Sunday, 30 December 2012


On the 21st June 1969, I was sitting in the only bar in Frigiliana which had a television set and where everyone had congregated to watch the historic landing on the moon.
 At 3 0'clock in the morning half of those who were sitting there waiting for something exciting to happen had fallen asleep with the boredom of the programme. Diagrams had been shown, scientists no one understood had talked for hours about spaceships and rockets, and the only person benefiting from the occasion was Antonio, the bar owner, who hadn’t stopped serving black coffees and cognacs to keep everyone awake.
 Then, from outside, came the familiar clip clopping sound of a mule cloming up the steep cobbled street to the bar. It was Paco with his beast of burden on the way to his vineyards up on the Southern slope of the mountain. Paco, if not over bright, was a hard worker who trekked up there once a week and stayed for several days minding his crops.
 He tied the mule's rope to the bars of a window and came into the bar, straw hat askew on his balding head, his huge teeth protruding beyond the lower lip, his gums receding, his fingers and hands ingrained with the dark earth he had been working all his life.
 He stared bewildered at his fellow workers sitting there in the comparative darkness.
 'Que pasa ? Why aren’t you all on your way to your fields or in bed with your fat ugly wives ?'
he grumbled at everyone.
 'The moon,' came the reply from a few tired voices.
 'The moon ?' Paco repeated, then, after a long pause, 'What of the moon ?'
 'The moon is on television,' Antonio said pouring him an anis seco and hot chocolate.
 Paco stared at the television high up in a corner of the bar. There was a picture of a space ship door opening and a man in a rubber suit and helmet coming slowly down the steps.
 'Ahora ! Ahora ! Ahora !' the commentator shouted with great excitement. 'Now, now it’s happening. Now the first man ever is landing on the moon !'
Puzzled, Paco looked from the television screen to the audience to Antonio.'
'Children's television at this hour of the morning ?'
'The first man ever to land on the moon is doing so right now' Antonio informed him. 'It’s a major historic moment. Sit down and watch.'
 'A man on the moon ! It’s a film hombre !'
 'No Paco' Antonio said patiently, 'That man there, coming down the steps, is a real astronaut.  He was sent up there by rocket with two others. It’s happening right now.'
 Paco was unsettled
 'What’s he going to do up there ?'
 Antonio shrugged his shoulders unsure of the answer.
 'Well, what is he going to do up there ?'
 'He’s dancing,' someone in front of the set shouted, and the tension was relieved by laughter.
 The mule snorted outside.
 'A man on the moon ...' Paco muttered to himself. He drank his chocolate and downed the anis seco. He left the bar, went out into the roadway and looked up at the offending moon.
He untied the rope and led his mule on up the steep cobbled street.
Antonio picked up the empty glass and cup and put them in the sink. Then the clip clopping of the mule was heard coming down again.
'How is he going to get back, your man on the moon ?'  Paco, standing in the doorway, was truly concerned.
 'It’s very complicated' Antonio said. 'They have retro rockets which return the spaceship to earth'
 'But when ? The moon will be gone soon.'
 'It will only be going as far as we are concerned. It will only be going down behind the hills Paco. It will still be somewhere.'
 Paco’s brow creased with the pain of difficult thought.
 'What’s his name, the man on the moon ?'
 'I don’t know,' Antonio was getting  irritated, 'Some Americano.'
 'Does his mother know ?'
 'Does his mother know what ?'
 'Does his mother know that he’s up there ?'
 'Well of course she knows. The whole world knows ! What difference does it make ?'
 'Antonio,'  Paco said quietly, straightening up, 'I have been working in the campo since I was a niño. I know the moon, I have had conversations with the moon, I know what it does and what it does not do, but she might not understand.'
 'His mother ?'
 'Yes, his mother Antonio. His mother might not understand. When the moon has gone she may be afraid that he has gone with it. When it gets smaller, when there is only half of it, or a quarter of it, she might be afraid he could fall off. Would your mother understands it if you said you were going to the moon ?'
Antonio sighed deeply. 'These people know what they are doing.'
'I hope so,' Paco said turning away. 'I hope so.'
And when he was a little distance up the street, he stopped and shouted back.' I hope he had the sense to take a parachute !' 

Paco's mule
Antonio's bar

Monday, 24 December 2012


And so it was planned.
I was to go to London from Nerja in Spain to enjoy the Christmas merriment with my lovely daughter, her partner, his mother, her cat, the neighbours, their dog, and the fox at the bottom of the garden, and I packed some clean socks, a shirt of two, wrapped the presents - a Spanish fan, a couple of flamenco dolls, miniature bottles of sangria, a pair of castanets...the usual, then on my way to a lunch appointment with a couple of friends... suddenly, quite suddenly, in the street, a very unpleasant pain gripped me round the chest. It didn’t exactly suffocate me, it didn’t stop me breathing, but it was like having massive indigestion between the armpits and I, having read about such things in my medical dictionary, remembered a quote :
    Angina Pectoris is a condition where pain in the heart is caused
    by an inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle which may
    lead to a heart attack and instant death.
Well, it couldn’t happen to me, not at Christmas, not when I was about to go to lunch with friends and then London. So I ignored the malaise, joined my friends, didn’t eat too much,  the pain slowly disappeared and I thought little more about it.
On the way home, however the pain attacked me again.
I sat down on a conveniently close bench, doubled up, refused to believe that I was suffering from anything serious, but things got worse and I pressed the panic button.
With a hand shaking so much that I could hardly hold my mobile steady, I rang my son who lives close by, and weakly managed to mumble....'Matthew...I’m not feeling very well......'
He is one of those efficient young men who can be relied upon to summon up a fire brigade or SAS army unit within minutes and, within minutes, he was with me, bundled me into his car, whisked me off to the local clinic where a heavy duty male nurse took my pulse, stuck a number of electrocardiograph suckers on ankles, wrists and chest, pronounced me an emergency and ordered son to take father to the nearest  hospital forthwith.

 We were told to remain in 'Urgencia' for six hours during which I was given X-Rays, blood tests, ECGs and aortic angiograms while paramedics held my hand, my pulse, stuck state of the art thermometers in my ear and, eventually, informed me that I had had a heart attack, that I had to stay in the hospital for treatment till they were satisfied I had a chance of staying alive, would I get someone to get my pyjamas and toothbrush.
 'But I’m going to London tomorrow!' I protested. 'On Friday I’m going to see my daughter’s solo exhibition in a Chelsea Gallery.. On Saturday a family party.......'
 'Explain to your father that he is on deaths’s door and to just do as he is told,'  Matthew was instructed.

 A half hour later I found myself lying between lovely clean sheets with lovely fluffy pillows behind my head, various tubes emanating from a hole pierced in the top of my hand to a water bottle hanging above my head and four or five nurses circling my bed to make sure I had everything I needed.
 'Let go...' I told myself. 'You are beyond the point of no return...You are no longer in charge of your own life, what’s left of it, ....give in to those who know better than you...worry if you must about all the upheaval the cancellation of your London visit will cause to others but accept the fact that it is not your fault and there is absolutely nothing you can do about these new circumstances except die if you insist on rebelling.'

  So it was that this year’s Christmas has not turned out quite as it was planned. Melissa, my lovely daughter, flew over in a blind panic so we could cry over the tragedy together,  Nicolas, my older son winged his way over from Los Angeles, various members of the family made all the right noises and I felt like a complete fraud because the moment the first ECG suckers were planted on my breasts, the pain disappeared and never came back.

 I’m home now, after an anxious week, fit as a fiddle, providing I avoid salt in my food, never drink alcohol again and consume seven different kinds of pills for the rest of my life before breakfast. 
 I should add that on the 12th of the 12th of the 12th I had celebrated my 82nd birthday which, on learning this, prompted the surgeon who at one time during the proceedings inserted a couple of metal and plastic tubes into my circulatory system to say, 'At your age you have to expect setbacks.' 

Seasonal greetings to all and a big THANK YOU to the staff of the incredibly efficient hospital and to the lovely friends and relatives who where concerned for me.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Eve was English. If there was anyone who could overcome setbacks, rise above unpleasantness, ignore what she didn’t want to know and keep a stiff upper lip, it was her.  After I quite unnecessarily and stupidly told her that I had had an affair and she walked out of the house into the Frigiliana street, I watched her from an upstairs window, pause before straightening up, throw her cigarette away, stamp on it and walk off with a determination that suggested she had made a decision about the situation. Wether that decision was favourable for me or disastrous I, of course, had no idea.
 So I waited. I sat down on the edge of the bed and tried to imagine what she was thinking, what she was going through and managed to convince myself that what I had just told her, what I had just confessed, had been a shock but not that upsetting. It could, in fact, be a relief, a release for her from having to pretend that all was well between us when, for some months now it had not been.  On the other hand this was perhaps just wishful thinking on my part and the emptiness in the pit of my stomach made itself known again. Then I heard, with great relief, the boy's voices and laughter. I leapt to my feet, looked out of the window. They were coming home for lunch with Eve, all holding hands.
 So we sat down round the table on the terrace and had a happy meal as though nothing at all had happened and, once they had gone off to play again, Eve went to have a siesta which had become routine, leaving me to clear the plates and wash up.
 She never asked another question. My infidelity was never mentioned again. It was not forgotten, certainly not forgiven but, apart from several nights when it seemed to me that she deliberately turned her back on me in bed, the unsettling episode passed.

 We now started to look for a property to buy in earnest. We wanted an old village house which could be converted into something exceptional.
 After two days of asking around, an elderly man stopped us in the main square and said he had a ruin for sale which we might like to have a look at. We followed him up a cobbled alley to a large building behind the 16th century church. He pushed open a massive double door that was falling off its hinges and bid us enter.
 It wasn’t so much a ruin as a disaster area, and vast. The mud, boulder and stone walls were nearly a metre thick, the roof had collapsed, he suggested it might be wiser not to go up the stairs as the wood was rotten and the upper floors were dodgy, then he led us to a huge patio and up some steps to six large cement vats. With a smattering of Spanish, signs and waving of the hands, we gathered that we were in the pueblo’s ancient Moorish soap factory.
 We moved through an archway to what might have been termed a garden if there had been a bit of greenery and less dust, beyond this was a half acre rubbish tip.
 The old man looked at us and shrugged in way of asking if we were interested.
 I asked how much.
 'Wan tousand fife hondrid powns esstairlinge,' he said in badly rehearsed English.
  'For the house ?' I said.
  'For todo. La casa, el jardin, el campo. Todo.' The house, the garden the rubbish tip, everything, or so we understood. One thousand, five hundred pounds sterling.
 Eve and I managed not to exchange excited glances. If we’d understood correctly it was an incredible bargain.
 I made a face, I shrugged and told him we would let him know mañana.
 Twenty four hours of ceaseless discussion and endless calculations followed.
 The next day we went back to the ruin to take measurements. Once the vats were removed there was a surprisingly large area to play with and if the rubbish tip was cleared there would be room for a swimming pool and various terraces.
 We got down to drawing plans. The living room and an open plan kitchen would give onto a central patio. A master bedroom with en suite bathroom upstairs, a room each for the boys, a guest room, another bathroom. It was all possible.
 We made an offer, it was instantly accepted and word went round the village that we were completely off our heads.
 The next day, the old man introduced me to the best builder in Andalusia ( Manolo, his nephew ) and I took him straight to the ruin and showed him our plans on site.
 He looked around, sighed, shrugged his shoulders, lit a cigarette, puffed out a cloud of smoke and was kind enough to convey nothing derogatory when a slight prod of his finger caused a whole wall to collapse.
 There would be difficulties in getting the material up the narrow cobbled street, there was also no water nor electricity, but if I was ready to pay a little more up front his brother in law, the village plumber and electrician, would get these connected quickly. With five other cousins, an uncle and someone else’s father, he’d get what we wanted done. It would take six months. His estimated cost was incredibly low.
 We shook hands, There was no point in signing a contract, he didn’t value pieces of paper but he would start work as soon as I had got the deeds of the property and a permit to rebuild had been granted by the Ayuntamiento - the local Town Hall.
  It took six weeks, several trips to Malaga, countless photocopies of our birth certificates, passports and bank accounts before we had all the necessary documents in hand enabling Manolo and his seven men to start work half way through May.
 The Andalusians have the reputation of being slow, indolent workers. This is not so. Anyone making a study of their character will soon realize that they do not care a fig about success but that they will work very hard for is enough money not to work at all. 
 Five months and three days after they had started pulling down and rebuilding, our Spanish house was ready for us to move in. We arranged for our stored furniture in Somerset to be shipped over, bought  everything else that was more suitable for a house in the sun than for one in the rain and, once installed, turned our attention to planting the garden and building the longed for swimming pool.

1. The living room before renovation
2. The living room after

Friday, 30 November 2012


Eve, the boys and I spent our first day in Frigiliana unloading the trailer and carrying our worldly goods up the street watched by the neighbours, mainly old widows in black and two village idiots who were referred to as such but loved and very much looked after by the caring community. These young men, probably in their late teens, were to become our companions for several weeks, following us wherever we went but never beyond the boundaries of the pueblo until they lost interest in us as a novelty. All they did was gape and occasionally laugh at something odd that amused them, sometimes taking their trousers down to defecate but always caught in time by a vigilant abuela ( granny ) or tia (aunty) never far away.
 Our new home on the top floor of an old house consisted of two bedrooms and a huge area with undulating floor which served as a sitting room, dining room and kitchen. The bathroom was not much more than a cupboard with washbasin and shower reached by stepping over a lavatory, but this minor inconvenience was made up by access to a large terrace that overlooked a beautiful valley peppered with olive trees and grape vines, a panorama of impressive mountains, Nerja in the distance and, beyond, the sparkling blue Mediterranean, all bathed in bright, warm sunshine from eight in the morning till nine at night.
 It was on this terrace, a few days after we had settled in, when Eve had just come back from ringing her mother from the local phone box and the boys were outside in the street playing with new found friends, that I made the biggest mistake of my life.
 We were enjoying a glass of cold white wine in the sun and I asked her how things were in London.
 'Mother is very upset,' Eve said.
 'Because of our move ?'
 'That and something else, which is pretty unsettling for me.'
  I waited to hear more.
 Major Bill had, for some reason, confirmed, since our departure, something Doris had suspected for most of their married life but never mentioned. During the war, when serving in the army in Normandy he’d had an affair with the French landlady of the house where he was billeted resulting in the birth of a daughter.
 'God!' I said lightly, amused by the idea of Major Bill getting into such hot water, 'You’ve got a half sister like me then, another little bastard. Sex rules the world!' and I added, to sort of minimize her distress and put things in perspective, 'Like sex has ruled us.'
 'What do you mean?'  Eve’s tone was suddenly uncharacteristically severe.
  I should have seen red warning lights flashing, but I didn’t. I blundered on.
 ' and Peter, and me and.......'
  'You and who? What do you mean me and Peter?  What do you mean?  You and who?'
 I was so taken aback by her quite unexpected rancour that I was nonplussed. We had surely both read enough books and seen enough plays and films concerning domestic upsets for her not to be so irked. She knew about my background, Eddy not being my father, my mother and  Pierre, Maman and her gossiping with prostitutes. In my humorous thrillers most of the conflicts arose out of sexual partnerships which went wrong.
  'Well...'I said, too lamely, ' I thought you might have been having an affair with Peter and ...'
  'And what ?'
  'I  had a brief affair in London.....'
  If, in the past few years I had been irritated by Eve’s lack of energy, not doing much to help when we were entertaining friends, smoking a cigarette unconcerned when I was moving furniture in the antique shop for her, or while I fed the children and put them to bed. If I had noticed that she was paying less attention to her appearance, not bothering with her hair, her nails, wearing the same clothes day in day out, there was one thing that I had never fully appreciated and that was her undeniable honesty and now, I realized, her naivety and total absence of suspicion.
 My insouciant confession devastated her.
 'How could you think I’d have anything to do with Peter like that ? And how could you......'
 'I’m sorry,' I said, reaching out for her. 'It didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t anything serious.....'
 She got to her feet.
 'I never thought you’d be like other silly men.  I never imagined that you could be so thoughtless and stupid,'  she said, then asked. 'Is she anyone I know?'
  'No. It’s in the past. It wasn’t serious. It didn’t mean anything.'
  She turned and walked straight past me, through the living room, quickly down the stairs and out of the house.
  I followed her, but the front door slammed shut.  I went to the bedroom window that overlooked the street. She was standing there confused, unsure which way to go, hugging her waist tightly, right hand extended with fingers holding an inevitable cigarette.
 I felt sick but not as sick as she must have then been feeling.
 What I had just confessed was hideous in its inexpectancy.
 I knew it would never be the same between us now.
 With but a few totally unnecessary words, I had lost her trust and respect. From now on I would not be able to show affection without her doubting my sincerity.
 I had destroyed our relationship. There was a chance I could make amends, of proving to her that it was a minor aberration and that she might forgive me, but right then I had no idea how I would do that nor how we would manage the future.  

Thursday, 22 November 2012


It was in the Andalusian town of Jaen, on the way down through Spain to our new life in Frigiliana, that I decided to avoid the East-West coast road which was renowned for its perilous twists and turns and, instead, head across the Sierra de Alhama on a route which looked pretty simple on the map if, perhaps, a bit longer.
Darkness fell more quickly than expected and, when we were heading happily for the town of Velez on a minor road, the tarmac surface ended and the headlights caught an ominous sign....  DESVIO...Diversion.
 I followed the direction indicated and, as we bumped along an uninspiring track for some twenty minutes, I started to worry about the low petrol, Eve started to worry about the trailer, the boys started to worry about their bicycles.
 Suddenly our progress was barred by a large plank propped up against a boulder right in our path on which was painted, in even more ominous red ...VIA CORTADA ....Road Cut.
 It was when I attempted to reverse, in order to go back the way we had come, that the trailer coupling snapped.
 Eve told me I was an idiot, the children started crying. I got out of the car and looked around with growing despair. We were on a bare mountain top with no sign of civilization in sight, a few skeletal olive trees casting eerie shadows in the weak light of an unhelpful moon.
 I  had no idea where we were nor what to do.
 Would we have to spend the night in the car ?
 Did we have water to drink ?
 Did we have anything to eat ?
 We could abandon the trailer but not the bicycles, that was made very clear. We could risk losing the record player, our collection of LPs, my valuable reference books, even my typewriter but we could not, on any account, leave the bicycles to the mercy of the savage bandits who might emerge any minute from nearby hidden caves.
 By torchlight we transferred the more valuable possessions to the car and, as we were tying the bicycles down on the roof, we heard a strange distant rumbling.
 Eve voiced the unnecessary opinion that it might be a herd of fighting bulls. Nicolas suggested a nastiness of giant bats, Matthew a haunt of disturbed ghosts. It was none of these.
 Quite unexpectedly, an enormous lorry loomed up out of the darkness and stopped, dazzling us with its headlights.
 The Guardia Civil ? Were we trespassing on government property ? Might they arrest us ? Or worse, were we in the presence of the feared bandits who would rob us, dispose of Eve and myself and kidnap the children to demand a ransom from Major Bill and Doris ?
 Eight very beefy, merry men got down from the vehicle, grinned at us, laughed at our predicament and asked us where we thought we were going ?
 'Frigiliana,' I said.
 More hearty laughs. Lots of comments we did not understand. We didn’t suggest it but,  as one man, they bodily picked up the trailer, loaded it on the back of the lorry, took the bicycles off the car roof, put them on the lorry as well, and signalled us to follow them.
 I have never driven so fast, nor so dangerously.
 'You have to keep up with them ! They could get away with everything' Eve, normally cool, calm and collected was in a panic.
 'Not our bicycles ...' the tears were about to flood the car.
  Down a steep rough road, onto tarmac, a straight run into a dimly lit town.
  'This must be Velez' Eve said hopefully, studying the map in her shaking hands.
  It looked terrible. Very few street lights, no neon signs, one empty bar, the whole place lifeless. We were being led to our doom.
 The lorry drove through it at speed.
 Eve found a pen and noted down the lorry’s number, then a mile or so out of the town we lost them. They just disappeared round a bend in the middle of nowhere again and we were faced with a fork in the road. I stopped the car, got out, stood in the still of the warm night air and heard the lorry in the distance.
 'They went that way ! '
  We were off again.  I put my foot down flat only just avoiding pot holes,
  'Not so fast, we’ll crash !'
  'All our worldly goods,' I said.
  'And our bicycles....'came a chorus from behind.
  Suddenly, gloriously, the moonlit sea was there in front of us and, a hundred yards along the coast road, the lorry parked, waiting.
  We purred along after that, passed the familiar fields of sugar cane on our left, the Mediterranean on the right and on down a short hill to the fishing village of Nerja, then up the twisting mountain road to Frigiliana.
 Midnight, the village still alive with people.
 Our saviours unloaded the trailer and the bicycles, refused recompense of any kind and drove off still laughing.
 With a few essentials, and the bicycles, we made our way on foot up the steep cobbled street to the place we had rented. The landlady, with a circle of women friends, was sitting knitting and chatting outside the front door.
 She told the boys the bicycles would be safe if left in the street, but they did not believe her, so she led the way through her living room to the stables at the back where they parked them next to a disinterested mule.
    The journey was over, we had survived, we went happily to bed, exhausted, and the next morning, under a blazing sun and bright blue sky, started our new life among people who had not only been incredibly helpful but whom we would discover did not consider anything important except total enjoyment.

 If it was not enjoyable it would be ignored. 

Sierra de Alhama.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


This is the 50th Post of the Blog that my father started in January 2012 to inform and entertain me but which got out of hand and has grown into a sort of autobiography.
It has proved popular, gathered a large number of regular readers so new Posts will continue to appear more or less every week.
All your comments, polite and rude, are much appreciated.

Thank you for reading! 



In July 1968, Eve, Nicolas, Matthew and I set off for a holiday that would change our lives completely.
We were the guests of Eve's model friend Marta who had just divorced her husband (my publisher at Macdonalds) and had moved to a remote mountain village in Southern Spain.
 In those days Franco was still dictator. There were rumours that Spaniards were not too civilized, that there were bandits in the hills, and that holiday makers disappeared from their hotels during the night never to be seen again. So we were a little apprehensive, not sure the trip was wise with our young boys but Marta, amused by such nonsense, assured us that we would have nothing to worry about where she lived.
 We flew to Malaga airport which resembled a film set for an old spy thriller, one short runway flanked by fields of burnt grass and palm trees, an arrivals hall that was little more than a Nissen hut, and a quantity of fierce looking Guardia Civil armed to the teeth, wearing comic opera hats and smoking cigars on duty at passport control. They let us through without a smile and Marta was there waiting for us.
 She drove us East along the coast road under a blazing sun, the sparkling sea on our right, dusty sugar cane fields on our left. We stopped in the small fishing village of Nerja for a coffee - hardly any shops, hardly any bars, only sandy beaches with fishermen having a siesta.  We then went up to the village of Frigiliana where she lived.
 From a distance the pueblo looked like a cluster of birds nests perilously stuck to the steep slopes of the mountains. Approached along an old mule track and through the crumbling Moorish defensive walls, the place became a maze of narrow streets flanked by ancient whitewashed houses with iron balconies hung heavy with bright geraniums in multicoloured pots.
 Every doorway was open and nearly every threshold occupied by elderly women in black and young girls squinting at their lacework. It was peasant Andalucia from the dung stuck between the cobblestones to the earthy smell of wine and chorizo sausage issuing from primitive kitchens. I loved its unaffected simplicity.

 Marta had renovated an old house and added a small swimming pool to a garden crowded with semi tropical plants. We stayed there for two weeks eating her out of house and home, lying in the sun and getting nut brown without fear of skin cancer which had not yet become a concern.
 In the evenings we wandered around watching weary farmers back from their vineyards and olive groves lead their tired mules through the living rooms of their houses to the stables at the back, their wives frantically mopping up the mess left behind. There seemed to be no shops till one peered in through the ground floor windows and saw crates of vegetables and fruit on display and mountain hams hanging from the ceiling - a grocer, or shelves of medicine jars, bottles of pills and packaged  cosmetics - a chemist.
 We sat at a café on the square in front of the church and drank wine at nine pesetas a bottle ( 50p ) while the boys played with the local children, coming back to us to ask what ‘tonto’ might mean ( twit ) or ‘mierda’ ( shit ). After only a few days we were the ones to ask them for translations they learned bits of the language so quickly.
  Inevitably we were tempted into looking for possible properties to buy. We were not interested in the new villas which were being built on the outskirts of the village, but old buildings which could be renovated as Marta had her house. This puzzled those we asked, for their ideal homes would have to be all modern brick walls and aluminium front doors and windows with plastic blinds.
 Unfortunately we were shown two or three amazing bargains with endless possibilities which started us dreaming. Why were we living in Somerset ? Why had we chosen to suffer the indignities of frozen pipes, grey clouds, winds and constant rain. As a freelance I could work anywhere in the world so why not come down and settle here ? It was safe, peaceful, sun drenched and unbelievably cheap. The boys could go to the local school for a few years before we had to think of advanced exams, Eve was even more keen than I at the idea as her parents couldn’t possibly come this far down every week-end and, at the back of my mind I felt the move would bring us closer together again whatever misdeeds we might have each committed.
 We made enquiries about renting a place for six months before buying anything to make sure we were not influenced by just a lunatic holiday idea, but by the time we left we knew in our hearts that we would risk the upheaval a total move from the UK would entail.

 Back in England the next six months passed by quickly. We put the Old Rectory up for sale. We were in the boom years when property prices had shot up and we got a better offer than expected so planned the great adventure, the emigration, the exodus for the following March and, with some determination tried to learn as much Spanish as possible from seriously tedious postal courses.
 By mid February we had sold all the furniture we did not want in the antique shop and put our more valued belongings in storage. A month later we were off in a new estate car and trailer loaded with our essentials -  the boy's bicycles, Eve’s paints, a record player, LPs, my reference books and typewriter.
 We spent a day in London with Major Bill and Doris who made it clear that they thought us totally irresponsible and could not forgive us for endangering the lives of our children. They gave us endless instructions on how to deal with foreign doctors, foreign food, foreign money, earthquakes and other disasters, then we were on our way.
 The Southampton - Bilbao ferry hit a storm in the Bay of Biscay so I, never a good sailor, remained in our stuffy cabin hugging a plastic bowl while Eve sat in the bar with a brandy or two watching the boys spend all their pocket money and more on pin ball machines.
  During  the drive down to Madrid we counted more mules, donkeys and oxen than cars, through La Mancha the boys spotted distant windmills but no sign of Don Quixote and, on the second day, as night fell more quicklyly than expected, we got lost in the wilderness of Andalucia. 

 Frigiliana streets 1969

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Dame Edith Evans, the actress, aged eighty, was quoted as saying 'When on location the marriage vows do not apply '. I found this statement convenient to believe though my overnight stays in London were hardly of an 'on location' category.
 The younger actress with whom I broke my marriage vows was a petite red head with laughing eyes and radiant smile who pretended to be vulnerable and in need of protection but of course wasn’t that at all.
 After watching her singing and dancing as a Pocahontas type hippy in the musical Hair ( sometimes in the nude ), I took her out to dinner during which she proved much more interested in what I had achieved than Eve had ever done, which made me feel I was worth knowing though aware that she was playing the part of the actress batting her eyelids at a future great author - Ellen Terry to my Bernard Shaw. Whatever her game was she boosted my confidence so I suggested another dinner the following week.
 Back home, aware that I might be infatuated with the young Miss Redhead and that this could be colouring my judgement, I got the impression that I was boring Eve, that she might have fallen out of love with me and that she was quite pleased not to have me around for the two days I went to London. I even suspected that she had met someone at an auction, an antique dealer perhaps, who paid her more attention that I did...
 One morning, at the Old Rectory, when she was out, a dishevelled but good looking young man came unexpectedly for coffee obviously under the impression that I would not be there. He was an artist who seemed to know his way around the house rather well. I watched him put the kettle on, make us coffee, and when he opened a kitchen cupboard to get a pot of brown sugar which I didn’t know we had, I became suspicious. When Eve turned up and found us chatting amicably, her face flushed, she was clearly put out and handled the quite unnecessary introductions badly.
 Once he had left she shrugged him off as someone of no interest whom she hardly knew . 'The lady doth protest too much', I thought.
 She did not mention him again. I did not mention Little Miss Redhead.
 The week that followed passed by extraordinarily slowly and I found it hard to concentrate on my writing. I was like a schoolboy in love for the first time, counted the hours when I would see Pocahontas again, at night, lying sleepless next to Eve, my mind wandering guiltily into pleasurable possibilities which would spell disaster.
 The next time I was in London I bought a seat in the front stalls of the Shaftesbury Theatre and watched the new love of my life perform, finding her ever more delightful.
 Applause - curtain - applause - curtain and, like a traditional Stage Door Johnny, I went round to the back stage, bouquet of flowers in hand, completely star struck and fifteen years old.
 Over coffee after an intimate dinner in a restaurant with suitable romantic atmosphere, I suggested we go to a night club, but she declined.
 'I’m tired, why don’t we just go home?'
  I hailed a taxi, gave the driver her Notting Hill address fully expecting her to get out and perhaps kiss me goodbye when we got there, but she didn’t.
 'Come on then,'  she said grabbing my hand, 'this is where I live. I haven’t got fleas you know.' and led me into her flat.

 I was to learn that when you are guilty of having a furtive love affair, which is in fact downright adultery, life becomes quite unbearable if you still love the person you are betraying. In the cold light of day I realized I had been incredibly foolish.
 'It’s not love between us you know,' the actress had said to the author at some time in the middle of the night, 'it’s wonderful lust!'
  And that was all it was as far as she was concerned, but for me it was blatant infidelity.
  On the train journey back to Taunton my mind reeled with what I had got myself into.
See you after the show when you’re next in town my darling!' she’d said when parting. And I had agreed.
  It was thus that I committed myself to a clandestine affair and would risk the break up of a twelve year marriage, would worry about tell-tale whiffs of an unfamiliar scent from my clothes, fear the discovery of lipstick traces on my shirt, worse, blunder into a chance give away remark.
 My liaison with Little Miss Redhead lasted a month, that is four Tuesday night visits to the theatre, dinner after, then back to her flat, time enough to learn how to lie, deceive and be competently disloyal to my wife.
 I handled it well of course, an inherited trait from my mother no doubt plus the years of training I had had lying to Eddy on her behalf.  
 On the fifth Tuesday the actress left a note for me at the stage door informing that she was otherwise engaged. It was obvious that she had found the arms of another. I never saw her again, missed her fun loving company for quite a while, but nothing more and, in my mind the episode thankfully became a simple misdemeanour.
 One weekend shortly after, I took Eve and the boys to a Cornwall seaside resort for a change, believing that a night in a hotel might revive shows of affection between Eve and I which had definitely waned. The boys played in the rain and gumboots on the beach while we watched under an umbrella not holding hands. We were weary parents aware that we had lost our youth and possibly more.
 By the end of a very wet summer we decided we should seek the sun, so we flew down to Nice to stay with Maman, my mother and Eddy in their magnificent new house -  La Maison Blanche -   in Cagnes sur Mer.
 The blue skies, the sparkling Mediterranean, lunches in the warm open air and the balmy nights sitting on the roof terrace staring at the stars brought it home to us that our lives could be more enjoyable than the one we had settled for in cold, grey, damp Somerset. So we decided on yet another move, which proved pretty dramatic.  

Nicolas and Matthew on a Cornwall beach
La Maison Blanche


Thursday, 1 November 2012


My trips to London, to contact people who might further my career as an author, bore fruit when I signed on with a new literary agent who claimed he would make me a household name within two years providing I concentrated on works of non fiction rather than novels. 'Publishers do not like taking risks on fantasy and make their money from reality,' he said and, to this end, straight away got me a contract to write a history of air disasters which plunged me into weeks of depressing research and months of doom and gloom at the typewriter. However, he also got me to be interviewed on radio and television which led to me broadcasting regularly for a while.   
 My first small-screen appearance was on an early evening programme for Southern Television to promote my book on luxury foods. On arriving at the studios I expected to have a chat with the interviewer before the programme to map out what we would discuss, but everything was done in a terrible rush. I was taken to the make up room where a very nice girl pampered me with cosmetics to make me look healthier, I was then more or less frog-marched to the studio itself where the host sat me down at a mock restaurant table laid out with silver cutlery, crystal glasses, porcelain plates, flowers and candles.
 'We’re on live, you know that,' he whispered sitting down opposite me. The floor manager counted five backwards on his fingers and the show was on.
 My interviewer asked me a number of banal questions relating to the book, giving me the impression he hadn’t read it, after which a waitress appeared with a bottle of red wine and poured me some in a glass to taste.
 'What is your opinion of this vintage?' I was asked, to prove, I suppose, that I was a connoisseur, though I had only written a very small section on the subject.
 I went through the routine of sniffing, twirling and studying the colour, took a sip and gulped, astonished.
 'I think it’s watered down Ribena,' I declared with a smile.
 Some of the technicians laughed, my host was not amused and the programme came to a rather abrupt end.
 That night I was rung up by my new agent who told me never to do that again and the following week I appeared on television in London, the North, East Anglia and in the Midlands, having learned that I should help the host with the questions rather than the other way round as they seldom did their homework.
 In Bristol, closer to home, I was interviewed on BBC radio and things were very different. 
 The producer and interrogator, Brian Skilton, was a serious, intensely professional young man who had read the book carefully and talked me through the programme well in advance. The broadcast was therefore a success and afterwards he invited me to a coffee.    
 'That went very well,' he said 'specially the anecdote about attempting to breed snails in Somerset for the french market though it's not true. I’d like you to do a humorous series about your life as a townie in the West Country for our breakfast programmes. Would you send me some ideas?'
 During the following week I submitted a few ideas, met Brian to tidy them up, then regularly set off to Bristol at the crack of dawn once a week to do a piece into a microphone, returning home for lunch always curious to know what Eve had thought of my performance.
 After the fourth time on air I suspected that she hadn’t actually listened to the broadcast.  After the fifth I came to the conclusion that she was not really interested in any of my creative activities and was, in fact, rather irritated by them. 
 She had lost her desire to paint, was bored now that both boys were going to school, smoking far too much and seemed to have lost what little energy she had. Was it the country life? Did she miss London? Apparently not. She just had nothing to interest her till I suggested we convert our empty chapel into an antique shop. She’d enjoyed going to auctions when we were furnishing the house, there was no competition in any of the neighbouring villages, we could probably fill the place quickly with second hand furniture and a few good antiques and, overnight, Eve found her enthusiasm for life again.
 It was going to be a serious business, so we invested in it. The old chapel was repaired, decorated and a sign hung outside proclaiming  ‘The Gallery  - Antiques’ . We bought a van, advertised the shop and within a month Eve was going to sales and returning with walnut bureaus, spindle backed chairs, countless pieces of porcelain, pottery and  glassware which she sold for a small profit to dealers and private collectors. During suppers the gossip from the various characters that came to The Gallery was discussed and the day’s takings excitedly counted. I learned with great interest that Mrs Evelyn Waugh had bought a Royal Worcester teapot - the author and family lived in Combe Florey three miles away - and that a small, white haired old lady from just round the corner who was interested in musical boxes was Arthur C.Clarke’s mother.
 One day a young man from London, with long hair, wearing a colourful shirt and flared jeans, bought the brass bed which Eve used as a display unit. 'I’ll buy as many of these as you can get me,' he said and handed her the address of his decor boutique in Carnaby Street. Brass beds were the rage apparently, attics in the West Country were full of them but he didn’t have the time to search. 
 Between writing about Boeing 707s crashing, going to the BBC in Bristol for the morning broadcasts and collecting brass beds from distant auctions, I drove to London with the heavy pieces tied to the roof rack of the van and delivered them to the wonderland that was Carnaby Street.
  It was in the young man’s decor boutique, an Aladin's cave heavily scented by smouldering joss sticks and crowded with anything from pine cupboards to colourful kaftans draped over Victorian papier maché screens, that I met the young actress who was to lead me astray. On learning that I was an author and broadcaster and wrongly assuming that I might be of some use to her, she handed me a free ticket to the Shaftesbury Theatre where she was appearing in the new musical Hair.
 That evening I sat in the stalls happily watching her sing and dance as a dizzy hippy in the nude. Afterwards, I invited her out to dinner.

Photo from 'Historic Air Disasters'
The Gallery - Antiques

Sunday, 21 October 2012


 If Eve and I had thought that Sussex was country living, we soon found out that rural life in Somerset was the real thing. Cow pats in the fields and lanes for one thing, cocks crowing at dawn, huge blackbirds nesting and cawing high up in the surrounding trees and Farmer Burroughs, our immediate neighbour, watching me with interest one day as I removed a new scythe from the back of the car after a shopping expedition.
 'What’re you going to do with that then?' he asked.           
 'Cut the long grass in the lower field,' I answered.
 'Sheep will be better at that than you,' he said,  'I’ll lend you a few..'
 So we became sheep farmers. Well, we watched as three of Burroughs’s sheep munched the long grass for a couple of weeks, more concerned about whether they liked the names Athos, Porthos and Aramis than replenishing the water in the rather decorative wooden tubs we’d bought for them.
 The grounds around the Old Rectory were wonderland and my writing suffered delays, for I spent more time out in the open learning the difference between beeches and birches, alders and ashes, pear, apple and plum trees than tapping away at my typewriter.
 When the sheep had done their work Farmer Burroughs took them away and replaced them with a few geese, they were a bit noisy but did their duty till I found Jemima Puddleduck without a head.
 'That’ll be a fox’s doing,' Farmer Burroughs said quite unemotionally. 'Id let you have a cow but it’ll need milking. Would your wife do that?'
 'She was a London fashion model,' I said.
 And he didn’t pursue the matter.
 After a while Eve contacted a donkey sanctuary and we were appointed proud guardians of an emaciated creature with very long ears and a bulging tummy. The animal, we were told, would eat all our surplus grass, but he spent most of his time just standing looking sad and lovable at the farthest end of a paddock which was a long way away - so we called him Tipperary.
 'Do you think he’s happy?' Eve asked Farmer Burroughs one day, worried as the poor little donkey didn’t seem to be cheering up.
 'Best ask him,' he answered.
 It did not take us too long to integrate with the locals. A few evening visits to the pub down the road soon satisfied the curious that we were city folk so could be forgiven whatever errors we made in our knowledge of  the countryside and some even came to see what I was doing in the garden.
 'Things grow bootiful here,' they said, unimpressed by my new gum boots, new rake, new fork. 'You’ve got some lovely stuff to look after. The Vicar had green fingers.'
 Aware that I couldn’t tell one plant from another, I wisely walked over to the new vicarage on the other side of the church and asked our previous incumbent whether he could enlighten me on the rare species of vegetation I had inherited from him. He was a gentle elderly man who had loved the garden but had frozen to death in the house. He happily came over and I followed him along various paths between which there had been herbaceous borders and he pointed out leaves and plants that in their time would blossom into hydrangeas, delphiniums, lupins, dahlias. He pointed to areas where I could expect a pageant of blue bells, snowdrops, daffodils.
 Over a cup of coffee he told us that the Rectory had once been inhabited by Montgomery of Alamein’s uncle, then rector, and that the Field Marshall himself had often stayed in the house as a youth. I later wrote to the Field Marshall to verify this and was surprised to get a long detailed answer by return which started:
Dear Launay,  It would be true to say that I slept in the Rectory between 1903 and 1908. I always shared a bedroom with my cousin Neville, but cannot recall which room it was; it was a large room on the first floor......The letter ended : My uncle used to entertain the choirboys to tea every Easter and I used to help. 
  When the vicar finished his coffee, I walked him home and, at the gate, he looked directly at me and asked 'Will we see you and your good wife in church on Sunday?'
 I must have hesitated for longer than I thought, for he just smiled wearily, shook his head sagely and said 

 'Never mind...'

  Furnishing the place proved easier than expected as Eve and I bought huge wardrobes, bedsteads, tables and carpets that went for a song at local auctions benefiting from the fact that we had the space and no one else wanted the cumbersome pieces.
 When it was all done, the guests came. Major Bill and Doris every two weeks to begin with, then only now and again as we had hoped. London friends visited, happy to get away from the pollution. Eddy came over from France, was staggered by the size of the place and would have voiced his opinion that I was suffering from ‘folie de grandeur’  if he, my mother and Maman had not themselves invested in a palatial villa in Cagnes where all three now lived.
 Time and distance had changed Eddy’s attitude towards me. Though I was still a director of the old food firm he hardly asked about the business and was openly impressed by the publication of a book on luxury foods I had by then written which was pleasingly well reviewed. His visit passed off very amicably, even a little sadly for, on occasions, I saw him looking wistfully at Nicolas and Matthew, wishing, perhaps, that he was their true grandfather, for they were well behaved, amusing and lovable little boys.

  By 1966 I had written a dozen or so books, among them the six humorous thrillers, the Balmain epic, a failed biography of Russ Conway the nine fingered pop pianist, the successful guide to luxury eating, a less successful guide to English country wines, a quite boring recipe book for cocktails and snacks and compiled the dictionary of dates. I was an established author living comfortably on advances and royalties but by no means a best seller novelist. To rectify this, for I had become a little ambitious in that direction, I started going to London more frequently to build up contacts and, on the way, unfortunately fell victim to the charms of a pretty young actress.  

Lance Corporal Matthew on his charger Tipperary 
Field Marshall Montgomery of Alamein

Friday, 12 October 2012


 During the five years that followed our move from London, two domestic situations developed that destabilized the happy foundations of our marriage. One was the deterioration of Eve’s relationship with her parents, the other was my own increasing ability to ignore her problems by losing myself in my work.
 Shortly after the birth of our new baby boy Matthew, who proved to be twice as energetic as his brother Nicolas and therefore exhausting, Major Bill and Doris announced that they intended to build an extension onto the cottage so that they could stay more often in greater comfort than was offered by our one small guest room. Eve had always been touchy when her father interfered with her life and this latest idea became a volatile issue. As Major Bill was guaranteeing the mortgage, we could hardly make our objections known and, soon enough, an architect turned up to study the designated site and, shortly after builders invaded our space and started on the unwelcome construction.
 Fortunately for me a publisher friend came to tea one day and was intrigued by a historical wall chart of contemporaries hanging in my study. I had drawn it up when writing ‘Death and Still Life’ ( my third thriller set in the art world ) so that I could see at a glance which writers, composers, and heads of state were alive at the same time as well known artists.
  e.g : Picasso, Matisse and Gauguin were all painting away while Tchaikovsky was composing the 1812 Overture, Longfellow penning his epic poem Hiawath and Queen Victoria sipping tea with Disraeli or Gladstone.
  The publisher was so impressed by the idea that he suggested I compile a dictionary based on the chart and commissioned it when I submitted a suitable format.  With the aid of a hundred brand new empty soup tins from the food factory ( which I occasionally visited for board meetings ) and thousands of different coloured cards, I spent days in my own happy world popping the likes of Socrates, Michelangelo, Chopin  and Louis XIV in their appropriately dated cans - a pass time nearly as exciting as Sudoku - essential information gleaned from a mountain of encyclopaedias as computers did not of course exist. It took two unhurried  years to complete and ended up with 35,000 entries, was published as the Dictionary of Contemporaries in 1967 and can be found gathering dust on the shelves of most UK reference libraries, ignored now because Google and Wikipedia have elbowed it out of the way.

  By the time Matthew was a year old and Nicolas was attending kindergarten, Major Bill’s extension was finished with a higher roof than expected which cast a long dark shadow on what had been the sunniest part of the garden. Major Bill and Doris themselves also cast a long dark shadow on our lives coming every weekend and this might not have been the end of the world if a developer had not bought the land on the other side of the cottage and started building a number of really ugly bungalows. With drills and cement mixers shattering the tranquillity of our surroundings our home was no longer the peaceful haven we enjoyed and Eve and I agreed it might be time for another move.
 By 1964 the housing market was not only in our favour if we sold in Sussex and bought in the West Country, but old vicarages were being sold off cheap by the Church of England Commissioners as country parsons could no longer afford heating such mausoleums. So off we went again on far away county drives and, one fine day, found ourselves in Halse, a tiny hamlet west of Taunton in Somerset, dominated by an early Victorian rectory which was for sale. Built of red sandstone it was on three floors with eighteen spacious rooms, three acres of woodland, boasted a disused chapel, outhouses and a back garden giving onto a 16th century church and its pretty cemetery. It was total madness to even consider but we loved it and wanted to buy it.
  Major Bill and Doris were incensed at the idea, opposed it and put every conceivable obstacle in our way, but a fairy godmother in the shape of Otto Plaschkes, a Hungarian film producer, appeared out of the blue and bought an option on the The New Shining White Murder ( my second humorous thriller ) and commissioned me to write the screenplay. This instantly solved all our problems. The selling of Manor Cottage and purchase of the Old Rectory went ahead, our debts were paid off and Major Bill recompensed for all he had spent on the extension.

 Early one misty Autumn morning, a number of removal men came with a sizeable vehicle and emptied Manor Cottage of all our worldly goods. With the kiddiwinks in the back of a newly purchased second hand Humber hugging their favourite soft toys ,we left Sussex for Somerset followed by the pantechnicon and, by evening, installed ourselves in the echoing vastness of the Old Rectory.
 Exhausted by all that such a move entails, we picnicked on the floor of the empty dining room by candlelight (the new electric metre not having been connected ) and all went uncomfortably to sleep in the same bed as Nicolas and Matthew decided that the place was definitely creepy and full of ghosts.
 The Old Rectory  proved to be neither creepy nor haunted when we got up the next morning. With the boys riding their tricycles up and down the long corridors and in and out of the empty reception rooms while we wandered around our new domain discussing what would go where, we felt we had entered a new phase of marital contentment and domestic bliss.
 But it was not to last.  

The old Rectory

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


One October morning, shortly after my return from Elba, I was happily raking over a gravel path in the front garden when I heard a cry for help from the house.
 I rushed in and found Eve in the kitchen holding her corpulent tummy, her face creased with pain.
 'I think I’m in labour.'                          
 'It’s not due for ten days,' I protested.
 'I think I’m going to have it now!'
 Eve had had the choice of either going to hospital or giving birth at home, and she had chosen home because the very helpful visiting District Nurse had said that it was usually better for the mother.
 I got her upstairs to the guest room which I had turned into a delivery clinic, that is I had moved one of the twin beds into a corner and the other centre stage so that the doctor and District Nurse could move around doing whatever they had to do when the child decided to emerge. I had also placed an empty cot with clean linen and cellular blanket in another corner. What I had not done, because there was plenty time, was prepare the various buckets, towels and disinfectants which I had been told would be be necessary.
 I settled Eve in the bed, propped her up against the pillows and felt a surge of panic when she threw off the bedclothes, leaned forward gritting her teeth and inhaled and exhaled deeply as I had seen mothers do in too many films featuring emergency births.
 I rang the doctor who wasn’t there, rang the District Nurse who wasn’t there either and failed to remain calm.
 I had read that it was essential for placentas and umbilical cords to come out after the baby or the mother might haemorrhage. The infant would also have to be held upside down by its feet and slapped so that it cried blue murder.
 Eve grabbed my hand. I might as well have clamped it in a carpenter’s vice and turned the screw, her grip was so fierce.  A painful spasm shook her body and she cried out. This brought little Nicolas from the nursery where he had been temporarily forgotten.
 For a moment he looked at us both and frowned.
 'We’re playing doctors and patients,' I explained.
 Eve tried a brave smile but instead emitted another cry of anguish. 'Ring the doctor again. It’s going to happen any minute.'
 I didn’t argue though I thought she was exaggerating. I reckoned she would have a good few more contractions with pauses in between before the main event. I rang the numbers and this time the District Nurse answered and said she would be with us in ten minutes.
 Back in the labour ward I lied. 'She’s on her way but said it would be quite a few hours yet so....'
 'It’s happening now!' Eve was not in a mood to suffer fools gladly and was gasping for breath.
 I looked on, terrified, and allowed her to stop the blood circulating to my left hand again.
 I had sensibly left the front door open and, after an eternity, heard the District Nurse coming up the stairs. She stuck her head round the door, took one look at Eve, tore off her coat and rolled up her sleeves, Miss No-Nonsense herself, efficient, reliable, a saint.
 'Hot water, but not too hot, and towels, every towel you’ve got, and a bucket. And maybe you could get the little boy away from under my feet.'
 Nicolas had crawled under the bed with a toy bulldozer. I grabbed his leg, pulled him out, carried him to the nursery and shut the door.
 'Mummy’s having a baby. It won’t take long. Just be a good boy and sit in here,'  I begged. Not really understanding but sensing the drama, he did what he was told.
 I got all the towels from the linen cupboard, a bucket from the kitchen, ran up the stairs, ran down again, put the kettle on, ran up again to check on Nicolas, ran down again because the kettle was whistling and, as I started up the stairs again the house was suddenly filled with the piercing  cry of a new human being protesting at being expelled from the safety of the womb.
 'It’s a boy,' the District Nurse said wrapping up the bright pink being in a towel, 'and can you please take that bucket out of here and bury the contents in the garden You can plant a tree on top of it. Placentas are very good for roots.'
 I glanced at Eve who looked like death, exhausted and soaked with perspiration. I glanced at my new son who looked like a severely disorientated dried tomato.
 I grabbed the bucket and tried not to check the contents, but of course I did. Not pleasant. Years ago I had seen the entrails of pigs dumped in front of me at the salami factory, so I wasn’t squeamish, but an after birth is not anything I would recommend anyone to study too closely.
 I got my spade, dug a hole at the bottom of the garden, dropped the placenta into it and covered it over. I then rushed back to be with Eve who was now lying back on the pillows with a contented smile on her face, the little boy resting on her chest.
 'Why did it come so soon? ' I asked the nurse.
 'The doctor miscalculated I expect. He’s not very good at maths.'
 I made all of us a cup of tea, sat down on the spare bed next to the nurse and heard some thumping from the nursery.
 'I think your elder son would like to be let out now,' she said.
 I opened the nursery door and Nicolas looked up at me with a furiously accusing expression.   
 'You’ve got a baby brother,' I said, picking him up.
 'Why?' he asked. It was one of the few words he liked repeating.
 'Because.' I answered. Always a good explanation.
 The District Nurse took the baby from Eve and laid it gently in its cot and tucked it up warmly. I helped her change the sheets and get Eve into a fresh nightdress. She checked that all was well, had to leave but would be back promptly. Mother should rest as much as possible and the baby would have to be fed, but for a while things should be calm.
 I saw her out. The whole business had taken less than an hour and we were now parents of another child, another life, another dependant.
 Before drawing the curtains I made sure the newborn was breathing and studied him for the first time. His eyes were very tightly shut and he looked incredibly knowledgeable, as had Nicolas when newly born, a wise expression that would disappear. I again got the impression that he had come from somewhere very important and knew a great deal more than any of us on earth, but it would all be forgotten and he would shortly just be another baby crying for his feed and messing up nappies. The difference, of course, is that he would be more intelligent than any other infant in the world and loved to death by both Eve and I.
 'Does he look like a Matthew?' Eve asked sleepily.
 We had decided on the name weeks before.
  'I think so....' I said.
  Nicolas looked at him thoughtfully then whispered his opinion. 'Small,' he said.
  'Yes,' I agreed, 'but he’ll grow.'
  And, as mother and newborn drifted into well earned sleep, we went down to the kitchen to eat some quite tasteless fish fingers. 

Mother with baby
Father with son a few years later

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


 I was in the garden studying a worm with my little son Nicolas when the phone rang. It was my agent with news of a job.
 'I’ve been asked by a publisher to find an author who speaks french fluently and has a knowledge of the fashion world to ghost the couturier Pierre Balmain’s autobiography in English for the American market. You fit the bill perfectly. Can you meet him in Paris next Tuesday for preliminary talks, all expenses paid?.
 I said yes.

 I was met at Orly airport by a chauffeur in a dove grey uniform who drove me in a dove grey limousine to the Pierre Balmain fashion house in Rue François 1er..
 A neat oriental youth greeted me in reception and bid me follow him up majestically curving stairs, into a crowded showroom where mannequins were parading the latest collection and through tall double doors to a Louis XV salon.                           
 Pierre Balmain himself was standing by the window.
 He was a heavily built man, portly, reminding me a little of photographs I had seen of Mussolini, without the lantern jaw. There was power there and expectancy that everyone would bow to his every whim. He was immaculately dressed in a blue suit and perfumed to the back of his ears, presumably with one of his own brands of scent.
 He crossed the room, shook me firmly by the hand and bid me sit down on one of the many fauteuils apparently once owned by Madame de Pompadour. He sat down opposite me.
 After introductory chatter and a discussion on how best we would work, I launched forth with a vital question.
 'I have read a great deal about your professional achievements'  I started 'but know very little about your private life. Are you or were you ever married?  'It was a way I had planned of finding out if he would talk of his homosexuality or want to avoid the subject which in those days was delicate.
 'Mon cher! 'he exclaimed as though outraged, 'I am one of the most renowned perverts in Paris!' he looked me up and down. 'You are clearly quite terrified, so let me put your mind at rest. You are not at all my type. I prefer strong, body building Italian peasants, preferably those who ride motorbikes.'
 'I am relieved,' I said.
he countered, 'don’t try to hide your inner desires from me. We all know that young Englishmen like you who are fascinated by 'le monde de haute couture' and marry models long to come out of their little closets.'
 I smiled resignedly thinking it wise not to contradict him.
 He outlined what he had in mind for the book. I learned about his childhood, his education and rise to fame which. unfortunately, suggested a dull story.
 The outcome of this tête a tête was that he found me intelligent enough to have me ghost his autobiography. He suggested we work together at his retreat on the Island of Elba later in the year. His secretary would contact me to make the necessary arrangements.

 I went home happy, finished my third thriller for Tom Boardman and, in September, flew to Rome, took a train North to the coastal town of Piombino where I boarded a ferry for Portoferraio on the Island where Napoleon had been exiled in 1814.
 I was met by Monsieur Balmain who was waiting for me on the quay side in an open white Cadillac.
 He greeted me warmly and took me for a quick tour of the island before driving up a steep road which led to his most extraordinary residence.. It was a futuristic building, elliptical in shape, a cross between a flying saucer and a giant egg perched on a cliff. He led me past a large oval swimming pool at the centre of a water garden supplied by natural springs. Inside, the villa was similar to a marbled luxury liner with views of the sea from countless windows, every piece of furniture a priceless antique, every objet d’art clearly priceless, a Degas, a  Modigliani, a van Dongen hung on the walls.
 He showed me to my room which had dove grey walls and lemon yellow curtains, 'The colours I am launching for next season’s collection, 'he informed me and, after tea on one of the terraces, served by a local young man to whom he must have given a Harley Davidson, he took me down to a basement where an elderly artisan was delicately tapping paper thin strips of gold onto an elaborate wrought iron frame.
 'As you well know I am Queen Sirikit of Thailand’s couturier,'  Balmain said to me, 'she pays me in gold leaf, and this gentleman is a Florentine goldsmith whom I employ to guild whatever I choose. This is part of a 15th century bed that belonged to one of the Medicis. By the time he has finished, it will be a quite superb piece suitable for my bedroom.
 I spent the week listening to my host, writing passages of the book, swimming in the pool, visiting the museum which had once been Bonaparte’s residence and eating very well.
 The day I was due to leave, Balmain suggested I should delay my return to England and join him on his drive back to Paris in the Cadillac, stopping in Florence on the way. It was of course an exceptional invitation, but I wanted to get back to Eve whose time was getting close.
 Pierre Balmain did not understand me preferring to go home to a domestic scene of childbirth to travelling with him through Italy and France. He was so nettled that he coldly bid me goodbye there and then, told me one of his gardeners would drive me to the ferry and went into his study closing the door. I never saw him again.
 I sent him chapters during the following months. There was a long period of silence then, two years later, his autobiography was published, supposedly translated from the French by an American but bearing some similarity to the work I had done. I had been well rewarded financially and the week of extravagance I experienced on the Island of Elba had been an insight into a world I could never afford, unfortunately it triggered off a desire in me to be more fastidious about my surroundings and be richar than I could ever hope to be in the profession I had chosen. 

Balmain's house in the Island of Elba

Thursday, 20 September 2012


It took me a week of gazing out at the dark green turbulent sea through the salt stained windows of the Selsey Coastguard cottage before I hit the typewriter keys again to start on my second detective novel.
During that time of contemplation, I did not think creatively but dwelt on who I now was - a husband and father, therefore a family man with responsibilities, a freelance author but not that ambitious, a temporarily carefree individual with enough in the bank to feel secure providing I was not reckless. It was fortunate that Eve was equally content.
We had both flirted with a little fame, photographs in magazines, reviews in the press, flattering experiences that had been fun but not vital. We’d had our fill of cocktail parties, dinner parties, fashion shows, receptions, balls and the social whirl. Happiness for both of us was now old sweaters, jeans and gumboots, sitting on the windy beach with tiny Nick, cooking mussels picked from nearby rock pools and falling asleep to the sound of the waves lapping up against our bedroom wall.
 Eve started to paint, I started to write and Nicolas grew in size and mind, gurgled, sneezed, coughed, cried and became more lovable than ever, an unimaginable joy.
 But this idyllic life did not last.
 Unbelievably, Major Bill and Doris came down on our first weekend to check that their daughter and grandson had survived without a telephone, a supermarket, friends or acquaintances close by. They could not stay with us for there was no room, but they found a little hotel up the road and joined us for lunch and dinner during which they mapped out their plans for our future..
 Eve was incensed.
 'They are never going to leave us alone!' she shouted out to the sea one night after they had left.
 And they didn’t. For the six months we were in Selsey they came down nearly every weekend. Major Bill proudly informed me that he had put his grandson’s name down for Eton, Harrow and Winchester ( I had vowed never to send my children to boarding school ) Doris warned Eve that she would have to vet the accents of any local children her grandson might play with or he would not grow up speaking the Queen’s English, and they both advised us, separately, that if I was determined to risk the family’s well being by insisting on the precarious life of a writer, we should seriously consider investing what money we had in a country property. They would look for one for us.
 Under this very irritating pressure, we jumped the gun and, whenever the weather permitted, set off in the car with little Nick in his carry-cot on the back seat and toured Hampshire and Dorset armed with sheathes of estate agents literature. We saw new houses, old houses, manor houses, cottages, bungalows, chalets, converted barns, warmed very much to the idea of the country life, and when we finally found a suitably inexpensive tumbledown farmhouse in Wiltshire and told Major Bill and Doris, they threw up their hands in alarm. It was far too far for them to come and visit us at weekends, a fact which had occurred to us.
 We could have ignored these remonstrations had it not been for the bad news pointed out later by the bank manager. Though we were in the 1960s when borrowing funds to buy houses was a doddle compared to today, without a regular income a mortgage would be impossible. With someone suitable guaranteeing regular payments however, a mortgage could be considered.
 Undoubtedly slyly aware of this, Major Bill played a trump card. If we were sensible and chose a property within a 90 minutes drive from London he would be our guarantor. Any such place would, of course, cost more than we had budgeted, but he would help us out if necessary. We were not foolish enough to turn down such an opportunity, so off we went again looking at places, but this time close by. .
 In Old Barnham, twenty minutes drive from Selsey, we found a neatly renovated Georgian cottage with three bedrooms, new kitchen, new bathroom, new plumbing, a garden with seven fruit trees, surrounded by farmland and, opposite, a beautiful Queen Anne manor and Norman church. When we told Major Bill that it was only two miles from Goodwood, he immediately agreed to sign on the dotted line. It would be the perfect base from which he could attend many happy race meetings.
 The purchase took two months to complete during which I became more and more anxious about the expenses that piled up specially as Eve now announced that she was pregnant again.
 One fine Sunday morning, however, when I was in my coastguard cottage study staring out of the window hoping for inspiration, a black Rolls Royce drew up in the driveway and out stepped an impressive bearded gentleman wearing a full length suede coat and fedora at a tilted angle. A ‘theatrical’ if there ever was one.
 'André Launay?' he enquired when I opened the door.
 I nodded.
 "I saw your show ‘If the Crown Fits’ last year and thought I should commiserate. You must have had a trying time with Robert Morley. I worked with him once and it wasn’t easy.'
 'Thank you,' I said, obviously puzzled as to his identity.
 'My name is Jimmy Grafton, I manage the Goons and my own scriptwriters agency. I heard you were living here for a while and thought a chat might be beneficial to both of us. I have a week-end place up the road, why don’t you come round for a drink ? Bring the baby, my wife dotes on them.'
 The outcome of the evening was instant relief from my financial worries for Jimmy suggested I work with him on a television comedy series - The Dicky Henderson Show -  on which he was engaged. It needed fresh input which I could probably supply.   

 We moved into Manor Cottage, Church Lane, Barnham in the Spring of 1962 where we happily settled into a very pleasant country way of life and I finished the third Boardman novel when not writing TV scripts.
 For the first time ever I started gardening, that is I bought a whole range of implements and stared at them for a long time before daring to use them. Once I got the hang of a spade, trowel, scythe and lawn mower, there was no stopping me. What had been a quarter acre of long grass started to look like a lawn, trees were trimmed, seeds and bulbs were planted apple blossom was eagerly awaited. This was the life. A couple of hours at my desk, a couple of hours of manual labour, from now on, except when Major Bill and Doris came to stay, it would just be me, Eve, Nickypoo stamping about in the new flower beds, Jimmy Grafton, Tom Boardman and dandelions.
 Then the phone rang. 

 Selsey during a storm
 Manor cottage
 Dickie Henderson