Second chance

How often do you fail at something important, and get a second chance?  As previously recounted in Useless Information, when I was a postgrad at Queen’s, back in 1983, I was picked for the University Challenge team. I've always been a fan of the show and I was fortunate to (still) be at college when…

Welcoming refugees

What have you done in the last 10 days? I shall summarise my activities - more for my benefit than yours. On Sunday 28 April I spent the entire day driving home to London from France. The following day was dedicated to unloading the car and washing clothes, sheets and pillowcases. On Tuesday I carried…

The Cockleshell Heroes II

Last week I briefly mentioned the events that followed Operation Frankton, promising to set them in the context of rural Charente. Put briefly, Operation Frankton was a commando raid on the port of Bordeaux in early December 1942, carried out by a small unit of Royal Marines. Six folding kayaks were transported to the Gironde…

The Cockleshell Heroes I

Many people will have seen the film about this daring Royal Marine Commando raid on German naval vessels in the Gironde in 1942. Of the dozen brave men who took part in Operation Frankton only two escaped with their lives (eventually making their way home via Spain and Gibraltar). It so happens that they passed…

Arriving in León

Spain in 1975 was very different from England and quite different from what it has become today. I felt it, as much as saw it, as soon as I got off the plane. Of course it was hot and dusty. Policemen carried machine-guns, and there seemed to be a lot of them about. There were…

Portuguese wrestling

I was all ready to start at Queen's College to read Modern Languages. The only problem was, I wasn't. I was to be billeted in the famous Florey Building Wasn't at all ready, that is. I'd done Spanish at A Level, but I needed a second tongue to go with it. I could not bear…

What’s for tea?

We sat at long tables, arranged by house. The housemaster sat at the head of the table, with the senior boys around him. They dished out bangers, mash and beans, or connective-tissue stew with colourless cabbage and crumbly over-boiled spuds. Or mince, or generic white fish in white gunge with tasteless white mash and cabbage…

Association with football

Grampa Hugh Wight was always smiling. I have a photo of him as a goalkeeper with his local amateur team, in the ubiquitous jersey and cap. My grandparents lived in King’s Park, Glasgow, less than a mile from Hampden Park, where cup finals and international fixtures were held. At one time it was the biggest…

Surabaya Johnny

In 1961, at the age of six, I entered the English school system for the first time. No-one in our family had ever lived in England before. I had a generally happy time at Overchurch, a popular and progressive state primary around the corner from our house in Upton. My new classmates said I talked…