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Happy in Bateman Street

So now it's 1955/6, I'm living in a Cambridge bed-sit with new wife Joan and newer baby baby Karen. I have a job - five  pounds ten shillings a week builders merchant warehouseman. I walk to work, suited, collared and tied  in all weathers, dreaming of becoming a writer or, in observing the Jaguars and sports cars passing along Cherryhinton Road, perhaps even a businessman. Whatever, we're on our way!

That Christmas we had NHS milk and orange juice for our baby girl and us and a christmas cake from father and a pair of shot feathered pigeons from my sister's husband Mick. That was it - five long days before my next payday. No money for cigarettes. No radio. But looking back it didn't seem too difficult and still we at no time felt ourselves impoverished. Our off-work time was spent pushing the pram about Cambridge's parks and gardens and reading books from the library. That's when I discovered my lifetime passion for Ernest Hemingway. I have a clear memory of sitting up in bed reading the final pages of For Whom The Bell Tolls , absolutely astonished at the emotional power of the man's condensed writing.

But soon enough came the implosion. Joan had unfortunately allowed a joint of ham to boil dry in our  landlady's saucepan. Much smoke, panic, anger and confusion. When I got home from work we're on the road again, destination unknown, everything we owned trundling along in that lovely new Silver Cross

Bateman Street was and still is a long terrace of three storied houses with basements, mostly given over to flats or bedsits for American Air Force families. Here was our next home, starting off with a basement flat, then one on the ground floor. I think we progressed to the top floor but cannot be sure. However I so vividly remember our neighbours, USAAF airman Richard Lilley, a 20 years old backwoodsman from Washington State and wife Beaulah with and their three children (one a year!).

I could base several novels on our next three years. Or several chapters in my autobiography. But sufficient to say here that Richard and I and Beaulah and Joan became close friends. Richard loved, in descending order: guns of all kinds, his racketty old Dodge, Hank Williams, and rambling on the lookout through the East Anglian countryside. We became Saturday night poachers and Sunday lunch pheasant eaters. I never knew and still do not understand how a man could move so silently through dense, pitch black forestry.

Meanwhile I secured my very first job promotions - from A W Morlins' warehouse to A W Morlins' trade counter then to junior buyer in the office. The men in the warehouse used to look up to me at my first floor desk near the window singing 'The working class can't kiss my arse, I've got an office job at last.'. They meant no unpleasantness. They knew I was and would remain one of them. One of everybody.

I could go on to tell you about my near death experience on the river Cam, about seeing Richard shoot a swan in full flight - with bow and arrow! - and about how awful it tasted, about smart young salesmen trying to sell stuff to me and watching them drive off in their company cars, me thinking, 'I could be doing that; and oh yes, I could be doing with that Morris Minor', about Richard's repatriation and his scheme to suck gold out of the mud at the base of a certain waterfall in the Cascade mountains; 'Hey, Bryan. Why don't you guys come out and partner up? Then about Joan becoming pregnant again, inspiring me to begin applying for salesman jobs as advertised in the Telegraph.

Good times. Happy times. Enough for now ...

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First of the many - Me and Billy McGhee (alias Dee Islip)

First of the many - Me and Billy McGhee (alias Dee Islip)
Photograph courtesy of Colin Robertson

How it all started...

Our packaging business was based in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. On the 11th of September 2001, in a hotel bar, I watched the fall of the twin towers.

Three days later I met my wife, Dee, at Heathrow. We made out way north to a long planned holiday in the north west Highlands of Scotland.

By the end of that holiday our decisions were all made; we would close up our Middle East operations. I would come home to Winchester and in due course we would move up to Wester-Ross.

All my life I had played around with painting pictures and with writing verse and fiction. Now I would do this for our living, and in a place where you only had to lift your eyes to lift your mind.

In September 2002 we moved north; we had come home.

What you see here and at Pictures and Poems is some of the result thus far.

'Come on along o' me, for the best is yet to be.'