As the Lovin’ Spoonful said: ‘What a day for a daydream’ except that this was no daydream, this was stark reality as I stepped into the shower in my tiny bed and breakfast room in Shepherd’s Bush Road on Saturday morning, 18th October last. The stark reality buzzing like a rusted chain-saw in my head was the fact that I had the mother of all headaches after a feast of generously poured Guinness with my friend Malcolm Garrard the night before in the ‘Coach & Horses’ in Greek Street, Soho (think Peter Cook, Richard Ingrams and Peter O’Toole’s ‘Geoffrey Barnard Is Unwell’ and you will have a general idea of how I spent Friday afternoon/night)
You might as well throw into the melting pot the legendary ex-owner of the ‘Coach & Horses’ one Norman Balon (“I don’t care what film you say you were in, you’re barred you bastard !”) – Norman, the rudest landlord in Britain. Sadly, Norman Balon though he is still alive in Golders Green and very likely barking rudities at taxi drivers and fruit stall owners, sadly, Norman no longer presides with his caustic tongue behind the cigarette stained counter of the ‘Coach & Horses’ where people like Peter Cook, Willie Rushton and Richard Ingrams practically edited the satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ from their drink stained tables and ably keeping precious art work by Gerald Scarfe away from pools of spilled brown ale. But the pub is still there and there are new characters now who are a lot more mellow than their predecessors. It’s a great friendly place where you can start up a conversation with anyone. A friend of mine has it now, a lovely man with a ‘thang’ for rugby, called Alastair Goach who has done his best to preserve the original den.
And so to the headache and the preferred cold shower. The cold shower really does work because for a few precious minutes you forget about the Formula One engine exploding in your head and you start thinking about the shivering body. And there on my bedside table was the empty pint glass laughing its head off at me. The glass I had deliberately placed near my bed to remind me when I staggered in late on Friday night to pour three pints of water so that in sleep amid dreams of Albion and Kelmscott Gardens, my over-the-top intake of alcohol would float on the received water and I would not dehydrate. Alas, most people reading this will agree that the best laid plans made sober do not always equate when out of one’s proverbial tree. I’ve tried the water torture many a time and it works. You make up feeling a little groggy with a tight stomach but there is no dehydration and you do not have the mother of all hangovers.
But mother of all hangovers or not, I was on my way to meet a man I hadn’t seen since 1963. I make that forty five years. We hadn’t even spoken on the phone for that would spoil things. I should remember him well. He was a sprightly young lad who lived around the corner from the old Kelmscott Gardens on Askew Road at the Goldhawk Road end and he hailed from Aschurch Park Villas but spent most of his time playing football with the Kelmscott crowd. I would’ve been just a little older than most of my peers at the time in the old Kelmscott at 17 years old and this man would’ve been around twelve but I remember him distinctly and that’ll come later.
As arranged, I walked up Shepherd’s Bush Road and approached the Green. Shepherd’s Bush Green, centre of the universe where I have a favourite seat and on my visits to London, I sit here and watch life drive by, walk by, cycle by and I look across busy Uxbridge Road to number 154 where in August 1960, my working life started in the post room of the London Electricity Board. I have lived in Cork now since 1968 with wife Maura, three in family and three grand children but if I could wave a magic wand the world would begin on the 1st January 1960 and God would create a park bench. Not that I am unhappy with my lot, I adore my wife and family and love Cork but I will never forget how Kelmscott Gardens and Shepherd’s Bush affected me as a young lad with hay practically sticking out of my shoes and a broad Cork accent.
The head had cleared a little as I got up from the bench on the Green and headed down Uxbridge Road towards the Conningham Arms. There were a lot of people about as pubs in the area began to fill up prior to the QPR game against Nottingham Forest. I found the Conningham Arms on my left and entered a little nervous and there he was. There he was as if life itself had been more than kind to him. There was Bernard ‘Kerrins’ Lambert, although it must be said he looked a little older than twelve, or fifteen, the last time I saw him. He was sitting alone and recognised me instantly (well, of course, I have been featured on multiple web sites and also appeared in ‘The Guardian’ !) but none of that would have mattered because Bernard would have known me anyway. We hugged and both found the strange reunion a little embarrassing. As yet, we only had two things in common: Rangers and Kelmscott Gardens, though it is an exaggeration to say ‘Rangers’ on my part for despite the fact that a ticket was very kindly bought for me by Steve Russell, I am not exactly a ‘Rangers’ supporter. I follow a team in North London but I don’t think that makes me any the less from Kelmscott Gardens or any the less of who I think I am.
Within two or three minutes you could not get a word in between us as my head got a little better and Bernard brought me back through the years. If I thought or considered for a moment that I am something of a ‘Memory Man’ than I have to concede and say that it is Bernard Lambert who is the real ‘Memory Man’. His knowledge of Shepherd’s Bush and beyond is staggering as those that know him will testify. We were soon joined by the second member of the Kelmscott Gang, one Colin Woodley who lived across from our flat at 22. Colin lived in number 60 and as soon as he entered the pub the forty five years myself and Bernard had been talking about went nowhere.
It was like I hadn’t seen Colin for ten years. He sat next to us and the years became shorter the more we talked about stuff we had never forgotten. Chris Covill (R.I.P) of number 15, the flat below mine and letting off bangers all over Kelmscott at the ungodly hour of ten o’clock at night. Mr Foxhall the long suffering Kelmscott caretaker who would go round late in the evening knocking on doors enquiring which young delinquent had let off stink bombs with a heavy duty radon in the public lift. We’d usually be threatened with three weeks in the Remand Home down the Goldhawk Road. It was such innocent fun and long before youngsters idea of fun was stealing a car or knocking some old geezer over the head with a milk bottle…now that kind of ‘fun’ has become as obsolete as our bangers and stink bombs.
I hadn’t seen my old friend Colin Woodley since 1963 and he hadn’t changed very much. It’s amazing how the soft tone of a voice and a particular mannerism brings everything back. I found myself just looking at him, speechless and inside I just thanked God that despite all the years, some of which can be unkind and cruel to many of us, that myself, Bernie and Colin were still above ground to talk about the happiest and most innocent days of our lives. Being there for those few precious hours before the game at Loftus Road (and despite my head coming around slowly) seemed to be the rightest part of the world to be. We were soon joined by Linda Jennings with her partner and daughter. Now I had never met Linda before but between us there is a massive connection and one that is very poignant in my history. When Steve Russell posted the first part of my story ‘Out Of My Brain In Shepherd’s Bush Market’, Linda was reading the piece and suddenly a name jumped out of the page…my cousin Joey’s wife Sheila Lamb ! To get this into perspective, it was my cousin Joey Wagner who married Sheila Lamb of Masbro Road, Brook Green, who told me I could see my first ever live band around the corner in Faroe Road off Blythe Road in the summer of 1962. I went to the place called ‘Bosleys’ and that’s where I saw ‘The Detours’ and met Pete Townshend for the first time. It turns out that Linda Jennings is the niece of Sheila Lamb, her dad Derek is Sheila’s brother.
When I read Linda’s original post with this information, I was absolutely gobsmacked. So Linda Jennings walked into the ‘Conningham Arms’ to the table immediate left and once introduced, we hugged. It was amazing that on my left is Bernard Lambert, next to me is Colin Woodley and across the table is Linda Jennings ! It’s a wonder we didn’t miss the game, there was so much to talk about. Just when I thought the situation couldn’t be topped, it was. A tall geezer looked around at us from the door then stuck his hand out in my direction and said, “Jack, Steve Russell mate !”
About the images
(1) Regarding the letter from the London Electricity Board, 154 Uxbridge Road, Shepherd’s Bush, offering me the job. They sent the letter out on a Thursday, it was delivered to my Aunt & Uncle, Carrie & John Sears at 22 Kelmscott Gardens, Askew Road, the next day Friday telling me to report at 9am Monday morning. How traditional, nowadays you’d be given a month to think about taking up the position offered.
(2) Shows my cousin Joey Wagner with my younger brother Michael and my Uncle John in the background, doing the usual Sunday morning chore of working on his Alpine (I think) open top sports car. The car would be running perfectly but Sunday mornings was for ‘fixing’ the car. ‘The maxim, ‘if it’s not broke don’t fix it’ comes to mind.
(3) A very young Jackie Lyons was taken to Trafalgar Square the first week I arrived, back in August 1960 by my cousin Janice
(4 right) This is my cousin Janice, same age, long legs, long hair and big into Elvis.
(Second Part to follow soon)
‘Irish Jack’ Lyons