Michael Fleisher R.I.P.: A Study in Notoriety

Sometimes, when someone famous dies, it overshadows the passing of someone else who deserves attention. The day Sir Laurence Olivier died was also the day Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and many more, died, which was a much more personal loss for me, and one that, understandably, went virtually unnoticed.

Stephen Hawking’s death today has coincided with that of a figure who is much less deserving of attention than Mel Blanc, a former comic book writer who has not been involved with the field for decades, but who once achieved an unwelcome form of notoriety that played out when I was fully involved with comics.

This was Michael Fleisher. He left behind him a reputation that, for a time, he seemed to revel in, but which ultimately did him no good. Fleisher got his start in writing comics in the mid-Seventies. He had been installed at DC’s offices to research a proposed six volume history of comics, and from there started to get story assignments.

His first regular series became one of the most notorious of all time in mainstream comics, the revival of DC’s Forties character, The Spectre, in Adventure Comics.

Adventure was being edited by Joe Orlando, who had recently undergone a street mugging at gunpoint that left him furious and frustrated. The Spectre was the spirit of murdered Police Detective, Jim Corrigan, sent back by (impliedly) God, to fight evils with vast supernatural power.

The Spectre had been revived in the Sixties, as part of the Golden Age revival spearheaded by editor Julius Schwartz, where he had been treated as an almost God-like being. Fleisher proposed to go back to the root of the character, as a ruthless dispatcher of criminals. Orlando was just in the mood for that.

Fleisher played around a bit with The Spectre, taking him back to the original state, where Corrigan and The Spectre were the same being and both a ghost, ignoring the development that had seen Corrigan’s body restored to life and become a host for The Spectre. He introduced a new girlfriend in heiress Gwen Sterling (replacing original girlfriend Clarice Winston) and allowed her, unlike Clarice, to know that Jim was a ghost. And he thoroughly confused which Earth this was all taking place on by having a rookie cop respond to a sarcastic reference to ‘Clark Kent’ with a ‘Gee! Are you really Superman?’

But these were peripherals. Fleisher’s series was about one thing, and one thing only: how the Spectre slaughtered the villains. There was a formula to the series: sadistic and brutal crooks would prey on ordinary people without conscience: the Spectre would come along and kill them. The game was in what twisted manner, wonderfully illustrated by the great Jim Aparo, the Spectre would act. These included expanding a hairdresser’s scissors to massive size and cutting him in half, turning a fake crystal ball merchant into crystal an knocking him over to shatter and, most sickening of all, turning a man into wood and feeding him through a woodcutter.

The series was selling, but it was also arousing a lot of fan opposition. Apparently, Publisher Carmine Infantino, after taking a lot of heat for the series, looked for an excuse to end it and the moment the sales dipped, it was gone.

The series ran 10 issues. Twelve scripts had been purchased and two were left undrawn, which was exceptional behaviour for DC Comics in that era. They wanted The Spectre dead, which he had been all along, to be fair. Actually, the series ended appropriately with a two-parter in which Corrigan pleaded with God to restore his humanity, God did so without telling him, Corrigan promptly got shot, believing he was still a ghost (in this series, even God was a sadistic bastard), and then he got killed and went back to being The Spectre.

Fleisher was upset about the criticism of his work on this series, protesting that he had done nothing that The Spectre hadn’t done in the Golden Age. That may be so, but there is a world of difference between that being done in primitive, stiff art by Bernard Bailey and high-detail, polished slick art from Aparo.

And I am moderately confident that Bailey and co-creator Jerry Seigel never wrote a scene in which the Spectre chops a woman into seven separate parts in a single panel.

I’d bought and enjoyed the series, which appeared in the first year I came back to reading comics. I didn’t make a point of following Fleisher’s later career, though I was aware that he had acquired a high reputation after taking over DC’s scar-faced western bounty-hunter, Jonah Hex. I never read any of this series, but Fleisher was again noted for the twisted aspects of a Special he wrote, featuring Hex in his sixties, being killed by being shot in the back, like Wild Bill Hickock at the poker table, and his body being stuffed for an exhibition at a Wild West Fair. Not exactly John Wayne, nor even Clint Eastwood.

Then there was the matter of Fleisher’s (only?) novel, Chasing Hairy. Yes, from the dubious title onwards, this appears to have been a pretty repellent thing. I have never seen the book, let alone read it, but I have read a summary of its plot, and seen many quotes, and there seems to be general consensus that this is a pretty repulsive piece of misogyny, including sexual violence towards women.

What I do know is that Fleisher bought advertising space to promote his book, in which he received permission to feature several of the comics characters he had written at that point. These included Jonah Hex, acting scared by its contents, and Spider-Woman, relishing how super-sexy it made her feel, and that Fleisher certainly knew how to turn a woman on. By forcing her to perform a blow job and them setting her alight? Kinky.

And like Charles Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, Fleisher seemed to have something of a bondage fetish, allegedly constantly trying to introduce bound women into his stories, and having been complained about by more than one Editor, technically responsible for the content of the comic, for this tendency.

This was Michael Fleisher’s career, up to that point in 1983 when Gary Goth interviewed Harlan Ellison for The Comics Journal 53. This was a free-ranging talk, with Ellison offering unbridled opinion about multiple subjects. When it came to Fleisher, Ellison was enthusiastic about his work, saying that “there’s a genuinely twisted imagination at work” and describing it as “Bugfuck”. You might not agree with the actual wording, but it’s clear from context that Ellison is praising Fleisher, even to the extent to comparing him with H P Lovecraft.

Unfortunately, Fleisher did not see it that way. His immediate response was to demand an apology and retraction from TCJ. This would have been considered, but Fleisher went so far as to writ his own multi-page apology and retraction, including demands for banner front page headlines, in terms deliberately intended to be as humiliating as possible to the Journal. No magazine would have conceded that, and the editors determined to investigate the aggrandising claims Fleisher was making, but were halted when he issued proceedings against _TCJ_ and Ellison.

The Journal based their defence on their First Amendment rights.

The case ran for years, and polarised much of the comics industry, based mostly on individuals’ reactions to the abrasive Journal and its provocative stance. Journal publishers, Fantagraphics, published several fundraiser comics, featuring material donated by writers and artists, to pay legal bills, and at one time were accused by one of their enemies of taking everyone for a ride and that they were spending the money on cars etc.

Some less publicised efforts were made to raise money for Fleisher, but his main supporter in the action appeared to be Marvel Editor-in-Chief, who gave up prodigious amounts of time to give evidence in Court about the damage the interview had done to Fleisher’s reputation in the market, and thus his income (which increased during the time it took to get the case to Court and was accordingly argued to have risen less than it would have without the defamation).

Eventually, the case went to Court with hearings lasting for weeks, after which the jury took ninety minutes to find for the Journal and Ellison. The word went around at the time that a juror had been overheard saying that they none of them believed a word of Shooter’s testimony.

The verdict came in just in time for a very short note to appear in TCJ issue 114. Gary Groth’s victory speech to the fan press was a reading of the First Amendment. But TCJ 115 went to town, with a cover dominated by Jim Shooter giving testimony and practically the whole issue given over to the course of the case and Trial transcripts. Fleisher’s ‘demanded’ apology was printed, as was the aborted refutation of his claims therein. Fleisher’s testimony didn’t arrive but Shooter’s was there in full, and it was not pretty reading, especially for those writers and artists at Marvel who suddenly found themselves officially reduced to puppets of the editor…

Shooter was growing increasingly unpopular for his dictatorial ways around Marvel, and the hostility around what was seen by many as an attempt to crush a magazine that constantly railed against him and Marvel was at one time cited as contributing to Shooter’s sacking as Editor-in-Chief not so many moons later.

It did for Fleisher’s career as a comic book writer. After this debacle, he disappeared from the industry, cut all ties with his former colleagues, and was believed to have been living in Ontario when word was passed that he’d died.

I doubt it would have made much of a splash anyway, but today it’s not even ephemera.

And there doesn’t seem to be much reaction in comics circles Stateside either. Fleisher actually died as far back as February 2, aged 75. He was a good writer, technically, but from all I read of his work, his imagination took him into dark and dubious areas that I personally would not want to navigate. His biggest, and self-induced problem was that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t see that Harlan Ellison was praising him for that, and he started a lawsuit that blew up spectacularly in his face. Conspiracy theorists even contended that Fleisher was under the influence of Jim Shooter, who saw him as a means to crush The Comics Journal: certainly, that self-composed apology is more of an attempt at humiliation than apology and reparation.

Whether there’s any truth in that, I have no idea. Jim Shooter’s attempt to use Fleisher’s lawsuit for exactly that purpose sure blew up in his face.

Whatever the truths, Fleisher has gone into the dark. The legacy he leaves is minimal and corrupted. Even if the news had not coincided with Stephen Hawking, his passing would probably only been of interest to a few of us, who remember the saga. Not a legacy worth leaving.

If you can’t go wildly OTT at a time like this, when can you?



Stephen Hawking: R.I.P.

A massive loss.

I once bought, read and finished A Brief History of Time. I followed it reasonably well, but don’t pretend to have understood it.

And I’ve seen him on The Big Bang Theory, ably sending himself up: “Another fainter.”

The jokes are already proliferating, and they celebrate him and his genius. I wish I could come up with one to respect him, but all I can do is honour his passing.

Dunblane: 22 Years

Some things never go away.

It took a mention on a Social forum to clue me in that today is the 22nd Anniversary of the school massacre at Dunblane, and it took less than an instant to take me back.

I was working in North Manchester then, Sedgley Park, near Prestwich, and going to Manchester United games. It was possible, without straining the speed limit, to drive from Sedgley Park to Old Trafford, visit the Ticket Office and be back within my lunch hour. We were on the run-in to overhauling Newcastle United, on the road to the Double Double. I was going to Old Trafford.

It was a bright, sunny day. I hadn’t popped in a cassette player, instead I was listening to the radio. I’ve no idea what channel it might be: certainly not Radio 1, probably Five Live. I was about ten minutes out and driving alongside a park-like area when they announced shootings at a Scottish school.

There were further bulletins, there, and back. Flat updates, delivered from a studio nowhere near Dunblane. It maintained a distance in those early minutes, for which I’m grateful. I switched on a car radio midway through Hillsborough: no-one was speaking but the background sound was enough to tell me that something horrible was taking/had taken place. I don’t think I could have coped with an update directly from Dunblane, not with the atmosphere that would have penetrated.

I got back to the office, in a dilemma as to what to say. This was an age before the Internet, and social media. We don’t realise now how slow news could spread, when there weren’t a million sources diseminating information from the middle of things. I could easily have been the only person in that office who knew what was going on.

It was strange to be like that. It could have been something I’d imagined, misunderstood, got wrong. No such luck. The television that night confirmed everything, made it all horribly real.

But mention Dunblane, and I can see what I saw out of the car, sun in the sky, empty parkland, all things of peace and quiet and this news coming over the radio that no-one wanted to believe.

And I have another indelible memory. A group of local musicians recorded a charity single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’, with which I was familiar from its 19070’s chart run. I no longer listened to Radio 1, I hadn’t heard it. I no longer watched Top of the Pops but I watched it the night they were to appear.

It wasn’t the song itself but the occasion. The sincerity in the faces and the voices. I began to cry. I wasn’t so sentimental, and prone to emotion then, when I’m having to repress tears just at the memory.

The song was received in silence, and at its end, the camera panned across the studio, to a young man beginning a song with an acoustic guitar intro. Was this part of it? Was it a segue? The song, pure and sweet, with a refrain of ‘Child, beautiful child’ couldn’t have been more faultlessly chosen. My heart split even further apart.

Later, I found that this was Mark Owen, ex of Take That, a long time before I found myself finding out more about Take That than I dreamed I’d ever need to. It was his first solo single. It was a fortuitous release, for although the juxtaposition sounds cheap, mechanical and manipulative, in that moment it was perfect for squeezing out even more sobbing.

And now it’s 22 years. It was many of those years before I learned that Jamie Murray was one of the children, cowering under the Headmaster’s desk, trying to shelter his little brother Andy in case that murderous bastard should come in. I cannot begin to conceive what it would be like to go through that experience, at that age, and if Andy Murray is ever something of a grump, he has a free pass on that from me.

But 22 years is as nothing to those memories. The sinking feeling, rendering everything else, including the ticket I was going to buy, utterly meaningless in the face of what had happened. The impact of those two songs, presented in silence (I didn’t watch the rest of the show: how could you have a Top of the Pops after that opening?). Some things never go away, no matter how much you might wish to find them sinking into the back of your memory. Say Dunblane, and I am there again. I always will be. And I wasn’t even involved.

No more N.M.E.

I bought it this week

Another response to a passing, but this time not of a person but a magazine, or maybe even an institution. This week, the N.M.E, the New Musical Express has printed its last print copy and will henceforth only be out there on-line. It’s the end of an era.

Or rather, it’s the end of a great many eras, hundreds of them, thousands even, one for each of us who, at any time were hooked on listening with intent. It’s a bit like dear old Peely,in that there’d be a time when they were essential to your life, but then you’d change and he’d change, and you’d find yourself breaking up that old weekly or nightly date and it was over.

My era was 1972 to 1986: I doubt I’ve bought as many as five issues since, and none in over fifteen years now. That takes me back to the days when there were still five music weeklies: Melody Maker, N.M.E., Record Mirror, Disc (and Music Echo) and Sounds. I’d drifted through 1971, sampling each of these, before deciding the N.M.E. was closest to my tastes, only to find, when it started dropping through our door every week, that it had just a couple of weeks before, undergone a radical repositioning, and gone Underground, and Prog.

And that suited me. and I got to go all through the raw passion, anger, excitement and energy of Punk, then New Wave, and post-Punk.

And then we got to the point where they started tagging Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of the Eighties, and I knew that it was all over. Other people had their eras to enjoy: my time had been served. But it had all been so good whilst it lasted.

But I have to salute the N.M.E. for changing my life. That was what it was setting out to do, all the time, but in my case it succeeded in a completely unexpected way.

You all know I’ve been a lifelong comics fan, and that enthusiasm has meant many things. Comics have taken my imagination to places it could never have guessed without them, they underpinned the first period when my inchoate urge to write spilled over on an audience that applauded my efforts and built my self-confidence, I made friends and met and talked with people I’d never otherwise have known. And it is at least plausible to say that without comics coming back into my life after I grew out of them in a tried and trusted manner, I may probably never have met the woman who became my wife.

I’ve told the story before: January 1974, queuing in a newsagent, chancing to see a rack of American comics, being moved by idle curiosity to riffle through them and finding the only possible comic I would have bought, reopening the floodgate and determining my fate.

But without the N.M.E., without three articles by Charles Shaar Murray, in the back of the paper, in the back end of 1973, the one fancifully but articulately comparing the development stages of rock’n’roll with that of comics, and two follow-ups about how Batman and Captain America had changed to meet the modern world, my memory would not have been reset. Without that, if I even see it at all that January after, there is not the merest of idle curiosity that draws me to that rack. I don’t see, let alone buy, that pivotal comic, and everything afterwards turns into a maybe.

So that’s why I remember N.M.E. with fondness. And for the writing, guys, especially CSM, and Nick Kent, and Mick Farren, and Tony Tyler, and Max Bell, and Paul Morley, and I can forgive you for discovering Danny Baker but not Tony Parsons, and we’ll gloss over Julie Burchill, ok. Plus the guy who did the Crossword.

All gone, my era gone, but never to be forgotten, those of us who were there, and all those multiple whens that we were there for, ligging as hard as we could.

And The Lone Groover too.


When you’re a writer – and it doesn’t matter if you’re published, it’s down to the internal obligation to yourself to write (being any good at it is not a factor, either) – the worst moments come when you’re blocked. When there’s a great gaping whole in your head that’s usually filled with words, only now it’s just an absence. A very palpable absence. Something has been removed, and it’s that instinctive drive to think about what you’re writing, about things you can and should be working on, the ongoing mental activity that’s part of the iceberg whose tip is the words you put on paper or pixel.

You can always tell: when else are you driven to write about Block than when it’s the only thing in your head?

Somewhere in my pokey little flat is a book about Writer’s Block. It was the first book by Donald E Westlake that I ever read, it’s still my favourite of all his works, the Dortmunder Gang series notwithstanding, and it’s one of the few works I have ever read/seen that balances laughter and pain so completely. It’s called ‘Adios Scheherezade’.

The book, which appeared in 1967, is being told, or rather typed, by Ed Topliss. It is told in a series of chapters, each of fifteen pages in length, the majority of which are headed Chapter 1. Ed is a writer, officially, that is. Actually, Ed is a schlub.

You see, for the last thirty months, Ed has written dirty books for a living. Real, honest-to-god, cheap soft porn paperbacks, under the pen-name of Dirk Smuff (which encapsulates the entire, low-rent, cheesy milieu of the whole endeavour). To be frank, Dirk Smuff isn’t even Ed’s pen-name, it belongs to and was established by his college friend Paul. Now Paul is a writer. He wrote the first ten Dirk Smuffs for the money, to keep himself afloat whilst he pursued serious options, and now Paul has a career.

Ed, on the other hand, has no options open to him. He majored in English at college, emerged with no plans, no career, and married to Betty, his long-term girlfriend at college who never went all the way until it was nearly the end, and, guess what, she went and got pregnant. So Paul offered Ed an opportunity: take over the Dirk Smuff name, write a dirty book each month, collect $900 every month (Paul keeps 10%). And bear in mind: nobody can write this shit forever.

Ed wasn’t listening to that bit. Ed had his mind on Paul’s shit-hot girlfriend, or rather the thighs being unconcealed by her mini-skirt. As far as Ed’s concerned, it’s easy money, something to keep him going whilst he sorts out a real career for himself.

You see, there’s a formula to these things. There’s a limited number of plots, which you rotate, the books are 150 pages long, and consist of ten chapters, each fifteen pages long, one sex scene per chapter. Oh, and no dirty words: no f’s or c’s. Or even v’s.

And it’s easy work for easy money. One chapter a day for ten days, hammer it out, first draft only, you wouldn’t want to re-read this crap and then nearly three weeks to hang around. Once you learn the tricks of the trade to spin out those pages – and Westlake knows them all, having been in Paul’s position in the Fifties, when he was building his own career – the conveyor belt can roll.

So what if you’re just wasting those days off each month? So what if your wife and daughter are spending about 10% more than you’re bringing in every months? Ed’ll get down to doing something serious. Sometime soon.

But there was that thing Paul said, that Ed wasn’t listening to then. You can’t write this shit forever. Ed’s last three books have been delivered late. Progressively later each month. Ed daren’t deliver the next one late or he’ll be out on his ear. No income, no way of getting an income. Only, Ed needs those days off between writing sex scenes. And he’s ony just delivered the last one. He’s got something like twelve days to write the next one, or the house of cards collapses, not just himself but for his wife and his daughter too.

And Ed can’t do it.

All he can do is sit down at his typewriter and type, hoping to god that something, anything, will unlock that block, will turn into a publishable soft porn novel. And we’re reading what he is writing, as everything goes down the pan.

Because the first half of the book is funny but not yet tragic. Ed’s floundering around, splashing the water, equal parts telling us his life-story and spilling the secrets to writing cheap softcore porn, even to the extent of managing a complete opening chapter so we can tick off all the little tricks and tropes for ourselves.

But following Chapter 1 with Chapter 2 proves impossible, even before a casual lie cuts Ed’s life out from underneath himself, and there is a moment of extreme anguish as everything breaks down, as Ed tries to write a simple line but cannot get through it to the next set of words beyond, but it’s no longer possible.

And from that point on, we are following the tragedy, second-rate though it may be, of a man’s life spiraling out of all control, in which the only possible structure he has left is his compulsion to record things in chapters exactly fifteen pages long, though the need to supply a sex scene in every chapter has disappeared, along with the life he’s been leading all the time he could still write this shit.

There isn’t really an ending. Schlubs like Ed don’t get endings. His last chapter is typed in sections, fifteen pages built up on different typewriters in different places, before he vanishes, on something that you could maybe characterise as a quest. His last words are a variation on the title, adios and a word he can’t use in his books and that I don’t intend to use here. And he’s gone, and his story is essentially incomplete, we have to make up the ending for ourselves, and I don’t think any of us imagine good endings.

Adios Scheherezade is a fabulous formal experiment, and an incredibly successful one, despite its lack of any defined ending. Indeed, the nebulousness of it is a part of the book’s artistic success. It’s also virtually impossible to get hold of now.

It’s a book about Block, and doing what you can to get out of it, and it’s exactly what I’ve done: to write I’ve found something to write about, and the muscles are eased up, and the cavern inside feels less cavernous. I think I’m ahead of Ed right now. The proof will come later.

White-Out on Kinder Scout

Imagine this under heavy snow

A discussion at work about the weather conditions today has brought back another snow memory that I’d forgotten for quite some time.

This one goes back to 1983, when I was going out, for several months, in a desultory, going nowhere manner, with a young lady who I initially met at work, and who I continued dating after I changed firms.

I’d not long since connected with Linda, an old friend from childhood, who was now married, to an ex-Army PTI turned Sports Centre Personal Trainer. All of us enjoyed fell-walking (well, you know that about me anyway), so we agreed to go down to Edale as a foursome one Sunday morning.

It had snowed overnight, and conditions on the ridges didn’t look propitious, but we decided to change into our boots and set off. First up was a stop at the Visitor Centre, where Ray filled in a route card, setting out where we were going and when we expected to be back.

This surprised and amused me, having never done anything like this, before or since in the Lakes. It became a minor bone of friendly contention between Linda and I over the years as she thought I was being derelict in never leaving any information behind about where I was going, and me pointing out that there were no such Visitor centres in the Lakes, there were so many different places from which my walks started, and that I was not prepared to leave a note on the windscreen of my car, saying, in effect, that I wasn’t going to be back for six hours, during which time you can rob this vehicle with impunity.

We were ascending by Grindsbrook Clough, which was then the official start to the Pennine Way at the Edale end, but which was closed to walkers some years later, on safety grounds I presume: I do not know if it has ever been re-opened.

Grindsbrook Clough is a narrow, curving channel into the bulk of Kinder Scout, initially relatively level but soon winding upwards in quite a steep fashion. I have an image of approaching the ascending section, the sides of the Clough closing in, the snow clouds down on the higher section, a dark roof.

We scrambled up to the edge of the plateau and stopped for a consultation. It was truly white-out conditions, visibility limited to at most ten yards, and less for me because I’d had to take off my glasses and stick them in an anorak pocket because they were filling with snow. There was nothing to be seen except snow: all arund, all underfoot.

I say a consultation, but it was mainly Ray and Linda. It was agreed that we would walk on to some prominent landmark on Kinder’s wide top, the name of which I have long since forgotten. Personally, I would not even have gone as far as the edge of the plateau in those conditions, even though Grindsbrook Clough was an unerring route and we’d got that far with no difficulty, but everyone else seemed enthusiastic so, trusting in Ray’s Army training, I raised no objections.

So we set off in single file, Ray in the lead, Linda behind, then Nicola, and me bringing up the rear in the traditional gallant male role. The path wound here and there. I lost all sense of distance travelled. There was nothing to see but the cage of snow, blowing through us.

After I’d gotten thoroughly fed up with where I was, we got to where we were going, whatever it was. There were some taller rocks, in a kind of outcrop that might have been interesting if it was actually visible, but it wasn’t. Linda and Ray agreed that we wouldn’t hang around, and would immediately turn round and go back. As we were still lined up in march order, Ray turned to me and said, “Ok, Martin, you lead us back.”

“You what?” I said, in a rather loud voice. “I have no idea where we are. You get up here now!”

So we went back to the edge of the plateau in the same order, Ray at the front, me at the back and the ladies between. Once more, we twisted and turned in the white-out conditions, and once more Ray led us to the top of Grindsbrook Clough with dead reckoning, and we started down.

I’ve been caught in storms and thick cloud on Lakeland tops, I’ve climbed up through underfoot snow and given up on Pavey Ark because of it, within about a hundred yards of the summit as I learned when I came back, but that blind walk across a part of the Kinder plateau is the most extreme weather conditions I’ve found myself in.

And people wonder why I usually went out on my own, and took my own decisions!

When it Snows…

Though the current, Siberian-influenced whether has been predicted to be devastated along the east side of the country, we on the west side of the kingdom (or at least the Pennines) have not escaped.

I woke today to white roofs, coated cars and foot-marked pavements in my side-street off the main road, and twelve hours or so later returned to the same thing, only thicker and darker.

I between, the snow has flurried, thin and thick, in short bursts of only a few minutes each time, but not beginning to stick until after dark, when temperatures fell further.

Snow always casts me back to two memories, a few days apart, neither of which have anything to do with my childhood in Openshaw and Droylsden, when it seemed to snow more often, more deeply, more regularly than at any time since, when my only concern was the thrill of rushing around in the snow, woolen mittens quickly turning wet as I bundled up and weakly threw snowballs, wondering how soon I could get Dad to haul me or push me or send me flying on my little wooden sledge.

No, the snows of childhood are always the deepest and the best of your life, before you learn of any doubts or risks they bring.

But my twin moments of recollection were much later than that, though still decades ago. This was January, 1979, the infamous Winter of Discontent that brought down Jim Callaghan’s Government according to legend, the first winter I spent in Nottingham.

I had already been put out by the weather. I’d got ten days off over Xmas and gone home, my hi-fi and stuff collected and driven to Manchester, on the pretext that it shouldn’t be left for burglars, but really because I wanted my music. But snow had descended before New Year’s Eve, there was no way it would be safe to drive back, so on New Year’s Day, I packed up all the clothes I could carry and set off by train, Manchester to Sheffield to Nottingham.

Though it’s not one of these automatic memories, I remember trekking across Nottingham City Centre, from the railway station to where I could catch my bus, following the shortest route, still and quiet, on thin but packed snow, and no-one else about in a darkness that seemed only half-lit. Though the rest of my clothes arrived in a brown-paper parcel half a week later, my hi-fi and my evening entertainment took ne.arly three weeks before my mother deemed it safe to drive.

And then there was this Wednesday. The snow already lay thick in the City Centre streets, black and slutchy in the middle of pedestrian ways, piled and dirty against walls and under shop windows. There was a blizzard that day, the air thick and blurred with heavy, swirling flakes, the skies drawn together as if what light there was came up from the ground until it could climb no higher.

On the tannoy, at 12.45pm, there was an announcement that, in the current conditions, the office would close at 3.30pm, not the usual 5.0pm, but that any member of staff concerned that they would need longer to get home safely should  leave when they thought necessary. Hardly had the last echo faded away than one woman was in her coat and belting off, but in her defence, she did live some distance outside Nottingham, in the country.

There were two of us, me and my fellow Articled Clerk, who lived virtually opposite each other, on Woodborough Road. We walked in and back together, five days a week, and it took us only twenty-five minutes, so we had no chance of slipping out early.

By three-thirty, there had been no let up in the snow, and everywhere was full of fallen snow, with more descending every second. There was a bus that passed both our homes, that we sometimes took, and though we’d have had to queue, we might have taken refuge there. But we lived up the only hill in Nottingham, and after a brief consultation, we agreed that neither of us fancied being on a bus trying to get up Woodborough Road, so we’d walk it.

Up Mansfield Road to begin with, right at the lights opposite the Newcastle Arms, a little dip the that first long, sustained climb. And now we were walking into the wind, the snow blowing directly upon us, and I remember, oh how I remember, doing the decent thing, the noble thing even, and telling her to move behind me, a couple of paces back, and I  took the brunt of the blizzard and sheltered her, Wenceslas-like, all the way up the hill,not able to talk, not able to turn around, like Orpheus leading Eurydice out of the Underworld.

At the top of this hill, the gradient eased, a long section that rose quietly, but still I sheltered my friend, until we were opposite her bedsit, and mine was a hundred yards further on, at the foot of another, steeper rise towards Mapperley Plains. Appreciative, she invited me in for a coffee, and of course I accepted, because I never turned down a chance to sit and talk with her.

So, Wednesday. On Saturday, United were playing away at Nottingham Forest, and a mate of mine, coming over from Manchester, had got me a ticket. We would meet up somewhere before the match, he’d hand it over, I’d give him the money for it. Except that so much snow had already fallen that, at 10.00am on the Thursday – over 50 hours before kick-off – it was called off.

(Glyn posted me the ticket so I could still go, though the re-arranged game was further postponed when United had to fit in a Cup Replay, and was finally played the Tuesday after Easter Monday, when I was back in Manchester for the week, our friendship broke down round about the same point, and I did not see him again for four years, by when he’d completely forgotten I still owed him for the unused ticket.)

So on Saturday, instead of worries about Glyn finding whatever meeting place we would have chosen, and fretting about the likelihood of the Police marching all the united contingent straight to the station and forcing us onto the trains, over my desperate protests that I lived here, I had nothing to do and nowhere to go, and indulged myself with a long lie-in. When I drew the curtains, the world was white.

It had fallen, long, until everything I could see was indeed deep and crisp and even. No footmarks in the courtyards behind Alexandra Court. No movement, no sound. Just big, fat, full snowflakes, drifting down through the breezeless air, still, silent, unhurried, filling the air and covering the ground and the heavy, white-headed trees. It was beautiful, and curiously unreal, and I stood at the window and just watched it fall, as if it could do this until Eternity got bored and changed to the other channel.

An hour later, I went out in it, down the road for my newspaper. Nothing was different. There were few footmarks even on a decently busy road, for the snow slid into these and filled them unhesitatingly. These were indeed the snows of childhood, of memory and imagination, pure white, clean and tidy. I remember to this instant the crunch of my shoes in the pavement snow, pressing and compacting it, and the dry whisper of the flakes, brushing against the umbrella held over my head, as they slid past me. I collected my paper, tramped back, went inside, but if the walk out had been five times as long, I wouldn’t have cared or begrudged the extra time spent out there, in time suspended and not really real.

That long transport into the heart of the snow our childish hearts respond to, oblivious of the harm and the threat, and my Wenceslas ascent, keeping the worst of the snow off someone I would have made far greater sacrifices for, Wednesday and Saturday of a long ago winter when our world, our country was now as it is now: when snow falls, I am always transported there when snow comes down. Old times are always still alive in some part of us, though probably not so easy of access.