Saturday, 20 August 2016

You sap.

   ​It was raining. Not heavily, just that light rain that can fall on an English summer, that makes everything glisten and the air smell of cut grass. I was looking out of my bedroom window at the little cul-de-sac that we lived in. It was a weekday, early summer, 1977 and I had a lieu-day off work. It was 10am, and a day off stretched out before me. And it was raining. Which was perfect. It matched my mood, bringing it's grey clouds into my world and, potentially, turning them black. And it was own fault, which just added to the heap of misery. Of all the things I could be doing on my day off, I had agreed to drive two people to Hampton Court for a day out, and then pick them up later. 'What a nice thing to do,' you might be thinking. Wrong. The two people were a bloke I had never met and his new girlfriend, the same girlfriend who had dumped me just ten days earlier. After two and a half years together. 


"What the fuck are you doing, agreeing to drive her about?" My brother knew exactly how to get right to the point but, as we co-owned the car, I had to tell him why I needed it on Thursday.

"Oh, I don't know. She asked me," was my weak, stupid reply.

"You sap." Kev knew how to end a conversation. At least he was grinning. I'm just not sure if it was in sympathy or enjoyment at my tortured plight.


So, here I was, gazing out of my bedroom windowat the rain, and wishing I was dead.


A few minutes before 10.30am I could see Herfamiliar shape turning the corner from Epsom Road, and starting up the hill. She was under an umbrella, held aloft by a tall bloke, flared jeans, black leather bomber jacket. I couldn't see either of their faces, but I could hear Her laughter. They turned into the driveway and I bolted down the stairs, desperate to reach the front door before my mother, desperate to avoid the raised eyebrow and the disappointed voice.

The doorbell rang.

"Got it," I shouted, counting to three before opening the door. She was facing me, glowing, radiant, smiling. He had his back to me, shaking the rain drops off the umbrella. He had blonde hair, same as hers. I didn't. I stood back and She stepped into the hallway, just as she had done a hundred times before. He turned, propping the umbrella in the porch, and stepped inside. Into my house. He glanced at me.

"Alright, mate?" he said. 




I closed the door. Mum came out of the kitchen, spotted Her and looked at me, eyebrow raised, atop a face of thunder. Only a mother could convey so much in that one look, so much unsaid but I understood every word. I nodded at her, smiled my weak, stupid smile, and she turned and went back into the kitchen, banging saucepans into the cupboard with a noise like Keith Moon demolishing a particularly troublesome drum kit.


"How are you?" She asked.

"How the fuck do you think I am? I'm the most miserable I have ever been in my short, sad life, since you ask." Except, none of that came out of my mouth. I just shrugged. She turned to Blondie.

"This is ....." Do you know what? I really cannot remember his name, I really can't. I've tried, but it just won't come. Which is surprising seeing as, for about six months, he was almost all I thought about.


I looked at him. He was younger than me, but then so was She. He smiled at me, nodded, and said,

"Thanks for doing this." I shrugged again. 

She started talking about what they had planned for the day but I was looking at the album that Blondie had under his left arm. The cover was mostly white but, as he moved his arm and turned to look at Her, I could see two black and white figures on the front.The white cover had a slight shine to it. He caught me looking.

"You got this?" He held it out. The two figures were clearer now. One was a black guy, wearing a fantastic black hat, leather trousers and playing a saxophone. Behind him, leaning on his shoulder, was a white guy with scruffy, curly hair and a torn vest, beneath a black leather jacket. He was smiling at the black guy, and was wearing a guitar, his left hand around the neck. A Tele. At least that was my uneducated guess, back in the early summer of 1977, when I could identify about 8 guitars, when I was 20 years old, living in middle class Guildford, just six months short of meeting the 30 year old woman with two kids who I would be married to for 15 years, a marriage ended only when I tried to kill myself over her infidelity.


I shook my head. I knew what it was. I had heard the title track on the radio, all through the previous year's hot summerI had read all of the hype in the NME and Melody Maker, especially about the Hammersmith gig, eighteen months earlierThe song sounded like a freight train, a cacophony of noise, a huge row. But it also sounded like I was listening through mud. It sounded terrible on a cheap car radio. I couldn't make out the words, I couldn't make out what all the fuss was about. So it had passed me by.


"Wanna play it?" He asked.

"It's our favourite album." I was suddenly aware that She had stopped talking about Hampton Bloody Court and had referred to the album in front of me as 'our favourite.'  My head screamed 'What? In ten days, you've got a favourite album together? Or perhaps, as all my friends keep telling me, it's been a tad longer than ten days, eh?'

"No time. We need to get going." I picked up my jacket.

In this whole sorry, dreadful, turgid encounter, they were the first words I had spoken.


I remember nothing about the day, other than feeling utterly miserable. She sat in the front seat, Blondie in the back. He had the album propped up on the back seat next to him. I could see it every time I looked in the rear view mirror. She chatted and laughed with him, the peels of her gorgeous laughter pouring over me like the most refreshing waterfall. I wanted to die.


I had to wait the six months until She dumped Him for a new model before I could buy the album. Once I had come to my senses, it just didn't seem right to have Their favourite album in the house. Over the next year, the album became my favourite and started me on a voyage of discovery, of live gigs, of books and magazines, of heroes and heroines, of parking lots and screen doors, of love and honour. It is my Desert Island Disc album, the one I would save from the raging sea. As I write this, I am sitting beneath a huge lithograph of the album cover, that I paid a small fortune to have shipped over from the States.


So I suppose I have something to thank Him for.



Thursday, 18 February 2016

The stuff of legend....

David Ortiz plays baseball.

He plays baseball for the Boston Red Sox, at their historic stadium, Fenway Park, which is 104 years old this year.
David Ortiz is 40 years old. Not an exceptional age, in the long history of the game but, in the modern era, much more of a rarity.
At the end of the 2016 season, either on 2nd October, or a few days or weeks later, if the Red Sox get to the Post Season, the Play Offs, if you will, David Ortiz will retire.

And a small part of me will die.

David Ortiz signed for the Red Sox in January 2003, as a free agent. He had been released from his contract with the Minnesota Twins, at the end of the 2002 season. This decision has been compared since, with the benefit of hindsight, to Decca Records turning down The Beatles. To be fair to the Twins, Ortiz had suffered lots of injuries in his 5 years with them and, when he did play, had been largely ineffective. The Twins let it be known that he was available for trade (baseball players are effectively swapped, rather than sold) but not one team came in for him. So his contract expired and, at the age of 27, David Ortiz could have easily been an ex-baseball player.

The Boston Red Sox now signed him as a free agent, meaning that they didn't have to give up a player to The Twins in return.
And so started a 13 year adventure.

The Boston Red Sox had not won the World Series for 85 years, having won it 5 times in the first 15 years of organised baseball. This became known as The Curse. The Curse Of The Bambino.

The Bambino, Babe Ruth, the most famous player in the history of baseball, played for the Red Sox. He had carried the team to 3 World Series wins by 1918 when, to help fund a Broadway musical, he was traded, for players plus cash, to the Red Sox biggest rivals, the New York Yankees. So began The Curse. By the time Ortiz arrived, it hadn't lifted for 85 years.

The first draft of this story now had lots of facts and figures about David Ortiz's career. However, since the majority of you will not be baseball fans, they will take a lot of explanation. So I will give you just two. David Ortiz is 6ft 3" tall. He weighs between 230 and 250 pounds (16 1/2 to 17 1/2 stone), depending on which season in the last 12 you measure. He is, officially, a Big Unit. So, when he became a father, fans gave him the name by which he has become known, throughout America. 

Big Papi.

In 2004, David Ortiz lifted the Boston Red Sox up, placed the club on his back, and carried it, all the way to the World Series. The series before it, the semi-final, they were 3-0 down, in a best of 7 series, against the Yankees. They been crushed in Game 3, in front of their own fans, 19-8. What happened next has gone down in baseball folklore as, inning by inning, game by game, this rag-bag team of misfits, kids and veterans clawed, crawled and crafted their way back.
Did they win? Of course they won!

After that, the World Series itself seemed like destiny. They steamrollered the St Louis Cardinals 4-0. St. Louis did not lead in any game. It was about as one sided as it can get. After 86 years, the 2004 Boston Red Sox had finally lifted The Curse.

So why does David Ortiz move me? Why does this this giant, gentle, bear of a man get me more excited than almost anything else in sport? That's easy. It's because, when the chips are down, when the game is on the line, when lesser players would crumble under the pressure, this slow, loping figure walks to Home Plate, spits on his gloves, claps them together, shuffles his feet in the dirt, points his bat at the Pitcher...and relaxes. I have stood at Fenway Park when this happens. When the crowd are loud, on their feet and yelling. And he delivers. So, so many times, he delivers. When he hits a Home Run, one of those huge ones, into right-field (he's left handed) and it sails over the Red Sox bullpen, into the's the sound. Not the roar of the crowd. No, the split second before that roar, comes the sound of the ball, off his bat. It's a crack, a beautiful, wonderful, CRACK! A sound that echoes back, through the years, back to Ted Williams in the fifties, all the way back to the Babe himself.

On 2nd October 2016, on what could well be the last time Big Papi ever pulls on the Red Sox uniform, my wife and I will be standing at Fenway, once more. I will give thanks that I am there again, in my favourite sporting venue, to witness my beloved Red Sox. I will give thanks that, in the past 13 years, David Ortiz has carried them to not one, not two but three World Series wins. And I will give thanks that I got to witness Big Papi wield a baseball bat, one last time. My voice will roar, my heart will race and my spirit will lift up to the heavens.

And a small part of me will die.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

25 years ago....

As I write this it is the 25th anniversary of my first Woking game. I know this because the game is famous amongst Woking fans. It was the second round of the 1990/91 FA Cup and the mighty Merthyr Tydfil were coming to Kingfield. When I say ‘mighty’ I mean that they were in the Conference and Woking were a division below. I went to the game on my own, at the last minute. I had a friend who went to games, home and away, but I decided on the morning of the game to go, quietly, on my own. The ground was packed with over 4,000 fans, a huge crowd for Woking, who normally saw just a few hundred hardy souls come through the turnstiles. I stood on the terracing on what I later found out was Moaner’s Corner, a section of the ground that usually contained more mature, embittered, long suffering fans. The terracing was so full that it was difficult to keep your footing sometimes. I found myself a spot just up from the corner flag. The day was cold with a sky so low and leaden that you would swear you’d crack your head on it if you jumped too high. I have watched the highlights of the game just recently and had forgotten two things. I had forgotten what a fantastic noise there was in that tight, slightly tatty little ground. And I had forgotten what a terrific, ball-playing side Woking were. Later, in the golden era when we won the FA Trophy at Wembley 3 seasons out of 4, and Clive Walker was in his pomp, we played some wonderful stuff and were great to watch. I had always had that later side, the Conference team, in my mind’s eye, drooling over Walker’s jinking runs and his wonderful goals. But the highlights from the 8th December 1990 are of a really good side, a team of part timers who had played together for years, and who had a little genius in midfield.

Mark Biggins was from Middlesbrough. I don’t mean the football club, just the town. He was 27 years old in 1990 and had been at Woking for 3 years. His fee from Windsor & Eton had been £2,000. He never played League football, spending all of his career in the lower leagues with clubs like Feltham, Maidenhead United, Harrow and Hampton.
And Woking.

Woking fans loved him. Biggo was small, wiry and could turn the big, lumbering defenders in the Isthmian League inside out. I had never seen him before that day but I instantly fell in love with him. How could you not? To be fair, the game turned out to be his crowning glory in a Woking shirt. He had many great games after it, influenced big results, scored a few terrific goals. But, on this day, the 8th December 1990, he was playing a type of football that would have graced White Hart Lane, Old Trafford or Anfield. He was that good.

Merthyr Tydfil were having a poor run in the Conference. Woking had already beaten 3 other Conference sides in the earlier rounds of that season’s FA Cup, so an upset was, as they say, on the cards. Woking full back, Lloyd Wye, scored the first goal, a great header from a cross by his brother, Shane. Biggo scored the second, a scruffy, deflected shot into the corner of the Merthyr goal. Woking went into half-time 2-0 up. Tim Buzaglo, whose father had taught me History at school, got a 3rd goal and, shortly after, was fouled by Merthyr’s Williams, who was sent off. Biggo got the 4th, after another flowing move, before Merthyr got what was surely just a consolation goal. Merthyr had another player sent off, for a terrible foul on Shane Wye, and the game was over as a contest. But it wasn’t over as a spectacle. Biggo’s hat trick came with a shot from 25 yards out, curled around a defender, into the top corner of the Merthyr goal. He just turned away, applauding, as his team mates surrounded him.

With just moments to go in the game, the ball dribbled off the pitch, right in front of me. Woking were 5-1 up and Biggo had 3 of them.
Mark Biggins trudged over to take the throw-in, with that distinctive bow legged gait, and bent down to pick up the ball. As he did so, a huge voice from the terrace behind me, boomed out.
“Pull your finger out, Biggo. You’ve done fuck all today.”
Mark looked up, ball in hand, searching for the owner of the voice. For a second his face was wracked with pain, scowling. But the few hundred adoring fans in front of him were roaring laughing and, a second later, so was Mark. He stood looking at us, just for 2 or 3 seconds, as we applauded, sang, cheered, no, screamed his name, “Biggo, Biggo, Biggo…” He shook his head, as if he couldn’t quite believe what had happened in the past 100 minutes, and turned to take the throw. On the way home, I thought about gigs, playing in the band, girlfriends, even the birth of my daughter. I couldn’t remember being happier.

Here's the highlights of the 2nd half. Biggo's 3rd is just after 6 mins.

Here is Mark, in the worst Woking shirt in the history of the club (We're called the Cards for a reason. Because the shirt has Cardinal Red in it. Not salmon bloody pink!)

Sunday, 16 August 2015

It's just music, isn't it?

'Music was my first love,
And it will be my last.' 

No, wait. Come back!

My life has been wrapped up in music, for as long as I can remember. Like a comfort blanket, music has soothed me, calmed me. Like an electric shock, live music has excited me, thrilled me. For 44 years.

The greatest live gig I ever saw was on 29th May 1981, Wembley Arena. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band brought The River tour to London. I stood on my seat, at the start of Thunder Road, as an audience, largely unfamiliar with the song, sat down. I screamed every word, oblivious to the steward at the end of the aisle, angrily gesturing for me to sit down. "Show a little faith, there's magic in the night," nearly burst my lungs.

Twenty two days later, my Dad died.

That gig, 34 years ago, has beaten off all competition, time and time again. Hundreds of gigs have tried, many have come close (another Springsteen gig, in Cardiff, came closest) but none have defeated that night in North London.

Until now.

Big Big Train are an odd band. In one way, they are a throwback. They sound like early Genesis, remind me of early Yes. They sing songs, some long, about miners, and communities, and trains, and history. 

And England. Always England. 

In another way, they are thoroughly modern. Self sufficient, active on the internet and social media, with some of them in other bands too, they represent the modern rock band. Independent. All about the fans, their own community.

They have been going for 25 years, although you can be forgiven for never having heard of them. Like many bands, they operate on the fringes, releasing new music themselves, without a record company, but not playing live. 

They haven't played to a live audience for 17 years.

Until last Friday night.

Yes have been going for 47 years. Twenty different musicians have been in the five-piece during that time, through thousands of gigs.
Chris Squire has played bass at every Yes gig. Until last week. Chris died from  leukaemia a few weeks ago and the band performed for the first time, without him, in America, last week. At the start of the gig, the house lights went down, the audience roared, and one of Chris's songs played over the P.A. In the darkness, Chris's roadie carried his white Rickenbacker bass guitar onstage and rested it in his stand. A single spotlight lit it, as the song concluded. Class. Yes are a class act.

Someone knocked on my front door. It was early evening and I was ready to leave for London, for the Big Big Train gig. I was both excited and tense. Packing after work, when I'm on a deadline, is always tense. I opened the door to find the postman, grinning. 
"Too big," he said, as he handed me an envelope. I thanked him and shut the door, confused and conscious of the time. I opened the cardboard envelope. Chris Squire's young face looked up at me, from the cover of August's copy of Prog magazine. I'd forgotten I'd ordered it. Yes were the reason I got into Prog. I hate the term but it defines a group of bands. Yes were my entry into Genesis, King Crimson, Moody Blues and, eventually, Rush. So, having this tribute issue of the magazine to take with me, to see my favourite Prog, my favourite band in the world, seemed so appropriate.

I had Chris with me. It was a sign.

Jan & I walked down to the station, for our train into London. Janet was coming with me, but not to the gig. She loves one particular BBT song, but, as an 80's music fan, she has no love for 18 minute songs about trains. I had bought her a ticket to Les Mis, a musical that we both love. Waiting on the platform for the train to arrive from Reading, I was aware that a gentleman standing next to me had a camera out and was looking down the tracks, towards London. Suddenly, there it was. Incredibly, a steam train thundered, nay blasted it's way through our little village station. It was another sign. A Big Big Train.

I'm really shy, painfully shy. Always have been. Walking into a room full of people I don't know fills me with terror. So, riding down the escalator at King's Place was terrifying. Below? Just loads of fellow fans of Big Big Train. Passengers, they are called, on their Facebook page. The fact that I knew many of their names, even their faces from their online photos, made no difference. I was terrified. However, at the bottom of the escalator was a gig. By my favourite band. Deep breath. You'll be fine.

The audience made the gig. Of course there is no gig without the band, but the audience made this gig. The roar at the end of the first song was nothing short of epic. After that, it just kept getting better. How can a group of eight musicians (plus a brass section) make me cry, make me weep at the sheer beauty of their art? 

Music, that's how. 

So, is this the best gig I've ever seen? I really think it is. Bruce in ’81 is clouded by my Dad's death, which has cemented it as a celebration in a traumatic time. This had no such baggage. The quality of musicianship was simply stunning. Amazing players, not earning much money, playing for the sheer joy of the music. It was just joyful. Truly, full of joy.

On both sides of the stage. 

"Music was my first love......"

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A Day To Remember

This is an important photograph. Not to you, obviously. But to us, it means the world. It was taken on Saturday 30th May 2015 at around 11am. Exactly fifteen years earlier, Jan & I stood in this exact spot, the morning after our wedding. Let me set the scene for you.

We were married in the Compleat Angler Hotel, Marlow, on 29th May 2000. After the ceremony, we had a drinks reception on the lawn, right beside the River Thames. The main reception was to be on a Thames Cruiser, which came up from Maidenhead and picked us all up at the hotel, before sailing up to Henley and back, during the evening. That part nearly didn't happen. It had rained for 4 days solid before the 29th - so much rain that we got a call from the Captain of the Cruiser, the day before, to say that the river was running so high that he might not be able to get under the bridges. Luckily, on the big day, the sun came out, the ship sailed, and the good Captain only scrapped his roof a few times.

The next morning, we met everyone that had stayed at the hotel, for breakfast. Quietly, after an hour, Jan and I slipped away, walked through the hotel car park, and up onto the lovely Marlow Bridge. We held hands, kissed, and then threw our old wedding rings into The Thames. We hugged. It was something we had planned just a few days before. We didn't tell anyone. It was our moment, something special that signified a new life together, a new beginning, a new love.

So, exactly 15 years later, pretty much to the minute, we took this photo, on the bridge, above The Thames. We held hands and hugged, the morning after our 15th anniversary. It has been the fastest 15 years of our lives, the years racing by, especially as we enjoy the rewards of the hard work we both put into our jobs. We have a great life. We have so much fun.

Most importantly, we have each other.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

God looks like Leland Sklar.

         This is going to take some explaining so, pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink and I shall begin.
Leland Sklar is a 67 year old bass player. Any musicians amongst you will know what a ridiculously inadequate statement that is. Lee Sklar is one of the most recorded bassists in music history. He has appeared on more than 2,000 albums. I won't list them all here but if I tell you that he is on all of the classic James Taylor and Carole King albums, Jackson Browne's most famous early albums and albums by Ray Charles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Phil Collins, Joe Cocker, Billy Cobham, Neil Diamond, Hall & Oates, Toto and Barbra Streisand, to name but a handful, you'll get the picture. Lee Sklar is Mr. Bass. I have seen him play, some years ago, on a Toto tour, shortly after Mike Porcaro first displayed signs of the horrible muscular disease that eventually took his life, last month. Lee got the call, had just two days to learn the set-list, and looked like he'd been in the band for 20 years.

           Lee's rhythm partner for much of his career has been Russell Kunkel. Russ & Lee were the foundation of The Section, the band that backed James Taylor and Carole King on those iconic songs that were the markers in my early teenage years. 'You've Got A Friend', 'Fire and Rain', 'It's Too Late', 'Natural Woman' and 'Sweet Baby James' all bear their distinctive, laid back talent. I can pretty much guarantee that you own albums with Russ Kunkel on drums. He has been on thousands.

           Waddy Wachtel (pronounced Wok- Tell) appeared on my radar in 1976 when his 'fat' sounding guitar replaced Andrew Gold in Linda Ronstadt's band. He looked amazing, with his curly, blonde locks and big glasses, and he played like a dream. He became one of my favourite players, almost overnight.

           Last night, Jan & I arrived in Oxford for a Bryan Ferry gig. We were going to be on the last train home so had been in touch with the venue all week, to get some confirmation of timings. All indications were that there would be no support act. As we made our way to our seats, for the 7.30pm start, I heard the guy at the merchandise table telling someone that he should go in and see the support. "She's really good, has a great voice, and a great band," he said. I noticed a flyer for a CD by Judith Owen. The names at the bottom of the flyer were Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel and Waddy Wachtel. We took our seats, the lights went down, and Judith came out onto the stage. She sat behind the grand piano, at the left of the stage. Quietly, without any introduction, Lee Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Waddy Wachtel and a young percussionist settled themselves onto stools and chairs and began to play. The next thirty minutes were a bit of a blur. We liked Judith, liked her voice, her 'Laurel Canyon- inspired' songs, and her sense of humour. She made no bones about being amazed to be sitting on the same stage as three of the best and most famous musicians in the last 40 years. Me? I don't think I closed my mouth for the first two songs, my jaw dropping further and further as a beautiful bass-run rumbled across the stage, a delicate guitar phrase, filled the hall or another bass-drum stab made my heart skip, as Russ pushed the rhythm along. Thirty minutes later, it was all over. Judith announced that she would be out in the foyer, signing her new CD and said we would also try and get some of these 'amazing musicians to join me.' We nearly knocked three people over in our haste to get out of our seats. After a few minutes I spotted Judith coming up a small flight of stairs. Jan bought the CD, got it signed, and spoke to her about the music and the band. I was hanging about at the top of those small stairs and was duly rewarded as 2 of my absolute musical heroes appeared. Now, it is a standing joke among musicians that God looks like Lee Sklar. His long, silver beard is legendary, James Taylor often saying that, in the old days, he swears that Lee would keep a bottle of Jack Daniels in it. In the days when they all drank, that is. I stopped the great man and asked for a photo. "Sure, be glad to," he said, shaking my hand. Jan took the shot and I told Lee that we'd last seen him on the Toto tour, in Bristol. He nodded. "One of my best and worst nights," he said. "Worst, because of why I was there, but best because I got to play with my friends, some of the best musicians around.” Jan then showed him her screensaver, a lovely photo of the late Mike Porcaro, on stage, with that big old bass he used to wield. "Wow," Lee said, "you guys are true fans." At that point, we were joined by Waddy, smaller but younger-looking than his 67 years. I gushed about Linda Ronstadt albums, Stevie Nicks tours and the late, great Warren Zevon. "Wow, you guys know your stuff. I can't believe anyone here knows who we are." He posed for a photo and I took one of Jan proudly beaming between the two of them. I grinned to myself. Jan and I have been together almost 20 years. When we met, she wouldn't have known Lee Sklar from a hole in the ground. When they had walked out on stage she leaned over to me and 'Feck me, it's Lee Sklar." My grin meant 'my work here is done.' The young Portuguese percussionist joined us, eager to talk about playing with the best rhythm section, ever, and he signed our CD. Lee and Waddy shook our hands warmly, had a couple of photos with the only other people who recognised them, and were gone. Jan and I hugged each other, laughing like kids. Bryan Ferry was fantastic but, as we sat in the pub afterwards, waiting for that last train, the talk was of meeting two lovely, humble, brilliant musicians, as we pinched ourselves. So, we can officially confirm it; God looks like Lee Sklar.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Ground Control to Major Tom.....

On 12th April 1961 I was 4 1/2 years old. My Dad woke me up to tell me that a man had gone into space and had gone around the Earth. I must confess that I don't remember this but I have no doubt that it happened, for several reasons. Firstly, my Dad told me, years later. Secondly, it was exactly the kind of thing he would do. Although I was the second of four sons, my room had a globe, stars on the ceiling and a model of a rocket on the shelf. I think my Dad had tried to get all of us interested in his passion but I was the only one that had responded (the youngest of us, Martin, was not even 1 year old at the time, and became as passionate about space-flight and aeronautics as Dad, later in life.)
      Three years later, Dad went away for six weeks. To Australia. It was years later that he revealed tiny bits of information about his trip. He had signed the Official Secrets Act and would uphold his vow until he died. What he could tell us was that he had gone to a place called Woomera, in the Southern Outback of Australia, to help with a test on a rocket. The rocket was called Blue Streak. It had been a failed attempt at a missile programme, post-war, by the British Government, who had then signed the hardware over to a European Launcher programme. Dad's area of expertise was radar. He had got his degree at Queen's, Belfast and had joined the Navy to further his knowledge of this new, emerging technology. During the 1950's he became immersed in radar, guidance systems and Defence work. To realise now that he was important enough to go out to this highly secret test, on the other side of the world, just boggles my mind. He was just Dad, surely? When he came back, he had bought me a remote control car, a Red Thunderbird. Remote control was such a new concept in 1964 that no one had thought to remove the cable that joined the car to the tiny steering wheel in my hand. I adored it. Over the years, Dad just kept stoking me up with information and passion about space-flight. We had no favourites and followed the progress of the Russians as closely as the Americans, when the information was available. As the Apollo programme developed towards 1969 I became obsessed with it. As Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon I was sat in my pyjamas, next to Dad, at 4am, as the rest of the house slept.

   Nowadays, years after Dad died, I have rekindled my passion for space and, more importantly, for the men who have flown (and those who still fly) into space. I have had the chance to meet a man who walked on the Moon and another who flew to the Moon. In 2 weeks time I will meet Fred Haise, one of the crew of Apollo 13. I have said in the past that getting those 3 men back to Earth was one of the most brilliant feats of engineering, daring and sheer hard work that human beings have ever completed. To meet one of those 3 men will choke me up, I know. And all through these meetings, I think of my Dad. How he would have loved to be with me. How he would have loved to talk to these adventurers. And how proud he would be that I still hold his passion so dear.