...life is not serious, it is people who make it serious ~

                                                   I am not serious,but I am sincere...Alan Watts

'I am not interested where you come from. I am not interested in the colour of your skin. I am not interested in the value or reputation of what you wear. I am only interested in your value as a person, your inner worth.'

- Alexander the Great 356 - 323BCE Macedonian Ruler.

 

...wanderings...

Being brought up in Liverpool, my childhood and schooling was fun - I even gained some GCEs - then around the age of sixteen, I found myself in the Cavern club where the enthusiasm and bare-faced cheek of our local pop groups, (they weren't bands until the mid-seventies), gave me a confidence I could never gain in school.


                  Local group in The Grapes, a pub across the road from The Cavern 

 

 

 For an odd mixture of office workers and sixth-formers in early sixties Liverpool, weekday winter lunchtimes meant dashing through the windswept streets down to the Cavern Club cellar just to catch an hour of live Rock and Roll from a local group, The Beatles. It was an obsessive ritual not to be denied.

But there is one bitterly cold November lunchtime that will always stay crisp and fresh in my memory. As I descended the narrow steps into the depths of the cellar to meet Evelyn, my girlfriend, I realised something was missing that day. Instead of the usual thumping bass and chugging power of the Beatles, all I could hear were fits of giggles and roars of laughter where there should have been the Mersey Beat. Towards the last few steps down I bumped into the Cavern DJ, Bob Wooler, on his way out and when I asked what had happened to the Beatles, he told me that George and Paul hadn't turned up because they had the 'flu' and in place of the music, a local comedian and his dog would entertain us. For at least another twenty minutes John Lennon stood on the stage in an old overcoat and scarf making up funny stories that had the mere thirty or so of us in the audience aching from fits of laughter. Every now and then, John would bark like a dog from the corner of his mouth, then shout, 'GET DOWN, BOY! GET DOWN!' Pete Best just slouched against the wall behind his drum kit grinning from ear to ear, laughing and shaking his head in disbelief. Before we left, John sang a request for Evelyn before she went back to school. It was,'Memphis Tennessee'.

Usually, after we said our goodnights at her door, I'd make my way from Evelyn's round to the bus stop and wait with all the other late-nighters, shuffling their feet and tapping their toes hoping the bus might be on time for once, which it very rarely was. Also at the bus stop I'd often see Evelyn's neighbour's boyfriend waiting there too and although we never spoke, we developed a sort of nodding acquaintanceship, as you do, and then we'd stare at the ground like all the others. He always looked so pale and worn out. He and I sat downstairs, usually across the aisle from each other and once settled in his seat, he'd slowly nod off until we got to our stop when I'd nudge him awake and we'd part company. Then one lunchtime down in the Cavern I saw him standing on the stage playing lead guitar with the Beatles. I was stunned and confused. Then George nodded to me and I nodded to him. So if you're reading this somewhere George, even though we never spoke to each other, a nod's as good as a wink. Incidentally, Evelyn's surname was Cavanagh (Caverner??) - honest.

One day, Lennon announced that for the first time they were going to play a song they had written themselves and it was called, 'Love Me Do'. In the deafening silence that followed the closing chord, someone in the audience shouted, ' Is that IT?' Everyone, including The Beatles, fell about laughing.

Often, US pop stars, appearing at the Liverpool Empire Theatre would often guest at a Cavern Lunchtime session and there and for a shilling entrance fee you could see some very famous artists. One such star whose name I've forgotten although I remember he was a very smartly dressed, Italian American pop star and not very tall. This was 1962 and The Beatles were providing the backing for him. Lennon was obviously unimpressed with their guest because he kept leaning over and stage-whispering into the star's mike so that everyone could hear, 'Stand Up!', 'Stand Up!', 'Hey! They can't see you at the back. Stand Up!'

During my last year of school, I moved with my Dad and step-mother, both avid dancers, to an area of Liverpool called Orrell Park which was blessed with two spacious ballrooms, The Orrell Park Ballroom where The Beatles played Friday nights and the Aintree Institute, where they played Saturdays. The first time I saw the Beatles was at the Institute and I'll always remember Stuart Sutcliffe's preferred stance of playing with his back to the audience and McCartney strumming a green guitar that wasn't even plugged in. No one had room to dance because the dance floor was full of people squashing against the stage straining to watch 'The Beatles'. And when they rehearsed in the afternoon at the Orrell, anyone waiting for the No.61 bus, or even just walking past during the day, could hear them playing their stuff and singing.

There was one dark evening when I was crossing the railway bridge over Orrell Park Station when I recognised DJ Bob Wooler and John Lennon coming up from the opposite direction. They were on their way to the ballroom, and as I stepped to one side to give them space to pass, John did the same for me. We stopped face to face and, for one or two seconds, just stared at each other in total silence until he said, 'Thanks for the dance.' We all laughed as we carried on walking.

The stage in the Cavern was only about twenty inches high and the rows of seats went from the front all the way to the back of the cellar, leaving just enough space for people to make their way back and forth. One densely hot summer's lunchtime when it was absolutely packed full of fans, a girl in the front row stood up then suddenly collapsed onto the stage, between the feet of McCartney and Lennon and stretching microphone cable. They continued playing for a little while even though the microphone looked like it was going to fall any second, and then very gently, Lennon eased the girl onto the floor with his foot and straightened the mike. The amazing thing was, hardly anyone thought this was funny and the girls' friends at the front carefully helped her back onto her chair and comforted her as she came round.

Around the time when The Beatles were replacing Pete Best with Ringo Starr, one or two people in the audience would give vent to their disapproval by interrupting the Beatles when they were playing by loudly shouting, 'We want Pete! We want Pete!' and usually when John was singing. One day, fed up with the interruptions, he screamed into the mike, 'Listen you lot! You can f***kin' 'ave 'im!' Once again everyone burst out laughing.

Next day, at lunchtime as usual, I wandered down the steps into the Cavern and stood right at the back and bought something to drink from Cilla before realising that amongst the crowd at the counter were the four Beatles quietly chatting and watching The Big Three playing on stage. While they were playing, a young guy, fashionably dressed in a dark brown suit, charged across the floor, grabbed George by the lapels and started swearing at him and shouting things about Ringo. In a flash, Lennon jumped on the guy in the suit and pushed him up against the wall but not before the bloke had punched George in the face, giving him the black eye so clearly visible in their very earliest publicity photographs. The scramble was broken up by McCartney and the doorman.

One day my Dad and I were upstairs swaying on the back seat in a very full bus on our way to the city. I stopped gawping through the window when I heard him say, 'Here you are lad, sit here. C'mon Tony, move up!' As Dad squashed into me I froze in absolute embarrassment when I looked round and saw he was talking to George, and had actually taken hold of his famous Duo Jet guitar so George could use both hands to steady himself as the bus rock and rolled along the road.

My Dad once said that he could always tell when I had been to the Cavern because when I came home my clothes smelled of cleaning fluid and urine.

 

By the mid sixties, some close friends and I formed our own group and we became,

THE PIKKINS

Ged Walsh played ace drums, Wally Walmsley ace lead guitar/ace vocals, Jim Dempsey played ace rhythm/ace vocals, Pip Donaldson played ace bass guitar/vocals and I sort of sang and generally showed off (that's me on the right - pikkin'). Eventually Ged left the group and was replaced by ace drummer John Gee and when Jim left we remained as a four piece for quite some time until dear chum, Charlie Dunn joined the group as ace Pikkin for quite a while too.

We played several times a week under the close scrutiny of 350+ other rival Merseyside groups in clubs throughout Liverpool, the Northwest, Wales and even as far south as Solihull Ice Rink. Then one day, we passed an audition to cross the channel and tour the US bases in France and Germany. We did it purely for fun without egotism or expectation and simply had the time of our lives.

Upon our return, chatting with our friend and solicitor, casually he asked, 'I presume you've organised your tax payments?' We exchanged glances as the colour ran from our faces. He told us to immediately buy bow-ties and suits, increase our fees and join the night-club circuit without delay. Very soon we were playing most nights and even played at the holy of holies, the Liverpool Cavern, and that's when my writing began in earnest. From a selection of school exercise books detailing our experiences in the band, I submitted a piece to a local newspaper about the Liverpool music scene and to my surprise it was accepted.

But deep down I never really felt at home in the city and inevitably the time came when I left the group, moved to Cornwall and found work wherever I could - Insurance Salesman; Barman; Waiter; DJ; Bistro Chef; Diving Boat's Cook; Restaurant Chef; Local Council Courier; Manager of Art College Bar; Teaching Assistant, Census Agent and even Mobile Library Assistant.

Then something happened that had me on the road again.

It was an invitation from a long-time friend I'd made a dozen years earlier while touring the US military bases in Europe. He suggested I visit him in Southern California. The name of this chum is John Nippolt. He's a husband, father, surfer, painter, writer, teacher and fellow time-traveller who shares the same curiosity about life as I do. Naively, I bought a one-way ticket to the US then spent several months backpacking through California and Hawaii and subsequently fell in love with travelling.

But it was Greece that had my eye. From my first visit, years before, I had became so enthralled by all things Hellenic I knew it as my true destination. I had to be there...in that place...that very place and so much so, suspected I might even have been Greek in a previous life.

Then, one frozen winter's night just before my fiftieth birthday, hunched over a couple of beers with my dear chum, Norman Sayle, he suggested we take a year off and go travelling in Europe. And so, one bright morning the following spring, after a sacrifice to the gods, we boarded my 'Villa Zorbus' campervan and, the wind being favourable, set off intending to start our adventure with via a visit to friends in the South of France. From the stern of a channel ferry, we watched the isles of Britain fade into the distance and so turned to get some rest, unaware the gods had other ideas. From distant Greece the Sirens song pulled us from Cornwall, through France and Italy, from Brindisi across the Adriatic to Igoumenitsa over the Pindos and up to Thessaloniki, then by ferry down to Crete where we landed just after midnight. Somehow we found ourselves parked outside the legendary Villa Ariadne, and once the engine was still, we soundly slept in the resin-scented car park. And all at once I felt that I could breathe again.

It was during our Cretan adventure that Norman, after several drinks, kindly offered my services to a desperate restaurant owner and so, the following year I returned to the island to work for the season but the time came when I could stay no longer. I just had to leave. Cooking in a Cretan kitchen can induce madness, as anyone will tell you. But they have a saying in Greece, 'Just when things are at their worst, suddenly you are consoled from an unexpected direction.'

One morning, out of the blue, came an invitation to join our friend in Hungary working with underprivileged kids. I could hardly believe it. That same day I sold my beloved camper and flew off for what was to become one of the most positive and enlivening three months of my life. Even when it was time to come home and I discovered I'd lost my return flight ticket, those gods helped me hitch a ride on the pillion of a Yamaha 1200 across Europe through Austria, Germany, Luxembourg until, reaching Ostende on the coast of Belgium, I ferried across the Channel to Brighton and finally, took the coach back down to Cornwall.

Once back in Falmouth, I began running the local Arts College Student Union bar. I met Sandra, my wife to be, working in the college library. We started going for walks, exploring Cornwall and falling in love. We were married the following year and spent our honeymoon on the island of Karpathos. That winter, I painted the picture of two musicians we had met on our travels.

It became the cover illustration for the first draught of my book, The Idiot & The Oddity, although in its final form it was renamed and is now known as, 'Pani's Island'.

Eventually Sandy and I moved into our daffy 300 year-old cottage on the Lizard Peninsular, the most southerly point in Britain, and in between visits to Greece, we grow vegetables and fruit in our garden, although sometimes we just sit there and listen to the hum and buzz of nature. It's like listening to music.

The other day I asked her, 'What time is it?' and she said, 'When?'

We like being married. We've each been married twice before - but that was just research. I'm from the north of England and she's from the south so there are occasional misunderstandings...

Me to Sandy: Remember when we crossed that field full of bulls and climbed that stile?

Sandy: Not really. I don't think you were with me that day.

sandy smiling that smile

***

To date, there are enough jottings and scribblings in my backpack for at least half a dozen other novels and I'll probably start work on them tomorrow, er...maybe after lunch...or the day after...

 

As Socrates said to me once, 'The unexamined life is not worth living...

...and life's far too important to take seriously.'


so ALWAYS remember...

Relax, be happy, have fun!




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