02 April, 2018

Memory Lane

He half dragged, half lifted the box from the wardrobe which, with its huge bevelled glass mirror, carved Victorian scroll work and flying birds had been ancient when he was a child over sixty years before. He could still remember the day that his mother had bought it at a house clearance sale. His father had brought it home on the back of the lorry that he drove for a local haulage company, Ainsworth & Martin, who traded from their garage on Maitland Street just a few hundred yards from where, as a child, he had lived in Caroline Street. And he marvelled, as he had then, at how the thing had been heaved and dragged by his father and his father’s friend, Alf Burkett - who was also a driver at Ainsworth's and lived round the corner in Derby Square - up the steep narrow stairs and into the bedroom of the two up two down house in Caroline Street while his mother gave instructions and cursed if they went too close to the wallpapered walls. Even as a child he had thought it ugly, but now now, in his eighth, decade he ruefully wondered, if it might be worth something on the Antiques Road Show.

Heaving the cardboard box onto the bare mattress of the bed he pulled back the flaps and peered inside. He knew immediately what it was, photograph albums. His nose picked up smells from the past; cigarettes, the slightly sweet smell of old paper, mothballs, the smells of his childhood. Even before he took one out he had recognised them; his auntie’s old albums, their covers dulled with age, no longer the shiny faux leather or bright cloth that he remembered from his childhood; these were things he hadn’t seen for a lifetime and yet he already pictured their contents.
Auntie Edna & Uncle Joe
Preston Holiday Week 1960

He pulled one out; “Memory Lane” was embossed in a flowing gold script across the cover. He took out another with a tartan cover and the words “Boots’ Photograph Album” printed in a utilitarian black print across the top. A third, “All Your Yesterdays De-Luxe Photograph Album”, said the legend - and to show that it was “De-Luxe” the corners of the cover were decorated with cheap imitation brass and at the spine a bow with fraying tassels tied the pages into the album. He sat on the edge of the mattress and flicked open the album and looked at the black and white faces that stared back at him from the past, his past.

On the inside of the cover written in a neat, rounded, unsophisticated schoolgirl like hand was his Auntie’s name “Edna Park”. His mother had never been one for photographs and certainly not for keeping them for sentimental reasons, but her sister, his auntie, had always liked to snap with her cheap little plastic Kodak Brownie camera. Edna had died several years before his mother and his mother had obviously, and strangely he thought, kept her sister’s photograph albums after clearing out Edna’s house. He instinctively shook his head in bewilderment sadly doubting that his mother had ever taken them out of the box in the years following Edna’s death. He had loved his mother and he knew that she had loved him, but had known from an early age that she didn’t “do” sentiment or shows of tender emotion; life was for working not reminiscing or dreaming. As she’d had so often reminded him, “There’s plenty of time for dreaming when you’re in your box”.
Lake Coniston 1955

He flicked open more of the albums. In the front of each was Edna’s neat handwriting and under the photographs written in blue biro, names or places: “Morecambe July 1953”, “Joe at No. 39 Fishwick View May 1956”, “Chester Zoo August 1956”, “Doris, Fred and Tony at Blackpool 1957”, “Picnic Trough of Bowland 1960”......... .He looked at the long gone faces, the dresses that he remembered his mother and auntie wearing, his uncle’s hand knitted cardigan that he always seemed to wear whatever the weather. As he gazed at the photograph of the Trough of Bowland he could almost smell the meths from the little primus stove that his father always took in the boot of the car that they hired for the week to take them for days out in Preston holiday week; Joe and his father crouching as they sorted the china cups while waiting for the primus to boil the little kettle. His mother, Edna, Joe and him travelling around Lancashire as his dad, the only driver, took them to the seaside and other beauty spots and occasionally stopped by the roadside for an picnic or a “brew”.
Outside No 18 Caroline Street 1954

He turned the pages, running his fingers across the photographs; most were stuck firmly with glue – he could still picture the little bottle of glue that his auntie kept for the purpose, bought at Joe Unsworth’s newsagents - between the off licence and the cake shop - on New Hall Lane at the end of Caroline Street. The bottle had a red rubber top with a slit out of which the glue came – except that at the end of each use the slit got blocked with dried glue and he could picture his auntie swearing quietly as she tried to unblock the slit with a pair of scissors. Some of the albums had the pictures mounted with little white corner pieces which he remembered you could buy at Boots or Woolworths. He lifted the black sugar paper page to his nose and sniffed it. Instantly he was back at 39 Fishwick View – his auntie’s house - as if yesterday: homemade chicken soup, tinned salmon, chocolate éclairs, Pears soap, Carnation  Cream, evaporated milk, tins of mandarin oranges......the smells and tastes of his childhood spent so often at his auntie’s. Unlike his mother, who so often raged against the world and believed firmly in her oft quoted motto “It’s a hard life if you don’t weaken”, his auntie, a Lancashire lass, a cotton weaver, had simple pleasures, gave unconditional love and seemed to live by the name on the label of her favourite bottle of beer that she drank once a week at the New Hall Lane Tavern: Dutton’s “OBJ – Oh Be Joyful”. And deep inside he wept.
Auntie Edna's once a week tipple
at the New Hall Lane Tavern: 'OBJ'
"Oh Be Joyful" - and she was!

The faces peered back at him and he remembered times that he had never truly forgotten: a crowded Christmas tea when the family gathered at his auntie’s, doing the “Twist” as Chubby Checker blared out from the radiogram in Edna’s front room, standing with Tony and Gary Clarkson in front of his house - each in their khaki summer shorts, bare chested, and each of thinking themselves the height of cool, sporting their snake buckle belts. And, there he was standing on the pebbles at the side of the River Ribble throwing stones to make them bounce on the water’s surface while his father, Joe and Edna enjoyed a glass of shandy at the nearby Bridge Inn on a balmy Saturday evening. He remembered as if yesterday those Saturday evening walks down through the country and the allotments on the edge of Preston known as Fishwick Bottoms or locally as the “Loney” or the “Bonk”.  Walking down the hill and hoping, praying even, that his mother would not be difficult again, that another argument would not spoil the night; that perhaps his mother would, for once, have a glass of shandy or even just a lemonade to show that she was like other people.  But she never did, and another tear misted his eye.
Gary, Tony & Me Caroline Street 1957

He ruefully reflected that photographs give only half of the story; the smiles but not the tears; the good times, but never what goes on behind closed doors and in the darkness of family minds. He ran his fingers again over the photographs, touching the faces on the bits of paper that held such memories but in reality told so little. His auntie would have had them developed at the chemist’s in New Hall Lane; he imagined her standing outside the shop pulling them from the packet to see if they had turned out.  In her broad Lancashire accent she would pass them around and say “Eeeh, that’s a good ‘un of Tony, I’ve got the negative, do you want me to get one for you Doris?”  But his mother rarely did – she seemed always to want to set herself apart, to be strong and display no weakness by outward shows of sentimentality. He traced his fingers again around the faces; his auntie’s fingers would have touched them, she was still on them, he was touching what she had once touched and he suddenly realised how very personal they were; things from  the past, touched, treasured and once  loved. Not at all like the digital photographs that he kept on his lap top – just pixels in cyberspace with no permanence, gone when he closed the lap top lid, convenient but not personal. Have we lost something of our humanity he wondered, lost the capacity to touch and feel as we increasingly store all that we know and do in cyberspace; emails not handwritten letters, digital blogs not diaries, photographs of a million pixels and not a printed piece of photographic paper that can be kept, loved and treasured; a physical link with the past and the person pictured or who wrote them, personalised them with their own handwriting style - left their mark, who touched them?
Lancaster Canal at Torrisholm Preton Holidays 1960

Here was his childhood – the cowboy suit with the tassled waistcoat, him sitting in Lake Coniston with Joe and his father standing in the lake their trousers rolled up, him sitting fishing in the Lancaster Canal, his father, a young man standing in his demob suit holding a small baby – him, a family group his mother, as ever, never looking at the camera.  So much of his family’s history, so much of who and what he was. And, suddenly, he felt an overwhelming urge to sob. So many good times captured by his auntie’s cheap little plastic Kodak Brownie but never a photograph of him sitting at the top of the stairs night after night sobbing, terrified, as his mother shouted in anger while his father meekly stood soaking up her rage, rarely replying, until she burned herself out and stormed off to bed. No photographs of the mealtimes when he had sat silent dreading that his mother would pick up on some small thing and launch into another vitriolic tirade – the peas not being hot enough, the gravy too thin...always his father’s fault since he had cooked the Sunday dinner as she lay in bed till lunchtime completing the Sunday Express crossword. The camera never recorded the thousands of times when, daily, he had desperately made inane comments, or asked stupid questions – anything to deflect the conversation and distract his mother so that her bubbling inner rage against the world and his father did not erupt. The camera never showed these nor what went on inside his young mind – and which still, nearly seven decades later still ate away at his inner being leaving only anxiety, fear, regret and guilt. 
Making a brew near the Trough of Bowland

He looked up at the ugly wardrobe and remembered the day his father had at last broke. He had stood, tears streaming down his face, as his father stood in front of the wardrobe stuffing his few belongings into a bag while his mother screamed “That’s, right, clear off  like a rat from a sinking ship......” . And then she grabbed the boy’s hand and dragged him downstairs and out along the streets into the 1950s Preston’s Saturday afternoon shopping throng. When, hours later they returned, her anger left in Woolworths and British Home Stores the boy was terrified; his father would be gone, forever. But when they opened the door, his father was sitting, red eyed, in front of the coal fire. He stood and said “Hello Love, all the cleaning up’s done, and I’ve changed the beds – as he did every Saturday afternoon when he came home from work – “Do you want a brew Love - you must be ready for one?”. His wife, the boy’s mother, said nothing, as if the flare up had never happened – until, the boy knew, it would happen again.

The camera never lies, but it tells only half of the truth.

24 March, 2018

Walls Or Roads? - How Our Judgements Judge Us.

Cathy McAteer in Russia
Just before Christmas at our local U3A meeting (“University of the Third Age” – a national voluntary organisation aimed at providing educational opportunities for what we might loosely call “senior citizens”) we enjoyed a talk from a visiting speaker as we do once a month. On this occasion the talk was a little special for my wife Pat and I as the speaker, Cathy McAteer, was well known to us. I had taught Cathy as an 11 year old and she was a good friend of my daughter when they were both at secondary school. In addition they are both cellists and had had the same teacher many years ago. It was quite a strange feeling to sit in the hall listening to this highly talented young woman who I had once taught as a child and was now “teaching” us “senior citizens”.

Cathy is a gifted speaker and an expert on Russia. She works for the University of Bristol, translates Russian and has spent much time in that vast country. Her talk on that chilly pre-Christmas day was on Russian Christmas traditions and she kept us hugely entertained with her anecdotes, information and ability to keep an audience enthralled. It was in fact the second occasion that she had visited our group to tell us about Russia - the first occasion being a few months previously when she delved into great treasure trove of Russian history and teased out its important threads to explain and underscore what it is that drives the people and government of that hugely complex, and what can often seem to us, forbidding country.

I have been thinking much in recent days about those two wonderful afternoons listening to Cathy’s enthusiastic description of Russia and the Russians, as we in the UK have been preoccupied with the “fall out” from the assassination attempt on the two Russian émigrés in Salisbury - and the inevitable accusations aimed at Russia and, in particular, President Putin that have poured from the British government and the populist media.
Goebbels - who knew all about moulding public opinion

Now let me preface this blog (rant?) by saying that I do not in any way wish to suggest that the British government is factually incorrect in the various accusations that they are making about this event. Nor am I, in any way, defending or suggesting that Putin is innocent. I simply don’t know. And, as far as I can see that is the first problem;  in the world of high politics, realpolitik, diplomatic language, smoke and mirrors political intrigue, right and left wing propaganda, modern social media, “fake news” and the rest it is, I would suggest, virtually impossible for most of us to have a sustainable opinion – we simply don’t know. Of course, the British government will plead, like their Russian counterparts, that they are telling the truth; but then, I think it is fair to say so did Joseph Goebbels Hitler’s propaganda chief. Goebbels was a master at moulding public opinion in Nazi Germany and ever ready to offer advice on the matter: “Truth is the greatest enemy of the State..... Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play..... Not every item of news should be published. Rather must those who control news policies endeavour to make every item of news serve a certain purpose” Goebbels famously advised at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. He went on:  “There’s no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals think, question, and demand facts, they would never be converted. Always aim at the unthinking man in the street.... Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts of the simple minded, not the intellect......Truth is unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology..... .Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will”. As I read this I cannot escape the conclusion that whatever the guilt or innocence of President Putin and Russia in this latest spat between our two nations, Boris Johnson, our esteemed (!)  Foreign Secretary and Theresa May our accident prone PM are pretty much following the Goebbels "Teach Yourself Handbook" on "Manipulating Public Opinion" -  and are doing this by simply making “crude, clear, forcible” comments, “appealing to the emotions” and the “unthinking” - being at best, economic with the truth as they try to mould our thinking about the Russians and Putin.
Leader of the Evil Empire or defender of his country?
- depends on where you sit

We live today in a world where scientific evidence and empirical results are the gold standard; "God cannot exist because we cannot prove it" cries the atheist, we rely on scientific evidence more than ever before to convict the murderer, we talk of “forensic analysis or debate” as if it had always been part of our vocabulary, we castigated the Tony Blair government because he allegedly tampered with the “evidence” about weapons of mass destruction in the invasion plans for Iraq; in short, we in the west have become like so many “doubting Thomas’ “ – unwilling to believe in Christ’s resurrection unless we can press our fingers into his wounds.  Evidence is all. So, when Theresa May accuses President Putin of being behind the assassination attempt, and yet she cannot, or is unwilling to, provide me with categorical, indisputable evidence to support her claims I am, to say the least, unimpressed. In the various accusations that have been made in the past week or two, the strongest "proof"  seems to have been that is “highly likely” that President Putin and Russia are at the root of the assassination attack. Well, I’m not a barrister but my understanding is that “highly likely” would probably be insufficient to convict the murderer in a court of law where the bar is set rather higher - “beyond all reasonable doubt” – being the usual criteria for conviction. But equally, when Putin replies, “that’s nonsense, I was not involved” I am similarly wary; like the prisoner in the dock he needs to provide conclusive “proof” that he was not at the scene of the crime. Until we get these certainties we simply don’t know and must, therefore, hold our judgements rather than make unsubstantiated accusations.

But, while calm and cool evidence is not being provided by either side, the populace of the UK is being whipped up into a nationalistic frenzy by our political masters. If Goebbels were still alive today I suspect he would survey the UK government “outrage” and the anti-Russian bile of the frenzied populist right wing press with a grim satisfaction; "keep the message simple, appeal to the emotions not the intellect, aim at the unthinking, truth is unimportant, think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play"..........Goebbels, I am sure would recognise the tactic whether it is from Whitehall or the Kremlin; the lessons of his "handbook" have been learned in the corridors of power of 21st century Britain.

Boris Johnson our inept and despicable Foreign Secretary 
unforgivably accuses Russia of Nazi tendencies
I cannot speak for President Putin or the Russian people, but I can legitimately have an opinion on our own elected representatives; and the current dispute gives me serious cause for concern as to their fitness for office. As our illustrious, tin pot, embarrassing but thoroughly unpleasant and dangerous Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pours petrol on the tinder box that has developed after the "attack" in Salisbury our PM has been busy asking other European leaders to support the UK and send home Russian diplomats. None have yet taken that step and the strongest condemnation that they have come up with is that Russia is “highly likely” to be at the root of the attack.  They are perhaps taking (as usual) a wiser, more thoughtful viewpoint, seeing the bigger picture rather than the “bull in a china shop” divisive policies that we in the UK seem increasingly to adopt. As a nation we have voted to cut ourselves off from our nearest neighbours by leaving the EU – and, in the process, have been decidedly ungracious to our friends across the Channel. Across the Atlantic we have a President who is keen to pick a fight with anyone he chooses on any given day of the week and to build walls - real, political or economic - between his nation and others. Across the rest of the world we have countries in the middle east in a never ending spiral of hate and mistrust and running through the whole scenario we have what we in the west euphemistically call "the war on terror" - which no matter how one dresses it up has, at its roots, a simple dislike and mistrust of our fellow human beings - in short, anyone who does not comply with our (western or British) view of reality.

From where I sit it seems that we British in particular and the west in general are happily tearing up the cooperation and trust that has been built since 1945 - we have forgotten why institutions like the United Nations and the EU were so desperately needed half a century ago. The world is on a crash course of self destruction and hatred of our fellow humans – and we in the UK, ably abetted by Donald Trump, are ramping up the volume, stirring the geo-political pot, fomenting disharmony and division. This latest imbroglio with Russia is just another step along the way to destroying the goodwill that has been patiently and painstakingly built up over the past half century.

As we career along behind Johnson and May, the mob's cheer leaders stoking up the fires of hatred, Johnson suggests that the Russian position in relation to the upcoming football World Cup is akin to Hitler's manipulation of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. What a great, simple, crude "one liner" for the populist press to blast from their front pages: Goebbels would have been delighted with that one! The Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, was perfectly correct to respond by describing Johnson's comments as “unacceptable”; Russia lost almost 26 million of its civilian and military population fighting Nazism (think about that - it's about half the total current population of England) - in the same conflict Britain lost almost exactly half a million. Consider those figures: the UK lost less than 0.1 of its total population in the fight against Hitler, Russia in comparison lost almost 15% of hers. So, just maybe, Boris Johnson should have thought before making such a heinous and unpleasant accusation against a country that gave so much to help defeat Nazism. But, of course, that's the problem, the cheer leaders of mobs rarely, if ever, think before opening their mouths and for Johnson in particular, a few moments of quite reflection before putting in his two pennyworth is an unknown phenomena. 
A nice lampooning of Theresa May

But, back to the wonderful talks given to our U3A by Cathy McAteer. She told us many things about Russia and the Russians and one stands out in my memory and which I have thought of much in recent days. In reviewing the rich and sometimes turbulent tapestry of Russian history she commented that hard wired into the minds of many – or even most - Russians is the desire for a strong leader – someone who will “protect” and stand firm for “Mother Russia”. This vast country which takes in so many time zones and so many physically demanding geographical areas: from the arctic wastelands of Siberia to the Steppe; so many varying cultures ranging from the European like extreme west of Russia to the oriental and Mongol areas of the far east, from the nomadic Arctic north, to the Muslim areas of the south; so many religious and political ideals - from Communist atheism, to devout Orthodox Christianity, to Islam; from ideas of democracy, to longings for a return to Communist dictatorship, to the lands and ancient war lord cultures of Genghis Kahn and the Mongols. Russia has a history that has always been subject to cultural, political and religious strains and extremes. The result has been a glorious and rich tapestry but a tapestry characterised by political ferment – Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great, Stalin, Lenin, the Russian Revolution – and often external threats; most notably the Second World War. In 1942/43 the Battle of Stalingrad was the undoubted turning point of the Second World War when over a million Russians died in this single battle, but in doing so halted Hitler’s advance and in turn ensured that the Allies, the UK, America and the rest could defeat Hitler’s seriously wounded armies. Just over a century before it was the Russians again who humbled the mighty Napoleon  as he attacked their country: after Napoleon’s defeat and the destruction of  La Grande Armée in wastes of the Russian winter of 1812 it was only a matter of time before he could be finally defeated at Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington. Given the history, geography and cultural composition of Russia we would be wise not to misinterpret or criticise this desire for ordinary Russians to perhaps favour a strong leader. The briefest review of world history will soon show that great empires – be they the Greek, the Roman, the British or any other  have only been able to flourish under strong leadership for only strong leaders can hold in check the many strains – cultural, religious, economic and political – that characterise such entities. It may well be, I would suggest, that Russians  recognise the less attractive features  of President Putin’s leadership but, more importantly, they also know that given their history, their geography, the cultural mix of their nation and the national psyche it is also the way things have to be. 

In this morning’s Guardian a correspondent makes very much the same point:  “....I am increasingly dismayed by the jingoistic responses to the Salisbury attacks from the government and especially from the foreign secretary.  Most people in Britain do not seem to understand the historic nervousness of Russians to being encircled and invaded. Russians remember the second world war well, and the millions who died. For Boris Johnson to compare Putin to Hitler is about as foul an insult as anyone could devise. Theresa May’s talk about a new cold war serves no one’s interests apart from her own, and possibly those of MI6 and the armed forces”.  Quite so. We might not have any great affection for President Putin, we might be pushed to believe everything he says but making the sort of comments that Johnson and May have been making of late shows either a total lack of understanding of the Russian people and their mindset or a calculated assault on the legitimate the political leadership and wishes of the Russian people. In my view it also casts doubts upon the efficacy and understanding of our own foreign office and diplomatic service and their ability to "read" the messages and thoughts coming out of Moscow and the Russia of the 21st century. Diplomacy and international relations is as much about nuance and reading between the lines as it is about facts and I seriously wonder, when I listen to Boris Johnson's crude outburst on the whole range of subjects for which he has responsibility as Foreign Secretary - from Russia, to Trump, to Brexit, to Europe, to the Middle East and all points in between -  whether he and the Foreign Office have grasped this fundamental requirement of 21st century diplomacy and power politics.
Good advice, I think.

There are undeniably many criticism and adverse comments one might make about Russia and the Russians – like all nations they have their strengths, weaknesses, proud histories and dark pasts – but to make the comments that Boris Johnson and Theresa May have been making is quite out of order: inflammatory and unthinking it is at the same time calculated and devious; no more no less. Hermann Göring, another of Hitler’s henchmen, confessed at the Nuremberg trials in 1946   “Why, of course, the people don't want war......... Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.......the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country”.  Sadly, Göring was not wrong and sadly, what we have seen coming out of Downing Street in recent days, is for me, a blatant manifestation of what Göring was describing. And the worrying thing is that it is all lapped up by the unthinking, the simple minded, the unquestioning, the emotional, and  the allegedly “patriotic” who stupidly believe that fortress England can do no wrong while the rest of the world - be it the EU or Putin - is “out to get us”. And of course, following the thoughts  of Göring and Goebbels, would I be too much of a conspiracy theorist to think that this vilification of Russia arising from the alleged "assassination attempt" in Salisbury is just maybe a smoke and mirrors political game, fake news, realpolitik -  a crude  attempt by the British government to deflect public opinion from the disaster that is Brexit? Would I be too far off the mark to think that its a prime example of what Goebbels and Göring meant when they said "All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger" and "Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play..... those who control news policies endeavour to make every item of news serve a certain purpose” . Well, of course I'm wrong, we British are all jolly decent chaps - aren't we? We would never stoop to the depths to which these dreadful Johnny Foreigners would stoop, would we? And yet........and yet......I wonder.
This morning's Guardian take on the demonization of Putin & Russia.  Theresa May and other EU leaders ( plus the snake like UKIP politician Nigel Farage) show their scornfor the strong man Putin- but the Guardian,  rightly, asks "What's wrong with peace, love and understanding?

This mad rush to stoke up anti-Russian feeling is another extension of what the west in general and we in the England in particular have become masters of – the vilification of all who are different from oursleves. At the moment it is anti-Russian propaganda that fills our tabloids and Parliament – but we have also seen, and continue to see, anti-Muslim, or anti Polish, anti-black, or anti-any-other group, nation or religion that we simply dislike vilified on the front pages of the tabloids. We read that these groups, who we perceive as threats to our “way of life”, are going to take over our country, are enemies of all that we stand for, don’t share our “values” (whatever they may be!) and  should be sent back from whence they came. When I read of, or hear, the pure propaganda and hate spewing (and I choose that word carefully) from the mouth of the hateful but frighteningly devious Donald Trump or whenever I read headlines that decorate the front pages of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sun or the Telegraph I wonder where our world is heading and wonder what has happened to President Kennedy’s commentary that “What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children -- not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time...I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task...Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again...And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."
How the Russian media portray May and Johnson

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and Russia’s loss of international status in the years immediately following the demise of Communism Russia  reinvented itself to once again become a world player. The Russian Bear has risen from his wounds, the Russian people have again shown their capacity - just as they have done numerous times throughout history - to put up with any hardship and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Mother Russia prevails. Given that, it would seem to me that the rest of the world would be well advised to understand what drives this proud and powerful people and extend the hand of friendship rather than do, as our unpleasant, unthinking, Foreign Secretary prefers, make unfounded and frankly  unacceptable accusations from the safety of his office in Whitehall. It would behove Boris Johnson and the rest who wish to fan the flames of discord to contemplate John Kennedy’s words that I quote above: "Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings..... if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."

I am also reminded of a comment made by Alan Smith Bishop of St Albans in his Christmas message a few short months ago: "When we feel insecure we build walls - they seems a good idea....But walls usually provide only a temporary solution - they don't always provide peace and security in the longer term. Rather than build walls we need to build highways to allow people and communities to come together". As Foreign Secretary perhaps Boris Johnson should ponder those few words of wisdom - they read to me like the perfect job description for the post of Foreign Secretary and I am further reminded of the famous incident involving US President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. Hatred had become entrenched between the North and South and Lincoln was criticized for speaking of benevolent treatment for the Southern rebels. A fellow politician reminded Lincoln that there was a war going on, that the Confederates were the enemy, and they should be destroyed without mercy he argued. Lincoln responded, “ Surely, I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” Quite. 
Poisoning Snow White? - is there no end to Putin's
evil intentions - not in the eyes of Theresa May

We might be anxious about Putin’s Russia: it may well be that he is responsible for the Salisbury assassination attempt; there may well be a cause for concern in relation to the alleged Russian hacking of western internet accounts; we might well view Russia’s role in the middle east with grave concern or  have reservations about Russia’s relationship with its near neighbours and countries that were once part of the USSR; and there may be proved to be a Russian involvement with the Trump election or our own Brexit vote. But it seems to me that if we wish to change how Russia relates to the world then we need to recognise Russia’s history, culture and national psyche. As we have seen so often over the centuries the Russian Bear will rightly, not easily be tamed and certainly not by being beaten with a large stick. The resolve of the Russian people and their capacity to put up with hardships we in the west are largely unable to comprehend means that if we wish Russia to comply with our western viewpoint then the carrot is better than the stick, the hand of friendship better than sword. Baiting the Russian Bear is, in my view not an option – it is not sustainable nor is it the right thing to do.
And yet another photo of Mr & Mrs May attending church and
displaying their Christian virtues to all. Mmmm?.......think 
I'll reserve judgement on that one. There's more to being 
a good Christian, I think,  than going to church each week.

Johnson, Trump, May and all the others who are so anxious to speedily condemn Russia and incite mistrust across the world should think before opening their mouths. And in the case of Theresa May the Vicar's daughter, who professes to be a "good Christian" and whose PR Director ensures that each Monday morning we open our newspapers to see a photo of her and her husband going to church, should, just maybe, reflect upon some of the basic teachings of her professed religion; namely love thy neighbour, forgive and speak words of reconciliation and humanity rather than words of condemnation or mistrust. As the French philosopher & poet Paul Valéry said: "Our judgements judge us, and nothing reveals us, exposes our weaknesses, more ingeniously than the attitude of pronouncing upon our fellows".

14 March, 2018

Local Hero

Remembering 60 years ago:
I saw him play only once
Yesterday, far from Preston where I was born and grew up, I was taken back to a November day in 1957 – over 60 years ago now, almost a lifetime. I was 12 years old at the time and over those intervening 60 plus years I have recalled and replayed in my mind on numerous occasions the events of that day - but none more so than yesterday. That day a lifetime ago wasn’t a special day – just an ordinary Saturday - November 9th. I would have risen early (about 6 o’clock) and completed my newspaper round in the streets around New Hall Lane for the local newsagent Joe Unsworth, returned home and eaten my breakfast of cereal and a cup of tea and then walked down Caroline Street and Chatsworth Street to the house of my Auntie Edna – although I always, till the day she died, called her Nennie – on Fishwick View. Once there I would have done her shopping – borrowed her bike and cycled up New Hall Lane to Moon’s bread and cake shop and there bought her bread, some barm cakes (bread rolls to non-Lancastrians) and a selection of cakes that she always had on order (my auntie loved her cakes!) and importantly a cake for myself – I always chose a chocolate éclair or an apple turn over! Then, after paying her newspaper bill at Joe Unsworth’s, I would pick up some groceries at the local Co-op on Skeffington Road and some tripe for my Uncle Joe’s Saturday tea from the tripe shop on New Hall Lane and then precariously cycle back with the shopping bags swinging on the handle bars to enjoy a cup of tea and my éclair or turn over while Nennie  chose a cake from the selection I had brought back for her. And, as I left – by now it would be late morning - she would press a silver coin in my hand, if I was lucky a half-a-crown (a two and sixpenny piece/12½p); a fortune – and she would whisper “Don’t tell Joe”. If I was really lucky my Uncle Joe would be there and he, too, might press a coin into my fist and wink as he whispered “Don’t tell Edna”! My auntie was a weaver at Emerson Road Mill and Joe was a tackler there (a tackler was the man who kept the looms going and sorted out any problems). I remember all this because those Saturday mornings filled my early teenage years until I left school and went to work  as a trainee draughtsman at Thermic Engineering in Salmon Street just off London Road.
Part of the wonderful Dudley Museum exhibition 

But that Saturday was going to be different. Little did I know that it would be a Saturday I would remember for the rest of my life. As usual, like every Saturday afternoon, I would go along to Deepdale to watch Preston North End play –  one week the First team and the next week the Reserves - but on that day the First Team game was special, Manchester United were coming to play; the famed Busby Babes were in town. So having eaten a sandwich for my dinner I  called for my pal “Nebber” and we walked the mile or so up Skeffington Road to be at the ground by 1 pm clutching our autograph books hoping to catch the eye of the players as they arrived. Almost 40,000 squashed into Deepdale  that day. United were already topping the Division and looking as if they would go on to win the 1st Division Championship. Preston finished second that year behind Wolves but United's 1957/58 season ended in tragedy their chances scuttled of winning the 1st Division title as they had been expected to. On that long ago Saturday the game ended as a 1-1 draw – North End scoring first and United grabbing an equalised 10 minutes later.  The local Evening Post had been full of the fixture for days – Preston versus United, a big game, with two of the top clubs in the land - but I can still remember reading the sports pages in the days leading up to the game; the big news was that the mythical  Duncan Edwards was expected to play for United. He was the player everyone wanted to see and so did Nebber and I. Little did we all know that we would see him play only this once and that in a few months this great United team, Edwards included, would be so tragically broken up in the horror of the Munich air crash.
Memories of old programmes that I recognise from my teenage
support of Preston North End

This interest in Edwards was remarkable for it was in age when the “superstar celebrity” was unknown. Few people had a TV and so in reality few had actually seen Edwards play – it was all by word of mouth or by newspaper reports that the young player’s fame, skills and personal qualities were becoming known. But we all knew of him and his talked of prodigious talent. Even in those far off days this 21 year old was being called England’s greatest ever player. For Nebber and me to see him on the same pitch as the man who we all knew was England’s greatest ever – North End’s Tom Finney – was a treat indeed. So we queued at the turnstile with the sign “Juveniles” over the door, paid our money and pressed our way into the crowd at the Kop end of the pitch – where we always went. We wormed our way through the crowd to the front to sit on the cinder track on the very edge of pitch (as was the fashion for children in those days) just to the right of the goal and within touching distance of the players. With our blue and white scarves wrapped round us we listened to the Brindle Band as they marched up and down the pitch playing their rousing music and  marching in perfect formation while I strained my eyes to catch a sight of my Uncle Ken who played the cornet in the band.

In all honesty I remember little of the actual game I had eyes only for the United player in the number 6 shirt, Duncan Edwards. In one way I was a bit disappointed because my other hero from the Busby Babes was the young Bobby Charlton who I had hoped to see play. When we bought our programmes however and heard the announcer give out the teams on the loudspeaker we learned that Charlton was not playing - so I only had eyes for Edwards that afternoon!  Tom Finney, I know, scored for Preston but it was Edwards that filled my mind as the final whistle blew. By his standards I think he had a quiet game but even now, 60 years on I can still remember and almost feel the silent  intake of breath from the crowd each time he got the ball, the expectation that something special was going to happen. Such was his charisma and presence that to my young eyes (and I suspect to thousands of others) he seemed to fill the whole pitch; to coin a much over used and trivialised term in these modern days it seemed to my young eyes that he truly was "awesome". At the end of the game at 4.40 pm (in those days there was only a 10 minute half time and 4.40 was when games finished – none of the nonsense of today when games can drag on and on because of stoppage time)  Nebber and I both ran. We had newspapers to deliver at 5 o’clock. As I collected my Saturday evening “first post”/early edition round from Joe Unsworth’s (and got a telling off and a few expletives  from Joe for being late!) the headlines were still of the upcoming visit by United and Edwards – the early edition  had, as usual, been printed prior to the game. But by the time that I took my second round – the “Football Post” – at just after 6 o’clock the match report was there and I walked around the streets reading it as I delivered the papers, pleased that I had at last seen this young man who was becoming a legend in his own lifetime and who was now, having seen him play, very definitely my hero! As I walked the streets with my bag of papers hanging round my neck I never imagined that for the rest of my life – even until today in my eighth decade - I would remember that day and regularly repeat when talking of football and great players  what many of my generation who were fortunate enough to see him would say: “I saw him play only once........”  
A detail from the stained glass windows

“I saw him play only once........”,  an innocent enough comment - but even as I write this a shiver still runs through me as I remember.  They are but a few simple words but carry within them great meaning, excitement , admiration and regret; they are the ones that I and many thousands of others have used over the past six decades such was the impact that this young man had on football fans of my generation, and yesterday they came back to me in a torrent. All the feelings, memories, sights, sounds and dreams from when I was that 12 year old child sitting on that cinder track around the Deepdale pitch in November 1957 flooded my mind. And the reason for the memories and the nostalgia? – what happened only a few short months afterwards in early February 1958 when it all went so dreadfully and so tragically wrong as the plane carrying United home from a game in Belgrade crashed at Munich and many young men, the heart of the Busby Babes, lost their lives. All the promise of that day when I saw Duncan Edwards play at Preston were  dashed in the snow of the Munich airport runway.  Just as with President Kennedy’s death, football fans of my generation (and, I suspect, for many who are not particularly involved in football) can remember what they were doing or where they were when the news of Edwards’ death came through. and all those memories and feelings came back yesterday; the sixty years falling away to nothing. I can still remember -  no, feel - the event exactly; me and Nebber playing football after school in the evening dusk under the street lights of Caroline Street and then the news coming through; people standing on their doorsteps talking in whispers as they listened to the radio or the few that had a TV watched it for news. As the story unfolded there was only one question in my  young mind (and in the minds of thousands of others) has Big Duncan survived?  It was not to be; the greatest of the Babes, the young Duncan Edwards, my hero (and of thousands of other little boys) - survived the immediate aftermath of the crash but died a couple of weeks later of his injuries; and I saw him play only once.

Even within that terrible tale there was a piece of cruel irony. Each month Nebber and I pooled any pennies we had and bought a copy of the football magazine popular at the time Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly to share and in mid February 1958, as Duncan Edwards lay in a Munich hospital losing his battle for life, the March edition came out. It had been printed prior to the air crash and by a terrible twist of fate it was Edwards who decorated the front cover, standing in full kit putting on his boots. Inside was a hurriedly inserted piece of paper from the magazine’s publishers explaining that the magazine had gone to press prior to the disaster and that sympathy was extended to all the victims and of course to the family of Duncan Edwards in particular. I was smitten and showed it to my mother and asked if she would make me a football shirt like his – I knew that buying one was out of the question. So a few days later - by now Edwards was dead - I can remember walking down Caroline Street and up to the park at the top of New Hall Lane with my pals to play football and feeling a bit special as I walked along in my Duncan Edwards shirt which my mother had turned out on her old Singer treadle sewing machine using a bit of old red material she had. It wasn’t even the right shade of red – maroon rather than the vibrant United red. It didn’t have the white trim that the real shirt had – just plain red. But, and this was important, it did have a “V” neck and short sleeves and it was just like (at least to my eyes) the one worn by my hero who was no more. And, better, my mother had cut an old piece of white material (probably one of my dad’s shirts!) to make a number six which she had stitched on the back – just like Duncan Edwards! Of course, I didn’t have the rest of the kit there was no way we could have afforded that, but that didn’t matter – the red United number 6 shirt was the thing and even though I was a Preston North End supporter through and through the glamour glitz of the Busby Babes and especially the tale of Duncan Edwards even in those days was worming its way into the national consciousness. 
St Francis' Church - and the splendid Retreat Café

So, yesterday, in this 60th anniversary year of the Munich air crash, I went on a little pilgrimage with my wife Pat. We spent a wonderful day in the Black Country, in Duncan Edwards’ home  town, Dudley.  I had read that in the town’s Museum there was a small exhibition retelling Duncan’s life and rise to fame so I went to relive my past. It was not a huge exhibition but so very, very poignant and beautifully put together. As I walked around peering at the old programmes, grainy black and white photographs, school memorabilia, his Manchester United and England shirts, his England international caps the feelings of the 1950s came back in a rush. Not only was I seeing things that I hadn’t seen for 60 years like old programme covers from clubs that I had visited in my teenage years as I watched Preston play but more tellingly I was reminded of the atmosphere of the age: the way newspaper articles were worded, the implicit belief in sportsmanship and fair play, the pride that went with wearing a team’s shirt (whether it be the school football team shirt or the England shirt), the reserved, often deferential manner in which people at that time described and talked of people like Edwards and his team mates. But above all I was struck by something that I  also knew – the lack of celebrity and glorification. There were many examples of this but one I liked was an old programme relating to an England Schoolboy International game that the young Duncan Edwards played in. Today, as with all football, games such as this are played at our major stadia since they feature young players who are expected to be next year’s superstars. In Edwards’ time it was different – even schoolboy internationals were played at very humble places and this game in particular was played at “The playing field Chesterfield”. The young Duncan Edwards might have dreamed of one day playing at Wembley or some other great venue but his feet were being kept very firmly on the ground.

And this was the message of the whole exhibition – arguably the most talented player England has ever produced in an age when there were many hugely talented young players – was, in the end, just an ordinary lad from a very humble background in a very ordinary small town in the middle of England. Edwards and his fellow Busby Babes would not have recognised the super star celebrity footballers of today in their gated mansions and fleets of high powered top end cars. He would have gazed in wonderment at the life of David Beckham or Wayne Rooney. He would have been horrified  - and I have absolutely no doubts about this – at the foul language on today’s football pitches or the action of the ex-Liverpool and England player Jamie Carragher a few days ago who was filmed spitting into the car adjacent to him as he sat in a traffic jam after the game between Manchester United and Liverpool. In short, the exhibition told a tale of a simpler and gentler age where a different set of values perhaps operated than in these brutal years of the early 21st century. It was a salutary but worthwhile reminder of how things might be.  
My school prize when I was 13 and the new edition that
I have now
Having enjoyed the exhibition we then visited the town centre to gaze up at the splendid statue of this local hero which stands in Dudley’s market place. On the plinth below the statue are the famous words of Jimmy Murphy, Edwards’ coach and mentor at Manchester United: “The most complete footballer I have ever seen”. Amen to that. As we walked down the High Street and through the Market Place to gaze at the statue and then find some lunch in the local Wetherspoons pub we enjoyed reading the slabs set in the pavements pointing out various historical facts and names associated with the town; there was, we felt, a real sense of local history and of civic pride here and, of course, pride in Dudley’s own local hero Duncan Edwards.  
Duncan Edwards with his great manager
Sir Matt Busby

Lunch enjoyed, we travelled the short distance to St Francis’ Church where the funeral of this young man was held a few days after his death in Munich. The church was locked but the little “Retreat Cafe” at the side was open serving cups of tea and snacks to anyone who turned up needing one. Was it possible to see the stained glass window we asked the lady behind the counter and we were taken to a gentleman who escorted us into the church to tell us the story of the window that had been made to celebrate the life of this young sportsman who had grown up within sight of the church. What a treat as this quietly spoken elderly man retold a story that he has no doubt told a thousand times before but with such quiet enthusiasm and respect for who and what he was describing. I told him that I had seen Edwards play once – and his response took us both by surprise when he replied that he had been at school with Duncan Edwards and played football with him as a boy. For me, this was really touching the past and again, a poignant and gentle reminder that this young man who achieved some kind of immortality in his short life time and who elicited such fond memories in people of my generation was in the end an ordinary human being, but through good fortune, his great talents and above all his human qualities achieved mythical status and importantly the respect of his home town. At the back of the church was a selection of booklets about Duncan Edwards so we put our £5 in the little box and took one and as we did so another man came into the church also seeking out the stained glass window – and the old gentleman began his tale again – while we crept out to enjoy a cup of tea in the cafe and to buy some jars of home-made jam and pickles to boost church funds. What a welcoming treasure house is St Francis’ church, Dudley.  

And so home. I had thought of visiting Duncan Edwards’ grave – a place which still today is very much a shrine and much visited - but I wanted to remember the player as I saw him that once so it was back on the motor way and through the Birmingham rush hour traffic on the road home to Nottingham, my mind still filled with what I had seen and what I remembered of this truly local hero.
In this celebrity, super star obsessed world in which we now live, where the ordinary, the trivial or the unpleasant  is so often deemed good or worthy or valuable we perhaps need more than ever genuine heroes to look up to and aspire to. Heroes are not heroic because they live in a mansion, or have untold wealth, or move in high circles. Nor is being a hero about being brave – too often we mix up the words; being a hero is far more than simple bravery no matter how laudable that might be. Being a hero is about being the best of what man and womankind can be and can be aspired to; to be someone that the rest of us can, and want , to look up to, strive to emulate. A true hero is  someone whose qualities are self evidently good and worthy. Today, I read about the death of the great scientist Stephen Hawking, yesterday we read of the death of the comedian Ken Dodd; neither of these two would, I think, class themselves as heroes, but in my book they certainly were. The qualities that they displayed in their very different lives and their contribution to mankind, made the lives of ordinary people just that little bit richer and their presence on this earth  and their simple humanity - with all its strengths and weaknesses - makes them, I believe, heroes. We might not be able to tell jokes like Ken Dodd or have the huge mind of Stephen Hawking but we can all try to live the sort of worthy life that they seem to have led and aspire to the same things that they aspired to. When we think of heroes we think of the Ancient Greek heroes; true, they were often brave in battle, but more importantly in the myths and legends of Ancient Greece they were also honourable people whose qualities as a human being set them apart from the ordinary. It was the same with the Mediaeval Knights who were granted their knighthood on the basis not only of their bravery in battle but of their honour, their chivalry, and how well they kept their various promises to fulfil their role in the best possible way throughout their lives.
A  well spent £5.00 in St Francis' Church

I wonder what kind of sporting hero we need today? Is it the thoroughly unpleasant  Jamie Carragher spitting from his car window; is it the player who scowls and pours forth obscenities when he misses a chance to score or when someone tackles him or the referee gives a decision against him, or is it someone like the England Rugby manager Eddie Jones who  today has been forced to apologise after making foul and abusive comments about his Welsh and Irish counterparts? I might be accused of looking through rose coloured glasses - maybe so. It is quite true that there were "hard men" playing football at the time of Edwards and Finney, it is also quite true that "sportsmanship" was not universal at that time, nor was everyone in football a saint. But these unpleasant individuals and undesirable behaviours were recognised and frowned upon by wider society. The culture of verbal abuse of fellow players and referees,  cynical fouling, unsportsmanlike behaviour and the rest was  the exception and not endemic as it is today's football.  Like the foul language we see on our TV screens or in social media, or on every street corner we now accept it as alright, normal, everyday, acceptable; it has become  part and parcel of life and sport, it has become the norm.  And that is a sad verdict not only on sport but on the world that we have allowed to be created . Players like Charlton, Edwards and Finney rose above it and everyone recognised their qualities and accepted that these players were  firstly "gentlemen of the game" and secondly great players - they were the players against whom all others were judged be it with regard to their footballing skills or their personal qualities.  
Schoolboy football in Dudley

So what kind of player should be our hero? For me it is unquestionably someone who displays more worthy values – fair play, thoughtfulness, hard work, respect for fellow players................someone who can enjoy and celebrate victory but still smile in defeat, someone who has extraordinary skills and fame but still has the common touch – not common, but able to communicate with all (I am reminded here of Rudyard Kipling's; great poem "If"). Duncan Edwards, like Finney, was such a  person. He was a great footballer but like other sporting greats he had other personal as well as sporting  qualities so beautifully displayed in my visit to Dudley. Sportsmen and sportswomen have a vital role in encouraging the best in people – especially the young – to coin a modern phrase they are role models. Tom Finney, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Duncan Edwards and many other football greats (and other sports men and women) are and were sporting heroes not primarily for their great footballing skills – but rather for the sort of people that they were.
The cover of the football magazine
which brought a terrible twist to the death of
Duncan Edwards - and brought me my
home made Duncan Edwards football shirt.

On the plinth below the statue of Bobby Moore at Wembley are the words “Lord of the game. Captain extraordinary. Gentleman of all time"; Henry Winter sports writer for the Daily Telegraph said of my Preston hero Tom Finney: Finney will forever be associated with fair play, for showing respect to an opponent, for dignity and gentlemanly conduct both on the pitch and off it”. Of Bobby Charlton, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said: “Bobby is a great example in how he kept his feet on the ground and kept his humility all his life.  What a solid human being he is  and a person you’d trust with your life.” And of Duncan Edwards the Manchester United coach Jimmy Murphy said: " The greatest? There was only one and that was Duncan Edwards. He was more than a great player, he seemed like some bright light in the sky.”  Quite,  "a bright star" - something  for us all to look up to.
I liked Dudley, this little anonymous town in the middle of England’s industrial heartland. Not only did I enjoy my viewing of all the Duncan Edwards memorabilia but the museum was a beautifully arranged treasure house – from prehistoric fossils, to dinosaurs, to Roman soldiers and Norman knights in chain mail, to industrial history and to the area’s famous sons and daughters. The museum, the town and St Francis’ Church, too, had a sense of tradition and past; proud of their heritage and their place in the great scheme of things. People who we talked to were pleased to tell us about their town and their hero, this young man born with a huge talent to excel at football but above all a huge gift to be the someone that everyone looked up to – “some bright light in the sky”. So why should the people of Dudley and the rest of us not be proud to honour their history and the good and worthy things that Duncan Edwards represented in his short time on earth?
Duncan Edwards: footballing giant and
a giant as a human being - a true local hero

When, after almost two weeks, this young gentle giant lost his fight for life in February 1958 one newspaper said “People are mourning the loss of this young man not just because he held such sporting promise but [because] he was someone who you would want to call your son or for your daughter to marry”. When, in August 1961, the Manchester United manager Matt Busby unveiled the two stained glass windows dedicated to Duncan Edwards in  St Francis’ Church he said: “There will only be one Duncan Edwards, and any boy who strives to emulate Duncan, or take him as his model, won’t go far wrong”.

At Arsenal for his last game before the
Munich air crash
Now that’s being a hero - "...any boy who strives to emulate Duncan or take him as his role model won't go far wrong" and it is why my little trip to Dudley meant so much to me. It reminded me of my growing up years in Preston, it gave me space to recall a long gone day in my past when I saw two of the greatest footballers and sportsmen ever – Edwards and Finney - play on the same pitch, it reminded me of why, after all these years away from Preston (I moved to Nottingham in the early 1960s), it is still North End's result that I await anxiously every Saturday afternoon at 4.45 pm; in short it is an important part of me and who I am. As Matt Busby suggested, Duncan Edwards was a role model, a hero; this ordinary lad from an ordinary town was  a hero for little boys like me; he was instrumental in making me what I am and even though I saw him play only once the way he played the game and how he behaved were formative features of my own life.  And it reminded me, too, of the one and only prize I ever won at school.! In the summer after Munich I was awarded a prize for coming third in history in my class at Fishwick Secondary Modern where I was a pupil. The local bookshop - Sweeten's in Preston - brought a display of books and we prize winners  could choose one as our prize, to be handed out at the end of term Speech Day. I can remember walking along the tables filled with books and suddenly spying "Tackle Soccer My Way" by Duncan Edwards. It was a coaching manual and of course that was the prize for me. Maybe, I reasoned, if I follow the instructions I'll be the next Duncan Edwards! Of course it didn't work but I treasured that book until it got lost in time in the house moves of adulthood but boy, was I pleased a year of so ago when I discovered that it had been reprinted and was available on Amazon. It now has pride of place on my office bookshelf! If you haven't read the book do so - the coaching may now seem old fashioned but the comments and the advice reflect perfectly the huge sense of decency and sportsmanship that this young man represented to those of us who looked up to him and others like him.

But above all my little trip to Dudley allowed me to think of what I believe were more honourable - perhaps better - times when terms like "gentlemanly conduct", "decency", "sportsmanship" or "honest endeavour" could be used without fear of being thought old fashioned or quaint or twee -  and more, it gave me food for thought about what is important to value and praise when we look at ourselves and others. In a modern world where the trivial,  the crass, and the grotesque are all too often thought to be worthy, good or attractive  my little trip down memory lane helped me to be able to know the difference  - and perhaps to know who are the true heroes.