Friday, 17 September 2010


Remember the story I told you last week about the Priest,the Bishop, the Pope and the stolen umbrellas?

His name was Father Brian Jones and the day the new Pope arrived, he died. I must say summoning him to Head Office was coming it a bit strong. A lot of fuss over six umbrellas.

I can make that sort of tasteless quip because he would have loved it and would certainly have said something similar if I had gone first.
Indeed the first time he took the umbrella for an airing was to play golf at a municipal course with my wife. As they teed up a wild storm blew up.

"Oh heck," said Father Brian, "He has spotted the Pope's umbrella."

They drove off. It looked as though my wife had driven nearer to the pin. Along came a greensman and moved it to within a foot of Brian's ball.

"That is what I like about Him," said Brian, "He doesn't bear a grudge.

Once in Menai Bridge my car stalled as he past by. He gave me a thumbs up, waved his hands over the bonnet and it started at once.
"He is very good with cars," he told me.

There were great depths of seriousness. One Easter I invited him to mark the day on my radio programme. I thought he would be good for a laugh. No chance.

He began by saying, "We all talk glibly about crucifixion. But we never really understand what that means..." And he gave us the most horriying account of the methods of crucifixion I have ever heard,
ending: "Never forget. That is what Our Lord suffered for love of you."

Glad I didn't die before him. He threatened to come to my bedside when I was dying and just as I was nearing my last breath he would baptise me into the Catholic faith."

Father Brian had the most spectacular ordination. There were only chapels in Ruabon, the North Wales village in which he lived. So the Catholics for miles around got together and built him a church.

He was obviously designated for high office. The church sent him to Valladolid, the Spanish Theological College where the High Honchos are educated.

Father Brian would have none of that. He lived and died a Parish Priest. His parishoners loved him. The local poacher used to tie braces of pheasants, salmon and wild duck to the vestry door. He loved fine wines and was at his most sparkling at the dinner parties given by his devoted friend Dr Margaret Wood, a superlative cook who gave him a home in his retirement. He called her his Spiritual Sister and we should all have sisters like her.

I covered his ordination but we lost touch. Years later I moved to Anglesey. Visiting us, my Catholic father-in-law came back from Mass in Menai Bridge. He said, "I have just heard the most wonderful sermon ever. And the only one that included jokes. No wonder the church was packed."

Later the same week in my local pub I saw a priest surrounded by an admiring crowd who were hooting at his jokes.

"My father-in-law has told me about you," I said,

"Ah yes," said the priest, "that will be Dr Lucas." He had taken the trouble to meet the stranger. We became instant friends and have remained so for over thirty years.

When my great friend Walter Payne died in Chester, his sisters asked me to do the eulogy at his funeral but the Vicar would not hear of a lay person officiating at a funeral in his church. On the day, Father Brian marched up in his full canonicals, commandeered the pulpit and read my speech.

It was no wonder his parishoners loved him, a love which he returned fourfold.

He loved to tell stories like the one about the little boy who came for Christmas wearing his new cowboy outfit. "He marched up the aisle to the crib, pulled out his sixshooter and shot the Virgin Mary."

A succession of bishops were less enamoured. One tried to punish him by sending him to Llandidrod Wells. "The armpit of the Catholic Church," Father Brian told him, and refused to go. So the Bishop sent him to Llanwrst where he spent many happy years.

This blog ends here. I usually like to end with a funny story. Not today. I know better than to follow Father Brian.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010


I missed my chance with The Beatles. In the days when Brian Epstein's musical empire was a trestle table in his dad's Liverpool furniture store, my chum Allan Williams was their booking agent. That was in the days when they were all hair, adenoids and sweaty T-shirts. Allan was a diligent Atolycus snapping up trifles which have become a golden pension. Another pal, Gordon Vicars, appalled by their long hair, barred The Beatles from his River Park Ballroom in Chester. Had I only thought, I could have cut their hair, saved the discarded locks, collected their cigarette ends and sold them all for a handsome profit.

I spent a very enjoyable evening with the Rolling Stones when they played a Chester cinema. Trouble was their conversation on the American Civil War was so stimulating I forgot to ask for their autographs.

No souveniers either, beyond a mention in his book, of a Welsh choirboy call Aled Jones who worked for me on my radio programme. I took him on at the request of his dad, a chum of mine, as a junior reporter when his voice broke.

When I sold my picture collection Bryn Terfel was one of the interested viewers. In the Fifties my drinking companions included the American bandleaders Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Armstrong and singers like Frankie Lane and Guy Mitchell who played Manchester when restrictions on American artistes were eased.

I spent a golden morning in a suite in the Adelphi whilst Hoagy Carmichael plied me with whisky and played the piano. Didn't even keep the label of the bottle we emptied.

Not going to make the same mistake again.

I have asked The Head Ferret to get the autograph of her 12-year-old cousin and to keep her eyes open for any old broken Barbie dolls or plastic ponies.

The cousin on whom I am pinning my hopes of fortune is Isabel Suckling, a chorister at York Minster, who is the youngest ever solo classical artist in history to sign for a major record label.
At the beginning of the year Universal Music sent talent scouts round the British cathedrals to look for new stars. York put forward Isabel and the moment the scouts heard her they made an offer which would bring your eyes out like chapel hat pegs. As I write, she is promoting her debut album and rehearsing for the Classic FM Live Annual Concert at the Albert Hall on 30 September.
She was on Daybreak on ITV yjis morning and when Classic FM played the first recording on Monday the presenter forecast she would be Number 1 in the Classic chart by Christmas. On "Daybreak"that idiot Chiles (4 million quid?) had great fun with her surname "Suckling". It is of course the family name of Lord Nelson of Trafalgar, of whom he has probably never heard, from whom Isabel descends. In my day when programmes were still employing professionals a golden rule was never to mock guests)

Isabel moved to Italy with her parents and three-year-old brother Jack before she was two months old. For the next six and a half years the family lived in the depths of the Tuscan countryside, about 50 miles south of Florence. Her American father (who writes about wine) is still based there today.
Isabel started learning the piano when she was four and sang along to CDs on daily drives through the Tuscan countryside. Among them was a compilation of Anglican hymns, bought not out of religious fervour but her mother's vague feeling that the children should not grow up completely ignorant of their English heritage. From a very early age Isabel was chirruping along to the likes of "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and "Onward Christian Soldiers". The "Battle Hymn of the
Republic" was another favourite.

She seemed to pick up the words quickly, her mother told us, but it never struck her unmusical
parents that she had any particular talent for singing. Her grandmother doubted Isabel had a single musical bone in her body!
Within a year both Isabel's grandparents died, her parents separated and Isabel moved back to the UK with her mother and brother. York seemed as good a place as any in which to settle, although the family knew no one there. Isabel's piano teacher suggested she try for a scholarship at York Minster School and, to the family's astonishment, she won the most valuable girls' choral scholarship in the UK, with the church paying 80% of the school fees. Jack (who by then was too old to be a chorister) was also awarded a music scholarship at another school. He is now an accomplished pianist.

Isabel spent a year as a probationer, during which she and three other girls had daily singing lessons before school and learnt how to process and behave in services. In September 2006, at the age of eight, she became a full chorister and took to it straight away: up at 6.30am every day, generally two choir practices a day, at least four services a week, no free weekends during term time, singing through Christmas and Easter and for two weeks during the summer holidays. The girls sing in English, Latin and German; are expected to behave and perform as professionals; sight-read everything from Byrd to Britten; are unfazed by live broadcasts and visiting grandees; and most play instruments to a high standard (Isabel is currently preparing for her Grade V11 piano and cello and Grade VIII singing).

Isabel began singing short solos at the age of nine and now is often treble soloist in major works (recently, for example, in the haunting Vaughan Williams Mass in G Minor,which she has sung three times since Remembrance Sunday 2009).

Her debut album with Universal, "The Choirgirl, Isabel", comes out on November 22 under the Decca label. She has already recorded duets with Bryn Terfel and Aled Jones, who with characterstic kindness has agreed to be her mentor.

The first time I heard Aled sing was in the kitchen of my home on Anglesey. The moment he opened his mouth I felt my back hair rising because I realised I was in the presence of a God given gift. I have never felt that with any other singer until I heard Isabel on this video clip


"Tens of thousands of pilgrims in Glasgow will have to get to next Thursday's event at Bellahouston Park on public transport after their private coaches were cancelled.
Umbrellas have been banned, there will be no seating provided, and pilgrims will have to stay in the pens provided ."--NEWS ITEM
A friend of mine, a priest, took his congregation to share the last Papal visit. Each priest was given an umbrella in the Papal colours. My friend was so taken with his that he didn't give it back. He was stopped by his Bishop as he sneaked off the ground.

"My son, I am ashamed of you," said the bishop. "Don't steal one. Steal six. They will think you are collecting them."