Friday, 18 October 2019

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW...



Here's a strange story for you, one that I suddenly just remembered while looking at the photo in a previous post (click here).  I'll say why in a moment, but the tale I'm thinking of dates back to 1964 or '65, when I was going home for my dinner at noon one day, and saw a 'rag and bone' man parked outside the primary school gates.  No horse and cart like STEPTOE & SON, but a blue or grey van with the back doors swung open to display his wares.  I enquired how long he was going to be there and he replied that he'd be 'on site' for the whole dinner hour.  So I ran home, had my grub, and asked my mother whether she had anything she didn't want that I could give to the rag and bone man.  Usually, all you got was a balloon on a stick, so they were actually not so much rag and bone men as 'con the kids out of stuff that's worth money' men, but my mother gave me one of her old coats to swap for a balloon.

It was a blue coat if I recall rightly, and off I set to school with it, but a funny thing happened on the way to the cruel place of confinement that tortures children with enforced learning that they neither want or need.  (Am I showing a prejudice here?)  I started to feel sorry for the coat, and shame at my cold and callous attitude in being prepared to part with it.  I'd once felt like this before when a toy metal bus I owned suddenly separated in two because of a loose rivet.  I flung the bus on the grass and walked away, but was then overcome with a sudden remorse and rushed back and reclaimed it.  I felt like a parent abandoning a child, and the feeling was too much to bear.  It was the same with this coat - I simply couldn't give away a 'member of the family' to a stranger, so it sat under my desk until 3 o'clock and then I took it back home with me.

So cut to a few years later and another house or two down the line.  I heard a rag and bone man blowing his horn and rushed to ask if my mother had anything she didn't want.  I think it was another coat (maybe even the same one), so I ran out of the house just in time to see the van driving away.  I followed it on foot as best as I could - for quite a length in fact, but it got away from me.  If you look at the photo in the post at the link above, you'll see a bus stop in the distance, and it was around there or just past it that I gave up the chase.  (Bear in mind that the photo was taken from my bedroom window and you'll realise just how far it was I trekked.) As I trudged back along the road, I felt a sudden sense of relief, as I realised that, once again, I wouldn't have been able to part with the item of clothing my mother had given me anyway, so I wasn't too downhearted.

Even today, I find it extremely difficult to part with things because it's almost like I'm rejecting them, and that's not something I want to be responsible for inflicting even on inanimate objects.  Who knows what deep-rooted psychological reasons are responsible for me being this way.  Maybe the time my dad took me for a run in the car miles out of town, gave me money and asked me to go buy a newspaper, and then drove off as I entered the shop - well, maybe that has something to do with it, who knows?  (Pick your jaw up off the floor, you gullible ninny - I'm only kidding of course.)  Being a collector, I sometimes replace comics with better-condition ones, but it's extremely difficult passing on (or selling) the lesser-condition items to someone else, and I can only do it (and even then reluctantly) if I haven't had it too long.

So readers - do you have any strange peccadilloes that you don't quite understand, but feel yourself in thrall to and are unable to resist?  If you'd care to share, you know where the comments section is.
   

Thursday, 15 August 2019

THE SADDEST WORDS...



         Three friends were sitting at the bar, by late hour undeterred,
         "Pray tell me, lads," says I, "what are, the saddest words you've heard?"
         "Could they be 'bar's now closed'," says one, "when ordering the drinks?"
         "Or how about 'we're dry', my son,"  the other says, then winks.

         "But no," says I, "the saddest sound that you will ever hear,
         is two words very often bound with thoughts of one held dear.
         See, once I loved a gal so fair - (in fact I love her yet),
         with love that was beyond compare, though seasoned with regret."

          "She loved a better man than I, saw me as 'just a friend',
          and never knew for her I'd die, so I had to pretend.
          Aye, pretend that she meant nothing and didn't hold my heart,
          ah, but lads, the strain of bluffing almost tore me apart."

          "We've all been down that road I'm sure, that well-worn travelled track,
          where we've no choice but to endure someone not loving back.
          Ah, if only she had loved me, if only she had dared;
          if only she had wanted me - if only she had cared."

          "If only she had needed me, as living things need air.
          If only she had longed for me, I wouldn't know despair.
          Another time, another place, who knows what might've been?
          The look of love upon her face is what I might've seen."

           "Despite my heartache I'll be brave, though no fate's worse than this -
           to trudge through life towards my grave and never know her kiss.
           The saddest words you'll ever hear (the anthem of the lonely),
           come with a sigh and oft a tear - two whispered words... 'if only'."

Friday, 9 August 2019

TALKING OF LOCKUPS MAY GET ME LOCKED UP...


The corner lockup was ours, but all the doors were grey back then

A couple of months or so back, I was along at one of my former neighbourhoods and decided to check out the lockups where my father once housed his NOBEL 200, and later, his first RELIANT ROBIN (well, someone had to have one).  Far too many of the lockups were in a dilapidated state, with doors hanging off or simply missing.  My local council are in the habit of demolishing lockups, which doesn't make sense to me.  After all, what with the lack of parking spaces outside houses nowadays, you'd think there's be a huge demand for lockups where people can keep their cars.

Over 30 years ago, when we first moved back to my current house (regular readers know the story), my father tried to re-rent his former lockup (not the one mentioned in the above paragraph - different house, different lockup), and was told that the council were no longer renting them out.  He persisted though, and was eventually given his old lockup back.  He had it for around six years before several of them (including his) were demolished to make way for new houses, but at least the council got six years of rent out of him, instead of the nothing they'd have got for leaving the lockup empty.

Back of the lockups - the far away end is where ours was located

Perhaps the council thought that the cost of maintaining them was too prohibitive, but that cost should have been covered by the rent, and it seems daft to dispense with a means of raising revenue when pedestrians can hardly walk on the pavements these days because of two-and-three car families parking their vehicles up off the road.  (Talk about inconsiderate?)  But that's not the point of this post, which I shall now try and get to.

When I was along at the lockups in my previous neighbourhood (as mentioned several years back in the first paragraph), I saw a guy working on his car and commented to him about the condition of some of the other lockups and how I considered the situation to be a disgrace.  He told me that the council were going to renovate them, so if true, maybe they're finally learning sense, and realise that it will help alleviate parking problems while generating income at the same time. I pointed out my father's old lockup a few doors along, mentioning that my family had once lived in the area.  He informed me that it was Mr. Campbell's lockup, but was now being used by someone else.

I was slightly amazed by this, because the Campbells had been our next-door-neighbours when we lived there from 1965 to '72, which means that Mr. Campbell had most likely taken over the lockup right after my father had relinquished it when we flitted. The Campbells were living there when we moved in, having inhabited their house from around the early '60s when it was first built.  In fact, amazingly, they still live there today, all these many years later.  (Their kids have grown up and moved out, of course, but Mr. & Mrs. C still reside there.)

Taken from across and down the street a bit.  The end one was ours

And so to the point (such as it is) of this post.  I just find it strangely significant (in a way that I'm not able to competently convey) that my father's lockup had been taken over by our former neighbour, thereby maintaining some sort of (admittedly nebulous) connection (in my mind anyway) between us and them.  It somehow seemed fitting that the next 'tenant' of 'our' lockup had been the next door neighbour, and was therefore not too far removed from ourselves.  (In a figurative way of course, as we no longer lived in the area.)

The guy who currently uses the lockup rents it from the Campbells and lives in my old house next door to them, so house and lockup are again reunited, which seems to me suitably appropriate.  Although it's nice to know that Mr. Campbell had it for all these years after us, I still tend to regard it to this very day as my father's lockup. And you know what?  I probably always will.  (Incidentally, the first three photos were taken around 30 years ago.)

And in case you're wondering what a Nobel 200 looks like, here's
pic of a limited edition model which I own.  I've since added
copies of my father's original number plates  

Sunday, 30 June 2019

GOING HOME...



Grahame stood in the doorway of his new bedroom on the first day of the flit and surveyed the interior without much enthusiasm.  He'd not wanted to move from the house he'd known since the age of two to the freshly turned teenager he was now and hadn't been shy about letting his parents know how he felt.  His mother had dismissed his reservations.  "You'll like it when you get there," she'd said.  "It's a much bigger room, with a cupboard, so you'll have plenty space to put all your stuff."

Grahame had been unimpressed at the prospect.  He was a solitary child who preferred the familiar around him, and the coming move had upped his anxiety to unprecedented levels.  He liked where he lived - the house, his room, the neighbourhood, and was reluctant to relinquish it for the unknown.  He had a commanding view over a playfield across the road and knew he'd miss climbing the trees and running over the patchy grass while pretending to be a superhero.

His new room was nearly twice the size of his former one and he felt dwarfed by its seeming vastness.  The view was a disappointment, overlooking a parking area for neighbours' cars; grey, colourless, and uninspiring, he knew it was unlikely that he'd ever get used to it.  Anyway, with any luck he'd probably spend much of his time sleeping.  He'd suddenly found himself feeling inordinately tired over the last few weeks, so perhaps he'd just avoid looking out of the window.  Shame, because he loved doing that in his old room, watching to see who was playing in the field, or gazing at the birds hopping about in the branches of the trees that ran alongside it.

Why did things have to change?  He resented change, resisted it, promised himself that he'd be a child forever, but knew from the way his body was developing that he'd eventually have to bury that particular dream.  His idea of paradise was for everything to stay as he knew it for eternity, with him being a perpetual schoolboy and his parents never growing old or dying.  For things to stay as they are, where death and decay had no dominion, and 'change' was an unknown concept that held no sway.

It was with great reluctance that he snuggled between the sheets that first night, but he was tired.  Perhaps he's wake up in the morning to find that the flit had all been a bad dream, merely a psychological manifestation of his fear of change and losing the comfort of everything he held dear.  He had a doctor's appointment in a couple of days to determine why he'd been so tired and fatigued of late, so that was yet another unwelcome intrusion that he'd much rather do without.  Sleep claimed him with unusual alacrity, and when his parents looked in on him later, they found the scene heartwarming, in the way that only parents can.

The next morning, much to his mother and father's concern, Grahame couldn't be roused, so the family doctor was summoned, who pronounced that the lad had passed away in his sleep.  His parents were understandably devastated - he'd been their only child.  A few weeks later they were informed of the results of the post-mortem.  "Leukemia, I'm afraid," said the doctor.  "There was nothing that could've been done, even had you brought him in months ago.  Sometimes it just pops up out of nowhere and does its damage before we even know it's there.  At least he's in a better place now."

Grahame's mother looked into her husband's tearful eyes as she replied to the doctor. "Yes, somehow I feel in my heart that you're right.  If I know Grahame, he's just where he wanted to be."

******

When Grahame awoke, he was surprised to find that he was no longer in his new room, but his old one.  What a relief!  It had felt so real, but was obviously only the dream he'd hoped it was.  It never even occurred to him to run next door to his mum and dad's room to express his joy at the discovery.  Grahame would never think of his parents again, nor would he be perturbed to find himself the sole occupant of the house.  In time, his parents would join him, but until then he'd be completely unaware of their absence.  For now, it was enough that he was in his old room in his former house, and that was all he really wanted or needed.  He was happy.
    

Thursday, 27 June 2019

CARESSING THE KEYS OF MEMORY...



This is another of those tales that I know I intended to relate a while back, but can't remember if I ever actually did so or not.  Anyway, back in 1972 when my family first took up residence in my present abode, the family with whom we swapped houses left a piano behind.  I can no longer recall how long we kept it, whether it was a year, two years - maybe even going on three, but my parents, at some stage, decided to dispense with its seldom-used services.

None of my family played the piano, and apart from a rare visitor occasionally tickling its ivories, the poor 'box in the corner' lay neglected for the most part.  So my father donated it to the town's hospital, and a contingent of youths in the charge of an adult (I have a vague memory they may have been Scouts, but I'm not certain) came to our home one day and wheeled away our unwanted house-guest.  I wonder how it felt being so unceremoniously evicted?

I've long been afflicted with a tendency to imbue inanimate objects with sentience, feelings, emotions - even personality.  What can I say?  I'm off my head!  But did you know that, apparently, when plants and trees are pruned, they scream?  (It's far beyond the ability of human ears to detect, but scientists have registered the 'sound' on audio machines attuned to a certain wavelength.)  True, plants and trees are 'alive' in a sort of way;  they grow - not something that a piano (or any other inanimate item) in the corner of the living-room does.  (As far as anyone knows anyway.)

However, if you cut a leaf in half, and then subject it to a certain kind of infra-red spectrum analysis, the image shows the outline of the full leaf.  So, imagine if a tree, even after being chopped up and made into furniture, yet retains a part of whatever measure of 'awareness' it may have had when it was growing in a forest or field somewhere?  Too far-fetched?  Perhaps, but who can say for sure?

Anyway, where am I going with this you may be wondering.  Years after the fact, I learned that our old piano had been passed onto the church situated across the road from our former abode.  The fellow who told me was one of the boys who had helped remove the piano from our house.  It transpired that he was a friend of a friend, and what's more, coincidentally lived next door to another of our previous homes, though not when we'd lived there.  (Which is neither here nor there, but it's an interesting example of how 'fate' unfolds.)

The woman who now lived in our former residence would undoubtedly have been in that church on occasion, even if only for a jumble sale or a coffee morning. Given my over-active imagination, I found myself wondering if she might ever have passed her/our old piano without recognising it, and whether it had called out to her in its inaudible voice, not understanding why someone it knew was now ignoring it.  "Hello, it's me - don't you remember me?  I lived with you once and then you went away one day and left me behind.  What did I do wrong?  Did I offend you by being out of tune perhaps?  Why won't you acknowledge me?"

Same goes for myself.  Although no longer living in the area, I was back in that church many a time over the years.  As was my mother in fact, as she attended its Sunday services every week.  I restricted myself to jumble sales and Christmas and Summer fayres, but I surely must have passed the piano, or even stood close to (or against) it on one of my many visits over a period of nearly 20 years.  Did that poor piano also call out to me (or, on separate occasions, my mother), unable to comprehend why we turned a deaf ear to its cries?

The church was demolished around '91 or '92 (due to structural flaws) and a new (and different) building was erected in its place.  I took numerous photos, both inside and out, before the old church (which had only been completed in 1965 or '66) was erased from the face of the planet, and our old piano - if it hadn't been replaced or dispensed with by that time - is surely in one of those pics.  It was a large church, with two or three pianos in different halls, but I think I got photos of all of them.  Trouble is, they're in a box in the loft at the moment, so I can't check - or illustrate this post with a piccie.  I'll add one later when I find them.

In the meantime, I've used a stock photo of a piano, which will have to do the job for now.  I guess it's always possible that the piano yet survives in the new church building, and now that the thought has occurred to me, I'll make a point of visiting one day to see if it is.  If it's there, I'll be sure to say hello to it, and run my fingers over its keys, just for old times' sake.  If it isn't, I'll gaze upon it's image in one of my photos and bid it goodbye.  After all, it's a friend from the past, and doesn't deserve to be forgotten.

Whatever its fate, hopefully it had a happy life being played for the enjoyment of hospital patients and church groups.  Had we kept it, it's entirely probable that it would never have got to fulfill the purpose for which it was created, and merely been a surface on which to place framed photos or vases.  It was made to make music, and I like to think  that's what it got to do.  (And hopefully yet does.)

Feel free to tell me that I need 're-tuning'.

******

Update:  Below are three photos of two pianos (I think - could be the same one in two different halls).  I took them in the church sometime in the early 1990s, and I'm hoping that one is the piano we had temporary custody of at the beginning of the '70s.  There's no reason why one of them shouldn't be 'ours', so I prefer to believe that one of them is.




Monday, 3 June 2019

A RAMBLING REMINISCENCE...


Nah, this isn't it, but it's vaguely similar

Here's a true tale of something that happened around 34 or 35 years ago that I've suddenly just remembered.  I was walking home one evening, along a route that took me past a school, when I noticed that the bottom glass panel of a door had been kicked in.  I was all for passing on, when curiosity got the better of me. Perhaps someone had broken the pane to gain access, and maybe they were still inside.  If so, they'd be bound to be teenagers, and I was then strong, fit, and confident that I could look after myself - even against more than one person. (Maybe one day I'll relate a couple of events that demonstrate I'm not just confusing ambition with ability.  Hark - is that the John Williams SUPERMAN theme I hear?)

Anyway, I walked over to the door and crouched down at the aperture, listening to hear if I could detect any sounds of activity from within, but there was nothing.  I decided to call the police when I got home and alert them to the vandalism, assuming that they'd check to see if anyone was on the premises.  Thing is, by the time I got home, I was so lost in thought that I took the dog out for a walk and forgot all about it, and never did call the local constabulary.  When I eventually remembered a couple of days later, I figured it was too late to bother and that the door would have had at least a temporary repair effected by then anyway.

Cut to quite a while later.  I no longer recall whether it was weeks or months afterwards, but I know it wasn't in the immediate aftermath.  As I was again walking home one night, I heard one of two or three passing boys say to the other(s) "That's the guy who broke into the school!"  It was a mumble, and at first I had to think whether I'd heard right, but that's what it sounded like.  Of course, by then, I'd completely forgotten about the broken panel, and it took me a while to work out what the boy could've been referring to.  (Which is why I know it wasn't any time soon after the event.)  Then it hit me - the boy must have seen me (from some hidden vantage point) crouching beside the door, listening, and assumed I'd been the culprit.

I fully expected a chap at my door at some stage after that, but nothing ever came of it.  It bothered me though (and still does) that I was considered a 'suspect' in the very crime I'd intended to report, but didn't.  These boys will be all grown up by now with wives and kids of their own, and I can't help but wonder if they still remember me and consider me a vandal or a burglar.  The school seemed to be a target for neds, as some years later it fell victim to arson, necessitating it being demolished and a new building being erected in its place.  The new construct was more like a fortress than a school, but given its history, is it any wonder?

Anyway, this has been a rambling reminiscence - I hope you found it worth your while to read.

******

There's another possibility of course.  It now occurs to me that the boy might've said "That's the guy from when we broke into the school!", meaning that they were the perpetrators and had seen me crouched at the door, or had seen me through a window walking away.  I'd really only heard the key words... 'guy - broke into - school'... and filled in the blanks to make sense of it, so I could've got it wrong.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

THE TRUE-LIFE TALE OF BILLY LIAR...


Me in St. Andrew's Road in Southsea, Portsmouth, 1978

Reading about a tall tale-telling cartoon character reminded me of a real-life inveterate 'fantasist' (by which I mean liar) who used to pal about with me from 1965 until he joined the Navy shortly after his dad died in 1977.  We remained friends until 1981, when I concluded that he obviously had mental health issues and finally severed all ties with him.

I last saw him in Gosport near the end of April '81 when I was living nearby, and it was then I realized he was no longer the person I thought he was - if indeed he ever had been.  This man simply couldn't open his gob without a monumental, unbelievable 'porky-pie' popping out.  For example, even before he joined the Navy he used to wear an over-sized diver's watch, and when a friend (RONNIE ROSS, now sadly deceased) asked him what it was, he replied that it was an atomic power-pack for his bionic arm. (This was around '76/'77, when the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN was still on TV.)

Had it been an 'off-the-cuff' remark intended as a joke, that would've been fine. However, in between starting and finishing the sentence, he'd somehow managed to convince himself it was true and fully expected to be believed.  Another example (on a flying visit to our house in December of 1980) came when my father asked him if he had any kids yet.  (He'd got wed in Portsmouth Registry Office two years before, and I'd been best man.)  "No," he said, "I caught an infection from a toilet seat and they had to cut my tubes.  They operated through my back passage so as not to leave a scar."

To the best of my knowledge, those 'in-the-know' say that infections can't be caught from toilet seats (at least, not the kind which affect internal organs) so his claim couldn't be true.  However, why the bit about back-door surgery?  It's unlikely that anyone would ask to see his scar so why say that if it wasn't true? Then I realized - as a Navy man, he shared showers and quarters with others, so he'd need a 'cover-story' to explain his obvious scar-free condition when he first told his bizarre tale.  A normal person would simply have said that he didn't want kids until he left the Navy, not produced a fantastic fable that defied accepted medical facts.  Not so 'BILLY LIAR'.

His lying was no recent development, but stretched all the way back to childhood, as this 1966/'67 account illustrates.  One morning in the school playground, myself, 'Billy Liar' and a fellow called ROBERT (or ROBIN) GOLDIE were standing in line, waiting for the bell to ring to gain access to the building.  Robert was holding an ACTION MAN and opened the jacket to show us AM's dog-tag. Action Man (or GI JOE to U.S. readers) had a rather 'stylised' musculature with a bit of a gap between his pecs.  My brother owned a TOMMY GUNN action-figure with a more realistic physique, so I remarked on how odd Action Man's torso was by comparison.  "That was his sister who did that - she's got really sharp nails!" volunteered 'Billy', ignoring the fact that Robert's sister would've had to be SUPERGIRL to make a dent in such hard plastic.

Regular readers may recall a previous post in which I mentioned a pupil who came into school one morning with a tracing of RUMPELSTILTSKIN (from a class reading book) on a piece of IZAL toilet paper, claiming he'd drawn it the night before.   (Though when the sheet was placed over the book illustration and the fraud exposed, he then said it was the work of his sister.)  Yes, you've guessed it - it was the very same guy.

For almost as long as I'd known him he'd been plagued by cartilage problems in one of his knees.  This meant that not long after joining the Navy it was discovered that he wasn't fit for active duty.  So he was given a choice - either leave the Navy or take up a 'landlubber' position at Haslar Hospital in Gosport.  (He invented a tale which attributed his long-term problem to getting his knee caught between two practice mines while on a training exercise.)  According to him his new job was that of 'medical assistant' (nurse), but in all likelihood he was a hospital porter.  Not for long though, as two or three years later he was back in civvy-street.

In 1981 I'd returned to Portsmouth - at his invitation - only to find that he steered clear of me and never came to visit - apart from one time when I saw him on his moped coming from the direction of my bed-sit while I was returning from the shops.  I hailed him, but he stopped for only just long enough to tell me he'd no time to talk - then he was off again.  He was only about two minutes away from my place and two minutes away from his base (by bike), so I wondered why he'd gone out of his way if he'd no intention of stopping.  When I got back, my landlady revealed to me that he'd only been checking-up to see if I'd returned to Scotland yet.

Me in my room in Boulton Road, Southsea in 1981.
Yes, I know - it looks like a Crimewatch photo

Obviously he was worried that the longer I was around, the greater the chance I'd eventually meet some of his newer friends and perhaps inadvertently blow the gaff about some of the 'tall tales' he'd spun.  After all, this was a guy who, with crash helmet tucked under his arm, used to visit bars that bikers hung out in - even before he had a motorbike.  (No joking.)  

Months later, when I finally returned home, my father told me that while I was in Portsmouth, 'Billy' had 'phoned one night with a curious request.  "Mr. Robson, I was in a bar the other night having a drink, and I told a guy I was talking to that I'm a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Navy."  (This was when he was a porter in Gosport's Haslar Hospital.)  "He didn't believe me, so I gave him your number and told him to 'phone you and you'd confirm it.  If he does call, could you back me up?"  Naturally, my father told him not to be so daft.  "Go on - a favour for a favour," pleaded the deluded 'Billy'.  My father enquired what he meant.  "I visited Gordon the other day and it cost me money for petrol for my bike," quoth Mr. Mental, referring to his lightning-quick dash to check if I was still around.  When I heard this, I gave my parents strict instructions that, if 'Billy' ever 'phoned, I was out - even if I was in.

About six or seven years later, the 'phone (then in the hallway) rang and the answer-machine clicked on.  As I stood at the top of the stairs to hear who it was, an unfamiliar voice emanated from the speaker - a Detective Inspector someone (couldn't make out the name) wanting to talk to me.  I went downstairs and picked up the 'phone - "Hello?" I said.  "What's the matter, don't you recognize an old friend?"  The voice had changed, being that strange hybrid accent that many 'Jocks' acquire from spending years down south, so at first I didn't recognize it.  Then the penny dropped and I hung up without replying.  The 'phone rang again and his voice from the speaker said:  "I'll use my warrant card if that's what it takes to talk to you!"  Poor, deluded fool.  He was never in the police - I checked, even though it was a racing cert that he wasn't.

It seems that leopards can't change their spots.  Egged on by a pal who'd also known 'Billy' we both looked at his Facebook page about a year ago.  According to him he's a Falklands war veteran who was fast-tracked through the ranks of the Royal Navy, is thinking of taking a course in astro-physics (or something equally far-fetched), was taught to cook by both GORDON RAMSAY and JAMIE OLIVER (or two other equally famous TV chefs), has hacked into NASA satellites to take photographs of outer space (with a clearly-cribbed pic from the Internet), had a successful career as a world-class photographer (although his webpage is conspicuously absent of any evidence which would indicate it), and is a personal buddy of BILLY CONNOLLY and folk-singer RALPH McTELL, who he claims to have known since the age of twelve.  Oh, and he learned to scuba-dive at the age of nine.  (Which was all news to me - and I'd known him from when he was six.)

Right, altogether now - "JACKANORY, JACKANORYJACKANORY".  Needless to say, we both fell about laughing at this catalogue of absurdity. Unfortunately though, there was a sad side to his inabiltiy to grasp reality, and let me wind up this overlong reminiscence by revealing what that was.

As I previously said, I was best man at this fantasy merchant's wedding in 1978, but I had gone down to Portsmouth a few days in advance of the 'big day'.  The morning before the ceremony, while he was out somewhere, his fiancee broke down in tears and confessed to me that she was now having severe doubts about going through with it.  Her brother and her friends considered him a complete weirdo and had expressed concern over his alarming propensity to tell the most outrageous lies at the drop of a hat.  What was I to do?  What I should've done was tell her that I didn't think he was mature enough to get married and had been telling porkies for as long as I had known him so was therefore unlikely to change.

However, I was faced with a dilemma.  If she called off the wedding as a result of anything I said, I'd then be the bad guy.  I knew that he'd continue to pursue her and woo her after I'd gone home, and probably persuade her (against her better judgement) into marrying him, and I'd then be excluded from the celebrations and most likely be a pal short as a result.  So I chickened out, telling her that I'd have a very serious talk with him and explain that all his lies had to stop; that he was about to embark on a wonderful new chapter in his life which he should take extremely seriously and stop embarrassing both himself and his beloved with his absurd fabrications and fantasies.  So I did - at great length and in excruciating detail (as is my wont).  At the conclusion of my sonorous oration he soberly assured me that he was 'indeed an altered Toad'.

He was lying of course.

On the day of the wedding, when the registrar asked her if she took this man as her lawful wedded husband, there was a long, long pause.  Then, with tears streaming down her face, she hesitantly said "I do" and thereby made one of the worst decisions of her life.  A decision that I could probably have prevented - and to this day am filled with regret that I didn't at least try to.  The marriage lasted a couple of years or so and the poor woman went through hell.  I hope she's happy now and, should she ever get to read this, can forgive me for my inaction.  I last saw her around August or September 1980 when they were both up on a brief visit.

So there you have it.  Trust me, the cartoon character I alluded to at the start of this post is nowhere near as bad as the guy I've just been telling you about.  He's certainly a lot funnier though.

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