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London Letter: Blown Up By A Mine

...The date May 4 is printed in heavy type on my brain. Whatever else I may forget I always remember May 4. Why? Because on May 4 1942 I was blown up by a mine during the invasion of Diego Suarez in Madagascar where the Vichy French were allowing Japanese submarines to rest and refuel and attack British convoys on their way to Suez where Montgomery was building up a force to repel Rommel’s Army. I was serving in a minesweeper, HMS Auricula, and we hit a mine as we led the invasion force to the landing beach at Antisirane...

Ninety-five-year-old Henry Jackson, Britain's oldest columnist, brings another dramatic mixture of news, autobiography, poetry and history.

Boris Pfeffel Johnson, aged 43, Conservative MP for Henley, was elected the new Lord Mayor of London. He is a graduate of Oxford University and the former editor of Spectator Magazine. He is married with four children and was born in New York. He replaces Ken Livingstone, who held the post for eight years, and was a former member of the Communist Party.


Edward Pitkin, aged 58, of Enfield, North London, has been informed officially that he will not face prosecution following the fatal stabbing of his neighbour, 32-year-old Mark Woods, who tried to break into his home next door by mistake after a 12 hour binge on drink and drugs. Mr Pitkin, after hearing a noise, thought it was a burglar, grabbed a kitchen knife and ran downstairs to defend himself believing it to be a thief. There was a scuffle and Mr Woods was stabbed in the chest.

The Crown Prosecution stated that there was no proof that Mr Pitkin had acted unlawfully and was entitled to use reasonable force in self defence.

Other crime news:

A 26-year-old man was found critically ill with stab wounds near the Manjaros night club in Holloway Road, North London. Another man believed to be in his early 20s was also found with stab wounds but they are not thought to be critical.

Wel Ma, aged 36, of no fixed abode, was charged with murder following the fatal stabbing of a 33-year old man in the grounds of Whipps Cross Hospital in East London.

A man aged 44 has died from stab wounds after being attacked in a car park in Neasden, north-west London. A man and a woman who live nearby were detained for questioning but the woman was later released.

Three Rumanian brothers from South Norwood, South London, who beat up and tied a man to his bed during a robbery and left him to die were jailed for life.

A man aged 23 was stabbed several times while walking past a queue at 11pm in George Street, Croydon, South London. The attack was carried out by a hooded man who was waiting in the line. It was seen by hundreds of people waiting to buy a new release computer game. After treatment in hospital the injured man was allowed to go home.


A new 420-seat concert hall is to open in London on October 1 in King’s Place, York Way, part of the extension to the new St Pancras Station. The 26,000 sq metre building will have a sculpture hall and studios, a second performance hall, and seven floors of office space to accommodate 3,000 workers. Network Rail and The Guardian newspaper will make it their headquarters. The concert hall will open with a programme of 100 musical events.


Dr Leslie Howard, of Norbury, South London, an Australian world-wide concert pianist, was banned from driving for three years following an incident when his Mercedes car was involved in a minor shunt with a Toyota driven by Mr Titlayo Aleshe. An argument resulted and when Mr Aleshe got out of his car Howard lost his temper and drove forward several yards with him hanging on to the bonnet. He was injured and taken to hospital.


Robert Kennedy, aged 17, who is in danger of going blind due to an inherited eye disorder, has undergone a new first time eye operation at London’s Moorfields Hospital that may save his sight. A team of surgeons inserted genes into his remaining good eye and he can now see outlines during the day but little at night. It will be several months before researchers know if their work has been a success. If it is they believe it can be used to treat a wide range of inherited sight disorders.


Poems for Posterity
by Henry Jackson

At the age of Eighty Six
I look at the world
With tired and red-rimmed eyes,
There’s still a lot to live for
But no room for surprise,
My doctor pats my hand
When wishing me “Good Day”
He will not say the words
But wants me to go away,
My bank manager has vanished
With clerks and other staff,
Especially when I enquire
About an overdraft,
I now like living alone,
It has lost its terrors,
And I can laugh out loud
At my mistakes and errors,
It’s fun to think only of me
Or forget the time and date,
But I would like to share it all
With a cuddly new Playmate---
Just one request, please---
I prefer the Japanese.

PS. Or a beauty from Tashkent
With the right equipment!
September 11 1998


The Women in My Life---4 (Copper 4)

Last week I told how Copper launched into a period of lavish entertaining and undertook frequent shopping excursions to Harrods.

After a while Copper tired of being the mother of three children, the mistress of the largest house in the district, a friend of the Vicar and a patron of local arts. They did not satisfy her subdued but gnawing ambitions of success in the art of television. She decided that she must resume her career and this required a home nearer London so she rented a studio in Chelsea and worked away from home from Monday to Friday. All her plans were perfect except that she did not land any contracts. However, the week-ends became bigger and bigger as the boys who failed to give her any work came down to the country in greater numbers to talk about how they were going to win the next Advertising Awards.

Finally she realised that the gates to success were closed but another opportunity beckoned when she met an old Etonian, an Indian nobleman, who convinced her that there were opportunities in make films in Bombay, which already had the largest film production in the world, and would welcome a talented British film maker.

All that was necessary was to go there so I funded a trial expedition to India. This included all expenses for her new Indian friend who casually mentioned that his father was an Indian maharajah but failed to tell her that his English mother, a nurse, never married him. He confirmed that he had all the introductions lined up so Copper left the children behind and I worked all day in London and came home and worked half the night to ensure that the children were cared for, everything was in place, and the staff did their job.

Copper made several trips to the land of hope and glory. She even made a trip to the neighbouring mountainous capital of Katmandu and devised a new television station for the King of Nepal but it was never built and not one film was made.

On return from her last trip she announced that she was going to live in India and wanted a divorce. I thought she was joking buy she was serious. She said tha she had a film offer she could not refuse, a documentary about the life of Indira Gandhi and another about Delhi Airport. And many more would follow. To do this she would have to live permanently in India and she wanted a new life without the children and without me.

It was a hopeless battle that I lost. She negotiated a costly settlement and removed all her personal possessions from the house, including one or two of my paintings and other treasures like china and prize pieces of furniture that I had bought for her as presents for the house and went to live in Delhi with the son of a Sikh industrialist. They never married because Hindus observe a strict racial policy that makes it difficult for the men to marry white women. Copper became a victim of social ostracism and gradually slipped down the social scale and then lived alone in a small apartment in Delhi, She decided to wear a sari and a veil.

She made several attempts to break into the Indian media but failed because her experience in TV taught her nothing about producing magazines. She brought out a magazine full of sycophantic praise about Indian business men and their wives and sent me a copy. It was badly printed and contained so much obsequious drivel that I could not believe it. It lasted three issues and closed although it was heavily subsidised by the people concerned.

Her career as a publisher came to a quick end.

Under the terms of the divorce our son Giles went to an Indian school for
a year. He was the only English boy among 500 Indians in a rambling academy high up in the Himalayas and founded 100 years ago by an English professor. When the year ended my son said fiercely that he would rather die than go back and I did not insist and his mother wept. But he did not return and I was glad.

Copper returned to England when her 10-year visa expired and the renewal was held up by “procedural difficulties”---apparently someone at the other end had raised objections. She stayed in England for six months and tried to talk to me on the telephone several times but I refused to talk to her. She went back later.

This time she made a wiser choice. She went to live with the rich owner of one of India’s most prestigious hotels despite opposition from his three sons, but her domestic harmony came to an end when he suffered a stroke and became a stumbling invalid who needed constant attention 24 hours a day.

When he died the sons offered her £150,000 in cash if she left the country. She took the money and bought a house in the concrete jungle of Spain’s Alicante where she lives with a dog so noisy that she took him to a vet to remove his vocal chords.

Twenty weary and disappointing years in India broke the devious and scheming girl from Glasgow. Burning unfulfilled ambition that made her sacrifice home, children and me for an impossible dream played its part in the tragedy, a perfect script for a blockbuster film of her own life. She is probably still trying to organise a comeback in India, in London or anywhere that films are made but it is too late and she will never succeed. The talented but heartless girl from the Gorbals has ended up as a tired, lonely and unloved failure.


A high ranking Civil Servant who arrived at King’s Cross Station on the London Underground and told fellow commuters that he was a Muslim suicide bomber and his rucksack would explode in one minute turned out to be drunk. He appeared at Southwark Court on Wednesday and was gaoled for 12 months.


Nicole Farhi, 61-year-old French-Algerian fashion designer, was robbed at knife point outside her £3m home in Hampstead, North London. The thieves stole her £8,000 ring, a watch and cash. The attack was carried out by three young black males who have attacked three other women in the same area in the last three months.


This Day in History

1945. Hitler committed suicide.

1945. Mussolini and his mistress were shot dead by partisans.

1986. The Soviet nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded.


Famous Quotes

Marriage is a mistake every man should make---Sir George Jessel

Say what you will making a marriage work is a woman’s business.
Phyllis McGinley

It’s not until sex has dried up between a man and a woman that they can really love---Enid Bagnold



The date May 4 is printed in heavy type on my brain. Whatever else I may forget I always remember May 4. Why? Because on May 4 1942 I was blown up by a mine during the invasion of Diego Suarez in Madagascar where the Vichy French were allowing Japanese submarines to rest and refuel and attack British convoys on their way to Suez where Montgomery was building up a force to repel Rommel’s Army. I was serving in a minesweeper, HMS Auricula, and we hit a mine as we led the invasion force to the landing beach at Antisirane.

It happened just before midday and I had slipped down to the “Mess Deck” (living quarters) when there was an enormous bang and I passed out. Some time later, and I don’t know how long, I recovered consciousness and was aware of a strange stillness compared with the normal throb of the engines.

I was lying on top of a tangled heap of wood and metal and tried to move but failed. There was a curious wetness on the top of my head and when I touched it with my hand I found out that it was blood. I could not hear so I probed my ears with a finger and it also came out covered in blood.

I strained to hear and detected a faint hissing noise and some jumbled voices.
Above my head I saw a patch of white light and I struggled over broken pieces of metal and wood and edged my way almost to the open hatchway. Then I ran out of strength and lay there until I heard voices and someone came and pulled me clear and laid me down on deck.

The hissing noise continued and I was told that it came from the boilers that had been damaged. And as my eyes became clearer I saw big splashes of white paint oozing from big cans in the paint locker. I tried to sit up but failed.

I heard voices shouting and a big bump as a rescue boat came alongside. More shouting and then someone asked me if I was All Right and did not wait for an answer. After what seemed like hours two men pulled me into an upright position and I was hoisted over the side of the ship into a rescue craft. As they lifted me up I saw that the mast had been shattered by the explosion and crashed on to the bridge that was smashed and twisted. The captain was injured.

I was placed alongside other injured colleagues and the boat took us to the base ship, the SS Batory, a former Polish Atlantic liner, where I was lifted gently, covered in large white blankets, laid into a bunk and given a large mug of rum. I took a few sips and fell asleep.

When I awoke some hours later the ship was on the move. Nurses came and cleaned me up and a doctor looked at my injuries, put on bandages and gave me some painkillers. Communication was difficult because I was deaf. After three days I was transferred to a Greek hospital ship, the former liner SS Atlantis, that headed back slowly to Port Elizabeth in South Africa. I gathered some strength on the way and talked to other casualties and exchanged experiences.

One of them told me that “Auricula” was damaged beyond repair and sank 24 hours after being hit.

It was a slow trip back and the ship stopped at midday every day to bury those who had died during the night. Their bodies were wrapped in a white sheet and a Union Jack flag and after a prayer, a short service and a bugle call a trigger was released and the body slid down a chute into the sea and vanished. The flag was saved.

I was in hospital for three weeks and after a few days in the naval base and two more weeks recovering in a former Zulu encampment I joined another ship, HMS Fritillary, that proceeded down to the Seychelles and the Maldive Islands. My war continued.

I always feel a tremor when May 4 arrives.


Inner Circle
(Friends & Family)

Samantha (Penffynnen, Carm)
Named her new colt “Storm Chaser”.

Avril (Barton-0n-Sea, Hants)
Went to Southampton to see the last meeting of the three famous Queens---The QM2 and Queen Victoria saluted the QE2 before they sailed out behind each other.


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