Posts from the “Autobiography” Category

Open Wide

Posted on September 18, 2019

I have always had a pathological fear of dentists and dread the sound of drilling as you flick through your copy of Hello in the waiting room. It all goes back to my childhood when our school would file into the state dentist near the bus station in the centre of St. Helens. Being Walker, I was always at the back of a long line of lads all equally terrified by the site of limp, ashen faced boys staggering out of the surgery at the end of the corridor, blood pouring from their mouths. By the time my turn came, I was almost rigid and dreaded the door opening. There was no smile, no welcoming hand, just a large dentist, wearing a mask with…

Can you swim?

Posted on September 18, 2019

I approached the large, oak-panelled doors with trepidation, my legs shaking and my three-inch Cuban-heeled boots almost propelling me headlong. A shaft of light hit me as I entered and approached the large wooden table where dark figures were silhouetted against the backdrop of Churchill and Anthony Eden and Downing Street beyond. As my eyes re-adjusted, I saw that they were mostly elderly, late 50s or so, wore dark, black suits and were exploring my every feature. I tried to control the mounting panic. The man who had led me in sat to my right and started to take copious notes. These were the Governors of the remnants of the British Empire now reduced to small colonies or protectorates in Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Turks…

Exposure

Posted on February 8, 2012

I remember seeing my first gun battle. It was September 1979 and I was strolling through the streets of Beirut looking for somewhere to eat. Two cars collided. The occupants jumped out and started to argue. One produced a handgun, fired without warning and ducked down behind the bonnet of his car. The other opened his boot, pulled out a Kalashnikov and sprayed the other car’s windscreen with bullets. More cars arrived, gunmen emerged and a full-scale battle ensued. I remember everyone scattering and diving for cover but I just stood there transfixed. It was after all my first experience of war. Bullets ricocheted everywhere and the sound of police sirens echoed through the narrow streets. That’s when I saw the man beckoning me…

A Lutta Continua

Posted on February 7, 2012

It’s 6.30 in the morning and the dankness hangs over the city trapping the smells of poverty and despair. The curfew has ended, the roadblocks are being dismantled and the exhausted troops are returning to their barracks near the airport. From the slums and shanty towns near Massacres a long line of emaciated bodies head out towards the town centre in search of food and the wherewithal to survive another day. Luanda, the capital of this once proud country totters on the brink of self-destruction as the guerilla war rages on its outskirts. We stand on the tarmac next to the domestic airport staring at the planes loading their cargoes before taxiing out towards the runway. Huge Russian Aleuyshins laden with tanks, armoured personnel…

Return to Beirut

Posted on February 7, 2012

The last time that I had been to Beirut was in 1982 during the Israeli invasion. I had escaped the bombing and terrible destruction on a small yacht, the Sea Victory, sailing from Jounieh in Christian East Beirut to Larnaca in Cyprus. The boat had been packed to the gunnels with families escaping the carnage but our crossing had taken almost three days as we were constantly intercepted by Israeli warships that forced us back at gunpoint. At the point of desperation, we had secured safe passage through the American consulate. Returning in 2005 after over twenty years was extremely emotional and I have to admit to being very apprehensive. The assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Prime Minister, a few days earlier on…