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The Long and Winding Road


Here There and Everywhere

Ticket to Ride


I Saw Her Standing There

Here Comes the Sun

A Hard Day’s Night

With a Little Help From my Friends

Till There Was You

We Can Work It Out

Drive My Car

Nowhere Man

Let it Be



The events portrayed in these stories are factual, but a few are a combination of several incidents blended into a single event for the purposes of brevity.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent, particularly, where I have incorrectly, and unwittingly, fallen foul of distant memory. Some characters are a hybrid of more than one person, but generally they stand alone.

My recollections of events are my responsibility alone and no malice is intended if mistakes have been made.

Copyright is claimed by me and no unauthorised publication of any part is allowed without my written permission.

RJ Bernard 2018


It is no coincidence that each story in this collection has a Beatle’s song as its title. When the Beatles and Rolling Stones, exploded onto the music scene in the early Sixties, they transformed the associated London social action mainly from a bunch of small sleazy, smoky clubs, mainly around Soho, playing, mostly American Rock n’ Roll, into a vibrant culture which, for some time, was the only place to be.

They carried with them, a generation of musically and socially dispirited kids, who were determined to shed the remaining shackles of the austerity filled post-war years. The clubs were still smoky, but more interesting, and larger.

I arrived in London just before the Beatles, and whilst too penniless to join in wholeheartedly with the new scene, wallowed in the atmosphere of the personal freedom of the time, those who weren’t there cannot grasp the enormity of what was happening. I was lucky to have been there. It would be inapt if I wrote about my life in London, without telling you why I came in the first place. My story, ‘Yesterday’, does just that.

The stories I have produced in this book, are some of my memories of that scintillating period. We were ordinary guys, leading ordinary lives, and these stories convey a feeling of what ordinary people got up to, or at least I hope they do. I have selected a few memories, and there are lots more which I will publish in the future, but in the meantime, I hope you have as much pleasure reading these as I have in recalling them, well most of them.

If you wish to be notified about future publications, please contact or follow my web page on

Thanks for reading

RJ Bernard

The Long and Winding Road

The wild and windy night that the rain washed away

Many times I've been alone and many times I've cried’

Friday evening and St. James’s Park tube station was like a human ants’ nest which had been rudely disturbed; strangers scurrying in all directions wishing to be somewhere else. A confused mass of humanity innocently intruding on each other’s lives for a fleeting moment, each cocooned in their own private world; the dullness of their weekly grind soon to be replaced by the happy relief of the weekend. Not for me alas; I would witness the weekly transformation no more. I had to move on and accept defeat; my brave new world must be waiting somewhere else, I reasoned, as the touch of a hand on my shoulder shook me out of my thoughts.

‘Hi!’ Now, I might have been a naïve country lad, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew about these things, especially in crowded places such as the tube platform.

‘Are you Richard Bernard?’ The chubby face with thick lips was vaguely familiar as was the nervous lop-sided grin. ‘I’m Tom, Tom McAllister, Hugh’s brother.’ Hugh had been my choirmaster at my local church.

‘Jesus Christ! Tom, what are you doing here?’ My fist unclenched as I pumped his hand; the first friendly face since I arrived.

‘I’m going home from work. I didn’t realise you had moved here.’

‘Well, sort of.’

Two weeks earlier, I had been in a taxi with my mother for the only time in my life.

‘Remember, you must call every night from the same phone box so that if you don’t phone I can tell the police where you should have been.’ How comforting. ‘Don’t accept anything from strangers, go to church every Sunday and always wear your vest.’ The first was a bit of a problem as every person I would meet would be a stranger; this from a woman who, when my age, had spent a couple of years roaming around America on her own on a bus. To be fair, once I had made up my mind to go she had never tried to dissuade me.

The taxi swished through the black wet streets surrounded by the soulless slabs of pre-cast concrete moonlighting as homes for the families of the miners and steelmen of our villages, where a shameful number of widows were the breadwinners due to the savagery of pneumoconiosis, better known by its dreaded name of ‘black lung’. We slid past my old primary school where Mum now taught. Every time I passed that school I could remember the stench of the drums of boiled cabbage being delivered for school dinner, and the custard which looked more like a drunk’s vomit and tasted even worse. Sixty children in my first class mothered by the wonderful Miss Meechan; she was married but all female teachers were addressed as Miss regardless of their marital status. That was yesteryear.

Now I was setting out on an exotic journey to the centre of the world. Not Glasgow, not Edinburgh but London. These were exciting times; Pete Seeger was wondering where all his flowers had gone, the Beatles had just started at The Cavern and Robert Allen Zimmerman was still Jewish. The Aldermaston Marches were now established; world peace was in our sights and love to all men, and women, could be glimpsed gleaming through the fluffy clouds. This was my first step to becoming Prime Minister, or at least the next David Frost.

It is said that when the railway system was being extended in the nineteenth century, stations were built near the local mansion to facilitate the needs of the gentry. Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, must have been ahead of his time because Motherwell railway station was built next door to the numerous steelworks and his Lordship ensured that it was well away from his fine estate on the other side of town. Not for him the screeching of metal girders, or the frightening blast of raucous crimson lighting the night sky like a volcanic eruption every night. My nasty Granny told me that it was the devil devouring those who didn’t go to church on Sundays, and for years I believed her. I fully expect she is now chief stoker.

The hissing steam rising from beneath the railway engine accentuated the stillness of the dark early February evening. The nearest coaches were shrouded in this ghostly mist. The last carriages disappeared round the curve of the platform. I had said goodbye to Mum in the taxi. The emotion on her proud lined face, white powdered and lipstick a shade too red, was hidden in the darkness. Still, I shared her pain.

She was alone now; my two elder sisters had married, and left home and my younger brother was at a college in England. Our father had died of cancer nearly ten years ago, and the stress signs of looking after him at home for two years, whilst still teaching were all too evident; at that time, she had to travel to a school in Glasgow by bus which was an hour journey each way. My younger brother had to be dropped off at nursery school on the way and collected on her return journey. Mum had aged considerably and the effect of the many different drugs she was on, some to help her sleep, some to wake her up, had ravaged her body and lined her brittle skin with the ageing scars of a woman twenty years older than her fifty-eight.

She and I had never been particularly close; when I was younger she always seemed to be doing things and I was left to fend for myself. As she got older and into her prescription drug filled haze she seemed incapable of showing emotion. Although I witnessed the hard life she had had bringing up four children on her teacher’s salary and meagre widow’s pension I bore her some resentment for our financial predicament. I tried hard not to, but I couldn’t help it. She always managed to find enough for her Capstan cigarettes and quarter bottle of Spey Royal whisky, whilst I went without ever buying new clothes, despite bringing home a weekly wage. I still loved her.

I dragged my battered suitcase up the few steps into the sleeping car. The large stout man sitting on the bottom berth had laid his Automobile Association jacket beside him. The luxuriant moustache covering most of his lower face was presumably to compensate for the lack of hair on his head. His friendly eyes were guarded by bushy eyebrows which would have given Dennis Healey a run for his money. He was the same age my father would have been, and took it upon himself to advise this gawky young man on the perils of the big city. My dark hair, pale complexion and slight frame made me look even younger than nineteen. We talked most of the night, or at least Phil did, and I consumed his insight into London life, especially his description of how to use the Underground. He was returning to London having delivered a car to Glasgow and lived in a North London suburb. By the time we arrived at Euston he had convinced me that the capital was the place for me.

The monstrous cathedral of glass and girders that was Euston Station and the cacophony bouncing off the spacious ceilings, dulled my already tired senses and I was quite disorientated. George, a former colleague from my time at Kelvingrove, had offered to put me up till I could find a place of my own. He would wait for me by the exit of the platform. He wasn’t there, but George was never very good at timekeeping and it wouldn’t be long till he turned up. I sat down and studied the endless flow of passengers and tried to guess what or who they were. Bankers, politicians, journalists, all of them would have glamorous jobs of course; this was London the centre of the World. After two hours I called the phone number he gave me to use in an emergency. It was disconnected. I learned later that he had been a guest of Her Majesty during that time.

‘Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Westminster please?’ Without lifting his head or consulting a guide book the ticket clerk replied,

‘Northern Line, change at Embankment, Circle line to Westminster.’ Fortunately, I knew from Phil that each tube line had its own colour. I followed the black signs until I reached the Northern line platform, chose the southern direction and waited for the train. Three or four trains passed but not the right one.

‘Excuse me,’ I said to the attractive dark haired young girl standing close by, ‘do you know when the next Northern line train is due for Embankment?’ She had a beautiful smile, and long dark hair covered by a fur hat, which complimented her ankle length coat, trimmed with similar exotic fur. See, I thought, even the London girls are beautiful.

‘Prostite, ya nee govoryu pa Angliyski.’ ‘Must be a Geordie,’ I thought. ‘I’ll try someone else.’

‘Yes mate. They’re all Northern Line. Next one is in three minutes.’

‘Thanks mate.’ I replied, dropping straight into the vernacular and growing in confidence. He was wrong though, this train was just like the others, a dirty maroon colour.

‘Excuse me,’ I said to my new friend ‘I thought you said this one was the Northern Line?’

‘It is.’ He replied.

‘But it’s not black.’

‘Eh? Are you taking the fucking piss ... pratt?’ He leapt aboard and got caught in the closing door. He was trying to say something to me as the train moved off, but I couldn’t make it out.

Piccadilly Circus and Westminster were the only parts of London that I knew much about. The latter sounded as though it would be safer. Not meeting George was a bit of a blow as I hadn’t counted on having to pay any rent for the first few weeks, and what little money I had would now be fully stretched. I trudged into the nearest Police station at Westminster and explained my predicament. The sergeant was very patient and sent me off in the direction of the International Students Hostel. Having reconciled the misunderstanding I had over Phil’s description of tube lines’ colouring, I safely made my way from Westminster to St. James’s Park.

The row of Georgian houses was grimy and greased with the rampant smog which choked London on a regular deadly basis. The soiled windows were curtained with blankets, shirts on hangers or torn jaded muslin. The sickly yellow walls and the shabby red linoleum, ingrained with years of accumulated filth would have repulsed all but the most impoverished. A cynic might have suggested it was deliberate. I chose a place in a dormitory of eight on the reasonable grounds that it was the cheapest.

A row of beds lined adjacent walls. Each row was two sets of bunk beds. I was given the lower bunk on the right furthest from the door. I was pleased to be near the window. A quick glance at the sheets and I decided to sleep between the blankets. I could always use my coat to stop freezing to death. I later found out that the window frame was permanently jammed open with a two-inch gap at the bottom. Central heating had by-passed this part of SW1.

My fellow hostellers were an interesting crew; black, Chinese, German, South African and even a Welshman. I had never been close to a black man before let alone speak to one and the only Chinese I knew worked in the Chinese restaurant in Sauchiehall Street. Most of them were largely uncommunicative but Paul, the West Indian, wanted to discuss cricket all day long. He got on alright with the Welshman, but I was excluded as my knowledge of cricket could be inscribed on the arse of a gnat. The others just couldn’t speak English.

Mum had given me a small red leatherette travelling alarm clock as a going away present and it was a great hit. The inconvenience of having to set it for ungodly hours two or three times a morning to suit my fellow inmates was more than compensated for by the kudos I got. My meagre belongings were safe.

I spent my spare time, of which I had plenty, combing this great city taking in as much of the historic feel as possible. The Palace of Westminster was breath-taking. It wasn’t particularly beautiful, but the sheer grandeur was spectacular. I imagined standing in the Common’s chamber reducing Enoch Powell to a gibbering wreck with my sharp wit and intellectual superiority. Meanwhile, I found a telephone box at the edge of College Green just opposite St. Stephen’s entrance to the Houses of Parliament, and this would be my point of contact with Mum each evening.

My first telephone calls did not bode well. Both job offers I had received before leaving home had been filled. Over the next days I scoured the classified sections of the Evening Standard and Evening News. I can recall quite vividly the events I have so far described, yet when I turn to the longest period of this episode it’s like watching a film being played at ten times the appropriate speed; I see what is happening but can’t take it in. Lumbering around a huge unfamiliar city, virtually homeless, looking for work and having no meaningful conversations is as much fun as sitting in a windowless room with toothache listening to a Leonard Cohen concert on a never-ending tape. The loneliness of winter was never so clear.

There were some good moments. I was able to compare the Gothic opulence of the magnificent Abbey with the more modern Byzantine-style red brick and white stone Cathedral at opposite ends of Victoria Street. On a visit to Piccadilly Circus I marvelled at the sign I saw outside a pub; ‘Irish Free House’ it said. Trust the Irish to have a pub in London offering them free beer, I thought. Donald Soper the Methodist minister, socialist and pacifist, alone was worth the visit to Speakers corner. I do envy the ease with which some people master the English language.

I wanted to visit Notting Hill to see for myself the scenes of the nineteen fifty-eight race riots. It didn’t seem to be particularly different from any other London borough, not that I knew many of them other than on black and white television but whilst I was there I stumbled across an outdoor meeting of the United Movement. Young men with shaved heads wearing sunglasses and black shirts stood menacingly around a rather tubby elderly man who was standing on a soap box. I recognised the puffy face with bushy moustache although I had never heard the shrill squeaky voice before. I knew I should dislike Sir Oswald Mosley for he was a hate figure of my father. His famed oratorical skills camouflaged the poison of his message.

I did find a job in Bishopsgate which would be available in two weeks, but the wages weren’t enough to fund a bed-sit and I couldn’t live in the misery of the hostel for much longer.

My dreams of a new start now seemed ridiculous. How could a boy from the country turn up in the world’s capital and expect it to recognise him as a modern Dick Whittington? At least Mum would be relieved. I had rehearsed the conversation I was going to have with her that evening;

I was trying to find the precise words when fate intervened, and Tom touched me on the shoulder.

‘I’m living in the Civil Service hostel in Notting Hill. Jim MacDonald and Dickie Dewar are there as well. Come back and we’ll have a few beers.’ I doubt that I have accepted an invitation with such pleasure in my life. Jim and Dickie had been in my year at school and I had played in the same football team as Dickie. I had met Tom when he joined in the choir on his visits home. We talked non-stop on the train to Notting Hill. I explained briefly why I had come to London leaving out the more salacious bits. Tom told me that all three of them had dropped out of Glasgow University at different times and had joined the Civil Service in London, mainly to escape the wrath of their parents. Their hostel was the Ritz of all hostels; freshly painted cream walls and blue carpeted floors, with laughing chattering voices echoing throughout. The nearby pub was busy and for the first time since I arrived in London I felt human; enjoying a Friday night out with the boys. Although I had not known them well at home we laughed and joked like we were blood brothers. As I left we agreed to meet on Sunday at the same pub.

My heart was lighter, and my step was livelier; this was nearer to how I imagined life would be in London. Saturday seemed to go on forever as I counted the minutes towards the next meeting with the lads. On Sunday I arrived early at the pub which was quieter than it had been on Friday, but I hardly noticed.

‘We’ve been thinking,’ said Jim, ‘we have been planning to get a flat together for some time now and there’s one advertised on our notice board. It’s in Queen’s Park for four people. Do you fancy joining us?’

First thing on Monday I accepted the job in Bishopsgate. Just then I expected a fanfare of trumpets and some old geezer with a white beard welcoming me through pearly gates.

‘Hello Mum. Sorry I’m a bit late. I met Tom McAllister and two other blokes I went to school with. Yes, Hugh’s brother, you know the church choirmaster? I agree - a very respectable family. Anyway, they are moving into a flat next week and I’m joining them. Yes, I thought you’d be pleased, I also start my new job next Monday. Yes Mum, we all went to church. OK Mum will ring you tomorrow.’

She was so happy that I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had stopped wearing vests.


Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away’

A few months earlier I had been sitting at my desk in Glasgow making a list of the presents I had to buy for Christmas. There wasn’t much shopping time left but I didn’t have many to buy; Mum, brother and two sisters; smelly stuff would do for them, books for my sisters’ kids and some chocolate for Aunt Cissie if I had enough money left.

‘Richard, Mr Baxter would like to see you.’

‘OK. Thanks Mr. Black.’ Alan Black was the Chief Clerk; he was dapper, everything about him was correct from his shining black shoes to his precisely knotted blue tie tucked into his perfectly fitted waistcoat. He was small with a pencil moustache embellishing his thin face and slick black hair. Although a little distant he was very popular with the staff; he always took a genuine interest in their welfare and was never patronising, even on the rare occasion when pointing out an error. Mr. Baxter was a Director of Baxter & Murray and had a special interest in the work I was doing. He didn’t communicate much with staff let alone socialise with them. Having an audience with Mr. Baxter was only slightly less unusual than having one with the Queen.

The office was in a magnificent old building in the heart of the City. The main office was one large airy room with tall, leaded windows, almost the full height of the walls, parquet flooring and dull brass old fashioned chandeliers. The desks were grouped in twos facing each other except for a high roll top desk at the far end where Mr. Black sat perched on a tall wooden stool. It was as quiet as the reading room at the British Museum. Mr. Baxter’s office was at the front near the entrance and the door was always closed. I shut the stock control ledger, stuffed my list in my pocket and picked up my jacket from the back of the chair. To walk about the office without one was unacceptable. Andrew, who sat next to me, got up and moved towards the back of the office; he forgot his jacket. I knocked on Mr. Baxter’s door.

‘Come in. Ah, sit down Richard.’ That was promising; he usually called everyone, except Mr. Black, by their surname.

A few years earlier I had joined the subsidiary company, Findlay & Moore as a clerk in their Bonded Warehouse just off the Broomielaw in Glasgow. It was my first ‘proper’ job as Mum called it, only because it was in an office. My previous stint as an apprentice in a steelworks didn’t count. On this occasion I did have some empathy with her view; I hated every minute of my brief period at the bridge builders. At eight am every morning I joined the living Lowry landscape and trudged down Roman Road; turning around the corner into the Parkneuk Works in Motherwell. I was always dismayed that my nightly fantasy about the building having been destroyed overnight by fire - or anything, I wasn’t fussed - had only been a dream. The cavernous workshop was filled by a cacophony of screeching metal being trundled around from one bay to another on an overhead gantry; so loud it wasn’t possible to have a normal conversation with workmates let alone get to know them. Standing at the same bench with the same tools performing the same tasks day after day, trying to ignore the blasts of freezing air coming from the huge open door, sweeping through the workshop; most of these men worked there for five and a half days a week all their lives with two weeks off for an annual holiday. This soulless Hell was the only life they knew. I was depressed after a few days.

Findlay & Moore was a family company and I was instantly accepted as part of that family. Jim Marshall, the manager, was the father figure; no one ever disputed his authority. A tall slim man of about sixty he stooped slightly as he spoke as though to emphasise his paternalistic approach; behind his heavy glasses his sad eyes gave him the bearing of a big friendly Labrador. Dougie was five years older than me and was the big brother; Fat George was the uncle with the wart on his chin, who picked his nose and farted loudly even when sober. Angus, Keith and I shared the work counter which ran around two sides of the small office. Angus was the senior and took his responsibility very seriously whilst Keith, who was good looking and tall, dark skinned with thick black curly hair, spent most of his time trying to get off with a different girl from the bottling hall every week. The lucky sod usually succeeded. Not counting my father’s funeral, Angus was the first man I had seen cry when his Mother died the day before Christmas Eve.

The walls of our office were large windows looking onto the loading bay on one side and into the bottling hall on the other. The three all male office staff wore brown warehouse coats while the warehouse and bottling staff, almost all girls, wore blue overalls or blue coats. For a former pupil of a boys only grammar it was a dream come true; girls all over the place. Cheeky, earthy and unashamedly randy too; I would have worked here for nothing, well…! I was too young to make much impression with the girls, but Keith once persuaded me to playfully touch one of them on the back of her thigh as she leaned over my desk.

‘They love it.’ Promised Keith. She giggled with delight and ran into the bottling hall.

‘The wee mans touched me up’ she squealed ‘nae flies on him, eh? You’ll be awright tonight Mary.’ She shouted to one of the younger girls who blushed. I didn’t realise I had an admirer. The others showed their appreciation by banging bottles on the tables, whistling and cheering. I wanted to die and preferably quickly. For days afterwards, the girls cat-called in unison whenever I entered the hall and my face was hotter than the Hell fire I was going through. Staring firmly at my shoes I suffered agony. My male colleagues thought it hilarious and left me to suffer without sympathy.

Right outside my office window lorries reversed into the loading bay to be packed with cases of whisky for export. Mounted Police officers often rode into the empty bay to have their daily dram and sort out any parking problems or just because they were bored.

On my first day Jim Marshall, whose office was above ours, said ‘Your main job son is to make sure that the drivers get a nice whisky whilst they’re waiting.’

‘What about the police Mr Marshall?’

‘Aye, ye’re a bright lad true enough; they get doubles!’ He roared with laughter and walloped me on the back. I liked him but then I liked everyone there, apart from Fat George the sweating, pock marked half Mediterranean bottling hall foreman who tried to sexually assault me in the stationary cupboard in my first week. He didn’t try it again.

We grew up together in the docklands. We played for the same football team; we sang Lonnie Donegan, laughed at Elvis – one song wonder we declared – and went to trad jazz clubs. And I did something I have been too embarrassed to tell people about ever since. Dougie, who was the cooper, exploded into the office.

‘Rich, I have just heard the most amazing record. You’ll love it; real Rock n’ Roll and by an English bloke.’ He was six feet two and it was wise to stick with him on the football pitch; nobody messed with the ‘big yin’. He looked even more fearsome wearing his cooper’s leather apron. He ate Loch Ness monsters for breakfast, was as solid as Ben Nevis and a fanatic when it came to Rock n’ Roll. So, it is Dougie’s fault that the first record I ever bought was ‘Move it’ by Cliff Richard. We’ll move on swiftly.

There were doss houses and derelict warehouses all along the Broomielaw, the street which ran alongside the River Clyde, and one of my jobs was to leave some old flattened cardboard cartons near the entrance to the loading bay every morning to be nicked by the local destitutes and meths drinkers to use as bedding. It was beneath their dignity to be given them as charity, so they felt better if they thought they were stealing them.

The Seaman’s Mission was their meeting point and as it was just around the corner we used to play snooker there. Three or four of the red balls were missing, and I learned snooker without knowing that there was a blue and yellow ball in a complete set. The cloth was torn, and the cues were warped. I once asked Keith where the chalk was, and he raised his eyes to the pockmarked ceiling.

The run-down Mission had a communal kitchen which was just one long hotplate; the dossers would fry eggs or bacon they had pocketed, whilst guarding their rations with a ferocity which would have appealed to Genghis Khan. If they turned their back for a second, the precious grub would be gone. Violence was the order of the day and when that happened it was not unusual to hear the screeching sirens of an ambulance racing along by the side of the Clyde. Sometimes it was a fatality. Seeing how these poor souls existed made my life in the Company seem ridiculously comfortable.

Opposite our warehouse was a tobacco store, adjoining a rum bottling plant. Like all the warehouses their doors would be closed over the weekend so that when opened on a Monday morning the trapped aromas wafted through the street with a sweet perfumed blend soothing tired nostrils.

I was soon promoted to the main office of Findlay & Moore in the more luxurious surroundings of Kelvingrove. I was reluctant to leave that remarkable crowd in the warehouse but they all told me it was too great an opportunity to give up. My friends gave me a farewell party and a pair of football boots with a note saying, ‘These Shoot Straight!’ no doubt from Dougie who, as captain, had to suffer my efforts in the team he, Keith and I played for. No longer the bare warehouse walls echoing the thudding of casks trundling down the wooden tracks, disgorging their amber nectar into the vats or the constant clatter of clinking glass from the bottling lines nor the raucous laughter of my lovely girls. Now real suits of armour were lined up in the corridors like sentries guarding the oak panelled walls inlaid with the green tartan of the Black Watch. This was middle class, sophisticated and respectable Glasgow. Instead of picking my way carefully through the human debris of meth drinkers and society’s failures in the docklands, my main obstacle now was poodle poo on the genteel grassy verges of Kelvingrove.

In a more subtle and gentler way my new colleagues were just as much fun, and I saw my old mates regularly. At lunchtimes I could watch Pipe Major Angus McLeod marching up and down between the lifeless suits of armour playing the bagpipes as beautifully as only he could. It was quite a surreal vision; Angus, in real life a sign writer, playing sublime music whilst striding out in his paint splashed overalls. Angus was also the Pipe Major of the company’s Pipe Band, The Red Hackle Pipes and Drums, one of the finest - everyone agreed - in the world. It won every Major Championship expect the Worlds, and would finish 2nd at the World Championships a total of 3 times.

The girls were mostly secretaries or clerks and were not quite as unreserved as my friends in the bottling hall; they were more middle class, very friendly and their flirting was usually subtler but not always. One lunchtime I was playing chess in the warehouse with some of the store men, when Elspeth, Mr. Moore’s secretary, passed by. Elspeth’s figure had more than a passing resemblance to Marilyn Monroe’s and she was showing off her tanned arms she had got on holiday in Spain. How exotic was that I thought

‘Is that all?’ asked Sam the short, round foreman ‘did ye no get anything else burnt?’ He grinned at the rest of us to show us he knew how to treat posh ‘burds’.

‘You mean this?’ replied Elspeth hoisting her loose cotton dress up to her naval showing a pair of very brown, generously proportioned legs and flat tanned stomach. As she left her steel tipped stilettos tapped the wooden floor, breaking the stunned silence; sighs and whistles of appreciation followed her unabashed almost regal departure. Without a backward glance she was gone. She rose in my estimation but after that glorious performance every time I saw her walk through the office, even in the most modest dress, the memory of her ample red knickers rushed to my mind.

Major Findlay and Mr. Moore were the owners of the company and together with Mr. Azinger, the company secretary, made up the board. Mr. Azinger was a rotund German who after internment during the war had returned to the company. He insisted on calling me by my surname, a habit I put down to German arrogance which was odd for otherwise he was a very charming man. At a party on the day of his retirement he sought me out:

‘Richard, old boy’ he said in almost flawless English ‘my apologies. I have been calling you Bernard all this time because I thought it was your name. Now I know better I will call you Richard from now on.’ I didn’t speak to him for the rest of the party, so our new friendship was short lived.

Major Findlay had been an officer in the Black Watch hence the colour of the walls. He was a little aloof but fair. His secretary, Miss Agnes to everyone, was less than five feet; she drove a Morris Minor with a specially raised seat and six inch wooden blocks screwed on to the pedals. She could still barely see over the steering wheel. Major Findlay may have been the driving force behind the company, but it was agreed that Mr. Moore was better at choosing secretaries

‘I can get tickets for the match at Hampden next Wednesday if you’re interested’ said Dougie on the phone. A couple of the lads from Kelvingrove - Sam, George and Donald - joined Dougie, Jim, Keith and me at what was to become a legendary final of the European Cup. The Real Madrid of Puskas and Di Stefano beat a very good Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3. One hundred and thirty-five thousand fans, mostly Scots, watched in awe at one of the greatest football matches ever played. It wasn’t the place for the fainthearted or those genteel folks who were easily shocked. Most of the one hundred and thirty-five thousand had enjoyed themselves beforehand, by drinking the numerous bars of Glasgow dry; and the match was too exciting to leave just to search for one of Hampden Park’s infamous paltry, and completely inadequate, toilet facilities, so we spent most of the time trying to avoid the rivers of piss, flooding down the terraces like a pale amber nectar.

Two years after I had moved to Kelvingrove a fire broke out one Monday in the Cheapside Street bonded warehouse only four streets from our own warehouse in James Watt Street. Hundreds of fire-fighters had surrounded the building when the unstable fumes from the barrels were ignited by the intense heat causing a massive explosion, as fierce as a volcanic eruption. The walls on Cheapside Street and the adjacent Warroch Street disintegrated like crumbling cheese. The tons of falling burning debris and torrent of blazing whisky engulfed the fire-fighters and nineteen good men died. The sweet smell which had cheered me on Monday mornings had caused unspeakable grief.

Baxter & Murray had taken over Findlay & Moore some months previously mostly to access their considerable stock of ageing scotch which was needed to service the growing global demands of their own brands, one of which was a world renowned brand. They owned most of the whisky in the warehouse and it was a huge commercial blow. I was drafted to their offices in the city to handle the insurance claims and help replenish stock. My friends at Findlay & Moore were chuffed that one of their number was chosen to take on such a task. I had a desk next to Andrew Wilson who was to assist me, and we became friends although I think Andrew felt he should have been given the job. We usually spent lunchtime together and once a week spent an hour at the Cartoon Cinema.

‘I’m going out with Fiona,’ Andrew announced one day, ‘but don’t tell anyone in the office.’

‘Lucky you.’ I was flattered that he should confide in me that he was taking out Mr. Baxter’s daughter who was also Alan Black’s secretary.

‘I think the old man quite likes me. If I keep on his good books I should be alright here.’ He said. I never doubted it for a moment as his father was Mr. Baxter’s golf partner, and they were members of the same Masonic lodge.

No one ever saw Mr. Baxter’s shirt sleeves. A neat moustache covered his top lip and his doleful eyes rested on accumulated baggage. His Roman nose suited his long face and his wavy dark hair was speckled with middle age dust. The large oak desk with inlaid leather top looked like it had just been placed there by delivery men. Apart from a black telephone and a maroon leather blotting pad it was empty, except for a long white envelope. He was holding a folder; after a few minutes he spoke again.

‘There seems to be an error in your personal file. It says here that you went to Dalzell High School - did you?’

‘No, I went to Our Lady’s High. I don’t remember filling a form in before I came here.’ Both schools were in Motherwell.

‘You didn’t. The file was made up from information we received from Findlay & Moore; too many assumptions obviously. Richard, I’m afraid you do not meet the criteria we use for recruitment.’

‘I don’t understand, I thought I was doing a good job.’

‘I am not doubting your ability, but we must adhere to our traditional practices. I have arranged for you to return to Findlay & Moore on Monday morning.’

‘Mr. Baxter, what’s the problem?’

‘In order to maintain the ethos of our founders we only recruit from certain schools and Our Lady’s isn’t one of them.’

‘Ethos? What’s wrong with Our Lady’s, it’s a grammar school?

‘We have a duty to protect the traditional values of our founders. Now, Mr. Bernard,’ he said patronisingly, ‘I’m sure you will be more comfortable at Findlay & Moore. Please take this.’ He handed me the white envelope like a sword to fall on in my moment of disgrace.

Andrew’s desk was tidied, and his jacket was gone. I opened the envelope, and saw ten five-pound notes, about two month’s wages. There was no letter. Numbness had set in and I wasn’t aware of much happening around me. It was like an elaborate nightmare. Alan Black ended my stupor,

‘Richard, I am so sorry, so very sorry.’ He shook my hand. As I was leaving the office I knocked on Mr. Baxter’s door. Without waiting for a response, I went in and placed the envelope back on his desk. He stopped his telephone conversation and his startled face had a furtive flush like a child caught stealing from its mother’s purse.

The weekend dragged on and I couldn’t get rid of the sinking feeling in my stomach. Although I knew my father for only a very short time; the pride which he had instilled in me would not allow me to just accept this unfair judgement. My mother was a Catholic teacher who taught in a Protestant school; her best friend was a deaconess in the Kirk. My best friend was a Presbyterian.

‘Mark my words’ Dad used to lecture ‘The War has brought us all closer together and sectarianism will be forced to disappear.’ Alas, his vision of a Socialist utopian society is still but a twinkle in the Galaxy. Despite her outward allegiances even Mum had her own deep prejudices.

Aunt Cissie who had been my mentor since my father, her oldest brother, died ten years before, was more secular - wiser. I spent many evenings listening to her self-taught philosophy. She always advocated fighting prejudice with calmness and dignity. The three of us talked long into the Saturday night. I recounted part of a conversation I had with Andrew a few days previously.

‘…… and so we don’t employ Catholics.’

‘Yes, you do, I’m a Catholic.’ I laughed at his gaffe but he didn’t reply.

I made sure I was first in at Findlay & Moore on the Monday morning. The phone was already ringing,

‘Richard,’ the unmistakable voice of the warehouse patriarch, Jim Marshall boomed, ‘I’m sorry and I’m fucking mad. They’re imbeciles, the lot of them and I’ll fucking tell them.’

‘Jim, thanks but please don’t get involved, it’s no big deal,’ I lied. My Findlay & Moore family all expressed their personal disgust. Even big Dougie, a card carrying proud Orangeman, could hardly contain his anger.

‘Bastards, just Bastards!’ was his uncompromising analysis.

With only a few weeks to go before Christmas, I waited till after the New Year holidays before handing in my resignation. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. The people at Findlay & Moore were a massive part of my life. I looked forward to going to work every day, joking and laughing with them; growing up with them but I had no option. My pride had been damaged beyond repair, and my confidence had been shattered; at the end of January the happiest period of my working life ended.

Here There and Everywhere

Here, making each day of the year
Changing my life with the wave of her hand
Nobody can deny that there's something there”

‘Let’s find the pub Dermot mentioned’ said Tom rather confidently, ‘we ought to commemorate our new life.’ Having spent the day moving our belongings into our new flat we were all in the mood for having a few beers in celebration. We turned left out of the flat and turned left again at the bottom of the avenue; we walked along Harrow Road following Dermot’s vague directions. We didn’t seem to be making much progress.

‘For fucks sake’ said Jim ‘more chance of finding an oasis in the Sahara than a pub here.’

‘Where there’s Irish there will be a pub.’ Said Dickie, with all the authority of a desperate man. ‘Trust Dermot.’

‘Fucks sake’ Jim repeated himself ‘he’s fucking Irish and he married Raquel; he can’t be completely sane.’

After searching the side streets for a while we saw a middle-aged man who appeared quite serious.

‘Excuse me, do you know where the Regents Canal is?’ asked Tom, our self-appointed leader.

‘Yeah, that’s it there’ said the small unsteady man with an Irish accent, pointing to a stretch of water without looking at us or where his accusing finger was aimed.

‘No, I mean the pub’ said Tom in his condescending tone.

‘There’s no pub called the focking Regents Canal, it’s that bit of water.’

‘Our landlord told us about it’ Jim chipped in ‘he’s Irish too.’

‘I don’t give a fock if he is Jaisus Christ Almighty, there is no pub called the Regents focking Canal. Bunch o’ shites.’ As he staggered off.

‘Christ, I was only asking’ shouted Tom ignoring the rude hand shake gesture of the disappearing leprechaun. ‘I was asking a reasonable question and anyway he smelled like he’d just tried to drown himself in a vat of Guinness.’ He sniffed at us.

‘To be fair Dermot didn’t actually say it was a pub, he just said the Regents Canal was worth a visit’ I said, as though addressing an idiots’ convention which, in a way, I was.

We carried on for a while until we stumbled upon the Prince of Wales. I had never been to Dublin but I doubted that even if I had I would never have been in such an Irish pub. A céilidh was in full swing; the accordions and fiddles were in full flow as was the Guinness and Paddy’s Whiskey. By the end of the evening we and half of the population of Kilburn had toasted our flat in style.

Staggering back from the Prince of Wales we tried to continue the harmonies but sounded more like a coven of screeching banshees than the Kilkenny Showband we had left behind. Dickie fell into a doorway and had a powerful piss which formed a torrent across the pavement just to show he had really meant to find the outlet. I noticed a sign which said ‘Excelsior Club’ and intriguingly underneath ‘Men Only’.

‘I’ve never been in a men only club’ I managed to croak. ‘Do you fancy it sometime?’ Lots of sniggers from my worldly-wise drunken friends;

‘Well, we’ve been to lots’ said Jim ‘I suppose we could show you what it’s about sometime’ He almost yawned.

A few minutes’ walk southwest of Queen’s Park tube station was a large estate of nineteenth century Gothic Revival style houses originally built by the exotically named ‘Artisans and Labourers' General Dwellings Company’; which basically says it all. The polychrome brickwork added a sense of surrealism to the boring streets as did the fanciful turrets strategically placed on the houses at the beginning and end of each road. Despite the best intentions of the philanthropic builders the layout of the estate was dreary. For some reason the six avenues in the estate were creatively named First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth, perhaps the builders hoped it would reflect in the glory of New York and the other streets were named with just the initials A-P; subsequently they were made into full words e.g. Alperton Street, Barfett Street etc. Our flat was in one of the Avenues and it was not Manhattan.

The first impression of the house was hardly inspiring. The Anaglyptic covered walls had been painted a hideous grubby brown by our landlord, Dermot. The decoration must have been completed a long time ago as the lime green of the previous coat peeked through and it was like being in the lower tier of a box of mint chocolates. Dermot lived on the ground floor with his small but hefty wife who was probably about the same body weight as Raquel Welch but it was distributed differently, even though unfairly. She had the alarming habit of walking around in a negligee at all hours of the day and even for four young lads who spent an unhealthy amount of time dreaming about such fantasies, the vision was less inviting than a box of Kleenex and a copy of ‘Men Only’.

The stairs leading up to our flat on the second floor were protected by a dark oak balustrade adding to the sombre mood of the house; it was difficult to tell the colour of the stair carpet under the accumulated grime. On the half landing were a small bathroom and a former cupboard which was optimistically called the kitchen. When we viewed the flat ‘Raquel’ said she would have all the rooms cleaned, unfortunately she didn’t say when.

Approaching the top of the stairs the gloom lifted a bit; the walls had a woodchip covering which was painted cream, albeit some time ago. The lounge was straight ahead with a bedroom on either side. Each bedroom had twin beds, a large wardrobe and set of drawers which were adequate for our paltry possessions.

In the lounge the dark green leather three-seater settee was peeling slightly, and the two overstuffed shabby chairs exposed some of their innards. A small chipped Formica topped table surrounded by four wobbly wooden chairs was our dining space. A television, for which we paid extra, was in an alcove next to the ornate fireplace whose aesthetic qualities were somewhat tarnished by an unsightly gas fire with broken elements.

The net curtains were a similar shade of grey as a battleship, which was OK because the view from the windows was not inspiring. It gave the impression it was modelled on the set of “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” and Albert Finney was probably in the bedroom sorting out Brenda. Not exactly the Ritz of Piccadilly, more the Pitz of Queen’s Park but in comparison to downstairs it was elegance personified. Dermot didn’t appreciate our wit, especially as we used “The Pitz” in our address. However, we were happy and excited - this was our new home.

Queen’s Park was a spill over area for the Irish ghetto of Kilburn which was locally known as “Little Dublin” or “County Kilburn”. The Irish brought with them two of the important elements of their society: church and pub. On Sunday mornings we admired the impressive sight of grown men spilling onto the road from the back of Saint Barnabas church in their eagerness to attend late morning Mass; a sign of great piety in our eyes. What was even more impressive was the speed with which this pious flock could move between the church and the Prince of Wales as soon as the priest signalled the end of the service. He was usually not far behind; just worshipping different types of spirits really.

The Excelsior Men’s Club was sandwiched between a launderette and a funeral parlour whose window delicately displayed a coffin with red satin lining. We passed through the narrow door and at the top of the dingy staircase, from which the carpet had been removed; we paid our membership fee of five shillings. Other clubs in London had signs showing champagne bottles and girls with impossibly long legs sheathed in fishnet stockings under glistening chandeliers; I had seen them in magazines. The Excelsior had a sign advertising Mann’s Brown Ale showing a bottle of the revolting stuff. It was the only beer sold in the club and had more in common with a chemical lab than a hop kiln.

The club appeared to have been decorated by the same person who vandalised our landlord’s hallway using a similar subtle shade of shit. The décor was camouflaged by dim lighting which was just bright enough to guide you to the bar; a small wooden home-made construction in front of the only window. To the side of the bar a few dusty glass shelves displayed bottles of Jameson’s, some Scotch and Sherry. The permanently closed curtains were a dirty maroon as far as one could tell. About thirty men were there and I seemed to be the only one without a cigarette; the only woman being the young barmaid. Tables and chairs were in short supply; customers stood around holding their bottles of warm Mann’s Brown Ale, which tasted like a mixture of cough medicine and treacle; more likely to make you sick than drunk, hence the carpet-less stairway. The floor was a large ashtray.

A battered blue leatherette Dansette sat on top of the bar playing Lonnie Donegan’s “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight” probably the only club anywhere in the world where you would hear that classic. The small pile of 45rpm records next to the record player were stained with Mann’s and liberally dusted with fag ash. A naked bulb dangled over the machine.

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