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Dienstag, Dezember 10, 2019.
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One Day (Oh what a day) in Paris, Nov. 18, 2009. (Algérie 1 – Egypte 0) photos Pete Grafton _______________________________ I had three cameras with me. A pre-1939 camera for black and white, and two for colour, one of which … Continue reading →
I was in the first wave on D Day. It was supposed to be half past six in the morning, but we was late again! The British Army was late again! Eight o’ clock we got there.
We went from Gosport. We was kept up there for six weeks in the “cages” – a big white camp, all under canvas, and you had all your last minute secret training in there, but no-one knew when it was going to be. They was all over England these camps. The preparation was so strict, and intense, from the time we got to Gosport. You kept doing the same thing over and over again. Once a week we had to all put on our battle order – we had special assault jackets, different to the Army uniform, and we got on the lorries, took us to Gosport harbour. We embarked on our tank landing craft and they took you out into the Channel. Maybe four hours. The next week you thought: hello, what’s going on here. We were away, so we thought. But they brought you back. Back to the routine.
In the camp we couldn’t get to the pub. We couldn’t get out because of the perimeter wire – they had guards on it, Redcaps and dogs. As I say, they brought you back, back to the routine. Of course the last time they took us out I thought to myself “We’re out here a fucking long while”. And the blokes are saying “What the hell’s going on today? We want to get back”. Course they came round, the Captain, this naval officer, whatever he was, who was driving the fucking boat, he came round and gave you the word, that this was the real thing. The old Padre came at us – cor fucking hell. “I wish I’d known this, they wouldn’t have got me out”, but you were in the routine, you was taking orders all the time.
On the boat you was all split up into your little groups. They split everybody up into small groups so that in case of casualties – in case a whole lot got wiped out – you still had a unit. There was only me and a Tosh, a mate of mine – us two engineers on that one boat. Then we had an anti-aircraft gun, bren carrier, few infantrymen, few ambulance men – all mixed, so whoever got there, you had something of each.
When we were getting near France and I realised this was it I was like a jelly – nerves. I wasn’t no hero. I don’t think nobody was. Well, some were.
Where we landed was a narrow beach and the tide had started to go out. We were supposed to have got the full tide, but as we were late it was on its way out. We were about fifty yards out, but the Captain of the boat said “You’ll be alright, I’ll run you right up to the beach”, which he did. They were all doing that – banging them right up onto the beach. I hung on the barrel of the anti-aircraft gun so I wouldn’t get a wet arse. I wasn’t going into the water for no fucker.
When you landed you had all your colours – gold, red – and your boats went for that. We were getting shells. The Beachmasters landed first – blokes on the beach with flags, waving them in. They were fucking heroes – all them blokes. Them and the MPs I think. They talk about the MPs being bastards, well the Corps of MPs might have been, because they was a different branch, but you had your own MPs attached to your unit, they was alright. They’d stand on point duty, if they was putting in an attack, and the transport had to move up. They’d be standing on point duty on a branch road in the country, and they’d be getting knocked out right, left and centre. About six in one day we got killed. As soon as one got killed, they’d say to another one: You – point duty, and as they were going up there: Bang!
You had a map reference when you landed, where to go. If you were interested. Course, some went that way, and some went the other way! But where could you desert to? You took a chance whatever way you went. Everybody was on the beach. It was jammed up. They had a casualty clearing station up one end, dug in some cliffs, they was taking the casualties in there. There was a little stone wall – a parapet wall along the front and we was behind that, crouching. All of us. No fucker would move. They was all piling up behind there. It was Bénouville beach we’d landed on. Our objective was Bénouville Bridge. We had to meet up with the 6th Airborne who’d landed in front of us and captured the bridge. But we didn’t know whether they’d captured it or not! No one knew how to get to where they were supposed to go. You’d say “Where you going mate?” You walked, run or got a lift up there. We were like a load of kids on an outing.
As soon as they realised the first attack had gone in and it was serious they started slinging a few shells back. It was everyman for himself.
There was a bit of an opening where the road came down to the beach and they were all making for that. And the first thing I see, laying in the middle of the road was a green beret and a blown up bike. All smoking. Bits of rag. He got a direct hit with a mortar, this commando. They landed with them folding bikes. That was the first one I saw. I thought: Oh no. I didn’t want to know much, so me and my mate Tosh thought: Let’s fuck off and get out of it. We shot up the road into a churchyard. We sat there for a couple of hours. Had a fag. Thought: Fuck it, what are we going to do now? We gradually worked our way up.
As we were going up they came over and dropped another load of airborne troops. The 6th Airborne went in first – the old Flying Horse Pegasus. They called it Pegasus Bridge afterwards.
I was in the forward area all the time. It was a three mile area, which wasn’t very nice because you was getting the short distance shells, and you went up with the infantry.
Some of the infantry wouldn’t move without us, and we wouldn’t move without the infantry – that’s how you used to argue. It’s unbelievable. If they had to go out on a night patrol and they came up against a minefield they’d send back for us. “Fuck you”, we’d say, “We’re not going up there to get shot” – and you’re standing there arguing. That’s how the army was running. The officers would sort it out. A sapper in the RE’s was equal to an infantry lieutenant. When the poor infantry used to quake in their shoes at a lieutenant, we used to tell them to fuck off.
After a couple of days at D Day the next wave landed and they went up to take over from our division, but they ran into a counter-attack. They got there but got knocked back again. They got knocked back to where we were, on the Bénouville Bridge, River Orme, it was. We was stuck there. Our division, our infantry, had to hold on where they were. It was six weeks before we got a break, we got a rest. Our objective was Caen. First thing we had to do was to lay 2000 mines, right across our area. This was all night work. Couldn’t do it by day – they’d see you.
When we did move forwards, you had no time that was your own. You lived from day to night, day to night. Working and sleeping, working and sleeping. Sleeping in holes. I’d be sleeping in my hole and a Corporal or one of your mates would say “Come on Spot, we’ve got a job to do”. They called me “Spot” from the poem, because my name was Thorpe: “Under the Thorpe, There’s a little Town, Half a Hundred Bridges” – Tennyson’s Brook.
They’d say, we’ve got a job to do, a minefield to lay. You’d go back and get your boxes of mines on your lorry – take them as near as you could, then you’d hump them across the fields in the middle of the night. But the thing was, months afterwards, when everyone had moved forwards, you was the only who had a map of the mines, so you had to leave the forward area to come back and clear your minefields. We lost one!
I was a nervous wreck on mine clearing. You had to keep your wits about you. We didn’t use the mine detector for the simple reason that they were useless. For the simple reason, once you put those earphones on you couldn’t hear the shells, so we slung them around our necks. They was cumbersome too, they was big. They issued us with a three foot long steel knitting needle. That’s what we had. Probes they called them. With an ordinary mine you wouldn’t set it off, wouldn’t be enough weight. But they surrounded them with little shoe mines, little wooden box shoe mines. If you touched those – they was away. But you could, if you was clever, get your point in ’em and throw ’em up in the air, and they’d go off! That’s how you got, how we all got. “Get out of the fucking way!”, and they’d sling them and bang, off they’d go. They was catching quite a few with them. A half track or a small vehicle would pull up in a field, the bloke would jump out and step on one of these little shoe mines – Bang! They was all losing ankles, and it used to split your bone up your shin. They used to issue us with wellies! Wellington boots to stop ’em – wellington boots and a long bit of wire. When you found a standard mine, you didn’t know whether to lift it or to drag it. To drag it you had a grappling hook and rope and you’d hook it on the handle and drag ’em.
I didn’t get any leave until we was well in Germany, at the Dormund-Ems canal. We were supposed to put a bridge across there, but we was under fire from the other side. It was a rota system – getting leave – one at a time, two weeks. I got to see my wife and kiddies. A lot of blokes on active service was glad to get away from London when they were on leave, they couldn’t stand it, because they hadn’t experienced air-raids, being on army service, and they were getting the doodle-bugs in London. They’d say “I don’t want to know this, I want to get back to my unit”. Same as our infantry used to say to us, if they came back for a rest, they weren’t comfortable, they used to say “We don’t like it here. We want to get back to the front. All we we got to face up there is rifle and machine gun bullets”, they used to say “Back here you get shells and mortars. Up there we can keep our head down, we can dodge them little bullets”.
You see some weird things in a war. Once you get involved in a war, I don’t care who you are, if you’re up in the forward area, where there’s any action, I say everyman turned into an animal. The conversion was gradual. From the time you got there you started living like an animal, you got involved in casualties, in dead bodies and living in holes in the ground , or old bombed houses – you gradually changed, didn’t matter how timid, or what sort of person you was, you became an animal. When you first arrived at D day and you see a couple of bodies blown to bits , it turns you up, and you’re looking to see if you can do anything. Three weeks later bodies are lying there, and you just walk past them. It’s a sensation I can’t explain. After a couple of days you’re starting to get used to it. Someone’s slinging shells at you and it goes Bang, Bang, and you’re diving in holes, it becomes a matter of – like a rabbit, you come out to feed and do something, Every time the noise starts you’re down your hole. I was the fastest one of the lot!
John’s experiences are recorded in You, You & You! The People out of Step with World Two. London, 1981. Print copies are usually available on Abebooks and on Amazon.
The extended online version is at youyouandyourestored.wordpress.com
In a weekend spanning the end of June and the beginning of July in Oxford 1951 the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell gave a talk as part of a British Foreign Office symposium on Communism at Jesus College. Speakers over that week-end also included Isaiah Berlin and the biologist and geneticist C.D. Darlington who was to talk on “Science in the Soviet Union”.
The context was the subjugation by the Russian Soviet Union of the people of eastern Germany, of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Albania and Rumania. Meanwhile the Labour Government of the time had secretly committed millions to developing a British atomic bomb, the American’s were already working on the hydrogen bomb, whilst the Soviet Union exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949. In 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea with the support of the Soviet Union and Communist China. Also attending that weekend was Robert Bruce Lockhart.
The former head of the wartime British Political Warfare Executive and liaison office to the Czechoslovak Government in Exile during the Second World War Robert Bruce Lockhart had already had an interesting past.
Robert Bruce Lockhart’s Diaries, published in two volumes after his death, give an extraordinarily intimate insight into men and women who were prominent on the world stage from the time of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution through to the immediate post Second World War period. They include writers and dramatists – H.G.Welles, Arnold Bennett, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward – politicians: Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Ramsay Macdonald, Oswald Mosley, Nye Bevan, Anthony Eden, the Czech President Tomáš Masaryk, his son Jan Masaryk, Edward Beneš and Klement Gottwald; Bolshevik revolutionaries Lenin and Trotsky, Menshevik exile Kerensky, the newspaper proprietor Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express, (the largest selling daily in Britain in the 1930s), Kaiser Wilhelm II in Dutch exile, and many, many others.
He came to prominence when as a young man representing the British Government in revolutionary Bolshevik Russia he was arrested in September 1918 for allegedly being involved in an “Allied Plot” against the Bolshevik Government. His background was Scottish: Highlander and Lowlander and he had a love for many aspects of the Russian character, particularly their gypsy music and heavy drinking. He was clear-sighted about the stupidity of allied intervention and allied support of the White Russians during the Civil War.
Imprisoned in Moscow for a month he was released in an exchange deal involving Maxim Litvinov, the unofficial Bolshevik ambassador in London. He was politically insightful, occupying a centre ground. When asked by the British Foreign Office he usually gave startlingly (in hindsight) good summaries of the political situation in the Soviet Union and Central European countries, even though the Foreign Office rarely acted on them. Besides aspects of Russian culture he had a love of Czechs and the Czech nation. He somehow balanced his keen, clear, informed political insights and predictions and his prolific diary writing and work for the London Evening Standard in the 1930s with lunchtimes and evenings of heavy drinking, and was usually in debt. He wrote fourteen books, including a standard work on Scottish Whisky, Scotch, which is still in print. He also loved fly fishing, and wrote My Rod My Comfort. He was sympathetic to the 1940s Scottish Covenant movement for devolution.
In his Diary for Sunday, 1 July, 1951, Robert Bruce Lockhart wrote:
“…. In the evening about 5.30 p.m. arrived Bertrand Russell by train from London and was taken to his room in Staircase No. XIII where John Richard Green, the historian and writer, and T.E.Lawrence, Jesus’s most famous alumnus, lived.
At 6 p.m I took the chair at his lecture on ‘Democracy’s Defence Against Communism’. All members of the course had expected this to be the highlight and, indeed, I had led them to believe so. The old gentlemen however was not at his brilliant best. He had tried to do something that was not quite in his line; viz. to give a Foreign Office tour d’horizon. He had, too, a script to which he referred occasionally. (Script is perhaps the wrong word; the document was, in fact, two pages of closely typed notes.) Nearly always he had to make an awkward pause before he found his place.
The material was good enough. He was violently, or shall I say strongly, anti-communist: insisted that on our side military strength and rearmament took precedence over all other matters including schemes of world government, etc. He was quite confident that Communism could not and would not last and that things would change in Russian where he believed the regime was more deeply detested than we realised. Made a strong case for anti-Russian sentiment in satellite countries. On our side he said we must do more for the underprivileged and backward races in the East which was fertile ground for communism. We must abandon all imperialism and, above all, we must get rid of the colour bar. He made a strong attack on the policy of the Malan (1) government in South Africa and expressed the hope that South Africa would leave the Commonwealth as soon as possible – the sooner the better, in fact!...(1. Dr.D.F.Malan (1874 – 1959) was Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, South Africa 1948 – 1954. Footnote by Editor Kenneth Young.)
He was fairly, but not very, good in answering questions and was handicapped by the stupidity of some of the questioners, some of whom wanted to know how soon the changes which Russell expected in the U.S.S.R would take place and just what form world government would take and how soon it could be expected. However he stood up fairly well to a long ordeal which began at 6 p.m. and with an hour’s break for dinner, lasted till 10 p.m.
I had two long talks with him alone, and then he was at his best, his eyes twinkling, his huge head resting rather heavily as it seemed on his lean, spare, lithe figure, and his smile lighting up his face. When you ask what is a superior man, the answer is not a Churchill or a Beaverbrook but men like Bertie Russell, Thomas Masaryk and Charles Richet. (2. Charles Richet, French physiologist (1850 – 1935) and Nobel prizewinner. Footnote by editor Kenneth Young.)
Russell very human, had two sherries plus half a pint of beer at dinner, laughed heartily when I asked him what was the secret of his perennial youth. ‘Glands, I suppose, glands. But I hope I’ll live till ninety so that I can say all the wrong things.Shaw had a field day when he was ninety. Ascribed his great age to vegetarianism, teetotalism, non-smoking and goodness knows what other forms of self-discipline. I shall say that I have done everything that doctors think wrong: I’ve drunk, I’ve smoked (he is a great pipe-smoker), I’ve eaten what I liked and I’ve enjoyed myself in every way….’
…… He was also to my surprise anti-Labour – at least he predicted with great assurance that they would be heavily beaten at the next election and seemed to desire this defeat. (The Labour Government called a snap election later that year, in October. They lost the election but were not heavily beaten. They won more individual votes than the Conservative Party but lost parliamentary constituency seats to the Conservatives, who ended up with a majority of 20 seats. Footnote Pete Grafton). Indeed, he wanted to make a bet with me there and then. Told me with great glee how he had won a bet off Culbertson, the U.S. bridge expert who also considered himself an authority on foreign affairs. (3. Ely Culbertson (1891 – 1955) author and pacifist, who created the Culbertson System for bridge in 1930. Footnote by editor Kenneth Younger). Russell bet him early in 1941 that Japan would be in the war before the end of the year and that this would bring the U.S. in. Russell had a narrow squeak – 7 December – but he won.
He was also very interesting on Darlington’s view on Lysenko. (Bruce Lockhart had already written in his diary the previous day about the talk by Darlington: “Lysenko’s theory. Heredity is merely development. enviroment can change development. Therefore environment can change heredity. In Darlington’s opinion Lysenko is a charlatan. His experiments have produced no results. The Russian scientists know this… Under Stalin no room for argument.. The Russian scientists who were prepared to argue have been ‘liquidated’. ) He told me that the whole theory of heredity and that character could be changed by environment (the Lysenko and Stalin theory) was started by Samuel Butler, in hatred of Darwin who he detested. The theory was carried on by Bernard Shaw. (Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and polemicist, who was an early admirer of the Italian fascist Mussolini, and then the Communist dictator Joseph Stalin. He was an advocate of the cleansing of class enemies, amongst others, suggesting in 1934 a “humane killing gas”. Footnote by Pete Grafton.)
His saddest story was his loneliness after his return from his first visit (probably only visit) to Russia in 1921. He disliked the Communist regime very much after he had seen it. He was then very much to the Left himself, and his comment on his return from the Bolshevik paradise displeased very much his left-wing friends who had not seen Russia and therefore loved it. As during the First World War he had been a pacifist, he not only lost his Cambridge fellowship but also his right-wing and indeed centre friends. After his return from Russia he was, therefore, completely friendless.
Saddest thing of all was when I took him after our longish talk after the lecture to his rooms to go to bed. I knew he had a weak bladder, because I had been forced to take him to the ‘loo’ both before and immediately after his lecture. When I took him to the John Richard Green staircase, I found that his rooms were on the ground floor, that they had no running water and that the nearest ‘loo’ was three floors of steep stairs up, and then along a winding corridor which few young men could have found at night, let alone an octogenarian. (Russell was not in his 80s in June/July 1951, he was 79. Footnote Pete Grafton). He was in quite a fuss and suddenly looked old and tired and I felt sorry for him. He wanted a chamber pot and, above all, a cup of tea first thing in the morning without which he said he was lost. I saw that there was a chamber pot for him and I was lucky enough to catch the head steward by knocking at the locked buttery door and arranged for a cup of tea to be sent to the old boy – tea without sugar or milk!
When I returned from my rounds to see if he was all right, I found him quite quiet, sitting in an easy chair, smoking his pipe and reading his book. He was most grateful.
Later I ran into a member of the course who told me that the room he was occupying belonged to a Communist undergraduate, for the shelves were filled with copies of the Daily Worker and Communist books published by Lawrence and Wishart.
– from The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, 1939 – 1965, edited by Kenneth Young, Macmillan, London, 1980.
Two and a half years before Russel’s talk at Oxford the writer George Orwell was reading his Human Knowledge: It’s Scope and Limits, at the Cotswold Sanatorium in Gloucestershire. Often in poor health he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis at Hairmyers Hospital, East Kilbride in Lanarkshire, in December, 1947. Despite this he was to write Ninety Eighty Four on Jura, in the Inner Hebrides during 1948. His tuberculosis became worse and he had been helped to travel to the Cotswold Sanatorium by his friend Richard Rees, in January, 1949. Richard Rees had encouraged Orwell’s writing since the early 1930s, and was to be his literary executor. Orwell was writing to him in early February, 1949.
The Cotswold Sanatorium, Cranham, Glos.
4 February 1949
“…. I am reading B.Russell’s latest book, about human knowledge. He quotes Shakespeare, ‘Doubt that the stars are fire, Doubt that the earth doth move’ (it goes on I think ‘Doubt truth be a liar , But never doubt I love.’) But he makes it ‘Doubt that the sun doth move’, and uses this as an instance of S’s ignorance. Is that right? I had an idea it was ‘the earth’. But I haven’t got a Shakespeare here and I can’t even remember where the lines come from (must be one of his comedies I think). I wish you’d verify this for me if you can remember where it comes. I see by the way that the Russian press has just described B.R. as a wolf in a dinner-jacket and a wild beast in philosopher’s robes.”
– Source: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 4, edited by Sonia Orwell, and Ian Angus. The editors footnote that Russell was right, and that the quotation is from Hamlet.
It was be a further 38 years of Soviet Communist occupation before Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany had a freedom that West European countries took for granted. During that time the USSR, directly and then under the umbrella of the “Warsaw Pact” crushed, usually with tanks, all demonstrations against Communist rule. The USSR itself lasted until 1992.
In a scenario that even George Orwell hadn’t thought of for his Animal Farm, the Communist dictatorship of East Germany (DDR) demanded in 1953 that the already over-worked and undernourished workers increase production.
Bertrand Russell outlived George Bernard Shaw by 3 years, dying at the age of 97 in February 1970. Robert Bruce Lockhart, curiously, died on the same month and the same year, February 1970 aged 82. George Orwell died from a burst TB lung on 21 January, 1950 at the age of 46. His novel Animal Farm was banned by the Soviet Communists from its 1945 publication until 1988. His Ninety Eighty Four was banned in the USSR from 1950 until 1990. It is not clear if any works of Bertrand Russell were also banned in the USSR.
At present, Marxist Communism still imprisons, in the name of “The People”, the populations of Vietnam, North Korea and China.
21st century: London, May Day, 2019, British Labour Party Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell with banner of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Marxist mass killers Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.
George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, four volumes, London 1968.
Robert Bruce Lockhart, The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, 1915 – 1938, London, 1973; The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, 1939 – 1965, London, 1980.
John Wheeler-Bennett and Anthony Nicholls, The Semblance of Peace: The Political Settlement after the Second World War, London, 1972.
A collection of Kodachrome slides from the Pete Grafton Collection.
What follows are Kodachrome slides taken by an American couple on holiday in France circa 1956. The year is a guess, based on clothes and cars. The photos are no later than 1957 as Kodak did not start dating the mounts of their Kodachrome slides (when processed) until 1958. The first group of photos including the two above were taken in the Marseilles, Arles and Avignon area in early Spring.
All these Kodachrome slides were bought on ebay by Pete Grafton in 2008, from a vendor who regularly sold slides on the ebay site.
It seems the American visitors above took a trip on the Chateau D’If tourist boat around the old port (Vieux Port), besides taking a couple of snaps of local youngsters fishing.
Woman was the most successful ever British magazine for women. (1) Edited by Glaswegian Mary Grieve – the first woman, bizarrely, to edit a women’s magazine (before then it was a mans’ job) – she was the editor from 1937 until 1962. Under her tenure and direction the annual sales income of Woman reached £12 million by 1962. The magazine had continual problems with the established churches, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. She was born in Hyndland, Glasgow.
The dust jacket of her 1964 Gollanz published autobiography – Millions Made My Story – reads:
“During the last war, and specially during the post-war years when the British social revolution was being wrought, one of the principle signposts and the most popular mentor of the female population of the United Kingdom was Woman, the magazine that is now read by eleven million people each week, including, rather surprisingly, two and a half million men.”
Mary Grieve’s letter to readers, December 23, 1950.
Above, a variation of “Make Do and Mend” and below, post-war rationing still in place in 1950. In 1945 Britain was near bankrupt at the end of the Second World War. Bread, which was not rationed during the war was rationed by the Labour Government in the peacetime 1940s. Unknown to the British public, the Labour Prime Minster Major Clement Atlee had secretly started the costly development of the British Atom Bomb, despite being opposed by his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Dalton, on the reasonable grounds that Britain could not afford it. Attlee pushed ahead anyway, excluding Dalton from an inner Cabinet group when the decision was secretly taken. By 1950 £100,000,000 had been spent on developing the British Bomb – in today’s value £3¼ billion. One of the first things that Minister of Food and lapsed Marxist Stafford Cripps did in 1946 was to bring in bread rationing. A case of bombs before bread. Bread rationing stayed in place until 1948. Sweets (‘confectionary”) rationing was ended in early 1953 by the Conservative government.
Note the washboard in the Pacquins advertisement below, besides the cigarette. Twin tub washing machines were, in the UK, still a few years away. Washboards, boilers and mangles were how clothes were cleaned, and semi-dried in 1950.
Mary Grieve, editor of Woman from 1937 – 1962, highlights in her Millions Made My Story, how careful the magazine had to be about mentioning birth control, and the powerful institutional religious forces against it, and also against other areas of women’s sexual well-being. (On the whole, the same lack of information effected men too). Evelyn Home received hundreds of letters a week, amongst which were a significant number touching on sexual health worries and family planning, and she had to tread carefully (as did Mary Grieve as editor) with what letters were used and how they were answered.
The background to this was partly the social times when the magazine started (although the caution was still being exercised in 1963), but also very much the force of the established churches and obscenity laws. In 1942 the then Church of England Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple had been alarmed by an explanatory article on birth control in Everywoman, a sister Odhams magazine. Temple made representations to the owner of Odhams, Lord Southwood, who as a Labour Party member, Julius Elias, had been bumped up to a Lord, to sit on the Labour seats in the undemocratic House of Lords. Lord Southwood sympathised with Temple’s views. “While we must be up-to-date, and if anything in advance of the times,” Southwood reportedly said, “we must not be too much in advance… When the schools put this subject in their curriculum, it will then be time for us to deal with it in our paper.” (Quoted in Millions Made My Story.) Mary Grieve went on to write, in 1962 (the book was published 1964)
“I don’t know how the schools have got on with the subject since then, but the women’s magazines, with other means of communication, have proceeded with caution. This may seem curious, because family planning has become an accepted factor in many marriages, and the Royal Commission on Population gave a clear recommendation that contraceptive advice should be included in the National Health Service. One would think, therefore, that the women’s presses would feel free now, twenty years after the Everywoman incident, to be frank.” Mary Grieve, Millions Made My Story.
The situation for Woman mentioning, even indirectly, “family planning” with their readership in Eire was forbidden by the Irish State, with it written into the 1937 constitution of the right of the Irish Roman Catholic Church to have a say in all areas of family life: adoption, divorce, contraception, and the seemingly innocent area of introducing clinics for mothers and children (which they successfully opposed in 1951 on the grounds that such a scheme was “anti-family”). Meanwhile, single mothers and their babies were put into the notorious Catholic run Mothers and Babies Homes. The opposition of the Irish Roman Catholic Church led to the resignation of Irish Minister of Health Dr. Nöel Browne, who had tried to introduce the scheme against a background, amongst other concerns, of the high infant deaths in the Irish Republic, 26,000 in 1950 for example.
“…. The reason for the continuing reticence about (family planning) is political. A minority religion here (the UK), the Roman Catholic, has such deeply held convictions against the use of contraceptives that it is hard to see any political party embracing with enthusiasm the cause of family planning by this method.
In Eire the subject is completely taboo. Magazines risk, and have experienced, being banned from the country by ignoring the taboo… Woman’s sale in Eire is very small beer in relation to the total sale of three and a quarter million. But at no time in our fight did I find management willing to sacrifice this sale to keep up with the British Joneses…. We ran, as did other magazines, a special slip page for Eire free of comments or information which could offend. Our human problems page, conducted by Evelyn Home, was our chief source of danger. This is the page that is remade every week for Ireland” – Mary Grieve, Millions Made My Story, 1964.
The British Labour Party has had a close relationship with the Roman Catholic hierarchy on mainland Britain since before 1914, where in areas of high numbers of Roman Catholics with an Irish background they made concessions to get their vote. These included the pledge to build Roman Catholic schools. In Glasgow the cry of the opposition to this was “No Popery on the rates”. Besides Liverpool in England, in Scotland, Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, Glasgow, and parts of the Lothians were solid Labour areas because of these concessions and accommodation with the Roman Catholic Church, even were there were also protestant Labour voting Scots in constituencies such as Monklands and Airdrie, and elsewhere. The joke in Scotland was that a prospective non Roman Catholic Labour candidate in some constituencies couldn’t get selected unless he had an overnight conversion to Rome.
The Labour Party Roman Catholic voting electorate had a direct effect on the Labour Party’s attitude to family planning and sexual health. When the Catholic Church was suspicious with mooted ideas about such things Labour Prime Minister (and Presbyterian) Ramsay MacDonald as early as 1924 helped to “diffuse Catholic suspicions by appointing the Clydeside Catholic, John Wheatley, as Minister for Health in which capacity he maintained the ban on the provision of advice on birth control by local authority clinics” – Speak for Britain!: a New History of the Labour Party, Martin Pugh, 2010.
Below, the Evelyn Home page for Christmas, 1950, and beneath it, typical letters that were selected to print.
Tampons had been developed in America during the 1930s and were starting to be marketed in Europe in the post-war 1940s. Prior to their introduction bulky sanitary towels were available, and continued to be available. The Irish parliament under pressure and persuaded by the Irish Roman Catholic Church banned their sale in 1947 “lest they cause harm (or sexual pleasure) to women”. The Irish Catholic Church opposition was led by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who was to lead the successful pressure on the Irish Government in 1951 over their intended introduction of Clinics for Mothers and Children.
N O T E S
Mary Grieve: This writer can find no online photograph of Mary Grieve, nor is there any online encyclopedic entry about her.
Copy of Woman magazine December 23, 1950, and cover of Millions Made My Story: Pete Grafton Collection.
All above photos are by British photographer Bert Hardy, 1913 – 1995. He was almost to the year an exact contemporary of the marvellous French photographer Robert Doisneau, 1912 – 1994. A Channel on You Tube with examples of Robert Doisneau’s work has, at the time of writing, attracted 40,699 views. A Channel on You Tube with examples of Bert Hardy’s photos, posted in 2016, has attracted 111 views at the time of writing.
At present – October 2018 – there are over twenty books listed on Amazon UK of collections of photographs by Robert Doisneau. There is just one book currently in print that features some of Bert Hardy’s work Bert Hardy’s Britain available from Amazon UK. In fact, Bert Hardy’s Britain, published in 2013, is the only book in print available anywhere in the world, that features Bert’s photographs.
STOP PRESS October 19, 2018. Bert Hardy not listed on the Wikipedia entry for the ground-breaking The Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955. He had three photos in the exhibition. See story further down.
Bert Hardy was born in May, 1913 a year and one month after Robert Doisneau. Robert’s Dad died when he was four, and his mother died when he was seven. He was brought up by an unloving aunt in the working class district of Gentilly, just the other side of the Paris city boundary. Bert was the first of seven children that his Mum and Dad had, and the family lived in one room with a scullery in Priory Buildings, Blackfriars, London, a stone’s throw from the Elephant & Castle district on the south side of the Thames.
Leaving school at the age of thirteen in 1926 he got a job at a place called the Central Photo Service, by chance rather than design. His aunt had seen a “Lad Wanted” sign when she was charring (cleaning) in the London Strand area. It turned out his job was to help a young Scottish girl develop and print rolls of film that he was to collect from some Chemists in central London. He and her were the total staff, the owner being elsewhere in the building.
” (Re. the chemists) I went round twice a day, walking or jumping on the back of carts to save my bus fares. In between rounds, the Scottish girl taught me how to develop and print, and also some other interesting activities you can get up to in a darkroom. I was a quick learner.”
He goes on to describe the primitive set-up and equipment in the darkroom, and then describes the photos that he and the Scottish girl processed.
“Apart from the usual ‘happy snaps’, an astonishing number of people sent in naughty pictures. There were one or two chemists in Soho from whom we expected that sort of thing: pictures of prostitutes for their clients, and we adjusted our rates accordingly. But there was a chemist’s at the top of Northumberland Avenue from which we quite regularly collected films sent in by a famous surgeon.
The surgeon’s pictures were always beautifully taken on a quarter-plate camera on roll film, six pictures in a roll. All the pictures were of popsies: beautiful creatures with nothing on doing the most terrible things, but always wearing marvellous hats. And the last picture on each roll of the film was always of the surgeon himself: a stout gentleman with no clothes on, and the tiniest little withered thing between his legs.
I don’t suppose he appreciated what an opportunity for blackmail he gave. Instead, we charged him double and printed up copies for ourselves.”
Working in the darkroom rubbed off on him and he bought in a pawn shop what he described as an old second hand plate camera – which would make it a turn of the century item. The first photograph he made money from, selling to friends and others, was taken of King George V and Queen Mary, resting the camera on the head of one his sister’s to steady it.
He also photographed his family.
As his self-taught photo skills developed so did his passion for competitive cycle racing. He began to sell photos to The Bicycle for a good rate.
Bert left the Central Photo Service in 1939 and started working for a professional photo agency that supplied photos to the national daily press. His camera skills and his eye for a photo story got noticed and he joined the top British photo news weekly Picture Post on 3 March 1940.
Bert was straight away involved in covering stories connected to the Second World War from the British perspective, getting front page coverage.
Whilst he was working for Picture Post he received his call-up papers in 1943 (war service in the armed services). His editor Tom Hopkinson tried to get him deferred, arguing that he was valuable as a war photographer with Picture Post. No luck. He had to go in the army and was assigned to the Photo Unit, and had the indignity of being taught as a beginner, and was issued with a sub-standard camera for war work.
Somehow during his time in the army he managed to supply photos to Picture Post. At that time British press and news magazine photographers did not get a credit byline next to their work, so his photos being anonymous, he could get away with it In France post-D Day, and still with the army, photographer George Silk of Life and Robert Capa were working as war correspondents.
“I met up with them. They both knew me and told me they liked my work. They stayed in some luxury at the billet obtained by the canny officer in charge of public relations, who was very talented at that sort of thing: but when they invited me to come and have a drink with them, I wasn’t allowed to – the Mess was for commissioned officers and war correspondents only.”
Bert saw and photographed atrocities by German forces on Belgium civilians; went in on the first crossings of the Rhine, was at Belsen at the time of its liberation and concluded his time with the army in Europe by taking a photos of the Soviet Marshall Zhukov with Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery near Frankfurt. Although in May, 1945 the war was over in Europe, he was still in the army. He was a sergeant.
He was next posted to the Far East, where he continued taking photographs, including the hanging of Japanese war criminals. It wasn’t until 8 September 1946 that, still a soldier, he arrived back in Liverpool on the troopship Monarch of Bermuda. He then had to travel through the night to Number 77, Military Demobilisation Unit, Guildford, where a £2 ‘mess fee’ was extracted from him. (At the time, about a third to a half of an unskilled workers weekly wage.) As he wrote “By nine o’ clock that morning, fleeced, I was a citizen again, plain Bert Hardy”.
A few days back in England and Bert got in touch with Tom Hopkinson, the editor of Picture Post, who immediately offered Bert his job back at Picture Post, at £1000 a year. Bert said he wasn’t sure, as the price offered might not cover his expenses. A few days later Tom came back with an offer of £1,500 a year. “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.. It was good to be back at work for Picture Post at a period when the paper was at its greatest”.
Within a month of working on photo stories in England, Tom Hopkinson sent him out East again, this time working for Picture Post and an assignment in India, covering the opening of the Indian Constituent Assembly after independence from Britain. He and a journalist were granted an interview with the new Prime Minister Jawaharial Nehru.
“Nehru was a fine man for whom I had a tremendous respect, but people’s characters only emerge in their actions, or in certain facial expressions… (as the journalist was talking to Nehru) I was shooting away quietly when Nehru absently-mindedly picked up a rose from the bowl of his desk and sniffed it. I took the picture instantly, it was what I wanted.”
In the post-war 1940s and into the 1950s Bert covered everything, to racial tensions in London’s Notting Gate, emerging star Audrey Hepburn, Cardiff’s Tiger Bay area, downtown Liverpool, Tito and his wife in Yugoslavia, the village life and grape harvest in a French village…. He loved working with available light – he was a genius with it and with his darkroom experience he knew how to get the best out of a difficult negative.
The photo of the loving couple with the light streaming in, in the Elephant & Castle area of London is one of this writers favourite Bert Hardy photos, and has been for many years. However, reading Bert’s own story about it, in Bert Hardy: My Life, it’s not quite as it seems. Working on the Elephant & Castle story Bert was only a stone’s throw from where he was brought up in Blackfriars. Wandering around with his camera a woman shouted out “‘Ow about taking a picture of me love?” Looking at some run-down buildings he asked her what they were like round the back. “Bleedin’ awful. Come and see for yourself.”
“Following her down a narrow passageway to a tiny yard about ten feet square… I saw, through a window, a young couple half-lying on a sofa just inside. I asked “What’s it like inside?” She said, “Come and have a look”.
I went inside and asked if I could take a few pictures. They seemed totally unconcerned. When I set up my camera and tripod, they watched me blankly, without moving. In the end we discovered the reason: the girl was a prostitute and the man was a Canadian who had been released from prison the day before; they had spent a hard night in bed celebrating his release.”
It turned out that his guide Maisie, who had told Bert to take her picture, was also a prostitute, and she was a great help to Bert and A.L.Lloyd, the Picture Post journalist, whilst working on the story.
The two of them had just returned from doing a feature for Picture Post on the Gorbals slum tenements in Glasgow. One of the photos that Bert took, and is well known for, was also his favourite picture.
Just over a year later in December, 1949 he and journalist Robert Kee did a story on the Pool of London. It is reproduced here, from the Pete Grafton Collection, as a representative example of Bert’s work. Picture Post, 3 December, 1949.
Some weeks before the Pool of London story was run by Picture Post its writer Robert Kee had been a Witness at the marriage of George Orwell to Sonia Bronwell in the University College Hospital, London, on October 13, 1949. Orwell was being treated for his damaged TB lungs. Orwell was too weak to stand and sat up in his hospital bed for the ceremony. His novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (June, 1949) had highlighted the dangers of totalitarian communism and totalitarian societies dominated by cult personalities, such as Stalin. The post-war 1945 period in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China alarmed him. He died in hospital from a burst lung in January, 1950, aged forty-six.
In August, 1950 Bert Hardy was again sent to the East, this time Korea, with journalist James Cameron.
Communist North Korea, backed by the Soviet Union and communist China, had invaded South Korea on 25 June, 1950. The United Nation condemned the invasion and sent UN forces to repel the invaders. The UN troops were not effective at containing the invading communists until UN forces landing at Inchon in September, 1950. Bert Hardy and James Cameron covered the landings.
Whilst doing follow up stories in Korea they came across brutal treatment of prisoners taken by South Korean Forces, which Bert said reminded him of some of the scenes he had seen in German at Belsen in 1945. Making enquiries he and James Cameron were told the prisoners were not North Koreans, but political prisoners, people suspected of having ‘the wrong views’. “We wondered how young boys of fourteen could possible be ‘political’ prisoners…… At intervals a batch of them would be separated from the rest and herded into the back of a lorry which then drove off. Our impression was that they were being taken off to be shot. We were appalled, and decided that we must try and to do something about it. We went to the United Nations Office, and they didn’t want to know.”
They went to the Red Cross who referred them back to the United Nations Office, who said what their allies the South Koreans did was not their concern. “Jimmy Cameron and I were horrified by what we saw, and checked very carefully before sending back our story. We knew it would cause trouble, but not that it would also change Picture Post for ever…”
Their time in Korea over, they returned to London.
“When we reached London we found that Tom (Hopkinson, Picture Post editor) had been holding over our story on the North Korean political prisoners until we returned, just to make sure that everything about the story was quite right, and that we hadn’t distorted or missed out anything. In fact the story about the incident had already appeared in The Times, but Tom was still worried. The combination of Jimmy’s writing and my pictures would really bring what was going on home to people. Because of its implied criticism of the United Nations, it was bound to create controversy. Tom was concerned because Edward Hulton, the proprietor, was known to dislike controversy. He wanted to be absolutely sure about the story before he printed it.”
Bert and A.L.Lloyd (Bert Lloyd) meanwhile were assigned to do a topical piece on the annual British Bonfire Night.
“Bert Lloyd (A.L.Lloyd) and I were wandering around London looking for the best Guy Fawkes we could find… when we heard that Hulton had personally ordered the presses to be stopped at Sun Engraving in Watford, and the issue of Picture Post to be made up again without the story of the political prisoners.
… There was talk of mass resignations if this sort of interference in editorial policy happened again….. Tom was sacked for refusing to comply with Hulton’s request… In spite of all the talk of mass resignation, most of the others stayed put. By sacking Tom, Hulton was forced to make him a payment. But anyone who resigned would not get anything except the salary they were owed. Even for Jimmy and me, who had done the story, resignation was not a luxury we could afford. Tom called a meeting and advised us all to stay on. For the photographers particularly there were no other magazines to compare with Picture Post as outlets for their work…. Looking back on it, it seems quite clear that without Tom’s social commitment, Picture Post lost its edge and its popularity. Contrary to the opinion still held in Fleet Street, people aren’t only interested in pictures of pretty girls when they buy magazines.”
Bert continued to work for Picture Post until it went out of business in 1957, and continued to be the Complete Photographer that he was.
In a Picture Post feature he took several photos with a cheap box camera, to show that it was possible to take a good photo without needing an expensive camera. From this feature a photo of two chorus girls on the seafront railings at Blackpool became a well known Bert Hardy photo.
The MoMA online site, under the Family of Man entry lists the three selected Bert Hardy as follows:
Family of Man MoMA Checklist
The writer hopes to correct the omission of Bert Hardy from the Wikipedia entry on the Family of Man photo exhibition, New York, 1955, shortly.
When Picture Post folded in 1957 Bert worked freelance for Odhams Press, and found that he was earning more money. Then he had a spell working for the Daily Express as their Paris photographer, and then he branched out very successfully into advertising.
“Advertising jobs began to flood in: when I arrived on the scene advertising photography tended to be rather formal. I introduced the 35mm camera and the inventive story-telling approach which had been so popular in Picture Post, to give a fresher, more candid look.”
One of his images, that he created, was for the 1959 promotion of a new WD & HO Wills cigarette, Strand.
It was a strong image, the lone man, never alone with a Strand. People of that generation remember it, even though they didn’t take up the cigarette, which bombed. No smoker of that era wanted to be seen as a lonely person. Perhaps an aspect of the image subliminally entered director Lewis Gilbert’s head when he did one of the final shots in Alfie (1966): Michael Caine alone on the Waterloo Bridge, apart from a dog that befriends him. And crossing the Thames, on the Waterloo Bridge and heading down Waterloo Road he would have come to the Elephant & Castle where he grew up, in poverty, like Bert Hardy. And like Bert’s aunt, Michael Caine’s Mum was also a char (cleaner). And like Bert Hardy he was in Korea, two years later in 1952, in the infantry, a conscript on the front line.
Bert Hardy earned a tremendous amount doing advertising photographic work, but he wrote that it was no substitute for working for Picture Post. In 1964 he and Sheila, his second wife, bought a farm, and he slowly eased himself out of the very lucrative advertising and promotional photography to retire and run the farm.
Retired, he still took the occasional snap, for his own pleasure.
At the time of writing, October, 2018, there is only one book of Bert Hardy photos currently in print: Bert Hardy’s Britain, Bluecoat Press, UK. £19.98.
There are two cautionary reviews of the book on Amazon.co.uk
“One of the UK’ s best known photographers and from Blackfriars in South London. As with some photographic books the design and more importantly the layout and repro are poor. The repro of the pictures is poor quality and why designers ever split a picture over two pages I will never know, it kills the original image!
As for the pictures, some are a bit of a mish mash and seem to be added to pad out the book. I don’t think even Bert would be happy with this.”
“This is a laudable effort, but it falls short in limiting the pictures to Britain, unfortunately leaving out some of his best work….
There are two out of print books of Bert Hardy’s photos available second hand. They compliment each other. Bert Hardy: My Life is his story in his own words, and it’s an extraordinary and fascinating story. It is full of his photos, often with details of how he took the photo. At the back of the book he also lists his favourite cameras and the one he had no time for when issued it by the British Army. The average price second-hand on ebay.co.uk is £24. It runs to 192 pages. Beware of sellers who are either not very bright, or are “at it”, who when listing it describe it as signed by Bert Hardy. There is such a one listed October, 2018 on ebay.co.uk with an asking price of £155. All editions have a printed Bert Hardy signature on the front page.
The second out of print book of Bert Hardy photos is from the Gordon Fraser Photographic Monographs series No.5: Bert Hardy, London 1975. It runs to 72 pages and the reproductions are not always up to the standard that we expect in photographic monographs published in the present decade. A reasonable price to pay on ebay.co.uk is £44 – £45.
All Bert Hardy photos copyright either Getty or the Estate of Bert Hardy. With grateful acknowledge to both copyright holders. All other material: The Pete Grafton Collection.
Unlike Jacques Tati, not all the European film comedy stars of the 1950s and early 1960s crossed boundaries as easily as he did.
France’s Fernandel had a following in Italy, and Italy’s Totò had a following in France (the two made a film together The Law is the Law in 1958). Whilst Norman Wisdom’s star has faded in Britain, he is still loved in Albania, and his films dubbbed into Hindi are popular on the internet. But it was Jacques Tati who really crossed national boundaries, and still does in the 21st century.
In particular it his first two films Jour de Fête (1949) and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953) that strike a continuing – possibly nostalgic – cord.
Despite a declining population – (1946: 1,135; 2009 (last published figure) 851) – Sainte Sévère still has a post office. The bar in the market square has gone, but there is a restaurant elsewhere in the village that seems to be popular with passing through tourists. Sainte Sévère also has a filling station, a ladies hairdressers, a boulangerie, a butchers and a school. It also now has a little museum dedicated to Jour de Fête and Jacques Tati.
The Hotel de la Plage is now the Best Western Hotel de la Plage. The rooms have flat screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and there is a business lounge. The restaurant is now called La Plage M.Hulot.
Positive views amongst UK visitors to the Best Western Hotel de la Plage recorded on the hotel site include
– Could hear the waves as we lay in bed at night
-Location is excellent, right on the beach.
-Architecturally interesting in that the original character has mostly been preserved.
Average 3 star ratings reviewers on Trip Advisor complained that there was no aircon, that there was no hot breakfast, that you couldn’t get a beer at 5 pm, that the exterior needed a paint, that the room was cramped and small, and that the place needed a modern eye to overhaul it.
From life in the wartime British Army (Private’s Progress, 1954), through to the New Towns of the 1960s (Let’s Keep Religion Out of This, 1963, filmed as Heavens Above) and the start of package holidays in Spain (Whatever Turns You On Jack, 1972) the novelist Alan Hackney had his finger on the life pulse of Britain.
His books are so spot-on in nailing the social history and the politics of the time – but luckily, also laugh-out-aloud (with the partial exception of Let’s Keep Religion Out of This) – that they should be on any reading list for first year students doing a degree in that social history/politics post war period of Britain. And watching Private’s Progress and I’m Alright Jack would save them tedious hours of skimping through some inadequate books, which partially miss (because they were written by academics – secure in their jobs and financially comfortably off, and some of whom were also influenced by their political leanings, left or right). Important aspects and commentary on what life was like for many were missed. For instance, Arthur Marwick’s British Society Since 1945 does not mention, even in one passing sentence, the desire of many Britons to escape the class stratification of that period and emigrate to Australia on the £10 scheme. Both the Kinks and the Animals touched on this stifling class ceiling in some of their music. And many Britons, encouraged by the Australian government took the boats heading out via South Africa and across the Indian Ocean to a socially freer continent.
Meanwhile, those of us left behind could go to the pictures on a Friday or Saturday night and bust a gut laughing at the films touched with the Hand of Hackney: Private’s Progress (1956), and I’m Alright Jack (1959).
Yet Alan Hackney rarely appears when book critics mention the likes of Angus Wilson, Kingsley Amis and William Cooper in the same breath. Still, I doubt that he would have been bothered. Financially he did alright. And the novelist William Cooper rolled around the floor laughing as he read his novels, and Evelyn Waugh did that rare thing (for him) and invited Hackney down to the Waugh home in Somerset, saying how much he admired his work.
Not only do his books have a sharp view of what was happening in Britain at the time he wrote them, but they burst with brilliant dialogue, and the vernacular. The vernacular spilled over into film scripts that he contributed to that weren’t based on his novels, such as Two Way Stretch (1960).
The Film Censor giving Two Way Stretch a “U” – suitable for children – certificate didn’t notice that Alan Hackney had slipped in a choice phrase when Peter Sellers as the trustee Dodger Lane tells visiting welfare ladies in the Prison Governor’s garden that the giant marrow they are admiring was “Hand raised, as they say in the Navy”. There would have been an acknowledged titter in cinemas up and down the country, particularly from ex and serving serviceman.
His novels follow the lives of the same characters as they emerge from the war, such as the gormless Stanley, his naturist father, the unscrupulous, suave Brigadier Bertram Tracepurcel (Uncle Bertie), Stanley’s wartime mate Private Cox (Coxey) who after the war re-invents himself as “Mr de Cameron”, and then Fred Kite, Mrs Kite and Cynthia as they adapt, and some do very nicely thank-you, as Britain moves into the 1970s. The shop steward Fred Kite even makes it to the House of Lords in What Ever Turns You On Jack.
In the obituaries for Alan Hackney when he died in 2009, the consensus is that I’m Alright Jack (“Private Life”) was the apex of his work with its merciless laugh-out-aloud dissection of trade unions super-glued to demarcation disputes and tussles with the Bosses and the Bosses looking after No.I whilst hypocritically spouting on about the “National Interest” (whilst lining their own pockets doing arms deals with corrupt Middle Eastern governments) and consciously provoking union militancy – strikes – for their own financial gain.
In fact, all his novels have an equal weight, but if one has to be highlighted besides I’m Alright Jack (“Private Life”), in the view of this writer it should be Private’s Progress.
Here’s a novel (1954), and then a film made shortly after (1956) that appears in bookshops and then on cinema screens, wedged in between celebrations of World War Two British courage, and examples of individual daring-do. Films, often based on non-fiction books, such as Reach for The Sky (1956), The Dam Busters (1955) and Above Us the Waves (1955).
Private’s Progress is a film that shows some Army Brass who are dodging and skiving as much as the soldiers they are commanding, and Army Brass who are involved in high scale looting of Art Works, shipped back to Blighty for private re-sale and their own financial gain.
“Shipped back” should perhaps be more accurately called “air-lifted”. There were elements in the RAF Transport Command and the USAAF equivalent who were assisting in flying back high-end loot.
The film’s dedication to “All Those Who Got Away With It” would have included British army soldiers who held Prince Friedrich Ferdinand of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, his family, and their servants at gunpoint in the courtyard of Glücksburg Castle near the border with Denmark in May 1945. They were searching for Heinrich Himmler and looted the castle at the same time. Easily pocketable items with high value such as jewellery disappeared. The British Daily Mail in May 1945 reported that “The Duchess of Mecklenburg had appealed to the King (George VI) for compensation… ‘I wrote to Queen Mary in England who is my aunt, asking her to help me and she replied she would do’.” It’s not clear whether any of the soldiers, which would have included officers were ever detected or disciplined, and most of the jewellery seemingly was never recovered.
In the film Private’s Progress Brigadier Tracepurcell and Private Cox and ATS Greenslade don’t get away with it, but in the novel they do, and they do very nicely too. The Boulting Brothers being realistic, knew the British Board of Film Censors would not allow the “culprits” to get away with it, and would refuse a certificate, and the film, therefore, wouldn’t get shown in British cinemas.
It was for the same reason that in the thriller League of Gentlemen, 1960, ex-British Army officers, and a few Other Ranks having mounted a spectacular and successful bank raid – using skills learnt during their army war training – also didn’t get away with it. Talking in 1985, the screenwriter T.E.B Clark (Hue & Cry, 1947, Passport to Pimlico, 1949) stated that in his screenplay for The Lavender Hill Mob, 1951, Alec Guinness also wasn’t able to get away with it. “The censor would not have allowed it”, he said. This wasn’t copping out – it was knowing what was, and was not allowed. The British Board of Film Censors was a self-censoring Trade Body established in 1912, and down the years had had an informal and comfortable relationship with the British Governments of the day.
In the film, every one else in Private’s Progress either does get away with it, or finds dodges and skives to make their boring, drudge-ridden and pointless army life in the Holding Unit a touch easier.
One extraordinary sequence in the film, not commented on by reviewers (and not in the novel) is when Major Hancock (Terry-Thomas) skives off and leaves the Camp, and is seen entering a Picture House in the local town. The banner poster above the Picture House entrance shows that the featured film is In Which We Serve. In Which We Serve was a deeply felt film written and directed by its star Noel Coward, at a time – 1942 – when the tide had yet to turn for the wartime Allies. When Noel Coward was finishing the films’ script in late 1941 British military were having one defeat after another, and the storyline of In Which We Serve was based on the sinking of the destroyer HMS Kelly in the Battle for Crete – a ship commanded by Louis Mountbatten. Recognising a good propaganda film, it was actively helped by the British Government’s Ministry of Information, in providing service men, and promotion. “A classic example of wartime British cinema through its patriotic imagery of national unity and social cohesion within the context of the war” – Wikipedia entry.
In Private’s Progress the on-screen credits boast that the Producers had help from “Absolutely No-One“. Richard Attenborough was in both films. (1).
The following day Major Hancock has them on a forced route march, with full kit. Sweating as they march they are brought to attention by the Company Sergeant Major. Major Hancock addresses them. “You’re an absolute shower. Practically every man in that cinema was from this company.” Cox mutters “Including you, cock.”
Terry-Thomas is rightly associated with the “Absolute shower”expression, but it was Alan Hackney who used it, having first heard it from an irate Commanding Officer in India during the war.
ABCA stood for Army Bureau of Current Affairs set up during the Second World War to “educate and raise morale” amongst servicemen and servicewomen. The railway dodges outlined by Coxey included the ATS dodge, that Fusilier Walter Morrison describes in detail, along with others not mentioned by Coxey, in Pete Grafton’s You, You & You: The People Out of Step with World War Two. (2)
In the three Boulting Brothers films based on Alan Hackney’s novels there are omissions, and, the other way around, narratives that are not in the novels.
In the novel Private’s Progress there is a section where the Stanley character is posted to India, mirroring Alan Hackney’s wartime experience. The novel also fleshes out what is only briefly touched on in the film: the London wartime world of Catherine, Stanley’s sister – a world of artists pre-occupied with producing art that is “plastic”, a stressed female vegan, a hardened squaddie who swings both ways, a Quentin Crisp type character who can’t bear the thought of having to wear “that dreadful khaki” and two dodgy art dealers, one of whom manages to “disappear” following the confusion at Dunkirk. This strand is an important – and witty – narrative element throughout the novel.
The “disappearing” of soldiers – “posted missing – presumed dead” – following Dunkirk is also mentioned in the Afterword to You, You & You.
Both the films and the novels they are based on are equally good standing alone by themselves. Alan Hackney was closely involved in the films Private’s Progress and I’m Alright Jack, even though the screen credits are perfunctory. “From a story by Alan Hackney” does not convey that it is a novel.
His Gollanz published novels have been out of print for years, though most copies – second-hand – are available at reasonable prices on abebooks. Faber and Faber in their Faber Finds series currently list Private’s Progress.
This material adapted from Len:Our Ownest Darling Girl – Letters between Mother and Daughter 1939 – 1950. Mother was Helen Bryers, Dad was Harry Bryers and their daughter was Helen (“Len’) Bryers.
Mum and Dad Bryers lived in a rented house in Coldingham Avenue, Yoker, near Clydebank. Dad was an engineer and Mum had been a seamstress.
Their only child, Helen, known as “Len” to family and friends, had worked in the latter stages of the Second World War as a shorthand typist for the Ministry of Supply at the Royal Ordnance Factory at nearby Dalmuir. Still working for the Ministry of Supply she transferred to a similar post in Cairo in November 1945. She was almost 20. At the time there was strong Arab anti- British feeling in Egypt, and contempt for the king, Farouk. Occasional demonstrations and targeted explosions at British associated Cairo buildings were occasional irritants. Otherwise Helen (‘Len’) was living in the land of milk and honey- no food or clothing rationing for her. Back in post-war Britain Mum and Dad and millions of others were experiencing rationing harsher than it had been during the war. Bread, freely available during the war, was rationed starting in July, 1946. There was also an acute shortage of houses. The weather wasn’t that brilliant, either.
I just couldn’t let this night pass without letting you know you are in our thoughts as always, our darling.
Here’s the latest re. hoose.
I called at the B.S. (building society) yesterday to pay the surveyor’s fee and the under manager told me he’d just been getting a letter typed to ask us to call for an interview with the manager, so I made an appointment there & then for 3 p.m. today. Just as we were getting ready to go out, Mrs Rae from next door called for a loan of a pudding basin as they were just about to put their plum pudd. on to steam when the basin broke. I think ours must be what is termed “a well appointed” house for I was able to produce a selection of basins for her choice.
At last we got away in a ghastly thick fog and frozen roads. We saw the B.S. manager – very efficient & polite – who phoned up their solicitor for an appointment for us and we are to see him at 11 a.m. on Thurs. They evidently got a very favourable report from the surveyor. The surveyor reported that, with vacant possession the house would easily sell for £1,750 or £2,000, so you see honey, if we can get it in the region of £500 to £800 it w’d mean a profit for us anytime we sold whilst the present housing shortage lasts & that looks like being for many many years. (The housing shortage was anticipated during the latter stages of the war by the British Wartime Coalition Government – much housing had been lost in the Blitzes, and the V1 and V2 raids – and the first prefabricated home (prefab) was erected and occupied in London in the Spring of 1945. It is reported that by January 1947, a few weeks on from Mum writing this letter, 100,000 prefabs had been built. However, there was still a housing shortage, particularly in the bomb damaged cities of Britain, most of which also had crowded slum areas.)
Dad & self then went shopping and went into Masseys. (Glasgow wide provisions stores of the time.)
There was a huge pile of mince pies on the counter & Dad asked about them & the guy serving said they were only for registered customers & I said “He (Dad) doesn’t understand all about the difficulties of shopping, ha! ha! But I’m going on holiday and he’ll get to know.”
Dad said “Yes, she is going to the land of milk & honey”, and the fella said “Where is that” & I said “Cairo, Egypt” & that started it – he was recently demobbed and said if he hadn’t been married he’d have rejoined again so as to spend another 6 months in Cairo, which he says is a most exciting city & he liked it very much. Well, we jawed & jawed & he said “Oh! I must give you some of these mince pies as you are old Egyptian friends.” He made up six lovely mince pies for us! – so you see, honey, ‘agaun fit is aye gettin’. (‘A moving foot is always gaining things’.)
We hear on the radio tonight that a bomb exploded in the Anglo-Egyptian Club but no one hurt, thank goodness. Must stop now, my sweetie pie, hope Santa puts something nice in your stocking. It’s raining cats and dogs tonight, the weather is terrible.
Boxing Day. 26.12.46.
Just look at the day it is and we never got this away to you – yesterday just seemed to go in wee bits of cooking, cleaning and shopping. (Shopping on Christmas Day: Christmas Day in Scotland historically was not as significant as it was in England. As late as 1967 it was not a holiday for blue collar and shop workers in Scotland.)
We are just off to the solicitors to make arrangements re. his getting in touch with Mrs Mac’s chap – I guess she’ll throw a pink fit when she hears our offer in the region of £500 – £800! (Mrs Mac was the owner of their home, her name fore-shortened by Mum.) It was such impudence of her solicitor to try to stampede us into £1,200.
Our kitten, Hope, is really a pet and is growing like anything, he is creamy ginger colour & so clean and dainty. How do you like his name? It had to be something beginning with “H” as is our tradition & I thought “Hope” so nice & cheerful.
There’s cards in for you from Mrs Holt and Bob Getchel, I’ll forward them in separate envelopes. (Mrs Holt was a former pre-war neighbour from Dagenham, Essex and Bob Getchel was a U.S. serviceman the family had got to know during the war.) The mantlepiece is decorated with over 20 Xmas Cards we got.
We got a most lovely aluminium teapot and silver jam spoon from Aunt Ena – they are really beautiful and just what we wanted. I got a tin of Bath Salts & tin of talcum from Joan Brandley, very sweet of her to send them. (Joan Brandley was a close friend of Helen’s and family friend) We intend to go to L.L.Y.H. at New Year – what am I to do with Hope? I’ll be running up here every few hours. (L.L.Y.H: Loch Lomond Youth Hostel. The distance between the youth hostel and the family home in Yoker was 3 miles.)
Best love in the world to you, our own one.
Cheers & love, honey girl, Mum. x.
Monday. 30 December 1946.
Dearest and Best,
We are all well and happy, but busy, boy! I’ll say we’re busy! I’m writing this in the middle of a mouthful of lunch. I note all the splendid tips in your letter re. filling in my forms and shall act accordingly, after New Year my thoughts and deeds will be dedicated mostly to arranging my trip. (Mum was planning to visit her daughter in Egypt.) The days just now are so brief and meals so many.
We are going to L.L.Y.H tomorrow – both Jack and Dad stop at 12 so we shall be off soon after. (LLYH: Loch Lomond Youth Hostel. Jack was a young lodger.) Jack is thrilled to bits at the idea of the hostels and I’m going to get a membership card for him in town today – that is to be his New Year gift from Dad & self. Jack is really a lonely soul and has not much young company so he is enthusiastic re. visiting L.L. and yesterday put on the outfit he proposes putting on for the trip so that we c’d O.K. it – or otherwise; he has a camera and films so will try to get some snaps.
We’ll be thinking of you on New Year’s Eve and wishing you all that’s Merry. May all your dreams & wishes come true in 1947.
Your own ever loving Mum and Dad.
The beginning of the year 1947 in The Old Home.
Our Darling Own One,
This is the very first letter of the year and the first one we received this year was from you – we are so happy you had such a wizard time at Christmas. We just got back from Loch Lomond Y.H. last night and oh! boy – what a time we had! It was one of merriment and fun from the time we got there on Hogmanay till we left last night.
Jack was overcome by the Membership card we gave him and some of his Norwegian Pals propose coming over to Scotland for a tour during the summer and he is to get a bike in April so he will be able to make good use of the card.
Like ourselves, he thinks Auchendrennan is wonderful and quite admires Joan MacDonald and thinks she is so pretty “like a doll” as he says, she is certainly a bonnie lassie and as sweet as she is pretty, as I told him, however Jack is so shy, he just remained tongue tied.
Before the clock struck midnight we all (about 85) of us trooped out and Henry Lindsay listened for the Chimes (this was because a piper was playing loudly) then we all trooped upstairs where Mr. & Mrs, Mac (the wardens, surname fore-shortened by Mum, as she has done with the owner of the house in Coldingham Avenue) received us with ginger wine and cake, then we had dancing & singing then Dad, Jack & self were invited into the kitchen where the fun was terrific & later Mrs. Mac. invited us all up to their own flat, it is very nice and, my! what a party – Daddy kept saying it was the best for years, it was hilarious – even riotous with fun and singing and ended up with several prostrate forms lying around, a true Scottish New Year.
At the hostel (but not at the party) there was a party of students from the International Club. Mostly Indians and EGYPTIANS (Mum’s capital letters)) and, as is my wont, I made hay while the sun shone by talking to the nicest Egyptian I could see.
Our festivities were broadcast by the B.B.C. at 8 till 8.20 on New Year and this E. I spoke to was one of two picked to ‘say a few words‘ over the mike, and I found his name is Doctor (it sounds like this) “Kiellally” – however, I’m going to invite him & his girl friend down some night – she is studying social science at the University and lives at Danes Drive, Scotstoun. The doc. is awfully interested in my trip and we talked Egypt for hours and he says what a pity I can’t wait till June to go out as he is going then and would be delighted to travel with me. I bet he knows the ropes re. that journey. He says I could go via France without bothering with Cooks and there’s a regular service of ships once a week from Toulon to Alex or P.S. It w’d be exciting to go like that, the only snag being baggage and customs, but I guess I c’d manage. Cooks make one feel so helpless, it makes me mad.
Now what I want you to do pronto is to give me your views re. travelling via France, free from any agency, I know I don’t need a visa to get into France but if I travel on my own how shall I get a visa to get into Egypt? And what about inoculations?
Re. the house, Dad & I saw the solicitor as arranged and he suggested offering £750. He further said not to worry in any case as the house (with the present legislation) is ours anyway, but that it w’d be nice to buy as one’s own house.
I have the most ghastly feverish cold, the first in years so I sh’dn’t complain – but I do!
Keep well and happy own darling, we are loving you all the time. All the best in the world in 1947.
Cheers and love, Dad & Mum. xx
Adapted From Part Two, Chapter One “Fresh and Innocent” of Len:Our Ownest Darling Girl
The Story so Far…. Walking Aonach Eagach. The Warden’s husband with a penchant for blokes. A Tiger in his Tank at Fort William and at Glenelg an old woman with rags for shoes and a hat for a pixie. Trouble brewing with the first Sabbath sailing to Kyleakin. Four free-wheeling young wardens in the Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn area. Fresh baked bread at Lochcarron. A bumpy ride to Inverness. Aviemore under construction and a Rank “Road Inn” at Loch Morlich.
To Come: Walking the Lairig Ghru Pass. Expensive mince and tourists in Braemar. All at sea Civil Defence on the start to Glen Doll. A street upset in Perth. Glasgow again and day and night hitching back to London, with a Freddie and the Dreamers look-a-like driving madly over Shap. The brand new automatic service ‘Transport Cafe’ at Forton Services, and a better one at the dead of night at the Blue Boar Services, Watford Gap. Trudging around London’s North Circular at dawn. Home.
I thought the 24 mile walk from Loch Morlich to Inverey, via the Lairig Ghru Pass was going to be difficult, but it was O.K.
Leave YH around 9.30 a.m. Sun’s out but a strong wind and waves are choppy on the loch. Walk along by the loch and take the track making for the Rothiemurchus ski hut. It’s a moderately new track – white crushed stone. Walking along by this characteristic undulating heather area, and then gradually ascend the slope until you reach the hut. Although built in 1951 it’s an awful mess, made of timber and falling to bits. It’s a shabby, jerry built thing. And so the path that brings you onto the Lairig Ghru Pass path. Follows the valley, ascending slowly, sometimes by the burn, sometimes above it and then crossing over by the Sinclair Memorial Hut. Big scree slops on either side, towering up there. I’m going fast, making good time. Pass a party of school boys and their masters, ask the time – one o’ clock. There’s a couple of patches of snow as you get higher, blinded by the sun and the whiteness, one of the few times I wished I had sun glasses. After the snow there are lots of boulders – easy going though, jumping from one to another and unbelievably make the Pass, thinking – this can’t be it, must be further. But it is and there are the Pools of Dee.
Stop by them for a packet of biscuits, a cig and a rest. In front of me the valley descends gradually.
Big sweeping mountain sides coming down to the Dee. Continue after the biscuits, cig and rest. The mountains on my right getting more definite in outline, especially Cairn Toul – snow capped and some interesting, beautiful shaped corries high up at around 4000′.
As you start descending from the Pass and look back you see Braeriach and in its corrie what looks like a small landslide, or scree, shifting.
Come to Corrour bothy hut on the other side of the river, and this is where I branch off. following the slope of Carn-a’ Mhaim.
A party of oldish nice looking, blouses open schoolgirls pass me on the path, we exchange ‘Hellos’. They’re led by ‘Sir’ who gruffly tells me it’s 3 o’ clock when I ask him the time. Onwards now in Glen Luibeg.
Looking back it looks like a hanging valley coming out into Glen Dee. Desolate, wild, barren rolling hills around here. Sun’s gone in but it’s still warm. When I come to Luibeg Bridge it is washed away, part of its concrete foundations lying in the boulders of the river bed. There’s a lot of boulders in the river bed – must be quite a torrent during the melts. There’s a new bridge further up the tributary valley but I decide to ford the stream, being told last night by two blokes in Loch Morlich that you couldn’t. They’d done the route from Inverey yesterday. It wasn’t a problem, so not sure what they were on about.
Along the valley until it starts to get wooded on the slopes, and on down to Derry Lodge.
There’s a big herd of deer, lots of stags, on the other side of the river. They look at me, undecided, move away slowly and as I go past on the other side they move back. Cross the river by the bridge at Derry Lodge and continue walking along the glen, now called Glen Lui, and thinking about Sima and Shula, Israel, and going out to see them and before I know it I’m coming up to the bridge that crosses the river. There’s pine forest on my left. There’s a couple with camera and binoculars and they ask me if I’ve seen any deer – “Yea -two miles down”. “That’s a long way, isn’t it” they say. “Well, that depends”, say I.
Continue until I reach the road near Linn of Dee.
Make for the bridge, some tents pitched on the common, but when I get there it has also been washed away. Cheesed off as I contemplate having to walk right round Muir, but think – blow it. I retrace my steps and cut down to the Dee through the wooded slope. Wander up and down until I find a place I reckon I can ford. This time I need to take off my boots and socks and roll my jeans up above my knees. Socks stuffed in my boots which I’m holding (no room in the rucksack) I wade in. Water’s not as cold as I expected, but the rocks, pebbles and boulders in the river are slippery and hurt my feet. Move slowly across, water up to my knees, strongish current, until I reach the other side. Feel stupidly pleased with myself as I put my socks and boots back on, cut through the wood, make the road, trot down it. Stop by the first cottage, not sure whether it’s the hostel, move along to the next cottage and yes, it’s the hostel.
Enter. The oldish couple with car, the bloke wearing a kilt, who were at Loch Morlich last night are here, and a young couple who were at Glen Nevis on Monday night are also here. Dump ‘sac, go along to the warden’s house and pay my overnight 3/6d fee (17 p), and return to the hostel. Great hostel – must be the smallest in Great Britain – 14 beds. Nant-y-Dernol, Black sail – 16 beds. Beautiful stove – hot oven. Cook pleasant meal for a change. Talk to the young couple – they’re from Croydon, he’s chairman of the Croydon YHA, he gave references for Anne – small world. The girl’s nice, nice and fruity.
The hostel’s on open common ground by the river, there’s trees, big patch of grass and some campers are in tents out there. Two girls barge in – “Is this the key for the bogs?” Tarts. They take it, go in the bog and probably fix themselves up for the night. I eventually go to bed. Outside you can hear people moving around, trying the back door. Fuck ’em. Sleep.
Woke up this morning and sitting in bed patched my jeans by ingenious method of cutting a piece off one of the back pockets. Jeans patched, arse’ole presentable I emerge and have breakfast, porridge minus milk – haven’t had any fresh milk for three days. Bad. Raining heavily outside.
Leave at 10.30 when the rain had dropped off to a steady drizzle. The young couple from Croydon ahead of me, catch them up, walk together for a bit, then leave them as I cross the bridge over the Dee.
Boring walk through parkland, the drizzle eventually eases up
Eventually come to Invercauld Bridge, which is two miles further on from Braemar, on the north side of the Dee.
Cross the bridge and walk along back along the road into Braemar, past a vile looking Braemar Castle, open to the public 10 to 6, and it looks about 60 years old.
Into the craphole that is Braemar – there’s fuck all to it. Mostly Victorian hotels, gift shops and coach loads of old people. There’s nothing else – no beauty to it, no age, so why all these tourists, all these hotels.
The scenery around here’s OK, but it’s not that great. Withdraw £10 from the P.O. and sent a postcard to the warden at Glasgow YH, after buying some food – including ½lb mince that cost 2/4!!. (11p). Me walking out of the butchers murmuring with great feeling “Robbing bastards”.
Walk a bit out of Braemar, going south, past the awful looking Victorian hostel, along the main road with deer fence each side until I find a tight space to sit down behind a crumbled down stone wall on the roadway, deer fence a foot away and eat wads of bread and jam whilst cars zoom past. Eat too much.
Guessing that it’s around 4 I walk back to the youth hostel.
It’s full of jerks, and when it’s like this I can only agree with Willie about hostels – hostels are OK, it’s the hostellers who are a problem, is the way he put it.
A party from South Shields – 3 blokes, 3 birds, 2 cars, one pair of skis, one of the blokes a ponce. But to top it all a S.J.P. (School Journey Party), with a woman teacher who’s got no sense. They take over the self-cookers, and each took a frying pan to fry 4 sausages, when they could have fried the lot in two pans. Masses of lard spitting all over, the place a mess, and everyone else – including me – having to wait until they’ve finished and cleared out. I cooked the mince and had it with spuds, and it didn’t taste bad. (The grudging acknowledgement from Le Patron that it was O.K. was not surprising. Being ignorant, he wouldn’t have realised that the bought in Braemar mince was probably prime Aberdeen Angus, and worth the extra pennies to spend on it.)
More people arrive, amongst them Americans and a young couple with children. Oh accursed hostellers. Sitting at the table after my meal are the young couple, who are touring around in a car. They’ve put their kids to bed, and the bloke has got his National Benzole map spread out all over the table, over my things, and keeps disgustingly sniffing all the time as he pours over his map, mouth half open, looking mental, and these deep, take it down the throat, green snot sniffing, until I feel like smashing his face in. Which of course I didn’t.
A foul night. Small dormitory – too many blokes – that bloke sniffing, people snoring, stuffy, couldn’t get the window open. Yes Willie, you’re right about hostels being OK, and hostellers being the problem. Not all, though. The answer is be independent – a new tent, sleeping bag, a paraffin stove and Bob’s your uncle.
Gladly left the hostel at half past nine, and oh gladly walked away from it along the main road until Auchallater Farm, the glen getting more definite as I walk. Opposite the farm where the track starts for Glendoll there are a couple of Civil Defence lorries parked. As I cross the road and walk past them a bloke asks “Are you going to Alpha?” – “Do what?” – “Are you going to Alpha?” What the hell’s he going on about. “Have you got a map?” he asks. “Yea.” – “I’ve got a better one in the lorry, I’ll show you where Alpha checkpoint is.” He shows it to me. The map’s the same as mine. Then I point out I haven’t got the faintest idea what the fuck he is talking about. – “You’re a scout aren’t you?” – “No.” – “Ah.” I trot off after he tells me Alpha checkpoint is a good 3 miles down the track, when it’s only 2. Can you imagine after a nuclear attack relying on these people to organise anything? (In the early to mid 1960s Civil Defence seemed to be mostly involved in training for preparation for a post-nuclear Britain. As the Beyond The Fringe sketch of the time wittily put it, in an answer to a question from Dudley Moore (in a pre Pete and Dud voice) about when normal services will be resumed after nuclear attack, a plummy mouthed Jonathan Miller replies “Fair question, fair question. I have to tell you that it will be somewhat in the nature of a skeleton service.”)
The track along the Callater Burn is easy walking, scouts pass me every now and then, part of this exercise. Come to Lochallater Lodge which I presume is a shooting lodge. Stop and have a cig and then walk along the loch, steep hill side tumbling down and continue to follow the path up the glen until I start branching off to the left, by a broken signpost saying ‘Footpath to Glendoll’.
Start to climb up to near the summit of Tolmont, at the 3014′ point. I meet three scouts on their way down. It’s a sharp gradient as I climb. I stop, start, panting and suddenly, there I am, unexpectedly on top when I thought I had farther to climb. Roll a cig and look around. Incredible plateau top, the first I’ve seen in Scotland.
Someone comes up behind me, hadn’t noticed him. Older bloke with Dartmoor cropped hair and turns out we’re both going in the direction of the hostel, so we set off together. Notice a big boulder with ‘Home Rule for Scotland” painted on it as we walk along. It’s a straight-forward walk down Glen Doll. He shows me where when it snows it can pile up in 50’ drifts, and a plaque to the memory of 5 hikers who died in a blizzard New Year, 1955. So what seems an easy going glen can be very different in winter. Reach the hostel and put off by the number of cars parked outside, but it turns out it’s a SYHA work party. Go in, it’s an ex-shooting lodge.
Warden not in, make myself at home. When she does come in she’s a young at heart warden. Sign in and buy some food from the hostel store. There’s also a couple of elderly English touring around in a car, a Swede and a Scot in kilt with a dirty long whispery grey/white beard. The working party left soon after I arrived. It’s a nice hostel.
Whit Monday in England, but just a day here. A big breakfast of 3 bowls of porridge with sugar and sterilised milk which the warden sells at the hostel. The hostel’s in a good situation, up here at 1000′, at the head of the glen. Very green, plenty of trees, the mountain-sides sweeping down to the valley floor.
After taking empty crates of orange juice outside bought six heavy ones back in to the hostel, my duty, and then was off.
Walking down Glen Clova – quite a beautiful, green U shaped valley, a few farms – a coach load of kids passes me going up the road to Glendoll. I continue down the glen, Clova further than I thought.
Stop and sit on a rock and drag on a fag. Coach returns empty. I look up, coach driver points down the road, I nod. He stops. Great. I get in. Nice driving along in a big modern empty coach, sitting up front next to the driver, driving down to Kirriemuir. The scenery’s getting smoother, rolling hills, lowland and very green. Hedges, fields, ploughing. Kirriemuir is on the plain. Flat around here, not a mountain in sight and a lot of council houses.
Driver drops me off just outside Kirriemuir, and as he told me, was continuing up Glen Isle, up the Devil’s Elbow and on to Braemar where he’ll pick the party of school-kids up. Walk back a bit into the town. Into a shop and out with dinner – packet of biscuits, date bar and a 1lb of Canadian honey. Walk back out, past the garage on the corner, out into the country. Not many cars. Eat the biscuits and dates, hitch the occasional car. Spend some time there, then as a Vivia (Vauxhall Vivia) zooms round the corner I hitch and he slams the brakes on. It jolts to a halt, I run down the road, rucksack banging, get in and off we zoom. Got quiet a lot of power those cars.
And then I have a horrible feeling I’ve left my map case on the verge. (These map cases were ex-WD cases, usually from the Second World War, bought in Army Surplus stores.) Feel behind the seat and feel it’s strap. Am I relieved. Driver’s some sort of rep – nice bloke. Notice going dirty white shirt sleeve cuffs, slightly frayed. Tells me about the fruit around here – black currants, etc, that are grown and bought by Chivers, Robertson’s. Tells me about what happened when the ferry went over to Skye last Sunday. Apparently 8 were arrested for obstruction as the cars came off the ferry at Kyleakin. A minister got arrested. I can imagine Fred and Willy going over on the ferry out of interest, Willie drunk and shouting at the protestors about religion being the opium of the masses. That would have made him popular.
The driver drops me off at Blairgowrie. He’s off to Dundee.
Sun now hot. Walk out of Blairgowrie on the Perth road. Stand by a golf course. Bloke with shoulder length blond hair is cutting the grass with a lawn mower. On the other side of the road there’s temporary built asbestos sheet houses, and a woman with a small kid in a push chair waiting by the wooden bus shelter. I’m just up from a bend where cars come zooming round and then roar down the straight. It’s hot. Smoke a couple of cigs. Hitch, but no go. Opposite, bus comes, mother and child get on, and off it goes into Blairgowrie. Hitch, but still no go. Perth bus comes – yellow Northern bus – it stops, some kids get off and with a “Will I? Won’t I? – Ah fuck it” I run up and get in. 2/5d (12p) to Perth.
Watching the driver slowly chewing in the reflection of the window where I’m sitting. After travelling through flat green countryside arrive in Perth. Perth. Pleasant enough, although still very hot. Stacks of school children around, it’s just turned 4. School girls trying to look fetching in uniform. Actually, there’s something pleasantly provocative about 17 year old girls in school blouses and blue skirts and satchels. Yes.
A long trek to find a bakers, but when I find one no brown bread. Directed up a side street, that also sells milk. Two women, middle-aged, possibly pros (prostitutes) are crying and screaming at each other, one in trousers, cotton tee shirt, long straggly dirty flaxen hair, crying and waving her arms and saying “I’ve had enough”, and her mate trying to restrain her – she’s also crying, wearing a red 1949 type cut suit. The first one pulls away and goes in a telephone box. People stand on the sidewalk looking, shop keepers come out and look. A bloke slowly dragging on a fag. Some watchers are smiling, others have blank expressions. No-one seems concerned.
Hot sweaty walk up to the YH. Along a short drive off the main road, after a lorry driver passed me, leaned out and pointed up the drive. I nod. Victorian house but peculiarly pleasant inside.
It’s slightly on a hill and looking out of the big windows at the front there’s a view of Perth. 2 Australian women, a sour faced Scot, 2 Scottish girls, a Scottish bloke who’s boring, and tries to get in on everyone’s conversation. Spent a lot of the evening talking to the Australian women and the oldish bearded relief warden.
Still early morning but it’s incredibly hot – probably going to be the hottest day so far this year. There’s a misty heat haze over Perth and the slate roofs are shining a brilliant white in the sun. Television aerials, spires and buildings.
A Glasgow Corporation park, around 12 noon. Burning hot, sitting on a green painted bench. So hot you can smell the paint, even though it’s old. Boating type lake in front of me. Several people sitting on the benches, or wandering around, main road outside, heavy traffic. (This was probably Haggenfield Park.)
Left hostel 9.30 am, walked along the road and pursuing a policy of hitching everything it worked – a Jag stops, 1959 type but well kept, shiny black, automatic transmission, feel it pull under you. Quiet engine, sun roof open, radio on. Cruising through the sun burning countryside – very green and somehow foreign, could easily be in Germany or France and strangely there happen to be Mercedes and Fiats passing us on the other side – and even a continental train crossing with the bars up and the warning notice that are all over the continent.
Cruising along, driver’s OK, but says little. Going to Manchester – Jesus what a lift, if I wasn’t stopping overnight in Glasgow. Go through Stirling. Look out at a girl on the pavement, she turns her head and smiles back. If I had an E Type I couldn’t go wrong.
He drops me off on the outskirts of Glasgow and continues for Manchester. I walk in a bit, and come across this park by the main road. Write this, and will find a bus stop in a moment.
Glasgow YH Yeah-hey. I’ve got the job as assistant warden. Although I sometimes thought I didn’t want it, now I’ve got it I’m looking forward to it. It’s a dusty old hostel – the Glasgow dirt. Got a small, rather dingy room in the finance office cum annexe 2 doors along. Top floor, looking south and a magnificent view of the city, should look great by night. Warden hearing I can do posters wants some for the hostel – directions for where the self-cookers are, common room, dormitories, etc.
So, from the park. Decided to walk into the centre rather than get a bus as still mid-day. Hot, hot day and Glasgow’s a dirty city, but a nice dirty city. Seems to be a lot of poverty – dirty and soiled clothes, dirty tired faces. (Le Patron was walking through the East End.) Bloke’s in boiler suits, women, kids, a few bomb sites, pros, big black dirt grimed tenements. Get to the centre and big shopping streets. Down Sauchiehall Street to Charing Cross. Only 2, walk further on. And remembering that Glasgow has no bogs, I come across one, for Gents only. Green painted iron railings, on an island, circular staircase winding down to it. Have a pee and ask the attendant where the nearest Ministry of Pensions and Insurance office is. Maryhill, he says. Uh-huh, and it’s quite a walk, dropping into a tobacconists, asking if I was near it. “Aye well, you’ve got a wee walk yet” and given directions.
Made it. Exchanged my card, just like that – no comments or questions about why it’s only got 20 stamps in it. Wander around until four, then go up to the hostel in Park Terrace – get the news, shown vaguely what I have to do, then upstairs to their quarters and a cup of tea. Then to next door and the room I’ll be sleeping in and a clear out. My Struggle by Adolf Hitler and Albert Moravia’s Two Adolescents in a drawer. Carpenters have been in to replace the window. Swept out all the chippings and filings but can’t get the window open.
Got a lot to catch up on and try and remember. Left hostel around 8.30 am, and decided to get the bus to Rutherglen – the warden had suggested that as the best way to start hitching south. Warmish cloudy morning. A lot of people around and traffic, all going to work. Walk to George Square and can’t see bus stop for Rutherglen.
Go into the Information Centre. “Get a No.18 in Argyll Street” bloke says. Find Argyll Street and the bus stop and get the No.18 to Rutherglen – outskirts of Glasgow.
Not much chance of a lift so start a long walk out to Hamilton, hitching as I do. No go, walk, hitch, no go. I’m standing opposite a school, iron railings. Derelict expanse of ground, weeds, pylons, industry and houses in the distance. Now very warm. A woman waiting at a bus stop opposite. Hitch and at last my first lift. Bloke in an Anglia, going to his office, takes me out of his way onto the Carlisle road the other side of Hamilton, youngish bloke who’s done camping, hiking in his time.
Don’t have to wait long. Hitch and get a lift to Carlisle in a brand new sky blue Morris van, youngish bloke – some sort of photographic salesman, only I mistook him for an engineer. Van pretty filthy. Doing a steady 40 back along the route I came into Glasgow by. Driver going to New York for his holidays, taking wife and kids, got relations over there. Seems to be making some money. Carlisle about 2 o clock.
I get dropped off at the same spot I was dropped off when I hitched from Cockermouth in May. Into that small round bog where the cars are parked. A pee and a walk through Carlisle – about as hot as it was when I did the same walk to hitch to Penrith. Walk out of Carlisle, sit on that bench by the big ad. board and eat a packet of biscuits. Walk on, past the garage, and hitch. No go for a time then a lorry pulls out of the garage, just misses hitting an office. I don’t hitch but driver indicates down the road. I nod, he stops, the Austin behind nearly going into the back of him, and overtakes with an angry blast on the horn. Driver and his mate. “Where yer going?” Penrith way, I say. He tells me to climb up into the back of the lorry, low-loader. I’m thinking he’s only a local lorry, at first it’s OK but when he picks up speed slate dust starts whirling around, blowing in my eyes. Keep my head down, eyes closed – and oh, what a driver.
Really belting that Morris lorry along, getting impatient when he gets behind a lorry and can’t overtake. Feel the engine, hear the engine start up for a spurt, then relax, start up, relax. Get stuck in a jam in Penrith. Driver’s mate leans out the window. “Where yer going?” – “Lancaster”, thinking they’re not going further, “Well Manchester, actually.” Mate talks to driver then leans out. “Here”, he says, “get in cab, we’re going there.” Oh, fucking great.
Get in cab, sitting on the engine, my back to the windscreen – driver puts a heavy coat over the engine as it’s pretty hot. “Aye, we’re going past Manchester, Sheffield way.” says the driver. He’s a youngish bloke, late 20’s, early 30’s, black curly hair, rough textured face, oily almost, needs a bit of a shave, wearing glasses. He looks like Freddie of Freddie and The Dreamers.
He’s sun-tanned, tattooed arms on the wheel, his mate, Pop, old bloke, wearing a sweat rag. He speaks. “‘Ee, it’s fooking marvellous up here, eh?” They’re great blokes. Been out 2 days, delivering a load of slate to Carlisle. We belt along and then get stuck behind a lorry and trailer on Shap Pass.
This is Shap – a narrow road with bends. Driver: “Look at that fooking lorry, fooking hell.” Then makes a break for it, gripping the steering wheel, the engine revving madly and start to overtake, driver jerking backwards and forwards frantically in his seat trying to make the lorry go faster and pass the wagons before he smashes into something coming the other way. We make it, but bloody hell. Pop hands Woodbines around. Then he hangs a damp dirty white shirt out the open window to try and dry it. Crazy. We’re now on the M6, belting along, Pop hanging his shirt out, hanging on to it for grim death, hauling it in every time we pass a lorry, clicking of lights lorry to lorry as we pass and pull back in.
Pull off the motorway at a newly opened Rank cafe. (This would have been the newly opened Foxton Services, between Lancaster and Preston. Wikipedia says it was opened in November, 1965, but it was open in June, 1965. November may have been the official opening. The nearest other M6 motorway stop in Lancashire was run by Forte.) It says above one entrance ‘Transport’, so up we go, up the stairs and go on in. Transport? Everything’s money in a slot to get your food. You have to buy your tea from an automatic machine – 6d. I go out and down, to buy some Woodbines. Go in the bog – Christ, I look like a coalman – face black, from the slate dust when sitting in the back of the lorry. Buy the Woodbines from yet another automatic machine. Coaches in, coach crowds. Back to the cafeteria, the so-called ‘Transport’ section. They’re sitting there, looking suspiciously at all the ‘nice’ dressed people. Join them and hand round the cigs. “Ee, this is a fooking place, 4/- for fooking salad.” We get egg and chips for 2/- but a slice of wrapped bread and butter is 6d. Fucking robbery.
There’s a bloody stupid woman going around, sort of manageress, going around asking everyone if their food’s alright. Comes to our table. “Everything alright, sir?” It’s fucking ridiculous. Pop looks at her as if she’s from outer space, but doesn’t say anything about the prices. None of us do, sort of shifting around uneasily in our seats. I nip out to have a wash and brush up. Run across to the lorry. Climb in the back. Rucksack’s covered in black dust. Take out my towel and washing stuff.
Into the washroom. Spend a couple of minutes trying to work out how to get water out the tap. Start to dismantle the tap when a bloke comes in, starts to wash his hands, can’t see where the water’s coming from. Ask him. He indicates the floor. A-ha. Underneath the sink there’s an oval rubber thing you press with your foot, and it works. Wash. Return to lorry, cleaner. They return. Check oil. There’s a lorry parked next to ours, artic with a J.C.B going to Staines. Driver tells me to go and see its driver. Do. – “Are you going to London? Could you give me a lift?” – “I would, yea, but I’m not allowed to.” Fair enough. I get in our cab. Artic. driver comes round to inspect his back tyres. Talks to my driver. “No, I can’t take lifts, we have spot checks, insurance, you know.” They have a friendly chat. Artic driver: “Burnt my breaks coming down Shap.” – “Did you?” And then we’re off again, belting down the motorway.
I’d be wondering if I should get dropped off to where they’re going on their way to Sheffield, but decided to get dropped off when they turned off the motorway at the Manchester turn-off. I do. Friendly waves and thumbs up all round as they pull away. Good blokes.
I’m where the main Manchester – Liverpool road passes underneath the motorway approach roads. Plenty of traffic. Get my fawn socks out of the ‘sac and start to brush off the dust. Got most of it off when Anglia stops. I look up. And get a lift. Within 5 minutes. Great. Quietish bloke going down to South Wales. Dropped me off in Wolverhampton around 8 pm. By now I’ve decided to push on regardless.
On Birmingham road – built up, factory type area. Birds dolled up for the evening. Cars with young couples. Hitch and green Ford Prefect stops. Irish chap – looks like a typical Irish labourer – and there is such a thing as a bloke looking like an Irish labourer. Quiet, soft spoken. It’s all built up between Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Drives carefully. Pleasant chat – he’s a ganger for Wimpey. Just about to cross some lights and they turn red and he protectively puts a hand out over my chest as he brakes to a halt. (UK car manufacturers had to fit seat belts from 1967 models onwards, but it was not compulsory to use them until 1983.) Drops me off outside Birmingham, apologising he can’t take me further.
Hitch and a new dark green Zodiac stops. Youngish well dressed smooth bloke, smelling of aftershave. Must have plenty of money as he gets 8 gallons put in the tank at a petrol station. Goes out of his way to drive me to the other side of Birmingham. Now getting dusk, even though it’s only 9.15 pm. Go through the centre that’s called The Bull Ring and surprised me – all mod, underways, overways, looks really mod, lights, colours. Yes, I like it, then back to industrial areas. Drops me off near a sign that says ‘Birmingham Airport 5 miles’.
Start walking. Past a bingo hall around 9.30 pm. Women, nearly all women pouring out, some to get buses, others being picked up by their husbands. Keep walking. A couple of cubs (Junior boy scouts) ask me where I’m going. Walk on and on, never-ending built up areas – no let up in houses, shops, pubs, fish bars. Now getting late – 10.30 p.m, and no lifts. Put 6d (2½p) in a Walls Ice Cream machine, only don’t get an ice-cream or the 6d back. Narked. Into a fish bar, just about to close for the night. Buy a ‘Hubbly’ coke. Further 9d down the drain.
Sit on a bench by a bus stop, a big ghostly empty looking cinema opposite – everyone gone home. Bus stops at the bus stop as I spread honey on my sliced brown bread. Three girls giggle – “Can I have a bite of your sandwich?”. Bus pulls way. Get up, keep walking, keep hitching the occasional motor. Now nearly out in the countryside, of sorts. Lorry stops. Cockney, says he’ll take me to the Blue Boar (Watford Gap). Great lift. Chat in the cab. He’s not going into London, hence why he’s dropping me off at the Blue Boar. Which he does. There’s a specially built transport cafe, proper cafe, beside filling station, a posh cafe for others and large parking space. Around quarter to 1 a.m. Warm night, cloudy night sky, a lot of lorries on the motorway, headlights streaming past, huge amount of BRS (Motorway: The M I and BRS: British Road Services), and a tremendous amount of haulage parked. Go in the transport cafe.
It’s modern, but it is a proper transport cafe. Crowded. Drivers sitting at tables. A young tart sitting by herself. A very young couple – mod couple, can’t be more than 15, at another table. Otherwise, solid with drivers, smoking, drinking tea, talking, arguing, laughing. Two West Indian women serving behind the counter and one white.
Buy two cups of tea and saturate them with sugar, tea like syrup and hot. Idea is to keep me awake. Half eaten plate of egg and chips opposite me on my table. Juke box occasionally plays, pin tables going. Go out to the bogs. Have a wash. 1.15 am.
Outside, walk between the lorries down to where they drive back onto the motorway. Hitch the occasional few that start up and set off, but it’s a car that stops. Austin Cambridge. Young bloke going to London. Casually dressed. Tee shirt and slacks. Gives me the boot key to put my rucksack in. There’s golf clubs in there. Lock the boot, get in and we’re away. 80 – 85 mph all the way. Try not to fall asleep and wondering how it is that the driver doesn’t, as he has the heating on, the windows are up and it’s a warm night. I’m sweating. Pass plenty of lorries, roaring, grumbling along in the night, red tailboard lights. Flicker of acknowledgement lights from one to another when pulling in after overtaking. From picking me up until near the North Circular he doesn’t say a word. Near the North Circular he offers me a cig. Half smoken, he drops me off, him going into central London.
Ah great, cool air after that car. London 2.15 am. Left Glasgow 9 am. Not bad. So a walk round the fucking N.Circular – oh so many times walked. Past familiar landmarks – Hendon Dog Track – making for Edmonton 6½ miles.
The traffic has melted. Hitch the occasional lorry. Stop for more bread and honey. Continue, hitching now and then when something passes. Birds are starting to sing. It’s getting lighter. Cars parked outside houses. A few lights start to go on in flats and houses. I’m now 2 miles from Edmonton and it’s completely light. See a first, early morning red London Transport double decker. Go into a bog and have a wash. My back aches. I’m pretty tired. Hear someone in one of the bogs, paper being ripped at spasmodic intervals. As I pack my washing gear a down and out emerges with his bundles. Stands around aimless after, I guess, spending the night in there.
He’s still in there when I emerge. Sit on a bench. Roll a cig. Go across and ask a bloke standing at a bus stop the time. 5.30 am. Wood Green’s only a mile, so I walk there, passing a couple of coppers. No one else. Near Wood Green a couple of old women off to their early morning office cleaning. Find the Eastern National bus depot. Small inconspicuous place. Get on a 151.
Sit upstairs at the front. Two other blokes on it. Around 6.15 am we move off, and it’s ridiculously cheap to Billericay – 3/3d (16p). I’m asleep most of the journey. There’s a pause at Brentwood and I nip off for a pee and then back on. Some blokes going to work have got on. Brentwood 7.15 am. Nearing Billericay from the top deck I see Dad belting like mad in his Austin 1100, overtaking – and think, Christ what a life. Get off at the Green. Walk round the back of the house. Mum’s making the bed in the bedroom. Doesn’t see me, must be deaf. Go in the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of tea, pot’s still hot. Mum enters – “Oh, hello.” And that’s it. Back again. I could have been just round the corner, popped out and come back. And even though I left when the trees were bare when it was March, it seems time’s stood still, it’s just the same as when I left. Yes, I’m back.
Le Patron worked at the Glasgow youth hostel during the summer of 1965. He never got to see Sima and Shula in Israel. In early 1967 he returned to Glasgow and got a job with the Glasgow Parks Dept. Whilst working there he met what became a life-long friend who tipped him off about a job with the Forestry Commission on Arran. He got the job and moved to Arran, September, 1967.
Part 7 is dedicated to the memory of Fred, Kyle of Lochalsh warden, Willie, North Strome warden, Anne, Kishorn warden and Dave, Achnashellach warden, summer 1965. If you’re still around do get in touch, or if you know of them, let me know. Use the Leave A Reply facility at the bottom of this Chapter. Thank you.
The Story So Far… Liking sooty Glasgow, mysterious MOD development near Garelochhead, Loch Lomond. Frogs at 3100′ in a peat pool by Beinn a’ Chroin and the Crianlarich hostel warden (at the old original hostel) with a sense of humour. Loch Awe and Ben Cruachan before the dam and power station, (but nearly completed). Oban railway station before it was demolished, and on to Glencoe.
To Come Walking Aonach Eagach. The Warden’s husband with a penchant for blokes. A Tiger in his Tank at Fort William and at Glenelg an old woman with rags for shoes and a hat for a pixie. Trouble brewing with the first Sabbath sailing to Kyleakin. Four free-wheeling young wardens in the Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn area. Fresh baked bread at Lochcarron. A bumpy ride to Inverness. Aviemore under construction and a Rank “Road Inn” at Loch Morlich.
To finish off what happened last night. I finished the paper work the warden had given me, but realised he wasn’t the warden after all, but the warden’s husband. When I started on the paperwork he disappeared with the young bloke who’s staying here, to the pub, and then turns up later. He says “Would you like to be the Assistant Warden” and drags me into their living quarters. It’s coming up to 11 p.m. His wife, the warden, is there and a sexy bird – her daughter I think – plus a bearded walker and two other oldish blokes, all of whom I think are local. They’re all drinking whisky and watching the Queen in Germany on the TV.
“This is Peter, he’d like to be Assistant Warden.” “Hello Peter” says the warden who I think has a German accent. “Go out to the wee shed and get yourself a bottle of beer”. I do and return, sitting on a cushion on the floor. It’s not too bad, as we sit there watching the TV. I think the warden is interested in watching the TV as it is the first time the Queen has visited Germany.
But within ten minutes the warden’s husband creates a scene – he’s pissed, making unpleasant remarks. People pretend to ignore him but there’s an embarrassing atmosphere. I excuse myself and leave. I didn’t need that. It’s 11.30 p.m. The electricity in the hostel itself is off, so find my way up the stairs to the dormitory in the dark.
This morning there’s a blue sky outside as I write this, just a few clouds, the Common Room windows are open and the air’s warm. I’m about to set off for the Aonach Eagach.
Am Bodach – on the ridge. Left the hostel around 10. Blue sky, some cloud. Warm. Walk along the road until joining the main road at Loch Achtriochtan, small loch at head of Glencoe Pass with the River Coe running into it, and several smaller streams. Walk along and the Three Sisters really impressive, especially Aonach Dubh with layer after layer of crag going up, and trees on these crags and the grain seems to be running down to the valley. Three big buttresses sticking out into Glen Coe.
Walk along the road – some transport passes – until I come to Hamish MacInnes’s cottage – a delightful low white-washed cottage at the Meeting of the Three Waters.
Eat a packet of Glen Garry biscuits and then take the path along, up the stream. There’s a little electrical generator for the cottage, worked off a wheel with paddles that the water turns. Ingenious. So up the steep slope, keeping to the left of Am Bodach. At Am Bodach, 3080′ there’s a view over to the north of Ben Nevis, still quite a lot of snow over there.
From Am Bodach it looks like a challenging walk along the ridge of Aonach Eagach.
Glen Coe Hostel, evening. Yes, from Am Bodach it was challenging walking along the Aonach Eagach. It was more a mix of climb/scramble/walk. At first it doesn’t seem as challenging as Striding Edge, but by Christ, it turns out doubly dangerous, and this is in good weather. In bad weather it would be suicidal. At places it’s a foot wide with sheer drops either side – and that’s no exaggeration. At times the path comes up against solid rock, so it’s a case of crawling up, gripping on rock, luckily there are plenty of hand and foot holds. Then at times it’s a case of carefully working your way down a gully. The ridge is like spire after spire, so it’s not fast or easy going. And fresh white snow sprinkled all over the place. Soft to tread in. Beautiful compared with the other old stuff.And on either side there’s more spires and pinnacles coming up and big, deep gullies going down. Magnificent, but frightening. On my left the Three Sisters and occasionally the valley and road below when you catch a glimpse of it between the pinnacles. And on the right Ben Nevis all the time and Loch Leven. After 3080′ it’s plain forward green grass and wide ridge walking, and you see Loch Leven widening out into Loch Linnhe, and in the distance the sea.
Come to trig point at Sgor nam Fiannaidh which isn’t marked on the map. Yes, there’s a lot of inaccuracies on this map.
Built around the trig point is a round stone shelter and some bloke with a misplaced sense of humour has stuck a small Union Jack on the trig point – but I laughed. I continue and all of a sudden I see Glencoe village and Ballachuillish.
The street down there in Glencoe looks dead straight, with houses lining it, and the main road, looks all planned. And there’s a Sikh wearing a turban going door to door with a suitcase. Probably a Betterware salesman. And the green valley flat, flat and fertile, and the Loch. I can also see the hostel and the wood by it. All very small, like a model. I start the descent, but make a stupid mistake – the descent is steep with loose scree hidden by heather. Treacherous. Try going down a gully, but that’s too steep too, with rocks shifting under my feet so climb back up, swearing gently. Walk further on and descend on the lower, greener slope – running down it, a kind of exhilaration, and at the bottom come right out by the hostel.
Take my boots off outside and enter. The warden’s husband’s there, and so begins the cat and mouse game – only I don’t know who’s the cat and who’s the mouse. “Would you like some soup?” “O.K.” So I have some very peppery home made soup. He’s lurking around. Wash the bowl in the self-caterers. “Come out for a drink, around 9, Peter?” “No thanks.” “Have you read Lawrence of Arabia?” Makes a variation of the usual “Have you read Giovanni’s Room” approach. (Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In the UK in the 1960s the title of this book was used by many male homosexuals to test out the sexual orientation of other men. The former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe used this approach. T.E Lawrence wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence of Arabia, a biographical film of his life with Peter O’ Toole, directed by David Lean was made in 1962.)
No, I haven’t, I respond. He tells me he was captured during the war and it shocked him to realise he was a masochist – (he pronounced it ‘machochist’). And then “Did you go public school, Peter?” Presumably he thinks all public school boys are queers. And then I started remembering things from last night – he’d said his wife wanted a male assistant, yet later in their quarters she had said they had a girl assistant in mind. She will know what a young male assistant would be in for. Hence a girl assistant. He continues for a bit with me and I act cool throughout all this. He’s not getting anywhere and takes the hint. The pestering stops, and he makes some excuse about having to check something, and pushes off.
Make myself a meal. Quite a few in tonight, including a couple of Scottish girls, a couple in their thirties, two English girls and a male Canadian and a bloke called Lou. Around five to eleven the warden’s husband comes into the Common Room where we are and gets stupid – nasty. “Lights out in two minutes, folks.” One of the girls asks him where she can hang her washing and he says “Outside”. “How can I get out there?” “Through the door”, not smiling. He follows us upstairs to the dormitory. I’m brushing my teeth, he hangs around. And before we’ve had a chance to get into our beds, he turns the light out.
Leave the hostel about 9.30 a.m, along the road that leads to Meeting of Three Waters, until I leave it, taking the track from Achtriochtan which runs at a lower level. The track follows the small gorge where the River Coe gurgles and rushes through. It’s wooded and pleasant. Cross by the bridge at the Meeting of the Three Waters to the other side and climb up, following the burn to Allt Coire Gabhail, otherwise called Hidden Valley and it’s really something. Looking at the map you’d think just another V shaped grass sloped valley. But no. It’s a beautiful wide gorge going up to Bidean nam Bian 3766′.
Cliff face on one side of Gearr Aunach and on the other side the wet dark cliff face of Beinn Fhada, water running off it. But there’s more to it then that – the gorge is full of large slabs of rock, boulders AND trees, trees, trees, seemingly growing out of the stone. Beautiful delicate green fresh leaved trees – ash and sycamore – and then the scree and boulders and the sun’s so warm, the sky’s so blue. As I made my way up following the stream I thought “Aha – pitch a tent here for sometime”. And I may do if I get the job at Glasgow, and get a break for a week. I’m writing this at the point where the stream emerges, comes pouring out like water from a tap, from the dry stone, boulder filled stream bed.
Hostel, night time. The boulder filled stream bed was quite a scramble, and suddenly and dramatically it opens out into a flat valley, no trees, no boulders with Bidean nam Bian up there, and the flat valley looks like a big arena with three mountain sides, and the wooded valley I’ve just come up below.
Start climbing up the pass between Bidean nam Bien and Stob Coire. It’s a steep climb through snow fields. I’m surprised there is so much snow, it really is extensive, one hundred, two hundred yards up to the pass, where it hangs over, as if it were going to break off. Slowly make my way up, digging my toes in – occasionally my foot goes right through, but it’s mostly alright. Make the pass.
The other side is extensive scree, nothing but scree. Descend, at times sliding with the scree that in places is the size of chippings.
Get down into the valley and a fairly easy descent along a sheep track to near the farm. I think I can cross the River Coe, rather than go the long way round by the road to the hostel, but after trying to cross twice unsuccessfully I’m forced to go by the road.
Make myself a meal at the hostel. A Scottish couple arrive, we talk. Some other new people too, but not crowded. One of the new blokes, and Lou who came last night have gone down the pub with the warden’s husband. Lou seems to be his attraction for the moment.
Walked along to Glencoe village from the hostel this morning and stand on the Kinglochleven road and hitch, but no go, so walk to Kinlochleven. The road follows the loch, above it, looking down.
And down there at the head of the loch is Kinlochleven surrounded by mountains. Orange roofs amongst green trees.
Kinlochleven is a pretty horrible 1930-ish development. Unpleasant council looking houses, grey with green or orange/red roofs. Probably developed with HEP (Hydro electric power) pipe line that comes down the mountain side. (Kinlochleven was built earlier than the 1930s. It was built when a hydro electric power scheme was built by the British Aluminium Company to power an aluminum smelter in 1907. At its height British Aluminum Company employed 700 people at the smelter. Kinlochleven was the first village in the world, in 1907, to have every house connected to an electricity supply. The smelter closed in 1996, with subsequent loss of jobs. In his ignorance Le Patron did not realise that the grey external cement rendering over brickwork on most twentieth century Scottish social and company housing was a necessity imposed by the adverse weather of Scotland – rain and frost in particular).
There’s the inevitable Co-op, but it’s closed, but there’s a grocers that’s open and I buy some food and matches and find out that it’s 1.45 p.m. I ask about a bus in the grocers and am told there is one to Fort William at 20 past 6. Outside I eat a packet of Fruit Shortcake biscuits and decide to walk it, along the old Military Road. A steep sweaty walk up the hillside out of Kinlochleven to the “road”.
The Military road is murderous to walk along, pebbles, boulders, crushed rock. Difficult under foot. It follows the valley Allt na Lairige Moire. Pass a couple of derelict farms. Turn the corner and follow it down to Blau a’ Chaoruinn, a derelict cottage.
Grey/black clouds suddenly forming. Along to Blarmachfoldach, now a properly made up road under foot. Turn to the right, up a track to a small loch and by now it’s raining heavily, and descend down the hillside, through a very dense coniferous forest, until emerging out into a field and the hostel. Hostel is fairly full with school parties and walkers. There’s a youngish Australian bloke here and a Scottish couple, John and Betty, and the four of us natter away in the self-cookers.. I’ve just paused to write this up, whilst John has put the kettle on to make us all a cup of tea.
The day starts with a downcast, downcloud morning, and John and Betty – who’s attractive – and Barry the Australian and me walk down to Fort William. Barry’s OK, great to listen to. So we walk down to Fort William, the hills covered in white misty cloud.