Today, I decided to walk into town along the canal, and while sitting on one of the strategically placed seats in the early afternoon sunshine, watching a beautiful narrow boat sail by, some thoughts flashed into my mind. Why this happened while viewing the narrow boat is difficult to fathom, as none of the memories have anything to do with boats. Let me share with you some of these unconnected memories.
The Government minister made periodic visits to Belfast, and as our scheme was fairly high profile, and involved a fair bit of money, we would be on his schedule of visits. I always got on well with him, and found him friendly and approachable. So much so that I managed on one occasion to get an extra £100,000 out of him. We would always try, for publicity reasons, to get group photographs done at the end of his visits, as well as attending other events that had been arranged for him. While I was never a great lover of these occasions, it was something that had to be done to promote our profile. And if I was honest, they weren't too bad, and I would leave them thinking that all had gone well.
The day after one of these events, a female staff member asked to see me. She said, please don't ask me to attend any more events with that minister. Goodness me, why ever not? It turned out that during the photograph session, he kept touching her bum. She didn't want to make a complaint, and kept well away from him in the future. You just never know what people are like do you? Not much of a memory I know, but hey, everything can't be earth-shattering.
I once had this idea for a great fundraising spectacle, and if I planned it a couple of years in advance, surely everything would fall into place - wouldn't it?
It was here that I learnt a lesson about the life and work of a 'celebrity'. I wanted to arrange an evening with Cliff Richard. He was ideal. He had strong Christian principles, and gave two months of every year to charitable and philanthropic work.
It was with high hopes that I wrote off to his Personal Assistant, and to be fair to him, I received a reply reasonably quickly. Cliff would be happy to consider my suggestion, but unfortunately he was booked up for the next seven years. My goodness, what a popular man. I was prepared to stretch the planning to perhaps three years ahead, but seven? That was too much, so I thanked them for their reply, saying that I may be in touch again at a later stage. I never was. So this was a memory of a failed attempt to lure a 'star' - something that was to happen a couple of more times in the following years. I guess that I'm just not destined to mix with stardom.
He lived on the outskirts of Rye in East Sussex, just a dozen or so miles from where I worked. My organisation had put together a collection of poems from our clients, and knowing that Spike was interested in the plight of the poor, and appreciated off-the-wall poems, I decided to send him a copy for his interest.
I was sitting in my office one morning (actually it was a shared office, because the organisation was quite small at that time, with only four members of staff. There was space for three desks, so the last one in had to sit on the freezer which also shared the office), when the telephone rang. "Spike Milligan here". Now what would you think? My immediate thought was a hoax. Some bugger was playing a joke because of my known passion for the man. But no, it really was Spike Milligan.
I can remember his words to this day. "John, what do you expect me to do with this bloody book you've sent me?" In reply, I said that I had expected him to bin the book, as he probably got loads of stuff in the post every day, but the fact that he'd rung me showed that he hadn't done that. I said that I'd sent it to him because I thought that he would be interested in the artistic work of people who had suffered problems similar to himself, and who were living in the same neck of the woods. I was probably pushing it a bit, but he listened and asked a few questions, then the conversation was over. I was on cloud nine; in seventh heaven, and any other similar description you care to name for days. I'd spoken to Spike Milligan. It may have been only for two minutes, but I'd spoken to Spike Milligan. A few days later a donation arrived to be used for the clients. How I wish I'd taken a photocopy of that cheque.
|Me - House of Lords|
The picture opposite is of me trying to look intelligent as I spoke to one of his Lordships. I felt obliged to wear a suit; in fact I may have bought it for the occasion - I hate suits, as I feel so uncomfortable in them. I may have worn it once more since.
I'm not a supporter of hereditary peers, but there might be something of a closeted member of the higher echelon about me, as I found the opulence of the Lords to be intoxicating.
We made our way to London to the House of Lords, and after safely negotiating security, we found our way into a room for drinks. After about half an hour of socialising, it was time to move into the dining area. I'd often seen this from the south bank of the Thames, and now I was sitting in it. It was a large marquee on the balcony, with views overlooking the river, which when it got dark, was awesome. There were about 200 people in attendance, sitting at tables laid out for ten people. The food was high quality, and the seating plan had obviously been carefully arranged. I sat next to someone from the Fabian Society, and the conversation was exhilarating. High profile speakers addressed us, and the evening drew to a close. I loved every minute of it.
So there we are. A few personal, varied and unconnected memories. I've enjoyed remembering them.
Let me leave you with this clip from Spike Milligan, only because I can, and I want to.