletcher Christian came from Cockermouth in Cumbria and thoughts of returning there must have plagued him or at least arisen in times of quiet consideration.
Sometimes, now I have reached the status of the semi retired, I have wondered about living abroad. France appeals to me greatly. I like the relaxed lifestyle, the wine, the approach to food and restaurants and the cheap property prices. However, my French is very much the French of my schooldays and I often wonder whether I would pine for a pint of Guinness or a Wetherspoons meal on curry night. Similar thoughts arise when I have considered Spain or Lanzarote. My Spanish consists of a few phrases, Buenos dios and la cuenta, por favor (may I have the bill please.) On the flip side many brits live happily in foreign climes and in some places, especially Spain and Lanzarote, English is freely spoken.
One man who chose to leave his home and live abroad was John Lennon. Lennon, suffocated by the incredible fame of the Beatles, decided to relocate to New York. New Yorkers were not overwhelmed by his celebrity status and he found himself a large apartment in the impressive Dakota Building on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street. Lennon lived there from 1973 to 1980 when he was shot to death by a disturbed fan called Mark Chapman. Lennon lived with his wife Yoko Ono and son Sean and retired from public life during his son’s early years. His comeback album Double Fantasy was released in 1980 and Lennon even autographed a copy for his would be assassin just hours before Chapman shot him.
I can imagine Lennon in his room in the Dakota, looking down on New York and reflecting how far he had come. Did he ever think of his home in Liverpool? I am sure he did. He corresponded regularly with his Aunt Mimi who brought him up at their home, Mendips, in Liverpool.
Years ago when I used to work in Liverpool I visited his childhood home. I had always imagined Lennon came from a rough council house background but his former home is in Woolton, a pleasant leafy suburb of Liverpool with semi detached private houses and some rather nice pubs and shops. Not quite what I had expected.
One of the reasons that John Lennon came to mind for the end of this post is that over on Twitter where I spend a lot of time plugging this blog and my book, I’ve been running out of ideas for Tweets. Then I started tweeting a lot of ‘quote’ Tweets, you know the sort of thing I mean, a picture of some celebrity alongside a famous quote from them. I started with writers and various famous people like Einstein and Churchill, then I moved onto musicians like Bob Dylan and eventually John Lennon. Lennon appeared to be a popular choice and his quotes got a high percentage of likes and retweets bringing the words of John Lennon (and my web page) to new readers. My favourite was this one, one I hadn’t even heard of before but I liked it so much I’m thinking of having it as my motto.
Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
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