Wednesday, 21 August 2013


Me and Voltaire have just won the most important argument in our lives. It took him the thick end of three hundred years but my new great grand-daughter managed it in six weeks.

We all thought the answer was prettily summed up  by Voltaire: "Everything is for the best in the best of of all possible worlds."

"What about death?" sneered Most of The Rest of the World. "The end of everything", "All Great Love Affairs End in Death", "The Dying of the Light". Most compelling was the insistence of Christopher Hitchens, the mind I admire most in all the world: "Religion is Rubbish, indeed a Force of Evil."

All of which is true. Then Upspoke The Tiny Presence, fittingly by Internet, more often Evil's most obvious manifestation.
Everything they say about death is true. There is no arguing IT has legs. But they can be knocked from under it with, ironically, its most often used medium, the Internet.  Witness a recent exchange of emails with a grandson:

Have been trying this morning since 7 am to send you £30 quid by alternatively pay pal and various vouchers and gifts for the Bean to mark her first six weeks of life. I have had responses varying from £30 to £60 from both. As you know, I have only 12 months left to get it right. This is just to let you know I am trying.....

He replied:

hey! please don't worry about doing all that, you don't need to get me anything - an email is more than enough. (hey grandad, I re-sent the emails. I hope you manage to do with them what you wanted!! you're far more tech savvy than me! wouldn't know where to start with a blog and not even on Facebook anymore so don't lose hope in your online skills) lots of love to you and granny xxx

 the emails from yesterday and today's picture of Ellie (plus a little extra one from right now) lots of love!  Alex

I'd like to say thanks to my old chum Neil Marr who I met as a near child reporter and and have come to know over half a century as the online beggeter of every good quality. Certainly the only publisher I have ever met who would write to his former partner, who let him down badly, in defence of his cherished authors: 

"BeWrite Books’ unpaid authors, editors and I have now utterly lost patience with you and all confidence in your repeatedly broken promises of full royalty payments to everyone. Also some authors are having great difficulty in placing their work elsewhere because, contrary to agreement, you have allowed BeWrite Books titles to remain displayed at some retail outlets, including Google Books (in their entirety), and stray paperback copies at other sales websites.

"To avoid swift and serious legal action, matters must be put to rights IMMEDIATELY......."
Thanks, too, to Dewi Smith, my radio producer and friend of friends who discovered me, nurtured me and put up with my Rabelaisian ways, making with me a series of programmes including "Radio Brynsiencyn" which had so many loyal listeners.  It was certainly the only programme from Radio Wales to have a fan club with its own ties and jerseys in both Oxford and Yale Universities.
We created this little bit of rollicking heaven and the people who took part gave their roles a vivid life of their own. Especially Rose Roberts who became a frightening Attila the Hoover.
Everyone thinks I am taking death lightly. I am glad this isn't TV. As well as the star of the show, Rose was our housekeeper on Anglesey. She nursed my mother on her death bed and treated my wife and me like unruly kids. I have known RSMs who were lambs in comparison. She became a radio star of comet size. She in turn introduced us to Goronwy, an old sweetheart, who joined Radio Brynsiencyn as the man who, we claimed, powered the radio station by bicycle pedalling.  We called him Goronwy Generator
Rose and Goronwy used to go off of together on trips to theatres in the West End. Rose had a voice twice as famous as Bryn Terfel. Think I am kidding? Once in the queue at the Palladium she gave it full throttle. From far up the queue came: "Bluddy hell, it's Rose Attila the Hoover.  Where's Goronwy Generator?"

A couple of years ago the Welsh Language Radio station Radio Cymru asked her to recall her memories of Welsh island life. She was so good she was picked up by Welsh TV and, at 85,went on to become the star of a TV comedy show.  At nearly 88, she is still a regular weekly guest. 

I have just taken a call from her.She still calls me Mr Skidmore.

"I just come back from bliddy Liverpool," she said. "That specialist says if I have the operation I am too old and I might bloody die. I told him to bugger off. I am having a good life and I am going to enjoy what's left. He might cut the bloody cancer out and next week I have a heart attack."

I have just had a good skreik for both of us and that is the last bliddy one. BUGGER 'EM.

The only woman I have been in love with longer is my wife Celia who has allowed herself in to be known to radio millions round the world as the Head Ferret. She is the summing up of all the qualities after which loyalty was named. I love her utterly, irrevocably, passionately and have done from the moment we met 44 years ago on a bridge over a Welsh mountain river.  She is clever, glamorous and stylish. She wrote award- winning books about the cats, whom she resembles, and she walks like Winnie the Pooh - it's the merry bounce that does it.  For nearly half a century she has been my best friend.  And with not even a single conviction of casual waywardness by either party.
My kids? I cannot think what I love mostly about them. The eldest, Gay Heather, was named after a racehorse which cost me a packet at the Grand National. She has forgiven me for giving her a forename that no longer means the qualities of happy laughter and debonair manner it was intended to convey and has a heart big enough to make a race course.

Her sister Lynn Charmain, the next in line, was so named because she is. She was Campaigning Journalist of the Year in the British Press Awards and for years ran, with her husband, a hugely successful Crisis Management Consultancy for NHS  Hospital Trusts. As a reporter she covered Royal Tours, flew with RAF jets and righted more social wrongs than a battalion of Don Quixotes. She is modest with it. As I typed this she came into my study to remind me: "I am a touch typist, sixty words a minute, so I could type that for you....faster."
Happily they all married spouses of whom I approve. And even better,bred well. 

My son, Nicholas St John, I named after the only other St Nick in the calendar who earned his nickname. And incidentally, casually, almost in his spare time, he became an award-winning writer, top TV foreign editor and senior producer of Granada TV, whose boss flew to Italy to recruit him because it was the only way he could get him. 

We have all had a lovely, stormy time together. Choked with admiration of ourselves and each other. With Gay, I fought a losing battle to prevent her from becoming an artist, which is probably why she finished her career as a department head at an Art College, a sort of stormy Mrs Chips who was sent round the world recruiting.
Mostly I love them all because they are all so lovable - and the women are superb cooks. Since I declared Wakes Season the girls have arrived with fabulous frozen dishes of homemade food and have produced banquets for our delight. Particularly brave in Lynn's case as she herself is following a strict diet and is confined to a disgusting menu.
Begone dull care?  I am having such a magic life it would be too ungracious not to enjoy it in such company down to the last heavenly Malt. 

Thanks, everyone, for the memories. Sorry you can't all be at the various wakes. As I said before, glad I will be.

THIS IS THE LONGEST ISLAND I HAVE WALKED BUT NOT THE LAST. JUST THE LAST ON THIS SUBJECT. One last writer's joke. Literally the moment I finished typing this long essay I got an error message on this infernal machine which has been behaving so perversely in recent weeks.

"There has been an error. Please type this again."

Must He always have the Last Word?


Friday, 2 August 2013

skidmore's island: I am one with Socrates. When the time comes for my...

skidmore's island: I am one with Socrates. When the time comes for my...: I am one with Socrates. When the time comes for my Wake I want to be there. After all it's the last party I am going to throw and I will...
I am one with Socrates. When the time comes for my Wake I want to be there. After all it's the last party I am going to throw and I will be paying the waiter. I don't want to be the only one without a drink in my hand. I have established the precedent. When we were married I had a Best Woman, the lovely Lady Langford, and, the bride apart, she was the best looker in the room.

After all, Socrates did it, though the guests at my going away will not be offered hemlock. I am offering single malts and, thanks to my generous American friend Jerry Jasper, I will die an authority on the subject.  My mouth mewed with delight this morning when the postman arrived with a collection of tastings of the finest malts and most noble blends from "Master of Malts".  Let them roll off your tongues:

Ardbeg Uigeadail,  Glenfiddich 18 Year Old,  Ballantines 17 Year Old, Old Pulteney 21 Year Old,  Highland Park 18 Year Old,  Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old,  Auchentoshan 20 Year Old,      Chivas Regal 18 Year Old (3cl 53.20%).

Americans are legendary for their generosity. I know of only one Englishman who approached them.

Freddy Brabin was a wealthy chemist with a shop on a prime site at The Cross in Chester. It was his misfortune to look like Freddy Frinton, the comedian who pretended to be a drunk. Freddy wasn’t pretending. When it came to being a drunk, Freddy was very serious indeed.

He was tiny but drove an enormous Cadillac. When it ran out of petrol he left it where it was and went home by taxi. But not always. Once he was so far gone in the little club we used that I had to drive him home, where he plied me with so much drink he had to get out his Cadillac and drive me back to Chester. But for timely intervention by a third party we might still have been going to and fro.

He was a kindly man. He told me one day how worried he was about the starving children in Africa. He said he had been reading about something called War on Want where people gave public dinners and wondered if I could fill him in with the specifics.

I explained you invited all your friends to dinner, gave them dry bread and water and sent the money a good dinner would have cost to the starving children.

He said, “You must have got it wrong.” He wouldn’t dream, he said, of asking his friends, or for that matter any enemies he might have, to drink water when it was his round. “Besides,” he said, “I thought I would have it at the Country Club and I have never seen bread and water on the menu there.”

So I suggested a compromise. “Give them a decent meal,” I said, “and, whatever it costs, give the equivalent to War on Want.”

Accordingly, about 40 of us sat down to a four course dinner, which followed a champagne reception and ended with vintage port. After the meal Freddie spent a few hours and about a thousand quid downstairs in the Casino.

He didn’t fancy driving home because he kept falling over, so he stayed the night.

The next morning he woke up around six o'clock with a mouth like the floor of a budgie’s cage. In his nightshirt, he wandered down to the kitchens where the early morning chef was still scratching himself and said, “Make us a cup o tea.”

The chef said he didn’t start work, not till seven, so Freddy could …… off.

At seven o’clock Dennis Ewan, the manager, came in and the chef complained to him about drunken guests invading his kitchen. “Just a minute,” said Dennis, “can you smell burning?”

They rushed to the dining room where they saw a crescent made of blazing dining chairs. In the centre stood Freddy, haloed in flames. “Now will you make us a bloody cup of tea?“ he said.

He was quite proud of the fact that he was the only member barred from the Chester Country Club the night after he had spent around two grand there. But, good as gold, he sent the starving kids a cheque for the same amount.


From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: “In 1867 Rossetti decided to put Swinburne (the shy flagellating poet) in the hands of “some sensible young woman who would make a man of him”. He solicited the aid of Adah Isaacs Menken, a stage performer, to seduce him. Needless to say, the attempt failed, and Miss Menken returned the £10 fee to Rossetti as unearned. “I can’t make him understand,” she explained, “that biting’s no use!”

Saturday, 27 July 2013


 Jury back. Guilty advanced lung, bone and re-run of bowel cancer. Retrial on kidneys. Suspended sentence 12 months.

But the good news is that I can have a drink and am about to pour a single malt which I raise to you, my friends, with thanks for your support and all those years of friendship.

I don't recognise the NHS I have been enjoying recently in the lurid stories I am reading. Our hospital in Peterborough offers one-person luxury wards with TV and a bigger bathroom than we had in the Ritz. Tested for everything bar Fowl Pest. Indeed I have to go back for an examination of the kidneys. I think they are entering me for a competition. Cosseted by a succession of nurses and jolly doctors. All Free.

Meanwhile the dog, who saw that for once I was getting more attention than he was, threw a sickie. Vet seized the opportunity to test for every sickness known to science, plus a night in a dog's dormitory. Bill £700 and there is nothing wrong with him.

I was an expert on being poor. When I came out of the army I took a job with a news agency, got married and was sacked the week after we returned from honeymoon.

The only work I could get was a casual Saturday shift on the News of the World, which paid £4 and 10 shillings in real money. My rent for two rooms in a very smart house was £2. I had married a Jewish princess who knew nothing about laundry, even if we had hot water. So we had to pay 2/6 a week to get the washing done. Didn’t cost a lot because I only had two shirts. We could do what we liked with the remaining £2 7s. 6d. which meant we ate every other day.

I had to keep half a crown back to buy myself into a lunchtime drinking school every Thursday at the Waldorf in Cooper Street, Manchester, where John Milligan, the News of the World editor, drank with the news editor, Graham Haslam.

At some time during the hour that followed the news editor would say: “Doin’ anyting on Saturday, Skiddy?”  “Don’t think so, Graham. Why?” “Wonder if you would do the late shift for us?”

It meant a ten mile round walk to the News of the World but for a year that was our only income.

We were in the house one day sharing a cigarette we had made from the week’s collected dimps. The front door bell rang. I was wearing my good suit and my one clean shirt ready to go to the Waldorf, so I went down. There was a tramp at the door.

He said he had just come out of prison and did I have the price of a cup of tea. I said I was broke, and saw him look at the smart house in which I lived, the well cut navy suit and polished shoes I was wearing and then he looked back down the long drive to the road.

The look he gave me, utterly defeated and totally disbelieving, went straight to the heart. Halfway back upstairs I remembered the half crown I had put on one side to buy my way into the round. I ran after him. He looked terribly guilty but I pressed the half crown into his hand and returned home rejoicing.
My wife asked, while I was at the front door, why didn’t I pick up the washing from the front step?

I went back. No wonder the tramp had looked guilty. He had stolen it. For the next six months I had to sit in my vest whilst my shirt was washed under a cold tap so I could go to the Waldorf and get my Saturday shift.

Things gradually got better as the years staggered by. I was once a Chevalier de la Chaine des Rotisseurs or, to use plain English, a Knight of the Brotherhood of the Chain of the Turning Spit, a gourmet club which did things in fine style. Once we hired a dining coach to be put on the end of the Crewe to Bournemouth express on an occasion when we were eating away from home. My friend, the 9th Baron Langford, who was our Baillie and was kindly contributing several bottles of ’47 port, insisted the pair of us interview the station master at Crewe to ensure all was hunky dory. Station masters love a lord and this one donned morning dress and a topper to meet us. At the baron’s request, he introduced us to “our” engine driver.

“My grandfather,” confided the baron to the startled driver, “always maintained there was no greater pleasure than making love in a sleeping car as the train went over a set of points.” (The Brotherhood was very strong on such niceties. One elderly brewer assured me that no kisses were more erotically charged than when the girl had been drinking yellow chartreuse and the man green. An estate agent called Ramos declined a dessert that was served in a cocoon of spun sugar on the grounds that it would be like eating the pubic hairs of a fairy.)

“However,” the 9th Baron told the engine driver, “what might be an aid to lovemaking is very bad for port. So I would be grateful if you would slow down as you approach any set of points on our journey.”

The extraordinary thing was that the engine driver did.

 On another occasion we had been to a Normandy banquet at the Piccadilly Plaza in Manchester where our guests had been Louis Edwards, the Lord Mayor of Manchester, and Sonny, the then Marquis of Milford Haven. After the meal, Geoffrey Langford and I took them to the champagne bar where Edwards ordered a tankard of Moet, the 9th Baron, Mumms, and Sonny, Louis Roederer.

To this day I do not know why, when it came to my turn, I asked for a chip butty. The waitress took the order without demur and soon returned with the champagne, followed by a waiter bearing the finest chip butty I have ever seen. The bread was home made, the butter runny and the golden chips had hard crusts protecting inner potato, soft as a baby’s cheek. The silver platter on which they were served also carried salt, pepper and vinegar. Interspersed ‘twixt chip and plate was a neatly cut, and probably ironed, square of newspaper.

“By God,” said the 9th Baron, “that looks good. Bring me one!” “And me,“ said the Marquis of Milford Haven. “And me,” said the Lord Mayor of Manchester.

I have achieved little in life but I did introduce the aristocracy to the chip butty. Which, on a point of information, goes very well with champagne and is as good a way as any to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Other members included restauranteurs who took it in turns to host our banquets. One, Roland Genty, had come to Manchester during the war to train as a parachutist to be dropped in occupied France. Roland was frighteningly tough. Quiche Lorraine was his signature dish. Naturally it featured on the menu when he hosted. Alas, there was a delay which seemed endless in the serving of his Quiche. He went to the kitchen to remonstrate. He returned and addressed us gravely:

"My Lord and messieurs, I fear there will be a delay. Unfortunately the waiter dropped a tray of the Quiche...and, naturellement, the chef has stabbed him."

Alas, my appetite has diminished but happy memories remain.  My favourite chippie was the Sea Waves fish and chip emporium in Menai Bridge on Anglesey.  We usually had a table in the window, in the spotless tiled restaurant bar, furnished in bright white and yellow plastic. Rashid, the Turkish chef-owner, came to Menai Bridge via the Piccadilly Hilton and the Gleneagles Hotel.  Much was expected and we were never disappointed.

Rashid was a consummate artiste whose fish and chips went through purifying fires of very high temperature to emerge with the lightest of sun tans, crisp and mouth watering. His haddock was so fresh I swear it was singing sea shanties. Rashid his skill with the mushy pea was legendary.  He scorned to mush to viscosity, as lesser fish fryers do. His peas, though pliant to the palate, retained their traditional shape and texture.

A happy substitute has, I'm glad to say, been found in Dave, of Snappers in March, from where the dog also enjoys a tasty sausage. Oh, for the appetite of yesteryear...