My next novel, The Crumpled Flag, will be published in mid-2016
This is a story of inspiration set in Britain during 1965 to 1975; it is a coming-of-age memoir that begins with a cup of tea and ends with a country (Britain) on the verge of collapse. It tracks its main character through his needs to establish a career and to settle into family life. This must be done in the context of working for Ford Europe in Industrial Relations and surviving a period of political turmoil in Britain because of the power and influence of the trade unions. It passes through the Ford sewing machinists strike (Made in Dagenham), the creation of Ford of Europe, In Place of Strife, the Three Day week in 1974, and the British Winter of Discontent. The Crumpled Flag refers to the Union Jack.
At this stage my preference is to publish the novel only if an agent or publisher is prepared to sponsor me. If you enjoy the first chapter and would like to read more, let me know at my contact page.
Chapter 1: The Awakening
It was November 5, 1965 in the village of Cottingham, close to the city of Hull, Yorkshire. I was in my final year at the nearby university. I hoped to major in Geology and Geography but had so far failed to develop a career plan that would make use of my new knowledge. I was consumed by more immediate worries. Was I studying sufficiently to graduate at the end of the year, could I survive on the meager wages I would earn during the Christmas and Easter holidays of my third year, would any relationship with the opposite sex last longer than three months, and could I afford to continue living in the attic of a rented house that routinely shook each morning at 5.00 as the first train of the day passed it by? Hopefully Richard and Anton, my two house mates, would bail me out if I ran out of funds. Money was always tight. Recently I had even been forced to sacrifice my twice weekly visits to the Gainsborough Fish and Chips Restaurant in downtown Hull. Now I lived off French fries supplied daily at the University Refectory. Doused in vinegar and sprinkled with salt, they were surprisingly tasty.
My name is John Richard. Although aged 21 I was still enjoying my adolescent years and was yet to accept responsibility for my own actions. I had led a sheltered life living in the country on an isolated farm near York and had little need to interact socially. My childhood had consisted largely of birdwatching, coexisting with nature, playing cricket and soccer, attending school, and helping around the farm. The years immediately prior to attending university had seen some development of my social skills. I needed to work to accumulate funds that would allow me to continue my education, and my secondary school activities had introduced me to the opposite sex. However interactions and communications in these social situations were typically crude and uninformed and my aptitude for friendship was more to do with obligations than enjoyment. I relied on parents and teachers to make decisions and choices for me, and never bothered to consider their consequences.
Similarly, my logical reasoning, problem solving, critical thinking, and adaptation skills were late in development and emerged primarily during my three years at university. Throughout my childhood, these traits had been suppressed by the environment in which I lived. The intersection of my developing social skills and my inherent intelligence and leadership abilities would begin to take charge that evening but without me knowing that it was happening. It is only in retrospect that the random events of that evening, and the events that were to follow during the next few years, offer evidence of my transition from adolescence to adulthood. It is this coming of age that caused me to accept responsibility for my actions in situations over which I believed I had little to no control. Life for me would become directed by a series of unanticipated opportunities that provided me with a platform for success.
That November Friday night would take me away from my life-changing worries. I had planned a romantic evening out. A few minutes earlier I had collected my girlfriend from Thwaite Hall and we were on our way to celebrate “Guy Fawkes” or “Bonfire” night, as it was called in Britain, at a public park close by. I felt very fortunate to be with Annabelle. She was a good looking brunette and attracted attention from other students like me. And she seemed to like me. We had stopped off at the Duke of Cumberland along the Cottingham Road for a quick drink before driving the remainder of the way to the bonfire site. In the dim light of the pub she appeared to me to look like a smiling angel, albeit a well built one, especially around the breasts, hidden beneath her powder-blue blouse. Maybe it was her breasts that attracted me to her. I had been dating Annabelle since the start of term and in the early days I thought that it was love. Tonight I was not so sure. Later that evening I had agreed to meet up with another girl at another bonfire.
Annabelle was a freshman studying English Literature, and came from a small town on the edge of the Pennines in Lancashire. Her soft, twangy accent was easily understood by me and communicated a happy, caring disposition. She similarly understood my dialect. I believe I was her first boyfriend at university. We had met at the Student Union’s Refectory Dance a few weeks earlier one Saturday evening. If I am correct, Herman’s Hermits was the lead band that evening. We met casually at the bar and discovered on the dance floor that we quite liked each other.
She was about my height, had the warmest of smiles, and framed her round face with the prettiest of hair that I had ever seen. It was fashioned bob style with its glossy straight strands reaching down beneath her chin. It was rich and dark with a heavy thick fringe above her warm hazel-brown eyes. She looked to me a lot like Sandie Shaw, the pop singer from Dagenham, Essex. Her body was dominated by those pretty breasts, hidden that evening beneath a pale cream, ribbed, turtleneck sweater. Her hazel-brown eyes clung to me throughout the evening, never wandering to inspect the alternative dates that might be available to her. My eyes were not so well disciplined. The Hermit’s lyrics of “I’m into Something Good” seemed to fit with my encounter that night. Ever since our first evening together I had been a regular visitor to Thwaite Hall, her University Hall of Residence.
Back then I was naturally shy and quiet with girls but not too nervous in their presence or with their companionship. I could live happily on my own but had grown comfortable with this cooperative social interaction. I had been raised to talk only to those people who chose to talk to me. I thought intensely and extensively about anything and everything when I was solitary in my own company. Most thoughts I kept to myself unless they were relevant to a question that someone asked of me and I felt disposed to discuss my opinions.
I had also become conscious of the wide range of geographic dialects, grammar, and accents that prevailed in Britain at that time and observed how they could influence the development of relationships. Friends and colleagues at university displayed a much broader range of speech patterns than I was used to in my home town. There just about everyone I knew spoke the same way as me. I now needed to be careful with my words to avoid creating the stereo type “country bumpkin” associated with my accent. Fortunately the York accent was more of a geographic one than class related but there were times when I felt marginalized by the reaction of others to the way I spoke. On occasion my accent interfered with the establishment of new relations. I became conscious of the importance of communications and the need to prevent dialect and grammar from obstructing personal advancement.
Each time I went out with a new girl I wondered if this one would be the right one for me. I had not prepared any criteria against which to make this assessment. Rather, I relied on my mother’s opinion since she was intently interested in this aspect of my life and was concerned that I marry soon. However her assessment of the acceptability of each girlfriend depended more on knowing the employment of the girlfriend’s father than it did on the character and appearance of my girlfriend.
I assumed that my shyness was an acquired behavior and not one that was hereditary. Consequently, with effort, I believed that I would embolden my social skills with the opposite sex. Until the age of ten I had lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with only my younger sister for company. While attending a boys-only grammar school I had been bused home promptly at 4.00 pm each day, admittedly with other children, but moving buses were not conducive to developing social interaction. I was the only student that attended my particular school and I found myself short on topics of common interest for my fellow bus passengers when the opportunities to converse did arise. I found it easier to observe social interaction than to participate in it.
My height was five foot nine inches and I was as slim as a rake. My weight was stable at 125 pounds and did not respond to whatever I ate or drank. It was my natural weight at age twenty one. My hair had suffered from six years of being forced back over my scalp through the use of brylcreem. This had been the fashion of the fifties. I was now training it to fall in the opposite direction but was experiencing something of a rebellion. To counter this opposition I had started to use hair lacquer and would spray my hair excessively, especially immediately after washing it. I was having some success. However because the lacquer turned sticky when it dried and matted my hair, I abandoned its use whenever I went out with girls. My hair was baby soft and fine in texture but abundant in terms of growth. It was colored fair to blonde most of the time but would turn a rich gold, the color of ripening corn, during the few summer days of sunshine.
My eyes were a rich blue, some said sapphire blue. What I knew was that if someone engaged their eyes on mine they had a hard time pulling away. For this reason, long ago, I had learnt the importance of eye contact in establishing relationships.
The smile on my face was more of a grin and it was often difficult to control. It would dominate my face and not let go, even when it would make me feel foolish. Worse, it would expose my teeth. Since childhood I had possessed more than my fair share of teeth. As a result my front teeth had become crooked and overlapped with each other. Without a smile this deformity could not be seen. Tonight I was bundled in warm clothes so most of my physical attributes were hidden from view. Eye contact would be good but I would try to control my smile.
We arrived at the bonfire a little after 6.30 pm. It was dark and chilly with a starry sky predicting a cold November night. We were both warmly dressed. Annabelle hid deep within a navy blue duffle coat and under a wide brimmed, color-matching hat, held on by a scarf tied beneath her chin. She was wearing knee-length wellington boots in case the field turned muddy during the evening due to the number of people present and the warmth of the bonfire. I was wearing grey slim-leg slack pants, my boots from the farm, and a dirty old light green anorak that I used for my early morning bird watching adventures. It hid my pride and joy of the few clothes that I owned. This was a light grey long haired merino wool cardigan that I had discovered girls liked to stroke. Tonight it kept me warm but was not accessible for stroking.
We were at Cottingham’s community bonfire and firework display. As we entered the field with its dim light provided by the amber, sulphorous glow of the nearby street lamps, someone offered us minestrone soup kept hot within a flask. We willingly accepted this kindness, watching our words of appreciation drift from our mouths into the cold night air. We were told that there would be piping-hot jacket potatoes, sausages, and roast chestnuts a little later on once the bonfire was lit. To drink there was hot chocolate, mulled wine, and apple cider.
On the way across the field to the bonfire Annabelle asked me about the outcome of my recent meeting with the Careers Officer at the university. She seemed interested in my future.
“What did the Careers Officer say to you? What did he think you should do?” she asked.
“Teach” was my answer, “but I am not sure that is what I want to do”.
This was an early sign that I was beginning to think for myself but I did not appreciate its importance at the time.
“Also, last week, I was asked by one of my Geology professors to stay on at university for the next two years to conduct research into micro-paleontology as part of the North Sea exploration for oil. However I don’t think I can afford to stay; I need a job and need to have a regular income.”
“So will you go back to the Careers Officer to talk some more?”
“No, I don’t think so”, I answered “he told me that teaching was the answer to my career and that there was no point in further discussion.”
“So where will you teach if you have to teach?”
“I am not sure. I would like to leave Yorkshire. Teaching would allow me to do this. I have lived here all my life and only twice have I left the county. But before I can teach I have to obtain a postgraduate certificate of education.”
“Why is that?” asked Annabelle.
“The Careers Officer told me that to teach in public schools you need to obtain what is called Qualified Teacher Status from the British Government’s Department of Education. One of the ways you obtain this qualification is, if you are a university graduate, you successfully pass an accredited one year post-graduate teaching course. The training comes in three parts. The first is classroom training, the next is classroom observation, and the last several weeks is classroom teaching under supervision. Unless you pass both the practical and academic parts of this course you don’t receive the certificate. But I really don’t want to stay on for another year at university, and I would have to move away from here because Hull University doesn’t offer this program. It annoys me that the Careers Officer gave me no career choices. But enough about me, what are your plans?”
“It’s too early to decide” said Annabelle. “My parents want me to move back home after I graduate. But Clitheroe is such a small town. I would rather move to Manchester. Maybe I will end up teaching. But for now I need to concentrate on passing my first year examinations.”
“I understand” I replied. “You said you had some homework to do tonight. What time do you want to be back to your room?”
We continued to walk towards the bonfire that was waiting to be lit.
“No later than 8.30 pm” answered Annabelle, looking at me with apologetic eyes.
“You know I enjoy going out with you” I said, feeling a little self-conscious; I had always found it difficult to communicate compliments and worried that I did not sound sincere. I continued.
“Thank you for sharing with me just a small part of your evening.”
She smiled and gripped my hand. By now we had reached the bonfire and come into the presence of a dozen or so families and couples like us. People were standing, talking, and looking expectantly towards the unlit bonfire.