Tuesday, 14 May 2013


On the day of my forty third birthday, in December 1973,  I sat wrapped in scarf and overcoat in front of a one bar electric fire watching watery snowflakes melt into grimy droplets as they hit the window panes of our Earls Court bed sitter.    
 Only a year before I had been the proud owner of a four bedroom house with swimming pool,  a car, money in the bank and thought I was well on the way to undoubted success, but now I had absolutely nothing having virtually given all my worldly goods to Eve so that she could take care of the boys comfortably.
To add insult to injury I received a phone call from her, not wishing me happy returns as I half expected, but asking for more funds and, on learning that I could not oblige, suggested that if I was as broke as I said, I should get a job as a pump attendant at a petrol station.
 I had sent my finished novel  `The Innocence Has Gone, Daddy ́  to the publisher the previous week, having spent the advance in advance and had completed the translation from the french of a tedious cookbook, having also spent the advance on that advance, so came to the conclusion that I must be mismanaging my life 
  I did not contemplate suicide but was aware of a very empty feeling in my stomach which could have been due to hunger or the fear of a woeful future when Maribel ( now my only source of income )  came home unexpectedly early from working in a private nursing home, to announce that she had been dismissed. The management had been informed that she had no work permit and that the Home Office were only allowing her to stay in England till the end of the year. 
 'If I get a divorce,'  I heard myself say, 'we can get married and you’ll automatically become a British subject.'
 She thought about this for a minute or two, then simply said, 'O.K', rang her mother to tell her of my proposal and asked her to send some money so that we could go down to Nerja for Christmas.
 Having gratefully received the news that I was going to make an honest woman of her daughter, my future mother-in-law suggested that we stay with her, but we would have to sleep in separate bedrooms for the sake of decorum.
 When we eventually got down to Nerja, by train because we could not afford the air fare, my-wife-to-be slept with her mother and I slept alone with the dog.  
 It was a difficult Christmas. The tension between Eve and I negated any festive spirit and I felt I had failed miserably as a loving father when I gave unexciting presents from London to Nicolas and Matthew, having lost touch with their interests and not knowing what they might want.  
 Far worse for them, but unknown to me, was the fact that Major Bill had insisted they should attend a private international school in Malaga, refusing to believe that the local lycée was providing them with a perfectly good education. He had played the finance card against which I could not compete, arranged for Eve to have an allowance which would cover more than the school fees, and the poor boys found themselves having to get up at six in the morning to catch a special bus that took them to the college two hours away, only getting back in the evening, exhausted.
 The revelation that father and daughter had arranged all this behind my back gave me a reason to take the bull by the horns and talk to Eve about all our futures. Thankfully she agreed that our marriage was over and that I should enquire about the two year separation legally necessary to obtain a divorce. She didn’t really care what the outcome would be providing she could keep the house and I continued to pay for her well being.  
 A few days later I said goodbye to Nicolas and Matthew not knowing  when I would see them again, sensing they were unhappy and feeling that I had let them down. The tears all round did not help and, during the return journey to London, I was overwhelmed by a wretchedness which proved embarrassing when I sobbed uncontrollably and loudly as I lay  in the bunk of our sleeping compartment shared with two seriously severe Spanish army officers. who were quite unsympathetic.   
  Once back in our dismal Earl’s Court flat, I forced myself to face the fact that it was my obstinate determination to remain freelance that was at the root of this misery and concluded that I should give up creative writing and get a job in advertising again where I could earn a regular income.
 I sat down with the telephone on my lap and rang all my old contacts.
 The three people I asked to speak to at the first agency had all left years ago. The only person I knew still working at the second didn’t recall my name. However, a young girl in public relations whom I had once taken out to dinner but who had dampened my wanton intentions did remember me and had even read my novel 'The girl with the peppermint taste' . She excitedly told me she was now married to the Managing Director of the London branch of an important American agency, why didn’t I come round to supper one day with whoever I was sharing my life ?
 A long week passed before the invitation was confirmed. Maribel and I then gratefully joined a little buffet supper party in the Knightsbridge flat where Peter and Patsy lived in wealthy comfort.  
 While Maribel chatted away to the other guests, I sold my soul to Peter who, believing that having a published author on his team would impress clients,  offered me a position as a copywriter.  
 So back I went into that terrible business of attending endless creative meetings during which I, and others, put forward  nonsensical ideas which might attract the attention of disinterested shoppers to products they wouldn’t want. 

Mother in law
The loving couple


Thursday, 2 May 2013


Shortly after starting work on the `Navy Lark´ screenplay, I started feeling uneasy about the Producer who did little else but sit in a black leather armchair, his feet up on the window sill,  ringing casting directors requesting young actresses to audition for parts which did not exist. 
 When the first draft was finished it was sent off to Leslie Phillips and Jon Pertwee ( the stars of the radio show ) for their approval, but they failed to respond. 
 Puzzled at not receiving any answers, the Producer asked me to drop in casually on Leslie Phillips who was appearing nightly at the Criterion Theatre, and find out why there was a delay. 
 I went back stage one evening, was received by Mr Philips in his dressing room where he told me he was happy with the screenplay but that neither he nor anyone of the original radio cast would work with the Producer who had a bad reputation in the business. 'And It won’t do you much good associating with the likes of him either,' he added.
 Without the original actors it was obvious the project would not get the necessary backing and, three months later I was told I wouldn’t be paid, so called it a day.  
 Desperately needing funds to pay the rent, to send money to Eve and for daily expenses, I depressingly took on the translation of a french cookbook as well as finishing my novel.  
 On learning, for the first time, that I was actually in debt and troubled about the immediate future, Maribel reminded me that she was a qualified nurse and could probably earn a living in London, at least for herself. She certainly did not want to be dependent on me and all she needed was help in applying for a job. 
 Her English had improved but was by no means fluent, all the same I contacted a number of nursing agencies on the off chance that someone who spoke Spanish might be needed and one management, which specialized in sending auxiliaries to hotels to look after sick foreigners, took her on. immediately.           
 They had a Venezuelan patient on their books whom no one could understand. It wasn’t so much a question of nursing but minding a mentally unstable eighteen year old heiress who had run away from her parents in Caracas, flown to London with an important diplomat, but had then accused him of raping her. The Venezuelan Embassy had become involved, booked her into Claridges Hotel, but she could not be left alone. It was a perfect assignment for Maribel who looked after her for several days making sure she took her prescribed medication and accompanied her on expensive shopping sprees, sightseeing and generally keeping her entertained.   
 Pleased with the responsible way she coped with this first mission, the agency then sent her to look after an elderly gentleman from Philafelphia who was recovering from a heart operation. Her main duty was to take him every day in his wheel chair from the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch down an underpass to Hyde Park where he liked to sit by the Serpentine and feed the ducks. Maribel did not like the underpass. It was dark, it was smelly, and pushing the wheel chair up the slopes was difficult. One day she decided to brave the traffic instead. Half way across the busy intersections, the wheelchair got stuck between a double decker bus, an articulated lorry, a diesel oil tanker and hooting taxis. Her patient became very agitated, nearly had a stroke and she only got him safely to the other side of the road with the help of a policeman who stopped the traffic for her. 
 After this incident the agency sent her to a less risky assignment, a Lady Constance who lived in a palatial house in Bayswater and was keen to improve her knowledge of Spanish while convalescing after a serious illness. She was delighted to have a young companion who could read her Federico Garcia Lorca’s plays in the original and accompany her on daily chauffeur driven rides to Regents Park where she could watch her white Pekinese being exercised from the comfort of her Rolls. The not so young chauffeur insisted on buying Maribel an ice cream when he drove her home and she was never quite sure whether he expected something in return. 
 This comfortable engagement lasted two months and only ended due to a misunderstanding of the English language which she was mastering amazingly well, but not quite well enough. . Already puzzled and a little irritated by the British love of queueing - a custom not recognized as enjoyable in Spain - Maribel refused point blank to co-operate when her patient announced 'This afternoon we are going to Kew.'
  What all afternoon ?' Maribel queried, following this with the unnecessary observation that ‘You Eengleesh are fokin mad !' which was found unacceptable.  
 She was good at her job, however, and next sent to the Ritz to look after a descendant of the poet John Donne who was staying there while recovering from a stomach operation. Her duties this time , apart from taking his pulse three times a day, was to keep him company at luncheon and make sure he kept to a special diet. During these meals he insisted that she should sample the elaborate dishes on the menu which he could not enjoy - oysters, caviare, foie gras, escargots, partridge, whatever. One day she took a doggy bag in with her to smuggle home some of the delicacies for me as a surprise. He spotted her slipping a slither of smoked salmon off her plate into the bag on her lap and was quite shocked. 'There are some things, my dear, that even young Spanish senoritas should not do at the Ritz,' he said, and shortly after let the agency know that he would prefer a more mature British nurse to look after him. 

 These encounters with the wealthy and educated helped to improve her English and, one evening when I took her to a book launch in a staid Pall Mall club, I spotted her across the room in deep conversation with a tall, elegant white haired man who sported a small walrus moustache. He was bending down to listen to something she was saying which clearly amused him.  A little concerned that she had no idea who he was, I joined them as casually as I could.  
  'What a delightful young lady,' he said to me moving away apologetically as someone else demanded his attention.
  'What were you talking to him about ? '  I asked Maribel  
  'I was telling him how much a hate Franco. He was very knowledgeable about Spanish politics.' 
  'Well he would be,' I said. 'That was Harold Macmillan, the former Prime Minister.'
She shrugged her shoulders, quite unimpressed, and reached for a glass of wine from a passing tray. 
 Despite Maribel’s favourable earnings, my overdraft increased and the bank manager called me in to read me the riot act. 
 I did not want to leave London, the only place I was likely to get freelance work . I could no longer afford the St James’s flat, so we moved to a far less salubrious accommodation at the wrong end of the Earl’s Court Road. 

 Leslie Phillips.
 Jon Pertwee.
 Harold Macmillan, 1sr Earl of Stockton. PM. PC. FRS