Thank you to those who provided entries to the literary competition. We have had three entries which will be published in the Advisor over the next three Thursdays. Each of our published authors will receive a bottle of wine as thanks for their efforts. In this edition a piece from Proprietor Philip Whitfield.
By Phil Whitfield
War stories. We all have ‘em. Mine? A few.
Thugs clobbered me, abandoning me entwined in barbed wire outside a Belfast pub; a Syrian patrol sent a rocket our way on the Golan Heights killing my colleague Nic Tomalin on the back seat writing the splash for the Sunday Times.
Who knows how many took pot shots as Saigon fell before I ferried the story out, secreted in a young U.S. airman’s pants?
Africa… daren’t mention it, save a quip.
1976: Pleading release out of a hellhole in Angola I offered two cans of Sainsbury’s spam, Heinz beans and a bottle of Scotch to my captors, Bakongo tribesmen.
The headman brushed the gifts aside. “Maybe your wife?” I pled. Big pow-wow. Headman: “You can’t have my wife, but I’ve got two daughters…”
Fifteen years engulfed in America’s dotcom revolution. Eighteen years roaming the Arab world asking why… before coming home.
there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today.
Raised in Woolton’s St. Peter’s parish thrust me into John’s thrall. We’d rub shoulders at the baths; or dragging on dimps on the swings in Quarry Street. My sister knew him better: struggling for freedom, ducked underwater.
We talked once on the top deck of a bus going down to the Cavern. Cyn said they were so skint they couldn’t afford a fag, let alone a ride. Lennon was humping the guitar Cliff Cook (a late Proprietor and our woodwork master and scout troop leader) helped John turn and plane out of a Quarry Bank desktop.
Not long afterwards we snatched a few words at Speke Airport when The Beatles returned in triumph from America to be fêted.
As the motorcade swept along Menlove Avenue, John told the driver to pause across from Mendips his old house; long enough for hacks like me to catch up.
Setting off again the convoy was led for whatever reason by an esteemed columnist from the Echo. Problem was he reduced the pace to a crawl. Crowds surged forward to get a closer look. Cop chat-air went ape.
A police outrider hit his pedal. Alongside the columnist’s car window he ordered the obstructionist to speed up.
“Don’t you know who I am?” the scribbler squawked. “I’m George Harrison.”
“And I’m Ringo f’n Starr,” the cop said, digging his motorbike’s footrest into the side of the day-old car of the renowned writer of the Echo’s column Over the Mersey Wall.
Oftentimes the urge to return is nostalgia. I was urged to come home after fifty-something-years wandering, to finish a neglected script getting tatty.
“You’ve got intolerance down to a T. But change a few bits,” the BBC’s drama boss said. “It’ll fit better.”
“Change what?” I asked.
“The CIA to MI5… sells easier in the States.”
The line from London to Cairo went dead. I packed up and caught a plane.
Imagine there’s no
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
Winsome Wandering is how I once described uncovering the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Miffed to find the natives with better knowledge than he, Julius Caesar ordered his arsonists to torch the biggest and most exalted library in the ancient world. It containing works by the greatest thinkers and writers of antiquity Homer, Plato and Socrates included.
Home, a cheery welcome from Katie and Jack, the Athenaeum’s library and, of course, the newsroom drew me in.
Washington Irving the author of Rip Van Winkle had a soft spot for the Athenaeum. Charles Dickens loved Liverpool so much he’d hightail it to the Adelphi whenever he was in the North.
Liverpool loved Dickens. After the last reading in 1867 he returned to St George’s Hall for a grand banquet. So large was the guest list speeches were in danger of not being heard. Sails from a ship docked in the Mersey were draped around the room to improve the acoustics.
Dickens encapsulated working people’s dreams of betterment and salvation. Little wonder the thoroughfare linking the two cathedrals is called Hope Street.
You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.
Quite recently a fellow Proprietor Steve McLoughlin generously lent me a precious little book, concerning a little-recounted incident that was to imprint an indelible impression on William Wordsworth (I wandered lonely as a cloud…).
On March 19th 1808 Wordsworth’s neighbours, the Greens, were caught in a snowstorm on their way home from a market in the Lake District. Steve’s little book contains a poignant account by William Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy:
After having spent a few hours at the sale, they went to the house where a young woman lived, drank tea, and set off homewards at about five o’clock, intending to cross over the Fells, and drop down just upon their own cottage; and they were seen nearly at the top of the hill in their direct course, by some persons in Langdale, but were never more seen alive. It is supposed that soon afterwards they must have been bewildered by a mist, otherwise they might almost have reached their own cottage at the bottom of the hill on the opposite side before daylight was entirely gone. They had left a daughter at home, eleven years of age, with the care of five other children younger than herself, the youngest an infant at the breast; and they, poor things sat up till eleven o’clock expecting their parents; they then went to bed thinking they stayed all night in Langdale.
The Wordsworths took it upon themselves to ensure the Green’s dependents’ needs were fully met till adulthood. They contributed a third of a fund established to pay for their board with guardians, clothing, food and education. Whatever they needed was afforded.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.
As our president Dr Gaynor Bresnen says: “In these difficult times, it is reassuring to know that life can go on as usual.” So long as we change. She volunteers, helping medicate the sick.
For almost all my working life, I’ve witnessed close up the extraordinary achievements of caring compassionate people accomplishing the unimaginable; the impossible in the face of evil and adversity.
Fate brings me home and fate throws me on to the cusp of change.
The news is riddled with the vicissitudes. That’s their job. Ours? The Athenaeum can employ a quick fix in the Cloud: a virtual club to preserve its heritage.
That’s only half what’s needed. There a greater challenge, in John’s words:
you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.
© Philip Whitfield, Liverpool 2020. All rights reserved.