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Eric Shackle Writes: World's Oldest Columnist Writes For Open Writing

Australian Eric Shackle, whose well-crafted words regularly feature in this magazine, writes about another of our columnist, Henry Jackson of London.

Eric is a mere lad of 89. Henry, is 95.

Henry and Eric are a long way from hanging up their keyboards.

As our esteemed editor observed last week, London's Henry Jackson (95), whose sparkling column graces this journal every Saturday, is probably the world's oldest columnist.

Unless another even older claimant bobs up, he'll have succeeded Rose Hacker (101) to the title. Rose, a socialist, sex educator, writer and social justice campaigner, died on February 4.

"Mrs Hacker had her first column published [in the Camden New Journal] in September 2006 - when she was 100," said a BBC report http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/7227551.stm

The Camden newspaper is continuing to publish her articles: http://www.thecnj.co.uk/camden/rose_hacker.html

Henry has been in the newspaper trade all his life, starting as a junior reporter on a local newspaper, then working for Odhams Press, the Associated Press of America, the Daily and Overseas Mail, the Sunday Dispatch and The Observer. He launched his own motoring magazine in 1953 and then added more titles to what became the Bugle Press Group.

"Henry's entertaining mixture of news and memories, prose and poetry, makes for one of the best reads in any week," says Open Writing's editor Peter Hinchliffe, who often writes feature stories about life in Britain for OhmyNews, http://english.ohmynews.com/index.asp the world's leading citizen reporters' journal, published in Seoul, South Korea.

Henry and Peter have given me permission to quote these extracts from three recent columns in a series of candid confessions headed "Looking Back: The Women in My Life":

I was just 23 and working hard five days a week at a job I loved, and to earn more money I took an extra Saturday job on the Sunday Dispatch newspaper. Eileen had her clients and most evenings I would bring her home from somewhere in Chelsea or Kensington. Later on I taught her how to drive and she drove me to work then used the car during the day and brought me home at night.

I was a total sex novice and Eileen was an accomplished teacher. But I was too young and unpractised in the complex art of love making and never achieved sexual equality with her and this caused me great sorrow...

I changed jobs twice quickly on my way up the publishing ladder, each time for more salary, and when the war came I had three jobs at the same time---as a sub editor on the Daily Mail, as a sub editor on the Sunday Dispatch, and as assistant to the Editor of the Overseas Daily Mail. I earned a lot of money and worked seven days a week.

I also changed cars and bought a family car, a Morris saloon, that took us all over the country on holidays. And after I crashed it in the wartime blackout at 1a.m. on my way home from the Daily Mail I bought a Fiat 500 which ran on a whisper of fuel.

Then I left my rented house in Hampstead Garden Suburb and bought a three bedroom house for £16,000 in Mill Hill, on the northern outskirts of London, just when London became a target for German bombers. I built a concrete bomb shelter in the garden and continued on the Daily Mail until I received a call to join the Navy.

Eileen drove me to Paddington Station and I took a train to Torpoint in Cornwall and joined HMS Raleigh, a Royal Navy training camp, as an Ordinary Seaman. My pay was a pitiful 24 shillings and sixpence a week, one fifteenth of my previous weekly earnings. While at Torpoint the camp was bombed by German planes and during the attack one bomb demolished the shelter next to mine and killed all 46 occupants.

From Torpoint I was moved to HMS Raleigh, the Navy barracks at Chatham, then to HMS Wildfire training centre at Sheerness and finally to HMS Auricula, a Flower Class corvette engaged in Atlantic convoys and based in Liverpool.

The war at sea was at its peak and leave was rare but Eileen drove up to Liverpool once to spend the night with me at the aristocratic Adelphi Hotel where they did not like letting rooms to ordinary seamen but the manager changed his mind when he discovered that I was a friend of the owner of the world famous Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

[Fast forward nine years.] The year 1944 was an important year for me. I had returned home after two-and-a-half years abroad in the Royal Navy and the war at sea was still raging. I came home to find my wife living in my house with a Canadian soldier and she refused to give him up.

I was serving in a Fleet minesweeper at the time and the Normandy invasion had just begun. After a minor scuffle with a German mine off Arromanches we came in for repairs at the Royal Albert Dock in London and I managed to scrape some leave. I was 32, angry with the war, angry with my wife, lonely and bitter. My life had fallen to pieces.

The latest instalment of this real-life soap opera begins:

Last week I described my return from overseas during the War to find my wife living in my house with a Canadian soldier so I telephoned Joan, a former neighbour.

I obtained Joan’s number from the new occupants of her house and she gave me such a warm welcome that I went round to see her. The shapely Joan was still an attractive blonde but she had put on a pound or two and she wore a flowery apron that made her look exactly like her mother.

From the bottom of a cupboard she produced a bottle of wine and we drank to Old Times. Then she produced another bottle of wine and we drank to More Old Times. Then the outlook became very misty and there was no outlook and I woke up in bed with Joan. We were both naked....

To find out what happened next, you'll have to read Henry's entertaining column in last week's Open Writing.


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