I never understood Irish folk music, not to the extent of someone who was Irish by birth or culture does. I only knew what I liked. The first time I heard of The Chieftains was in relation to their providing the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lindon, a film I have never seen. Nevertheless, I am certain that it was this film, in one way or another that led me to discover The Chieftains in the form of the lament, released as a single, ‘Women of Ireland’, or ‘Mná na h-Éireann’. Whatever my ability to understand this music innately, I found this amazingly beautiful. I always have. It led me to see The Chieftains live, when I lived in Nottingham, and again as the first formal date I had with a woman born in England but of Irish parents. Though there were many vital members, the heart of The Chieftains was always Paddy Moloney, musician, leader, arranger and a cultural giant, a genius, a legend, and irreplaceable human being. And now, after 83 years on this earth, we have him no more. May your God go with you, Paddy, and thank you for everything and everyone you were.
Let’s get the paranoia bit over first. It’ll never disappear but these days it’s dimming, thanks to mt increasing confidence in back-planning, otherwise known as I-am-catching-a-train-to-Southport-at 11.18am, when do I have to start to be there in time? Result? From shower at 9.47am to the Platform 14 waiting lounge at Piccadilly Station at 11.02am. The ticket has been bought (a whole 90p extra than if I’d bought it in advance, Crookall, you profligate fool!) and I’m already relaxing with the Southport train in red on the board.
I’ve been on an Expedition like this before, last summer, when travelling across West Lancashire to the Fylde Coast was a bit more of a daredevil process. The occasion then was a Dan Dare Exhibition at the Atkinson Gallery on Lord Street and I wanted to steal the framed original art for Frank Bellamy’s first episode of ‘Fraser of Africa’. Now, we’re free to travel wherever we want, with or without facemasks, and this year it’s John Ryan, cartoonist and cartoon-maker, an original Eagle stalwart, creator of the immortal Captain Pugwash, a most incompetent pirate. Joy it was in that dawn tp be alive.
So far, it’s been a mostly sunny day. It has rained, earlier, and there are enough grey-white clouds permeating the blue to suggest that’s not all for the day. I’ve read the Weather Forecast for Southport last night, but who believes weather reports? They’re about as reliable as Government explanations.
We’re summoned to Platform 14 just as a long, slow, container train is going through, its wheels squealling so loud that it’s going to take a ton of WD40 to cure. I never like this platform, too many memories of a near decade travelling to Bolton when I worked for the Council. We go through Bolton today: I will have my ears full of mp3s and my nose in a book.
My section of the carriage is near empty, and indeed empties at Bolton, not to pick up another traveller until Apsley Bridge (you may say ‘where?’, if you choose). It’s not until then, from the signboard omn the station, that I discover we’re running ten minutes late. Despite the fact that we crawl into Southport Station so slowly that we could arrive sooner by moving the station towards us, we arrive only five minutes late.
I paid little attention. Beyond Bolton, my native county is both less familiar and less intyeresting. It’s flat, in both senses, and I am a creature of hills, fells and mountains. West Lancashire has little to offer the eye, even on the traditional road approach from the East Lancs Road via Ormskirk, though there’s a nice bit where we go over a canal bridge…
At Southport, the blue is bluer but the grey is greyer and it strikes me that both more sunshine and more rain is possible. One was right but the other raised its dreary head for five minutes when I was sat out on a bench. By now, I needed the loo but there were none in the station nor nearby. I found my memories easier to comprehend than the street plan opposite, which took me past The Monument Sports Bar. This pronounced itself NOT A PUBLIC TOILET and IF YOU ASK NO, but as long as you can hold it in long enough to consume a pint of lager and lime, they have no objections.
Liquid having been suitably transferred through my body, I headed for the Gallery. The exhibition was on the same small side-room on the second floor, called ‘The Discovery Box’, but I went in the proper way, to pass the permanent Dan Dare display, very much reduced, its original art being panels and half-paghes from ‘The Earth Stealers’, Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell’s last story, not that they knew they’d been sacked until scripts stopped coming. Don’t you just love the comics business?
The Ryan Exhibition is very limited for something with so many elements, and there was next to no original art. It’s built around Captain Pugwash, naturally, but proper regard is made to so many other elements of Ryan’s career, from Pugwash’s debut in Eagle no. 1 in 1950, to Ryan’s death in 2009, aged 88 and still a working cartoonist. Some, like Lettice Leefe and Sir Prancealot, were familiar to me, but there were more of which I was completely unfamiliar.
When Marcus Morris accepted Pugwash for Eagle, Ryan was art master at Harrow Public School and had had the character turned down a dozen times. It ran for nineteen weeks before being cancelled by Molrris for being ‘too juvenile’, but went on to a happy berth in the Radio Times. Meanwhile, Ryan had conjured up Harris Tweed, Extra Apecial Agent for Eagle, the features overlapping as Tweed, and his Boy, debuted in issue 16.
At that stage, Ryan’s art was harsh and angular, which made Pugwash look dark and hangdog to me, and not in the least funny. Tweed started off with full-page adventures, heavy on black ink and sinister happenings, for which Ryan’s original style was well-suited. By the time his work was softening to its more familiar, rounded, indeed almost cuddly style, Tweed was dropping into a half-page status to which the new approach was far more appropriate.
Ryan was a stalwart of Marcus Morris’s little stable of Red-top comics, contributing Lettice Leefe, the Greenest (i.e., most impressionable) Girl in School for Eagle‘s literal sister-paper, Girl, with his wife Priscilla designing the dresses for the Headmistress, Miss Froth, and then Sir Boldasbrass (who was left out of the Exhibition) for their younger brothers in Swift.
Pugwash made his TV debut in 1957, as well as appearing in the first of seven childrens’ picture books. I was barely two then, but the cartoons were shown over and over until I was old enough to watch them. Ryan masterminded everything, in a limited animation style that made Hanna Barbera look like Studio Ghibli. Characters were made as jointed carboard cut-outs, poked up through slots in the backgrounds, their ‘movements’ being the manipulation up and down, and sometimes side to side, of limbs and mouths. The other genius of the programme was voice-artist Peter Hawkins, doing all the voices. This is the same Peter Hawkins who voiced, among many others, Bill and Ben, the original Daleks, Captain Haddock in the Tele-Hachette Tintin cartoons and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers, so we are talking god-like genius here.
It was all so primitive but we loved it then, and again in the mid- Seventies when Ryan re-made Pugwash in colour. They had a tape playing, including B&W and colour Pugwashes, with Ryan’s wit and imagination, Hawkins’ voices, that jaunty theme music and simple but wonderful stories that still had the power to make me laugh. We were so lucky to live then.
I’d forgotten that Ryan’s first colour commission for the BBC was Mary, Mungo and Midge in 1968, but that was my younger sister’s turn to enjoy his abilities. I got back with Sir Prancealot, in 1971, with its wonderful, sharp theme music and all the old Ryan tricks on a medieval theme. Not until today did I know it was also a comic series.
And there was The Ark Series, bible stories in which Ryan himself appeared as storyteller, St George and The Dragon, Frisco a nd Gred, about a reluctant astronaut and his dog, and what about his position as cartoonist for the weekly Catholic Herald, creating Cardinal Grosci, another Pugwash-substitute, this time in the Vatican. Ryan held that post for forty-two years. Imagine that.
Despite all this, there was nothing to keep me more than half an hour, nor much in Southport I haven’t seen before to detain me long. I was feeling peckish by now, but I was not prepared to walk all the way out to Pizza Hut, which is way past the Marine Lake. Even with the surprising smell of sea in the air as far inland as Lord Street, I wasn’t going to trudge that far. I had seen a tight little arcade I’d not noticed before so I took a stroll down there.
There was a vintage collectable shop halfway down with an SF section. They had the complete set of all five Jane Gaskell ‘Atlan’ books in the matching Eighties paperback edition. I used to have the first four in the rather more impressive Seventies edition, all yellow covers and sexy bronze-skinned, dark-haired, long-legged and little clothed woman. The fifth I’d only ever read from the Library but that was seriously peculiar. I’d got rid at least thirty years ago but, at a fiver for the lort, I overcame my expectation that they’d still be a bit crap and bought them. The guy behind the counter told me I was lucky: he’d beemn going to change the prices. Upwards. If I believed him…
There being little now in Southport but a change of scenery, I decided to return to the Station. By this time, my pint had worked its way through and was calling for asttention so I returned to The Monument. No, they didn’t do bar food so I ordered and drank a half before leaving returns in the Gents.
I really do enjoy train rides home, for their peace and quiet and freedom from distraction. I can really get down for an extended session of mp3s and reading as we progress back across the flat bits to Manchester. And its Pizza Hut is a lot closer than Southport’s though they’re still not doing either tuna or sweetcorn. I had the pleasure of walking through Piccadilly Gardens at four-thirty, against the flow, but a flow of young women of all skirt-lengths coming out of work, intent on making an early start on Friday night. Another good day: where next?
The death reported today of Roger Hunt, the former Liverpool striker and World Cup Winner in 1966 reduces to three the number of survivors from that long ago day. And Bobby Charlton, George Cohen and Geoff Hurst are all in their eighties. The time will come, ere long, when all that remains are memories. There is little else now.
When two of the lights in life pass away in the same day, I automatically shudder, remember 2016, and wait in trepidation for the third.
Jimmy Greaves, Tottenham Hotspur star, England’s fourth highest scorer, TV pundit and star, has passed away aged 81, after being confined to a wheelchair since a stroke in 2015. I am just too young to have seen and understood his heyday. His greatest and most devastating blow was that World Cup of 1966, when an injury in the final group game kept him out of the quater-final and allowed Geoff Hurst the opportunity that he seized with his head and both feet.
I admit his performances on Saint and Greavsie were not for me but they were for millions. My late Uncle Jack loved him. So now he joins the ever-increasing ranks of those who have left us behind. He and the recently-deceased Gerd Muller can talk goalpoaching tactics until they’re blue in the face. But don’t worry, we still have Alan Shearer to ‘enlighten’ us.
It’s a terrible thing to wake and the first thing you learn is of the passing of someone whose work enthralled you. Today, I’m barely awake and I’m having to commemorate the life of Greta Tomlinson, Greta Edwards in married life, who has died at the afe of 94. With her has gone, to the best of my knowledge, the last link to those madcap days when Frank Hampson and a team of perspiring assistants, produced Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future in a more than overcrowded lean-to in alongside a Southport house.
Greta Tomlinson was one of the original team of assistants that joined Hampson in the Bakehouse, a few weeks into the life of Dan Dare. She was the youngest of his assistants, fresh from Art College, who responded to an ad that led her to Southport. There, she looked at Frank Hampson’s work and thought it fantastic, and that when Hampson she had to get involved in this.
Like all the rest of Hampson’s assistants she was overworked mercilessly, to the point where her exhaustion led her to hallucinate, but like the rest she bore up under the strain, because of her belief in Hampson’s genius, and becase he never asked her, or any of them, to do anything that he would not do, and indeed did even harder than them.
Greta formed a close bond with Hampson’s former College friend and senior assistant, Harold Johns. Together, they worked on several short stories for Eagle Annuals but, most notably, it was this pair who took over the third Dan Dare story, ‘Marooned on Mercury’ when Hampson worked himself to illness and was prescribed bed rest for months.
Sadly, that artistc relationship resulted in their unjust dismissal from Hampson’s studio. Johns and Tomlinson could not be accomodated at Bayford Lodge in Epsom, the studio’s new and permanent location, and were based in town. Finding themselves under-used, the pair sought permission to take on outside work, permission reluctantly granted on the accepted condition that Hampson’s work came first, and then they were both sacked abruptly, for the crime of doing what they had permission for. It was a disgraceful and wholly undeserved ending, yet Tomlinson bore Hampson no malice.
I never met her, indeed I never met any of the Dan Dare team, though I would have loved to thank each and every one of them personally for what they did. My most vivid memory of Greta Tomlinson was in the lovely documentary, Future Perfect, that took her back to the Bakehouse and filmed her as she looked around, descrivbing cheerfully how it had been laid out as a studio, and who sat where, plainlyt seeing everyone around her, and suddenbly asking the Director to cut as those memories plainly overwhelmed her.
But Greta Tomlinson was more that just an artist, and more than just, I believe, the last one left of those men and women. As any Dan Dare fan knows, part of the strip’s success lay in Hampson’s use of his assistants to model panels in order to get exactly every nuance of expression, every shadow and every wrinkle of clothing. Some of his assistants and models were the exact model for characters in the series. Geta Tomlinson was Professor Peabody, the botanist, the scientist, the forthright, independent and highly intelligent feminist long before there were feminists. Greta Tomlinson’s passing takes Peabody with her: I mourn them both.
For my parents’ generation, it was always said that nobody forgot where they were when they heard about President Kennedy’s assassination. Hell, even I remember that day, and I was only just turned eight. Growing up, I thought that for me and my generation, the equivalent would be the falling of the Berlin Wall. What an immense day, what an unbelievable moment, what a shock. But a good one. Well, we were destined for an embarrassment of riches. We were the generation that not only got the Berlin Wall and its attendant satellite moments, like the look on Nicolae Ceausescu’s face when the crowd booed him, we got 9/11 as well. Twenty years ago today, it was a sunny afternoon. I was a year into my job as Principal Conveyancer at Bolton Council, nearly a year into my marriage. It was the early afternoon, maybe about 2.30pm, and I was getting into my post-lunch stride (because of my history of working in private practice, I instinctively took my lunch from 1.00 – 2.00pm whereas those who’d been in Local Government all their lives adhered to 12.00 – 1.00pm). At the Council, we had individual telephone numbers so calls came through to me direct. The call came at about 2.30pm, and it was my wife. I was cheered to hear from her, until she told me why she was ringing. News had come through from America, nebulous, unconfirmed, full of rumour, that there had been an attack on New York, a plane had supposedly been flown into a building, the whole city was covered in a cloud of smoke and it had been closed off to the outside world, nobody in, nobody out. We neither of us knew what this might entail, but it was worrying. Whatever it was was something major. She wanted me to know, and underneath there was the subconscious wish of both of us to be together, if something worse was coming. She rang off. At that time, the Legal Department consisted of desks arranged in little carousels, creating little right angles in which we sat, four to a set. The one where I sat was at what I thought of as the top of the room, next to the door giving access from that side of the Town Hall, the side I came in. It was the only one with two people, the other being my immediate boss, the Chief Lawyer (Conveyancing). As soon as I was off the phone, I told him what I had learned. He was as concerned as I, but also concerned not to start a panic. He asked me not to say anything to anyone about it whilst he slipped out to try to find any further information. The Internet might have existed but we had no access to it from Bolton Council, nothing but internal email. There were a number of television shops not far from the Town Hall, with screens on all the shopping day, and he headed for these to see what he could pick up. It was still so early that it was all nebulous. Beyond the fact something had happened, and something pretty damned serious, he could throw no light on the situation. I agreed to keep my lip buttoned. It was weird being one of only a very few people aware that the shit had hit some sort of fan and the repercussions could be unimaginably widespread. At 5.15pm, I left for the day. It was a ten-minute walk to the Station which got me onto the Station with a few minutes to spare for a Manchester-bound train that, if it arrived on time, left me just enough time to run from Platform 13 to Platform 1 for my connecting train home. If it were delayed, there was a twenty-five-minute wait for the next train. I was curious about what had been going on since my wife’s call. The first TV Shop I passed stopped me dead in my tracks. They were showing the collapse of one of the Towers, from close range, coming down in that impossible way into itself that, until that moment I had never known was possible. I stood and stared at it, transfixed. Then I raced off, to catch the first train, catch the connection, get home, hug and kiss my wife and find out just what the fuck had happened. We know what had happened. There were the clips of films they don’t show but they don’t need to because the images are branded on the brains of those of us who saw them. The planes flying into buildings. The Towers’ collapse. The Diving Man. Dubya’s face. Twenty years ago and as fixed and clear as if they were being seen for the first time today. One thing that not everyone will have felt, but which I was conscious of, was a feeling of subliminal disappointment. That Superman didn’t intervene, that Spider-Man didn’t use his webbing. I suspect that most of us who were comics fans twenty years ago may have thought something similar, automatically. That indicated a certain stunned approach to the reality of what we’d seen, that it couldn’t really have happened, it wasn’t really possible outside of a superhero universe where the day could and would be saved at the last minute. It doesn’t happen here. They told us the world would never be the same, that reality would change, irreversibly, in every respect. The world’s never the same every single day, but this was one of the mega-moments. But the never-the-same was inapplicable below a certain level. Things from before then are still the same now, or changed in ways that owe nothing to 9/11. Then and now. There is still a direct thread between the two. We will never forget where we were, or who we were, when we found out.
…aged 91, Edward Asner, who week by week for 120 weeks featured here on Thursdays as I reviewed the drama series in the name of his wonderfully principled character, Lou Grant. Crusty to the last, and a good man as both Lou and Ed. More and more of them are collecting their tickets for the night train again.
Charlie Watts, drummer with the Rolling Stones, has passed away at the age of 80. The man was a rock solid drummer, a calm and still presence, the heartbeat of the Stones who, alongside the Beatles, will go down in history as the two musical pillars of the Sixties, the ones everyone looked up to and sought to outdo but couldn’t. And in the long hinterland of the decades after their peak, Charlie was the one with the credibility. What Jagger and Richards do after this, I honestly don’t know, but Charlie’s ending is perhaps the signal for the band’s ending too. Be all our memories now: there is no shame in that, and they can be proud forever.
Only one of them was actually called ‘The King’ in his time, but their three names are bracketed together and always will be. Georgie went, a long time ago, in his own manner and we may squabble over whther his demons were demons or just the way he chose to live his life. And last November, his wife announced that Sir Bobby had succumbed to dementia.
Now the man they actually called the King has announced that he too has dementia, mixed dementia: not for Denis just the one thing. He’s asked us not to mourn him as he goes into the greyness that swallows up all the things he did, the people he loves, the team-mates and the friends of his life, even the adulation he had and still has from us, because he has had these things from us for a very long time.
He was the only one of the three I ever met, preparing for a book signing in W.H. Smith’s in Stockport forty years ago, and I bought the book so I could get it signed and say thank you for all the pleasure he’d given us, and he grinned this brilliant grin, stuck out his hand and said ‘Put it there!’ and my mate Steve was disgusted with me that I ever washed the hand he shook.
Denis Law, the King of Old Trafford, never gone, never forgotten. We remember him this way.
All the evidence seems to be that I’m the only football fan in England not over the moon or given to any other cliches about England reaching the Euro 2020 Final last night, which is odd when you consider how much I ranted at our blowing the last semi-final we reached three years ago. But I watched the game last night in slowly growing disinterest, some of it in reaction to the fact that ITV’s coverage is absolute crap, and in the years since I last had a television the standard of adverts has crashed through every floor you could possible imagine, some of it because pointless passing, where X passes the ball to Y who instantly passes it back to X, and so on ad nauseam, still annoys me intensely, and some of it because the commentary never made even the slightest pretense of neutrality and, by extra time, wouldn’t even have recognised it with an electron microscope. Just imagine: I’ve waited 55 years for something like this to come around again, and I can hardly be bothered.
The main factor is that I’d already had the nearly best day possible and by that token football was an intrusion, not to mention a reminder of why I haven’t had a television this past dozen years. But today’s the day for going back. I slept only fitfully, being too exhausted to sleep properly, and it’s grey skies above and for some way down too, so I definitely had the luck for it yesterday.
I’m still achey and intent on taking it slowly. My train out of Windermere isn’t due until 13.07 and I hadn’t planned on getting the bus until 10.30, which leaves a lot of morning to kill, carrying a heavy bag around, before I finally relinquish the Lakes on this visit. So I walk slow and stop frequently, just like yesterday. It’s Market Day in the Square but I was more concerned about finding somewhere to buy drinks, which I end up doing at Booths.
All my instincts are to buy a book for the train home but all the books in Keswick offer me nothing: it used to be so easy. Once upon a time I never visited the New Bookshop in Cockermouth without buying three, some of which I still have.
But shortness of energy has its concomitant in shortness of temper. From the bus station onwards I am halfway back into the real world, and in the real world people are irritating. The bus driver who wanders off into Booths and doesn’t return until after the bus should have departed. The people who stand at the top of the stairs and peer hopefully into the distance, as if a free seat will suddenly, magically, slide towards them.
It’s grey all round now, with cloud on everything, not just Skiddaw. Nothing to look at. Yesterday was such a briliant day, the only thing that could have improved it was someomne to share it with and the bus would be a hundredfold better with someone to talk to and break social distancing with. I wonder what it would be like to kiss through two facemasks?
At Windermere, I take a break in the cafe, a bakewell slice and a flat white. There’s still an hour till my train and I can’t catch an earlier one (if there is one) because I’m on a specfic single for economy. And that’s when the day runs into a brick wall, as my train is abruptly cancelled. The next one’s not until 1.58 and that’s only to Oxenholme. I’m all right, or so I think at that point, but people with connections to make are milling around, panicking. But the delay is enormous and I’m sore and bored long before we even get away on a packed train on which the very idea of social distancing is ditched. Not by yours truly, mind. I make sure with my bags that no-one sits next to me.
It’s the start of a journey from hell. At Oxenholme I transfer to the Euston train, but that’s going through Wigan and Warrington, not Manchester, so I hop off at Preston. By now it’s a beautiful afternoon, much like yesterday, but I’m free-associating Bilbo Baggins, except it’s ‘The day Goes Ever On and On’. There are ten stops to Piccadilly and I count them all, and when I finally get off the train I think it’s nearly over, but it’s not. The bus journey is torture. I’m broiling, and panting, not breathing, and my stress levels are would up so high that when I finally get in, ready to brain someone, anyone, with a tire-iron, I am literally shaking and it takes nearly an hour to return to normal.
So, ok, it wasn’t the usual tedious return journey, the one with nothing to write about, but in the other hand, I could have done without it. It was as bad as yesterday was good, but it doesn’t balance out like that. Wednesday was still the best day I’ve had in a god’s age whilst shitty ones turn up pretty much every week. I look forward to sleeping.