'Tis I a Jew'

Author: 
Colin Leaney
school: 
RCNS
Year: 
1942-1945

 

This narrative was written by Colin c1998.

Foreword

Really, all was well with the world, until Gordon Brocklehurst that is……..

Gordon was an erstwhile friend of mine at the tender age of 12 years. Both inmates

of Dr Barnardo’s Homes, we parted company having known each other for only a

couple of years. We did meet again somewhere in the region of 1947, I suppose, but

then we lost each other for the next 35 years - he to go his way (and a splendid way

it was too) and me to go mine.

When Gordon first mooted the idea of a “literary four-ball” or “quartet”, my life

and times in regard to my early upbringing had never been a subject I’d given any

thought to. I was merely Colin Leaney, plodding through life in a somewhat casual

and selfish fashion and no different really to all the people I surrounded myself

with.

However, over these past few years, this state of mental inertia and comfort has

changed. Like a fool, I agreed with Gordon to participate in his suggested venture.

All of a sudden, and when sitting down to write what was me and why, life became

difficult. Questions arose that I’d given no thought to previously. Searching for

meaning, achievements, ambitions, purpose, and substance became even more

difficult. However, it matters not. The overall quality of my life, thus far, seems to

me to be of far greater import than stark achievement - not a view shared by many

possibly. If I can go to my grave with a sense of gratitude and no regrets, it is all I

ask.

Colin Leaney

May 2004

 

Acknowledgements

My sincere thanks go to……..

Marina

My dear wife who, apart from making my life possible, also played the role of my

“memory bank” when first sitting down to write what follows here, thus increasing

what might have been three pages worth of life to nearer seventy-three!

Morgan Morison

A fellow ex-Barnardo conspirator, for encouraging me to take this account more

seriously than hitherto.

Ken Richmond

Another friend and ex-Barnardo inmate who, along with Gordon Brocklehurst,

initiated the original idea of writing our stories.

Gordon Brocklehurst

The “mastermind” behind the project that first influenced me to sit down and write.

The catalyst. The creator. The brain.

Joyce Schofield

You would not be reading this, dear reader, without the enormous help,

encouragement, and assistance from Joyce. Her knowledge and skills are totally

responsible for this finished product.

And finally, my thanks to all those people who invaded my life. I couldn’t have

done it without you.

 

1. ATime of Mystery and Confusion

And it came to pass……

Sixty-seven years and what have I got to show for it? Certainly nothing

contributory to man’s travel through the eons of time. On the other hand, I don’t

think I’ve actually said or done anything to hinder his progress. That might be some

sort of achievement in itself!

Thinks…….. Had I chosen to become an habitual criminal, would my trip through

this life have progressed or retarded man’s existence? Am I being arrogant by

merely posing the question? Do we really have a choice? Or are we merely guided

along life, thinking and believing that we are in control, when in reality something

or somebody is pulling the strings?

If this is so then, dear reader, I take no blame for what is about to be unfolded.

It all started on 31st March 1931, a date that will live in infamy no doubt. A certain

Henry Bernard Ufland seduced my mother Elizabeth Leaney and I finished up as

the end product of their efforts. Not the product of a drunken orgy, I trust, because

my mother, the only one of my two parents I ever met or knew, was a very

respectable middle-class introvert. This is my presumption, of course, and the

following pages may show that to be the case.

Who is the real Colin Leaney? Who and what has shaped him and his theories on

life? What and who has shaped the unfinished 67 year old product you see before

you? Genetics? Environment? Upbringing? Manner of birth?

I don’t think for one moment I shall find an answer within these pages and it

doesn’t matter. I am what I am, even if I don’t know why.

Questions and answers

Dr Barnardo’s Homes

Name: Colin Leaney

Age: 16.25 years

“ I have had this boy under observation for a period of 2 years at Goldings.”

General Character: “Very good”

Truth & Honesty: “Very good”

Habits: “Clean intelligent boy, very good footballer and table

tennis player.”

Usefulness: “Should be a credit to us at work and in the home.

Aboy of independent mind.”

Date: 7th July 1947

Signed: R F Wheatley (Headmaster)

I wish I’d written this but I didn’t. This was the unadulterated word of one of my

Barnardo masters quoted verbatim with not a hair out of place. So, the first sixteen

years of my life had resulted in the above testimonial. According to Mr Wheatley,

that is! This information has only recently been made known to me and I take

delight in believing in the integrity of this man.

I suppose that for the first 45 years of my life I never posed the question of

“identity” to myself. It just didn’t occur to me to do so. I was what I was,

irrespective of my early environment or subsequent experiences. In hindsight, what

arrogance!

The journey was the thing, not the motivations nor the influences of a past life.

There had been blips and problems, of course, but only minor ones - nothing that

could not be considered as normal and necessary and essential to life.

My early upbringing, which included an approximate five year sojourn in

Dr Barnardo’s Homes, had never been of any import or consequence to me. It was a

happening in my life and that was all. I’d never really stopped to ponder upon its

bearing on my life and character. Never once did I wonder whether this upbringing

would in any way be relative to my character, attitudes, morals, strengths, and

weaknesses.

Was Barnardo’s therefore responsible for the Leaney you see before you? I had no

idea. But Gordon came along and stirred in me all these thoughts and questions and

life now became an imponderable. The major thought I suppose was, “Would I

have been a completely different person had I been brought up within the confines

of a normal loving family circle?”

A myriad of related questions now came to the fore. Answers to these questions

were not required out of any sort of longing for truth, or excuses for what is me, but

out of interest and reasoning for what I am. Society, I’m sure, has always regarded

me as a square peg in a round hole and indeed I’ve always felt so. I don’t actually

get on very well with the world. That is to say my ethics, my attitudes, my

sensitivity, and my views, constantly appear to be at odds with the rest of mankind.

Why so? Is it because I am the son of Henry Bernard Ufland? Or is it because I’m a

product of Barnardo’s? Or merely because I wasn’t brought up within the ambience

of love and affection from a family circle? I have no idea.

What a good year this was!

It all started when my mother gave birth to me at a hospital somewhere in the

London borough of Edgeware on 31st March 1931. I wasn’t aware of this until

about 1958. Where I was born, how I was born, and why I was born, hadn’t really

interested me greatly. I was 27 years of age at the time and about to be married to

the most wonderful person imaginable. The details of my birth were not of

paramount importance to me.

This was borne out by the news of the day (31st March 1931) as published by

The Times newspaper. My birth doesn’t appear to have been mentioned in these

famous columns. An oversight obviously! But other interesting matters were

spoken of on this day, my birthday.

You could join Ifield Golf Club, Sussex, for an annual membership fee of £7.70.

Not, I hasten to add however, at the tender age of a few hours.

A three to eight day tour of Holland would cost you £2.75. (The cost of two pints of

bitter today).

Gordon Richards, Harry Wragg, and Steve Donoghue were all riding at Nottingham

races.

Under the heading of “Situations Vacant”, we find adverts for governesses,

companions, housemaids, matrons, cooks, housekeepers, man-servants, laundrymaids,

parlour-maids, and scullery-maids. How wonderful! A slice of Victoriana no

longer with us.

Cinemas were classified as “Picture Houses” and the big film doing the rounds was

Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights”.

Adverts included those from Debenham’s and Marshall & Snelgrove.

Most of the international news items concerned aspects of the British Empire.

A brand new Singer motor would have cost you all of £334. A Rolls-Royce

Phantom, however, would have set you back £2,500 (equivalent to two mortgages

no doubt).

The major radio (wireless) station, the National Programme, would have given you

live music from Claridge’s.

A detached house in central London with 6 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 3 reception

rooms and a large garage would have cost you £2,500.

These, then, were just a few of the happenings of the day I was brought into the

world. I don’t think my birth was considered to be the most important event of the

day and it obviously wasn’t considered as such by Daddy Ufland. He was never to

be seen again! My mother was 39 years of age when she gave birth to me. Having a

child outside wedlock at that time was a stigma sufficient to render one with

emotional problems. I can imagine that to do so at the advanced age of 39 years

would have been considered as not only unusual but extremely foolhardy.

I become a Barnardo boy

The next 11 to 12 years were spent in and out of various foster homes prior to me

becoming an inmate of Dr Barnardo’s Homes. For years afterwards, because of my

inability to recall precise events of my early life, I believed that I was admitted to

Barnardo’s at a very early age. Not so, I now discover.

It is recorded that I was admitted into the dubious care of Dr Barnardo’s Homes on

9th September 1943. I was 12 years of age and somewhat accustomed to being

carted off from one place to another. But what of the 11 years prior to this? My

powers of recall are pretty low and, were it not for recent information supplied to

me by Barnardo’s, I would have great difficulty in relating anything about it.

I cannot recall ever wondering why I hadn’t got a father. It was a fact that I

accepted without question and without any arousal of curiosity. My somewhat

Dickensian existence at this time precluded any thoughts of my lack of relatives.

Survival was the name of the game and, if possible, survival attracting the

minimum punishments for misdemeanours whilst maintaining the maximum

amount of freedom. This was the ultimate state and required one’s constant

concentration.

The year was 1939 and Mr Hitler was about to uproot the lives of all of us. I had

reached the ripe old age of 8 years. Prior to this time I am unable to recall anything

except one or two “dreamlike” incidents. I merely have the occasional mental

picture of these incidents and I quote here just three of them.

The first was of knocking a towel into a full bath and, in consequence, being hit

over the head with a hairbrush which left me permanently scarred. This foul deed

was perpetrated by a female whom I can only assume was Hitler’s mother! I

suppose I would have been about 6 years of age at the time.

The second was seeing from a distance the burning down of the original Crystal

Palace. I believe I was in a home in the Forest Hill area of London at the time.

And the third was walking in the walls of Windsor Castle when attending the

Lying-in-State of King George V. Or did I imagine these things? I shall never know.

And that’s it - the sum total of my first eight years on this planet. Not much is it? I

wish I could remember more, good or bad. One way or the other memories are the

nourishment of the future so I’m somewhat undernourished, I suppose. Later, in

1974, at the age of 43 years, I noted that, “I must start creating new memories, the

old ones are wearing out!”

My various places of residence when these incidents occurred are unknown to me. I

have only now discovered that from birth to the age of approximately 11 years I

resided at locations such as Forest Hill, Sydenham, and Norwood, all in the South

London area. I have also only recently discovered that the entire clan of “Ufland”

(my father’s clan) all resided in the Marylebone district of London. But they, and

the story that goes with them, will be related here later.

On the edited copy of my birth certificate, which I set eyes on for the first time in

1958, there are no details of parentage whatsoever. It was only upon my recent visit

to Barnardo’s at Barkingside that I learned of my father and who he was. He was

one Henry Bernard Ufland, who chose not to marry my mother, and is described in

the Barnardo literature as being my “putative” father. He has always been

completely unknown to me until now. Also in the Barnardo literature, he is

described as being a “motor mechanic”. I am therefore the bastard son of a

“putative motor mechanic”.

So, after all these years, I am told that my father was not the culture-conscious

genius I had imagined. What an insult! As I said to the Barnardo Social Worker at

the time, I didn’t travel 120 miles from Birmingham to Barkingside and through 66

years of living, just to be told that all I had for a father was a “motor mechanic”.

Damn cheek! I expected at least a Rear-Admiral! Nonetheless, I don’t really feel

too bad about it all and, in reality, I’m delighted to know who my father was. The

Barnardo revelation has started me on a search for “hidden” relatives - half, step,

or otherwise. More later…..

However, I digress. Not quite, mind you, because now for the first time in my life

these recent revelations have caught my interest and curiosity. My investigations

thus far, based merely upon my father’s name, have already resulted in some rather

startling and surprising facts and by the time I reach the end of this story I might

very well be able to add some interesting details to my life.

So, back to the mainstream of my life and times. I have no real idea why I’m

unable to remember so little of my earlier days but I do have a possible theory.

Even now my memory only seems to function efficiently when it is confronted with

unusual, beautiful, significant, out-of-the-ordinary events or people. I realise this

shouldn’t be so and it probably indicates some sort of character weakness. But the

ordinary, mundane, routine everyday events of life never seem to have sufficient

essence to enable them to be retained in my memory. ’Twas ever thus and is still so.

1939 and war came. I remember thinking that it couldn’t possibly last any longer

than a fortnight - I suppose this was my first major misjudgement. Not my last, of

course! Hopefully my ability to perceive matters more accurately has improved

since then. I cannot remember anything of where I was at this time, except that I

was in a Home somewhere close to a school called Adamsrill Road School

(somewhere in London).

This too might just have been imaginary, except that only very recently I contacted

the Local Authority covering the South London area of Sydenham and, wonder of

wonders, they confirmed that there was a school of this name in their district. So

that’s where I was in 1939 - Sydenham, South London.

I only remember this school because I seem to recall that it was hit by one of

Hermann Goering’s bombs, probably intended for me, having regard to the recent

discovery of my “Jewish” connection. Anyway, most of what I’ve written thus far

are very dim recollections, somewhat blurred by the mists of time. I don’t recall

that I had any feelings of unhappiness or abandonment at this time or even feelings

of resignation. It is all now just a lost world - a blur.

So, dear reader, we now advance to somewhere in the region of 1942. I am in a

Boys’ Home on the outskirts of Horley, Surrey - The Chestnuts by name. Doesn’t

that sound grand? In fact it was what I would now fully appreciate as a magnificent

edifice. At the time, however, it was like all the other places I’d resided in - a

prison. I would frequently ask myself why my mother saw fit to deposit me in these

ever-changing locations. Why I couldn’t live with her in a world of family and

freedom? But she never told me and I was too timid to ask. This ignorance of the

reasons for my plight was worsened by my shyness and a tendency to be

introverted. People who know me now would be hard-pressed to believe that I

remained a practising introvert until approximately 22 years of age. So I never

found out from my mother why my life was what it was and why I didn’t have a

family. I think I know better now.

From the information recently supplied to me by Barnardo’s, the picture that

emerges is that she was seduced by “Mr Putative Ufland” who declined to marry

her, left her virtually destitute without any prospects of recovery, and forced her

into a financial situation which made it impossible for her to look after me in a

family home.

As far as I know, she had not been trained for anything in particular - a syndrome

of the period, I would say, when single unmarried women with child were not only

ostracised by society but also untrained for anything except motherhood. This

meant that for the rest of her life she struggled to make ends meet by taking on

various cleaning/housekeeping jobs.

It seems clear now that the trivial amount of money earned by such work was

totally inadequate to look after a young boy, hence my incarceration in various

institutions. According to the Barnardo records, it appears she made every possible

effort to ensure that she earned enough to pay others to look after me. I can only

assume that my eventual entry into Barnardo’s was due to a final decision by her

that she could no longer afford to do so. However, at the time, all my young brain

would comprehend was the fact that the whole world and his wife had forever

bossed me about and my mother was allowing them to do so. I realised early on

that she wasn’t inclined to tell me of her life and times. This meant that I never

really got to know her. What a pity!

Was she ashamed? Was she frightened? Was she saving it all for later and never

quite got around to it? Or was she merely emotionally and intellectually unable to

bring herself to tell me? It matters not now. I am in ignorance forever and have long

accepted this. I only hope that it didn’t cause her more unhappiness than she

deserved. She obviously felt that she had been condemned by society for her

“waywardness”. It seems that her mistake was to effectively destroy the rest of her

life. I can only hope that my attitude towards her and my ignorance of her

motivations and emotions did not exacerbate her unhappiness. The thought of that

possibility is quite dreadful.

Now that I am aware of her financial efforts to ensure that I was brought up

with a certain degree of integrity, I have a totally different view of her. I

suspect that because she, too, was an introvert she must have found it extremely

difficult to overcome her feelings of guilt. I also suspect that she was brought

up in the confines of a middle-class morality. To her, this would have made her

“crime” even worse.

So my young life continued on its merry way. However, between the years

1939-1942 there seems to be only a hazy recollection of where I was and the

happenings associated with this period. It is almost a complete blank, which I am

inexplicably unable to account for, with the exception of the last period of my stay

at The Chestnuts. How strange! Here I am, giving an account of my life thus far,

and I cannot remember a three year period of it! I wonder why? I have a hazy

recollection of being frightened by the Nazi bombing and of being evacuated (I

think) to a small village in Surrey called Newdigate. Beyond this, nothing. It has

been consigned to the dustbin of my mind. But why? I will not dwell on it longer.

Nonetheless, I am now at The Chestnuts. It is 1941/42 and, in essence, my

recallable life starts here. Having said this, I don’t have any idea as to why I was

here but I do have one or two memories of it. Located just outside Horley, it was

situated about 100 yards from the old Southern Railway line and it was on this

railway line that I got my first real taste of the outside world. I would travel every

weekday on this railway line to a school in a place called Earlswood. Magical,

absolutely magical, to this 11 year old! I cannot remember how this came about and

I cannot remember anything else about this establishment. But I did see my mother

occasionally because she worked and lived in Redhill a few miles away. In the

main, my abiding memory is of “going to school”. I have no idea why I was the

only boy in this Home to attend a “normal” school. But, for some reason, I was

privileged to do so.

I think it was during this period that I first formulated a childlike view of my

mother - what she was and why she had flung me into the cauldron of a world

where freedom was at a premium and where one’s entire existence relied upon the

character and attitudes of matrons and the like. I assumed that my mother was not

really a proper mother but merely someone who was showing the common

humanity that is extended by one human being to another. I was wrong, of course.

But this view stayed with me for many years - that she wasn’t a “real” mother,

merely someone who had given birth to me. Her visits to me meant little more than

giving me the opportunity to mix with the “outside” world, a world that more than

anything meant one thing to me - freedom.

This “ethic” of freedom has in fact stayed with me ever since my childhood. Even

now I tend to rebel and take an “attitude” whenever I feel that my individual

freedoms are unnecessarily or legislatively curbed or threatened. I am somewhat

repelled by what I term as “establishmentism” with all its blind obedience to rules

and regulations. However, this is another story, and perhaps not one that I should

dwell on here.

Nonetheless, I have often wondered whether one of the consequences of being

brought up in institutions is an inherited repugnance to everything that appears to

encroach upon personal freedoms, without any regard to alternative commonsense

possibilities - in other words, blind obedience and adherence to a “system” when

the system and its rules are treated as being of greater importance than its objective.

I still hold this view in respect of many establishments, not least the establishment

of government. I have an idea I’m wandering again! Sorry, but such matters are

nowadays very much a part of me. I shall desist and continue my saga…… I had

now realised that I was a “bastard” child. I don’t recall that I was consciously

bothered by this as such, but only by the fact that it was associated with my lack of

relatives. I never met anyone from my mother’s side and never got to know

whether anybody even existed. So with no family and what I considered to be a

“name” only mother, I made my way in my world, my way. It was at this time that I

had what was really my first taste of mixing with the outside world.

I have no idea why, but I found myself to be the sole inhabitant of The Chestnuts to

undergo what we referred to as “normal education”. Up to this point, any education

I’d had was purely and only within the confines of the various establishments I’d

inhabited. Needless to say, it was extremely limited as so much time was given to

chores and discipline. But, for reasons which totally escape me, I found myself

traipsing off to school every morning from Horley to a place called Earlswood.

Heaven! I mean, absolute heaven! Travelling on my own on a train, surrounded by

“ordinary” people. A satchel, a cap, sandwiches, and all that was needed to take my

place in a “proper” school. Wonderful! You cannot imagine the feeling I had when,

for the first time in my young life, the 45 minutes it took to transport me from my

home to my school were the first 45minutes of absolute freedom I’d ever tasted and

then, at the other end, to be confronted by and mixing with “normal” boys, with

families, in a “proper” school. What heady stuff for an introverted prisoner! For

just a few hours every day, I was a “real” member of society and totally responsible

for my own welfare. Well, not quite, of course! I’d still got teachers to boss me

about, just like the matrons in the Homes. But I was treated as “Colin Leaney”, not

as an appendage to someone else’s ego.

The school itself was adjacent to a couple of gasometers and this appeared to be the

only fly in the ointment of satisfaction. Bombs! I always assumed that should one

of these missiles from the sky make a direct hit on these gasometers, I would no

longer be. But they didn’t, so I am! I was, I think, a natural learner. My brain was

fertile and I possessed a boringly hateful trait of asking for answers to too many

questions. It has ever been thus, dear reader. I still do. Even at that age, I was bored

by the mundane and therefore had a tendency to be mentally idle with all things

trivial - another trait that hasn’t altered.

Every late afternoon I would of course be obliged to return to my prison - my

haven of contentment (!) - to matrons who didn’t appear to understand the nature of

the freedom of the individual. Nonetheless, compared to my fellow inmates, I was

leading a life of luxury - regular and mind-sapping contact with the outside world.

Did I shine at anything during my short sojourn in heaven? Not that I can recall,

except a hazy recollection that I was good at mental arithmetic and intelligence

tests. In any event, the sum total of my “normal” education was relatively

insignificant, or so I thought at the time. No passing of exams. No educational

qualifications. Just the opportunity to be one jump ahead of my fellows in the

Home. Later I was to be amazed at the actual level I’d reached, albeit a low level

nonetheless. But it mattered not. For now at least I would content myself with the

swank of being the only boy in this small Home to escape to the outside world, via

my own intelligence. Sufficient unto the day!

It was from this Home that I was to make my way into Dr Barnardo’s Homes on the

9th September 1943, to be precise. I don’t remember any of the detail of this

traumatic upheaval except that, for whatever reason, I entered on this day

the Russell-Cotes Nautical School.

 

2. Russell-Cotes Nautical School, Poole, Dorset

Me, a sailor?

So at the “pensionable” age of 12 years I was now a “Barnardo” boy - no longer the

common little urchin of unknown commercial-minded establishments but a proper

member of a proper institution. This was to be the start of a very definitive period

in my young life though regrettably, once again, tinged with my lack of recall.

So what was I thus far? Only a child and an only child. I had formulated attitudes

which were a natural consequence of my circumstances of being pushed from pillar

to post and from home to home. I didn’t know why. I just went along with it all.

Without doubt the strongest view I had of life at this time was my view on the

restrictions of my freedoms. In hindsight, I suppose one could have expected and

hoped that my strongest views and feelings should have been towards my mother’s

plight and our relationship. But this was not so. Nowadays it’s food for thought, of

course. But then? I only really wanted the freedom to develop my own mind, hold

my own views, express my own views without penalty, formulate my own

attitudes, and dispense with the shackles of institutionalised dogma. So say I now.

Later it will become clear that this trait of character has never left me. So has it all

been a natural consequence of my earlier restrictive upbringing?

I shall never know. In all this, one must have regard for the genetic influence. We

are all, in total, the sum of all things lived coupled with that which we are born.

How am I to know whether, even given the most luxurious and expansive

upbringing, I would still be what I am? I am not clever enough to answer all this

but it is interesting to ruminate on the matter.

Once again I digress. I am now in a properly recognised institution, not the amateur

goings-on of privateers, but Dr Barnardo’s. Any orphan, waif, or throw-out worth

his salt knew that this was the crème-de-la-crème of Homes. You were not a proper

valid waif until you qualified for Barnardo’s! I jest, of course. But in a Naval

School? Me, the world’s worst ocean-going liner? Even then I knew that sea travel

and I were not happy bedfellows. It mattered not, as it transpired, as I later had the

choice of being a professional land-lubber. Still am. I was also now an inmate of a

school which surrounded me with more than the dozen souls I’d been accustomed

to thus far - a couple of hundred, I suppose. I would be trained to be something or

somebody, trained to have an identity. Little did I realise then that the “shirt-tail” of

identity would remain with me for life.

Were all these boys like me - unloved, no family, on their own, and starved of love

and affection? I know now of course that I wasn’t unloved, but not so at the time.

In general terms I suppose the answer was “yes”. They were young gentlemen from

all corners of the country - black, white, working-class stock, middle-class stock,

and an amalgam of many variations of mankind - who found themselves under the

paternal wing of the good Doctor. The school and its premises were quite

magnificent, although I was unappreciative of this at the time. We were split into

separate “Houses” which, apart from all else I suppose, engendered in many of us

our first feelings of “belonging” and imbued in us a pride in our House

performance. I believe each House consisted of about 30-40 boys.

How to get on

It soon became apparent that if one wanted to enjoy the fruits of freedom and throw

off the shackles of imprisonment, it was necessary to attain a good standard of

competence in a field that involved travel outside the environs of the school.

Gymnastics was one answer and I had a natural ability for it. We would regularly

escape into the outside world under the guise of giving displays to anybody who

would have us. Another avenue of escape was to get into the school band as a

drummer, bugler, or fifer. Every Sunday our band would march down into the

centre of Poole, lustily blowing, puffing, and banging. I managed to get into this

band of erstwhile musicians and every Sunday became a fun day.

In effect we were swanking off. We were saying to these ordinary citizens, “We

may be incarcerated in an institution where we are starved of love and affection,

but just look at our discipline and just listen to our music.” Our chance to show

them! One could achieve a similar status by being good at football or cricket and

representing the school in outside matches. My good friend, Gordon Brocklehurst,

and I were both quite good at gymnastics. Gordon, especially, was very good at any

exercise which involved the use of a supple back. He had a “hollow” back and we

would regularly have “crab” races - arching the back, with the feet and hands still

on the ground, with our stomachs facing heavenward, and then walking like this for

quite a few yards. A great deal of our spare time was spent doing our gymnastics on

the tarmac parade ground. We would have “walking on our hands” races, daredevil

somersaulting (on solid ground remember), and all the variations of flips that we

could dream up. We were either very brave, very stupid, very skilful, or a

combination of all three. But we were good at it.

I actually managed to get into one or two of these “escape” categories but although

I participated in football and gymnastics, my only real talent was music. So I got

myself into the band and regaled the ears of innocent passers-by on most Sunday

mornings with my miserable untrained noises playing the piccolo. It happened thus.

Although I already knew that I could play tunes on balloons, bicycle pumps, pieces

of wire, mouth-organs, and virtually anything that was capable of producing tonic

sounds, it had never occurred to me to put this ability to any use. I didn’t know a

note of music and wasn’t much interested in altering the situation but fate took a

hand. A fifer in the band who was privileged to be going away for the weekend

asked me to take care of his piccolo. I agreed to do so and proceeded to spend a few

hours from the next 48 hours propped up against the parade ground wall playing

tunes on this complicated piece of machinery. I found no difficulty whatsoever. In

the space of a few hours I discovered I could more or less play any tune I wished. It

was my first real taste of music, albeit without the aid of written music. Anyway,

come Monday morning, and having returned the instrument to its rightful owner, I

found myself a member of the band. How wonderful! A trip to the outside world

every Sunday.

Apart from my participation in football, gymnastics and the band, I fondly

remember the “war-games” we used to play amongst the welter of available gorse

bushes. They made very effective “pill-boxes” where one could conceal oneself

from the enemy and quite comfortably slaughter thousands of Germans without

loss to oneself. I actually won the war single-handedly long before it was reported

to have been won in 1945 and this without the aid of the Americans or Errol Flynn!

Settled? Not quite!

Although in a Nautical School set up for the prime purpose of training young boys

in seamanship, we were very much looked after in our houses by females, referred

to as matrons. These magnificent creatures, trained to be as unkind as possible and

later on recruited into the Hitler Waffen SS, were very much a part of our lives.

When on our knees polishing the dormitory floors, lines of us working in unison,

we would attempt to look up the skirts of these females as they passed by

inspecting our handiwork - or at least I did, and I suspect I wasn’t on my own. Sex

had not yet lifted its ugly head but male instinct had. Thus far in my young life I’d

been virtually starved of the company of the opposite sex. So what were these

stirrings down below?

Whatever they were, they were almost as good as gymnastics and football. We had

male masters, of course, to cater for our very limited educational needs, and

variously designated naval personnel to teach us the ways of seamanship - Morse

Code, semaphore, port, starboard, flags, lights, bells, aft, stern - all part of a daily

routine designed to send us to sea.

Not for me, I have to say. It was drummed into me in fine style but it was to be

wasted. The sea and I do not get on. This particular Barnardo School was for the

training of seamanship for the Merchant Navy. The Royal Navy (the fighting navy)

was considered to be the more meritorious and Barnardo’s had another school,

Watts Naval Training School, specifically designed to cater for this branch of the

Services.

Gordon and I became firm friends until one day he was taken away to be fostered

by a couple who lived somewhere in the depths of Berkshire. It was the fervent

wish of most of us that some day somebody would be sufficiently interested in us

to either foster or adopt us. So I lost my best friend (temporarily as it transpired). I

continued to assimilate whatever came my way until I reached the ripe old age of

14 years in the first quarter of 1945, with the war not yet quite finished.

During my stay at Russell-Cotes, I had been visited from time to time by my

mother who would invariably take me to visit “mythical” aunts and uncles, usually

in the North London area. On these occasions it was naturally quite exciting to mix

with such people but these adults never, ever let anything slip. Not once did any of

them give anything away in terms of my birth, my father, my family, or my

mother’s situation. I realised that they weren’t really proper aunts and uncles, just

friends of my mother, sympathetic to her in the way friends should be, but I was

grateful for their paternalism and interest in me.

When one reached the age of 14 years, Barnardo’s gave one a choice. I could either

stay on at Russell-Cotes and complete my seamanship training or elect to be

transferred to another Barnardo school specifically designed to teach one a trade.

Having regard to my absolute aversion to travelling on water, my decision was less

than instant. I was to be transferred.

During my time at Russell-Cotes I can’t recall that I gave much time to wondering

why I was in Barnardo’s. On the occasions of my mother’s visits it never occurred

to me to push the boat out and demand reasons and she never volunteered such

information. I never felt inclined to “bully” her into explanations, although I often

wondered why I was apparently the sole survivor of the “Leaney” dynasty. She

obviously had her reasons for not divulging such information and so I never did get

any answers.

So, Russell-Cotes had extended my life from 12 years to 14 years of age. What had

it done for me? Had it changed or re-shaped my views on life? Had it given me any

greater sense of identity? I know not. I cannot recall that I’d changed much. I’d

discovered an innate musical talent and had made some firm friendships. I was now

able to handle living within a large community of boys without any great difficulty

and I had experienced disciplines hitherto outside of my experience. Also, much to

my surprise, I had feelings of gratitude towards Barnardo’s. I had been properly

looked after, regularly fed, encouraged to participate with others in all aspects of

life, and was at least now “part of a community” - the community of Barnardo’s, an

organisation with clearly defined targets, a definitive structure, and a regard for my

welfare. (So they said!)

However I was probably still basically an unhappy teenager. Even one’s inner

unhappiness was taken for granted, being both familiar and commonplace. One

grew accustomed to unhappiness and, at three o’clock in the morning in one’s

bunk, it was almost a friend. So onward transmission, my friends, to Goldings.

 

3. The William Baker Technical School

(Goldings), Hertford

Was this really me?

This was a different proposition. I was now a “mature” 14 year old with a mind of

somebody else’s - a resident of a “technical” school. What a magnificent thing to be

a member of! I was going to learn a trade. This would surely lead me to better and

greater things.

With the physical stature of 5’4”, outwardly frail, agile, quick of response both

physical and mental, quick to learn, supposedly fragile, supremely fit, and very

“bullyable”, I settled in amongst these two-hundred odd boys. In fact, I never did

become an object of bullying because I was too mentally and physically sharp.

Later on this ability of mine was to come in very useful in my football. I settled

into the permanent position of left-back. Me, with my frail stature! Left-backs were

supposed to be fairly large, strong, completely without guile, and somewhat lacking

in the finer points of flair and imagination. Not me! I was faster and more

imaginative than most of the wingers I came into contact with.

At my current age of 67,(1998), I have now come to terms with one vital truth about

myself and my life - when having to make any decision which is likely to have

either a beneficial or detrimental effect, based upon me making the right decision, I

make a studied analysis of all pertinent factors, arrive at the correct possibilities,

and then proceed to make the wrong decision from only two choices! It was ever

thus and I now made the wrong decision at this school.

This was a “trade” school and, glory be, we were given a free choice as to the trade

we wanted to pursue. Admittedly, by today’s standards the choices were fairly

limited. I think the full list was printing, horticulture, boot repairing (snobs),

engineering and tinsmith. I chose, wait for it, wait for it, tinsmith! One of my first

manifestations of making the wrong decision.

However, I enjoyed it. It involved a fair degree of geometry coupled with facets

such as creativity and an eye for form and line. I wasn’t at all disappointed with my

choice and looked forward to an enjoyable and hopefully rewarding career as a

skilled tinsmith. People would clamour for my skills and artistry and back this up

with financial commissions! But, it wasn’t to be. I was to learn that the skills of the

tinsmith were no longer a part of modern man and his technology. In essence what I

could make in three days - a single product like a kettle for instance - could be

made by a production line in minutes. In their three days, they could produce 2,000

kettles. Not quite, but you get my drift I’m sure! Nonetheless, this was my choice

and I got on with its consequences. I also got on with the task of mixing with a

couple of hundred other 14-17 year olds.

Although we had the normal institutionalised camaraderie, I can’t recall that many

of us confided in each other with regard to the individual circumstances

surrounding our incarceration - family backgrounds, why we were in Barnardo’s

and so on. We would swap stories of our previous Barnardo places of residence but,

beyond that, very little else.

In many instances, of course, this was simply because a lot of our life’s detail was

missing. I have often wondered since whether boys who were thrown together in

this way in effect “threw” away aspects of their past as a psychological response to

the thought that they, in turn, were “thrown” away by others?

Anyway, we were all in the same boat and so, between us, we established identities,

hierarchies, and pecking orders. We were all “inside” and the rest of mankind was

all “outside”. Occasionally some of us would try and alter the status quo by “doing

a bunk”. This was quite exciting and I tried it once. I took with me a packet of

Craven A cigarettes to bolster my manhood. I had no idea where I would go, or

how, and I settled into the gorse bushes of Hertford Common to smoke my first

packet of “fags”. A very silly 15 year old now became violently sick, found himself

unable to proceed further and, within a few hours, having sampled a painful

freedom, was caught by the authorities and marched back from whence he came.

Punishment ensued. This was administered by one, Joe Patch, our gymnastics

master. I will not bore the reader with the gory detail of this punishment. Suffice to

say that a gym master with a wolfhound, a fully equipped gymnasium, a dilapidated

recreation hut and a vivid imagination enhanced by the heroics of one, Adolph

Hitler, had little difficulty in teaching one a lesson. I survived, of course, but

decided that gaining my freedom in this fashion was but fruitless and painful.

Never again!

So I got on with my life at Goldings, for this is what it was known as. I participated

in everything that was available which included swimming, gymnastics, football,

and table tennis. Although we were very short of first-class facilities, the school

encouraged all affordable sports to the extent that we participated in the local

“outside” leagues. I thoroughly enjoyed sport and although I was not excellent in

any one thing, I did tend to excel at table tennis and won the school championship.

I continued to play the game, on and off, until the age of 40, with varying degrees

of success.

Like Russell-Cotes, this school too was very regimented and awash with discipline.

Naturally, as healthy teenagers we didn’t at the time appreciate discipline and all

that it meant. Parades were the order of the day, with army-like drills and so on -

just an extension of what we went through at Russell-Cotes.

Occasionally we would have visits from Royalty and various other dignitaries and

we would be subjected to parade inspections and the like. I can’t recall that such

visits meant much to me. I have never been of a mind to be influenced or

opinionated about people with titles or positions of power. This has never altered

and I’m still of the same mind. I don’t think it has anything to do with complexes

about being part of the lower order of things, probably more to do with a “sense” of

equality which institutions tend to engender. I suppose, because we were all in the

same boat of “circumstances separating us from normal society”, we were more or

less all equal. This, I think, developed in us a sense that nobody is really any more

important than anyone else. H’mmm! Something else which has stayed with me for

life. Or am I guilty of getting a result to fit a theory?

Nonetheless, we had a healthy regard for authority for indeed this is what

Barnardo’s instilled in us. This School, like all other Barnardo establishments,

continued to feed us with the Victorian ethics and morals espoused by our previous

schools. Later in my life, and even today, these Victorian values have proved to be

grossly out of step with a large slice of mankind. Such ethics and principles were

“out-of-step” even at the time of learning and today, e’en as I write, one is almost

considered “peculiar” if imbued with a sense of self-reliance, responsibility, selfdiscipline,

honesty and realistic perception.

It was indeed a “play up, and play the game” syndrome, involving decency, honesty

and trust, apparently on a level which ordinary society could not and would not

produce. In this instance I can only speak for myself when I say that my upbringing

up to this point had manufactured a boy who supposed that the “outside” world and

its people were indeed what Barnardo’s told us they were - honest, trustworthy,

responsible, decent, and fair-minded. I was wrong and I have suffered ever since

with a certain amount of disillusionment. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A taste of the outside

During my stay at Goldings, however, I was given the opportunity to partake in a

few interesting experiences one of which was to be selected as a ball-boy at the

Wimbledon Championships in 1946 and 1947. I had the good fortune to be selected

to do this on the Centre Court where I played my part in all the finals of these two

years. This was a marvellous experience for us. Every day we would travel by

coach from Hertford to Wimbledon and this alone was well worth the selection.

Each day upon our arrival we would be taken to our special rooms where we were

overlorded by an elderly gentleman who became our coach, master, and

disciplinarian. I cannot recall his name but he was a splendid person of the old

school. We dared not disobey a word he said. We were accustomed to such

discipline and readily learned all that was necessary. Off duty, we wandered around

freely, having access to all the players and their autographs. We participated with

relish in the time-honoured tradition of strawberries and cream. Our actual job on

court was very exciting and gave us the opportunity to be right in the middle of the

action. All this, every day for a whole fortnight! And, would you believe, on top of

it all, we would be paid 19s - 6d a week for the privilege. Altogether, one of the

more memorable Barnardo moments!

I had never dreamt of such wealth before and it all belonged to me. I probably

wasted it all but it matters not. These were moments of glory and escapism. Upon

our return to normality, chunks of wood fashioned from any tree to which we could

gain access acted as our rackets, along with any spherical objects we could find to

act as balls. I very swiftly established myself as Wimbledon Champion and, in all

humility, it was common knowledge that I was vastly superior to any of the actual

champions. We would mimic these champions, with their 120 mile an hour serves,

overhead smashes, and cleverly angled drop shots. But tennis was not for

Dr Barnardo’s and its inmates - far too expensive and elitist. So we contented

ourselves with homemade equipment used on tarmac courts which doubled as a

parade ground. Thus was our Wimbledon experience.

Almost there

My sojourn at Goldings came to an abrupt end on 15th July 1947. One can’t

imagine what it was like to be told that one was going to be deposited into the

outside world, as a bona fide citizen of that world. In essence, for the first time in

my life, I was about to go into a mode of life where, at least at certain times of the

day and night I, and I alone, would be able to decide what I did and how I did it.

Absolute magic to this young lad! Mankind was about to be regaled with the last of

the Leaneys - or so I thought. Since that time I have discovered that there are one or

two more, but not my kin. So I was about to taste freedom at the ripe old age of

17 years. As a tinsmith? Not on your life, but as an assistant pourer in a die-casting

foundry!

I ask you, after diligently studying and practising the skills of tin-smithery (my

word), I finish up as a die-caster’s assistant. My grand plans already in tatters. My

talents in the direction of tinsmith creativity never to be seen again. What a shame!

I had intended that the world would be beautified by my efforts but it wasn’t to be.

Ah well, so be it.

About two hundred yards from Arnos Grove underground station in New

Southgate, North London is where I was deposited and where I was to start life

proper in digs in the company of three other ex-Barnardo boys, all of whom

originated from Goldings. Now I had to contend with a landlady instead of masters

and matrons. But I didn’t give a jot. I had my freedom. ’Twas all that mattered.

What now was my attitude towards Barnardo’s? I was so busy adjusting to my new

world that I hardly had time for such thoughts. This was a new planet, Barnardo’s

was behind me and I had a life to get on with. Die-caster’s assistant or otherwise, I

was master of my own destiny. Years later I was to give thought to Barnardo’s and

what it had done for me, but not then.

 

4. The Real World

At last - freedom

This then was my release from Barnardo’s. The probability was that I was only

released at this time because of the vacancy arising in the die-casting foundry.

Because employment had been found for me. Certainly not because I had become a

fully trained tinsmith! Although I was somewhat disappointed at the near certainty

that I would now never be what I was trained for, I would not have exchanged my

freedom for that of being a tinsmith. This freedom meant everything to me and has

done so ever since.

I was somewhat bewildered by this new life in the real world. I now had to learn

about shopping, telephoning, working for money, listening to the radio, choosing

what to do with my leisure time, how to converse with those only accustomed to a

normal world and, one way or the other, all the normal mundane aspects of life. No

Wimbledon here. No marches into Poole. Just the ordinary job of getting on with a

normal life. I now know that this learning process never leaves one.

I’m still learning and there are still many aspects of ordinary life of which I am

completely ignorant. Anyway here I am, earning 22s 6d per week, pouring molten

metal into various forms of dies - sweaty, boring, unimaginative, moronic labour,

which even then I realised wasn’t me. Nonetheless it was a platform from which I

could only rise and the very banal nature of the work certainly served to make me

appreciate that I should aim for better things, given the opportunity, or indeed, learn

how to create such opportunities.

As far as my social and domestic life was concerned, it was natural that I would

cling to and socialise with my three other ex-Barnardo comrades. We had all

undergone the same experiences in life and, although we were four very different

people, these experiences bound us together. I quickly concluded that this was not

in my best interests however. My three companions were “hanging around street

corners” people and could not in any way be considered as having the cerebral

power to do any different. I hated it all but they were all I had. Luckily, this was to

change.

I think also that I quickly established in my own mind that the outside world was

not as Barnardo’s had told me. The honesty, truth, decency, trust, and responsibility

ethics which Barnardo’s had espoused were not prevalent in the way supposed. I

realise that this may have been partly as a result of my “personal” perception of

what Barnardo’s had drummed into me but, nonetheless, it was real enough to me.

My first taste of cynicism and disillusionment? I don’t think so but it was a bit of a

culture shock. I suppose most of the shock factor was simply because of the

constant use in Barnardo’s of the phrase, “You won’t be able to behave like this

when you get outside.” Well, here I was outside and the people who were not

supposed to tolerate dishonesty, lies, and cheating were actually the perpetrators of

all that we’d been taught to despise. It was already a changing world from the

“Victorianism” of Barnardo’s and presumably I had to change with it. I never did

and I never have. Ever since that time others have perceived me as being somewhat

naïve. If this naivety has any basis in fact and, if it is in itself based upon my

perception of Barnardo ideals, then so be it. I am naïve. I have stuck with such

principles ever since (or at least attempted to!) and it’s a certainty that I can’t

change now.

So this was the start of my “proper” life. The time when I needed to test my powers

of resilience against the forces of normality. How long would it take me to become

an acceptable member of conventional society? Would I be disillusioned? Would I

be deemed as being different? These and many other questions were to stay

consistently with me for a number of years. Many, still unanswered possibly!

So I got on with the job of learning and living - learning how to contend with the

banter of workmates who, in essence, were totally alien to me and learning how to

fend for myself without the imposed assistance of masters, matrons, or

commissioned officers. This was it, the real thing.

Not quite as I’d hoped!

The die-casting work was pretty awful - boring, physically demanding, dirty, noisy,

and completely lacking any redeeming features. Not for a cerebral personality like

me surely? It was a small foundry in a place called New Southgate, North London.

I was surprised that foundries existed in London. I had assumed that the whole of

London was a mixture of clean industries and clever people, all of whom were

engaged in processes at the pinnacle of sophistication. Not dirty noisy foundries!

Surely these were for the likes of Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Sheffield, but not

London?

But here I was, stripped to the waist each day, transporting ladles and pots full of

molten metal from furnaces into dies. Not the best of starts for a life full of promise

and potential! Seriously though, my dislike of the work I was doing did not in any

way diminish my joy at being free. Although I had no educational or vocational

qualifications whatsoever, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t ever be better

than a die-caster’s mate.

My fellow lodgers in “Hotel Barnardo” on the “Costa del Southgate” were not

really my cup of tea, even though I was more or less obliged to spend a large slice

of my social time with them. This was not good news. I was not made of the same

stuff and their general level of mentality seemed to extend no further than the

nearest street corner and its attractions.

We would spend quite an amount of time dodging gangs who were hell-bent on

setting themselves up as training officers for the Hitler Youth movement. Socially,

this was not what I had envisaged for myself. Nonetheless, it was my “real” world.

Wonder of wonders, I eventually managed to escape from it. ’Twas thus…...

Decency prevailed

I somehow discovered that a Boys’ Club existed in Friern Barnet adjacent to New

Southgate. Boys’ Clubs were all the rage in those days where character building

was the order of the day and I presumed this environment would be closer to my

Barnardo life. So I joined it. This was better than the “street corner” syndrome and,

once again, put me in touch with the sporting scene I’d enjoyed at Barnardo’s.

Here I met Ken Briers and we quickly became firm friends. He introduced me to

his family and, within the space of a few months, I was invited to take up

permanent residence in his home. Apart from all else, this was my first ever close

contact with a real family with all its foibles, shortcomings, joys, loves, and the

“blood is thicker than water” syndrome. All in all, this situation was an invaluable

experience for me and one for which I have always been most grateful.

As I say, these Boys’ Clubs were there to assist in bridging the gap between

adolescence and manhood. All sporting activities were on the agenda and were

complemented with other activities in which life had not yet allowed me to

participate, such as amateur dramatics. This I really enjoyed and I became involved

whenever I could. God knows how I managed this because I was at that time, and

still am, exceedingly nervous about any form of “public” appearance. So life

bowled along at the Boys’ Club and I shall be forever grateful to all those who took

me along this path. I didn’t, of course, find any of this difficult as Barnardo’s had

trained me to handle an “all-boys” environment.

But shortly I was, for the first time in my life, due to tread into the world of girls

and that was a different proposition.

My first family

Ken’s family was seven in total - mother, father, and five children. They lived in

Glenthorne Road, Friern Barnet, North London. I wonder if it’s still there? It would

be extremely evocative to go back if it were. The children’s ages when I met them

ranged between 7 and 17 years. They were poor, very basic, and very ordinary.

They were also lovely people who were very kind to me - I suppose the first real

unsolicited kindness ever extended to me. In essence I became a member of their

family. They had figuratively “adopted” me and my life took on a new meaning. I

was being treated as a “part” of a unit with an identity, with a character and with a

personality. Not a number, but a person. There was also one other major factor,

which at the time was purely incidental, but was to become a catalyst for much of

what has happened to me since.

There in the front room of the Briers home stood, in all its majesty, a piano! To be

accurate it was a “pianola”, fully in tune and playable, and with a couple of dozen

“rolls” containing wonderful pieces of music. It was very much a focal point of

enjoyment in this home with both of the daughters having had piano lessons. To

me, it was wondrous - a world I had only dreamed of - music. Piano music, more

specifically, and my fingers on a keyboard. Magic! Alas, this was only to last for

six months or so because of calls from the Royal Family to avail myself of their

kind offer to join their army. More later. We would sit at this magnificent beast,

pedalling away, making passers-by believe that we had budding Rubensteins in the

house. Needless to say, I spent hours trying to figure out how to play the proper

piano. I discovered that I could immediately play single-note right-hand tunes

almost at will. I also discovered something else about myself which is still an

integral part of me. Laziness!

As long as I could play tunes naturally, without training and musical knowledge, I

would continue to do so. I couldn’t be bothered to undergo the disciplines of piano

lessons given that I could just sit down at any time and play anyway. A fatal flaw

and one which may still, yet, become the only regret of my life. The music

produced by this instrument and its rolls was wonderful and even more wonderful

to someone who had been starved of “pianistic” opportunities. I would sit there

imagining I was the performer, with my fingers gliding over the keys à la

Paderewski. I would take imaginary bows and curtain calls. I didn’t need lessons -

the machine did it all for me and transported me into a world of music I’d only ever

dreamed of.

So apart from all else, my stay at the Briers’ home was a musical delight. I got on

well with all the family as far as I know and, indeed, fell madly in love with Olive.

She was the eldest daughter, probably about 18 years of age, and I was living in the

same house. I never stood a chance, of course. Firstly, I had absolutely no idea

whatsoever about how to court a member of the opposite sex. I mean, really no

idea! And secondly, she was hardly aware of my existence. I was merely a friend of

the family, certainly not a potential boyfriend. I meandered on quite happily in the

Briers’ home until, one day in the early part of 1949, I received a request from

somebody described as King George VI, asking me whether I would care to

become a member of his private army! I wasn’t churlish enough to decline this very

kind invitation so, somewhere in the region of my eighteenth birthday, I shifted my

place of residence from Glenthorne Road to Catterick Army Barracks.

My time at the Briers’s had been invaluable. Even then I considered that I had been

very fortunate. Apart from giving me a taste of what proper family life was like,

they had all been very kind to me and, with the assistance of the Boys’ Club, had

kept me on a reasonably level path.

It might have been so different had I not met Ken. I had maintained the foundry job

during this period, picking up the enormous sum of 22s-6d per week and being

bored out of existence. But I was to engage in many more boring tasks before

reaching the age of 30 years and this first ever job was no worse than some that

were to come. I have still to this day never, ever trained or studied for a job or

career - a measurement of my mental indolence, no doubt, so I don’t complain.

’Twas in my hands to alter but idleness was my master.

 

5. His Majesty’s Armed Forces

More of the same

To those who have never had the privilege of serving in the Armed Forces, I say

“pity”. I don’t mean that it is pitiable, merely that it is an experience (or most

certainly was), that has harmed very few, whilst being of benefit to most. Even

today many people will still recommend life in the forces as a panacea for many

social ills.

However, in general terms, life in the Armed Services was disliked at the time by

most of those who served. It is a peculiar form of life that appears to only have a

sort of “retrospective” benefit - in hindsight. Isn’t it a pity that hindsight cannot be

experienced at the time it refers to?

I had a good idea, even before setting foot in Catterick, that this new life would not

present any problems. Barnardo’s had prepared me. I was right. This was manifest

from day one when tears and sobs could be heard in the darkness of “lights out”.

Not from this throat they weren’t, but from the souls of hardy individuals who had

never before had the dubious privilege of living a day without the mental and

physical assistance of mother or father. I felt smugly superior, almost arrogant. I

wasn’t about to sob. I was accustomed to being ordered about without the

protection and support of anyone else. The shouting and bullying of the nearest

lance-corporal had been a part of my everyday existence for many years. I was a

hardened order-taker. But for most of my colleagues it was their first experience of

being shouted at, insulted and, in general terms, being on the receiving end of the

forces of discipline, stupidity, arrogance, and brainwashing.

So all this was for me merely an extension of my previous life. Not having a parent

available to comfort me was of no consequence but some of them were destroyed

by the shock and trauma of it all. Only temporarily, of course! The shouting very

quickly had a positive effect and once again they became men. I have to say that

during these first few weeks, when nothing I came across was new to me, I did

indeed feel superior. I was fit, agile, mentally in tune with everything thrown at me,

accustomed to all marches and drills, and I even became interested in a few skills

that I hadn’t experienced before, such as the use of firearms and how to survive in

the NAAFI without any money. Just being at Catterick was in itself a sort of thrill

for me. I’d never been north of Watford before and was probably imbued with what

was supposed to be the typical “Londoner’s” attitude that the world ended at

Watford (north), and Brighton (south). This, therefore, was my first geography

lesson.

I was in the 17th/21st Lancers, an ex-cavalry regiment, now Centurion tanks. It had

the ring of being at the top end of the “regiments scale” and I couldn’t wait to get

my first leave and swank off my magnificent uniform and accoutrements to the

entire county of Friern Barnet - all the spit and polish, the cap and badge, the

lanyard, the razor sharp creases, the boots, and the regimental motto. All these

formed part of my swanking duties and I duly did them justice. It may well have

been that during this two year period of my life I resolved that, once my army days

were over, I would never again willingly allow myself to be denied the freedoms of

choice of thought and action, within the confines of decent behaviour and the rule

of law. I still hold this ethic and value it highly.

So I settled very quickly into this new life. Every few weeks my leave would crop

up and would take me back to the Briers family. In most instances this would be by

kind permission of motorists travelling along and through a rather famous

hitchhiking spot called Scotch Corner. Lifts were always most generously given

and one didn’t have to wait for very long. The shortage and inadequacy of our

financial remuneration given to us by King George, (approximately 27s-6d per

week), meant that such lifts were essential to getting home. So, bully Mr Joe

Public.

I wasn’t really travelling home to the Briers family of course. I was going home to

see and hear Olive. Nobody else really mattered. Unfortunately, my life thus far

hadn’t armed me with any knowledge of how to woo the woman of my dreams. I

was utterly hopeless. In any event, my complex in regards to the opposite sex

ensured that Olive hardly recognised my existence. Females to me had always been

mythical lovely creatures who sexually aroused me but were totally unreachable

and untouchable. I couldn’t talk to them and I only just managed to look at them.

Incidentally, I’m pretty certain that none of my uselessness in this regard had

anything to do with my upbringing, but rather that it was entirely due to the real

genetic Leaney - introverted, shy, full of complexes, a lover of humility, and a mass

of embarrassment. Not exactly the weapons of successful courtship! But this was

me, so Olive remained a dream. Just a dream.

My earlier upbringing most certainly hadn’t equipped me for the opposite sex. I

hadn’t really met many of them, I mean, those in my age group. Looking up the

skirts of middle-aged matrons was about the summit of my sexual experience. I

was madly in love, of course, with a number of female film stars. Pictures of some

of these, illegally cut out from magazines such as Picturegoer and Picture Post,

could be found nestled into the recesses of my wallet. Deanna Durbin was my

number one. Not only was she more or less my age, not only was she beautiful and

innocent, but she had a voice like an angel - a fatal combination for yours truly, and

probably still is. So, through all this, I remained a virgin. My leaves from army

chores were nonetheless full of expectancy and Ken and I always made the most of

these moments. More than anything, I suppose the mere fact of being able to say to

my comrades that I had a home to go to was in itself a psychological boost to me.

Not something I’d been able to say previously. Life was quite grand really.

I been at Catterick for about six months when, having successfully got through all

aspects of the initial training, I was transferred to Luneburg, Germany, where I

became a trooper in a regiment called the Royal Scots Greys, ex-cavalry, now

Centurion tanks. Very much a “traditional” regiment of the line this one, with battle

honours of Waterloo amongst others. I’m afraid I have never been a person of

loyalist, royalist, or patriotic tendencies. I don’t know why this should be but I have

a strong feeling that it is a personal trait directly related to my earlier life - a relic of

my upbringing. Anyway, it all meant that I didn’t really hold any feelings of pride

merely because I was now a part of a famous traditional regiment. It meant nothing

to me. But I did have a regard for its disciplines, these being most stringent and

rigid. It’s true that they could either “make” or “break” you, and there wasn’t really

a middle result. But 98% of us made it and the probability is that it put us on the

road to manhood.

Tanks - I ask you, tanks - for someone who would be sick merely by sitting on a

merry-go-round! A traveller I am not, and never have been. My close shave at

almost going to sea when in Russell-Cotes was testimony to this fact. And here I

was, forced to be a passenger, either as a gunner, driver, wireless operator, or

commander, on a form of conveyance which, when travelling cross-country (its

major purpose) was a cross between a trawler in a force ten gale and a seaside

roller-coaster. But I had no choice. There was no way out of this one, Leaney. You

just had to do it. The army authorities did not seem to show much understanding

for the fact that my nervous system didn’t choose to co-operate with my ears, my

stomach, my eyes, my head, or my psyche. Result? Violent bouts of sickness! It

seemed to me that Centurion tanks were not going to be particularly conducive to

easing this problem. I was right.

The tanks themselves were magnificent beasts - wonderful pieces of engineering,

but not Leaney-friendly. My regimental masters were equally guilty of a lack of

compassion and common humanity, so eventually I agreed to go along with them!

Peace was declared. Life in Luneburg was quite an eye-opener (what wasn’t?) This

was 1949, only four years after the cessation of hostilities and this town, so I was

led to believe, had been a haven of Nazism. And here I was, in occupied territory.

We were “the masters”, so to speak, and I became disgusted at the behaviour of

some of my fellow soldiers in this regard. The German people, although quite

friendly, were naturally suspicious of us. One could always sense an inner hostility

and no doubt we would have been the same had the positions been reversed.

Luneburg Heath was the “manoeuvres” area for our tanks but little regard was

given on the occasional incursions into private land and property and, although

intentional damage and destruction was kept to a minimum, 18 year old British

soldiers were very prone to arrogance and a scant lack of respect for our hosts. I

frequently felt ashamed by their behaviour and attitude. Generally speaking, the

German people behaved very well towards us and displayed a great deal of

tolerance. Nonetheless, the British “football hooligan” syndrome often came to the

fore and was as prevalent then as it is today. “Arrogant victors” was how I tended

to view such people. But there was nothing that I could say or do to alter things. I

just got on with soldiering.

I eventually became a tank commander and a lance-corporal, neither of which gave

me any particular sense of pride or achievement. It just happened. However, my life

in the Royal Scots Greys did make me a little proud about one thing - surprisingly

so. Quite a large intake of us joined the regiment at the same time, probably sixty or

seventy of us. Our joining gave the regiment a total membership of up to three

hundred or so. Every new trooper had to undergo a small “education” test for the

purpose of ascertaining those who were considered to need the half-day a week

formal education. The entire regiment was subjected to these tests and I was

amazed beyond belief to find that I was one of a mere handful who did sufficiently

well to be excused these half-day sessions. Never has my “flabber” been so

“gasted”! I suppose I must have had it in the back of my mind, that “normal”

people brought up in “normal” circumstances would have been far better educated

than I and therefore superior to me in terms of general education. Obviously not so!

I genuinely considered that these tests had been on a very simple level and fully

expected at least 75% of those taking them to pass with ease. It wasn’t to be. All

this of course did wonders for my ego but to a certain extent was counterproductive.

I’d always had a hankering for learning and knowledge, (despite my

natural idleness), and here I was being denied the opportunity. I obviously wasn’t

quite the dummy I thought I was.

Coupled with this, I was further advantaged by the fact that I was selected to

represent the regiment at football and table tennis. I didn’t really consider that I was

particularly good at either but I was quite a good mediocrity. Not enough others

were better, so I got in. The consequence of all this was, that because the regiment

had a policy of treating those they considered as “sportsmen” as special, we were

the recipients of some special privileges - training sessions, better food, excused a

few parades, excused a few guard duties, which generally made for a slightly more

acceptable existence. It paid to be useful at something. Exactly as per Barnardo’s.

Well done, the good Doctor!

My time in this enforced occupation therefore passed with the minimum of fuss and

bother. It wasn’t a hard slog for me but, like all my fellows, demob was the name of

the game. It couldn’t come quickly enough. Even so most of us, I think, held the

view that it had been a useful tool along the road to manhood. There was one other

aspect of my sojourn in Germany which was the catalyst to much of what has

happened to me since, at least, in terms of its significance.

The piano and me

I refer to “music/piano”. One of my fellow soldiers, a chap named Colin Hull, was

quite a nice pianist. I was without doubt completely envious and jealous of his

ability to play, so much so that I determined to do something about it, (within the

confines of my indolence, you understand). I discovered in the town centre of

Luneburg a YMCA where I also discovered, tucked away in a small top room, a

piano.

This room was rarely visited by anyone and I quickly took steps to ensure that the

room and its piano was mine, and mine alone – private - allowing me to doodle and

learn by making awful noises without upsetting anyone, a circumstance I’d always

dreamed of. I could sit and figure things out my way without any interference.

My musical knowledge was nil, with the exception of knowing the tonic sol-fa.

This was all I needed. The tonic sol-fa became the basis for all that I was to

subsequently discover. I cannot possibly regale the reader here with what I did and

how I did it. I can only say that, without the assistance of any training whatsoever, I

finished my time in the army with a discovered ability to instinctively know chords,

how to use them, and combine them with a melody line. I didn’t know any of the

technicalities involved, nor the names of things that I did. I just heard “sounds” and

put them together.

This didn’t make me a pianist, of course, merely someone who could sit at the

piano, play any tune that I knew, accompanied by a reasonably correct chord

structure. I worked out the nature of chords via straightforward mathematics. I still

do so and, since that time, have discovered that others do the same. This is called

“playing by ear” and it is not a trite term. It is literally what one does. You hear the

melody and the accompanying chords, and you play.

This attempt to teach myself a method of playing was to turn out to play a major

part in my life. More later. In any event, I got enormous enjoyment out of it and it

proved to be a financial life-saver in the NAAFI. My fellow soldiers would force

me to play then ply me with free drinks for the rest of the evening, thus enabling

my own exceedingly limited funds to be reduced at a slower than normal rate.

Another major shift

So, after two years of enforced service to His Majesty, I returned to the loving fold

of the Briers at Glenthorne Road. I didn’t have a job to return to and I wasn’t

trained for any form of employment that might have been available. To my chagrin,

there didn’t appear to be much call for Centurion tank drivers. This was something

I could do but I can only assume that modern technology had taken over the

requirement for tanks. I accepted therefore the only job offered to me which was as

a greengrocer’s assistant. Not exactly the pinnacle of success! Not exactly a

satisfying replacement for my previous thoughts of being this country’s leading

tinsmith. Not exactly the first step on the road to worldwide fame but a job, earning

money. I had no choice, I had to accept it. Not for very long, however, because after

a few months or so an event occurred which was to quite literally change my life

forever.

My association with the Briers family came to an abrupt end. Almost overnight, it

seemed, they decided to move lock stock and barrel to run a very small country

pub, a million miles from nowhere, in the centre of Cambridgeshire.

I was asked to go along with them but I really felt that I would be lost without the

accoutrements of city life. In response they kindly arranged for me to move to

Birmingham, to digs, in the home of another member of their family. This, then,

was the parting of the ways. I shall be forever grateful to them all. They were

exceedingly kind to me, despite their own poverty and I dread to think what might

have become of me had they not shown an interest in my welfare. They were the

first people I’d known who actually liked Colin Leaney (at least, I presume they

did). They understood and sympathised with my reluctance to stay with them and

we parted the firmest of friends. And so, to Birmingham……. a city new to me…

to Mr and Mrs Gibbins and their son John at Nansen Road, Sparkhill.

I quickly discovered that there had been a “hidden agenda” involved here. Living

almost opposite my new home was a young 20 year old girl, Brenda by name, who

was also a relation of the Briers. It transpired that she was the motivation for my

move here. It had been considered by the family that perhaps these two young

people could get together, conduct a courtship, and perhaps even marry. It

frightened me to death to learn of this “arrangement” - not because of Brenda, mind

you, because she was an attractive young lady and, to a large extent, we had similar

tastes and characters. But now I was publicly expected to court a girl with a view to

succeeding in the exercise. I was of course very flattered when she agreed to give it

a go, and away we went.

Once again, of course, I found myself without a job. I finally managed to get a job

as a tester of electric kettles. Can you imagine? All day, filling kettles with water,

and watching them boil! I knew now that life was going to be a struggle. How

could I possibly handle such a cerebral occupation? But I succeeded. Sheer

character I suppose! What was the point of bothering with a university education

when one had a natural bent for filling a kettle, and watching it boil? I was now a

“kettle-boiling pianist”.

Life with Mr and Mrs Gibbins was as it had been with the Briers, full of kindness

and understanding. They were a lovely couple who made me very welcome. I had

the full run of the house at all times including, would you believe, a front parlour

with a piano. Son John was a trained musician - a trumpeter, no less - semiprofessional,

playing in various local bands and jazz mad. John and I got on quite

well and he quickly took the time and trouble to allow me to accompany him on his

drinking and musical jaunts. He was a jazz musician, Stan Kenton and the like, and

our musical tastes were not compatible. But I admired the skills and talents that

were required to produce jazz and enjoyed our outings together.

This was another wonderful experience for me. I was mixing, talking, and

socialising with real proper musicians. In musical terms I felt that they were so far

above me I would rarely mention that I played “a sort of piano”. These were proper

bona fide musicians, not ear players or buskers. But I loved it all. I was part of a

musical world.

My own musical world was the world of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Kern, and all the

great American composers of popular songs from the 20’s – 40’s period and this

was the stuff I played on our front room piano (when John wasn’t there). This is

still for me the music that epitomises all that music means to me - my antidote to

watching kettles boil.

And what about Brenda? Well, we got on quite well and pretended to be in love.

We became engaged and spent most of our time on a sort of cinema/church fete

type of level. Not exactly exciting stuff but more than sufficient for two people who

were still relatively shy and introverted. Life was fine, despite kettles.

However, I didn’t know what was about to hit me. Just about the most stupendous

moment in my life. No, not true! It was the most stupendous moment. I was now 21

years of age, learning about life as never before, and learning how to get along with

mankind in general. I thought my life was more or less settled and I could picture

my future before me as a happily married husband of Brenda. I hadn’t achieved

anything, but this didn’t cause me any concern. I didn’t consider that achievement,

in itself, was any sort of achievement! It is all very admirable but not essential to

either happiness or the quality of one’s existence. I was about to have all this

comfortable tranquillity shattered however. Still shy, introverted, and unable to

express an opinion in public, life was about to deliver to me an enormous slice of

good fortune. It came in the shape, and I mean shape, of……. Marina.

 

6. Marina

I don’t believe it!

Firstly, the backcloth to this tremendous event. Although I was still pretty clueless

on the subject of females, I could still play a mean game of table tennis. I decided

that in an effort to widen my horizons, as a newcomer into a city previously

unknown to me, I would try and get into a top-class team. To this end I contacted

Birmingham City Council, who recommended me to a club called Hall Green

YMCA. They apparently ran half-a-dozen teams and were considered to be of a

high standard. One evening I popped along to this club with a view to having a

trial. I played well and duly passed the trial with flying colours. Selected to play in

the first league match of the season, I naturally felt pleased with myself, and looked

forward to meeting and playing with my new team-mates.

At some point in the proceedings I was obliged to answer the call of nature. This I

did but, due to my unfamiliarity with the building, I lost my bearings somewhat on

the return journey. It mattered not, because this minor irritant was more than

compensated for when my ears were suddenly regaled with someone singing. A

female voice, no less, not unlike one of my favourite vocalists, Peggy Lee. This

was better than table tennis, I thought, back in my world of music.

Up went my musical ears and, temporarily at least, my interest in table tennis

waned. I was determined to get to the source of this wondrous sound which I now

followed along various unknown passages. Eventually I hunted it to ground and it

sounded even better standing outside the door of the room from whence it came. I

stood there listening, rooted to the spot. It was a purring sort of voice, with just a

piano accompaniment.

Suddenly, the door was whipped open from within, a hand reached out and pulled

me into the room, where a voice boomed, “Yes, can we do something for you?”

with the door now closing behind me. “I was just listening,” I replied, “I hope you

don’t mind”. Apart from all else, I was now purple with embarrassment. When I

finally recovered sufficiently enough to survey the scene, I was firstly awestruck by

the hips, then blinded by the breasts, and finally dumbstruck by the hair and face.

Not of “boom” voice you understand, but by “the voice”. There she was, casually

leaning against the piano where the male pianist sat, almost in physical contact with

this angel. All eyes were on me. Mine were only on her. For a musically inclined,

small, not very good-looking introvert, it was definitely the most defining point of

my existence. Just a few seconds that was all. The singing had stopped and I was

slowly changing from purple to a deep shade of maroon, when boom voice

suddenly said, “Do you do anything?” There were, I suppose, about seven or eight

people in the room and they were now waiting for a reply from this shambles of a

person.

“I play the piano after a fashion,” was all I could muster. I’m amazed that I even

managed this, for “the voice/body” had her eyes on me along with everybody else.

“Do you really?” said “boom” voice, “In that case meet Marina, she will sing and

you will play for her”. The three hundred decibel shouting of my old regimental

Sergeant Major was chicken feed compared to the fright I now felt. Me, play in

public? Me, play for this wondrous creature? Table tennis was now a dim memory -

unless they ran a team in heaven, for that must have been where I was.

Anyway, I played, and she sang. Seventeen years and a few months she was. I was

an old man of twenty-one. How I managed to get through it all I shall never know.

But she liked my accompaniment, I thought her singing was marvellous and we

both liked the same sort of songs. This then was the overture to my life proper. At

the time I wouldn’t have believed it possible that a female of this calibre could

possibly ever have any interest in me. However, life turns corners that we don’t

even know are there.

This was a Concert Party, purely amateur, travelling around and giving their

entertainment to hospitals, old age pensioners, and any charitable institutions who

wanted their services. The YMCA was used for rehearsals and much hard work was

put into practice and routines. Boom voice asked me to join their party and become

Marina’s permanent accompanist. I thought about it for an interminable 0.005

seconds and said yes.

Before this particular evening was through, I was to further marvel at my good

fortune. Little had I thought, when I picked up my table tennis bat that evening, that

my life would be changed forever. Come midnight I already knew that my

relationship with Brenda would never be the same again.

Although I knew for certain that Marina wouldn’t give me a second look, having

regard to all the other males in the party, I also knew that the basis of my

relationship with Brenda wasn’t strong enough nor had sufficient substance to stop

me from adoring Marina from afar. The Concert Party it was then. I would attend

rehearsals only for the joy of seeing Marina and, although we got on very well, I

assumed that if she had any female/male feelings, they most certainly wouldn’t

involve me. She was way out of my league. In fact, I considered that most females

were. But we gave our shows and I thoroughly enjoyed being part and parcel of it

all.

We had some fine talent - accordionists, comedians, singers, magicians, and a

wonderful tenor, Alf. We were always very well received and I don’t think I am

being biased when I say that invariably Marina was the star of the evening. I was

still in awe of her but I was her accompanist. Her only accompanist! At those times,

I only shared her with the audience. Nobody else. Life was indeed good to me.

Of course the day came when I finally managed to pluck up enough courage to ask

her for a date. She said yes! I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t prepared for it. What was

I going to tell Brenda? It mattered not. I was taking Marina out to see “Carousel” at

the Birmingham Hippodrome. In fact I was late. Fog! Just my luck. But I made it,

we enjoyed the show, and I was courting.

Words can hardly describe how I felt - ten foot tall, walking on cloud nine, all

complexes gone, and a possible future undreamed of. Of course, by this time I

knew that she wasn’t just a face and body. Her personality, her attitudes, her

morals, her ethics, and her intelligence, were all that I admired in people. How was

I to tell Brenda? Anyway, with Marina’s approval and agreement, I did. It was quite

traumatic and not something I was particularly proud of. However, no great harm

was done as it transpired that her feelings for me were just as transparent as mine

for her.

Marina and I were now, in today’s parlance, an item. I was soon to learn that she

wasn’t much interested in the normal average small talk conventions of courtship

nor really interested in the male chauvinism of sexual conquest. This was fine

because I couldn’t have given her those aspects of man’s behaviour anyway. I was

to discover also that the traits of the opposite sex she admired most were up top, not

down below. Just as well really. Even at this age, I didn’t have much idea of what to

do down below anyway.

Beginning to be a proper person

I also changed my job. A school-friend of Marina’s, Margaret Churchill, was

married to a chap, Dennis Pearson, who worked for a telecommunications company

called Telephone Rentals. I got on very well with Dennis and he used his influence

to get me an interview. I knew absolutely nothing about communications

equipment but somehow I managed to carry off the interview successfully and was

offered the job of trainee engineer. I’d never known such status. Me, a telephone

engineer! My goodness, life was looking up.

We still performed in the Concert Party and, in broad terms, it was all good fun. I

never did manage to overcome my nervousness though, and I was always

especially conscious of the fact that I was the least accomplished of all the pianists

we had in the party. But I suppose that my playing by ear gave me an added feel

which wasn’t always there when playing from the music. More importantly,

however, Marina preferred my playing. That was all I needed. I was quite content

to be the world’s pianist, accompanying the world’s best singer!

Our courting continued on its merry way, although I still didn’t really have the

where-with-all to do it in the accepted manner, i.e. patter, chauvinism, sporting

prowess, and male superiority. So I decided that all I could do was to be myself at

all times and hope that Marina was suitably interested. This was for real. Gone was

Deanna Durbin. Gone was Olive Briers. Gone was Brenda. My life was now only

Marina. For the first time in my life, I loved someone and someone loved me. This

was to be a new Colin Leaney.

Nowadays, especially amongst those with whom I socialise at golf, cards, horses,

and the like, I am renowned for bemoaning my luck, for always being on the wrong

end of “chance” when circumstances will always conspire against me. But I also

hold the view that, in the context of what I consider to be the important aspects of

my life, I have in fact been exceedingly fortunate. I have an enormous sense of

gratitude to all those who have contributed to my life.

For the next five years I bowled along in a world of singing, playing, loving,

working, sporting, and wonderment. A very selfish existence, I suppose, looking

after my/our happiness rather than enhancing the lives of others - a complex and

very debatable matter. Not to be debated here!

My relationship with Marina blossomed as hoped and, in principle at least, we

agreed that we would marry. Her influence upon me changed me almost overnight

from an introverted introvert to someone almost on the borderline of being an

extrovert. Quite simply I had a woman on my arm. Not any old woman but a

woman of integrity, intelligence, style, and beauty. I was this woman’s choice. I

quite rightly felt proud and a person of some value. Both the pride and the selfesteem

were feelings new to me.

On the work front I had managed to progress as expected, despite my still prevalent

attitude of mental indolence. I enjoyed the work which took me to many places in

the UK, and the “technical” nature of the job suited my general mentality.

Travelling by bus and train every day to places I’d only heard of, staying in digs in

unpronounceable Welsh towns and villages, complete involvement in technical

work, the nature of which I never dreamed I would be associated with, meant that

life was good - I can tell you, life was good.

Here I was, in my mid-twenties, with no qualifications for anything but I had a

lively mind, a diligent attitude, and an enquiring mind that was eager to learn

anything from anybody at anytime. Questions just flooded from my mind, almost

as if I was trying to catch up on a slow start. I think it was at about this time that I

formulated the view that, in general terms, I was about fifteen years behind the rest

of mankind! I honestly believe now that I’ve never caught up. But it’s of no

consequence. It’s quite pleasant to lag behind and has its advantages.

It was also at about this time that I became conscious of what might have been

considered as a disturbing trait of character. I had no ambition. Not in any direction,

nor in any sphere of life. As far as my work was concerned, I was perfectly happy

to be doing what I was doing. Quite simply, I wasn’t prepared to make an effort to

“achieve”. It has been ever thus. Quite interesting to ponder why this should be?

Perhaps later.

I continued to play competitive football for various local teams, with varying

degrees of success. In the main these variations ranged from near failure to utter

failure! It mattered not. I made friends and it kept me reasonably fit. I’d given up

table tennis ever since my initial meeting with Marina. The match I was now

playing in was far superior to any table tennis match.

Courtship, and all who sail in her

And what about our Concert Party? Gone, of course. Demised. Never to be seen

and heard again. Eaten away by the sands of people growing up. It had been a most

enjoyable and rewarding experience and one which I wouldn’t have missed. Marina

and I continued to perform, of course, mainly in the company of a very good friend

of ours, Ken Askey, who was a fine vocalist. Over this period the three of us

enjoyed a life of song. Pubs, clubs, church halls, village halls - all fell victim to our

musical taste. Nobody was allowed to escape without being subjected to the songs

of Gershwin, Porter, and the like. We haunted the promoters and agents who would

regularly hold audition sessions at establishments such as the Birmingham

Hippodrome.

We have some wonderful memories of it all but never made it to the top. In fact, we

never made it anywhere. We even spent four or five days in London, with a record

we’d made, hawking it from agent to agent, with no success, of course, but what an

experience. Worth every penny. During this period also, I was able to supplement

my income by playing piano at local pubs and clubs. Very useful. And, of course,

all this somewhat extrovert-based activity produced a new Colin Leaney - not

necessarily a better one but a totally different one. I was learning and enjoying the

process. By this time I had virtually forgotten the implications of my previous early

life - not deliberately, it just happened. I doubt that the subject of my upbringing

and its effect upon me ever came into my mind. I was now a “full” member of

society, engaging in all its normal activities. I’d arrived.

Marina and I, after five-and-a-half years of courtship, finally agreed on a wedding

day. We didn’t actually become engaged or partake in the custom of wearing an

engagement ring, this being Marina’s wish. We both felt that it was somewhat trite

to symbolise our union by the wearing of a ring. To this day, neither of us really

knows why it took us so long. A near six year courtship? Unusual, even for those

times. I suppose we were too busy enjoying ourselves.

If nothing else, this lengthy courtship gave us the opportunity of getting to know

the real Colin and Marina. We had got to the stage where we realised that neither of

us was going to make a career out of music and singing. In my case I wasn’t

anywhere near good enough. Marina, however, could possibly have been a

professional vocalist had she been interested in being so. But she wasn’t. She

merely enjoyed singing but had no ambitions or pretensions in this direction. She

knew her place, so to speak, and this I approved of and admired.

Marina’s parents, of course, were very proud of their daughter and her singing

exploits. Even more so when, in 1958, she appeared on television in a programme

which I think was called “Carroll Levis Discoveries”.

At rehearsals for this she was supposed to sing to the accompaniment of a very fine

musician, one, Jerry Allen. But she refused and categorically insisted that, unless I

accompanied her, she would not perform. She got her way and I appeared with her.

She performed very well but, in hindsight, the general consensus of opinion was

that she sang a song that didn’t have popular appeal. True, it didn’t, but we liked it

so we performed it. Nothing came of any of this but it had been an interesting

experience. It certainly didn’t alter the attitude of Marina in regards to a career. She

just wasn’t interested. Apart from a brief moment when an interest was taken in her

by a popular comedian of the day named Max Wall, she never really sang seriously

again. Instead, we got married. Some transition!

The Big Day

Much to my chagrin, this will probably be the shortest episode to be related within

these pages. Nonetheless, it was the culmination of nearly six years courtship -

26th July 1958, St Agnes Church, Moseley, Birmingham.

I was in digs in Moseley at the time, hence the venue. Although neither of us

embraced or practised any particular religion, we enjoyed the thought of getting

married in a church and going through the religious ceremony. I suppose in a way

this is cheating. A double standard! Notwithstanding, we were grateful to the

Church of England for giving us their blessing and allowing us to use their rituals.

It wasn’t a big wedding - Marina’s parents couldn’t afford anything ostentatious –

but a very normal, average, working-class wedding, with the minimum of fuss and

trimmings. Marina wanted it thus. She wasn’t, and never has been, a person to

accommodate the trappings of limelight. However, just for a few hours we had no

choice. To this day, neither of us has a clear recollection of the detail of that day. I

suppose this sounds quite dreadful to traditionalists and romantics but it’s a fact!

(This surely must be Freudian?)

Perhaps our lack of detailed memories can best be measured by the fact that only

three photographs were ever taken of the day’s events. Three only! Sounds dreadful

doesn’t it? But, here again, it was the wish of Marina. I have never really had an

adequate explanation from her on this and probably never will. As far as I’m aware,

a very large content of the wedding day is given over to the taking of photographs -

presumably, in most people’s eyes, for the purpose of recalling fond and loving

memories in the years to come. I fully agree with a view which might say that a

true, honest, loving relationship, doesn’t need the props of visual memories to

sustain it. But it is very pleasant to use photographs (or videos) as a catalyst for the

recall of fond times past.

The day for me, of course, was a day of wonderment. I really felt now that I was a

serious component part of what I used to refer to as “the outside world” - twentyseven

years of age, a respectable married man with responsibilities, a job and,

above all, a wonderful life-long partner. I felt I had come of age. Another new start

to another new life. They’re nice, these new lives and I’ve had quite a few of them.

My mother was able to attend and, thankfully, she is present on the photographs.

Her attendance, it’s true, didn’t mean an awful amount to me at the time. But, in

hindsight, I’m very glad she did. Who knows, she might even have had feelings of

pride. I don’t know, so I’ll assume that she did. I was certainly proud of me!

Ken Askey (he of the golden voice) was our best man and a thundering good job he

made of it too. Thanks Ken. A few years later we lost track of each other and he

disappeared from our lives. Thirty-five years on, by an amazing coincidence, he has

returned. Having carved out a successful career for himself by dint of hard work

and application, he has now retired and we spend time together singing, playing,

and recording. How splendid.

Having regard to the “family” syndrome of weddings, ours was a little one-sided.

The two Leaneys v. The Rest. Totally outnumbered, of course, we held our own,

and I came out of it with the hand of the woman I loved. I now suspect that all my

life it has been a case of Leaney v. The Rest - shades of Headmaster Wheatley’s

observation that I was a boy of “independent mind”. Perceptive man, that

Mr Wheatley!

In fact I’ve often imagined, with my somewhat anarchic sense of humour that, had

we employed the ritual typical of working-class weddings, of two families

scowling at each other across an empty reception floor, it would have been two

against fifty. A thoroughly unfair contest really - I’d have to send mother across to

the other side!

This then was our wedding. The reception was held at the bungalow home of

Valerie, (Marina’s sister). Thanks Val. Eventually we slipped away to Brighton to

engage upon honeymoon activities. Apart from the fact that the weather was unkind

to us, all went well and, I suppose, we went emotionally and physically through all

the stereotype concepts of a honeymoon, the detail of which I shall not bore readers

with here.

Upon our return to normality and the grind, we took up residence in a furnished flat

in the Hall Green area of Birmingham, these being the days when very few

working-class couples could afford the luxury of setting up home in their own

house. We were lucky here, insofar that the people who occupied the only other flat

in the building were friends of ours. So we had no neighbour problems.

So this was it! Settled. A respectable married man, with a decent job and a beautiful

wife - far from the days of doing a bunk at Goldings. The psychological relics of

earlier years had now completely disappeared. Wrong! So very arrogantly wrong! I

still bear them, although they are of no consequence. But at this time, they were far

away in the recesses of my sub-conscious.

Here I must also add that, by this time, I had acquired/developed a sense of

humour. I don’t know where I got this from or why. For years I had been a

somewhat humourless brat. All part of a chrysalis syndrome I suppose! And now? I

almost got to the stage of being a fully fledged comedian, having built up a

reputation as being “amusing”. Isn’t that dreadful? But I did have some ability to

make people laugh, so it’s not all bad. I take life and people more seriously now but

then this is the privilege of age!

Just getting on with things

The next six years were relatively uneventful. I was still beavering away at being a

communications engineer at Telephone Rentals, Marina and I were now living in

her parents home (temporarily), Ken Askey (he with the voice) and I had taken up

the ridiculous sport of golf, I had purchased my first ever car (1961 Ford Anglia)

and, generally speaking, life was just plodding on.

My entire psyche and being at this time was miles away from places such as

Barnardo’s, so much so that I very rarely thought or spoke about such matters to

anyone. It wasn’t because of any complexes, you understand, but merely because I

was so integrated with normal life and normal people. I had become “part of”, or so

I thought.

As such, it never occurred to me to make any contact with my past and indeed I

maintained this Barnardo vacuum for many, many years. I suppose that somewhere

in the region of the mid-seventies I decided to join the Barnardo Guild and this was

my first ever contact with them since 1947.

The only circumstance to crop up which occasionally gave me food for thought

was, when in the company of friends, they would sit and recall fond memories of

youth, most of them having gone to the same school, played for the same football

team, all belonging to local families with each family knowing the other families.

These and many other subjects would be discussed. I enjoyed their conversations

but I couldn’t participate in them.

My memories could only be shared with a small group of people, scattered I knew

not where, into every corner of the globe. None of this caused me any concern but

it would often become a reminder of my upbringing. I was still an outsider “looking

in” and I have to be honest and say that there were times when I would have dearly

loved to have joined in. But I couldn’t, so I became at these times a professional

listener. Didn’t do me any harm, of course, and they do say that a good listener……

I still hadn’t achieved anything, but this bothered me not. My natural state of

indolence ensured that I didn’t need to fight the battle of non-achievement. What a

comforting and convenient excuse. Think I’ll stick with it while I’m ahead!

In 1964 we bought our first house. So proud we were. It cost £3,500 - a modern

semi-detached in the borough of Solihull. We were never ones for saving money.

We were too busy having a good time. So this house was bought via an insurance

scheme - a scheme which all our friends said would never come to the expected

fruition – a 100% mortgage, plus all legal expenses, plus a fixed interest rate for the

entire loan period of 5%. What wouldn’t we give for this today?

Our very own place. I wonder if the youngsters of today have the same feeling of

elation and pride ? I suppose they must do, notwithstanding the apparent fact that

they have a higher expectancy level. Although we had very few household

possessions, we were soon up and running and immediately put ourselves amongst

the elite of being “home-owners”! Marina was still doing very well in the travel

business, and I was still happily beavering away at being a telecommunications

engineer. We were both earning a living wage and we even had a pet dog, King by

name, an Alsatian. This was it. We had now both arrived.

By this time, also, we had long finished with our musical activities. I hadn’t owned

or played any piano for a number of years and Ken (the voice) had gone off to

carve out a career for himself - very successfully too. He became the Senior

Training Officer for the Rover Group Apprentices at Longbridge. Wasn’t that

marvellous? He had started out as a milkman, followed by being a pork pie delivery

man. But then, upward, forever upward. Wish I’d had his drive and ambition!

I now went back to my first sporting love, table tennis, not only playing three or

four times a week in team competitions, but also spending many weekends away

from home in nationwide tournaments. I was to continue this somewhat selfish

sporting activity until approximately 1973 when I finally realised that I wasn’t

destined to become the world’s No 1 player. Another illusion shattered!

Having regard to the fact that during this period I was also a very keen golfer and

would regularly (twice weekly, for example) beetle off for hours on end to pursue

this juvenile pastime, Marina displayed stoicism and tolerance far beyond the call

of duty. In retrospect, I have little doubt that I was subconsciously taking her for

granted but I cannot recall one occasion when she let it be known of any discontent

on her part. What a woman! Nonetheless, it was a happy period for us and it

encompassed another happening which became the forerunner of much of what was

to come.

I left my job at Telephone Rentals. Me, deliberately leaving a work scenario which

had been responsible for my respectability! Once again, as in many things, I had

Marina to thank for what was about to change my life forever. One evening, having

scanned the job adverts in the local rag purely out of curiosity, and having for the

umpteenth time remarked that, “I would love to do that, but I’m not qualified,”

Marina responded with a snappy, “Don’t be silly, you’re as good as the next man.

How do you know you wouldn’t get the job if you don’t at least write in and get an

interview?” A bullying female.

So I did. I was granted an interview and I got the job! Amazing. Utterly amazing! I

wouldn’t have believed it possible. An office job. A jacket and tie job. Me, with no

qualifications except a brain. Office desks. Dictation machines. Telephones.

Typists. Wiring diagrams. Sales targets. Projections. Targets. Lectures.

Presentations. Good God, what was I about to get myself into?

I wish I could remember my first day but I cannot. I went along in my one and

only suit and presented myself with as much aplomb as I could muster. “Good

morning, sir, my name is Colin Leaney, and I’ve come here to start my new job as

an Inside Sales Engineer.” I doubt I did say this but, whatever I said, it was an

introduction to an episode of my life which became very important to both of us.

 

7. Honeywell Limited

Whatever happened to the die-caster?

This name may not mean much to the majority of people but, at the time

(approximately 1965), this company was a very large international company

(American based) involved in the production and sales of computers, commercial

panel controls equipment, residential heating controls, medical equipment, and

micro switches - three hundred offices worldwide and forty-odd factories.

My place of work was Erdington, Birmingham. I was now going to be trained as an

Inside Sales Engineer in their Micro Switch Division. My time at Telephone

Rentals had given me a certain knowledge in the field of electrical controls but this

was to be totally different. I’d got the job by virtue of my insistence that whilst I

had no obvious qualifications for it, I’d got a keen mind and a strong willingness to

learn. The gulf between what I was supposed to know and what I actually knew

proved to be enormous.

However after three years, having managed to absorb most of what I was supposed

to absorb, I was offered promotion. To Scotland! I now knew enough about the

ways of commercialism to know that a refusal to move forward, in the main, results

only in moving sideways. Neither Marina nor I were keen to make such a move

(further proof of my lack of ambition I suppose), so the offer was turned down. We

shall never know what might have been but things worked out well anyway.

Eventually that is…….

At least this was more proof, if proof were needed, that I was now “my own man”.

However, you don’t turn down promotion with impunity. And here I was, the man

who three years previously had been the recipient of a miracle, deliberately putting

myself into a precarious position. Twelve further months were spent trying to

recoup the situation but it wasn’t to be. I left the company.

Mistake! A huge mistake. The job I now had proved to be absolutely souldestroying.

It really was an enormous error of judgement on my part. But I was

rescued by another minor miracle. One, Peter Williams of Honeywell Residential

Division, called me one day out of the blue and asked whether I would be

interested in joining him as his Inside Sales Engineer. Glorious, glorious rescue

after three months of hell. After an interminable 0.5seconds, I replied in the

affirmative. Wasn’t I lucky?

And so I was back at Honeywell with a bigger salary and a better job. Someone

upstairs had been kind to me. It turned out to be totally different from my previous

job at Honeywell. I mixed and became part of the “managers/engineers” scenario,

dealing with products which interested me greatly. I loved the job. Once again, it

was all part of my life’s learning process, including the mistakes. Young criminals,

children from a wide variety of deprived backgrounds, street-corner thugs, foundry

men, soldiers and telephone engineers - all these I had known - but now I was

constantly in the company of people of a totally different calibre. People who could

really teach me things. Or so I thought. Silly me!

They were not at all what I thought. I’d put them on a pedestal of respectability and

integrity which in fact they never had. That was my fault, I put them there. All this

in hindsight, of course. At the time no such negative thoughts entered my head. I

was once again ensconced in a decent occupation, manifested by the wearing of a

suit for my every day attire. Couldn’t be better.

Nothing else really mattered. Although my perception of these people was wrong,

they were sufficiently close to my mentality as to completely satisfy my ego and

my pysche. I was back at Honeywell with a better job than I left with. I was so

lucky. This was in about 1966 and I was quickly quite besotted with my new sense

of worth and importance. Sales presentations, lectures, seminars, promotions - all

these were the day-to-day trappings of a successful company and I was part of it.

No longer a man wearing overalls, but a vital cog in an important wheel.

Business lunches, (not my favourite pastime - too much fraudulent chat), were

another symbol of having “arrived” along with an expense account. To me, all this

almost represented “the big time”. Certainly by comparison to anything I’d done

before, this was a job of status. It wasn’t, of course, but it was tremendously helpful

to my growing up process. I think I learned quite a lot about life and people.

During this time Marina was also doing very well in her career in the travel

business. She had always been highly regarded in the business and was a wellknown

personality with around 15 years experience. Now, for the first time, our

jobs were of equal status - not that status is of any consequence to either us - and

this new situation gave us a greater degree of understanding of each other’s work

problems.

Sport rears its ugly head

By this time I had long since given up football. My last game had been at the tender

age of twenty-nine. I remember thinking that at that age I was an old man and well

past my prime. Hindsight and time subsequently told me that this, too, was a

premature and wrong decision! I later realised that I could have quite comfortably

continued playing well into my forties. When one gives up football, one is

convinced it constitutes a major catastrophe - the end of the world. There is nothing

left except the boredom of growing old. Not so, of course. One quickly discovers

that there is a life after football.

From the point of view of the sporting arena, football was quickly replaced by golf,

and later, back to table tennis. Football was indeed easily put behind me. The

heinous game of golf now became my first sporting love and the years have proved

that it is undoubtedly a love/hate relationship.

It is not a sport I would recommend to anyone who is intelligent, mature of thought,

and at ease with life. The sheer elation of watching that little white ball soar

250 yards as straight as a die down the middle of the fairway is more than matched

by the ever-present hopelessness of being totally inadequate. The sport is a killer

and should be banned! It’s a drug, as many have found to their cost. Families and

marriages have been destroyed by it. Promising careers have been ground into dust

by its insidious habit of becoming addictive. Be warned, dear reader, leave the

game to Tiger Woods and co.

It’s little wonder that authors such as P G Wodehouse were able to brighten our

lives with horrifying tales of the game. It is both a wonderful sport and a dastardly

one. People who don’t play are often heard expounding theories of how relaxing it

all is. You can wind down from the day’s work problems, forget about the

inadequacy of your salary, escape for a few hours from the wife and children and

just relax and let life wash over you. Forget it. These are myths. People who

perpetuate these myths have never struck a ball in their lives!

All of one’s powers of concentration, mental calmness, determination, positive

thought, and bodily co-ordination, are required just to move this little white ball

accurately from A to B. If one is not “naturally blessed” with these capabilities, as

I, then it’s panic, worry, frustration, anger, and the certain knowledge that the ball is

not going to gracefully fly from A to B as requested! I suspect it was invented by

the Spanish Inquisition and subsequently expanded by the Marquis de Sade.

For something like 37 years now, I have subjected my mind and body to ridiculous

attempts to batter the little white ball into submission. Over this period I have

forever remained cognisant of the fact that the little white ball is the winner. I have

given up the game on at least twenty-five occasions. I have been convinced that my

knowledge and perception of the theory of “the golf swing” is second to none. All

to no avail! I am still a failure. And now, incredibly, Marina plays and she, too, is a

failure! Two supposedly intelligent people!

There are those who say that one’s efforts and attitude to the game are a direct

reflection of one’s character. My game is pathetic, bad, and unstable! Doesn’t say

much for me does it? There are those who say, “It doesn’t matter how badly you

play,” when you take six shots to cover a distance that should have been covered in

two. “It’s the playing of the game that counts, not the end result.” All à la Rudyard

Kipling, no doubt. Rubbish, absolute rubbish! Such people deserve to be shot, then

buried exactly where my next divot will be.

This is tantamount to saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to publicly display

yourself as a fine ventriloquist when the whole world can see your mouth going up

and down, in and out, and round and round, to the same degree as an operatic tenor.

You are publicly doing something badly and enjoying it! That’s golf.

On a more serious note, it really is a most wonderful and challenging sport.

Regretfully, however, it is also a sport that, to my mind, brings out and displays all

that is worst in mankind. I realise that this view must sound very strange to many

people who would hold the view that golf clubs and the sport of golf represents one

of the last bastions of sportsmanship and common decency. Not so. It is a

superficial layer spread on top of the game, hiding a terrible amount of hypocrisy,

bigotry, false morality, and the love of male domination and superiority.

The golfing fraternity would tear me to pieces for holding such a view but I believe

I have a strong case. Nonetheless, I love the game almost as much as I hate it. I

have little doubt that I shall continue to chase the impossibility of going round in

72 shots gross, when I would then retire with dignity restored. But it won’t happen.

I shall continue to be a perfect example of all that’s good and bad in the game and

pretend that, either way, it’s good for me. Ah well, such is life.

Enough of this. Let me tell you about my table tennis over the period 1964 – 1972.

I had never intended to take up my bat in anger again, having virtually given up the

game when I bumped into Marina. And I can’t really remember how it all came

about. But it did and very selfishly, I suppose, I put myself wholeheartedly into the

game for a number of years.

Having regard to the fact that I was now a happily married man and, at the age of

33 years, I was well over the top table tennis wise, taking the game up again might

have seemed silly to many. It’s a young man’s sport and you are definitely past

your prime at this age. Anyway, I dusted the moth-balls off the bat and joined the

happy throng of modern day players.

Over the next ten years I managed to obtain a fair degree of success, throwing

myself into the game on a one hundred percent level and playing for many

successful teams. I would often play four or five times a week and many weekends

and travel to all parts of the country to participate in tournaments.

Although I managed to improve my game, I couldn’t possibly keep up with the

younger generation. So eventually I did manage to finally retire, at the ripe old age

of 42 years. I’ve never regretted it and haven’t struck a blow since.

All this, of course, meant that Marina became what in golfing terms would be

described as “a grass widow”. She took it all very well and never once discouraged

me. But, in hindsight, I realised that my sporting pursuits were extremely selfcentred

and selfish. It is ever thus, I suppose, in terms of the male/female

relationship.

Ironically, Marina herself eventually became interested in golf to the extent that she

not only still plays the game, but is the current Ladies Section Secretary at our golf

club, loves the game, and spends more time at it than I do. Touché, I suppose?

Having a go

And what was happening on planet Honeywell? Well, by the time 1971 came

around, I had progressed into the realms of being an Outside Sales Engineer, with a

company car, covering the south western part of the country. My salary had

increased accordingly, I was reasonably successful and largely responsible for my

own destiny. All was well with life and I was still in the learning process. But I

lacked ambition. I never really wanted to “go anywhere”. I had no sense of wanting

to achieve anything. Achievement for itself didn’t appear to be part of my psyche. I

was happy in my rut, so to speak. But, suddenly, something happened in 1971. It

came to me that with my knowledge of Honeywell and its products, I could

possibly use my skills to better effect.

Although I was enormously grateful to all those who’d helped me get into this new

world and although I enjoyed aspects of it such as presentations and lectures (the

ham in me I think), I felt a need to move on. This in itself was quite astounding, I

suppose. I was still relatively “servile” and, having got myself to a sort of personal

pinnacle, I amazed myself with this new found attitude. It was real enough

however, so much so that in 1971 I left the company for the second time.

My real reason for voluntarily giving up the wonderful opportunity I’d been given

was to start up my own business. To do this efficiently, I felt I needed some

experience in the field of wholesaling for I intended to set myself up as a “heating

controls wholesaler/consultant”. With this in mind, I left Honeywell to join a

heating wholesaler by the name of Griffin Warm Air.

It was just for twelve months that’s all and, in 1972, armed with a bank loan of

£1500, I went solo. How I had the nerve to do this I shall never know. When I look

back on it now, I shudder. I took this step with an enormous sense of gratitude

towards Honeywell who had obviously made this possible for me. I was now 41

years old and about to take the second biggest step of my life.

 

8. Spareco Services

A moment of regret perhaps?

My mother died this year. I had a telephone call, out of the blue, from a lady in the

Worthing area to enquire and ascertain that I was Colin Leaney, son of Elizabeth.

As a resident in a Local Authority Home, she had apparently fallen over, contracted

pneumonia and died. And I hardly knew her. What a waste. For most of her adult

life she’d obviously had an unhappy time. I knew nothing of her background or

family and she, poor thing, had a son in name only, so to speak. I felt somewhat

guilty then, and still do now. Marina and I attended the funeral, did what we had to

do, and returned to our normal lives, almost as if nothing had happened. I might

one day take up the cudgels of trying to find out more of her background, her

family, and how she started out in life.

What’s all this then?

And so to Spareco Services.

I am a born gambler, so to a certain extent I was now in my element. In essence,

this is what I was about to do - buy a stock of heating controls with my £1500,

store them in my garage at home, pick up my briefcase, visit area Gas Boards up

and down the country, and attempt to obtain from them annual contracts for the

supply of heating control spares. Simple, isn’t it?

I had already come to the conclusion that there was something lacking in the state

of this particular marketplace prior to leaving Honeywell. Many existing suppliers

of this equipment to Gas Boards had virtually no idea of the technicalities and

application of these controls. They merely supplied them with no other services

being offered. With my technical and application knowledge, coupled with my

experience of dealing with Gas Boards, I thought I might be onto a good thing.

I managed to acquire some small orders to start with, realising that I would have to

be somewhat patient. As is usually the case when people first start out on any selffunding

small business, the first few months can produce quite horrendous cashflow

problems. My situation was no different. So, to supplement my income, I

bought myself a Hammond organ and proceeded to take it out and about to play for

pay. I obtained various residencies over the next twelve months and the income

generated from this enabled me to overcome the initial problems of cash-flow.

Useful music

Playing the organ, of course, requires a completely different technique to playing

the piano. Feet have to be used on bass pedals and the hands used differently on

each manual. But I soon got the hang of things, at least, sufficiently so for people to

engage my services. At last, after 41 years, any talent I had was proving to be very

useful.

I enjoyed playing the organ, although basically I was riddled with nervousness. At

one residency in a local social club, where every Saturday night they had a

professional concert, I even had to pretend that I could read music when

accompanying the artistes. I couldn’t, of course, but I would put the sheet music on

the stand in front of me and pretend to read it. Nobody ever knew that I wasn’t

reading it until one day I was confronted by a committee man who’d noticed that,

whilst supposedly reading the music, I was looking all round the room and never

once looked at the music. Discovered, by Jove, my ploy of no further use! It was

irrelevant, of course. Over the period I was there, I accompanied everybody

perfectly well, except on one occasion. Would you believe, I had to play

background music only to a couple of Spanish performing flame-throwers? Their

background music was “The Ritual Fire-Dance”! No chance for this ear-playing

busker so I played “Lady of Spain” and “Granada” for all I was worth and nobody

knew the difference.

This extra income proved to be invaluable. Thank you, God, for the genes! I

managed to obtain various Gas Board contracts as hoped for and my first twelve

months passed off without ever once going into debt. I was still working from

home and I really did keep a tight grip on the cash flow. I was determined that I

wouldn’t fall into the frequent trap of spending money as if it were mine instead of

belonging to my creditors. During my time at Honeywell I had come into contact

with numerous instances of self-employed people who ran their businesses on the

equation of: cash plus assets = X. monies owed = X plus. Buy yacht in Bahamas

and Jaguar in front drive = disaster and eventual downfall. I was therefore

determined not to be tempted by such idiocy.

Getting accustomed to money

As such, the business continued to flourish, retaining its status as a one-man band

with a very acceptable profitability factor, so much so that my bank manager, a

certain Mr Black, didn’t like me running my account permanently in the black. This

didn’t make profit for the bank, so he would take me out to lunch every Christmas

with a view to talking me into an overdraft facility. I never did take advantage of an

overdraft and I think most people thought I was mad. All businesses run on

overdrafts. It is the heart and soul of financial success!

This may be true but I’ve very rarely been conventional. I suppose I took a certain

pride in the fact that I could run my business without this financial prop. A bit

arrogant really, but I succeeded.

During these first twelve months or so, Marina’s salary was essential. Thank God

for her skills and dedication. All in all, things went along very nicely. So much so

that shortly I moved into rented premises. It was a hard slog and I was at once a

typist, an accountant, a store-man, a delivery boy, a sales rep, and an engineer. My

accountant, Martin Lawrence, an excellent chap, used to say that I’d got the best

business on his books. I still see Martin occasionally and he’s still running a

successful business. I deliberately set out to obtain the services of a completely

“honest” accountant - this being another aspect of business which many chose to

use unwisely, in my opinion. I have little doubt that many people thought of me as

being naïve in money matters but I could only do it my way, not the way of

convention.

It was during this period of my life, that I came to the realisation that my perception

of “honesty” in all things was quite a bit different to the accepted perception. As

silly as it sounds, this perception of mine puts me at odds with mankind in general.

Where there is common acceptance of the honesty of people such as politicians, the

judiciary, those at the head of business conglomerates, councillors, educationalists,

and many others who would purport to operate with integrity, my perception of

their honesty is utterly different. I am somewhat puritanical and I don’t like it.

However, at the age of 67 years, I doubt I shall change for the better.

My business continued to thrive over the next few years and I considered myself to

be extremely fortunate. I was now earning money beyond my wildest dreams. I

worked hard and diligently and considered that I earned every penny. I rented a

second set of premises, using my original premises for storage only. I got myself a

secretary and this took a useful workload off my back. Marina and I enjoyed having

a bit of money and, hopefully, I never used it as any form of status symbol.

This is something which I abhor in others - throwing your money about. I would on

occasion remark to Marina that nobody had a divine right to expect a lifetime’s

supply of money and its trappings. There would come a time when we would not

be so fortunate. We did of course occasionally engage in forms of self-indulgence

but such instances were kept to a minimum.

In 1975 we moved into a house only 500 yards from our previous one - a house that

we had regularly passed and commented upon. And now it was ours. We never ever

thought we could be the owners of such a house - a far cry from polishing floors at

RCNS! Life had indeed been kind to me. I suppose it was a bit of a superficial

existence, brittle too. Nonetheless, the results of our combined efforts weren’t

totally selfish. Marina’s parents were very proud of their daughter and what she had

achieved. They themselves lived in Council property and had only ever known

relative poverty so they were proud of her new home and the way that we’d worked

hard to get it. Many family “do’s” were held there, some of which we captured on

video.

A bad time for Marina

It wasn’t all a bed of roses, however. Somewhere in the region of 1980 I became

hospitalised, supposedly because I was suffering from something which was

described to me as “anxiety neurosis”. It later became clear that in reality I needn’t

have been hospitalised at all. It all arose because for many years (probably 9 or 10)

I had innocently taken Valium without ever suspecting that it was anything more

than just a “calming” capsule for a nervous stomach, as prescribed to me by my GP.

Now, I was to learn that it was addictive.

This addiction eventually caught up with me, made me even more anxious, and I

finished up in hospital. Although I was only ensconced therein for about 14 days,

the experience was sufficiently traumatic to act as a catalyst for my next decision -

to give up tranquillisers forever! Little did I realise what would follow. In fact, the

entire experience of being surrounded by epileptics and the like was to teach me a

salutary lesson.

Amazingly, during the whole of this period (1974-1984), my daily intake of

tranquillisers was apparently (according to Marina) responsible for a form of

behaviour which resulted in me giving Marina a bit of a hard time. I only learned

this later and it amazed me. I “felt” perfectly normal. I ran a business. Apart from

all else, it never occurred to me that the constant intake of these tranquillisers

would do me any harm. My doctors merely said, if you need them, take them. How

wrong they were.

I had no idea that they were addictive. Incredibly, my stay in hospital was worsened

by the fact that they drastically increased my intake. By the time I came out of

hospital I was determined that such things would not control/ruin my life. I

resolved that I should be mentally strong enough to not only wean myself off them

but to continue my life without feeling the need for them. Surely the right thought

processes and the application of will-power could achieve this?

They said it couldn’t be done - much like the smoking habit. Without doubt it

became the hardest thing I’d ever attempted. For a period of three months or so we

experienced a minor form of hell, especially Marina. How she ever stuck it out, I

shall never know. But she did, and between us I succeeded. I have no idea how I

managed this but I gave up the daily intake of tranquillisers, having taken them

every day for approximately ten years. What a feat! All without any outside help,

hypnotism, or acupuncture. To this day, I have never taken a single form of

tranquilliser capsule/tablet. Little wonder I’m arrogant!

So this period of my life was indeed a series of ups and downs, highs and lows,

joys and miseries. All perfectly normal in fact. The life of everyone. I ran my little

business successfully and “life-wise” I was still very much on a learning curve. Or

at least, that’s how I perceived it. We had a lovely home, many friends, a healthy

social life, and enough money to maintain an adequate lifestyle. We were indeed

fortunate, despite the downs.

A new lifestyle

In 1985 I decided to wind up my business. Whilst to many this appeared to be a

rather sudden decision, I had been toying with the idea for some while. There were

a mixture of reasons why, the most predominant being that my competitors in the

Gas Board marketplace had started to take contracts from me by selling at virtually

nil profit. Not for me, I’m afraid. It seemed pointless. So, wind it up I did. I

managed to sell off all my stock and I came out of the business in a fairly healthy

financial state.

This didn’t last long, however, because over the next couple of years I made some

rather silly investments into a couple of other ventures involving people who didn’t

quite have the same degree of honesty as myself. I lost money. Or, threw it away,

according to what one’s point of view is!

This didn’t in itself make me unhappy in any way. I had made mistakes and so be

it. More learning blocks of life. Marina and I were happy enough, Marina still had a

decent job, we still had a nice home, I had successfully given up my tranquillisers

and I went into a state of voluntary retirement - enforced retirement in reality! Who

in heavens name was going to employ a 56 year old?

I thoroughly enjoyed this “retired” state. As long as Marina had no objection to her

continuance as the major bread-winner, we were happy to take our separate roles. I

with my pension and Marina with her salary. In any event, Marina enjoyed her

work and was more than happy to continue working for working’s sake. We were

no longer in the financial marketplace that we’d become accustomed to over the

past 15 years or so. But it didn’t matter. The trappings of money and presumed

status were never of any interest to me.

I’m glad to say that the experience of being “cheated” out of my money didn’t in

any way leave me cynical. I accepted it for what it was, mainly a consequence of

my own naivety and stupidity. All in all, the 15/16 years of life since the business

start-up in 1972 had been full of excitement and a walk into unknown territory. I

hadn’t so much achieved anything as merely been on a voyage of discovery. An

experience I never thought I would ever have.

In 1992 we decided on a move, almost by accident, I suppose. Out of interest we

happened one day to be cruising around a local mobile home site when we were

actually called in by one of the home-owners and invited to look around their

home. With nothing to lose and not wanting to appear churlish, we accepted the

invitation. We liked what we saw, the home was up for sale, and we bought it.

And this is where we now still reside, in our dotage, so to speak. Marina still

continues to grace the stage of the travel business. She is quite possibly the longest

serving member of the travel business in Birmingham - forty-five years to my

knowledge, and still going strong. One feels that a medal should be struck for

devotion to duty through thick and thin. What a story she could tell, if able to recall

the thousands upon thousands of travel customers to come within her compass.

There’s a book there somewhere.

Roots

There is one last tale to tell. A tale which will most definitely only be half-written.

Even as I write, the script of this tale is unfolding.

As a consequence of their TV documentary series, Barnardo’s invited ex-inmates to

apply for access to their confidential files which contained documents previously

undisclosed, even to the subject people. This I did, not with any hope of

discovering anything material (I thought I knew it all), but merely out of curiosity.

Amongst all the minor detail given to me was a name – that of my father, Henry

Bernard Ufland. Now “this” was something new to me. I decided, once again

purely out of curiosity, to see whether a search of some national records might

produce any interesting information.

Did he ever marry? To whom? Did he have any other children? Who by? Would

any of his progeny still be with us? Thus far my searches have proved to be

somewhat interesting and I’m hopeful that I might actually get to meet “a relative”

of some sort. There’s no emotion involved here, merely a form of excitement that I

might get to shake hands with a member of any “unknown” family.

So Marina and I started this project of family search. By dint of many hours of

attendance at the Birmingham Central Library and armed only with a single name,

we made what we felt were some amazing discoveries and I take much satisfaction

in detailing this information here.

He did marry, sixteen years prior to fathering me, but not to my mother. He came

from a Jewish family and was brought over to this country as an immigrant at the

tender age of between 2 and 6 years. He married a cousin, Annette, in 1915 and

over the next five years produced a son and a daughter, Aubrey and Muriel. If still

alive, these offspring would now be 78 and 82 years respectively. But, more to the

point, they would be my half-brother and half sister!

Wouldn’t this be wonderful? After all these years, relatives! As yet I have been

unable to trace either of them but I do know that the daughter, Muriel, married in

1940 and she had a son and daughter. Their names are known but, unfortunately,

not their whereabouts. However, the records clearly indicate that members of the

Ufland clan never felt inclined to move further than 25 miles from the city of

London.

In fact, the births, deaths, and marriages records from 1890 to 1953 clearly show

that the entire migrant family settled in the Marylebone area of London and then,

over the years, marriages and so on took various members out to Greater London

areas such as Hendon and Putney with some moving down as far as Croydon and

Carshalton in Surrey.

As of this moment, I haven’t actually “proved” anything in terms of my direct

relationship to this family but the evidence is very strong. For example, on my birth

certificate my father is quoted as being a motor mechanic (as per the Barnardo

records). On two further documents concerning the Ufland clan, the Henry Ufland

quoted on them is also quoted as being a motor mechanic. So it’s all getting quite

exciting. To this end, I have sent a letter off to the one and only Ufland whose

address and telephone number are currently available and who is therefore the only

one I know of who is still alive. I know that this man’s father is not my father but

facts suggest that he might have been my uncle. If this were so, then the Ufland

I’ve written to, Bertram, would be my half-cousin. Wouldn’t that be something

after all these years?

However, I fully realise that he may not see it quite the same way. Even assuming

I’m related to him, I can imagine the possible trauma created by my letter –

discovering at this late stage of his life, out of the blue, that not only has he an

unknown relative, but one outside of the Jewish faith, and outside of wedlock!

Logically, long before I’ve finished here, I should be able to relate the final result

of my search for distant relatives. I shall do so with relish, irrespective of the result.

So, dear reader, don’t go away. I hope to relate more outstanding facts to you.

Back to the old days

I would now like to go back to 1982. I was 51 years of age, still running my own

business and all was reasonably well with the world. Apart from my “anxiety”

problems, Marina and I were perfectly happy. And then it happened. Gordon

Brocklehurst I mean! Allow me to enlarge…….

For apparently no particular reason, it came into my mind to see whether I could

trace the whereabouts of one, Gordon Brocklehurst, who during my sojourn at

Russell-Cotes Nautical School (Barnardo’s), I considered to be “my best friend”.

We had participated together in various activities and we briefly continued to

correspond with each other after Gordon left to be fostered by a couple in

Berkshire. I hadn’t seen or heard from him since that time however. I made

enquiries to Barnardo’s and, lo and behold, they gave me Gordon’s telephone

number. Despite the probability that he has never forgiven Barnardo’s for

reintroducing me into his life, he received my telephone call with a reasonable

amount of tolerance. I do apologise, Gordon, but you are now stuck with me.

This was a telephone call that will live with me forever. Firstly, because here I was

almost forty years on, talking for the first time in that period to someone who

remembered and knew my past. On this call I was also able to learn of the career

that Gordon had carved out for himself, despite a disadvantageous start - a

neurosurgeon no less. How absolutely bloody marvellous! What an achievement!

Once we’d both recovered from these “voices from the past”, we arranged to meet

at the Excelsior Hotel at Birmingham Airport - a memorable date in my calendar of

life. Not quite in the same grade as my first date with Marina, nor my job with

Honeywell, but well up to the standard of a Hollywood movie. A sort of “Busby

Berkeley” musical scenario with Gordon majestically sweeping down the central

foyer stairway whilst, at the bottom, stood a five-foot-five Colin Leaney, looking

up to see whether this man would be recognisable. He was.

The following six hours were spent feeling our way with each other, relating

incidents of the past and pontificating on the present. All quite wonderful stuff.

My abiding feeling however was that here, for the first time in 40 years, I was

talking to somebody about 40 years ago! I had never been able to do this before.

Needless to say, I was also somewhat shamed by Gordon’s ability to recall

things about me which I had no recollection of whatsoever. My memory

was redundant by comparison.

To also learn that he was a very successful neurosurgeon was in itself mindboggling

to me, not only because it was Gordon, nor because of his start in life, but

also because of my complete admiration for all those who dedicate their lives to the

service and well-being of others, having special regard to the sacrifices they’ve

already made in terms of discipline, studies, training, and dedication. Such people

surely deserve the gratitude of all of us.

This meeting with Gordon gave me a kick-start to being more conscious of my

early life and its influence on what is now me. I’d never really given much serious

thought to my early years. I had been too busy getting on with the current years.

Gordon had now set me thinking.

So, here I am in our little “nest” of a mobile home, 67 years to the good, and still

going strong. There is nothing much more to tell really. Nowadays, very little of

what happens to us could be described as eventful. But it’s been interesting looking

back on my life, despite my feeble memory. I plod on with my hobbies, which now

list – music, daily diary, computer and golf. All very selfish pursuits, and this

sometimes gives me food for thought, and concern!

 

9. Reflections

Makes you think, don’t it?

One constantly thinks of “values”, and whether one’s values are valid and

acceptable to others. Because such things are relative and subjective, it becomes

somewhat difficult to pronounce them, and live by them, when somebody else’s

values are totally different, shaped perhaps by the life they’ve led? Has my life

been what it has because of my values? Or have my values dictated and made my

life? Tricky!

But I do strongly suspect that the values I hold today are directly derivative from

my early days. I have no regrets about them and I’m more than prepared to accept

their consequences. I have a sense of gratitude towards life and all those who have

taken part in it - friends for example. True friends are very rare and, long after

circumstances part you from them, they should surely be treasured as no other. On

the rocky road through life the “true” ones can be counted on one hand. I’ve been

fortunate enough to have had five true friends and each one of them has been

responsible for major aspects of my life. I still have regular contact with two of

them and I suppose one day I might pluck up enough courage and honesty to tell

them how grateful I am for their gift of friendship.

I have a penchant for equating life with the game of golf. Thus, I hold the view that

I never learn anything of value until I’m halfway down the 18th hole! Is it then too

late? There’s only half a hole left and then the game is finished. Thus is life! Half a

hole to go and I finally learn how to hit the ball! But, I convince my self that

although I’ve lost the match, I’ve learnt something which will be utilised to

devastating effect when next I play. That’s also life!

Sometimes, however, I haven’t learned at all and I walk off the last green not only

defeated, but learning nothing of consequence for my next match. This I did with

my music. On the basis that music was the only “real” natural talent I ever

possessed, it has been wasted. Now in my 67th year, I have a greater interest in it

than ever before! But the round is almost over. I’ve only got the 18th green to play,

in which case I’m determined to win the hole! I’m eternally grateful for the gift I

have which I take no credit for whatsoever. It’s true that to a large extent I am

unable to musically communicate with proper trained musicians who cannot

comprehend how I do what I do. This was never better illustrated to me than an

incident which cropped up about 20 years ago.

The gift

A very good friend of ours, Billy Chadd, arranged for Marina and I to attend a

social gathering at the home of an acquaintance of his, a lady who happened to be a

violinist in the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Inevitably the point came when I

was invited to the grand piano to accompany this lady in something she would play

from music and I would play by ear. We finally selected “We’ll Gather Lilacs” in

the key of F and away we went. I doubt it’s ever been rendered better! Ivor Novello

would have been proud of us. And the lady? Well, apart from playing beautifully,

she was flabbergasted and amazed. She couldn’t understand how a totally untrained

person could possibly do such a thing without the aid of practice, rehearsal, and

music!

It has ever been thus. It becomes impossible for me to explain to musicians and

non-musicians alike how I’m able to do it. To a trained musician (not jazz

musicians, who are amazingly talented, and can do anything at anytime to any

piece of music), it becomes difficult to comprehend why a person can play music

and songs without the medium of written music to tell you how to do so. To such

people the written music is an instruction from the composer to play certain notes

or chords, in the manner required by the composer.

It is a method of “transmission”. A person who plays by ear doesn’t need this

transmission. He/she has an “ear” for what has been previously heard and

transposes this into notes and chords on the piano. All a bit of a mystery.

Everybody, of course, can remember and store melodies and everybody can bring

such melodies to life via singing, humming, or whistling. But I bring them to life

by blowing, sucking, pressing, pulling, or plucking! Millions can do this also. And,

by doing so, they produce a “single-note” melody. I discovered at a fairly early age

that I had an inbuilt ability to “hear chords” and the way that chords are used. My

lovely violinist from the CBSO didn’t have this and it becomes impossible to

explain precisely what it is and how it happens. Take this lady’s music away from

her and she could hardly play a note, except via pigeon-holed memory. By the same

token, I was amazed at her technical dexterity and her ability to easily decipher

these little black dots called music. I have neither of these attributes.

So, I could easily take the view that any ability I had has been wasted. But I don’t

think it really has. You see, I met Marina because of it and I met at least two of my

other true friends because of it and, in my very limited way, I have given many

hours of enjoyment to people over the years because of it. So, I console myself with

the fact my indolence in this respect did not stop me from putting my talent to

practical use. I have much to be grateful for.

So, we’ve arrived!

Over these past few years my outward life has changed very little. Marina is still

working, although I would much prefer that she didn’t. She has diligently worked

for over 45 years without a break. The travel trade has been her only mode of

employment and she has made many friends in the process. Needless to say, she is

still highly regarded in the trade.

She has also gained many friends from her association with our golf club where, for

a number of years, she has been the Ladies’ Secretary. She is held in high regard

here, too, where she is regularly asked to take on the Ladies’ Captaincy. Just as

regularly she declines the offer. I don’t really know why but I have to say I’m

rather pleased that she does turn it down.

In general terms, captains of golf clubs are not a species of mankind I have any

admiration for. Many are the reasons, which I won’t go into here. I am therefore

pleased that my wife appears to be made of sterner stuff. She does not appear to be

beguiled by delusions of grandeur and egotism. But, as captains go, everyone is

convinced that she would make an excellent job of it. I suspect that one day it will

happen and, when it does, I shall give her my full support and encouragement,

despite my views.

We still play the game on a very regular basis and, in general terms, enjoy it.

Although I hold the view that golfers who are members of private golf clubs tend to

epitomise the principles of double-standards, hypocrisy, and bigotry, the game itself

cannot be bettered. We continue, day after day, to delude ourselves into thinking

that we will one day master it! Of course we won’t. It is designed to ensure that we

will never do so. Or, it would be truer to say, the game was constructed to ensure

that most of us are consistently humiliated by the ease with which we make it

difficult. Certainly not a game invented by an intelligent, decent human-being.

Caligula could not have bettered it!

So, what have I become? Certainly not a writer, that’s for sure and certainly not

“an achiever”. My indolence saw to that. Certainly not the product of ambition.

I’ve never had any. Perhaps all I’ve become is a mediocre nonentity? If so, I can

assure other nonentities that my trip along this path has, in the main, been most

enjoyable.

I have developed my own philosophies on life, albeit these are generally at odds

with populist views and attitudes. How many of these philosophies are born out of

my earlier upbringing I wonder? I have no idea. But I’m fairly certain that my early

circumstances and life are responsible for my ever-present feeling that I am

“a citizen of the world”. I come to this conclusion because I have no feelings of

patriotism, nepotism, herd-ism, or blind loyalty. I presume that these things spring

from a basis of “family” and all that it means. My judgements therefore tend to

sprout from the source of objectivity and nothing else.

Over the years I have occasionally sat down and recorded thoughts that have

suddenly come into my mind. As one final gesture, dear reader, and with your

indulgence, I shall list one or two of these here. They may actually say more about

me than all the preceding pages.

My thoughts are me

• The equality of opportunity is the opportunity to create inequality.

• The only real manifestation of life is tomorrow morning.

• Earning money is not a very nice occupation.

• The height of English self-esteem: “They are the best quartet in the world,

and probably the best in England.”

• Nothing should ever be measured by its popularity. It is the antithesis of

quality.

• Allegiance and loyalty are the enemies of thought.

• The character of a person surely lies within their humility. Or lack of it.

• Every day is a yesterday and cannot be recalled. So why not make it a

tomorrow instead. It must be lived and enjoyed and not put into the bank of

yesterday. It must be spent now.

• The gratitude given by others is a bonus, not a charge.

• It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what you SAY.Why is it that people

regard boredom as something imposed? It isn’t. It comes from within.

• You cannot communicate beauty to a Philistine. It’s not a problem of words,

it’s a problem of concept. If someone cannot smell, see, hear, or touch beauty

via the mind, there is no other sense to communicate with. If the mind cannot

“perceive” beauty, you are left with two different planets that can never meet.

• Politics is the assassin of common sense.

• Nothing is more unjust than justice.

• One should look forward to enjoying now.

• Life’s most devastating phrase: “It’s my turn.”

• I must create some new memories, the old ones are wearing out.

These are just a few of my thoughts. Morgan Morison, an ex-Barnardo boy, once

asked me if I had any ambitions left in life. Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve never

had any ambitions at all, I replied that I would like to be wise and dispense wisdom

to anybody who might be helped by it. I don’t think I shall reach this happy state

but it’s nice to ponder on its possibility.

I wonder if Dr Barnardo had it? Perhaps we might not have been here if he hadn’t!

 

10. Family

Update – 31st March 2004

My mother, the sole person I ever met who I could refer to as “family” never felt

inclined to tell me anything whatsoever about her life and times. As a result, I knew

of no family. I assumed, therefore, that there was nobody to know and that she, my

mother, was the sole person on this planet with my blood in her veins. I don’t recall

that I was ever bothered by this situation and there the matter rested until…..

Somewhere in the region of 1998/99 I was invited by Barnardo’s to visit them at

Barkingside, where I would learn something to my advantage - or not, dependent

upon one’s point of view?

The information given to me was very sparse and I learned very little that I didn’t

already know. However, one fact emerged which was hitherto unknown to me. The

name of my father - one Henry Ufland. Apart from the fact that he was classified by

Barnardo’s at the time of my entry as a “motor mechanic”, nothing more was

known. However, this little snippet of information was to lead to some exciting

discoveries. Exciting to me, that is, not necessarily to mankind in general!

So, armed with “Henry Ufland” and nothing else, Marina and I spent time in the

Birmingham Reference Library, searching through their births, deaths, and

marriages records (on computer). Many hours were spent on this onerous task, but

it paid dividends. And I finished up with the following information.

My father was the son of Jewish immigrants who came to this country from Minsk

(Russia) in 1892, he being born over here. In 1915 he married a cousin, Annette.

The entire family appear to have remained living in the confines of the Marylebone

area of London until much later when certain members became successful in

business and spread their wings to places such as the USA.

None of these “successful” Jews were on my side of affairs, unfortunately. I merely

had the “motor mechanics” of this world! Nonetheless, for the first time in my life,

I had people to discover.

At this juncture of our investigation, we knew nothing more than the Russian/Jew

connection and my father’s marriage. Was this Henry Ufland indeed my father? I

merely assumed and hoped that the Henry Ufland referred to in the births, deaths,

and marriages, was indeed he, who later seduced my mother. I managed to establish

that he begat two children via his wife Annette - Muriel and Aubrey. All of which

meant that, if this was my father and not some itinerant impostor, Muriel and

Aubrey were “half” relatives! What about that? How marvellous after 67/68 years

of unknown lineage. Me, who since my release from Barnardo’s in 1947/48 had

never given a thought to any family background, was now at the age of 68 getting

all excited about the possibility of “finding” someone who might have some

“Leaney” blood in them or, truer to say, “Ufland” blood in them.

But we now came to a grinding halt. Although we’d managed to discover that

Muriel had married a Fred Wildman and that this marriage had produced two

children, Carole and Michael, there appeared to be no way we could proceed any

further.

The possibility occurred to me that perhaps we might find Carole or Michael via

the Electoral Roll but this was soon knocked on the head when I discovered that the

Electoral Roll Register is based upon street names, rather than the names of people.

What a blow. The end of my quest apparently!

Not so….. I decided to take the bull by the horns and pursue the “Marylebone”

connection. I searched through the London telephone directory for any poor

unfortunate with the surname “Ufland”. There were half-a-dozen or so, and from

these I picked one at random and dialled out. It turned out to be the most defining

telephone call I’d ever made.

Getting closer

On the other end of the line was a certain David Ufland. After explaining who I was

and why I was phoning him, I was absolutely astounded to be told by this 74 year

old man that the person I referred to as Henry Ufland was not only my father but

that he, David Ufland, had actually known him!!! No exclamation marks are

adequate enough to describe how I felt at this moment. Apart from my mother, I

was now speaking to the only person I’d ever spoken to who actually knew my

father. Amazing! Absolutely amazing!

The sheer coincidence of selecting at random the only person on this planet who

actually knew my father was enough in itself. But to also now know that this man

could tell me things I never dreamed of, left me utterly astounded.

So, did all this mean that I was “a Jew”? I have no idea. I was certainly brought up

in Barnardo’s to believe that I was Church of England. However, none of this was

relevant to my euphoria. Speaking to someone who in turn had spoken to my father

was almost like speaking to him. A wonderfully exciting moment!

Things moved on from here with a letter from me to David, giving him a complete

rundown of my life and times and how I’d come to this point. A meeting was

arranged (me to visit him at his Marylebone home) and the excitement continued. I

was going to come face-to-face with an actual cousin of my father. It all seemed

quite unbelievable.

Disappointingly, the meeting never took place, and hasn’t done so to this day.

David suffers with some sort of nervous problem (a condition quite frequently

associated with people who have been threatened with meeting me for the first

time!) and he felt that he couldn’t adequately confront me. I obviously respected his

wishes and it was agreed that he would write to me.

The information he gave me in his letter was not only highly informative but

exceedingly germane to my quest for family info. Apparently my father was one of

five brothers, all born in this country, of the original Russian immigrants. David

confirmed that Henry had married Annette and that he begat a son and a daughter

by her. A small snippet, which didn’t pass unnoticed by me, was David’s view that

although my father was the least successful of the brothers, he was the nicest. That

pleased me. I wouldn’t want it otherwise.

My final identity

All this of course still left me effectively “at the end of the line”. I deduced that

there would almost certainly still be people alive who would be “somewhat

removed” relatives, perhaps even Muriel or Aubrey, my father’s legitimate

offspring. They would be my half-brother and half-sister. But, because of the

distinct possibility that through age neither of these two people might still be alive,

I considered trying to find the offspring of Muriel. The Birmingham records had

told me that Muriel had a son and a daughter and that they would have been born as

“Wildman”, the name of Muriel’s husband. Obviously if the daughter Carole had

also married, her name would be changed, with a strong likelihood that I would

never be able to trace her.

It was at this juncture that I decided to use the internet. I sent an e-mail to someone

who had advertised on the Net, requesting any information they might come up

with concerning the whereabouts of a Michael Wildman. This cost me the

magnificent sum of £25 which turned out to be the best investment I ever made. A

response came back which supplied me with nothing more than the addresses of

three Michael Wildmans.

I selected one of these quite specifically, simply because it was in Essex, and

therefore the nearest to the original “Ufland” family location in Marylebone. I

wrote to Michael and explained that if his mother was the Muriel Wildman born of

Henry Ufland in 1916, he, Michael, was my half-nephew!

So, this was it…….. A trail that started with only the name of Henry Ufland had

now led me to my last hope of actually meeting and confronting a member of my

family. It couldn’t be so, surely? In my whole life, I had only ever known a mother

- and she, not very well. Was this Michael going to come up with the goods? The

world waited with bated breath!

Two days after writing and sending off my letter, the telephone rang. And there, on

the other end of the line, was Evelyn, wife of Michael - wife also of my halfnephew!

Yes, I had selected the right Michael Wildman, and glory be, he was my

half-nephew. This was incredible. I almost fell off the end of the phone. Apart from

all else, it meant that I now had a direct lead to any other relatives on my father’s

side. Over the next few minutes I was to learn also that my half-sister Muriel had

given birth to a third child, Keith. What a bonus! I had now discovered a half-niece

and two half-nephews. The world was a fantastic place. I now had a family! More, I

now had an identity as a specific cog in someone else’s wheel. I had become an

uncle at the age of 68 years. Incredible!

I subsequently had telephone contact with all three of them. All went very

swimmingly and we arranged to meet. All, that is, except Carole. Although I’d

briefly spoken to her over the telephone, we were not due to meet for quite some

while.

I thought at the time that this might be because of her understandable doubts about

my “credentials”, so to speak. After all, I’d come out of the blue and I might have

been all sorts of things! More later. Marina and I therefore arranged to meet Keith

and Michael with their respective wives on the evening of Saturday 14th October

2000 halfway down the M1 between Birmingham and London at a place called

Harpole. A day that was indeed memorable.

It all went wonderfully well. Nobody stopped talking. Photographs were

exchanged. Stories were related with relish and excitement. Personal histories were

listened to with wide-eyed wonderment - by me at least. I was like a small child of

ten or so. Marina, too, was beguiled by the occasion. We found all four of them to

be quite splendid people, irrespective of the partisanship of family.

And to top it all? Both Michael and Keith are practising musicians, both in bands

and playing on a regular semi-professional basis (sax and bass guitar). And amidst

all the information passed onto us was the snippet that Annette, my father’s

legitimate wife, had been a fine musician, a pianist, and somewhat of a fashion

expert. We also learned that tragically she committed suicide. We know not why or

how. Maybe one for the future this. Before this evening was through photographs

were taken and these will be treasured. We stayed overnight and took our goodbyes

the following morning after breakfast. It had been, most surely, a memorable

interlude.

Since this meeting we have maintained regular contact with birthdays noted, cards

sent, and records and CDs exchanged. This process is still going on and indeed, as I

sit and write this, I am in the throes of making arrangements for another meeting.

Isn’t that marvellous?

And the most thrilling part of all this? They call me “uncle”. Nobody’s ever called

me uncle before and for sixty-nine years I never thought it possible. There will be

much more discussed no doubt, not the least of which will be greater detail of their

own up-bringing which in many ways was more difficult and traumatic than mine,

for reasons which I feel I cannot mention here.

A few years have passed by since that first memorable meeting and in that period

we’ve had another memorable meeting, on the occasion of the marriage of Keith’s

daughter Aisa. Aisa is a very fine modern day singer of popular songs and sings

semi-professionally. We were invited to the wedding party which was held in the

Village Hall, Blackmore, Essex. The actual wedding ceremony took place in the

United States and was shown over the internet airwaves, with the wedding party

taking place later.

This, too, was a new “family” experience. For here we not only had the opportunity

to once again meet Michael and Keith but also the relatives of their respective

wives, Evelyn and Terry. And, for the first time, we met Carole. And everybody,

just everybody, appeared to accept us as “family”. Marina, of course, is accustomed

to being a “family” member. But not me. Having a sole relative of a mother is not

exactly a “family”. And so we mingled, chatted, told stories, looked, listened, and

generally blended in, as an “uncle” and “aunt” would do. Admittedly, we are

somewhat far removed as relatives, the actual linkage being that the grandfather of

Michael, Keith and Carole, was my father. But I now had a true identity. I was the

(half) “uncle” of three people - my family.

The music at the party was provided by the band that Michael and Keith play in.

Both were leading players, of course, and both proved to be very good. Aisa did all

the singing and right well she did it too. I suspect that purely as a gesture to me

Keith had arranged that I accompany Aisa (on my keyboard) in a song. H’mm,

tricky! I mean because of the age gap. I wouldn’t have any idea about the songs

that Aisa would normally sing. Nor she mine. But we found one we both knew,

namely Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. Keith introduced us as the first item on the musical

agenda and this too was quite emotional for me insofar that there he was, on stage,

addressing about 100 people and taking pride in announcing “who” I was. A newly

discovered uncle! I got quite choked up. So we did “Crazy” and right well it was

received. I knew, of course, that there was much musically wrong with it and

clangers were dropped. But it mattered not. The “family” audience didn’t know this

and everyone thought it was splendid.

I also had the opportunity to get to know Carole a little better. This was our first

meeting (along with her husband Ivan) and much could have gone wrong. Because

of everything that was going on, we had very little opportunity to have a good

natter. But she did at one stage invite me to go outside with her, away from the

festivities, and have a bit of a private chat. I was delighted to do so, even if it was

only for the reason that she felt interested enough to do so. So we had a brief fifteen

minute chat.

Since this last “family” gathering, Keith and Terry have sold their house and in a

few days time will be moving lock, stock, and barrel to France. There they will

settle almost into a life of retirement now that daughter Aisa has married and son

Ritchie is away exploring the rest of the planet. To live happily ever after no doubt.

And we will, if I can overcome my aversion to travelling, try and get across

sometime to see them.

So, at this late hour of my life, I have acquired a family, distantly removed it’s true,

but no less real for that. And although I have no illusions about the “closeness” akin

to normal family relationships, I do now feel that I am a small part of someone’s

family - a fitting conclusion, one might say, to the story I’ve related here. I’ve met

them, I’ve confided in them, and been called uncle. That will suffice for the rest of

my life.

The End