PREQEL - 1979 


It was the year that the Thatcher government came to power, unravelling much of the post-Atlee social compromise joined by previous Tory governments such as those of MacMillan and Heath.

It was the year that the unspoken compromise between myself and my wife Claire came to an end. Neither of us had been able to speak the truth – her about her what seemed like increasingly desperate affairs; me about how much grief they gave me (“See if I care” was my stance), or about the mental agonies of my Trotskyist cult (Workers Revolutionary Party, colloquially, the WRP) membership that had driven her away from me.

So the marriage fractured. By then Claire had given me an ultimatum: "Either you leave the party or I leave you". At that point we were in our bedroom in our comfortable house, at the bottom of a cul-de-sac in the centre of Rotherham, South Yorkshire.  I was sitting on the bed with its heavily ironic brass bedstead, getting undressed.  Of course I wasn't going to take any what I regarded as blackmail from her, particularly about my sacred beliefs: "You can't dictate my politics to me!"  The marriage did not end there, however; for a year we carried on living a lie.

Claire moved to a new job, and eventually a new boyfriend, in television in Manchester, spending weekdays over there.  I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with our two children, Simon and Zoe, who were both in primary school. On the long summer evenings, I would drive out to Roche Abbey with the children and play hide and seek in the ruins, or we would go up into the Derbyshire hills for a picnic.  Claire had the children at the weekend.  But it had all had to end, despite some token revenge resistance from me: when she got back with the children one Sunday night, desperate to break the stranglehold of our silent antagonism, I said, "I want to keep the kids".  She was desperate too.  She launched herself at me and started to hammer me with her fists.  I held her down on the floor.  It had taken this to make our separation real. Very soon afterwards, I drove over to Manchester and told her that I had just been being provocative.

I drove the children separately over to their mother, who of course had lovingly cared for them for nine years since Simon had been born.  On the way back through the stepped, reservoir-clad  mountainside which served as a watershed for not only Manchester and South Yorkshire, but my birthplace, in the Midlands, I fleetingly considered a dramatic end by driving off the road and down the precipitous Pennine hillside.  Instead I decided to end my job (I had already left the WRP), to quit Rotherham and, free of family responsibilities, to follow my political and philosophical interests in Glasgow.  In the space of one year, I had left my wife, my children, my party, my job and my home.


Marat/Sade - sex and student politics

I had met Claire in Bristol University’s Refectory. It was a high-ceilinged student canteen housed next the University’s pretentious 20thC gothic Wills Memorial Tower. We were both conducting publicity for an event the Student Union Left Club was staging: Peter Weiss's play ‘Marat/Sade’ (The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade). Claire, as a member of the drama club, was in rehearsal for the role of one of the inmates.  For effect, she was wearing her costume, a ripped-up bed sheet. I imagined she wasn’t wearing much underneath.  She had fashionably straight blonde hair with a fringe which almost obscured her heavily mascaraed blue eyes. She looked invitingly, eccentrically, good. Through a friend, I arranged to meet her in the union bar, and hey presto, we were an item.

I enjoyed the Marat/Sade from the different angles that it felt radical, and that Claire looked sexy.  On arrival at Bristol in the middle of the1960s, all my instincts were towards radicalism. In fact, I had been some kind of radical since the 1950s and accompanying my father to his engineering works in Aston, Birmingham.  It was a dispiriting place.  I suppose I was meant to be impressed.  His office had a plush carpet, a drinks cabinet and a secretary.  As we started home in Dad's Jaguar through Aston's monotonous factory-sided streets, it was raining.  I turned to look through the rear window to find something of interest.  A dripping factory worker doggedly pedalled his bike behind us.  It just did not seem fair. 

10 years later, as a 19 year old public school boy from the Gloucestershire middle-class, with a mother dedicated to joining the upper crust families from the grand houses of the North Cotswolds, and an ambitious father who spent his time in "important" business meetings, my instinct was to do something very different with my life.  At the University "Freshers Fair" I had joined the Labour club, which quickly became the Socialist Society (Wilson was far too right-wing for us), and equally rapidly formed the Left Club to include the various societies of the Left, including the anarchists and CND. Particularly attractive to me (possibly because I suspected that there was something exciting out there in the real world: a part of society that had been denied to me by my upbringing) was the sprinkling of working-class students who had joined the club.  I discovered that Steve Hammond, a bright and witty Lancastrian version of John Lennon, who became my close friend and comrade, was the son of a Stockport steelworker employed in a plant managed by my father. The family lived just behind the Stockport football club, in a terraced house, which, unlike my Cotswold rectory home, was full of books, laughter and conversation.

Influential in the direction now taken by the Socialist Society (SocSoc) were two postgraduate Northerners, the poets Terry Brindley and Dave Spooner, who were already influenced by Marxist philosophy, and in particular by Leon Trotsky.  We invited a selection of  star speakers to our meetings, among them, Tony Benn (who had recently transformed himself nominally: from "Lord Stansfield" and 'Anthony Wedgwood Benn'. He sat on the SocSoc speaker’s table and took off his jacket; we christened him ‘Jackets-off Benn’) and Gerry Healy (leader of the Socialist Labour League [SLL], which was to transform itself into the Workers Revolutionary Party [WRP]). 

Healy was a squat, almost square man who looked – and behaved - as if some oppressive force had attempted to grind him into the earth.  He started his speech by quietly outlining current political and economic developments, in the process linking them to a series of convincingly logical steps, each at a higher volume, via the Russian Revolution, to the overthrow of the British state, and (in crescendo) a world proletarian dictatorship.

I was never before happier than the time spent in the company of other club members producing leaflets for the meetings and demonstrations that we held. Free from family or school, I relished the autonomy. Somehow, we acquired a Gestetner duplicator -- a primitive printing machine.  Someone typed onto a waxed paper stencil the text we wanted to reproduce. The stencil was fixed onto a drum containing ink.  Then one of us turned a handle, which squeezed ink through the stencil, to produce one leaflet at a time.  The Left Club showed films by Antonioni, Godard and Truffaut.  I chose to produce posters for them.

Dave wrote a document, Who Owns Bristol University? It concluded that the Wills Tobacco Company, a major employer in Bristol, ran the university as well. There appeared to be no attempt to consult students, or even staff.  When, in 1965, the university decided to install the Duke of Beaufort as its chancellor, we responded with a decision to organise a demonstration against the ceremony.  I used my film poster design experience to make placards.  There is a photograph somewhere of me in the scrum in front of the Wills Memorial Tower brandishing a notice urging "End the Rule of the Tobacco Barons!" To add to the excitement, I made a call to the Fire Brigade, and they turned up too. 

Now living in my sister's stylish flat in Clifton, Claire and I went to bed that night satisfied with our efforts.  We were on the map - one map at least.  Next morning, we were woken indecently early by a plump, tweedy, beady-eyed detective with a moustache and a warrant card.  He said that someone had made a hoax call to the Fire Brigade and that a fire-fighter could have been injured.  I imagine the police had got my name from an interview I did for the local paper.  Of course, I denied any knowledge of the call, but we were worried that we would be denounced to the university authorities for sleeping together.  Those were the sexual mores of the time.  No wonder that we felt compelled to make a protest.

Inexperienced as I was (apart from prep school fumbling, my previous, inept physical relations had been with a pretty, but unwelcoming, fellow hitchhiking girl with whom I shared a bed on my ‘gap year’ travels in Turkey and with a "dating by numbers" Ohio girl the previous summer), I had got to know Claire much better quite quickly.  My aunt, who was away in Australia, had made her Pimlico flat available to me.  We stayed there after a night out in London.  Claire was wearing a flashy pair of trousers, done up with laces at the front.  I couldn't resist. 

Steve and I had a flat near the Arches on Gloucester Road in Bristol.  I installed a full-length mirror on its side, bohemian fashion, next to the bed, and Claire and I divided our time between that flat and hers, nearer the university, which she shared with a fellow psychology student, the very elegant Ursula.  Apart from our studies, theatrical and political activities, we threw ourselves into the 1960s musical zeitgeist: the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan had concerts at the Assembly Rooms; my particular favourite was a blues singer called Long John Baldry.  We were once thrown out of the Assembly Rooms for dancing suggestively.

I didn't work, or read, particularly hard at Bristol. The student politics of the time held considerably more interest for me than my Politics and Philosophy degree course.  The Politics strand was dominated by Professor Bromhead, a boyish pink-faced lecturer, who specialised in the House of Lords.  Injecting a lot more romance was Ronald Sampson, an anarchist Political Theory lecturer , who had us round for tea at his home to listen to Nelson Mandela's denunciation of apartheid.  Influenced by the Trotskyists, I did, however, begin to read some Marxism: Marx and Engels' Selected Works; Lenin’s What Is to be Done?  and Trotsky's My Life.  The Philosophy course was dominated by the English empiricists: Locke, Berkeley and Hume.  In the coffee bar after lectures, I duly discussed with my fellow students the thorny question of how we could tell whether the chair that had been in the lecture theatre when we could see and touch it, was still in the room when we had left; but I did not feel riveted by this question.  I enjoyed and felt privileged to be reading Russell, AJ Ayer and Wittgenstein, though.  Claire was a year behind me, doing Psychology and Philosophy.  I have never asked her whether my scrawled but concise summary of Marx's Theses on Feuerbach was of any use to her, but I liked doing it.

Once I had left Bristol, I missed Claire, and went to stay with her parents, Leo and Jo, in Wanstead, East London. To live with them was a revelation.  Instead of the stuffy, scratchy, inhibited atmosphere engendered by my parents in Gloucestershire, I found a liberal, cultured household full of irony and jokes about my, their daughter's and their own activities; Jo produced some delicious meals, too.  But I felt deprived of the political arena which I had found so stimulating. Attending a weekend school in Marxism, held at Sheffield University by the SLL; after a brilliant lecture by a Leeds academic, Cliff Slaughter, I joined.


Penance – for what?

The East London branch of the League was a kind of tyranny dominated by Barry, a factory worker, who had learned his oppressive manner from Healy.  Also a member was Cyril Smith, a Jewish academic from Imperial College, steeped in Marxist theory, who never challenged Barry, for fear of being labelled a ‘fucking middle-class liberal individualist’ by Healy and his Clapham ‘centre’, in those days located above a butcher's shop on the High Street .  My role as the new member was just to follow instructions.  Early in the morning I tried unsuccessfully to sell the SLL paper Workers Press outside the Ford Dagenham plant and later was sent on depressing, underground journeys to outlying suburbs to try to recruit 'Youth' (often pronounced ‘youff’ – they were our prime target) to some social event, from where they could be recruited to a Young Socialist (YS) conference at the seaside.  At the weekend, I stood in freezing winds on Wanstead Flats, organising YS football tournaments. I shoved my hands in my jacket pockets, but never managed to protect my wrists: they became painfully raw with cold.  When I got back to my comfortable, centrally heated home, an amused Jo, bewildered that I was willing to put  myself through such privation, helped me to thaw out.

Jo's bewilderment was quite right.  I was allowing myself to be bullied by a "revolutionary" sect with a charismatic leader.  Why?  Healy considered himself and his group to be the inheritors and European embodiment of the Bolshevik Revolution. But the idea was Hegelian, not Marxist.  He had a jealously-guarded grand idea that he would not let out of his sight.  I suppose I wanted to believe that the idea had potential. I needed to be iconoclastic, to be outrageous.  There was a family thing in there somewhere -  the feeling of rejection, impatience and incomprehension by my father.  When I tried to join him for instance, in his expertly engineered efforts at DIY.  And it was 1968, after all: students all over the world were rebelling against post-war conservative inhibitions.  And of course, against the Vietnam war.  It could have been just hard luck that I came across one of the most dictatorial revolutionary sects, but I have to admit that I was psychologically open to a bullying father figure.  Bullying at school had turned me into an easy-going kind of person, but one who was on the lookout for ways to distinguish myself from the crowd. The “revolutionary” sect, I suppose, gave me that kind of direction.  Even if the "father" figure was a bully.

One day, in a move suggested, I am sure, by Jo, Leo took me to one side: "Nick, don't you think you should look for a job?"  Still imagining myself to be some kind of student, and living on a subsidy from my dad, it hadn't occurred to me before then.  I thought it might make me feel better if I did have a job.  The next day, I presented myself to the local Education Authority and asked for a teaching post.  A politics and philosophy degree, my interviewer told me, did not exactly fit me for teaching the local schoolchildren.  "What A-levels have you got?" "Maths, Physics and Chemistry".  At the mention of maths, the education official's ears pricked up.  "Ahah!" he said, as if he had caught me out, "we're short of maths teachers". 


A Taste of Reality

The next Monday, I presented myself to the headmaster of the Marley Secondary Modern School.  I was to teach 11- and 12- year-olds.  They looked quite nice, when the headmaster ushered me into the classroom: in contrast to the uniformed sons of the middle-class I had been used to at Rugby: just 20 or 30 fairly average-looking, fairly scruffy boys and girls.  My most recent experience of education had been sitting in lecture rooms, trying to take notes from lecturers -- at least one of whom entered the room talking, eyes fixed to some point on the ceiling, and never stopped delivering his choice aphorisms to us until he left.

Of course, the nice boys and girls rioted.  "If you want to build a wall five bricks high and 10 bricks long, how many bricks will there be in the wall?"  "Sir, he's pulling my hair!" was the answer.  I reverted to what the previous teacher had done -- give them each a book at their own level.  That didn't work either.  While I inspected one or other child's work, all hell broke loose in the rest of the class.  It wasn't long before the headmaster pushed open the door of the classroom. "QUIET!" the children returned to their desks and shut up.  "Mr Lewis, could I have a word with you for a moment, please." In the corridor, he advised: "Put some sums on the blackboard, and get them to bring their answers to you." That worked, but when I got home next day, I had to clean the spit off my back.  I knew they had run up and gobbed while I wrote on the blackboard.  One day I caught Teague at it.  Wilson (a small thickset boy) and Teague (tiny) were a two-child gang.  Each lunchtime, they went out shoplifting or doing some other mischief.  In class, they made a point of never doing any work.  When I confronted them, I picked up Teague, and shook him.



Getting Away

"What the hell am I doing?"  I thought, and decided to resign forthwith.  Around this time, I had begun to get stomach pains.  Pain on the right hand side of my belly.  I recognised it as a problem I had had at school, and was soon opened up in the operating theatre of the London Hospital (where Leo worked as a surgeon in gynaecology).  Once again, the surgeons found an inflamed intestine.  This time, they took a biopsy: my gut was riddled with microbes called 'eosinophils'.  At the time, I thought I had just drawn the short straw, but now I think those little buggers were a reaction to unhappiness: the first stomach cramps had appeared at a time I was subjected to a double dose of bullying and 'O' level mock exams at school.  In the hospital ward, I felt grim.  I couldn't eat.  Consultants brought shoals of students to stare at me and scratch their chins. One day, the main man, looking puzzled behind his steel rimmed glasses and shock of white hair, appeared, "We're going to try you on a new treatment: steroids."

That afternoon nurses, conveying to me by their bustle that they were doing something important, brought bottles containing a translucent colourless liquid and replaced the existing drip bottles containing a translucent colourless liquid that had been feeding me up till then.  I slept. It was not until, next morning, I had demanded breakfast, and consumed a bowl of cornflakes, that I realised that I was feeling a whole lot better, euphoric, even.  There is nothing more pleasurable than relief from pain.  In the next days and weeks, I got quite chubby, but I was happy with it: happier still, when Claire proposed that we should get married.  By then, Cyril Smith had shown a human side that I always had suspected, and bobbed in with a couple of books (Marx, of course).  I told him that I would not be back on duty for some months.

With Ursula and her boyfriend as witnesses, Claire and I got married at Wanstead register office.  When we caught each others' eye, none of us could take seriously the faux-religious solemnity injected into the ceremony by the registrar.  Afterwards, we took the underground to Lord's cricket ground for a celebration champagne picnic  In those days, you could still sit on the outfield beyond the boundary rope. When we got home, we pinned the marriage certificate on the outside of the bedroom door, and went to bed. This seems to me now to be particularly impolite to my hosts -- but I suppose that rudeness was a symptom of the naivete of protests.

On our honeymoon road up to Scotland, I checked in for an interview with Granada television, to whom I had written requesting a job as a researcher.  I was ushered into a high-rise office.  At that time, they were running a program called Nice Time, in which selected members of the public were given their choice of' 'day out.' A tall, fair young man, who struck me as rather inconsequential, ran the programme, which in itself was rather inconsequential (maybe, its presenter was merely reflecting the nature of the programme) interviewed me.  His name was John Birt.  He offered me the job of researcher on the programme, starting right away.  I told him I couldn't take up the offer immediately, because I was on my way to Scotland for two weeks.  Since then, I have occasionally wondered what different courses my and Claire's lives might have taken, if I had become a TV researcher at that point: "A career in the creative industries of TV and film?"  "Fame?" "Fortune?" but straightaway, dismissed the thought as worthless speculative hindsight. (She had been much more sensible than me. Once she was presented with the opportunity, she found herself some training as a reporter, and got herself a job with ... Granada TV.)

For both of us, Scotland was something new.  Even taking the high road north of Hadrian's Wall felt romantic.  We  followed our noses up the west coast and explored the mountains and lochs around Lochailort, where we stayed.  "How about climbing that hillside on the left?" I said, as we drove a few miles south one day "On the map it looks as if there's a nice big loch on the other side, down there." It was a warm day, and I had it in mind to take a dip. 

The 'hillside', composed of short grass and bracken, was incredibly steep.  We had to help each other up.  "Are you sure we should be doing this?"  Claire wondered.  I could not see any objections.  As far as I knew, Scottish mountains were not private property.  As we reached the top of the rise, we were stunned by the Western Highlands laid out before us.  In the valley, highland cattle, and the loch, and behind them the green, purple and blue of the mountains.  We opened our bread and cheese, drank water and wine, but we were hot from the climb.  We ran down the hillside, keeping a close eye out for the bull, stripped off our clothes and plunged into the clear, cool waters. As we dried ourselves, I was about to suggest that we laid down together on the towel, when we noticed a 4x4 driving over the bridge at the end of the loch and advancing on us.  We quickly put on some clothes as two burly gamekeeper types emerged from the Land Rover.  Apart from the slam of the door, the valley lay peacefully quiet, but I knew they would shout. "Oi! You are trespassing on private land".  I mustered my middle-class English accent.  "There was no sign.  There was no fence.  How come it is private?".  Once we had all calmed down, it transpired that we were on the Ferranti family estate.  Current owner ex-Tory MP Basil de Ferranti was heir to the giant Ferranti electronics and arms manufacturing company.  All thoughts of a lover's tryst in the highland valley evaporated.  We returned to our car with our anti-capitalist views cemented.


Back in and out of the SLL

What next?  My father, who was always keen to support his children's education, bless him, was prepared to subsidize me on a postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Studies in Government at the Manchester University.  Claire decided to join me there to do a teachers certificate.  Once there, naturally I decided to join the local Socialist Labour League branch. Away from London, it did not feel as if we were under the beady eye of Sheila Torrance (who, as a result of her angry, implacable manner, became known to Claire and I as ‘Seething Torrents') and the 'Centre', or in other words, Gerry Healy. Discussions amongst us, though, were still conducted through the prism of the "Crisis of Capitalism".  As I see it now, capitalism is of course always in crisis, either as a world system viewed as a whole, in the medium or long term, or in one of its periodic financial shake-downs.  However, we had learned, almost as a mantra, to connect this with working-class strife or third world uprisings, and the inevitable chance of a Bolshevik-style revolution, with the SLL at its head

However, despite the constant pressure from the Centre for funds, we occasionally managed to relate to each other as human beings rather than party ciphers.  Amongst other members of the branch, there was a polytechnic lecturer, Stewart, who reminded me intellectually of David Spooner.  I found him in his office one day, marvelling at an article he had read about nuclear fusion, "Do you realise", he said, "it could one day solve the energy needs of the whole of mankind for a very long time." "I'll bear that in mind", I said.  I did, and mentioned it, to whoever would listen, in the intervening four decades before the current energy crisis.  And then there was Nobby.  I suppose he was around the age of 30.  He had a long face, and never looked happy.  He appeared for branch meetings in an old mack, and never said very much.  He was a hack, but I liked him.  He was a gentle, uncritical soul, who enjoyed a pint after we had been out selling papers.  One day, he walked in to a branch meeting and announced that he was leaving the party and flying to Hong Kong the next week.  Why would anyone behave like that? 

Perhaps, the political, or, come to that religious, sect provides for some people a family and an aim in life, which they lack.  The family in this case, has a strict set of rules enforced by a father or mother figure.  But it did not provide much fun and there was the constant temptation, which I felt myself, to strike out for freedom.  Maybe, Nobby, who like Stewart was an academic, had seen an advert for the Hong Kong job in the Times Educational Supplement, and found an escape route.  Most members were middle-class, and I suppose life in the sect with its constant sacrifice of time and money was some kind of a penance for not being working-class or a poverty-stricken peasant in the Third World.  Healy was an expert psychologist.  At various points during my time in the sect, members would go absent.  I would be sent to try to retrieve them, or if they were a long-standing or senior member, somebody would be sent from the Centre to try to get them back. "How could you do this Nobby, with the world crisis looming?  I suppose you want a nice comfortable middle-class academic life, and leave the working-class and the branch up the creek?  (Healy or anyone from the centre would have said ‘in the shit’.)" Holidays were discouraged, but if I went away, I would always lie low for a few days in the pretence that I was not back.

Meanwhile, Claire got bored.  She had finished her Teaching Certificate, and joined me, playing her part in the branch.  We sold the Workers Press round the Wythenshawe council estate, reputed locally to be the largest public housing scheme in Europe, and even congratulated ourselves on holding the party record for the most papers sold on one round.  "Why don't we have a baby?", she said, one day..  It seemed to me like a good idea, with the implicit, unspoken prospect of a way out of the Healy family into one of our own. Incredibly quickly, she got pregnant.

Now, it was my conscience, rather than that of my father-in-law, that prompted me into the jobs market.  Through one of the rare working-class SLL members, whose brother was a plumber, I became a pipe-fitters’ mate.  The work consisted of lugging the occasional piece of equipment across a muddy building site.  Once, to earn a weekend overtime bonus, we hid in a trench, drank tea from a thermos and ate sandwiches until it was time to go home.  I revived my previous fancy to go into TV.  I contacted 'Nice Time’s’ John Birt.  At Granada, I was ushered into a suite of offices.  Glancing at a panel at the entrance, I noticed the World in Action logo.  To my surprise, I was interviewed by Birt and Gus MacDonald for a job on the programme.  Of course, this was a magnificent opportunity, but I had recently watched very little TV, and hardly a single episode of World in Action. I tried to blag my way through, but failed to impress.  My mind had been addled by splinter group sectarianism. I was disappointed but did not dwell on it.  I needed something more personal, more disturbing, than a mere career opportunity to change my course.

There was nothing for it, then, but to apply for a job in Further Education: technical colleges were advertising for General Studies, sometimes known as Liberal Studies, teachers. At least there, my students might want to learn something.  I fancied I might be able to talk to them about current affairs.  After interviews in such unfashionable towns as St Helens and Newcastle under Lyme, I was offered a job in an even more unfashionable place: Rotherham, South Yorkshire.  Although I had a distaste for Birmingham, which I felt was grim and hostile, possibly because I had felt alienated from my father when he was building his business career there, I was drawn to the idea of working in a northern manufacturing town such as D.H. Lawrence, Arnold Bennett or Engels had written about, or where my great friend Steve had grown up.  Claire, by now heavily pregnant, was relieved, I’m sure, at the prospect of a home, and an income to support her and the baby.

Very promptly, nine months after we had made the decision, my son, Simon was born.  Just as my sectarian obsession had kept me out of touch from the world of the media, I hadn't realised that expectant fathers were required at the mother's side during the birth.  From what I had read, I assumed I was expected to pace the corridor outside the maternity ward. In this short vigil, I could not believe that those were Claire's agonised screams, but when I was summonsed by the nurse and peered into the crib, I felt I was looking back at myself. I had only read about dialectics. Here was a real synthesis.

I told the SLL that I was leaving it due to family responsibilities, and the new job. It was a relief: the same release I had felt when I got away for holidays from school.
"The Party" made its usual efforts to retrieve an apostate -- sending round senior members to claim I was sabotaging the revolution, but I sent them away disappointed. I said, however, that I would continue to sell the Workers Press.

We drove from Manchester over the Pennines on New Years Eve, 1969.  It was snowing.  The building site on which our house had been constructed was the beginnings of a new Council estate.  Someone had had the brilliant idea of building it round walks, so that the roads formed access to car parks beside the houses alongside the walks.  It was all very muddy, and there were no road signs.  We found our house, clambered through the slush, used our shiny new key to unlock the front door, and carried in our baby.  I felt very happy.

[Some relief, for example Huddersfield, making a "super eight" cine film of the' optional' student activities staff versus students cricket matches, coming across my catering students sunning themselves in the park]

Even making a cup of tea or beans on toast in our new house felt adventurous.  Claire christened it. She perched on the kitchen surface and breast-fed Simon.  There was a knock on the door.  I opened it to a steamy New Year's greeting from two blacked-up, very cold children.  All we had to offer was beans on toast. Rotherham was a mining as well as a steel town and retained many of the coalfield customs.  We had been well and truly First-Footed.    We had no need to celebrate the New Year that moonlit night.  We unpacked our brass bedstead and bedclothes, snuggled up and listened as an occasional car swished through the snow on its way towards Rotherham.  Setting up house was fun.  Claire chose the curtains, and I painted the walls, bought some timber in the village and built a table of which I was inordinately proud.  I did not divulge that the timber merchant had given me clear instructions and cut the wood to length.  In the spring I bent more than one garden fork, trying to dig through the building rubble and almost-cdsolid clay to plant some token wallflowers and make a garden.  By the summer, our second child was on the way. 

The road down to the village of Greasborough and from there to Rotherham, divided our housing estate from the Wentworth Woodhouse farmland.  In only a couple of hundred yards, we could be in the woods, and it was a nice walk through the South Yorkshire countryside to the massive stately home, the former seat of the Earls of Fitzwilliam. The earls found that they had built their house on an extensive coal seam, and from the end of the 18th-century, employed miners to work it.  So our first-footing had been triply appropriate: first foot in our new house, in South Yorkshire, and in the coalfields.

Many of our neighbours were young families, or like us in the process of creating them.  They of course offered help and advice on Claire's pregnancy.  Most of them became good friends: variegated, optimistic and creative members of the Rotherham working community.  Despite my friendship with Steve, I had somehow retained an image of 'the working class' as grimy and downtrodden.  I suppose that image was encouraged by my experiences in East London: but I think my antagonism to the children I was meant to be teaching at the Marley secondary modern school in Dagenham, and my unhappiness there, was related to my own schooldays. Likewise my dismal experience of the youth, or ‘youff', of standing on some dilapidated East London street, attempting to inveigle them to spend a weekend at a seaside conference, was related to my disconsolate need to be a member of a self-flagellant sect.  Why was it that my need to be "different", or "revolutionary" could only be served by a clique surrounding a maniac who was deluded enough to style himself as a latter-day Lenin? 

I was not on my own.  From time to time, Healy would call, through his acolytes, a summer camp, for which we would have to raise yet more funds, and bribe yet more ‘Youff’ to attend.  Despite Healy's attempt to make these occasions into a kind of boot camp for the middle-class, and to provoke some kind of ‘disciplinary’ event to keep individualists in line, these occasions afforded Claire and I the chance to meet other members who had been recruited through the student movement, and the radical arts fraternity, and who were capable of passing an ironic comment about the proceedings.  A chink of light.

At a loose end without my party affiliation, I joined our estate’s Tenants Association, and was particularly attracted to one woman, Anne, who very intelligently and discreetly led it.  She had a shock of dark curls and was beautiful in a Hardyesque kind of way.  Much later, when my relationship with Claire was falling apart, Claire could sense the attraction, and very generously urged me to fulfil it. "Go on, give her a kiss." I was much too inhibited for that.  Anne was married to Doug, a steel erector.  He had introduced me to his mates, many of them tall, strong and handsome.  They worked building bridges and oil platforms. Locations:  apparently anywhere dangerous. An elite workforce: the socialist realists would have loved them. 

In a ridiculous response to the inflationary economic crisis at that time, Prime Minister Edward Heath's government passed a Housing Finance Act which compelled Local Authorities to put up the rents of their council housing.  All over the country tenant groups refused to pay the Tory increases.  Doug seconded me in proposing to our Tenants Association, that we do the same.  We passed the resolution, but not all the tenants joined the strike, and once they were threatened with legal action, most of the strikers gave up.  I'd lagged behind, but after consultation with the keepers of my conscience, the local leaders of the SLL, I threw in the towel as well.  The issue had become a Cause Célèbre: in a neighbouring North Derbyshire town, Clay Cross. two councillors, brothers of the notoriously outspoken leftwing Labour MP Dennis Skinner, were prosecuted for not putting up the rents.  Although out of a sense of duty to the revolution, or maybe out of a sense of habit, I took some papers with me to sell, I enjoyed the demonstrations in Clay Cross.  I was there exploring this little town as an autonomous member of my Tenants Association, without anybody breathing down my neck. 

Life at home added to that sense of freedom.  It wasn't long before Claire suggested that we had another child.  Zoe was born only 13 months after Simon. By this time, it was definitely the fashion for the father of to be there, at his wife's side at the birth.  Once I had driven Claire to the maternity unit, and got one of the neighbours to babysit for Simon, bought some flowers and gossiped to one of my fellow teachers that I was on the way to the birth of my second child, parked the car and walked in to the clinic, a nurse came and told me that the baby had already been born.  She was a chubby little thing. 

Although the 1970s feminist movement largely passed me by, my feeling is that I did quite a lot round the house: I enjoyed playing with the children on my newly planted lawn.  Claire found a job, at one of the local primary schools: Simon and Zoe were cared for in the nursery.  I particularly enjoyed visiting the school to collect Claire or the children amidst the mayhem of the classroom, which might include children reading, inventing, squabbling or constructing, Claire, or particularly Janice in the next room, maintained an aura of calm, circulating to resolve difficulties or disputes, or perhaps listening to a child read.  "This is what teaching should be like.", I thought: "I would just panic".

My own new teaching job had started inauspiciously.  Somehow, I had assumed that lectures started at 10 a.m. This was wishful thinking, born of the transition from pipefitting back to the academic world.  When I arrived at 9.30 on my first day, my class of plumbers was being minded by another member of staff.  General studies, I found, consisted of any topic, apart from the skill or trade that students had been released from work to learn.  My classes consisted of gas fitters, plumbers, miners, mechanics, caterers, nursery nurses and ... steel operatives. Here was an opportunity, I felt, to do some real education, broadening minds from their everyday occupations into current affairs or the arts.  But there was disappointingly little reaction to issues such as the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, Van Gogh's paintings, the civil rights of black people in the US, or the trade unions.

I got more interest when I asked my students to write an essay on "marriage is just a piece of paper", and then discuss the verdict  in class.  Or when I made fun of some of the latest Carnaby Street fashions (miners and welders judged, of course, that "they look like right poofters in those flowery shirts." (The catering girls were more open-minded.)  I had learned something from my days teaching in Dagenham.  The opening lecture was always a very stern one dealing with rules on very simple things like putting up a hand if someone wanted to speak, or even go to the toilet, or on lateness or misbehaviour.  I was astonished afterwards that the students were so orderly. They might even have been frightened of me. 

There were just two classes that presented a problem: Steel Operatives1 and Steel Operatives 2.  They were recruits to the local British Steel works, aged 16 and 17 respectively, and seemed to think that being out of school gave them a licence to go spare. One day, taking one of these classes, and having been quite unsuccessful in gaining even a spark of interest in my current topic, poverty in Africa, I noticed a heated discussion taking place at the back of the room.  Afterwards I asked one of the more amenable students what it had all been about.  "Well, sir, if you must know it was about ‘how many holes do women really have’ ".

My preparation for the next class was a chart showing the female reproductive system.  It was followed by another portraying the male genitalia and by more than one term's worth of discussions about sex, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.  Although I can't remember if discipline was one part of these discussions, I certainly didn't have any discipline problems with that class during those lectures.  In these early terms at Rotherham, I showed enough application to the enlightenment of my students, though of a perhaps worryingly unorthodox kind, to be sent on an in-service Postgraduate Certificate of Education course in Huddersfield.  The months spent there allowed me to appreciate not only the mellow stone architecture of the Pennine wool town, but also the chance to prepare lectures on economic history, and on pollution, and mainly the chance to be a free agent once again.

I returned to Rotherham College of Technology with renewed confidence, and of course, ready-made lectures.  Students enjoyed the story of the construction of local railways, mills or pits, which I suppose had probably involved their parents or grandparents; trips to the local sewage works, or analysing test tubes full of water from the highly polluted river Rother.  The comparative calm of the other half of my teaching job: lecturing in Government to Public Administration students, became less attractive than the rough and tumble of my general studies work.  I would have enjoyed the public administration teaching much more if students had not annoyingly and invariably interrupted, once I had started a political discussion, with the question "Is this on the syllabus, sir?" I suppose I was meant to be talking about the ins and outs of local government  planning committees or somesuch.  Of course it wasn't long until the Poulson scandal disclosed the intrigue and corruption of those committees in the North.  I was not that prescient., and nor, I suspect, were those boringly one-dimensional, public administration students.

Of course I was excited by the 1972 miners' strike.  I joined the SLL Workers Press sellers at the picket lines. The strikers cut off supplies to the power stations, causing random electricity blackouts.  The Tory Heath government declared a three-day working week for the whole of industry and -- to make themselves even more unpopular -- cut the hours of television transmission.  Newspapers were reporting that the coking plants could supply only one more week of household gas.  Heath gave way.  The miners won a pay rise, which put them at over £30 per week at the top of the pay scale.  During the TV blackout, Claire and I, by then sleep-deprived young parents of two toddlers, made one of our rare visits to the movies in Sheffield (to see Lawrence of Arabia, I think).  Driving our Renault 4 back past the massive dark steelworks buildings looming over the Attercliffe Road, I bumped straight into a Keep Left road sign, unlit.  The car was only lightly damaged.  I cannot say the same for the road sign.  The miners had struck another blow.

In 1974, the miners struck again.  Encouraged by their proven industrial strength, they demanded another 35%.  Heath had no option but to declare an election.  "Who rules?"  The answer was not Mr Heath.  The Labour leader, Harold Wilson took over, running a minority government, and calling another election a few months later, to consolidate. The WRP (in his grandiose manner Gerry Healy, not content with publishing a daily paper, which the hard pressed party members were expected to sell and pay for the copies allotted to each branch, had transformed the SLL into a party the previous year), stood candidates in both elections without of course, gaining many votes, on the basis that we had a pre-revolutionary situation in which the working class was taking control.  Well, after all, hadn't the miners toppled the government?

The workers had kicked out the Tory government!  This was enough to propel me upstairs one day, to find Claire.  She was taking a bath.  I sat down beside her and said " Do you think I should rejoin the party?"  "I knew that was coming: if that's what you want, I suppose you had better." And so I rejoined the WRP.  Many of its prescriptions and predictions (general strike, pre-revolutionary situation, fatal crisis of capitalism,
and so on) had failed to materialise, but one of the cornerstones: the revolutionary power of the working class organised in trade unions, had made its presence felt.  That clinched it for me.

Even before I had rejoined, I was collecting the party's twice-weekly (and then, ridiculously, daily) newspaper Workers Press (and then, Newsline) from Sheffield Railway Station, taking a bunch to sell outside Shardlow's (I sold only one, each time to the same ex shop steward who never had time to talk on his way into work).  It was often a cold and wet task.  At least it afforded the satisfaction of making a protest outside yet another GKN engineering factory run by my father.  Now I had a new task: on my way home, I delivered the paper to its few subscribers, and kept a stack for the branch members to sell.  I got home in time to walk with Simon and Zoë to school. 

Gerry Healy had seen me coming.  I was rapidly promoted to represent Sheffield and Rotherham on the Yorkshire Area Committee.  Of course, I was flattered, but it was not long before I discovered that the obligations of such seniority far outweighed the rights that it conferred.  He knew how to make conscience-stricken members of the middle-class do what he wanted.  Unfortunately for him, his grandiloquent design for a daily paper did not correspond to any journalistic knowledge: it was more like a fetish. In the 1970s, if he was going to achieve a mass working-class circulation, he needed to publish something like the Daily Mirror or the Sun.  Naturally, he wanted to challenge the Morning Star, published by the Communist Party and deriving from the 1920s and 1930s, a much more fertile period for revolutionary politics, with the Russian Revolution in the fairly recent past, and not yet publicly discredited by Stalinism.  The Morning Star, anyway, had an ageing and shrinking readership, but a readership, nevertheless.

Despite my family and teaching commitments, I was plunged back into the everyday round of paper sales, YS recruitment, and raising finance.  Every now and then the party would launch a new appeal for funds towards a new target:: usually something to do with its daily paper.  Added to that branches were expected to ramp up their orders for Workers Press/Newsline, and we had to pay for what we had ordered, not what we had sold.  I was always going round our few subscribers, trying to extort some extra cash.  Often, branch secretaries took the easy route, and put in their own housekeeping money.

Claire bought me a little transistor to relieve the tedium of the paper deliveries and the even worse tedium of the subs collections.  I hung it from the rear view mirror of our Renault four, which by this time had got almost as used to the paper round as the rag and bone man's horse on its trajectory round Rotherham. I liked the first call the most -- a bit like having a cup of coffee and a biscuit before returning to your desk and going through the in-tray.  It was near my house, up a small driveway.  Graham Plant, the trade union convener at the largest of Rotherham's engineering factories had done well.  He was respected by his members and together with his wife had saved, and bought a nice house.  He subscribed to the Newsline but not to all the grandiose schemes of the WRP.  I chatted to him about the general political situation, and occasionally he put in an extra fiver to the Newsline fund.  The next delivery was in the town too.  Jim Garside was an old Marxist who didn't smell very nice, but I sometimes used to share a cup of coffee with him out of the kindness of my heart, and, to be honest, because his wallet could be exploited to add to the latest fund.  What other deliveries that there were took me around the various members and the Rotherham council estates, which seldom afforded any donations, and were of course, quite boring.  Thank God, or rather, my wife, for radio 4 -- or was it still in the days of the Home Service? -- on the transistor.

Claire rejoined the party too, in a much more canny role than mine, saying that she wanted to train as a reporter.  I don't remember a lot of her work appearing in Workers Press or Newsline but, naturally, I was pleased that my political work did not separate us.  She attended some of the branch meetings, and occasionally did some deliveries or came out to sell papers with me.  Come to think of it now, to coincide with legislation against the trade unions, Workers Press had published what I consider to have been quite a passable article of mine on Marxism and the law, but I was ignored as a writer (in favour of my usefulness as a party hack, I think) and Claire was taken up as a journalist.  Could it have been her general bounciness and fair hair that attracted the editor?

Meanwhile, I got on with trying to build the party in South Yorkshire.  Young people were corralled into coaches for day trips to the coast or for more conferences at more seaside resorts.  In each case, they were recruited to the YS on very flimsy evidence of commitment to its politics.  Naturally, the day trips were considerably more popular than the conferences.  I felt like a jailer in Blackpool, trying to prevent boys and girls spilling out of the Winter Gardens on to the beach.

Young people who bought a copy of Keep Left were asked for their address, and then visited. I got to know how they lived.  Calling at the back-to-backs of Rotherham, or Attercliffe in Sheffield,  I and my colleagues were normally  welcomed.  The 'castles in the air': the Hyde Park flats in Sheffield, were something else.  Some architect’s dream of cities in the sky, with their own wide balconies for milk floats making deliveries, (sensibly they have now been turned into student flats). Most residents refused to answer their door.  The stench of social problems followed us round.  We should have been there to do something about them: instead, we offered a revolutionary paper as far away from the predicament of the inhabitants of the flats as the streets hundreds of feet below.  At the very best we provided an inexpensive trip to the coast for the kids. 

The trade union work was just as unsuccessful, but more interesting.  Each Friday, I would take one or two people to sell papers at the Doncaster area pits as the miners clocked on for the afternoon shift. To feel them march past on the way in to work, emerge from the changing area with their helmets and lights, line up and clatter towards the cage, from where they would plunge underground, was a romantic and terrifying experience.  I got to know the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Secretary, Jack Riley, a suave, dark critic of the local Labour Party, at Rossington pit..  Always ready to go into action in defence of his members, he invariably opened the door to me with a "What's up kid?" We went to Rossington   each week.  Apart from anything else, the pit canteen served a very substantial dish of mushy peas and ham. We could gauge the militancy of the men by the number of papers we sold, on a scale from eight to 15.  We never got any of them to a meeting, and when, in October 1974, we stood a candidate locally in the general election, we got a derisory number of votes.  Why did we persist?  Because we were expected to, I suppose, and because we thought things might change.

As South Yorkshire secretary, I was expected to attend area committee meetings in Leeds.  I was honoured that this senior body was interested to hear my views on the developing  political situation.  But I soon learned that the key item on the agenda was concerned with whether we had fulfilled our quota of fund raising: and it was never enough.  Sheila Torrance came up from London for the meetings.  There was a return train at midnight, and she invariably kept us in the draughty Scouts Meeting Hut until she had wrung the last penny in coin or pledges from us.  It wasn't long before I began to dread these meetings. 

Initially, I used to drive to Leeds for the monthly harangue.  But I couldn't deal with the journey back.  Being the good-natured fellow that I was, (still am, possibly), and with all transport south from Leeds, apart from Sheila's train, having departed, I offered lifts to the southern suburbs, Bradford and Huddersfield.  I drew the line at fights, which often included a new Trotskyist category: 'socialism in one tiny party’ and then 'socialism in one tiny car':  What was I supposed to do?  "I don't have the money".  "That's an anti-party line: Sheila said that!"  "I don't care what she said, what am I supposed to do -- rob a bank? You're just a fucking bully.  She is too."  "Say that at the next meeting."  So I stopped the car: "I can't drive if you're going to do this.  It's like having a dogfight in the car.  If you start this again, you'll have to get out." Only squabbling children and hacked-off revolutionaries could make me this decisive.

Even after I had dropped my truculent comrades, there was another ordeal to complete.  I had to get home.  Already, I had been up at six, collected the papers from Sheffield station, stood outside Shardlows trying to sell at least one of them, walked the children to school, presented myself at work, frantically tried to raise funds for the party, driven up to Leeds, survived the trauma of an area committee meeting, and ferried my colleagues home.  Wearily, I returned  to the motorway, and went to sleep.  Fractions of a second later, I opened my eyes, and panicked.  How many minutes to the next services?  I counted aloud the seconds until I could get a cup of coffee.  Happily, Ms Torrance had left me with enough change for that.
For  future meetings  I made sure that the glove box in the car was well-stocked with sweets to suck:  they helped me keep my eyes open.  Subsequently, I left the car at home, claiming that it had broken down, and made the trip by moped.  It was cold, but at least I was alive, and I didn't kill anybody else. Getting home in the early hours, I used to try to warm up with breakfast cereal calories and then creep up stairs to bed.  As I got in one side of the bed, my wife shot out of the other. Claire objected that it was like sharing the bed with a block of ice.

By this time Healy had added yet another capital project to his grand design: an Education Centre.  Yet another fundraising drive was launched: I appeared on the doorstep of my usual contacts and tried to inspire them with a vision of a cadre of revolutionaries educated in Marxist analysis.  Somehow, and probably it was mostly courtesy of his well-off acting and show business recruits around Vanessa and Corin Redgrave, he managed to buy a large house near the Derbyshire Peak District to fulfil this ambition.  (This seemed to me a laudable attempt to provide the membership and recruits with somewhere they could think and learn away from their usual urban environments, but in my two or three visits there I found less sign of education, but more one of instilling discipline and terror of the leadership in the visitors). 

The press got wind of the place, christened it the Red House, and stoked up an anti-Communist witchhunt on that basis.  Inadvisably, but naturally, feeling isolated from her peers, on one of her Derbyshire visits Claire talked to an undercover tabloid reporter.  She found her personal feelings all over the headlines a few days later.  On the last of these visits, I was assigned to guarding duty one night.  The guard could look through a hole in the high wall surrounding the "Red House" and had to log any activity (exclusively cars on my watch!) What was disconcerting was to find a rifle on the guard post bench next to where I was sitting.  Happily I recognised it as a fairly innocuous air rifle, but the incident served to stoke up my underlying mental anguish at being trapped in an Orwellian nightmare.  Healy’s paranoia was in a simbiotic, or possibly fungal, relationship with the British state, but did I really want to be part of it?

I had failed to recognise the awful sensation: I had been bullied at school; intimidated by 12 year olds when I was teaching; and now, I was being ideologically browbeaten.  Apart from the freezing moped journeys; apart from the psychological intimidation in Leeds; apart from the numbing routines of newspaper sales and money scrounging, not least for the Education Centre; the process led to some extraordinary situations. Not content with a print shop, the Derbyshire retreat and a daily paper, Healy now saw himself at the head of a mass political party.  He deployed his meagre forces to the shopping centres of the nation in order to recruit people directly into it.  Around 7 of the Yorkshire members (a mass recruitment drive), found likely positions in Leeds town centre and asked people if they wanted to join the Workers Revolutionary Party.  A smiley red headed woman came up to me and enthusiastically agreed.  I said I'd visit her later to tell her all about it.  Like the woman, Ada, her upstairs Chapeltown flat was hung with all kinds of colourful chiffon and scarves.  She sat me down and said she'd go and make a cup of tea.  She came back in a colourful dressing gown, threw it open, and exposed her beautiful pink, drooping male genitals. I fled, crossing off one trophy from my note of the day's recruitment drive.

At work there was some respite; just a question of shuffling through my series of standby lectures to decide how I was to appear before Gas-Fitters 2: but no!  " Nick, phone call for you."  Vivien at the Clapham WRP HQ.  How the hell, had they found me here?  "For the second week running, the South Yorkshire money's £20 down".  The next free period, I scooted back home.   Frantically, I wondered what to do.  My violin, unused for years, was stuffed to the bottom of a wardrobe.  The local music shop produced the necessary £40.  "That's all we can offer you, I'm afraid.  We don't get much call for them these days."  Later, after I had posted the money, I was to remember my pride at being given the old instrument by my parents, at winning a prize for improvement (I wasn't much good!), and my enjoyment in taking my place as a second violin to perform Jupiter from Holst's Planets with the school orchestra.  What was I doing, laying myself open to a transvestite predator and a questionable used goods trader?

Even at home, I was not safe from predation: in the pit of my stomach, there was a place sensitive to the telephone, summoning me to yet another meeting, or even more probably to scrounge around for more funds.  The calls became so frequent, and it became so expensive to react to them by scavenging round Yorkshire, that to save money, I decided to install a payphone in my living room.  So I had turned my own home into a call box. Eventually, we treated it quite lightheartedly, and regularly 'surreptitiously' raided the coin box.  But our crazy way of life took its toll.  Quite sensibly, Claire started to keep a portion of her money separate.  I knew that she was further separating herself from me when she persuaded her parents to buy her her own car, which of course she did not use for paper deliveries. The car was delivered without warning. I had another shock – deeply upsetting and humiliating - when she took her injured self for succour elsewhere when she came off the delivery bike, I felt wounded.  I pretended to be pleased, but the lacuna between us deepened.



Finding Solace

So what was I doing allowing myself to be terrorised and politically stalked in this way? In answer to this question, a freer spirit might have replied that he was in the wrong party.  On the contrary, I must have concluded that this was how life was meant to be: an unhappy kind of personal probation.  For what or for whom?  I suppose my father was in the dialectic somewhere. Dickens style, as a boy he was taken almost as an orphan to a school, Christ's Hospital, where they were compelled to wear weird  long robes. When we cleared out my mother's things after her death, we found a diary note in his  handwriting saying that he had been "bullied, bullied, bullied". Perhaps he felt that all boys should be unhappy. I had not yet learned to unify the histories.  My only release was to take off on holiday.  Even before I had resumed my Quixotic revolutionary quest, we had decided on Yugoslavia. This was before it all fell apart.  An obliging employee of Yugotours found us a flat to rent for two weeks in Split.

A  man living somewhere near Barnsley was advertising a frame tent for sale.  When we got there, Claire said.  "There's a dog." I could see an Alsatian, just beyond the brow of a driveway. ‘He wouldn't have a vicious dog on the premises if he was trying to sell a tent would he?’ I thought as I opened the gate.  The dog took off, raced down the hill, and took a chunk out of my jeans, before the owner could come roaring out of the house after him.  He sold us the tent, we tried it out in the garden, and set off with our children, both less than three years old, in our Renault 4.  We learnt as we went along.  We had a plastic water bottle and a Gaz camping stove, and on the first night, at a campsite just out of Calais, laughed at the French with their tables, chairs and posh cutlery.  We bought some as soon as we could.

By the time we had had breakfast and packed up, we only got 50 miles (barely two percent of our projected itinerary) the next day, before we had found a suitable site and got ourselves some food.  We worked out a camping division of labour.  One of us would put up the tent or strike camp, and the other would mind the kids.  They always found something new to explore, some scrape to get into, or nearly strangled each other.  It was hard to begin with, but it got to be a lot of fun.  The Dalmatian coast was really beautiful.  The children tagged along as we explored the temple of Diocletian in Split.  The Yugoslav people we met all wanted to be capitalists.  After Split, we went a little way up the coast and found a campsite on a stepped hillside.  We had our own little site and were sufficiently relaxed to make love naked in the moonlight. 

The following few summers, we weren't so ambitious.  Even after I had rejoined the WRP.  I insisted on two weeks camping in Brittany.  Release!  Good French food, and the children played with the other kids on the site.    Then there were the family holidays in Polperro in Cornwall.  My sister Kate rented a huge house for the whole extended family.  Perfect. Getting back home from holiday I hibernated, and pretended I was still away, until someone from the party came round to winkle me out - again. The last couple of Polperro years Claire took the children.  I had some Pressing Revolutionary Business -- a conference or a trip to organise.  Claire had begun to organise her own life, independently of me. 

I had become a dejected party drone, only enervated by the fact that Claire was clearly getting on with her journalistic career.  More and more frequently, she was away in London on ‘Newsline business'. I was all in favour.  Apart from anything else, it gave me a cast iron excuse to absent myself from party business at home, and spend time with the children.  I had no reason, apart from my own naivete, to suspect a hidden agenda in her absences.  I suppose my experience of the WRP, which, expressed in today's idiom, felt like being stalked, had made me a dreary person to live with.  Not content with her 'journalistic' training in London, Claire made friends with a group of journalists from the Sheffield Evening Post and the Rotherham Advertiser. 

I recruited at least one of them to the WRP branch, and went nightclubbing with her new friends, even indulgently watching Claire smooching with one of them until somebody said: "You can't have that, Nick." She had clearly been trying to provoke me.  Instead I ran away, pretending that I was not hurting: a distancing process I must have learnt at school.  Not long afterwards, Claire, who had offered to do a stint delivering papers, fell off the moped and injured herself.  The fact that she took her bleeding shin to be mopped up by a friend, and didn't bring it home to me, finally delivered the provocation. (Though just as silly had been my silence about an incident a few weeks earlier in which the moped, overloaded with a box of books for a university freshers week, had ditched me in front of a bus in Attercliffe.) I realised that our love, our marriage, our friendship was draining away.  Desperately, I swallowed my pride and called my dad for a sub so that I could take Claire away, while one of the neighbours looked after the children, We drove to Portmerion in Wales, and wandered round its strange architectural follies, Antonioni style. My wife, walking distantly beside me, seemed just as inscrutable as I found Monica Vitti in La Strada.

We were in unfamiliar territory.  It was difficult to find anything to say to each other. The quaint old hotel had a juke box. Claire put on a song which we had never before listened to together:  Chrystal Gale  - "Don't it Make your Brown Eyes Blue".  I realised that she must have been listening to it with someone else. I don't know if she noticed that I was crying.  In fact, you could compose some music about that as well.  Maybe a ballad about the dissolution of a marriage, which, after an ironic trumpet reference to the city walls falling down, began with a young lady falling off a motorbike, and continued with a Country love song.  Of course being away with her in a top hotel, I tried to revive some kind of sexual relationship, but it was no good.  I think she made an effort too, but I had got used to the excitement provided by finding my way past the ankle-length flannelette nighties which she had adopted as bed-time wear (exciting for me anyway: of course, with my typical British Chesil Beach inhibitions, I had not revealed that to her).

Back home, we were visited by my brother-in-law Ken and his new partner.   A few years earlier, amidst a welter of affairs with fellow medical students, he had left my sister.  After that,  he had followed me into the WRP.  Another type of guilt to add to the psychology of middle-class adherence to revolutionary socialism?  In Oxford where he lived, the branch was about the only one with a significant trade union following.  From the massive Cowley British Leyland plant it had recruited an intelligent and charismatic shop steward, Alan Thornett.  He had become a WRP star, speaking at party gatherings, and more importantly, at trade union meetings and conferences.  He was a respected leader in the increasingly strike-ridden late 1970s.  But he got fed up with the bullying internal regime of the WRP, and took the Oxford area out of the party, and as these things go in the fractious world of Trotskyism, formed a new party -- yet another set of left wing initials -- WSL (which immediately became known as "the Weasels").  I rudely sent Ken and his girlfriend packing, and compounded the offence by staring at them meanly when they came to lobby a  WRP rally.

The Healyites must have wanted to put me on the spot. And they succeeded.  But despite the misery of the continuous round of party tasks: raising funds (sales of the newspaper became secondary to the finance; some branches didn't bother to sell them -- at least one third of the Rotherham ration went over the bridge into the fetid River Don -- YS recruitment, dogmatic Area Committee harangues by Sheila Torrance), a misplaced sense of duty -- a something like a penance -- kept me in line. To this end, I was promoted to the Central Committee (and made to endure the spectacle of how the senior members including Cyril Smith were bullied).  But I was not completely intimidated by the party's internal regime.  I went so far as to stand up and make some criticism of it at the next party conference.  During the next conference session I was summoned before Healy ("we'll make you crawl") and a silent Vanessa Redgrave. One of the functions, however, of the bullying regime within the WRP cult, was to turn the membership into bullies too.

Lucy, a young member from Hull who must have heard me speaking critically at the conference, turned up in tears on my doorstep in Rotherham.  She had been at a YS event at which Healy spoke and had been asked behind-the-scenes to see him.  "It was horrible.  He tried … to paw me."  Despite the fact that she was clearly traumatised by the episode, and actually, I could quite believe it, I guiltily told her, "you're just telling lies to try to undermine the leadership.  Go home". Claire was not so heartless.  She tried to comfort her, and let her stay in our spare room for a couple of days. What happened to her after that?  I don't know. A few years later, there was a furore, again making the national press, about Healy habitually molesting young girls contacted through the party.

My unhappiness (depression really -- but I wouldn't admit that) was lifted by a phone call from my friend Steve.  He and his fellow Workers Press/ Newsline journalist Roy were privately fed up with the internal regime on the newspaper and in the WRP: they hated Healy!  What a relief.

Healy was a magician, or maybe like many small tyrants he lived on a raft of paranoia, or it was just that sectarian politics is full of splits and conspiracies.  (Even the party hacks closest to him were never free from suspicion, and sometimes in fear of physical bullying.) He must have suspected, following the decampment of the whole Oxford area, some whispers of dissent within the ranks.  He instituted a body called the Committee of Five charged with reconstituting what would now be called 'failing' but which he alleged were ‘anti-party’ branches. 

Of course there were dissenters, myself included.  We quickly christened the committee the 'Gang of Five', after the post-Mao 'Gang of Four ' who were currently running the Chinese Communist Party.  A trusted member of the gang, Roy Battersby, soon based himself at my house while he was "sorting out the Yorkshire area".   Despite my newfound alliance with Steve and Roy, I was callow enough not to realise that I was under suspicion myself.  Claire had been abruptly summoned away for a stint of her journalistic training.  I actually found Battersby welcomely relaxed compared with the usual manic WRP thrust for more meetings, finance, and newspaper sales.  Over coffee, and after some preliminaries about the local membership, he asked me, "Seen anything of the Thornett lot up here?" - of course the brooding Healy and his Clapham clique had noted my family connections.  I again related what they already knew: my visit from Ken and his girlfriend following the WSL breakaway.

Battersby couldn't fail to notice my general air of unhappiness, though.  "I guess things aren't going so well with Claire?"  Of course being based in the ‘Clapham bunker ' he would have known that she was regularly sleeping with Alex Mitchell, the Newsline Editor. "You're right about that", I said.  How could things have been going well between us when I was being stalked and monopolised by the 20th-century equivalent of the mediaeval Ranters?  I assume the report back to the bunker was suitably anodyne.

Healy's jumpiness continued.  He called two more party conferences, including one at the Education Centre, where, during a crisis recess, I came face to face with Newsline editor Alex Mitchell.  I didn't know at that time that he was screwing my wife, but I was suspicious of the patronising manner in which he tried to sympathise with my unhappiness.  (Around, or just before, the time that Healy was exposed for sexually molesting the younger members of the Young Socialists and the daughters of some of the WRP Members, Alex Mitchell, ex Sunday Times reporter, suddenly disappeared from public view.  The gossip was that he had been an anti-communist agent and had returned to his homeland, Australia).



The Split

Our esteemed leader’s next move was to call a special conference at his Clapham HQ.  With Steve and Roy, I decided to 'go over the top.' Steve and Roy, who must already have already exposed their dissidence,were hauled before the Central Committee and summarily dismissed on the first day.  I chose my ground for the following day.  I had noticed that the party was always in an Orwellian way reversing its policies, in a similar way to Big Brother in 1984, and of course to Stalin, depending upon which way the land lay, or upon the requirements of the party bankroll.  I had kept a note of the twists and turns of its relationship with the Iraqi Ba'ath regime.  On the sixth of July 1971, the party's then newspaper Workers Press had satirised the Soviet leaders' visit to Iraqi President Bakr, "Did " Comrade Bakr " take his guests on a conducted tour of the Ba'ath Party’s dungeons, torture chambers and death cells?  Did Tony, between banquets, lay wreaths on the graves of Communists murdered by Bakr's police sadists?".  In Newsline, on the 17th of July 1979, we are informed of Bakr’s resignation, to be replaced by fellow torturer Saddam Hussein: “The former President was a benign and retiring figure, who preferred to run things from behind, rather than follow the tradition of Arab populism.  His favourite interest was the young people of Iraq, and their social development." This I related to the conference, and was abruptly escorted from the building and the party. I imagine I have once or twice felt a greater sense of euphoria, but never before or since on Clapham High Street.

I called Steve and agreed to meet the next day to discuss our next move and then I called Ursula, Claire's and my old friend from Bristol, who now lived in South London, to arrange to stay a couple of nights.  Claire was pleased with the news, but asked me why I wasn't coming back home straight away.  I imagine she thought that I might have made the emotional choice between the party and the family, but instead, my mind was with the new freedoms afforded to me within the limited firmament of Trotskyist politics.  I think I had given up hope, by then, of a reconciliation with Claire, but perhaps I should have given more consideration to that side of my life, and hers.  Of course, the feeling of euphoria which I felt at leaving the WRP contained the feeling that I could now live my own and my family life without being hunted down by the party apparatchiks, but I had by then become used to keeping apart from my emotions. 

The upshot of the meeting with Steve and Roy was that we would, in the manner of countless Trotskyist splits and scisms, start our own party.  Steve and I felt that we knew any number of disillusioned former WRP members who would join us, and in the following weeks and months, by meeting with them and publishing our own little paper, we assembled a group of around 50 supporters. We called ourselves the Workers Party, and published the Workers Party Bulletin, although any link with workers was distinctly tenuous.  The bulletin was published from Roy's house in Hazel Grove.  We typed it out, using an IBM golf ball typesetter, cut it up into columns, and stuck it down onto an A4 piece of card, with photos filched from the daily papers scattered here and there.  Each week, the bulletin was printed and folded professionally; copies were sent to supporters and to Collets International Bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London, where it came to have a place all of its own amongst the colourful plethora of left wing papers. Modelling themselves on Iskra, Lenin's Bolshevik paper published in the early years of the 20th-century, the publishers of these tiny papers and magazines, ourselves included, imagined that they might spark a revolution and deal the final blow to World Imperialism.  Actually, at that time, I really hadn't thought it through.  It was just what you did.

Back home, I had more time for Claire and the children, but I don't think she could understand why I felt compelled to go through the motions of starting a new Trotskyist sect.  It really wasn't a very logical idea anyway.  She pursued her own life course.  One day, I was  back for lunch from work. She called me, in what might have been an attempt at provocation, from the house nearby of a fellow Rotherham Advertiser reporter where she had "gone back for lunch".  Of course I was jealous.  Soon afterwards, I recruited the offending journalist to the Workers Party, without ever mentioning the suspected tryst with Claire.

Meanwhile, I tried to revive my political activity.  It was much more fun, not being stalked by the WRP, and chatting to my friends in Rotherham, Sheffield and Doncaster about the 1978/9 Winter of Discontent, and the prospects for the Left.  We held a joint meeting with all the other branches nationally, and decided to stand seven Workers Party candidates in the general election called by Prime Minister Jim Callaghan in the next Spring.  (Just as the WRP had carried over some of the bad habits of Leninism and Stalinism, so we carried over the silliness of the WRP into our political practice)  In South Yorkshire, we decided to stand a candidate where we were best known, in the Don Valley constituency, which included Rossington.  A young miner there, Ian Connelly had recently joined the Doncaster branch.  He was something of a libertarian figure -- I lent him one of my favourite books, an illustrated life of Trotsky, and he allowed his small daughter to cut out some of the most attractive pictures.  I suppose I had not learnt that the world was quite different from Sons and Lovers, and that the majority of miners had not learned to treasure books.  But Ian agreed to stand in the election.  I called for him one day to take him around the village to get the necessary 10 nominations.  Ian's friends had just one question for him.  "You going to legalise pot, if you get elected, then Ian?"  Of course, being a notorious dope-head, he agreed, and they signed his papers.  We photocopied some leaflets opposing the government's pay freeze and supporting striking lorry drivers and "binmen", and distributed them round the village.  In the end, despite a very limited campaign, Ian collected 720 votes, almost twice the number supporting the WRP, who of course had found a candidate to stand against us.

A month or two later, I again visited Roy at his Victorian house in Hazel Grove, where he played Lord of the Manor and treated his Irish wife like a servant, but I had never felt happy there.  He seemed happy enough though, editing his little bulletin.  I soon fell foul of him, when he refused to print an article of mine (about Polish workers’ resistance to Soviet power) in which I disagreed with his "party line." Steve took his side, and so we parted company. The Workers Party became increasingly Stalinist, reprinting articles from Soviet and Cuban papers.  Roy kept writing it, more or less as a diary, and sending it down to Collets. 

I called my friends in South London and South Yorkshire: yet another Trotskyist sect was spawned.  Mike, a Clapham ex- WRP member for whom Healy's disciplinary regime had been way too much; Alison, TV producer and ex-girlfriend of Steve; and myself formed the editorial board of "Workers News." we also published The Struggle for Revolutionary Leadership, which I had written in philosophical vein to explain the split from the WRP. It was fun editing Workers News: an opportunity to get together once a month, usually in Clapham, and write a commentary on national and world affairs.  (I think we thought we might provide a locus for dissident Marxists and workers as the economic struggle developed.) Mike's wife Sheila, who became a good friend of mine, often joined in the discussions.  Like Mike, Sheila is a very good cook.  Clapham once again became a hub of Marxist activity.

Claire found a job with Granada TV in Manchester as a researcher.  Given that I had tried a couple of times to go the same way, I should have felt jealous, but I didn't.  She was on a career path: I had never desired such a thing.  My mind was consumed by my own psychology, and by finding an ideological home for it. In one of our rare marital discussions, I agreed to look after the children during the week; she would return home at weekends.

What had I taken on?  I could cook only three dishes: macaroni cheese, ‘ sea pie ', a concoction of corned beef boiled up with various vegetables, which I had learned while sailing with my father, and beef stew.  I could dress the children in clean clothes, so long as Claire did the washing at weekends, and keep the house tidy, so long as the cleaner went over it once a week.  Meanwhile, the girls next door and my catering students were excellent babysitters.  I discovered what I had been missing.  After a period which included lots of Cadbury's Smash and fish fingers for evening meals, and products known as Pop Tarts which sprang from the toaster complete with jam, I learned to cook a few more recipes.  Simon and Zoe enjoyed school: he was good at most subjects, and football; she countered with great powers of concentration, and hard work.  But as I recounted earlier, my separate living arrangements with Claire had to fail.  There was a painful distance between us, which didn't seem possible to bridge with words. Of course, in high dudgeon, I did not even attempt to mend the fences.  I did try going away for the weekend, while Claire's boyfriend stayed in the house, but of course, imagined getting back and throwing him out through the window. I also imagined I was falling in love with Emer, a curly headed Irish ex-WRP member doing a postgraduate course in Sheffield, but she confused my advances with an attempt to recruit her to the new political group.  When the time came for Simon to transfer to secondary school, I ferried the children over to Didsbury in Manchester, and put our house on the market.

The loss of Claire and the children hit me hard.  Caroline, the eldest of the teenage babysitters from next door, comforted me, and it wasn't long before we fell into bed.  Of course, I was consoled by her young body (and made sure Claire knew that I was sleeping with her), but getting back at my former wife was no compensation.  I found myself writing lovelorn poetry, and even verses about the family cat.  I clearly felt that I had missed something before my student courting days, because there followed a series of little affairs with girls in the neighbourhood. My ambitions even extended to my students.  Happily for my employment prospects, I picked a most alluring Iranian girl who rebuffed my attentions during a College disco with, "Mr Lewis, don't you realise I'm a Muslim?"

Unsurprisingly, I next suffered a recurrence of the chronic gut problems that had dogged me, since, at boarding school, I had been revising for my '0' level exams.  During my time off work,  I continued to live dangerously, sometimes selling Workers News at shift changes at the pit, and then at steelworks mass pickets: we couldn't ignore the striking steelworkers, at the forefront of the fight against Thatcher's Tory government, could we?  I dragged myself onto the street, sometimes feeling rotten.  Clearly, I was taking a risk, but I can only suppose that my mind had been seriously addled by the combination of cult membership and estrangement from my family.  One sunny day, feeling relatively fit and walking across the park, I bumped into David, a friend and fellow-teacher in my department at the Tec.  "Oh, hello David", I said breezily, and then instantly and transparently assumed the hangdog expression of someone on a "sickie".  After the necessary inquiries after my health, he said, "we found a whole stack of unmarked projects stuffed in the back of your cupboard, Nick.  One or two of them looked quite good."  I felt guilty.  I had let those students down.  "All I can do is apologise to those Steel-Ops: could you do that for me, Dave?  They must have learnt something in the process."  (The topic was water pollution -- we had had some mucky times down on the banks of the very squalid River Rother.)

Not quite so risky (well, I couldn't sit at home, could I?) was selling Workers News on the street in Doncaster.  I stopped two very bright eyed young women who turned out to be students at Doncaster Tec.  "You don't look very like a worker", said one, " And you can't tell us that you can get a revolution going in Doncaster".  She bought a paper, and gave me her address: "Come round and talk about it." I lost no time.  Marianne, dark haired, and twentysomething, had come down from  Newcastle to Doncaster with her boyfriend and got pregnant.  Her tiny son, Joseph was sitting opposite her on the living room floor of her terraced house.  The boyfriend had decamped.  I explained my politics, but since she wanted to know, I told her about myself, and my rejection of my middle class upbringing.  While she put Joseph to bed, I stared into the living room fire, and realised I had grown up.  A bit.  At least I wasn't trying to make up for my lost adolescence.  Marianne returned, pulled me down onto the floor, and we made love in her own inimitable way.  It was a way I had not experienced before, beyond the bounds of the missionary position.  It was most enjoyable.

The affair with Marianne lasted around one year. She did her bit to attract new members and young miners into the branch.  She came with me to Simon's sports day in Manchester -- of course she came: I wanted to show her off -- and Joseph cried all afternoon; Claire put on her superior maternal hat.  I loved taking Marianne to Brittany, that summer.  My mother rented a large house at the North West extremity of the region.  Marianne hadn't before done anything like a holiday in the sun abroad.  She stripped off and leapt into the sea with the children.  Mother invited my beloved aunt to spend the fortnight with us.  Aunt did her best to neutralise mother's disapproval of sexual shenanigans around the chateau, and I had a lot of fun.  Then it all went sour.  One evening, we had a leisurely dinner with mother and aunt in the house, while the children stayed on the beach. The dinner must have been boring for Marianne.  She put Joseph to bed and went to find Simon and Zoe.  Later, I joined them at the beach cafe.  The children scooted off over the beach back to the house.  Marianne decided to finish her drink, while I started out to follow them beside the sea.  It wasn't long before I heard somebody running and splashing behind me.  I turned around, just at the point when Marianne was launching a right hook.  Well, we got back, and I got the kids to bed. Next day, I explained away the black eye: somehow I had managed to swim into a rock. Nevertheless  I couldn't understand what had come over Marianne.  We had only a couple of days left of the holiday; the last day, I developed a fever, which made driving back up north horrific.  I had to depend on Marianne for the driving.  She deposited me back in Rotherham where I went to bed, and caught the bus to Doncaster. The herpetic source of the fever became obvious.

I met Marianne once more.  We arranged to meet our Doncaster members, and given that we were all still feeling in a summery mood, we arranged to meet at the bar in a pub in town .  Marianne was there!  She looked gorgeous, as she always did.  But I noticed that she was drinking more than usual.  I had only to ask her how she was, and she jumped up threatening to hit me.  Happily, I managed to dodge the blow, and she carried on running out of the pub and out of my life.  There are all kinds of ways that people react to alcohol.  With her, it was violence.  Towards men.

The Workers News group eventually -- fairly soon, actually -- became a kind of club - a group of people with a shared left-wing history, who met and talked about the prospects for the left.  It became clear to me that Marxism Today, published by the Communist Party, had the right formula.  A good-looking magazine, which was prepared to discuss the way forward for the left.  However, it contained one glaring elephant in the debating chamber -- it was incapable of conducting a thorough- going critique of the Soviet Union and its client states.  These states were not socialist, in any meaningful use of the term.  In fact, to the general population of the Western liberal democracies, and to the non Communist left, they represented grotesque nightmares, resembling, to those of us who had read it, Orwell's 1984.  I told my friends that what the left needed was a non Communist response to Marxism Today.  No such publication existed, but I was convinced of the need for it, and at least one pioneer was ready to create it.

The house in Rotherham was sold.  My life there with Claire and the children became just a memory.  With the proceeds (£6,000), I purchased a two-up-two-down terraced house  nearby.  It had very basic facilities, including an outside toilet and quarry tile floors downstairs, but at that time, grants were available to improve just such houses.  I applied for one, and set about creating basic facilities so that I could have the children to stay for weekends there.  At that time, it was possible to buy a shower mechanism that heated the water as it came through the control.  So I bought the control, the shower tray and some copper piping and installed one.  With a plastic curtain around it,  the shower worked well enough.  Hooray!  I had hot water upstairs, and the children could come to stay with me.  They would still have to use the outside toilet, but I assumed, optimistically, that they would regard the experience as an adventure.  Not long afterwards, Sean, the son of Jack Riley, the miners leader from Rossington colliery, appeared on my doorstep.  He'd had a row with his father, as 17-year-olds tend to do, and required accommodation.  I had made a comfortable bed-sitting room for myself downstairs, and so there was a spare room upstairs.  He moved in: he was an intelligent boy, who had of course been brought up to be a socialist, but along the way had acquired, through reading that I think had been guided by his father, an interest in the natural history of South Yorkshire.  The slum household was soon joined by Dave Ayrton, a funny, short, young Workers News Group recruit, to whom Sean took an instant dislike.  Sean, at breakfast : " You don't seem to have had a shower for a week, Dave; you stink like a ferret." Dave: "I don't spend my time watching people have showers, Sean, and unlike you I haven't spent much time living with ferrets."  I can't remember charging them much rent, but they were good company.  Dave moved downstairs onto the sofa at weekends, when the children were there.

I had reached another turning point.  Keeping an eye on the theoretical debates on the left, and steering clear of sectarian fantasies, I noticed that the only positive messages on the way forward were emanating from the University of Glasgow, where an academic called Hillel Tiktin, who was noted for an analysis of the Soviet economy which emphasised that, as a centralised command economy, it had hit the buffers some time previously, was running a postgraduate course in Socialist Theories and Movements.  I had some money left over from the sale of the house, and so I signed on.

Somehow, I was confident that I would not lose touch with the children.  There was no note of rancour from my former wife, Claire about my move hundreds of miles north.  Actually, she was incredibly generous not to demand some maintenance payments for the children, and not to put any obstacles in the way of my resumption of study and lack of employment.  I don't suppose she felt like this at the time, but it was almost as if she was sponsoring my attempt to understand the dilemmas of the left. Of course, I was absent for the tribulations of Simon and Zoe's teenage years; I regret leaving those problems for Claire and her new husband, Ian.  I'm afraid my attitude to her was enveloped in a divorce settlement, which although relatively amicable, brought back the pain of our separation.

Dave found somewhere else to live, and Sean had signed up for an undergraduate course in Southampton.  The awful thing was that the improvement grant for my new house had come through, the work had been done, and I only ever had one bath in my new bathroom, before I left and rented the house out.  An old anarchist friend, from my Bristol days, had studied in Scotland. He contacted a fellow radical who had a flat in Hillhead, near the university in Glasgow, who very kindly offered to rent me a room.

The Settle to Carlisle railway is notoriously beautiful.  Of course, I had not known that when I embarked for Glasgow.  Abruptly, with my baggage beside me in my window seat, I was moved to tears by the beauty of the Dales and the North Yorkshire landscape.  I tried to concentrate on the details of the course.  I should have wondered whether my threefold freedoms (family, party, employment) had spun me into an excess of rashness; instead, it seemed quite natural that I had set myself on a new course, but I did wonder about Glasgow:  notorious, in my sheltered upbringing, for the spikiness of its citizens.  Quite the reverse.  Ted Ninnes, a philosophy professor at Paisley College, and his wife, Beverley, broad shouldered and earth-motherly, warmly welcomed me to their spacious flat in a tall, russet coloured Victorian tenement.  I felt awkward, just descending on them, but over lunch their children soon broke the ice.  I told them about mine, who would have been queuing up for school dinners at that time of day.

Next day, I walked across the ancient university quadrangle to meet Hillel Tiktin.  He was a small, rumpled academic who glared at me suspiciously across a paper-strewn desk.  Since I was there to study politics, I felt no inhibition about talking about my history in the Trotskyist movement, and telling him why I had been attracted to his Centre.  He warmed visibly, and we talked, scathingly in his case, of some mutual acquaintances on the left.  It turned out to that the Centre for Socialist Theories and Movements had been his initiative to get away from conventional academic Sovietology, about which he was scathing too.  Postgraduate work was a disappointment.  I had felt I would have been back amidst the cut and thrust of ideas, but things had moved on since my undergraduate days.  It seems my colleagues on the Masters course were much too dedicated to getting their degrees and further jobs than to engage in speculatory conversations, or even to meet for a cup of coffee.  At least in the evenings, or in the pub known as the Halt over a glass of ' Heavy ' I could argue with Ted about Hegel (he refused to agree that the latter's world was totally imaginary) or with another of his drinking friends about Scottish nationalism.

Despite the unforthcoming nature of my fellow students, I enjoyed my work at the Centre.  The lectures were based on Tiktin’s analysis of the Soviet Union, which he found was not socialist or communist, and was destined to produce useless goods, because the command economy did not provide any means of communicating the needs or initiatives of the population to the producers.  It included lectures and seminars on the history of the Soviet bloc, economic and political theory (Marxist. of course -- Tiktin and the philosopher, Scott Miekle instituted a reading group to tackle Marx's Grundrisse, through which I came to understand more, I think, about the instabilities of  capitalism, and about the way thought progresses through consideration of opposites.  Well, it's obvious isn't it.)

A drawback of the  M.Phil course though, was in the rigidity of its opposites.  Challenges to Tiktin seemed to be taken as challenges to the existence of the Centre, rather than an attempt to advance the debate.  In the meantime, I had kept in touch with my fellow refugees from the Workers Revolutionary Party in London.  I had had an idea that the sought-after magazine of the anti-Stalinist left might transpire from a combination of unaffiliated Trotskyists and people like Tiktin,

I embarked on a dissertation on the general thesis of "The Inefficacy of the Political Party as a route for the fulfilment of the aims of the Left". Of course, the reason why I had chosen that topic was very personal, but I tried to prevent what I wrote sounding like a grudge-fest. Ralph Miliband, in his seminal 1960s work, Parliamentary Socialism, had done the groundwork.  He showed that the trappings of government almost inevitably had led the Labour Party to compromise its initial aims of a democratically run economy and society.  Ironically, in the Gordon Brown Labour government of the early 21st-century, his sons David and Ed proved his point.  The argument can be extended historically, and internationally, focusing amongst others on Die Grünen.  (A useful aspect of my course was to learn an East European language.  I chose German, of which I had, and still have despite my best efforts, only a smattering.) 

My encounter with an initially Marxist group, becoming dominated by one charismatic individual and deteriorating internally into a Stalinist clique, has been almost inevitably and always experienced in various forms by radical political parties and apocalyptic groups. Millennarian sects from the self-flagellants of the middle ages, and the 18th-century Millerites, through to the 20th-century Jones and Waco cults have displayed similar phenomena to the Healy cult, with its threatening internal regime and (variably dated) predictions of the Apocalypse.

Ian McEwan, in his Saturday May 31, 2008 Guardian essay, ‘The Day of Judgment’, draws attention to the unending possibility of revising what seem like unshakable predictions of the apocalypse. Norman Cohn, in the Pursuit of the Millennium, referrig to the millennarian movements and leaders of the Middle Ages said.  "Already in the figure of the  eschatological leader  … there are combined, the phantastic images of the good father and the good son.  For on the one hand, the leader has -- … - all the attributes of an ideal father: he is perfectly wise, he is perfectly just, he protects the weak.  But on the other hand, he is also the son, whose task it is to transform the world. … his armies will be invariably and triumphantly victorious, his presence will make the earth yield prodigious crops, his reign will be an age of such perfect harmony as the old, corrupt world has never known. … Contemporary accounts of these messiahs of the poor, stress their eloquence. … But -- also exactly as in a typical paranoid fantasy -- opposite the armies of the Saints, and scarcely less powerful than their opposing hosts, each the negative of the other, are held together by a strange symmetrical pattern."

This opponent of the millenniarian leader was of course the Antichrist, replaced in the annals and scripture of the truly revolutionary party by other "revolutionary" sects that had introduced the bourgeois capitalist ideology of the enemy into the revolutionary movement. Despite their materialist Marxist provenance, the Socialist Labour League leaders (or should I say, leader) and similar prominent members of other Trotskyist sects, each regarded themselves as the embodiment (the Hegelian synthesis) of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party,  Lenin and Trotsky. Other "revisionist" sects were the equivalent of the Antichrist: the most deadly opponent, ranked higher than the capitalist enemy.

The post Bolshevik 20th-century revolutionary apocalyptic sects, such as the one that I had graciously honoured with my presence, indeed had something in common with millenniarian cults of previous centuries.  Even some of the most extreme, the mass movement of self-flagellants of the 13th century, imagined themselves doing penance to preserve the earth from famine and plague, and usher in an era of fruitfulness and abundance.  Socialist Labour League members  served a similar penance: haranguings in post-midnight "area committee" meetings; freezing to death supervising "Youff" football matches; pressure to sell treasured possessions; deprivation of family and social life; etc etc.

Cohn relates that the flagellant prophets, led by a Perugian hermit, had even selected a year of fulfillment, 1260, for the end of the Third Age, and the "dawning of the Age of the Holy Spirit”. Of course, the eschatological predictions of these millennarian movements did not come to pass, but as Cohn observes, the sects were not short of explanations as to what had gone wrong.  In just the same way, in my time Healy could always find a reason for the absence of a predicted general strike, financial collapse, revolution or war on the predicted day, month or year.

I landed back in London. Politically, I had become accustomed to treating Marxism as a philosophical base, but to disdain the sects based on Marxist internationals. Personally, I seem to have grown up. Even before I had left Glasgow, I had attended with Hillel and Ted one or two conferences of the Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE).  The people there were mostly but not exclusively academics, and with different histories on the left, but they traded ideas, rather than what I had been used to -- insults.  I felt a lot happier in this kind of environment.  In London, I came across the Socialist Society, whose leading members were Hilary Wainwright, Ralph Miliband, Guardian economics writer, John Palmer, Richard Kuper of Pluto Press and journalist Anthony Barnett  It again included all kinds of streams of thought to the left of the Labour Party.  Barnett, amongst others, sounded as if he was extremely thoughtful -- but then maybe he and they were.  We met in a room in County Hall, the seat of London government, just a stone's throw from Westminster, but appropriately enough, on the opposite side of the Thames.

I proposed that we should publish a newsletter.  It was agreed.  I called it Socialist Society. Its main authors, naturally enough, were Hilary Wainwright and her friends, many of them, such as Lynn Segal and Sheila Rowbotham, with whom she had published Beyond the Fragments, but I included articles from Ralph Miliband, and his generation.  Socialist Society was published and typeset on a shoestring.  I came across two journalists, Richard Reeve and Mike Parker, who had worked on the now defunct, but highly influential in its time Socialist/Anarchist magazine, the Leveller, who had carried off with them an IBM golf ball typesetter.  They called themselves Leveller Graphics and rented an office in a largely disused building on Acre Lane in Brixton.  That suited me: I could just drop down Brixton Hill and present them with the copy. 

For some reason (often as a result of Ms Wainwright's "absolutely essential " tweaks to the text) the plates had to be got ready for the printers at the very last minute.  But both Richard and I, happily unattached at that time, enjoyed typesetting and proofreading half the night.  Next day, I would send the plates over to our printers in the East End.  Shades, for me, of all-night sessions with a Gestettner copier producing leaflets for the Left Club at Bristol. Come to think of it,  I think Leveller Graphics was originally composed of three young journalists.  The third was a very attractive woman who had been Richard's girlfriend.  She clearly could not stand the p pressure.

The Socialist Society had a very nice little office at 9 Poland Street, a building owned by the Rowntree Trust.  The building was a warren of small offices, inhabited by lots of radical organisations -- not necessarily political, but important,  nevertheless to the makeup of the left in years to come; environmentalists, anti-militarists, and so on. 


On arrival in London, I had naturally veered south.  I suppose there was already some loose connection with Clapham.  The High Street, with its smelly butcher's shop, above which the petty tyrant Healy had his lair, held no attraction to me.  But the energetic, attractive, Alison, my friend Steve's ex-girlfriend, and the whimsical, clever, Mike, both of whom had helped me edit the dissident Workers News, lived there, not far away from my friends Finbarr and Maureen, who had fallen foul of the WRP, after building a sizeable, but fatally independent-minded branch in south London.  Finbarr's brother shared a flat with a fellow Guardian reader down at the Brixton end of Brixton Hill. The flat was wallpapered throughout with Steve Bell cartoons.  They had a spare room, so I lived there for a time. Unfortunately, I became a victim of the conspiratorial atmosphere surrounding left-wing sects.  My flatmate heard me talking on the phone to Mike, sizing up fantasy members of a fantasy editorial board of a fantasy left-wing magazine, in the same way as people mentally construct fantasy football teams.  The team did not include the flatmate.  I moved out, rented another room and determined to sell my house in Rotherham, and buy somewhere in Brixton Hill - I felt comfortable there: there was even a family history.  On a visit to my maternal grandmother in her care home in Bristol, she had told me, on gathering that I lived in Brixton, that she had used to live there -- in the then fashionable Effra Road. Moreover while I had been in Glasgow, Brixton had rioted, and of course, the anarchist Richard from Leveller Graphics had taken part.  But not Mike and Alison -- I mean, what kind of revolutionaries were they?, I had thought, safely in my Hillhead fastness.  But Brixton's revolutionary credentials had been sealed in conflict. 

In my last weeks in Glasgow, I had made friends with the ex-partner of my friend Martin.  She lived in Aberdeen.  I spent a weekend there with her, and although I felt rather cold that far north in Scotland, romance was in the air, but sadly, a romance which was held mostly in my imagination, and included many verses of Robert Burns.  After I had removed to London, we carried on the relationship with theatre visits and uncomfortable trysts in my single room.  One time, we met in Hexham, which I reckoned was half way between Aberdeen and Brixton.  It was an innovation for me to trudge along the open moorland surrounding Hadrian's Wall, and I had brief thoughts about moving to that area, with its easy access to Newcastle, once I had had enough of London.  But the lady was too serious a feminist for my taste, and I could never get on with her in bed; I told her face-to-face, when she was next in London, that I did not want to sleep with her.  She insisted that we went to bed together that night (and who can blame her: after all, she had travelled all the way from Aberdeen to see me); the relationship ended there.

My thoughts were never far though, from finding a new girlfriend.  Glasgow had been surprisingly lonely: the graduate life did not include very many available women.  CSE conferences, though, were a different matter: they afforded participants many opportunities to liaise in different ways.  At the first I attended, I kept meeting the eyes of a dark, attractively dressed young woman, probably like me in her 30s: during the end of conference party, I had taken a dance partner out to a balcony and was busily chatting her up, as you do, when out of the corner of my eye, I spied the intriguing dark young woman, turned, and again met her eyes.  But then she disappeared.  What might have happened to my life if I had taken up with that woman?  It was clearly a possibility.  Instead, I formed another uneasy relationship with my dance partner, who at least came from London.  That did not last long.  The streets of the capital astonished me: attractive young women abounded.  What I failed to realise, because I paid it no attention, was that most of them were a lot younger than I was, then at around 38 years old.  Unashamedly (I am quite ashamed now) I seduced a young Socialist Society recruit, and took her away for a weekend at a hotel on the south coast. But most of the time, I was involved with my first love, Left-wing publishing.

There was however, the small matter of earning my living.  There were two sides to that: I was a free agent: my Rotherham house was increasing in value all the time.  I had few expenses so I did not need to earn much of a salary.  Compared to most people of my generation, I was singularly lacking in ambition: all I wanted was to make some sort of significant impact in the socialist undergrowth, and to find a nice girlfriend to live with; but why did I not feel guilty about paying something towards the upkeep of Simon and Zoe?  I suppose the main reason was that nobody had asked me to do so.  Claire and her boyfriend were on TV salaries, and so they could provide for the children.  I think Claire might have felt guilty about leaving me on my own without the children.  Suffice it to say, that I found some copy-editing (initially books from Pluto Press, the publishers associated with New Left Review, and then others such as Sphere (an Imprint of Penguin Books).  My dilettante existence left no room for ambition.

I was however presented with an attractive business proposition by an old friend of mine and Claire’s from our Bristol days: the witty and attractive John Bird.  John had joined the WRP, but he was too much of a chancer to observe the disciplines of the cult.  In any conversation, he could always cap an anecdote with one from his own vast fund, dredged up from his chequered history, I subsequently learned, growing up in and out of a poverty stricken, but cheerful home in London, Borstal and jail.  Amongst several professions that John had tried, we always knew him as a printer. He contacted me in London, with an idea to publish postcards.  I was already an enthusiast, after I had been sent a daily Impressionist image by my sister Viv, when I was admitted to the Middlesex Hospital with an auto-immune intestinal condition.  John showed me some of the things that he had printed.  One I remember was just a short series of Turner prints.  (Of course, I didn't ask him how many of those he had sold.)

We negotiated a deal with Private Eye to print a postcard series of their irreverend front covers such as one with the naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a draft.  John knew something about copyright, and so we printed a series of Tennial illustrations from Alice in Wonderland.  John thought that it would be a nice Christmas present, if we did a bright pink folder including postcards, greetings cards, marks, wrapping paper and other stationery.  Of course, I should have said, " Why don't we keep to postcards for now?" but John had seen his main chance. My dad had some money, and so we got him involved in the company, with an investment of £2000.  I'm afraid he never saw any of that money again.  John had plenty of ideas (including some of dubious morality -- although the company had as yet very little income, John paid himself a considerable salary).  We printed a series of postcards for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition that year, and so we had quite a varied product to sell round the stationery shops.  But we didn't have enough.  After I had bought a ticket on the Underground to and from a really lovely shop somewhere south of Clapham Common, and sold £15 worth of cards, and gone somewhere else, maybe in Covent Garden and sold a few more, it did not make much of a dent in the costs of Apt Editions, which is what we called our company.  There was another problem.  Although he was full of ideas, John seemed too busy for the sales round.  I paid myself a few expenses, but before too long, we ran out of money.  For me, it was depressing.  I suspect that for John, at least, it provided an income -- the way out of a perennial problem.  We returned some of the cards to Private Eye, and some to the printer, to whom we owed the printing bill.  I learned a lesson; this did not prevent me from spending some very pleasant holidays with John.  His children and my children had some adventures climbing out of the window of a youth hostel on the Gower peninsular, and a bit of an education visiting Dylan Thomas's sometime home in Cardiff.

My daughter Zoe kept in touch with John's mum son, Paddy.  They have supported each other through their personal travails and their playwriting and filming careers respectively.  As I write, one of John's ideas has finally taken hold.  Somehow, he met Anita Roddick, founder of the body shop, and her husband Gordon, well-known for his entrepreneurship.  John was the ideal person to put into action ideas, conceived on the streets of New York, of a magazine, which could be sold by, and provide an income for, homeless people, who lived on the street.  John had lived on the streets himself, and knew how, possibly as a result of occasions in the WRP, but also from his own experience, to cut through people's blather, and get over the basic idea.  Added to which, he did have some experience in publishing.  The Big Issue was born.

One weekend, after a Socialist Society meeting, John Palmer collared me about building up the magazine into "something serious". I imagine he meant. 'a serious rival to Marxism Today'.  Foolishly, I took a figure that he mentioned -- raising thousands of pounds -- as an insult to the way that I ran Socialist Society.  A decade later, with the Socialist Society seemingly irrelevant after the collapse of the Soviet Union and with socialism on hardly anybody's agenda, a new magazine, roughly along the lines that I had wanted Socialist Society to follow, was proposed and with many thousands of pounds and some of the more well-heeled luminaries of the left, such as Harold Pinter on board, Red Pepper magazine was launched.  John Palmer had of course been correct; maybe he should have taken me more seriously.  I might even have contributed a few bob myself.

Other sources of personal income, such as paying the mortgage on my house at Craster Road by converting the ground floor into a flat and letting it out, are dealt with in my memoir, " Travels with MySelf".  However, I did as well have some friends as tenants with me in my little spare room on the half landing upstairs.  Notable among them was my friend, Richard, from Leveller Graphics, who needed somewhere to live after being thrown out of a house in which he was squatting on the edge of Brixton Hill.  We had some adventures, particularly some years later, in 1985, in the second Brixton riot.  I think Richard had found somewhere else to live in Brixton by then.  But I knew he would be involved.  I heard about the riot on the news, and with some trepidation, ventured out of the house.


The street that evening was unusually quiet.  I concluded that local citizens were either down in Brixton rioting, or keeping themselves to themselves.  However, there were some blue lights flashing at the end of our street.  Surely, the riots could not have extended up into the  relatively middle-class Brixton Hill?  I walked over, and found an upturned car ablaze, with a small crowd, police and fire engine in attendance.  Down in Brixton, there was a festival atmosphere.  Elated, I joined the crowd of mainly, but not exclusively, black young people congregating and, just as quickly, scattering as they chased police along Coldharbour Lane.  At least in Brixton, the tables had been turned.  I kept an eye out for Richard, but amidst the turmoil he was nowhere to be found.  It turned out that he had been arrested.  Subsequently, he went to court and was found not guilty on a charge which involved the picking up of a brick.  I wrote a poem about the experience which my fellow editors said I should publish in Interlink, the magazine which followed Socialist Society. I suppose it is buried somewhere in the stacks of the British Library.

Another tenant of my spare room was David Evans.  He is an expert on photomontage, and has published widely on its originator, Heartfield, and on using the technique to gain maximum political impact.  At the time, Peter Kennard, whose photomontage of a ballistic missile mounted atop Constable's Haywain was famous, was regularly featured in the Guardian newspaper.  I came across David in celebratory mood.  He stopped me on Acre Lane: "Hey, have you been in the new Tesco's (they had just opened a store in Brixton)?  You can get anything there. Come on!"  And he took me on a tour.  Over a coffee, he offered to create photomontage covers for Socialist Society.  Naturally, I accepted.  He did brilliant covers, but the problems of the magazine remained.  It was a newsletter, rather than something that could be circulated more widely. I didn't enquire about David's homelessness, when he appeared with baggage on my doorstep one day, but I liked him and the spare room was free, and so he moved in.  (What Zoe and Simon thought of the interesting selection of housemates that they found when they visited, I do not know; but the tenants in my part of the house were always good friends, and I had my sister Kate, who lived in Oxford, as a role model.  She always had an entertaining set of acquaintances, either staying in her house or sat round her kitchen table to amuse her visitors.)

David's stay in my little spare room ended ingloriously.  He fell in love with a French woman, who stayed in the room as well.  They were free to sit in my sitting room or kitchen, but instead they preferred to take a bottle of wine or two into their room and go to bed with them.  They enjoyed themselves immensely, but the whole scenario would always finish up with the two of them roaring drunk, gigglingly chasing each other around the house.  As far as I can remember, David used a publisher's advance on royalties for one of his books to put down a deposit on a house near Tesco's in his beloved Acre Lane, and, taking the hint from me, moved out of my house.

My friends Maureen and Finbarr (excommunicated from the WRP because they had built a successful south London branch.  Clearly, Gerry Healy felt threatened by members building up their own power base), lived nearby, in a big house in Streatham.  Maureen, a successful press photographer, had built a photography co-operative, and found capital funding for smart new premises in the centre of Brixton, and Finbarr had persisted with his career in the National Health Service and had become a consultant at St Thomas's Hospital.

These local friends introduced me to a group of ex WRP members, who met occasionally at a pub called the Windmill on the edge of Clapham Common.  There was gossip about other ex members who had formed this or that splinter group.  But also, we brought a considerable collection of minds to bear on the current political situation.  It was true that it looked quite grim nationally, with Thatcher preening herself after the Falklands War, and Ronald Reagan joining her in a reactionary neoconservative Atlantic alliance.  The prevailing pessimism was balanced, though, by our pessimistic prognosis for global capitalism, and optimism about the prospects for the left -- something that, I suppose, defined us as a group.

Maureen and Finbarr were fairly typical of ex-WRP members: they appeared to have learned to use their talents and maintain their professions.  I admired them.  Of course, there were the Redgraves, and others in a network of acting and TV professionals who were attracted from an often shallow milieu to an 'underground' movement that looked as if it had all the answers.  But because the 'party’ was predominantly middle-class, there were quite a few academics, teachers, welfare and media workers, who stayed in those professions, and unlike me, became expert and prospered.  John Bird (Birdie to his friends), whom Gerry Healy almost certainly had called a "fucking middle-class idealist individualist" was undoubtedly a recruit, by a circuitous route, to the same middle-class.

What, in contrast to my friends, had I learned from my time as easy meat for Healy's consumption of the guilt-stricken, orphan-like middle classes? And how does this previous experience connect with my existential attitude to life once I had been diagnosed with MS?

For a start, I had no profession on which to fall back, apart from, by then, a certain skill as an editor, arrived at almost by chance by bringing together those of my friends whose ideas coincided with my own. Thinking back, my urge to publicise was developed in the student's film club and protest poster design at Bristol; appreciation of good writing derived from avidly consumed works of Graham Greene, Camus, John Le Carré and of course Trotsky, Marx and Engels. So, as I have explained in Travels with MySelf, with a little eventual straight-talking from my new partner Tio. I buckled down to paid work as a journalist.

None of this explains, though, how this prequel connects with my existential approach to MS in Travels with MySelf. Maybe, if you read into the latter, you will find in my account of my interviews with the persistent Ms X, the counsellor at the Enablement Centre, you will find a clue to the subsequent reaction to the taunts of bullies in both the need to join the Healy Cult as well as my easy-going reaction to confronting the hurdles constituted by MS.