Five: Comic Cuts
Of course, being born into my grandfather's family, I had aristocratic pretensions myself. At the age of seven or eight, I had a recurring and rather comforting dream, derived in part from reading my sister Clare's comics rather than my own. Girls' comics - Bunty, Judy, June, Girl - had much better stories than Swift and Eagle . I did not care about Dan Dare, Pilot Of The Future, incidentally a Colonel, like my grandfather. His encounters with the Mighty Mekon were all-action affairs, with spaceships, and vague forays into the world of quantum physics. Luck Of The Legion was about fighting. It is true that the eighth Eagle annual provides you with the instructions for making a Heraldic Wall Plaque, and perhaps I should have given this a go. But the opening instruction - “Obtain a piece of plywood of the size indicated (4 ins. by 6 ins.). The kind with a veneered surface is ideal. With a fretsaw....” was an immediate disaster area, as far as I was concerned. I had friends who had constructed squadrons and armadas with tiny pieces of plastic and several oodles of glue, and whose bedrooms were festooned with their achievements. My few attempts led to sticky fingers, and finless wonders.
My sister's comics tended instead to contain stories about secrets. Quite often, a helpless waif would turn out to be a princess, and would come into her birthright at the very end of the narrative. My dream was very humble. It was discovered that I was in fact Prince Thomas, the elder and hitherto missing twin of Prince Charles, whose slight advance on me in number of years was of trivial consequence. In consequence of this great discovery, I was whisked to court, and installed as the hereditary monarch-in-waiting. Dreams like this were not much later inhibited by going to a boarding school with children who could call Princess Alexandra “Auntie”, or whose surnames were run-of-the-mill ones like Douglas-Home. In the latter case, I once witnessed a spectacular piece of poor political judgment on the part of Ian Trethowan, then a top BBC political reporter, and later Director-General. Some time in 1963, during the crisis caused by Harold Macmillan - M.P. for the next-door constituency to my grandfather, during his brief stint - Mr. Trethowan had his strings pulled, and addressed an excited assembly of boys on the subject of the likely succession to the Premiership. He looked at the ten-year-old Douglas-Home to my immediate left. “It won't be your uncle,” he announced, smilingly.
As for Angus Ogilvy's sister, Lady Griselda Balfour, the Princess Alexandra connection, she was charm itself. The only problem with mixing it like this with the offshoots of the royal family tree was that they had an interest in something as foreign to me as model aeroplanes. They were golfers. This should have presented me with no problem. My father played golf. My mother played golf (they had actually met at a golf club). My brother played golf, since he was as canny at the outdoor sports as I was incompetent. On one outing from school, as the selected friend, I found myself partnered with Lady Griselda's husband on a Yorkshire golf course, against his two sons. I suddenly realised that I was in the company of three people who did not waste their holidays reading encyclopedias. After some discussion, I hit the ball two inches from the tee. My partner then knocked it across a river. I don't think I was selected again, even though I put the Balfours on to my award-winning royal family tree. I was extremely envious of their connections, much as my grandfather would have been. My mother's family could connect me up to the self-helping Samuel Smiles, Mrs. Beeton, and the journalist Nancy Spain (a What's My Line regular). Who did I have?
Lacking any relatives of noble or scandalous birth, I therefore concocted families in my head, and populated them. There was a saga running through my head, in a kind of curious and childish parallel to my grandfather's fantasies about noble origins. The best way to get this into the open air was to produce plays, to stage events. My parents had declared their house as far as possible a child-free zone, and had instead had erected an outdoor room, which went by the grand and ceremonial name, The Hut . The Hut was a fantasy land, and it was given a special new title in the early 1960s, which some clumsily painted letters on its exterior proclaimed to the world. Or at least to my mother. It was called The Theatre Hut . Friends were roped into some of the ropiest productions ever witnessed, in which my sister invariably played a queen or a princess, and I played a variety of princes, whilst my brother was given a less glorious role as a princeling, or some other sub-species of royalty. Since half the cast had a habit of bottling out before performances, the remaining ad-libbers raised a rather meagre amount for The League Of Pity, a junior branch of the NSPCC.
I was climbing into something very warm, and agreeably foetid. I remember lying there very still, and my memory is of straw. It may even be that I fell asleep there, bewildered by my success. And then there was a squawk, and a commotion. I had climbed into my grandmother's henhouse. Perhaps this was what sowed the seed in her mind that I might go to the bad. On her last night at home before her final trip to hospital, she reportedly expressed a great concern about my future. “I'm sure,” she said, “he'll get married one day, and leave her the next.” I was fourteen at the time. It is interesting how grandparents and parents impose anxieties on their offspring (and offspring's offspring) from an early age. What had I done to deserve this unhappy prophecy? Probably it was no more than my outlandish interest in loud music. I cannot think in what other way I could have offended.
Or perhaps it was the problem with my hair. There was a positive obsession with hair in the 1960s, from the short-back-and-one-sided parental point of view. I used to dread visits to the hairdresser's - there were two in Sunderland close to the area where the Baptists had once congregated. My father had strong opinions about hair, to the extent that any hair in front of and below the ear could be suspected of being “a sideburn” (or, it as was more often known, and with no consciousness of its peculiar suggestion of furniture, a sideboard). Such growth could not be tolerated (although he himself allowed hair to grow along his cheekbones). An instruction would be given; a bus would be caught; the penitential half-hour would be spent in the chair, staring at the adverts, long out-of-date, for TruGel. I preferred the dentist's to the hairdresser's. On one occasion, at about the age of thirteen, I decided to do it myself rather than let it be done to me. I advise against this, especially if your only implements are your father's razor and a pair of nail scissors, unless you have eyes in the back of your head.
My sister was the only nearby head surgeon available. Although I had not exactly scalped myself, I had removed significant patches of hair at the rear of my head, which looked as a result as if it was suffering from an unusual and indeed researchable form of alopecia. The only sure was to have the back of my head shaved so that it came to a line roughly level with my fringe. This was a serious indignity, and my father was not amused. It was much more funny than that. He had a snorting fit of laughter.
His war experience off the coast of Italy was also responsible for another unpleasant cut. When twelve, I signed up - or was signed up, to tell the truth, I can't recall which - for a school holiday trip on a converted troopship, the Dunera , on which hundreds of pre-teenagers and several of the actual ones were packed. This was my first sighting of Abroad, a place which, so my father gravely informed me, was Very Hot. One of the things I would not therefore be needing to take with me was Hair. I wish he'd told me earlier than the day before the trip began, because I had invested in a seriously cheap (and foully perfumed) bottle of Brilliantine, the better to slick my hair, the better to impress the girls I was led to understand would be involved in the enterprise. If skinheads had been invented in 1964, they would have recognised me as one of their own without any difficulty.
The itinerary for the trip went as follows: Venice, Delphi, Naples, Cagliari, Gibraltar, Vigo, and then back to England. It was my first experience of being away from either school or family, the teachers melting quietly into the sunshine (not that hot, in either sense) after some desultory attempts at “lessons”. We were much more often at sea - I was certainly at sea - than on land. Venice was a forced march up and down the Campanile, and round the Doges' Palace, which I remember only as a time of excruciating pressure on my bladder. I had forgotten to “go”. Or, as the school argot had it, “sign”. The use of the verb “to sign” came about as follows. At my boarding school, after the usual greasy spoon, boys were expected to perform three acts of toilet: brush teeth, wash hands, and empty bladder and bowels. Elementary hygiene suggests that it wasn't in that order, but that's my recollection. After these were accomplished, and accomplished they had to be, a queue was formed in front of a stout, red-lipsticked and terrifying matron called Miss Forster. (In Hardy's The Return Of The Native , Clym Yeobright has Eustacia Vye figured as a likely candidate for post as a matron. I wish.) She would ask, loudly, “Have you signed?”, and, since the only credible answer was Yes, she would then sign you off the printed list in front of her. Since my father had himself been at the same school in the 1930s, he knew the lingo, and had instructed my mother before my first return home. With some hesitation, she asked me, on the first morning of my first holiday home, whether I had signed . To this day, my subconscious rattles its cage when insurance agents and bank clerks say “Sign here”.
But I was in Venice. My Italian being limited to Dové il gabinietto? , and my confidence in using this degree of fluency being even more limited, it was two hours of excruciating walk across the Rialto and into the thicket of Venice before I got the words out, and was directed to the nearest wall. Later in the trip, I was to have a yet more unsettling experience. Vigo in Spain was the least well-known of the Dunera 's stops, and its principal attraction was the summer residence of Franco, then in the late autumn of his dictatorship, and sensibly planning to restore a hereditary monarchy. Hundreds of bored children were bussed to the Generalissimo's sizeable hideaway, and allowed to wander through its gardens. I had never seen an orange tree before. Quite the most interesting aspect of them was that they had oranges on them. I saved one for later. Back on the bus, I did not at first notice the commotion, the gesticulations, the halting English of the teachers, the funny hats on the policemen's heads, the machine-guns they were toting, their interest in a missing orange... The evidence was swallowed, in its unripe entirety, at very painful speed.
The evenings on the Dunera were my first experience of dances - of discos. Here I was, bald as a coot, twelve, with nothing to brilliantine, and quite clearly in front of me were Girls. Not sisters or mothers, or sister's friends or mother's pals. But actual, dressed-up, eye-liner-wearing Girls. The testosterone started to kick through my system. What was this sensation jiggering my emotions? What in fact were these things called emotions? The ship was sufficiently jam-packed with children to require a rota system - every third night I had the chance to stand in the Mediterranean shadow, wallflowering helplessly. I had only ever made love to an encyclopedia. Now I had to button my courage, and start asking harder questions, like “Do you want to dance?” The only stroke of luck I had, the only break, was that I had no need to know steps, as previous generations had done. The problem of touch was entirely eliminated. The foxtrot steps my mother had bravely attempted to teach me when I was about six were not wanted on board. God had invented The Shake. It had been a close run thing, too - eight years earlier, I might have been expected to jive. Four years, earlier, to twist. My sister's comics also contained cut-out-and-keep guides to more ambitious efforts like The Madison. Now all I had to do was jog about in an expressive sort of way. It was great. I fell wildly in love with every girl I could see, and one of them - yes, yes, unbelievable - jogged with me, and sat at a table and talked to me, and, best of all, paid me a tremendous compliment. She was thirteen. She was called Alice. She looked at me coolly and told me that I was insipid ! Wow! Wait till I could borrow a dictionary........
Boarding schools are not especially good when it comes to bonding families together. There were letters home, but these were almost entirely Molesworthian affairs, as satirised by Willans and Searle (I say satirised , but there was little fiction in the books, as far as I could see). It distanced me from my sister and brother, as well as my father and mother - one reason why the family holidays took on so much additional significance. It is true that there was a year when my brother and I overlapped at the school where I had so grandly been made a prefect at the age of eleven. A year into my service, David arrived back in my life. He was four years younger, just outside the frame of my reference, as I was out of his. George and Robert Greenwell, born in the second decade of the nineteenth century, were only two years apart. This was different.
The school - called Aysgarth, although it had long since moved from its original location at the Falls of the same name - had a tradition of inculcating its new intake into the mysteries of its language, rules, and history. A second-term boy would be allocated to a first-termer, and the relationship was described as father and son . It was the father's job to teach the son the answers to a catechism of about a hundred questions, by which the father stood to earn one penny on his account. There was no question of not earning the penny. You had to keep training your son up until he earned you the copper. What it also meant was that there were lineages, long genealogical strings, which you could learn and recite, if you had a mind to do so. Of course I did. There was nothing that Chinese oral historians could teach me about long lists of parenthood. In fact, had I gone back to 1930, I was probably descended from my father.
The school which David and I shared during 1965 also had an admirable enough tradition of forcing its inmates to read. Rather oddly for a school which could and did tell the difference between Low Tea and High Tea, there was a half-hour siesta, strictly enforced, after lunch, which was known as ADP - After Dinner Period. How had Dinner got in there? During this time, all boys were required to lie on their beds, desist from exchanging stories about how wealthy their grandparents were, and whether or not they would ever be in government again, and read. It did not have to be “improving”. It just had to be text. I continued to hoover my way through the contents of the school library.
But there came a day when the prefects were obliged by the headmaster to uphold the might and majesty of the school laws, and in particular that law, common to every educational establishment, which frowns upon the use of feet for running . At the end of the usual taste-free meal for which my parents were forking out, the headmaster offered his 120 charges a speech. There had been too much running. Running in particular down stairs. And running down stairs in more particular after ADP. Sanctions were promised. The headmaster had a selection of canes, most of them named after music hall acts from the Edwardian era, or after villains in stories by Frank Richards. They lived behind his study door in an umbrella stand which suited the purpose rather well (I had had a fair chance to inspect his collection whilst writing my unpublishable plays). All prefects were assembled and briefed. Any runners to be seized by the shoulder, and frogmarched to the beating-bay. We were secreted in the doorwells in the corridor leading from the bottom of the stairs.
From a disciplinary point of view, things got off to a most encouraging start. After the clapper in the bell had done its damnedest, the sound of an orderly tramp, tramp, tramp reverberated from the three floors above. The whole school was marching obediently to the same, measured tread. Well, almost. After almost three minutes of tidy footwork, there was the unmistakable sound of feet in a frenzy of activity. One pair of feet. You could hear the soles ricochet from the floor, and their sudden skid as they rounded corners. The prefects lurked with satisfaction in their hiding-places as the culprit, plainly overtaking on inside and outside, came ever more loudly towards the bottom of the perfectly polished stairs. A figure emerged, took a sharp left, and accelerated down the corridor, where he was surprised enough to be seized by about eighteen simultaneous hands to cry out that “it wasn't me”. In flagrante . Burlington Bertie would be being applied to an eight-year-old backside that afternoon, and no mistake. It was my brother.
My mother, brother David, and me: it's my seventh birthday (1959).
At the age of five, I was without warning whipped back into the Sunderland Royal Infirmary for a service. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with me. It was true that I hadn't been a beautiful baby (I'd had jaundice, so some of the usual compliments must have been a bit forced), but I'd got over that pretty quickly. No, part of me was going to be removed. My tonsils. It was standard procedure in the 1950s to have tonsils taken away. After all, they were providing no function other than to catch tonsilitis in later life. Better safe than sore-throated. They also nicked my adenoids, whatever they were. Apparently they were also internal malingerers with a penchant for causing distress.
At the age of five, it is reasonably easy to survive the trauma of white coats. All I really recall about the medical procedure was the injection used to keep me quiet, an option unhappily unavailable to my teachers in later years. I came to, de-tonsilled, in a nice white ward, with a solicitous nurse. It was all right. As a special treat, a special treat offered to all children in the Infirmary at the time, I was taken down a maze of corridors to meet an extremely old man. He was ninety-six. It was 1957, so he must have been born in 1861, which was before my great-grandfather. The old man - treated rather like royalty by the nurses - was roused from his chair and induced to shake my shrinking hand.
What this brought home to me from an early age is that there is really nothing very significant about a hundred years, other than it is just out of our immediate vision. The idea of it being remote is a very peculiar fiction. Robert Wilson Greenwell had died only sixty years before I was born. Here, in the hospital, which was right by his final home, was someone who could easily have met him, talked to him. My tonsils were worth sacrificing for this little insight.
Otherwise, I've never been back inside. I've been lucky in that respect - the men and women in white coats have never needed to cluster round. Mind you, there was a nasty scare when I was about twelve. My mother, gazing wistfully at me at me, suddenly said “Aaaaargh!” She pointed in the sort of way calculated to suggest that you have the plague. “What is that ?” she asked, staring intently at my neck. There was only one thing for it. I would have to ask Auntie Hazel. Auntie Hazel was a doctor, and always presumed to be the fount of wisdom in any body emergency. In fact, when, at the age of nine, I spotted that a boy I knew looked like his father (how the hell?...), and asked my mother what could have led to this, she had also referred me to Auntie Hazel, although I never followed up the enquiry. On this occasion, Auntie Hazel had no need of a stethoscope or recourse to a medical manual. At the age of twelve, it had been finally observed that I had an Adam's apple.
There was a significant gap of about ten months between my leaving school and going to university. For the first time since I was eight, I spent a continuous stretch of time in the North-East. It was 1970 (and it was to be the last year I spent this length of time there, too). It is perhaps important to understand that I had no idea whatsoever what my father did , other than that he went to an office at a shipyard. I never asked him about his daily routine; he never volunteered any information.
Nevertheless, I had made the conscious decision that I wanted to spend the year in Sunderland. I had no desire to travel the world, or to embark on any exotic enterprise. I wish very much now that I had managed to tease my father into letting through my grandfather's papers that year, but they had been stashed away for the retirement he hoped he would reach. The year had in fact started with an interesting insight into my father's views of family secrets, although it was my mother's family, who were called Frail, which was the origin of the insight. We had been coming back on New Year's Day from a meal with my mother's brother and his family, during which the name “Aunt Nell” had surfaced. Who was Aunt Nell? I enquired. It turned out that Nell was my mother's father's sister - or aunt, to use that useful four-letter-word. My mother's father had died in 1958. Seven years earlier, he had seen the fruits of my paternal grandfather's labours in at least one respect. My grandfather might have had no coat of arms, and he might have blown the 1951 general election, but as the High Sheriff, it was only right and proper that his son be married in Durham Cathedral. My mother's father, Ernest Frail, a strict Congregationalist, had more than baulked at the grandeur of all this. But the point of this tale is his sister, Nell.
Nell had been invited to the wedding, but she had not been one of the congregation under the towering Norman cathedral roof. She and her brother Ernest had not been brought up together. Ernest had been farmed out by his objectionable father to two aunts, and had made his own way in the world. The social gulf between brother and sister had become considerable. And the social gulf between my mother's aunt and my father's family was on the Richter scale. That this is the case is clear from the fact that my father had never even met his own father-in-law's sister, and my mother had not seen her since before her marriage, over eighteen years earlier. But Nell was still alive, in her nineties, and lived less than two miles away. “Well, let's go and see her,” I insisted. My father tutted. “Don't be so tactless,” he remarked. This, however, was New Year's Day, and my father had booked himself a good eighty winks in an afternoon armchair. I sneaked my mother out, and I got to meet my great-aunt after all (she was playing a hymn on the piano, having just baked a cake, and opened the door to my mother as if nearly two decades had flown past in an innocent instant). I suspect therefore that my father would have resisted my later expeditions through his own family - his sister Pamela certainly did. Sleeping dogs to be left doggo, paws toasting before an oblivious fire.
The year that I spent in Sunderland was an eventful one for my father. As the shipyards folded under Japanese opposition, they had combined forces to such an extent that there were only two yards left. And my father was now the managing director of the larger one, Doxford's, which combined Thompson's and Greenwell's amongst many other firms. So he was at the sharp end of the shipyard dispute that year which ran throughout the spring, and turned into the longest strike since the second world war. The dispute began in March, and dragged on until late July. In the interim, Apollo 13 went up and back; Sunderland's football team were relegated; and there was an upset in the general election, when the Conservatives were returned to power after six years. The dispute was a pay dispute, and was not solved until my father and the leader of the national boilermakers' union ,Danny McGarvey, reached a compromise. (McGarvey was a powerful figure with whom my father got on well, and who amused my father by wearing slippers to the negotiations). In the meantime, it was perhaps not the cleverest year in which to be the son of the shipyard boss, although the events that were causing my father grief passed rather blithely before my eyes. It was the first time I realised that the name “Greenwell” had some serious resonance in the town, and that it might be better to keep my name under wraps. It did cause some bother in the second half of the year, when I was on my fourth job of the year, at a paper mill in South Hylton - one which had itself started and resolved a strike during the year - and was confronted by that tricky question “Are ye Greenwell's son?” It wasn't a question, of course. The abuse didn't get much further than a series of anonymous notes on my locker, giving me various bits of frank advice about what to do with important bits of my anatomy, but, looking back, I realise that it could have been worse.
It certainly would have been worse in May, when I was working at a Sunderland car wash - one where your car was washed by hand, not an automatic roller. (We had been given a patter about this to feed our loyal, old-fangled customers. We had to tell them we knew of a car that had had its roof peeled back like a can of sardines, and its occupants had missed death by inches, if not by decapitation, then by drowning). My four fellow-workers were skinheads. My hair was beginning to travel down over my collar to its eventual destination, my waist. Skinheads were not new nationally, but Sunderland had been a late starter in the shaven head department. They were a benign variety of the species, and tolerated my hair rather more generously than my parents. On a Monday, while we freezing our hands in the troughs, the others would describe how they had christened their Doctor Martens at away matches, by kicking the opposition supporters.
One bright day, one of them started up a conversation about what their fathers did. At least one of them was, it transpired, working for mine, or rather on strike in opposition to my father. So when the question pointed itself at me, and I admitted that my father “worked for Doxford's”, they were all a bit puzzled. What, he was actually in there, working? I was busy framing an answer that had to do with the necessary maintenance of plant, when one of them, deciding the issue was not as interesting as his new braces, dismissed my father with the line “Oh - blackleg, is he?” I tried this out on my father that evening, on his return from another gruelling day in industrial relations. He started to laugh. Then he laughed a little harder. Soon he was almost prostrate with laughter. For some weeks after, he could be heard chuckling “Blackleg, is he?” to himself.
My grandfather had discovered that, not far back in the family queue, there were Baptists. But since his own grandfather had opted out of church, and his father had preferred to bait the local vicars rather than mix with them, religion was low on his agenda, and had dropped off my father's entirely. Piety had been put aside. God help us, we were a Godless lot. Nonetheless, I spent eight months of the year at a boarding school with its own, rather impressive little chapel, and it was hard not to inhale religion when you were on your knees every morning except Saturday, and back for a double dose on Sunday. It was something you did, like brushing your teeth, and signing....
The school chaplain had been a Billy Graham convert a few years earlier, so there was no doubting his commitment to the cause. His name was Webb. He was up against it with one hundred and twenty boys, but he seemed to bear them no ill will. Any anti-Anglican feeling was splenetically vented on the miserable authorities in charge of the Saturday morning alternative to worship, which was a whole school assembly in the “Schoolroom”, which had a stage at one end, and a dais at the other, above which the names of those who had won scholarships to major public schools were recorded. This assembly was called “Choir Practice”. Its alleged object was to rehearse the hymns selected for the following day, or, worse, the psalms. There is something about the slow, slight shift from singing on one note for a bit to singing on another for a bit, with time off for a minim on some intervening notes, which is calculated to strike boredom into the most enthusiastic pre-teen. What we wanted with a passion was Hymn 570, and, about once a year, we were granted it. Hymn 570 was the kind of revivalist song that could have given Joshua second thoughts about using trumpeters at Jericho. It began “Ho! my comrades!” and went uphill from then on. The chorus, which began “Hold The Fort For I Am Coming!” was a nave-shaker, and sounded as much like the anthem of the Seventh Cavalry as it did of the Anglicans (it had been swiped from some Dissenters - it was written by Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876), an associate of the evangelist D.L. Moody, as in Moody and Sankey. It was inspired by a mis-remembered account of a telegram sent during the American Civil War by General Sherman, before marching on Atlanta. Actually, his signal read “Hold out”, which would have spoiled our fun). When rumours that Hymn 570 was on the card went round, larger boys took the smaller ones aside, put them in a friendly headlock, and urged them to Sing Loud. A frenzy of tension would mount through the day. Teachers, fearing insurrection, became noticeably nervous about the prospect of raised voices. They knew they were on a loser. You couldn't punish one hundred and twenty boys for singing a hymn with violent additional power. Not when you spent every Saturday morning moaning about the inability to sing up. And so they gritted their teeth as the roaring trebles literally shouted out the words, whilst they, in gowns, sitting in reserved pews, hoped to survive without major eardrum damage.
God did not do a great deal for me, apart from get me out of some bother when caught using four-letter words on a note in an English class. The two of us involved seemed to be heading for some violent punishment - possibly expulsion, so we imagined - until, full of remorse and misery, we tipped the wink to the chaplain that we were going to pray for forgiveness. We knelt reverentially on the hassocks, and prayed with unusual fervour, for a good half-hour at least. We prayed like no boys had prayed before. In due course, our desperate show of repentance was relayed back to the key teachers - that is, the ones with access to canes, and to parental telephone numbers. Word came back that we were excused our crimes. Fearful of accusations of scrimshanking, and actually quite impressed with Divine Power, the pair of us scuttled back to the chapel for a round of thank-yous.
More impressive, in the early sixties, were the topical notes struck in the prayers. This was the only time in my life I kept a five-year diary, which I managed to fill for a full four months, before becoming bored of having to back-fill my life. I see from its contents that there is a particular interest in East Berlin, and I remember a general anxiety in the dormitories at night when planes from nearby RAF Dishforth flew overhead. During the Cold War, we frequently prayed that there would not be an outbreak of a Third World War. We felt well up on the Second, in which the history teacher, a Welshman called Mr. Hibbert, had definitely served, since he continued for the most part to wear his flying jacket, and could easily be tempted into tales of derring-do above the clouds. Indeed, the Second World War had not quite worn off: there were boys in the school whose elder cousins were fatherless, even in the Sixties. But otherwise, we were cocooned, and my only really religious impulses were triggered by lurid pictures of the crucifixion in the older bibles under my control as library supremo. My great-great-great-grandfather's beliefs did not percolate through the generations at all.