My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full
A Life Lived to the Full
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Part 16 – Pages 171 – 180
NB; l am closing in towards the end of the manuscript, and will have the series finished by Friday. I post this mostly for my own archive.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END.
In late September 1986 I undertook a three week trip to the United States. It started in New Orleans and took in New York, Washington, Kansas City before ending up in California. It was to give me a bit more knowledge of the Company’s activities. I visited the Credit Card Corporation and a couple of Refineries. Margaret was invited but once again declined.
The whole shindig started with a flight to New Orleans. The weather was fine and I very quickly became acclimatised. This was, of course, New Orleans before it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
I visited the battle site of the 1812 battle but as that was one we lost, I was not totally amused.
I wandered up and down Bourbon Street and listened to the original traditional jazz. A lot of old black men, very sad they looked, played their blues in the evening until they were tired when they stopped and someone else took their place. It reminded me of the early popularity of trad jazz in the UK in the 1950’s and 60’s with the likes of Chris Barber and Humph and Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen.
I went for a little cruise on the Mississippi River and took a few pictures. We passed a building calling itself a restaurant, built from wood, which looked like it was about to fall down It was an amazing place,
The French Quarter contained some remnants of the culture which must have existed when the town was French. Napoleon had sold the entire colony to the United States for around 6 million dollars in 1803. I enjoyed the peace and quiet, and, somehow, dignity provided by St Louis Cathedral.
A Streetcar Named Desire was a much acclaimed early 1950’s film starring Marlon Brando. I never saw the film, presumably judged too risqué by my parents. What I did not know was there really is a streetcar called ‘Desire.’ And here I was standing beside it.
After a week spoiling myself in New Orleans, where I did not seem to do much work, on 28th I took off for New York. To say that I saw a lot and did a lot in NYC would be to undersell the entire experience. It was a gas! I saw a great deal of New York, more than in previous visits. It started with a cruise on the Hudson, going under the Washington and Brooklyn Bridges. We also passed by Columbia University, where to avoid any confusion, they have painted a large letter C on the wall alongside the river. They do say that it pays to advertise.
We passed Ellis Island where all the pre world war two migrants were processed and in many cases given a name which was easier for the Americans to pronounce.
Ashore we visited and gaped in awe at all the World Famous Buildings like the Empire State, the Chrysler and the World Trade Centre. It would be more than a dozen years until the latter was destroyed by Moslem terrorists with an appalling loss of life. It was not considered possible then in 1986.
I was especially pleased while on the mini cruise to get a fine close up of the Lady with the Torch, the Statue of Liberty. I was allowed to climb to the top of Mobil’s office block, 150 East 42nd Street to take photos of the surrounding streets. It was a case of lucky me.
Then it was time to fly about 200 miles south to Dulles Airport in Washington, for a visit to Marketing and Refinery Headquarters in Fairfax Virginia. Again it was fascinating and I lapped it up. In Washington itself, I went to see the Vietnam War Memorial, a tribute to the 57,000 US citizens who gave their lives. It was moving, especially the sculptures of the American forces.
This was followed by a trip to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I was delighted to find a Spitfire in there, a reminder that Great Britain did play a part in the War.
I also managed a trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home outside Washington. It is a lovely building set in beautiful grounds. Equally impressive is Ronnie’s pad, the White House. It was possible to indulge in a little tour.
It is not possible to be in New York with some time to spare without seeing the Washington Monument and Lincoln’s statue.
Alexandria is a fine old suburb of Washington and is where ASIS have their Headquarters. I found reason to go there from time to time. While there, I discovered the church of St John where Washington once worshipped. It was where I discovered that Churchill and Roosevelt had in the 1940’s worshipped together. The pews they sat in are marked. I was in some reverence of my great hero.
Looking through the photos I took of Alexandria I see a couple of a streets of houses which particularly pleased me. As I sit at the computer in 2018 I need only turn my head to the left a little to see one. I was also able to visit for the first time the harbour on the Potomac.
And then it was time for Kansas City where I arrived late one evening. I hired a cab.
“Where you going, buddy?”
“Kansas City,” I replied like a veteran traveller.
“Which one?” he replied.
“How many do you have?”
“We have two, Kansas City Kansas and Kansas City Missouri.”
I was stumped so I gave him the name of the hotel.
“Yes that is Kansas City Kansas.”
In Kansas City, Kansas, I met up with Tom the security manager for the Credit Card Corporation. Tom was a decent man and a warm human being. Tom showed me all over his operation although I did not see any Mobil application for the UK where our own independent credit card companies seemed to be working quite well.
Tom had a very low opinion of Kansas City Missouri. Locally this was pronounced as ‘Missorah’ and I got into the habit of copying this. The other Kansas City was just across the river and was described as ‘boring.’ What that made Kansas City Kansas, I cannot imagine. He did take me across the river to inspect some caves in the mountains where Mobil kept its records for safety.
I was impressed. I was also impressed by the number of people who, on finding I was British, believed I must have met Princess Diana. Saying that I had met her husband did not appear to cut much ice.
I flew from Kansas City to Los Angeles International for a few days. The purpose was to visit our refinery in LA, whose name I have forgotten. It was a very fine unit, bigger than Coryton but no less efficient.
I saw Hollywood and the handprints outside the Chinese theatre. With the Security Manager from the refinery, I visited the Queen Mary, now a museum and hotel just offshore at LA. It had been a very fine ship but I wondered what it would think of its present role.
Somewhere in my busy schedule, we paid a visit to Carmel and its famous mission, a throwback to the Spanish. And soon it was time to undertake that long voyage home this time from California.
On 29th November Margaret and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary at our house. The cake was made by our clever daughter.
In early 1987 we spent some time in Rye in Sussex, one of our favourite places. Later in life I would discover that Rye was a favourite place of refuge for Huguenots fleeing France. In 1700 the entire population was around 3000, of which some 1000 were Huguenots.
In April 1987 we visited Ulster for perhaps the last time during Dad’ life. He was severely ill with cancer but, in reality, since Mum had died, he had lost the will to live. Soon he would come to us for the final months of his life. It was cold and bleak in County Down.
Margaret and I went away for a couple of days in Worcestershire staying in Pershore. We visited the Cathedral and the cricket ground, so often flooded at the start of the cricket season. Worcestershire is a beautiful county and England a wonderful country. If only the weather could be a bit better.
In September and October 1987 I undertook yet another long trip to the United States. And yet again, Margaret declined the chance to join me. This time I started in Dallas where I was to make a presentation to the Dallas Police Academy. These boys and girls demonstrated they had a sense of humour by sending two of the biggest and strongest to meet me on the plane and escort me off, one on each arm. It was all good fun and, later, I too saw the funny side.
I was to make a presentation on terrorism in Europe and I commenced with a monologue which went like this.
“Many people in Europe believe that the Americans and the British are basically the same people, sharing a common history and language.. I know that for many years we shared our history, but over the last 200 years we have gone our separate ways. And I would like to challenge the view that we speak the same language. We don’t and I will now mention that it is our language which you have borrowed. We would like it back please as you are making a mess of it.”
The room, perhaps 300 police officers strong stared at me, no one moving a muscle. We held this situation for about ten seconds then a bulb seemed to switch on in the head of a short police woman who was sitting opposite me. It said ‘JOKE’ and then the whole room started laughing.
Don’t try that one again, I told myself.
The Dallas Police were very kind to me, showing me all the important spots in the city, like where JFK was shot, and where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested.
And then it was time to travel again, this time to San Francisco. i have been to SF on a number of occasions, not because of its hippy culture or alternative lifestyle, but because of something that springs from both of those, its air of freedom and independence. And my favourite part of San Francisco was and is Fisherman’s Wharf. While there I took the opportunity to drive down Lombard Street, come to think of it, I don’t think one can drive up Lombard Street.
I visited Monterey and Carmel, even though I don’t think that Clint Eastwood was then Mayor at the time and took then 17 mile drive. There was plenty of fine scenery on the Drive, which is probably why the Californians want you to pay for it. A good deal of its length it followed the spectacular Pacific coast.
I went to Alcatraz for, I think, the second time. It is still, as a tourist attraction, a pretty frightening spot. When it was a prison, it must have been terrifying.
I then hired a car and drove to Yosemite. There were hundreds of artesian wells. I stopped at Lone Pine, out in the middle of the desert and thought how well named it was. I then drove across the Death Valley National Park, a pretty desolate area by any standards. It never struck me at the time that a breakdown in the car could land me in serious hot water. At 40, I knew I was immortal.
I passed and duly photographed the Great Salt Lake and was impressed. I was even more impressed when I arrived in Las Vegas.
And, for the first time, I arrived in Las Vegas. In appearance, it was pretty spectacular, with world famous glitzy hotels the length of the strip. In my 1988 photo album I described the city as the height of vulgarity. Despite thinking that at the time, I did manage to see several shows including the lovely Chrystal Gayle, the talented member of the rat pack, Sammy Davis Junior and a show called Jubilee.
I also expended five dollars in the casino which I lost and never gambled again. Not that i had done a lot of gambling before.
In between all the merriment, I attended the ASIS meeting as Chapter Chairman. When we were free we had a pretty good time. I did notice that the Europeans were a rather more free- thinking bunch than the American.
There then followed one of the most exciting experiences of the life, the Grand Canyon. It started with a flight in a high winged monoplane along the Colorado River and the Hoover Dam. This was truly stupendous and because of the configuration of the Twin Otter ideal for photographs.
We travelled up and down the Grand Canyon with Colorado continuing to bite its way into the landscape, a mile below, as it has done for the lat million years. After the flight was over, I walked to the North Rim of Grand Canyon to simply stand and gaze.
The Grand Canyon is simply beyond words in its spectacular beauty. The flight cost about $146 or £90. It was money well worth spending.
And soon the holiday was over and it was time to go home. It had been a hell of a trip and I was fortunate that Mobil continued to finance these ‘holidays.’
Not long after my return from the US, the weather took a surprising turn for the worse. I was on a trip to the lubes Plant, in Birkenhead in Merseyside and saying in North Wales with my brother. At about 3.30 in the morning, he came into my bedroom and said, “Margaret just called. I don’t understand what she was on about but told me to tell you they were all OK. Does that mean anything to you?”
“No,” I replied. “I’ll phone her.”
I did so. “Hi, it’s me. Do you have some kind of problem?”
“Yes, it’s the storm; it’s uprooting trees and everything. You must have it there in Wales as well.”
I looked out the window but all seemed peaceful. “No, it’s OK here.”
During the late evening and early morning the south of England was hit by the most devastating storm in many years to affect the country. What made it worse was that the weather forecaster, Michael Fish’, I think, told the British public that it would be nothing special.
I finished my day’s work at the Lubes Plant as quickly as was decent and headed south. I passed through an increasing area of devastation until in the south of the country, it was utterly forlorn. When I got home a number of trees in our garden had been blown over or uprooted. It would eventually take me some time to put things back in order. This included a small piece of damage to the roof of the house.
Over the weekend we drove out and inspected those areas where it was safe to drive. Millions of trees were uprooted and Sevenoaks in Kent became Two Oaks in Kent. This was to say nothing of the telephone and power lines which also came down. A number of people died and among those injured was the TV star, Gordon Kaye, who plated Renee Artois in the TV comedy Allow, Allow.
We started off 1988 with some startling photos from previous years, including Nostalgia which was of a split screen Morris Minor and Margaret. I entitled it First loves and it won me £100. I also took third prize with a photo of two dogs stretched out apparently exhausted and called my feet are killing me.
Later we visited Dorchester in Oxfordshire in and Hastings in Sussex.
We were now visiting places for the second or third time. These included the two aforementioned and Old Sarum. I then had an interesting trip to Frankfurt Airport in Germany and to Southwold in Norfolk to gaze at a variety of aircraft, ours and theirs. It was cold and wet in Norfolk especially on the Broads.
In May of 88 we went to Avebury to look at the stone circle. To think they had been constructed several thousand years Before Christ. Amazing pieces of Engineering they were.
When Jenny was around eighteen, she had left home to go and live with a bunch of her friends in a shared house. She had maintained this position for about a year and then she phoned me when l was at a Conference to ask if she could come home again. I was of course delighted and said yes.
In August of 1988, Jenny got married to Tim. Her years of being with her previous boyfriend, had after all come to nothing. We both liked Tim and got on well with his parents. Tim, unfortunately, was not totally honest with Jenny when they married which soon led to the failure of their union.
However that did not detract from a splendid day on their wedding day. As weddings went, it went pretty well. Jenny was just twenty and looked stunning. I admit as father of the bride, I may have been a tad subjective. The whole family was present with the exception of Rory. Margaret’s mother was there too. My folks were by then both dead.
It was not long afterwards that the marriage fell apart. Jenny walked out on Tim on discovering that he had a child by a girl and that he was still seeing this girl. She was distraught, of course. She and Tim had lived together for about two years, in a flat about a mile from us. Tim seemed pretty distraught too.
In May of 1988 Mobil held a meeting in Rome and I went with a friend John from work. His wife, Margaret, had agreed to fly out and join us. I asked Margaret to come too, and she said not if it meant going by air. I agreed to take the car. She then changed her mind about half a dozen times before finally deciding not to go. So John and I flew to Venice and hired a car from there.
At this point our marriage had been going badly. We no longer made love and no longer even slept together. Things were set up for what happened.
John and I had a good couple of days in Venice, an interesting and fascinating town. We also met two English ladies, Kathy Lee and her mother, Irene, who were staying in the same hotel. We made friends during the evening. The following day we met again at breakfast and again in the afternoon when we booked a boat trip on the lagoon and met, by chance, on the boat.
That following afternoon John and I sat in an outside cafe having a beer when a group of strolling musicians came by playing modern songs.
“I wonder who pays them.” I wondered.
John, looking at the bill for the drinks said “I think we just have.”
We all had dinner together that evening, last evening for John and I.
We then drove down the east coast to Ancona where we stayed in what appeared to be a nearly empty hotel. On the way we stopped off at San Marino, an independent republic which had a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery just outside the town. I remember that it rained pretty heavily in San Marino that day.
In Ancona the hotel did not do meals so we drove into town for dinner. Unfortunately I drank too much and John bollocked me soundly and took over the driving. Sadly, he was not much better and drove past the hotel without seeing it and ended up in the next town. That was my fault, of course, because I was the navigator and I was pissed. In vain did I point out that the hotel had not displayed any lights.
The following morning, a Sunday, an even greater mystery occurred. I woke up about 9.30 and knocked on John’s room door which was just beside mine. There was no reply so I went in. The room was like a bear pit but there was no sign of him.
I dressed and went downstairs. Beside the Reception there was an old lady. I asked where John was, in several languages. She, God bless her, did not understand any of them.
“Cappuccino” she said
“Si, Cappuccino.” At least I could have a coffee to clear my head.
I walked outside and there was no sign of the car. Now, where the hell had he gone? I drank a further four cappuccinos to keep from going crazy.
It was after eleven when John returned. “Where the hell have you been? I thought the car had been nicked.”
His reply was equally robust. “Don’t you know it is Sunday? I have been to Mass.”
“Why didn’t you tell me what you were doing?”
“There was no point. You wouldn’t want to come, you heathen Protestant bastard.”
With those pleasant exchanges we had another cappuccino and paid our bills.
We then drove south again and turned onto the spinal range of mountains towards Assisi. The town was packed with people, not all of whom were tourists. Assisi was where St Francis performed great works with animals and everywhere we looked there were images of the saint with hands outstretched with birds on his hands and small creatures playing at his feet.
Assisi was a fine town with a pretty church, dedicated to St Francis, who else? Reluctantly we drove away, as we had to be in Rome that night. John elected to drive as the roads were quiet. He continued to do so until we reached Rome, when he gave over to me. We were both utterly lost.
At one point we recognised the US Embassy with a policeman standing outside. I pulled up beside him to ask for directions. He did not reply but pointed his sub machine gun at us.
“I don’t think he knows, Brian” muttered John as we drove quickly.
We found the hotel eventually, in the Via Veneto I think and made it just in time for the welcome party.
It was a great Conference with sixty two attendees, not all of whom I knew. But it was good to meet old friends. As a group we all gelled very well especially when the various wives arrived the following day. We explored Rome as thoroughly as we could including throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain.
In due course the Conference ended and we all drifted our different ways home. In due course I delivered the copy photographs to Kathy Lee and we began an affair.
Part 16 – Pages 171 – 180