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London Letter: Yards Of French Bread

…The train was crowded with trippers and as soon as we got under way the mothers opened their shopping bags and brought out the food---ham, sausage, pickles, big chunks of chicken and yards of French bread. They insisted on feeding me, too….

Henry Jackson recalls a solo trip to France in 1932.

Ninety-five-year old Henry brings us the latest news from London, memories of steamy wartime encounters with shapely, blonde Joan, a poem….and much more besides.

Ken Livingstone, who is running for election as Lord Mayor of London for the third term, opened his campaign with promises of better transport, more affordable housing and more police.
Comment: But opinion polls reveal that Boris Johnson, the Conservative candidate, is slightly ahead in popular feeling.


The National Portrait Gallery opened an exhibition of brilliant women of the 18th Century who became known as “The Bluestockings”.
Comment: They were philosophers, artists and historians.


The Queen opened Heathrow’s Terminal Five and described it as “A 21st Century gateway to Britain”. The terminal cost £4.3bn and begins operating next week and will offer extra passenger capacity but no more flights.
Comment: The complex offers 50 new aircraft stands.


Thousands of anti-war protesters marched in London to mark the 5th anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.
Comment: More marched in Glasgow.


HMS Belfast, the battle tested cruiser that has become a London landmark in the River Thames, celebrated its 70th birthday.
Comment: Former shipmates held a party on board.


A 19-year-old youth was shot dead in Stockwell, South London. He is the ninth teenager to be murdered this year.


A man in his 50’s died when his bungalow in Hillingdon, West London, collapsed during renovation works.


Poems for Posterity

by Henry Jackson

It rained soft and long last night,
I knew when I opened the window
And felt the caress of the dawn
Cling to my face like mist
It would add to the day’s delight,
Then I wandered into the garden
And lifted the drooping blooms
To release the tears that softened
The anger of the red hot sun,
They clung to me soft and limp
Weary of the long dark night
After a fiery day of fun,
Beauty once more shone through,
Although it is a mystery,
It reminded me of the kiss Of a woman in love
Reluctant to accept the truth
And join the march of history;
Soft petals floated down
To mingle with the wet black soil,
It gave me a fragrant glimpse
How it will all end
After this long trek and toil.
--August 6 1999


London Zoo has reopened its renovated bird enclosure that now houses some of the world’s most beautiful and rare birds, including 200 tropical birds. It includes the UKs only collection of hummingbirds and Socorro doves, a species extinct in the wild.
Comment: The work cost £2.5m.


The Government has announced a £17m scheme to help the homeless in London.


Looking Back
The Women in My Life---Joan (2)

(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. I could not understand what had happened and went back to sleep. I must have slept half way round the clock and when the fog in my head cleared it was next morning and I could smell breakfast.

It was an old-fashioned breakfast and we ate it in an old-fashioned way wearing slippers and bulky dressing gowns that covered our naked bodies.
Joan was a good and generous cook and there was enough food for four people. The toast, marmalade and the coffee were good, too.

We ate in silence which was a relief because I did not know what to say. Then she got up, walked round the table and buried my head in her bosom. It was a pleasant, warm and friendly act that I could recall only vaguely and I did not try to move.

“You are a wonderful man,’’ Joan breathed closing her eyes and clutching me ever closer. “You are the best lover in the world”—except she used another word for “lover”---“I came six times and I thought it would never stop. It never happened to me before---just wonderful.’’

I was silent because I could not understand why, if it was so memorable,
I could not remember my part in it. I was puzzled and tired and went back to sleep again.

It was early evening before I finally came to my senses. Joan was up but still wearing a dressing gown. Her hair had been fluffed up to her satisfaction and she was beaming with love and happiness.

“I’ve just run a bath,’’ she whispered. “It’s just what you need.’’ She led me to an old fashioned bath the size of a small swimming pool that was dominated by a shining, steaming monster with copper pipes and was making a noise I once heard coming from hippos at The Zoo.

‘’Get in and relax,’’ she said. I obeyed but turned away, dropped my bathrobe and hastily lowered myself into the water. It was nearly boiling hot but I sank down with an unexplainable feeling of modesty.

“Silly boy, especially after last night,’’ laughed Joan. “I know what you look like and I am glad because I always wondered what you looked like without any clothes”.’’

I was glad that there was so much steam in the bathroom.

Joan did no hesitate. She turned towards me and slowly and deliberately undid the cord of her dressing gown, let it drop to the floor and faced me smiling. Then she held on to the side of the bath and quietly dipped a toe into the water. She quickly withdrew it with a cry of pain and tried the water with the other foot. It took several long unhurried minutes but this time there was no complaint and she hoisted one leg over the side of the bath, took the weight and then stood up and her closest point to me was two inches from my face.

“I am the happiest woman in the world,’’ she beamed.

“It’s nice to be happy,’’ I assured her but my normal flow of words stuck in my throat. We stayed there for an hour while the heat evaporated, the air cleared, and I tired of lying still in the water. Worst of all I could find nothing to say.

But Joan could not stop talking. She got out and dressed and then cooked a large meal, the sort of meal my mother gave me when I was a little boy. And she took my clothes and pressed them until they looked like new, washed and ironed my shirts and my handkerchiefs came back stiff with starch. In between she lavished her love on me with words of gratitude and long, lingering, suffocating kisses.

I stayed with her the whole of my week’s leave. We never went anywhere and I never met her children. They had been staying with her mother for a week and when I arrived she telephoned her mother and arranged for them to stay another week.

When I Ieft she was in tears and begged me to return and I came back on the infrequent intervals that the war allowed me to have a break.

My visits became routine. Sex, food and wine, in that order of need, took up most of the time. I brought back bottles of whisky and gin, chocolate and cans of Spam that we had to overflowing in the ship. And I talked about the Atlantic, Gibraltar, Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Seychelles, The Maldives and India and how men died easily. I even explained what it was like to be blown up by a mine at Madagascar. All the time she listened with wide open eyes, told me not to worry and to relax. And to get back into bed.

I had no resistance and did so but was ashamed because there was no love in my heart, only hatred and despair about Eileen and the war, and I wanted the whole world to suffer with me.

Months later after Hitler had been overthrown and the Japanese surrendered but mines were still sinking ships and killing people my ship was in Aberdeen and I received a letter from her.

“My darling, I have just come out of hospital,’’ she wrote. “I had a miscarriage and it was a little girl and you told me that you always wanted a little girl. I cried and cried for a whole week. I didn’t want to worry you but I thought you would like to know what happened, I am very sorry that I could not give you a little daughter,

“I have just heard that George is coming home next week. Goodbye, my darling. Think of me sometimes. I will love you for ever. Don’t panic and don’t phone.’’

I never saw her again.


Today in History

44BC. Julius Caesar, dictator of Rome, was stabbed to death in the Senate House.
461AD. St Patrick, Bishop and Apostle of Ireland, died in Downpatrick.
1852. Wells Fargo began their shipping and transport business.
1967. The supertanker Torrey Canyon ran aground on the Cornish coast spilling 150,000 gallons of crude oil.


Famous quotes

Love is never lost. If not reciprocated it will flow back and soften and purify the heart---Washington Irving.

There is love, of course, then there is life, its enemy—Jean Anouilh.



Easter reminds me of when I went to Paris on my own in 1932. I was on the verge of 21 but could not get a passport of my own until I was 21 so I filled in the application adding a year to my age. Armed with this illegal fraud I went by train from Charing Cross to Folkestone, crossed by ferry and got the train to Paris from Boulogne. Cossing Boulogne took a long time because we went through all the inner parts of the city behind a guard with a red flag.

The train was crowded with trippers and as soon as we got under way the mothers opened their shopping bags and brought out the food---ham, sausage, pickles, big chunks of chicken and yards of French bread. They insisted on feeding me, too.

But travel Third Class was uncomfortable because the seats were plain wood with no cushions.

It was very early morning in Paris and I had to wait two hours before I clocked in at my hotel in the Rue Cimarosa near the Arc de Triumph. A friend had given me the name of the hotel because her son went to Brighton College with the son of her Paris friend. And I had a very pleasant stay there because they wanted to prove their friendship and every morning served an enormous breakfast and a list of places for me to see.

I had my own ideas on sightseeing and after the Louvre Museum, Sacre Coeur Cathedral, the Madeleine (the fashionable church with no windows) and Versailles I made an unforgettable visit to the Folies Bergere where all my boyish fantasies were brought to life. I have a permanent reminder of this trip. When I look at my current passport it gives my date of birth as June 7 1911. It should be 1912, of course.

Good Friday reminds me that on Good Friday 1942 my ship HMS Auricula arrived in Cape Town on the way to the invasion of Madagascar. We found huge casks filled with grapes on every street corner on offer free because the war had stopped the export of wine.

Helping those in need—the infirm, the sick and the old.

Twice a week I attend a Day Care clinic in the London Borough of Newham where a dedicated team of carers bring help and comfort for the day to those in need. This is a snapshot of what happened on Tuesday.

After tea and toast on arrival I joined a lively discussion group and then seven others for a midday meal in a large, bright, sunlit room. Four of them were men including one West Indian in a wheelchair, and three were women including two from Nigeria. The white woman was very overweight and relieved the pain in her legs by struggling to her feet frequently and had to seek assistance to perform this manoeuvre. Her huge handbag was beneath the chair and she retrieved it several times by fishing for it with the hooked handle of her walking stick. Then she went slowly through the contents, counted the money in her purse, and put it back again. Her memory is faulty and she offered to pay for her meal a second time after paying for it ten minutes before.

The black lady on my left fell asleep frequently and I noticed that she had enormous gold earrings and her left hand had five large gold rings. She did not say a word.

The West Indian in the wheelchair was a lively conversationalist and commented on everything from politics to the food. One of the men opposite me was the best dressed man in the room with a beautiful striped shirt and a striped tie. The second black lady had poor hearing and was locked into silence by her infirmity.

The menu was Fish & Chips with Yorkshire Pudding (Yes, it’s true) and Baked Beans. I never eat Baked Beans because I practically lived on them in the Navy.

After the meal tea or coffee was served and two of the men shovelled several spoons of sugar into their teacups, gulped down the contents and asked for a refill. Then Hot Cross buns were served and one of the men who is almost doubled up with a permanent stoop ate three.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by a noisy Quiz. And as I was waiting to leave a smiling man who told me previously that he had served in the Navy at the same time as me stopped for a chat and asked me if I had ever been to Dakar in West Africa and we exchanged reminiscences. He was in a wheelchair as he has lost both legs.


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