"Uncle" Roy Smith
I'm a friend of Roy Smith, a retired senior construction engineer who oversaw many interesting projects during his career. His work was as varied as building council housing estates in Newcastle-under-Lyme, upgrading mansions for multi-millionaires in Kensington (London) and teaching bricklaying to Tanzanians for the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).
Since retirement, Roy has found enjoyment in writing and blogging. Among the books Roy has written is "From Oatcakes to Caviar" - a PDF of which can be downloaded by clicking on this link. Roy is also a Facebook blogger, his page can be reached by clicking on this link.
During his fascinating lifetime, Roy has met an awful lot of well-known / famous people. I've articulated a summary of those encounters below.
Stanley Matthews - footballer
Matthews was giving awards at a carnival in Knutton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, where Roy was raised. Roy was participating in a fancy dress competition, which he duly won. The award of the winning prize was given by Matthews, who joked to Roy that he had to be the winner given that he was wearing a red and white striped top. Roy was wearing a previously white T-shirt, which his auntie had painted red stripes onto.
Anecdote: No matter where I travelled overseas and was asked where I came from, I only had to say the Potteries. People would then say "Stanley Matthews", everybody knew or had heard of the great man. Many's the time when I reminisce about him giving me three half crowns in a brown envelope for winning in that carnival. I never had the chance to ask him if he remembered it, to me it was a feeling in my head that I had won the lottery. It was the beginning of my hobby of meeting and talking to people who were well known. Something I wrote about, but when I did some content was taken out by the publisher. He was a ladies man and I knew one very attractive lady who became well known in the Potteries.
Ricky Tomlinson - actor
Roy was undertaking some building work in Staffordshire, while a national strike was underway. Tomlinson was a union representative who came down from Liverpool with some striking builders who shouted "scab" at Roy and his colleagues. At one point Tomlinson called to Roy, who was up a ladder "Hey you, you hairy-arsed bricklayer."
Anecdote: I never thanked him for calling me a hairy-arsed bricklayer, as it seemed to become well known, especially in the construction trade or to people who read my books. When you see him on the television [as Jim Royle], that is really him. He was untidy, long haired, hippy and crude, you could not have picked a better man for that character. After union protesting in S-O-T, he went to Shrewsbury, where he was arrested and jailed in 1973.
Fanny Deakin - health care advocate & political activist
Deakin was the midwife during the birth of Roy's first daughter.
Anecdote: Fanny Deakin was the name of the hospital where my first daughter was born. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but have talked to many women who had their babies born there, they all praised her. My mother and grandmother both said she was a wonderful lady and that she had helped them. But - there's always a but, she was a communist, which reminds me of being in Cuba when a young fellow spat on me and called me a capitalist pig. I stood there in shock - me a capitalist pig, a hairy arsed bricklayer. I did not have two shillings to rub together. I never called people names since.
Gordon Banks - footballer
Banks had bought one of the houses which Roy was managing the building of.
Anecdote: While working on a building site at Ashley / Loggerheads for Mark Coupe Builders, I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon and his wife Ursula. He had just signed for Stoke City, they'd bought one of the houses we had built. Knowing he had been a bricklayer, I shouted to him that I was keeping his trowel warm. To my surprise, he climbed up the scaffold, took my trowel and started laying bricks. From then on he became one of my 'Ordinary heroes' and I've followed his wonderful career with admiration ever since. I was upset that he was never knighted, as Geoff Hurst who also lived in that area did so. When Geoff was looking for a change of home, I advised him to look at some houses in Madeley. He liked one in the area and bought it, that's how he came to live there. What a shock to hear Banks had died, my sincere condolences go to Ursula and her children. R.I.P.
Oliver Reed - actor
Roy and Oliver Reed did national service together for two years and became close friends. Reed once visited Stoke to audition for a film about the Potteries - he didn't get the part. During the trip, Roy drove Reed to several potbanks (including Wedgwood and Doultons), as he wanted to buy a brown teapot for his nan.
Anecdote: Not much more I can write other than what's in my book. My wife didn't like him, I think she thought he was leading me astray (he was). He thought he was a ladies man, but he was too aggressive - that look made many women afraid of him.
I was twenty one, and getting married a week later to my childhood sweetheart, the reason being that my father would not sign for me to get married before. One of the jokes at my wedding by my best man Graham, was reading a letter from Her Majesty the Queen. She was inviting me to two years in the army, free of charge and to report to Aldershot in two weeks’ time. But it was no joke. One week on honeymoon and then Joyce saw me off to Aldershot from Stoke station. Arriving at Euston station I had to cross over to Waterloo to catch the Aldershot train. When I went down to the underground it was like another world, I didn’t have a clue what to do. There were thousands of people, to my mind. Seeing a ticket man, I asked him directions. He said to get a one shilling ticket and follow the yellow line, which I did. I ended up on a platform with a sign saying Aldershot, plus many other places. A train came in, the doors opened, I got in, and the doors closed, and off we went within seconds. Sitting there looking at the train map, I counted five stations and then mine, but to my surprise it was another station. I panicked and asked the fellow next to me if he could help. "Oh you came to the wrong side of the platform" he said, "you should be going the other way." Bloody hell, what a to do! I thought "Don’t worry" He said "You can stay on here all day, going round till you come to your station, it just takes a bit longer this way." Sure enough, after about twenty minutes the train arrived at Waterloo. Going up a large moving staircase, I arrived at the top to see a large number of entrances with their destinations listed above. At last I came to gate number eight, which said Aldershot. "Thank God", I thought, "One and a half hours wait." Whilst waiting, I noticed a lot of other lads about my age with their cases, so I guessed we were all going to the same place, i.e the ‘Army’.
I met up with a smart, straight backed fellow with a cockney accent. "Are you going for National Service?" I said. "Yes, Queen Elizabeth Barracks" he said, "Royal Army Medical Corps, by the way, my name’s Ollie, Ollie Reed", he said. "And mine is Roy" I replied. At Aldershot, we both got off, and a soldier was shouting, "Anyone for Queen Elizabeth, jump on this lorry", which we did with a number of others. About twenty minutes later we arrived at the camp. "Get in line at that door, and enter when called by the sergeant who will take all your particulars", another soldier bellowed at us. Ollie was in front of me as we were going through, then he heard the sergeant keep saying "How do you spell this?" Ollie turned to me and said: "They can’t bleedin’ spell, we’ll have some fun here."
Ollie was next, the sergeant shouted, "Name?" Ollie spelt it out for him. The sergeant looked up at him and if looks could kill, Ollie was a dead man. "Occupation?" "Playboy" said Ollie. "Bloody playboy? What’s that?" "It’s a kind of actor sarge", said Ollie, laughing, but with no sound coming out of his mouth. "You’ll be a shitting actor by the time I’ve finished with you lad" said the sergeant. "Next", the sergeant shouted. "The name’s Roy Smith …S.M.I.T.H" I said. "You being bloody funny lad?" the sergeant screamed. Ollie nearly fell over. I thought that if I stayed with this fellow I was going to get into trouble, but when we got into the barracks room his bed was next to mine. Oh dear I thought, that’s all I need. Looking back, it was the most enjoyable two years of my life. Ollie became my best mate and I’d like to think I was his. I went through training and attended many courses like first aid. I attended the intelligence course with Ollie, why was beyond belief, but later it became very useful to me. The two years soon went, getting into trouble then getting out of trouble seemed to come natural to Ollie.
Ollie would join any courses going, one day he came to me with forms to be an officer. "You must be joking, a commissioned officer? No way" I said. "Will you help me to fill in this form", he said? "Yes", I replied, and it was then that I realised Ollie had difficulty in reading and writing. We would now call it dyslexia. Ollie was away for about a couple of months, when he came back he had three stripes.
It was about this time we began to drift apart. I was into sport and Ollie was with fellows who liked acting and was always putting on shows in the NAAFI. There was only one event I joined in, the Black and White Minstrel Show. I had done this at school, and like an idiot had once told Ollie. Ollie was brilliant, and a new friend named Berry was also very good. Another time the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) called me to tell me about another RSM (Idi Amin - later to become president of Uganda), who would be staying at the mess and everybody, especially me, must see that he gets looked after. "He’s here for about four to six weeks and he is boxing for the commonwealth", said the RSM. His name was RSM Amin, a six foot African weighing about twenty-six stone. He was very pleasant, no problem at all. I found it difficult to have a conversation with him and I always asked him if he wanted to do this and that. I suppose years later, people had wished I had put a cyanide tablet in his morning coffee.
About a couple of years later, Ollie rang me to say he was coming to the Potteries to look around. He wanted to see Burslem and the other towns, as he was reading Clayhanger, and hoping to get a part in the film of that name. He also wanted to visit Wedgwood and Doulton and to get a brown teapot for his Grandparents from a company named Sadlers. I told him I would pick him up at Stoke Station. He arrived on the Wednesday at 10.30 and after his usual greeting he told me he had not passed his driving test.
We went to Burslem, and he bought a figure from their shop in Nile Street, then we went over to Sadlers. I knew Peter Sadler as I had done some building work there. Peter showed us around, showing us all the beautiful teapots, but Ollie said that his gran wanted a brown one. These happened to be the cheapest, but I don’t think this had anything to do with it, as it was what his Gran wanted. I drove him to the Wedgwood shop, he bought a few items in blue and white China. I drove him through all the six towns, he said he had never seen anything like it, he said it was like being in another world. He kept on about the toilets being outside. He said one thing that would get me the part would be talking like me, like a Quaker, with thee and thou and wut. We had a meal and a couple of pints in the North Stafford Hotel opposite the station. then he caught the 6pm train and he made me promise to call on him in London at any time.
Roger Bannister - first sub four minute mile athlete
Captain Bannister was at Aldershot while Roy was doing his National Service.
Anecdote: When he arrived at Crookham (RAMC headquarters) we thought we would test his stamina, so we marched up and down the drill square for days, but in the end we were all knackered and he wanted to carry on! I thought "bugger this" for a game of soldiers. He was my CO for twelve months, then he volunteered to go overseas to Cyprus.
I called you “Sir!” in 1957, before you were knighted. Two years doing national service in the Royal Army Medical Corp at the training headquarters of the Queen Elizabeth barracks, Crookham, Aldershot. A person like you, famous for the 'sub-four minute mile', doing national service, was an inspiration to us lesser mortals – especially me, who had been very angry at our class system. Being on the “drill staff”, we took great delight in marching you up and down that square, practically every day for a month, trying to exhaust you in your squad. Some found it murder but you never did, in fact, you broke me –which was rather embarrassing.
The reason we called you Sir was that you had graduated to being a doctor (at around twenty-seven) and entitled to a commission, but you nevertheless entered the army as a lieutenant. Because of your qualifications and super-fitness, you soon earned promotion to captain. I doubt whether you would remember me (I was the horrible drill sergeant), but I will always remember you. It was great to have known you, if only for a short while, Sir. I would like to think that if you remember me it will be as that bastard: Sergeant Smith, but knowing your gentlemanly qualities and mildness you would do no such thing.
Field Marshall Montgomery - commander of the British army in World War II
While Roy was on National Service, Montgomery was involved. On one occassion during a train journey together from Aldershot to Waterloo, Montgomery spoke to Roy as "Woy" - he had a lisp.
Anecdote: In my book I didn't write too much about his speech - not pronouncing his R's properly, the powers that be [publishers] thought it may be offensive to him. "Woy, comes from America after Woy Wogers the cowboy." he once said of my name. He told me that his actual name is Bernard, and said it meant brave and kind natured, like a St Bernards dog. He seemed to know a lot about the meaning of names and words, perhaps that was his hobby.
On Saturday morning we managed to get a lift in the camp lorry which dropped us off at Fleet railway station, which was the nearest to our base, around three miles away. The next station was Aldershot, but Ollie [Reed] said we’d be better off at Fleet because at Aldershot we would spend all our time saluting bloody officers. After ten minutes the train arrived and there was a rush for a seat. We walked quickly along the corridors looking into every compartment until we came to two men who were looking into one of the compartments that contained only one man, we brushed them aside and rushed in. "Come in boys s,t yourselves down I see you are in the medics", said the little man sitting in the corner by the window. I looked at this man, he was slim, with a very sharp featured face, long slim nose and ferret like eyes that were looking all over us. "How do you like the army?" he said looking at me. I was getting worried. “I know of this man, so be careful what you say Roy”, I thought. "Well, it gets you fit, I’ve never felt so healthy. This is our first pass and we are going to London for the night." The man then asked what I did before I went into the army. I told him that I was a bricklayer and I had just served my apprenticeship, I'd had only two weeks on full money. He then asked me my name: "Smith, Roy Smith Sir", I said. "Ah Woy, do you know where that name comes from Woy?" Then it hit me straightaway. I knew this man, I had heard him talking many times on the radio and television. He had a problem pronouncing his R’s, it was field marshall Montgomery. "No Sir, I don’t" I said. He told me that in the first world war a lot of American’s helped us, and some had the Christian name Roy, the most famous being Roy Rogers the cowboy. He told me that my father must have liked cowboy films, we all laughed.
He never stopped talking to us all the way to Waterloo. The lads could not understand me calling him Sir all the time. We walked along the platform at Waterloo. I told the lads who this man was, as he now had two men with him - one on each side of him. I told the lads it was Montgomery and we all came to attention as he passed us, he looked at us with a smile on his face. He stopped in front of me and said "You are quite an alert fellow Woy, with good alertness and observation you will make a good soldier." I thanked him and he carried on along the platform to be met by two red capped sergeants.
I saw him many times, but never had the pleasure to speak to him again. He lived in the next village, Fareham. He would walk to do some shopping and visit the Post Office, but there were always reporters and photographers following him, as were the two men who I had brushed aside in the corridor on the train. He was very talkative and always asking questions. I'm reminded of my macho answer to him about being in the medics. I thought that being a nurse, running about the ward with a bed pan or on the battlefield carrying a stretcher was not me. "Well Woy, why did you join the medics?" he asked. I told him I was playing football at the time and was told by the club to volunteer for the medics, as they had an agreement with them saying that if I played for the army on Wednesdays I would get a weekend pass, enabling me to go home and play for the club. Monty replied: "You know it is very important being a medic, don’t feel out of the action because the first thing a soldier shouts when wounded is ‘medic’. When bullets and bombs are going off all around it takes a lot of courage to go to him with only a first aid kit, there are more medals given to these soldiers although it is only a small regiment." I had never thought of it that way, but I told him I thought I would still prefer a rifle to a first aid kit. He told me that I would have to volunteer to join another regiment. He also said he was a socialist and was delighted when they got elected to run the country. I did not pay much attention to this, although I was a little surprised as I thought he would have been a Conservative. It was later that I realised he, and many more in the army, had voted against Churchill because he was Conservative.
After my two years of national service I returned to Staffordshire. I moved into a council flat and life returned to normal, only talking on the phone to Ollie reminded me of the army. One of my duties was to supervise the sergeant’s mess. One day the menu contained brown stew and dumplings, to me this was the Potteries “Lobby and Barmy Balls”. When asked by the RSM what was on the menu, I loudly said the latter.
Idi Amin - Ugandan president
Roy met Amin when he was in the Royal medical corps in Crookham, where Amin was also stationed and took part in boxing activities. Roy later saw Amin in Tripoli, at the time when Amin was president of Uganda. After they'd met, Amin recalled Roy and told him that he would look after him.
Anecdote: I never thought he would turn out like he did, although his build and stern looks did frighten a lot of people. In Libya, I would avoid him like the plague, although he was always nice to me. I was always uncomfortable in his company.
Fidel Castro - Cuban leader
Castro greeted Roy when he alighted a plane to Cuba he'd been seconded onto, which was full of severely injured Cuban soldiers from war in Liberia. On a later visit to a building Roy had overseen, Castro shook Roy's hand and asked him how he was finding Cuba. They met several more times.
Anecdote: Still our media gives a dislike to him, which I don't know [disagree with]. He's been dead for quite a while now. I feel as though I didn't give him enough information in my book, perhaps the pressure people putting on me made me afraid. I regret it, as I think he did his best, given that he had the Americans and the UK against him, in my estimation he did very well.
The first time I met him was outside Havana Airport, after a terrible few days and a flight from Madrid. Walking out through the double doors I was hit first by heat and humidity then the shock of hundreds of Cubans crying and shouting. The noise was horrific, then all of a sudden I saw a large man with a black beard wearing army camouflage denims and a black berry on his head. He was hugging all the wounded soldiers I had travelled with on the plane who had returned from Angola. As he hugged and kissed them, there were tears in his eyes, he was crying. This was strange to me, as I had believed him to be a monster, dictator, traitor and rebel. How could this be? I was used to these ceremonies of people with gloves on shaking hands. After a few minutes standing there in shock, I watched solders get into the back of army lorries with help. With amazement, Fidel got in with them. What a man, no large limos for him. The next time I saw him was at the opening of the factory that we had constructed. Although I had seen him many times walking around, other than a nod of acknowledgement or the raising of his hand, I had never spoke to him.
There’s a law in Cuba that you work six days for yourself, the seventh is for Cuba where everyone is out doing something or other for their country. On this particular seventh, we were asked to check the factory to make sure everything was shipshape and clean as Fidel was coming to open it. This we did, I checked the water, the electric, the water treatment plant. I especially checked the freezing section, where I noticed a number of girls sweeping and mopping the floors. To my amazement, there was the man himself, Fidel with a mop. "This is a mirage", I remember thinking when he shouted for me to carry on and waved me through, which I nervously did. I remember reading how the Americans had tried to kill him many times and I now realise why they had failed. It would have been quite easy for me to kill him, but it would be like committing suicide. The people would have ripped me apart, there would be no court trial for me. The next day we all lined up ready for Fidel, and I smiled thinking if the place is untidy, it’s his fault. Who would believe this, not the Americans or the British. During the time I worked in Cuba, I became to admire Fidel. You cannot be the head of any country for as long as he has and be so loved. All other countries, apart from the above mentioned, have reached the same conclusion as me. I have noticed tourists are beginning to holiday in Cuba now. Good, I’m very pleased and proud to have known him and worked with his people. They have earned our respect to stand up to big powerful countries, it is to be admired. Fidel will be known in history, perhaps not in ours, as a statesman like Gandhi or Mandela.
Alberto Juantorena - 1976 Olympic Games 400m & 800m gold
They met on a plane in Cuba from Havana to Santiago. They chatted about Roger Bannister, who Juantorena joked ran a little too far.
Anecdote: Met him on the plane to Santiago, he told me he lived a few doors away from the attorney, in a house which Fidel gave him for winning medals in the Olympics. After that meeting, we became friends and I made efforts to wave as I passed his house. Many times he asked me to get things for his family from the diplomat's shop, as only people with passes were allowed in. There were very few shops, in every area there was one where you'd go for your rations every week (free of charge), instead you had work vouchers which could be exchanged for rations.
Colonel Gadaffi - Libyan revolutionary politician
They met at a military aircraft hangar, where Gadaffi was giving a speech. Roy recalled that his eyes were like those of sharks - round and black, like two beads with no white around them. Roy oversaw the construction of six airports in Libya, all in desert environments.
Anecdote: A hypocrite, he always wanted to have UK workers on projects as he said they were the best (behind closed doors). Outside, on the stage in the green square where he always gave his speeches, he said we were the US' lackeys, always running us down. The ugly man with the make-up on his face. Though at meeting on the construction sites he always treated me well, he was definitely a schizophrenic.
Upon completing the construction of one of the airports, Roy was given a flight in a Russian MiG military aircraft, where he was amazed at how quickly the plane reached the Mediterranean sea given that the airport was near the Chad border. After construction of a further airport, Roy was given a flight on a French Dassault Mirage military aircraft.
Mohammed Al-Fayed - owned Harrods & father of Dodi Al-Fayed
Roy was taken to Harrods to buy furnishings by the owner of a property in St Johns Wood in London, where Roy was overseeing renovation work. Al-Fayed didn't own Harrods at this time, but was on its board of directors. Al-Fayed was a member of an Arab cartel which was buying London properties, which Roy was did much work for.
Anecdote: He was one of the Arab cartel buying property in London with my boss, Sourfraki Matoum and others. When they bought Harrods, there was such outrage and the powers wanted to know where he got the money to buy it. The answer was right under their noses, but of course, no evidence. Apart from being the owner of Harrods, Fayed was a very quiet man and did not come to much notice to the media. It was only when his son was attracted to Diana that he became noticed. He was saying that the Royal Family was against their friendship, being a Muslim didn't go down well.
Ava Gardner & Ingrid Bergman - actresses
Gardner lived next door to the St. Johns Wood property Roy which was working on. She would often pop around and say things like "What are you up to Roy? There's lots of dust." Ingridlived near to her friend Ava Gardner, she'd sometimes pop around with her to have a cup of tea with Roy.
Anecdote: I had just been watching The Barefoot Contessa film on the TV and there was Ava. She certainly was a very beautiful lady, when Sourfraki [the agent Roy worked for] brought her to look around the house. I knew her straightaway, but the men hand now idea who it was. She'd been married to Frank Sinatra and they didn't know her, unbelievable. From time to time, she called with Ingrid Bergman, as she lived next door in St. Johns Wood.
Deep Purple - rock band
The band members were neighbours of a property Roy was working on in Shiplake, near Reading. They jokingly came to ask for jobs, Roy jokingly declined them because he disapproved of their long hair.
Anecdote: I didn't know them, I thought they were looking for work and told one of them men to tell them to "piss off". I never lived that down, the men always greeted me, even today, with "piss off." Lady Grade always asked me if I could stop them making such a noise, as she lived the other side.
Princess Diana - Lady Diana
While Roy was working in Nevis St Kitts for the VSO, she was introduced to Roy and told him she admired the work he was doing.
Anecdote: I got in trouble at a beach barbecue after I took a photo of her swimming, two men grappled me and took my camera off me. Later my camera was returned and told that the princess had said it was OK.
Prince Phillip - Duke of Edinburgh
Roy met the prince twice, the first time time while doing VSO work in Tanzania and the second time doing VSO work in the Caribbean. Roy was asked by Prince Philip "Didn't I see you this morning in Nevis?" Roy repied "Yes, you did. I'm amazed you can remember." Prince Philip then joked "Of course I remember you, you were the only white face among 400 black children." He asked Roy what he most missed about home, to which he answered "proper beer", someone else in the group mentioned "pork pies." Roy was invited onto the Royal yacht for cocktails that evening, where he received a pint of English beer and pork pies.
Anecdote: I am not a royalist, but must admit I was very impressed meeting him. One of my proudest days was meeting him on the island of St Kitts & Nevis.
Sir Garfield Sobers - cricketer
During a break from work, I attended a cricket match in Antigua in 2004 where I watched Brian Lara score 400 not out against England. Sobers was sat nearby in the stand, I met him after being introduced by Tommy Talbot. After Sobers retired from international cricket, he played for Norton (Stoke-on-Trent) in the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire league.
Anecdote: Tommy Talbot was a business man in the Potteries, who persuade Sobers to come to England to play in the Potteries.
The following individuals were recruited by the VSO to publicise its activities, which is how Roy came across them.
David Essex - singer
Anecdote: The young ones loved his music and songs. He was a good footballer, when he was representing the VSO in Uganda I played on the same team as him.
Fatima Whitbread - athlete
Anecdote: I met her while she was working for the VSO in Kenya, she had muscles which put me to shame.
Richard Wilson - actor
Anecdote: 'Grumpy Rick' - not so. He was certainly the life and soul of the VSO in the West Indies.
Lord Carrington - UK foreign secretary
Anecdote: OK, but was uncomfortable in his presence. There was no way I was going to call him "my Lord", otherwise he gave good speeches in Mozambique.
It is very cold here now. I’ll tell you what is on my mind: Clarry Reeve’s post about Harold Tew who fought in Korea and was friends with Bill Speakman (who won the VC) and when he returned was given a job digging in flowers at Queen’s Gardens Newcastle. Also about a man I met at Keele University, who dressed up as a clown and a chicken and became friends with Lou Macari - he was given the freedom of the Borough. Bloody hell I am mad, spitting feathers. If you go around to Nello’s (Neil Baldwin) I am sure he will help. Or you could find out if Harold Tew kept his three o three see if that makes you laugh.
I had a fish from the chippie, I am sure they are losing it. Mine was smelly this week, but at least I don’t have flu. You want to make sure you go out more, especially before it turns cold next time. I can tell you when that will be but the Met Office do it in time too. Turn the heating off when you go to bed and a few times in the day, just enough to get you over the hump. It only stays cold as long as there is an eruption so it is only a day or so. The problem is that it has been non-stop the last few days. If you are not up to exercise and don’t feel like laughing the next best thing is to sing along with pop songs. Just a little exercise like that is enough to help clear your lungs.
Update: Roy was involved in Facebook banter with someone in May 2021, he still felt maddened by Nello's unjustified award.
I have too many complaints to mention, so let’s call it “old age” but everyone is OK although Julie seems to get worse. She’s coming here for Christmas. There will be eight of us and three children. They say they will all muck in as my house is the best for Julie to move about in her wheel chair. I have a mobile phone now, it was difficult at first but I take it everywhere now. I can’t text with it, but call and receive is all I really want.
It’s been a very upsetting year for me, funerals every month. I didn’t go to Brian’s as I didn’t know he’d died. Ena has been a thorn in my side since mother died, so I thought it better to say away, nobody went from our side as far as I know, but she still annoys me - as her children have had words with mine, or given them nasty looks. This doesn’t make me so mad as I know where it is coming from. Brian and I never had words, because he knows that I know about him - which he dreaded me for, as he was still ashamed. The sister in the nursing home where mother stayed slapped his face accusing him of attempted rape. Barry may remember her, she lived in the big old house next to the junior school, Knutton. Her brother accused me, he’s a nasty piece of work and thinks he should have gone to prison. She Told Bobby Roper that she would not go to court. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know - perhaps Barry does?
I have written two more books. Whether I’ll have them printed I don’t know. The second one “My Brother” is dynamite my former agent says. Another chapter “Hitting His Girlfriend” - when her father beat him up. His short stay in the army, nine years he signed on for but was out in nine months after a courts martial for sodomy and a dishonourable discharge is true. Both Uncle Glen and I went to the trial in Colchester.
When we moved into this house, Ena and Brian were next door and thought that because we didn’t go to pubs and clubs we were snobs. Ena had wanted us to have Sunday dinner together but Joyce told her: “No, she just cooks for her own family.” So they decided to move to Australia with you. But, as you know she changed her mind. So they moved to Audley. Even though they were out there, there were still enough problems for a three-hundred page book. My agent can’t believe it and says it is going to be a best seller. What he doesn’t know is that I won’t publish it in my lifetime, as I think this will really upset the families.
It was the village carnival and gymkhana, in which everyone took some part as it was for charity to help widows and children whose husbands had been killed in the war. Mark’s family and other local farmers were taking a large part in organising this event, bringing their produce to be on display and with hope, win a prize. It was a beautiful summer’s day which brought people from miles around. Lots of stalls selling anything from toys to foodstuffs, ice cream, fish and chips, candyfloss and even a beer tent for the grown-ups. Mark and friends decided to sample the local brews in the marquee. As they walked in, they had not realised there would be so many people. To their annoyance, they could not get to the bar as many had stayed there, blocking others from being served. They were a very noisy lot of what Mark called townies, working in finance or some businesses, never done a proper days work in their lives. Laughing and shouting, and in the middle orchestrating them was Ossie. When he saw Mark, he pushed his way through to him. With his arms and palms of his hands wide open and showing a big smile on his face he said “Let bygones be bygones” and stood there in defiance. They had not spoken to one another for over a year, and that was all Ossie, with his head swaying, could say. Mark was in such a rage, he had a flash back of his three mates lying dead in their tank and all those men killed and dying in the prisoner of war camp. Even poor Edward, who had volunteered to go into the army as a way of shaming Ossie, had been killed on the beach at Dunkirk. All Mark could see now was Ossie’s grinning face and all his potbellied cronies drinking champagne. How was it possible that men like this made such a lot of money and became very wealthy, when all around them other men were dying or being killed? Mark, turning into a massive green hulk, swung his right arm with a closed fist right on the left side of Ossie's face. There was a loud crunch and as he was falling over on his right side, Mark let go with an almighty left hook. He smashed into the other side of Ossie's face, making the sound of crushing bones. Ossie collapsed on the ground.
Sam and his friends had now recovered from the shock of what had happened. It had only been seconds before they grabbed Mark and rushed him out of the marquee, where they found a quiet place to sit and calm him down. Sam gave him a drop of brandy from Roger’s pocket flask. Mark, looking at Sam with both hands covering his face, as though he did not wish to hear the answers said “Have I killed my own brother?” As luck had it, St. John’s medics and an ambulance were on standby for the carnival, they rushed in and came out with Ossie on a stretcher. “How is he?” Roger enquired. “He’s conscious, so I think he’ll be OK, but I don’t think he’ll be talking much for a while, we are taking him to the hospital” said one of the medics. “The police are here”, said Sam. After a while the police came out saying “As usual nobody saw or heard anything, we’ll have to wait until the injured party can speak”.
A knock on the back door and the sound of it opening with my Auntie Jean’s voice shouting “Edna, Edna” as she entered the kitchen. “Are you entering any children in the carnival? There are some very good prizes”, she said. “No” mother answered, “I’ve got no money to dress them in costumes, in fact I’ve got none at all because this little devil opened the front door to the rent man. They all know never to open the door, only the rent man knocks there, all the rest come ’round to the back. So, I had to pay him."
My other Auntie, June had entered the room saying “We will dress them, it will not cost anything. Doreen can put an apron on and her hair in a net, and walk around with a mop in her hand with a sign saying Mrs. Mop”. June said “Roy already has a football strip, so he can walk with a ball and have number seven on his back, the name being Stanley Matthews.” Everybody by now was talking and laughing, bar Doreen, my sister and myself. We weren’t laughing, “I’m not going as Mrs. Mopp” said Doreen, and “I’m not going either”, I shouted. “But there’s good prizes even if you don’t win and you have crisps and a bottle of Vimto all to yourself” said Auntie Jean, who was very persuasive. I thought “All by myself, I’ve always had to share with my twin brothers, could be a good thing here.” But my shirt is plain white, and Stoke are red stripes, and in any case I have not got a proper football. “Don’t worry about that, we have some red paint and I can borrow a ball from the YMCA club”, interrupted Auntie June, “OK, next Saturday morning we will be here at 10 o’clock and get you ready. Edna, it won’t cost you a penny, I’ll see to everything.”
This was the first village carnival Knutton had since after the war and Auntie Jean was on the committee, so she wanted her family to show some support. Sure enough, come Saturday, at 10 o’clock, she and June arrived with a ball and a tin of red paint. I couldn't believe it, I stood there in the back garden while June painted red stripes on my shirt.
The carnival started outside the British Legion club, by the local cenotaph. There seemed to be thousands there, so I did not feel afraid and paraded and walked around all the streets, behind the Salvation Army band. We finished on the school playing fields, where there was a stage erected with the mayor, his wife, and all VIPs. Auntie Jean was among them. A man with a microphone called us one at a time to go up to the stage, walk across and down the other side. The crowd would clap, shout and whistle, welcoming us. On the other side we were given a bag of Smith’s crisps with a little blue bag of salt and a bottle of Vimto. As a surprise, we received a long thin yellow thing which they called a banana, it was the first time I had ever seen one. The twins would not bite into it, they were afraid, so I ate theirs as well. “Now it’s the time for awards to the winners of the fancy dress contest”, the man with the microphone announced. “And the winner is… Stanley Matthews”. Blimey, I’ve got to go onto the stage to that man holding a small brown envelope. Eventually I got there and he shook my hand, gave me the envelope, and ruffled my hair, saying “Well, I had to vote for you didn’t I?” Yes, it was the man himself, in the flesh, the maestro, my hero, Stanley Matthews.
What is Love?
Love is happiness, which when pursued, is sometimes just beyond your grasp. Persevere, it may look upon you. When it does, hold it, nurture it and treasure it like gold, for love is the greatest pleasure on earth. If there is anything greater, then God has kept it to himself.
Looking at old photographs, I came across one of my late wife in her Scottish outfit from when she used to go dancing. She was very young and very beautiful. Listening to Roy Orbison sing 'In Dreams' I felt the tears begin to trickle down my face. I wanted to put pen to paper, as I thought there must be others that feel the same way as me when they hear certain music. So I wrote: “I still dream of loving, talking and walking with you”. I wish that I could turn the clock back. I would nurture all of her, not only her heart. I would start by trying to overcome my shyness, to say how much I loved her, because sometimes I feel as though I let love slip away. Grandad would say to grandma, “If you are too shy to say you love me, squeeze my hand. Not that hard!” he would add. “Get away with yer, man” grandma would tell us, “take no notice of your grandad, he’s silly.” Most people have these feelings from time to time and simple lines of quotations spring to mind, capturing how you feel at the time. I have the same feelings reading just a line or a few sentences by my fellow writers. Sometimes they bring tears to my eyes and then I take a moment to reflect, then realise that great thoughts come from the heart.
Two poems come to mind, one is by Che Guevara, which I first heard from his wife in Cuba. It was in Spanish and she read it out at a meeting in Spanish, which the translator related to me in English for me. The second is from the film 'Carve her Name with Pride'. I read the book later but no poem was printed. This is my interpretation of the two:
Take this, it is only my heart
Hold it in your hand
Love is all I have to give you
For it all I own and now it is yours, all yours.
Your beautiful body will revive and nurture it
For I know that all that you are is honest and true.
When the dawn arrives,
Open your hand and let the sun warm it.
When we meet again
I hope that it is a beautiful place that we both will adore
It’s not as good as the originals I admit, but I hope you get my drift. Any love or friendship you have can’t be forgotten without leaving some mark on you. Just a glance and you have fallen in love, crazy. But if the other person has the same feelings, love begins and that spark starts a fire.
The Twentieth Century
The evil Century. Future historians will call this the evil century. I am eighty years old and have spent most of my life in it, therefore I am able to write about my experiences living and working in it. The first world war was a terrible slaughter, a stupid and cruel waste of human life. Only the wealthy and powerful people can tell us why. And in my opinion they should have been charged with war-crimes.
I was born in 1935, so am only aware of the first world war through films and documentaries and books I have read. I actually feel quite knowledgeable about it. The second world war I remember quite well as a child, hearing the German bomber planes coming over and dropping their bombs. My mother carrying me and my sister and brothers to the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. My father was fighting in the terrible war, where thousands of soldiers and many civilians were slaughtered. I am only mentioning the first forty-five years of the century. War after war, all my life! when will the wealthy, powerful people realise the terrible crime, or is it their way of keeping the population down?
My belief is that it is greed and they are never brought to account. I've written down the list of wars that I can remember: Palestine, Malaya, Korea, East Africa, Kenya, Suez, Cyprus, The Gulf States, Borneo, Oman, Falklands, Northern Ireland, Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Libya.
The 21st Century has only just started and is full of fighting already. From what I read and see on TV, there is a lot more to come. As the song asks: “When will we ever learn?” The powerful say we must have a deterrent, we always have had one but it makes no difference. We are peace-keepers, they say proudly. But if I remember correctly, when I did my national service the first thing they train you for is discipline and to do as we are told. They gave me a rifle, taught me how to shoot and kill the enemy. The target was a cardboard full sized soldier, with bold eyes on it where the heart is. If you put a bullet in there that was a kill. Another face and head that also was called a kill. One hit on the shoulder arm, body or legs was called a wound. Others outside of the cardboard figure would be a miss. And after the allotted time, if you had not got a kill you would be posted as a driver clerk, medic or store-man. We were not trained to keep the peace. Isn’t it strange, this century must have the greatest advances in technology, knowledge and medicines of all other previous centuries. Why was that century so warlike? One reason may be that some countries have everything and some have nothing, we hear this said many times, even in wealthy countries. With people crying out for equality, the haves and the have nots.
Don't get Pigeon-holed
We English love to pigeon-hole people, especially the elite, it’s something to do with keeping the lower classes in their place. The elite have a curriculum vitae knowing the working classes don’t understand what that means, but over the years have learned it means CV. For themselves, they have many arrows for their bow, the working class has one e.g painter, bricklayer, chef, etc. and are considered fodder. But this pigeon would not be holed, so this is my story or curriculum vitae. Schooled in a state system, being called factory fodder was my hole for ten years, until I started work as apprentice bricklayer, and sure enough put me in another hole for six years. When classed as a tradesman, but no hole, her majesty required me for national service for two years. What a bloody hole that was. Afterwards, back in my bricklayers hole, flitting from one hole to another as a foreman / site agent / site manager / self-employed builder. The hole was getting more luxurious, nevertheless, the elite kept me holed as my CV was not of academic. So I decided to find work overseas, wonderful no pigeon holes there. Freedom at last, especially in places like Australia. Many years later I joined the VSO as a technical vocational training teacher, before returning to the UK. I reached the age of sixty-five years, retired and was put in the OAP hole. I started writing my memoirs after my fourth book was moved to authors / writers hole. This was a little difficult to get out of, as I was feeling my age. What could I do now? Where could I fly now? Perhaps it was time to accept you’ve had your time mate, accept it. A friend then suggested I buy a computer and learn to operate it and get on the internet. What a challenge? So my conclusion is education is quicker and easier. Study to be a professional, get to be one of the elite, although it may not be exciting you can always turn the telly on. Winston Churchill was always being pigeon-holed, same as me, because he was a bricklayer.
Councillors and Politicians
You need a bleeding degree now to be a councillor, and to be an MP in the Commons you need to be a millionaire with an honours degree. "If you haven’t got a million already, with the expenses that members of parliament get, you soon will be!", said Jack, who had been a councillor for forty years and not received a penny, excepting some expenses for bus fares. It didn’t matter what party you belong to, common sense ruled the day, not what letters you had behind you. The young ones of today call them old farts, but Jack, Ike, Sam, Alf, Elsie, Lilly and Hannah, to name only a few, worked hard to keep our borough what it is today. I call them the salt of the earth. Their names tell you they are ordinary working people. How can you expect them to vote for academics and the elite from out of the London area with names like Antony, Tristhan, Mohamad, Julia, Helena, Seema and Gareth. Yes, I’ve had my arguments with them over the years, but have always agreed to differ. Some people like Ike will never change, like his views about refusing planning applications for four bedroom houses because they are for conservative voters and accepting applications for council or town houses because they vote labour. I’ve told him that if Hitler became leader he’d still vote labour, but to be fair to him the conservatives would vote the same! It seems to be all for the party nowadays, and not for the ordinary man in the street. Some people think more about animals and having a beautiful view, than allowing a young couple to own their own house. Sometimes it’s granted, but it has to be in a kind of grotto, with no space between one house and the next. My great grandfather built those type of houses two hundred years ago. They called them terraced for the working classes or poor farmers cottages. I went to Jack's funeral today (31/10/2014), my birthday was a sad and yet happy day - strange but true. Sitting in the church, remembering all of the stories he used to tell me. People who glanced at me must have thought what a strange man I was, with a smile on my face, but I was reminiscing the tale he told many times, but never dared write about. As they have both died, I don’t care what the media cannot print, I can. He used to say one of his opponents was a very attractive lady, beautifully dressed and her make-up was perfect. She was a poshly spoken speaker, but always came to meeting with no knickers on. "How do you know that Jack?" I would ask laughing. "Don’t ask", he always replied. Miss you Jack.
Get Your Finger Out
Get your own newspaper you, Newcastle black and radio station instead of criticising ours. Our MP may look like a Tory, but after just three years is on the front bench, After many years is still on the back bench just drawing his expenses, you and him should tittle. Oh dear, I thought the local media was for all of north Staffordshire. Nevermind, I’ve some good news. I am on the OAP line rate with BT, saving me £15 per month, no more press button 1, 2, 3, etc. Thank-goodness. Also to Newcastle council for helping me with my council tax. Not too happy with Seven Trent water board, but at least they are talking to me - they say jaw jaw better than war war. Perhaps I’ve upset them by telling them they can have gallons off my garden for free. They told me, a seventy-eight year old man to go to a web site, where all of my questions would be answered. I cannot find it, it’s not on my bus route - a friend told me it was between Woore and Whitmore. Save on this and that, all sending these leaflets, but the invoices still get higher. I try to save myself by weeing behind my garden shed, using my neighbour’s outside tap to fill my kettle and on the other side there outside toilet. Now for the big two: gas & electricity. I’ve managed to get a little help, pay by debit wear your overcoat or dressing gown (I don’t have one). I end up putting more on than off when I go to bed. Reduce the timer on my central heating boiler, well at least they are trying not to make me laugh. When I told my friend, Mrs Brown, the above and how I thought I had cracked these cartels, she replied "FRACKING HELL!!!!!" Please, fellow bloggers, what’s so bad about the above, why will they not print or announce it? One mailed to tell me that I must moderate your blogs, I replied "BOLLOCKS". It has taken me two weeks to write this blog. Twelve months ago I started to pay attention to computers. I wrote a letter to a newspaper and to my shame they printed it, at the time it was very funny and I got many congratulations.
I wrote a letter to the Sentinel some time ago, but I never had anywhere else to moan until I created this account. So here goes nothing: Hello Tony, what’s happening to these horses? Oh, they are being sent to Ireland. What for? They don’t look like racehorses, I laughed. I don’t know and you don’t want to know either. Bloody hell, I thought the miserable old sod! But didn’t dare say this as Tony is quite powerful. He was reputed to be a millionaire. Six foot six high, at least twenty-five stone (three-hundred and fifty pounds) and had a face like Bruce Woodcock (British boxer).
This incident happened twenty or more years ago, but it doesn’t stop me from writing this story as it became a big scandal recently. My story begins in Libya, when some French pilots invited me to a meal in Tripoli. This was reputed to be the best restaurant on the Med. It was French cooking, the most wonderful cuisine, and when the menu was handed to me I was so embarrassed it was all in French. "What’s your pleasure Roy?", asked the squadron leader. "Well Michael, I would like a steak, medium with all the trimmings. But as you know I don’t speak French and this menu is beyond me." Ah, that’s it there and he named it. It sounded very posh and that’s what I ordered. It was a beautiful steak and I ate everything on the plate. The best I’d eaten in all my time in Libya. It’s better than that dog-curry you had on the Korean site the other day, don’t you think? Everyone laughed at that. "Do you know what you’ve eaten?" another pilot said. It was horse meat. We all eat horse meat, there is nothing wrong with it. "It’s you English, you just want to be different", said another. Well, I must say I enjoyed it. A little stronger than beef and the texture was not as close (a bit stringy), but not a bit of fat or gristle. Nevertheless, whenever I was in Tripoli, I always went there and had horse steak for four years, it did me no harm.
The other day I was travelling to Keele on the local bus, I went past Tony’s fields. Sure enough, a dozen or so horses were grazing there. I wanted to stand up and shout "There are your burgers! Angus steaks!", but could not find the courage. So I have proof horse meat is not harmful. What IS the problem people have? Perhaps it's just being conned by unscrupulous supermarkets by false labels. Farmers and suppliers have been telling us for years that supermarkets are lying to us. Their motto “profiteering” is called “business”. I only hope that race horses are not in the food chain, as I know they have been injected with all kinds of drugs to help heal muscles. I have been lucky. I have reached the age of seventy-seven without too many worries. What is the answer? I think that one answer would be to encourage those three mature, but attractive ladies from the "Rip Off Britain" show a daily programme each day on the subject. It’s no good bringing the government in, as they seem to accept it. Their answer "We didn’t know this was going on." But that excuse is all too common from politicians.
They will print the story if I can prove it, but Tony, my old friend died a few years ago so I cannot confirm much. Tony is the only farmer I know and discussed the matter with so I can’t prove anything. But, in keeping with the free internet, I am going to 'Print And Be Damned', as I have with my book about Red Ash. I went to see his son, he replied "We have a license to export and import live beasts. We transport horses to Ireland and Belgium what they do with them is nothing to do with me." So fuck off and ask them, but he ended up telling me to fuck off again. This was from a friend, we shared rounds of beer with occasionally in my local pub. So I went to talk to his brother, who drives the cattle lorry. I asked him what his brother meant about import and export licenses. I drive them to Ireland and bring back the horses I delivered the month before. Something to do with payments from the EU. Oh, it’s a fiddle? You said that, not me. From the media’s reply I read that I had no proof so like a fool tried to get some. It was not until later that I had a call from two policeman, one being my neighbour's grandson, who I know well. “Mr. Smith, we have read your blog. Do you know how serious it is dealing with these kind of people? Your life or at least your health was in danger we are watching these people, so leave it to us.” “But this has been going on for years and it’s not nice not being believed by your own media, so I thought I’d get more evidence. "No!" was the stern reply. So thank you very much local media, I realise why you don’t investigate now, but wait for the public and idiots like me to do your dirty work. I’ll be more careful next time.
What our Local Newspaper will not Print
The Potteries people raped again. I thought this would have helped the area - a dozen celebrities, all authors from London, some with Potteries connections (there are no authors worth mentioning in Stoke on Tent according to Waterstones). Waterstones have refused to sell books by local authors, mine included. But what happened at the Stoke Literary Festival recently? Guess who were running the show at the Emma Bridgewater factory? Waterstones! What is wrong with Webberleys, they help local creative writing groups, or WH Smiths who sell our books for us?
I smell money burning, perhaps I am wrong, but I am not willing to bet on it. I believe the council set this affair up, so how come it was hijacked by Waterstones and Emma Bridgewater? The treatment given to local authors in a local showcase for literature was unfair. Although the staff were helpful, we were allocated an area well away from the “elite.” But when their marquee collapsed they kicked us out of our room and put us in an awful alleyway. What happened was that the marquee for the celebrities blew down in the night and by the time we locals arrived, they had moved us out, giving the accommodation to people from London. I could say more. We were treated like monkeys, only… no nuts. And to rub salt in our wounds our MP, Tristram Hunt, like everyone else, just looked quickly down our alley and disappeared. If he is Labour, I will eat my hat. Emma Bridgewater didn’t even bother to look, I don’t suppose she even knew we were there. But of course it is the Potteries once again treating the locals badly. The main writer’s groups in the area were not invited until pressure was brought on them, making the organisers relent. But the group still felt aggrieved, so they held their own impromptu festival in Newcastle library on the same day.
Debbie McCauley and many other local authors gave their advice and expertise. Mel Sherrat always helps the writers groups free of charge, not like the London elite, charging the audience £6 per head per lecture. Local councillor Garth Snell would have been better appreciated had he come in with us, rather than kow towing to the elite. At the entrance to the alleyway was a stall for the Sentinel giving goodie bags at a pound a time. Good value, I had one despite not staying long. The newspaper men went home early, leaving in disgust, saying no one was bothering and leaving us their 'goodie bags'. Near the end, a brave lady did venture to my stall and picked up my book “From Oatcakes to Caviar”. I thought my luck had changed, she asked “What are oatcakes?” When I explained, she said quite indignantly “So that’s what the locals eat.” And then she walked away, the snooty cow. That was the final straw. I packed up and with my tail between my legs I made my way to my kennel. Please Stoke-on-Trent, no more unless consideration is given to us locals. We suffered enough, give us a chance. That is all we ask.