Watching the Defectors

Wakeford Becomes Woke

The Conservative MP for Bury South announced just before PMQs on January 19 2022, that he was defecting to the Labour Party. In his resignation letter to Boris Johnson, he said, “My decision is about much more than your leadership and the disgraceful way you have conducted yourself in recent weeks. However, I don’t believe all politicians are the same and I do believe in the power of politics to be a force for good. So does Keir Starmer. He has shown that integrity in the way he has lead his party on issues that matter to me, not least the vital challenge of combating antisemitism.”

Last year Wakeford reportedly described the Labour Party as “a bunch of c**ts” for opposing cuts to Universal Credit, while telling parliament that “the modern Labour Party [is] more concerned with stopping the deportation of foreign criminals than keeping our streets safe.”

The local foodbank run by fans of Manchester City FC tweeted a similar sentiment: “Commiserations to the children of Bury South living in poverty who still have an MP who voted against them having enough food to eat despite the fact he wears a little red badge now.”

Wakeford supported a backbench bill in 2020 that called for any MP who switches parties to face a recall petition.

Conservative voters in Bury were understandably less than happy, but Labour supporters were not wholly joyful. A local Labour party source said the news had not “gone down well with local members. None of them voted for him to be the MP, so it will be hard to now embrace him as one of our own. This might be positive news nationally but locally it is not going to end well.”

The Umbrella Thief

Christian Wakeford’s defection brings back some memories for me. In October 1995, I was spending the weekend at the Cotswolds home of my friends Roger and Lora Amos. We were watching the news on TV when I suddenly cried out , “that’s the man who stole my umbrella.”

On Saturday 7 October 1995, Alan Howarth announced his resignation from the Conservative Party and defected to the Labour Party, instantly cutting the Major Government’s majority from seven to five.

A spokesman for the Labour leader said: “Mr Blair is delighted that an MP as conscientious, intelligent and committed to social justice as Alan Howarth has decided that the Labour Party is the only party in Britain really addressing the needs and interests of the country.”

Nothing Changes

Howarth explained his defection: “I find a harshness of view about modern Conservatism, as expressed by its most articulate exponents, which I cannot endorse.” Things have got even worse in the Tory Party since Howarth said this: “Policies of cutting benefits to those allegedly improperly claiming invalidity benefit, or insisting that the young unemployed live on a pittance, to be ordered around by officials at whim – those kinds of policies are then dressed up in a moral garb. Actually, they are moral garbage.”

In his resignation letter he wrote: “The poor in Britain have not shared as they should have done in the growth of the nation’s wealth, and are made to feel the object of indifference or even contempt by too many Tories. Benefits have been cut for the unemployed and the sick and the disabled at the same time as their National Insurance contributions have been increased. The Conservative Party is clamouring for tax cuts for the comfortably off while teachers are being sacked because schools are inadequately funded. Hostile and discriminatory attitudes to foreigners and minorities exist in a wholly unacceptable way in the Party. The Government sets its face against any constitutional change which would curtail its monopoly of executive power. There is an arrogance of power and a harshness within the Government which is damaging to our democracy and to the quality of relationships in our society.”

Umbrella Thief Defects

In 1995, I was in the dread situation of having to work for a living. The Conservatives under John Major were in power. I worked for the Department of Health in London and was given the grand-sounding title of Ministerial Advisor on Child Protection. The minister I advised most often was John Bowis. Howarth was Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon, first elected in 1983. He was a founder member of the Thatcherite No Turning Back group. He served as a whip, and was subsequently Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science from 1989 to 1992, becoming the architect of the polytechnics’ transition to university status.

In 1995, he had been writing frequently to John Bowis to plead the case of one of his constituents, who, according to Howarth, had been wrongly accused by his wife of abusing their children. The constituent and the constituent’s father alleged that the wife was making up stories to help her case for divorce. Howarth wanted to meet Bowis to discuss the case.

My superiors strongly advised Bowis against meeting Howarth and warned that if he did meet him the MP would probably bring his constituent with him.

Bowis insisted on having the meeting and my superiors sent me and two senior social work professionals over to Richmond House to help him out. I made my own way over there from another meeting. I rarely use an umbrella but on this occasion it was raining so I took one. On arrival, I was greeted by John Bowis’s diary secretary, my FB friend, the Divine Jane Spencer. There was some confusion about the meeting time; I was early. Jane took my umbrella and sat me down to wait in a small cinema.

Bowis decided that he only wanted mygoodself in the meeting and the senior social work professionals had to wait outside. They were somewhat disgruntled.

Howarth had, indeed, brought along his constituent and the constituent had brought his father. When the meeting was over Howarth and his constituents departed and I was asked to wait to discuss the meeting with Mr Bowis.

When that was over I sought out Jane and my umbrella. She said my umbrella had disappeared. Alan Howarth must have taken it by mistake. When contacted, he confessed to the crime and sent the brolly back to Richmond House.

Courage of His Defection

Howarth was the first MP to defect directly from the Conservatives to Labour, and the first former Conservative MP to sit as a Labour MP since Sir Oswald Mosley. His move was seen as courageous. People like him used to be the backbone of the old Tory Party. He was a scholar at Rugby and studied history at King’s College, Cambridge. The Tories were so impressed with him that they took him into the inner sanctum first in the Chairman’s office in the Smith Square party headquarters – working for Willie Whitelaw and Peter Thorneycroft – then as director of the Conservative Research Department, and a party vice-chairman. Elected to one of the safest Tory seats in the country, Howarth was then made a whip, and, later, Minister for Further and Higher Education .

As Tony Bevins wrote in the Guardian at the time, “The defection of a serious, sincere and sensible thinker, respected across the House, cannot lightly be dismissed.”

Labour Career

He wanted a new seat to contest as a Labour candidate and, after failing to win the seats of Wentworth and Wythenshawe and Sale East, he was selected for the safe Labour seat of Newport East in Wales. The National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill stood against him under the Socialist Labour Party banner, but he easily held the seat for Labour.

After the Blairite triumph of 1997, he was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, becoming Minister for the Arts at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport the following year and became a member of the Privy Council.

He was dropped from the Labour government after the 2001 general election. He stood down from the House of Commons at the 2005 general election. By the time he stood down, he had spent only 18 months of his 22-year career as an MP on the opposition benches (October 1995 to May 1997).

Lords A’Leaping

On 15 June 2005 he was created a life peer as Baron Howarth of Newport, of Newport in the County of Gwent. In a House of Lords debate on the Outcome of the European Union Referendum on 5 July 2016 Lord Howarth announced his support for Britain’s departure from the European Union.

At the time of his defection Howarth was married to Gillian Chance. They divorced in 1996. There was a controversy over an obituary in the Times of Howarth’s partner, who died at the age of 77 in 2018. There were actually two Times obituaries. The first one said Lady Hollis was a “sexy Leftie” who used her “feminine skills to orchestrate Lord Howarth’s political seduction”. He was described as a “Tory traitor”.

The obituary said that Howarth and Hollis had both denied an affair, or that their friendship had anything to do with Howarth’s marital problems. Hollis had insisted they shared an interest in social issues such as the disabled and that she was happily married to the philosopher Martin Hollis. She said she often socialised with male colleagues of different political persuasions, citing excursions to Ronnie Scott’s club with Ken Clarke and other jazz-loving politicians.

Patricia Hollis was a Labour councillor in Norwich before being ennobled as Baroness Hollis in 1990. She was married to the philosopher Martin Hollis, who died in 1998. The Times obituary described her as a “real cracker with endless legs” and depicted her as a political coquette.

The second Times obituary, published after protests about the first one, was written by her friend and former colleague, Baroness Smith of Basildon, Labour leader in the Lords. Lady Smith dealt with the relationship with Lord Howarth in a single sentence: “After Martin’s death in 1998, Patricia found many years of happiness with her partner, Alan Howarth.”

There was more to Patricia Hollis than the men in her life.

Julia Langdon in a Guardian obituary wrote of “A ruthless combination of logic and eloquence, coupled with irresistible personal charm.”

She did not have a privileged background – her father was a farm labourer. She graduated from Girton College, Cambridge with a first and won a Harkness scholarship to study in the US at the University of California and Columbia University, New York (1962-64). She secured a scholarship at Nuffield College, Oxford, and with her D Phil took a post in 1967 as a history lecturer at the University of East Anglia. She became reader and senior fellow in modern history and dean of the School of English and American Studies (1988-90). She won the prestigious Orwell Prize for her biography of Jennie Lee.

Andrew Adonis wrote: “So so sad that Patricia Hollis has died. One of the most formidable campaigners for social justice In history of the Labour party – utterly brilliant in the Lords, taking on all comers with devastating command. Great historian & leader of Norwich council.”

Hollis was criticised in 2009 when it was claimed that she and her partner, Lord Howarth of Newport, lived next door to each other but both continued to claim expenses from the House of Lords.

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

I have been reading Val Wilmer’s autobiography, Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This, which was first published in 1989. Through her work as a music journalist and photographer she got to meet just about anybody who was anybody in the worlds of jazz and blues. Many famous musicians, including Charles Mingus, were guests at her Streatham home and savoured her mother’s cooking.

Harry Carney, Duke Ellington’s great baritone sax player, sent her Christmas cards every year. “Randy Weston stayed at our house and talked Africa and Nationalism, she cooked him bacon and eggs; the Liberian Ambassador invited her to his parties and she drank champagne.”

Jesse Fuller cooked breakfast in Streatham.

“From the very beginning Jazz on a Summer’s Day was my film – for the singers as well as the horn players. Chuck Berry singing about his ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ who ‘got the grownup blues: that was me, making my way into a world that seemed almost totally male and white. Dinah Washington playing the vibes like a demon when you thought all she could do was sing. All? And Mahalia Jackson, ‘the world’s greatest gospel singer’, to close the show. The wonderful, words are not enough Mahalia, with the no-nonsense stomping piano of Mildred Falls behind her. Memorable moments that have carried me through.”

“It was thus I absorbed so many male-centered values. From racing form, boxing and football to the intimate details of collarstuds, shaving and razor-stropping, it was a world of total fascination. With such unrelenting maleness as a model, I’d write off for brochures on courses in Mechanical Engineering – even, at one point, to bodybuilder Charles Atlas for details of his secrets of ‘dynamic tension’.”

Trombonist Henry Coker played with Benny Carter (1944–46), Illinois Jacquet (1945), Eddie Heywood (1946–47), and Charles Mingus (late 1940s). Coker fell ill from 1949 to 1951 and played little. After his recovery he worked with Sonny Rollins and then joined Count Basie’s band, playing and recording with him from 1952 to 1963. Coker became a good friend of Val Wilmer.

“In later years, he joined the Ray Charles Orchestra, a tight-fisted organisation whose organisation contrasted widely with the laissez-faire Basie set-up. Henry invited me to a rehearsal in their London hotel and I, unwittingly, produced my camera. Immediately, two heavies appeared on either side of me, and when I began to protest, physically threw me out. Henry was disgusted. He put down his horn and came outside to join me. One of the road crew came out to warn him. ‘You’ll be fined if you don’t go back in.’ ‘Too bad,’ said Henry. ‘This lady is a writer and I’m buying her a drink.’ Together we sat at the bar and after a while I began to feel better. The last time he was in London I was tied up the night of the concert, but I rushed to the hotel early so that we could have breakfast together before the band left. I’m glad that I did see him then, for it was not long afterwards that Henry’s big heart gave out.”

Wilmer describes how influential to rock and jazz Alexis Korner and Chris Barber were. Although Barber is generally considered a trad jazz musician he also pioneered folk and blues. His banjo player was Lonnie Donegan who had number one hot in the US long before the Beatles with Rock Island Line. Skiffle grew out of the Barber band and provided the foundation for many rock careers. Modern jazz genius Joe Harriot often sat in with Chris Barber. Wilmer writes: “An aloof Nigerian who often joined the Barber band on trumpet was Fela Ransome-Kuti, then a music student at Trinity College. Later, he dropped the colonial component of his name and became the notorious Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, King of Afrobeat and scourge of neo-colonialism. In those days though, the advocate of polygamy and “Black-ism” wore a houndstooth tweed jacket and grey flannels and a very proper, if angry, expression as he bent his playing to Barber’s ‘Traditional style.” Wilmer encountered Kuti again in Nigeria when he was sharing the bill with BB King at a reception at the US Ambassador’s residence. “Fela, ever the rebel, shocked the diplomatic corps by using bad language and attacking American imperialism.”

Val with Jimmy Rushing

Wilmer describes her first visit to the Flamingo Club on Wardour Street to see Tubby Hayes and take some photographs.

“I mustered professionalism and introduced myself to the manager, a hardheaded Soho businessman with a reputation quite different from that of the music lovers who ran the Marquee. When I’d taken the pictures, he asked me if I would let him have one for the club wall – not a regular-sized print but a large blow-up. I said I’d be happy to do this and, being terribly new to the business, told him I’d send him a bill. ‘A bill? Send me a   bill?’, he shouted. ‘Whaddya mean a bloody bill?’ I was on my way upstairs when the altercation began and he raised his hand as though to hit me. I began to apologise and he gave me a shove to help me on my way. I tripped up the stairs and fell forward onto my camera with his words ringing in my ears. ‘Get the fuck out of my club, don’t let me see you here again.’”

I did some Googling which leads me to believe that the man in question was Rik Gunnell. He died at the age of 75 in 2007. Wilmer wrote his obituary in the Guardian but did not mention the incident.

She recalls a special moment in her relationship with ‘Stevie’. “The first night in Newcastle we got back to her digs as the sun was rising. It was to a dawn chorus in Jesmond that our relationship developed into something else.”

“My early good fortune in being befriended by Paul Oliver, the pioneer of blues scholarship in Britain, was crucial to an understanding of the atmosphere that strangers in search of the blues could expect to encounter in the South, still medieval in some of its ways.” I met Paul Oliver on a couple of occasions when he came to give talks on the blues when I was working at Gloucester City Libraries.

I got the impression that Wilmer did not take to Beatrix Campbell. Neither did I when I sat next to her at a conference on child protection. Campbell had toxic views on satanic child abuse. Wilmer writes: “I knew Bea was a feminist who had come out as a lesbian in the Morning Star and caused a sensation by being the first person to talk of gay rights on a Communist Party platform. It was some time after her initial phone call that we got together, and when she turned up with another Star contributor, she asked me veiled questions about what we would then have termed ‘sexual preferences’ as well as questions concerning my work. I squirmed in my seat, unsure how to answer her. The idea of being that outspoken about my sexuality had frightening ramifications for me even then, and any way, I didn’t see what it had to do with my work. As ever, aggression took over, and I snapped back defiantly, telling her to mind her own business, or something like that. She was charm itself but I felt quite unsettled.”  

Wilmer joined with other professional journalists who were feminists to develop a strategy to counteract the trivialisation of important issues by the mainstream media. “Eileen Fairweather, one of our number, was living in an ancient tenement in what was then the red-light district of King’s Cross, and it was there that we met, deriving wry amusement at the idea of our two more sophisticated sisters (Jill Nicholls and Angela Phillips) fighting their way past the kerb-crawlers who frequented the area.” Eileen had said, “You could almost hear the sound of their high heels tottering through the piles of dogshit and condoms.”

Helen Joyce quotes Eileen Fairweather in an article on the current transgender mania.

“In 1979, Eileen Fairweather was working at Spare Rib, a radical-feminist magazine. She was young and new to journalism but assigned to read Paedophilia: The Radical Case, in which Tom O’Carroll, later imprisoned for child-abuse, argued for lowering the age of consent to four. She recalls “anguished, earnest” discussions with feminist friends about what they should write about it. “I did draft something, arguing that the existing age of consent was not ‘patriarchal’, but protected children,” she says. “But I never even dared show it to anyone.” No-one back then realized the extent and brutality of child-abuse. And the pedophile movement had so thoroughly hijacked the gay movement that, if you said you were against “child sexual liberation”—as, outrageously, they put it—you were branded “anti-gay.” She says she sees “the same intimidation and paralysis of intelligence” with the transgender debate, with people terrified to express legitimate concerns about infiltration and safeguarding.

Ms. Fairweather went on to win press awards in the 1990s for uncovering pedophile rings in British children’s homes and schools. She became an expert on how pedophiles exploit “institutional weaknesses and political correctness.” The problems with the new rules go beyond granting males access to places where girls sleep, wash and change, she says. They run counter to everything learned about child safeguarding from repeated scandals, including the importance of communication with parents and encouraging children to speak up when they are afraid.”

Wilmer is a little bit older than me but I can remember the atmosphere of the years she describes, the excitement of discovering new music. She is evocative on the social, sexual and political fronts as well. She describes the distaste she encountered for associating with black men and the difficulties of later discovering that she was a lesbian. There is much valuable material about what it was like to be a creative woman in the 50s and 60s. “It is how we are treated as women, rather than as individuals, what happens to us because we are women, that dictates the direction of our lives.To us the personal is political, whether we like it or not.”

Here are just a few of Val Wilmer’s photographs.

Donald and Albert Ayler

Sun Ra
Willie “the Lion Smith

I Once Met Anthony Hopkins

A Tale of Two Hopkinses

Actually, I had more than one encounter with the actor Hopkins and encounters with more than one Hopkins. In 1993, I went to a book signing at Hatchards and got a friendly smile from the great thespian. I got closer to him on another occasion.

In June 1989, I went to see the Merchant of Venice at the Phoenix on Shaftesbury Avenue. Sir Peter Hall had persuaded Dustin Hoffman to play Shylock; Geraldine James was Portia; Basil Henson was the Duke of Venice; Abigail McKern was Nerissa; Private Pike (Ian Lavender) appeared as Solanio.

I arrived early for the Saturday matinee and loitered in the lobby. As usual there were huge queues outside the ladies’ toilets and I mentally sympathised as I made my leisurely way towards the sparsely populated gents’. I had not quite finished my micturition, when I was aware that a small tornado had entered the portals. The militarily uniformed attendant called out: “Good afternoon, Miss Scales”. Prunella Scales, for it was she, was not one to waste time queuing. I hurriedly zipped up and made my exit as she locked herself into one of the stalls.

I had a good seat in the other stalls – third row, centre, from the stage – the kind of proximity to the action which had enabled me,  at the same theatre,  to be doused in the sweat and spittle of Kenneth Branagh (as Hamlet) and of Anthony Hopkins (as Lambert Le Roux at the National Theatre) on previous occasions. The man sitting to my left looked vaguely familiar. Seconds before the performance was due to start, the lady to the left of my neighbour screeched, “Tony, Tony!” and thumped the man in front to her on the back. He turned around with an alarmed expression. It was Anthony Hopkins. The screeching lady was Prunella Scales. The man sitting between us was her son, Sam West.

Fast forward to 1993. One evening, I returned to my Lewisham apartment to find a message on my answerphone. A voice said something along these lines: “Thank you for offering me accommodation and sustenance before the concert. I’m running a little late. Also, I seem to have lost your address. Can you get back to me as soon as possible with address and directions? This is Anthony Hopkins”. I left a message for him, saying he was calling the wrong number.

We had a pleasant chat when he called back and I hastened to reassure him that I knew who he was. He said that he had become accustomed to the look of disappointment on the faces of hotel receptionists when he turned up instead of the more famous Hopkins. Some people were actually insensitive enough to say to him, “Oh! So, you’re not THE Anthony Hopkins”. To which he would stoically respond, “Yes I am. The other one is the imposter”.   

This Hopkins had entered the Royal College of Music in 1939. He won several scholarships and prizes.  He worked with Benjamin Britten. Michael Tippett gave him lessons in composition. In 1944 Tippett passed to him the job of composing incidental music for a production of Doctor Faustus at the Liverpool Playhouse.  Louis MacNeice asked him to write incidental music for a radio play. For the next 15 years, Hopkins earned his living mostly from composing. He had several operas produced and wrote the music for many films including Billy Budd (which I saw in 1962). I was a regular listener to Talking About Music which ran from 1950 to 1992 and was syndicated in 44 countries.

One used to be able to distinguish between the two Hopkinses by referring to one as “the composer”. In a cruel irony, the actor has also made a name for himself as a composer. They both had CBEs but the thespian got a knighthood too. Hollywood Hopkins is still mercifully with us. The ‘other’ Hopkins died in 2014 at the age of 93. He did not smoke or drink and was no workaholic but had a lifelong passion for fast cars and was probably at his happiest when driving one of his open-top Alfa Romeos at a race at Snetterton motor racing circuit in Norfolk.

According to an obituary: “his engaging delivery and gentle humour, accessible to the general listener without talking down, made his voice one of the most familiar on the air.” He called himself a musical odd-job man but hoped he had been useful. 

Lita Roza

I once slept in the same bed as Lita Roza, but not necessarily at the same time.

In the late 80s and early 90s I was enmired in a civil service job which entailed travelling all over England annoying people and staying in seedy boarding houses. I and my colleagues maintained a database of accommodations which could provide a reasonable level of utilities and still allow us to save some money from our rather frugal expenses allowance. My boss, who was a frightful bully even though, in his better moods, he seemed to like me, later reminisced: “Preston, that paid for your new kitchen; Beverley – that was the loft extension, wasn’t it?”

When I had to go to Carlisle the database provided me with an address. It was a very cosy billet and the landlady was a very sweet elderly human. As soon as I walked through the front door with my impedimenta, I noticed a framed photograph on the telephone table. I said, “is that Lita Roza?” She said, “It is. She often used to stay here. She was a lovely person”. My landlady got a bit tearful.


Lita was a successful artiste in the pre-Beatles days of the 1950s. She was the first Liverpool artiste to get to number one. I saw her live a few times. She was exotic. Wikipedia puts it like this: “She owed her sultry looks and passion to her father, an amateur accordionist and pianist of Filipino descent who played in Liverpool nightclubs.”. Lilian Patricia Lita Roza was born in Liverpool on 14 March 1926, the eldest of seven children. She began work at an early age to support the family. When she was 12, she passed an audition for juvenile dancers and appeared in a pantomime. By the time she was 15 was working with the comedian, and fellow scouser, Ted Ray. When she was 16, she got a job as a singer in the New Yorker club in Southport (I spent a lot of time in Southport in my civil service days) for £5 a week. Soon afterwards she signed up with the Harry Roy Orchestra in London, moving on to work with other bands of the era, such as Edmundo Ros. At 18, she left show biz and moved to Miami with her American husband. After the marriage failed, she went back to England and became the lead singer with the Ted Heath Band. By 1954, she was popular enough to leave the band and pursue a solo recording career.



With Ted  Heath

She appeared in a film that sounds interesting. Cast a Dark Shadow is a 1955 British film noir directed by Lewis Gilbert (of Alfie fame). The black-and-white film was based on the play Murder Mistaken by Janet Green. The story concerns a young wife-murderer, played by Dirk Bogarde.

It is very sad that Lita Roza’s legacy is that the biggest success she had was “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?”, which was a cover version of Patti Page’s (who could also do better) original. Lita Roza disliked her chart-topping single so much she never performed it live.

With Eartha Kitt and DJ David Jacobs

She did some good stuff with the Ted Heath band and there is a clip on YouTube of her performing with the Ronnie Scott big band along with Cleo Laine and Marion Montgomery. Pity she did not get the chance to do more jazz.



She died at her home in London on 14 August 2008 at the age of 82.



Social Distancing and Social Media

It is essential in these diseased times to keep a healthy distance between oneself and one’s fellow man and woman (the UK’s chief epidemiologist had to resign because his married lover visited him in violation of the lockdown guidelines he had himself devised).  I find it quite easy to stay away from other people and consider travel overrated. I am lucky enough not to be plagued by the toad, work, so I do not have to interact with colleagues or endure the commute to the office.

The thought did occur to me, however, that some social distancing on social media would be worth considering. One’s mental health is constantly under threat from Facebook. One is constantly distracted from important tasks (such as scratching one’s head) to check every few minutes what is going on over in FB land. Are there any new fights that one can join in? What has X had for lunch today? Have Trump or his Mini-Me Johnson said anything sensible today.

The best way to free oneself of the addiction completely is  by the cold turkey method – close the FB account or, as Miles Davis so eloquently put it, “Try taking the m*********g horn out of your mouth”. Closing the account would be too drastic for me as FB is a good way of keeping in touch with family and friends I have known for 60 years.

My method is to control the flow of incoming by controlling my friends list. The culling fields.  I am doing a lot of unfriending. Very often people do not realise they have been unfriended. Sometimes people do notice and get hurt. I don’t get hurt when it happens to me. It happened last week (you know who you are) and I survived and became stronger. That lady’s cutting off of me gave me the courage to do some cutting off for myself. I think of it as time-management rather than punishment

When I receive a friend request, I do not accept it unless I have a good idea of what I am taking on. I can’t understand why anyone would accept a friend request from an entity that shows no photo or reveals any information. It is no good looking at “mutuals” because if one checks a little further one finds that one’s own friends are quite promiscuous in accepting friend requests. I have discovered that many of the identities on the friends lists of friends are spurious bots or are prostitutes in Manila.

When I first joined FB, I was very careful about accepting friend requests from people who lived near me, well, basically anyone living in Sri Lanka. I was afraid they might try to get in touch with me in real life. Friends of friends can be a big problem. Some people have up to 5,000 FB friends. This means that you might be comfortable with the individual whose friend request you have accepted but who knows what might be lurking in the undergrowth? A couple of expatriate Sri Lankans who became good FB friends invited me to a real-life social function. I was unable to attend and was so relieved that I didn’t when I discovered that someone who was constantly abusing me on FB and was notorious for his drunken rowdiness had attended the party and would, no doubt, have been embarrassingly unpleasant to my wife and myself. A real-life friend who rarely uses FB but for some reason has 5,000 FB friends has as one of those friends my real life next-door neighbour whom, in real life, I do my best to avoid. More recently, I was horrified to see the face of my ex-wife (whom I have avoided since 1992) looming from my PC screen and me with not a drop of drink in the house. Her partner had recently joined FB and friended one of my friends. It’s a jungle out there.

I set a number of guidelines for unfriending people. Like my guru Dominic Cummings, I will feel free to ignore these guidelines when it suits me. I am likely to prune the following:

  • People who ask for money. I am generous with my funds to those in need but there are enough close at hand to bankrupt me several times over.
  • People who are ill. I am not lacking in compassion but there are plenty of health issues within the family to occupy me. There is no point in me being depressed by the misfortunes of others and I can do little to help anyone on FB.
  • People with thousands of FB friends. If they are that popular, they don’t need to be bothering me. Large numbers increase the risk of infection and do not bestow herd immunity.
  • People who post inordinate numbers of pictures of themselves. This may be OK for their real-life family and friends (let them judge) but include me out. Consenting adults.
  • People who never interact.
  • People who interact too much. People without filters.
  • People who deposit gnomic posts and abstruse comments which I don’t understand. I haven’t got the time to solve riddles.
  • People who get angry and abusive to me and my friends. I used to like a good fight from time to time to get the juices going but now I am too old and tired.
  • People who post pictures of their dinner.
  • People who are obsessive about their hobbies. That’s OK if you keep it to yourself but leave me out of it.
  • I am not interested in children. Being friends of friends one often finds oneself feeling like a gatecrasher or a spectre at the feast when one sees photos of strangers enjoying themselves at social occasions.
  • I am not interested in sport after 1957.
  • People who correct errors of grammar and punctuation publicly. I have been accused myself of this but I only do it to Brexiteers and supporters of Trump and Johnson. No court would convict me.
  • People who say “I detest Johnson, Trump, Brexit, Dominic Cummings, Jimmy Savile, child abuse, Adolf Hitler, Attila the Hun and sin in general as much as you because I am one of the good guys like you I really am just as nice as you are but don’t you think this witch hunt all gone too far and a hypocritical shit storm has been stirred up by the leftie press and isn’t it time to move on?”

I will think of more later but this should be enough to be going on with. I explained recently that I did not regard participating in FB as a job with duties and obligations. I did it mainly for pleasure and sometimes culling one’s friends list was necessary for the sake of one’s own comfort, convenience and peace of mind. I was accused of treating people like wallpaper.

Servant’s Tooth

Padraig Colman

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!


King Lear. Act i. Sc. 4.

As a post-colonialist settler in post-Imperial Sri Lanka, I found a resonance in these words from Joseph Conrad’s first short story, Karain. He is describing the first impression of settlers of a new land.

“It was still, complete, unknown, and full of a life that went on stealthily with a troubling effect of solitude; of a life that seemed unaccountably empty of anything that would stir thought, touch the heart, give a hint of the ominous sequence of days. It appeared to us a land without memories, regrets, and hopes; a land where nothing could survive the coming of the night, and where each sunrise, like a dazzling act of special creation, was disconnected from the eve and the morrow.”

This nicely describes the difficulties involved in training our…

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Me and Sir Maurice

When I was in the UK in January 2019, I was surprised to receive an invitation to the funeral in Gloucester of Mr JA Stocks who was the headmaster of Sir Thomas Rich’s School from 1961 to 1974. I was surprised that he was still alive; surprised that he was still living in Gloucester; surprised that people were calling him ‘Tony’ (we called him ‘Jasper’); surprised that I was invited to the funeral (that was because I am signed up for the Sir Thomas Rich’s newsletter and Facebook page). Jasper died in his sleep at the age of 95 on January 15 2019.

I left the school in 1966 and never returned for any events, did not join the Old Boys’ Association. I wrote to him in 1969 asking for a job reference. Now that I am an old boy myself, I do take an interest in the school and its history and present but am only in touch with two old school friends. The last time I saw Jasper, he was walking down Westgate Street towards the Cathedral in a determined fashion. I regret that I did not stop to talk to him. He was 95 when on 15 January 2019 he died peacefully in his sleep at his residence Park View Apartments in Gloucester, not far from the apartment in which I once visited my old from master Mr Fox (Pobble).

Pobble middle front. Me top right.

Many of the teachers at the school seemed quite psychotic. Their madness expressed itself in demonic rages but I do not recall any physical contact sadism. There was a great deal of shouting and throwing of blackboard dusters. I never suffered any corporal punishment although I was hauled up in front of a previous head, “Frankie” Worrall, for being present at a near riot at the Odeon cinema next door where Olivier’s Hamlet was screened for all the grammar schools in Gloucester. The problem was that many adolescent boys went completely batshit in the presence of girls from Denmark Road and Ribston Hall. In later years, the deputy head summoned me to chastise me for wearing my tie in a slim-Jim style.

This is me in 1963. I am in the back row, in the middle of a window frame to the right of a down pipe.

Jasper was very intense and energetic. He had a few rages but was generally affable and humorous. He was skinny and sharp-nosed with a prominent Adam’s apple. As well as being headmaster, he was an excellent and inspiring teacher of history.

In later years he taught Latin. During my time, he brought in one of his own teachers from retirement -Mr RT Moore (nicknamed Archie, after the boxer) – to help out with the Latin. Archie was a lovable blustering disheveled eccentric who seemed to us sap-filled adolescents to be about 150. He did not teach us much Latin – my own translations continued to be imaginative improvisations based on the handful of words I could recognise – but he did keep us entertained.

To this day, I thank Jasper for telling me that it should be ‘linch pin’ not ‘lynch pin’ and that stratum was the correct singular form. His advice to avoid the word “inevitable” has stuck with me. He tended to sit on a desk amongst us with his feet up to deliver his lesson and it was easy to notice that he was wearing odd socks. He was very encouraging to me personally and told me that I should be considering taking the Oxford entrance exam. He was a graduate of Wadham College and probably would have liked me to go there. No-one in my family had ever been to university. I lived in a council house just over the road from the school and my father was a labourer at the gas works. Oxford was too daunting for me. I eventually went to Manchester University.

Jasper had the job of managing the removal of Sir Thomas Rich’s School from the rickety premises on Barton Street I had attended from 1958. On 14 May 1964 the School moved to new purpose-built premises at Oxleaze. This was handy for me as I lived very close – I could hear the school bell from my bed in the morning.

Most years, I won some sort of school prize. When, in 1963/64, I was awarded the Bert Allen Prize for History, I thought I might épater the establishment by choosing that shocking dirty book: Ulysses by James Joyce. No one batted an eyelid and my presentation copy was duly embossed on the green cover with the school arms and the motto “Garde ta Foy” and my name put on the inside.

I was very naïve to think that the man presenting the prize might be shocked. The man presenting the prizes was Sir Maurice Bowra. Master of Wadham College. Although he was primarily a classical scholar, CM Bowra had promoted modernists like Joyce and Eliot. He had been himself shocking rather than shockable. He was a cruising cottaging homosexual when such activities were criminal. It is inconceivable that Jasper, as a graduate of Wadham, would have been unaware of the notorious reputation of the Master of Wadham, but he invited this disreputable, although distinguished, man to his school. What would the parents think of Bowra’s activities? As Anthony Powell put it: “Here was a don . . . who so far from directly or indirectly attempting to expound tedious moral values of an old-fashioned kind, openly praised the worship of pleasure.”

WH Auden wrote in the New York Review of Books in 1967: “When I was twenty, I was more scared of ‘Maurice Bowra’ than I have been of any other human being before or since. He appeared as an accusing figure in a nightmare and when, while I was traveling with my father in Yugoslavia, we unexpectedly ran into him, I was so petrified that I could not remember his name.”

Here is a picture of Sir Maurice, in 1965, soon after he shook my hand. A young lady is showing him her equipment but he does not look very interested.


Leslie Mitchell wrote a sympathetic biography of Bowra. One reviewer found it difficult to grasp what Bowra’s achievement was. Many have said his greatness was in his company and his conversation rather than his written works. The doubtful reviewer finds many of Bowra’s witticisms “dead on the page”. “Buggers can’t be choosers” (explaining his engagement, later called off, to a “plain” girl, poet and Somerville alumna Audrey Beecham, niece of the conductor); “I am a man more dined against than dining”; when asked by an undergraduate for help with translating a passage by Apollinaire, who Bowra had met whilst in France during the First World War: “Can’t help you. Pity. Slept with him once — should have asked him then.”; “Where there’s death, there’s hope.”; he described the portly Juliana of the Netherlands as “every ounce a queen”; “If there is anybody that I want to kick in the crutch, I had better kick them in the crutch now, for I do not expect to pass this way again”.

Bowra died in 1971. He was only 66 when I shook his hand. His time had probably passed. In the 60s, Bowra and his friend John Sparrow, walked past a group of undergraduates who took no notice of them. “How sad,” Sparrow observes. “Twenty years ago, we should probably have known all of them.” “No,” said Bowra. “What is sad is that 20 years ago they would have recognised us.” Wadham students called Bowra “Old Tragedy”. I could have been one of them.

My Vicarious Musical 1965

I have just read a book called 1965: The most revolutionary year in music. The author is Andrew Grant Jackson who has a very impressive CV. The book is a very good read and there are countless fascinating anecdotes. I am somewhat wary about passing on these stories because the author does not know the correct use of ‘crescendo’ and uses ‘comprised of’ countless times. I am willing to be corrected on this but I don’t think John Sebastian was a member of The Mugwumps. Jackson has a tin ear about Britain. He thinks The Animals came from Manchester; thinks Harold Wilson came from Liverpool; describes William Blake as a ‘Romantic poet’; describes Merseybeat as emerging from “cities along England’s River Mersey such as Liverpool”. I wonder why he spends so much time on Charles Schultz and Peanuts.

However, the book made me think back to my own vicariously musical 1965. That was the year I saw Bob Dylan live at Birmingham Town Hall – singing solo to his own impressive guitar accompaniment, but presenting songs that went electric on Bringing It All Back Home.

1965 was the year I met three cult figures in music and did not appreciate it at the time.

I am the handsome one at top right.

I was down in the dumps for a great deal of 1965 after being dumped. However, the end of my relationship with one of the sirens of Denmark Road High School for Girls opened up new opportunities for friendships with the lovely ladies of Ribston Hall School. I was very surprised to attract the attention of the ex-girlfriend of the coolest dude in town. Susan Nicholls, known as Pickles, had a bunch of eccentric, entertaining and attractive friends, including the West twins (no relation to those other Gloucester  celebrities, Fred and Rose). Diane, Anthea, Elspeth and Pickles set up a folk club at the  Rikenel, (now a health centre housing a GP practice) near Gloucester park and enlisted my help. I cannot recall what I actually did except stack chairs and enjoy the music. I do not know how we did this but we managed to book some big-name acts.

One was John Pearse, a British guitarist and folk singer who in 1965 began presenting the popular BBC2 television guitar tuition series, Hold Down a Chord. Pearse adopted the Piedmont finger-picking style of Big Bill Broonzy. Pearse also taught the guitar styles of Mississippi John Hurt and the Reverend Gary Davis. He published many tutorial books including Teach Yourself to Play the Appalachian Dulcimer. Among the many young people inspired by Pearse was Martin Carthy who went on to become a major figure in the UK Folk scene.

Pearse also travelled through Africa filming a series of wildlife programmes in the Sudan, Mali, Togo, Burkino Faso and Botswana. In 1978 Pearse moved to the USA, where he designed products for the Martin Guitar Company. In 1983, a medical error left him paralysed from the neck down and threatened to finish his career. He was able to walk again after years of intensive physical therapy and he relearnt how to play the guitar. In 1986 he presented the series Cooking with Wine for American television and the book became a best-seller. He settled with his family in Germany in 2002 and died there in 2008.

The other influential artist we booked was Wizz Jones. The name did not mean much to me in 1965 but I knew more about him by the time I saw him perform at Blackheath Concert Halls in 1993 as part of Bert Jansch’s 50th birthday concert. Raymond Ronald Jones was born 25 April 1939, in Thornton Heath, Croydon, Surrey (where I am writing this). His mother had started calling him Wizzy after the Beano comic strip character “Wizzy the Wuz” because at the age of nine Raymond had ambitions to become magician. He became a magician on the guitar. Bert Jansch said “I think he’s the most underrated guitarist ever.” He played with Jansch, John Renbourn, Davy Graham and Ralph McTell but did not just appeal to the folkies. He learnt some blues licks from Long John Baldry, Cyril Davis and Alexis Korner. He busked in Paris and Marrakech and met Rod Stewart even before he was Rod the Mod. He also met Alex Campbell and Clive Palmer (who later joined the Incredible String Band).

Colin Harper described Wizz as “that Zelig of British acoustic music”. “Wizz Jones was a watched man”, wrote Keith Richards in his memoir Life. Richards remembers Wizz as a “Great folk picker, great guitar picker…”.  Wizz himself says “Clapton is always bandying my name about. It doesn’t do me any harm but it doesn’t do my bank balance any good”. He has also been praised by Jimmy Page and Neil Young. He recorded with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and was once slated to appear live with the band. Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden ruined that plan, Bruce Springsteen opened a show in at Berlin’s Olympiastadion in 2012 with Wizz’s 1973 song ‘When I Leave Berlin’, Unfortunately Springsteen did not give public credit to the composer.

Also, in 1965, I was a member of the Gloucester Schools Students Ball Committee

Our mission was to make arrangements for a dance to be held at the Gloucester Guild Hall (former site of my school, Sir Thomas Rich’s). I cannot remember how I was co-opted. I cannot remember the names of the representatives from Denmark Road or Crypt. I do remember that the Crypt representative quickly took charge and made all the decisions. He probably became a successful politician. I cannot remember what we talked about.

I do remember that the Ribston Hall representative was Janet Sage. She had a Mary Quant hair-style. Skinny-rib sweater, short skirt, elegant legs, high, slightly freckled cheekbones. Mostly, she had an aristocratic air of hauteur. I know very little about her. I had a very wide circle of friends from all the Gloucester schools but Janet Sage was never a part of this scene.

I can’t remember what her voice sounded like. I can’t remember what she said. I can’t remember what I said. I probably sat silent with my mouth open, dribbling.

Somehow, we decided on a band – Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers.  Peter Jay was a drummer who was the son of Jack Jay who owned and managed the Windmill Theatre together with several cinemas and nightclubs in Great Yarmouth, The band had a Gloucester connection – their one hit record, Can Can 62, (no. 31 after entering the UK chart in November 1962) was produced by Gloucestershire boy Joe Meek, Newent’s answer to Phil Spector. Meek later murdered his landlady and had a film made about him. Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers also appeared on national TV shows including Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars. They toured with the Beatles and the Stones, Ike and Tina Turner and the Yardbirds before disbanding in 1966. I thought of myself as quite hip in those days and was not much impressed that we had booked this band. I acknowledged that we had to be realistic.

I arrived at the Guildhall early on the night of the ball. The band had a fairly new recruit as lead singer and guitarist. We exchanged some words and  he seemed a bit of a mouthy sort. He was complaining about something but I do not recall what it was. He reminded me of the Small Faces’ Steve Marriott – small-made, high cheekbones, Mod Cockney attitude.

They put on a storming show and the lead singer was particularly impressive. His name was Terry Reid. He was 16. I was a schoolboy but he was younger than me. He had joined his first band when he was 12. He was barely 15, when he was offered the job with Peter Jay & The Jaywalkers. – a seven-piece, with two bass players and a horn section.

Graham Nash of The Hollies became friends with Reid at the Rolling Stones’ 1966 Albert Hall concert. A song that Reid wrote when he was 14 was  recorded by The Hollies in 1968 as “A Man With No Expression”, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded it in 1969 as “Horses Through a Rainstorm”,  REO Speedwagon in 1973 recorded it as “Without Expression (Don’t Be the Man)”, and John Mellencamp did it on his greatest hits album The Best That I Could Do: 1978–1988, with Nash singing lead on the first two. “Horses Through a Rainstorm” was slated to appear on Déjà Vu before being replaced at the last minute by Stephen Stills’s “Carry On”.

Mickie Most, who was in partnership with Peter Grant, managed   Reid and got his single, “Better by Far”, a lot of airplay. The album, Bang. Bang, You’re Terry Reid, did not sell well and is somewhat lacking in cohesion but is still well-regarded today. Reid toured the States with Cream in 1968. Five Reid albums are available for a tenner from Original Classic Albums.

Peter Grant managed the Yardbirds and their guitarist Jimmy Page wanted Reid be the lead singer for his proposed new venture, the New Yardbirds, which was to become Led Zeppelin, which was managed by Peter Grant. Reid did not accept the offer because he was committed to touring with the Stones, Cream, Jefferson Airplane and the Doors. The job went to Robert Plant, whom Reid had recommended. Reid did not turn down Led Zeppelin, because that entity did not exist. He passed on nine shows with The New Yardbirds. If Reid had been in Led Zeppelin, it might have been hard to accommodate his virtuoso guitar playing with Jimmy Page’s leadership. In 1969, Reid toured with Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac.

Seeds of Memory is a classic album.

Reid fell out with Mickey Most, who wanted him to stick to the Most formula. Litigation prevented Reid putting out records but he continued with live work, appearing at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, the wedding of Mick Jagger and Bianca, Glastonbury Fayre in 1971 (also featured were Traffic, David Bowie and Fairport Convention) and at several subsequent Glastonbury Festivals. He was signed to Atlantic Records in 1971 but never really achieved the sales his talent deserved. There were a number of unfortunate events relating to the record business that were out of Reid’s control which served to prevent big success. He retired from solo work in 1981 to concentrate on session work with the likes of David Lindley, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley. He gave shelter to Gilberto Gil. Aretha Franklin was quoted as saying, “There are only three things happening in London. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Terry Reid”.

In the 21st Century, Reid returned to live performance at Ronnie Scott’s, the Jazz Café, The Borderline, The 100 Club, Dingwalls, The Half Moon.

There was an article in Mojo June 2016  about Reid, which unfortunately I cannot access. I recall that Terry Reid told the story of a scruffy bum turning up unannounced at his front door wanting a chat. Reid did not recognise him at first and nearly shot him. It turned out to be Bob Dylan, in whose house Reid had once lived. Reid’s glory was that he had such friends.

Was There a Call for Me?


Was There a Call for Me?

Was there a call for me?
I had to talk to someone.
Waiting for days is

Driving me crazy

Was there a call for me?

When lovers disagree,
All of your dreams come undone
I am not denying, it’s got me crying.

Was there a call for me?

My lips are growing cold.
My two arms long to hold,
And thanks to you my story is told.


By the way, once again I’m saying,

“Was there a call for me”?
Unfriendly clouds give warning.
Here comes the dawning,

Cold rainy morning

Was there a call for me?

Here comes the dawning,

Cold rainy morning

Filled with the mist of tears I resist
Tell me, was there a call for me?


That for me is as bleak a view of human relationships as Raymond Carver’s short stories or Dylan’s song from Oh Mercy- What was It You Wanted? McCartney’s For no One also springs to mind.


This song was on the B-side of Bobby Darin’s hit single of 1959, Mack the Knife


Darin was only 23 when he recorded Mack the Knife and Was There a Call for Me? His performance is stylish, assured and mature. In August 1960, Darin recorded Two of a Kind with Johnny Mercer. Darin was only 37 when he died. He was 24 when he recorded with Mercer who was 27 years older than him at the time.

I have long been intrigued by Was There a Call for Me? I wonder about the provenance of the record. Who wrote the song? I have a photographic memory of the label bearing the name ‘Holmes’ as the writer. That could be a false memory. The song has a fairly sophisticated jazz-style accompaniment. I wonder who the arranger was. There is a smoky, undulating sax solo in the middle break. Who was the soloist?


Bill May did the arrangements for Two of a Kind. Was May involved with Was There a Call for Me? Wilber Schwartz, Skeets Herfurt, Eddie Miller, Chuck Gentry played saxes on Two of a Kind. Were they involved with Was There a Call for Me?


Can any members of my Panel of Experts on Facebook provide any answers?


Is that telephone at the end of the record a happy ending? Is the lost lover communicating with him at last? Is it a creditor dunning our hero for money? Is it his fevered imagination?