When I was 8 years old, my parents had very little money and we lived in what today would be called a slum. We couldn’t afford magazines or anything of the sort, but we did get the Daily Mirror. The walls of my bedroom were covered in smudgy newspaper black-and-white photos of my heroes, Manchester United, and, most especially, their young superstar Duncan Edwards.
Sixty-five years ago today, an airplane carrying the team on a flight from Munich back to England crashed on take-off in the snow. Twenty people died at the scene, including ten players and trainers, and three others, including Duncan Edwards, died later from their injuries. It was a tragedy that brought England to a standstill.
Clubs didn’t have huge bank accounts in those days and the disaster almost caused the club to fold. In the end it took manager Matt Busby (who had been seriously injured in the crash) ten years to rebuild the team and win another championship. Being young, I didn’t have the patience to wait, and I had already switched my allegiance to Chelsea by then.
A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.
You have to be almost as old as God herself to remember this, but 64 years ago yesterday Buddy Holly, Big Bopper and Richie Valens died in a snowy plane crash at Clear Lake , Iowa. I, too, learned about it from the headlines I read during my paper route the following morning. It’s a long, long time ago.
When I was eleven years old I lived in Ruislip Gardens which is a tiny suburb of Ruislip which, in turn, is a small suburb hanging on to the western edge of London. I had a newspaper route which I took care of seven days a week starting at six each morning.
In London in those days we had a dozen or more daily newspapers and each subscriber to our delivery service could receive any permutation of papers. Most houses took two papers, and some many more. Sorting the right papers into the the right order in the right bags was a vital part of each morning’s routine at the shop.
By Christmas 1960, I was one of the senior delivery boys and had thus inherited a long route that covered the main road from Ruislip Gardens to Ruislip and included several side streets along the way. It took almost two hours and I sure earned my breakfast every day. On school days, it was split between two boys.
One of the side streets to which I delivered newspapers every day was Cranley Drive. And at 45 Cranley Drive lived a Canadian couple, Helen and Peter Kroger. I know I delivered papers to them but I don’t recall them at all, not even from the Christmas tip. However, in January 1961, the Krogers were arrested, and I do remember the street being closed off one cold morning by police cars and constables. It was revealed over the next few months that the Krogers were really Russian spies Morris and Lona Cohen, and that their basement on Cranley Drive included a sophisticated radio communications setup with Moscow.
It seemed exciting to a young kid in those dangerous days of Atom spies, the Third Man, Checkpoint Charlie. And I have kept my fascination with moles and sleeper cells ever since.
Fifty-nine years ago today, my mother and father and I had been visiting their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car. It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.
I remember this all so clearly because, as we were driving home, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter. The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed. I can still feel the gooseflesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said. John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember.
Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him. He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents. We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.
Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver. We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.
Today is my birthday, which I share with Bob Ross, Joseph Goebbels, and the ballpoint pen.
I am seventy-three years old. Just saying that feels unreal. When I was born in 1949, average life expectancy for a man in the UK was about 65 years; I have somehow managed to beat that.
I am part of the generation that didn’t trust anyone over thirty, and who made terribly dangerous choices on a regular basis throughout their thirties and forties. By the 1990s, what with all the drugs and the booze and the carousing, I was certain I couldn’t possibly reach fifty, and I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to.
Now, I have kids in their late forties, grand-children in their thirties, and I am sure that great-grand-children can’t be far away.
The fact that I am still here, walking and talking and pretending (to myself at least) to be young, is astonishing, a wonder, a miracle of modern medicine, and a tribute to the Everloving who takes such good care of me.
My future keeps catching up to my present and I hope it keeps doing so for a long time. After all, I have promised myself my first ever Big Mac on my one hundredth birthday!
Thirteen years ago today, I was called into my boss’s office and told that I was being laid off.
The locally-owned company where I had worked for a good many years had been taken over by a larger American group earlier that year, and they wanted to put their own people into senior management positions. I wasn’t the first or even fourth senior manager to be sent packing, and I had expected this meeting all through the summer. I was almost sixty years old and bored with working for someone else. When the hammer fell, I was greatly relieved and happily accepted the generous severance pay they offered.
Luckily, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the first part of my enforced retirement. I was keen to write a history of Commercial Drive and over the next fifteen months, that’s what I did. Along with this I helped establish the Grandview Heritage Group which kept me busy and interested. At the same time, I wanted to become a lot more involved in local politics, knowing that a Community Plan was about to be thrust upon us. Any regular reader of this blog will know that I was and remain deeply involved in those matters to this day.
So, I have been busy these last thirteen years. But the genuine sense of freedom has been the really exhilarating feeling. I wake up when I want, dress in whatever I want, spend time with the Everloving, cook, take long luxurious naps, read, write, and relax. We certainly don’t have the money we had when I was working, but we get by OK, and I’ll swap the money for such freedom any day.
It has been a grand thirteen years, and I quietly thank my old firm for laying me off when they did.
Today is the 56th anniversary of one of the saddest days of my young life. A rain-soaked and ill-sited colliery spoil tip that loomed over the south Wales village of Aberfan collapsed, burying houses and a school, killing 116 children and 28 adults. Lessons had just begun for the morning when the 34m tip spilled 140,000 cubic yards of spoil into the village.
I didn’t know any of the victims, and had not even heard of the village until that morning. But I remember weeping as the news came over the radio, and I am tearing up now as I type this.
The National Coal Board and several employees were found to be responsible, and money was raised. But nothing could replace the lives that were lost due to management’s callous disregard for public safety.
I was just a few weeks away from my 8th birthday when my father sat me on his knee specifically to listen to our old radio spit out some strange sounds — “Beep. Beep. Beep.” Even through the static we knew we had never heard the like of it before.
On October 4th, 1957 — just sixty-five years ago — the space age began with the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. I’m sure the surprise in the US was far greater than we felt in Europe. We Europeans were already terrified of the power of the grey beasts just a few hundred miles to the east of our cozy nest in West London. It seemed to many that Russian tanks could overrun Europe at any moment, and the technological genius of Sputnik simply confirmed our anxiety.
But again, there was always that secret spot inside that reveled in the fact that a European power had beaten the Americans into space. And for my socialist grandfather and his cadre of friends, it was yet another sign that the Workers’ Paradise was superior in every respect to the Mickey Mouse- and Doris Day-loving capitalists.
In the end, I’m sure this had little to do with the ultimate end of the Cold War. The costs of the space race were minuscule compared to the economy-shuddering trillions spent on the arms race by both sides. But without Sputnik and all that followed, we would be a very different and more distanced world today.
Yet another year without cigarettes. Twenty-six years today, wow.
It might seem tedious to keep harping on this year after year, but frankly I think giving up smoking after 35 years of two-pack-a-day slavery to the habit was the smartest and bravest thing I ever did. And I know for a dead certainty that I would not be here writing this today if I had continued smoking the way I did.
It is also thirty-two years since I owned a car.
I’ll keep celebrating my freedom, year after year!
It was a delight made even more special by meeting Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thanh, the original Lunch Lady, who is visiting from Saigon and staying here until the end of the week. She was warm and friendly and quite obviously enjoying her stay in Canada during which she had visited Montreal and Toronto.
We spent some time down at English Bay today. It was sunny but blustery, and a great change from our normal routine. We always enjoy the marvelous A-Maze-Laughter sculpture by Yue Minjun which I consider one of the great public works of art.
The German Luftwaffe attacks against London known as the Blitz began on the afternoon of September 7, 1940 — eighty-two years ago today. They went on essentially uninterrupted for 79 days, and expanded across Great Britain. Here can be found the Guardian‘s report of the first night’s bombing.
The German airmen apparently have orders to loose their bombs whenever they feel they are over the area called Metropolitan London. Certainly 90% of all the damage done was to non-military objectives.
About 43,000 civilians died during the Blitz. Almost 140,000 more were injured, and more than a million homes damaged or destroyed. Even when the Blitz itself was over, the Germans continued to bomb London for several years. My parents spent much of their teen-aged years running to air shelters, sleeping in the Underground stations. My mother went to the school which suffered the first V2 rocket attack. Thousands of younger children were evacuated from London to “safer” country towns. A dozen or more years later, when I was a kid in the early 50s in west London, all my “playgrounds” were bomb sites that still hadn’t been rebuilt.
Those of us who are lucky to live in North America have no conception of what this could be like. Imagine, perhaps, the events of 9/11 happening all over the country every day for two months and more. And all of this just one lifetime away from us.
What with all the news being filled with stories of long lines at airport security, weeks’ long waits for passports, and similar inconveniences, it was with some trepidation that I went to get my drivers license renewed this morning. I had an appointment but my fears were not allayed by the long line outside the office.
Still, I was surprised at how quickly the line moved and, after a wait of less than ten minutes, I was out of there, yellow paper in hand, five minutes before my appointment was due to start.
Given the large number of people that streamed through that office in just the short while I was there, I have to commend the Licensing Authority for the efficiency of their service. Bravo to them and their staff!
In the late fall of 1978, I came to BC to work on a job in Stewart BC. The twin otter I flew in on was the last plane to land for about a week due to bad weather, and it snowed several feet every day.
The local mine up on Tide Lake had recently closed and the tiny town was populated mainly by hunters and trappers. For a city boy from London, it was all very strange. For Christmas that year, we were sent down to Vancouver for a few days and over the next few months I grew to love both BC and its people.
When my job finished in the following February, I went back to London and then on to Israel where I was under contract for another job. During that spring and summer of 1979, I decided to move permanently to Vancouver and it was forty-three years ago this week that I arrived and formally immigrated. It was just before my 30th birthday and now, passed seventy, I don’t regret the move for one moment.
Thank you Canada and Vancouver for taking me in, making me very welcome, and making my life so much better than it might otherwise have been.
Thirty-six years ago today I became a Canadian citizen. perhaps the proudest and most satisfying day of my life. In about two months from now, I will have lived in Canada, in Vancouver, for forty-three years — much more than half my life.
These lengths of time seem strangely enormous to me looking back because I had had a quite long and interesting life (with wives and children and a career) in England and Europe before I ever came here. And that previous life — during the fascinating 1950s, 60s and 70s — now seems like a necessary and irreplaceable prologue to what my life became afterwards.
There were seriously important people and things that I left behind; but I don’t believe in regrets because they have no value. Even if I did, I cannot imagine that my life was anything but greatly enhanced by moving to Vancouver. I am still a proud Brit, an unreconstructed Welsh Londoner, but I am prouder still of being — by choice — a Vancouverite, of being Canadian.
On this day in 1969 I was in Yugoslavia working as a Third Assistant Director on a movie called “Kelly’s Heroes“. I was nineteen years old and having a wonderful time working with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Telly Salvalas, and a whole wild bunch of American actors. like Harry Dean Stanton and Dick Davalos.
We were living at the Petrovaradin Hotel in Novi Sad and most nights I joined the Americans in games of high stakes poker. We took over one of the small banquet rooms and several of the hotel staff were deputed to look after us with drinks and food. These games were a useful but expensive education for me; over a few weeks, I managed to lose several months’ worth of per diem expenses.
Our game on the 20th July 1969 coincided with the first manned landing on the moon and we arranged to have a black and white TV set up in the room so we could follow the action. I remember that, just as Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle and on to the moon, we were in the middle of a game with a good-sized pot of American dollars piled in middle of the the table. We agreed to pause the game to watch the historic moment.
Several of us took the opportunity to stand and stretch for a moment. As I did so, I noticed that the American actors were glued to the TV screen intent on cheering their countrymen while the hotel staff ignored the TV and were all staring at the big pile of money, mouths agape.
Not long after going to bed last night, I suffered from a major low blood sugar event. I have had these before and keep glucose gels handy for just such an eventuality. However, last night, my wife was unable to revive me and could not get me to swallow the gel. She called emergency services.
By the time I was conscious of my surroundings there were five medical staff from the local fire hall attending in my bedroom along with two paramedics, and with another two apparently on standby. The whole crew helped to bring me around, and the two paramedics stayed for about an hour to make sure I was safe.
We kind of expect them to know what they are doing medically, and they sure do. But over and above all that, their attitude, as I have witnessed before in earlier incidents, was one of humour and courtesy and kindness and a constant desire to help.
With all the news stories circulating these days about wait times and service delays with emergency services in BC, I believe it is important to recognize these folks for the guardian angels they usually are. And I know that I am able to write this todayonly because they were they were there to help when my wife and I needed it.