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1948 - 57: memories from Michael’s childhood friend Baz

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Jan. 1st, 1970 | 02:15 am

I was lucky enough to contact Baz, who was friends with Michael from the age of nine. Here are some of his recollections.

"As a friend in days of yore I would like to put the record straight, so that any definitive publication about his life and times is as close to the truth as I can help assist.

I knew Michael – despite other correspondents talking of Mick and Mike I was never allowed to – sat next Gothard (popularly muddled as Goddard) at school, and spent many happy hours on holiday and getting up to kids' pranks with him.

I cannot recall how we met, but Michael materialized in my life around 1948/49, and I was a frequent visitor to his home. My mother had an extensive catering business for many years in the Hendon area and may have known Mrs G. from those days. They were quite matey as I recall, and met on many occasions. By the age of about 10, I knew Mrs G. had left her husband; she had told my mother all about her broken marriage, and obviously I was party to this story.

Although at my young age it was all a bit meaningless to me, I was not too young to know that Uncle Jack, who visited Mrs. Gothard at her small flat in Gloucester Avenue, was close to Mrs Gothard. He was a really nice bloke and took us fishing sometimes to St. Neots on the Cambridge/Bedfordshire border. He had been a participant in the Isle of Man TT races, and I think Michael thought he was some sort of wonder man with the motorbike racing stories.

I do not think the grandparents in Wales had much contact, if any, with Michael's mum. He never mentioned them once to me or my gran, whom he met many times at my house. That would surely have been an opportunity for him to say "I have a gran in Wales" – but never a word.

Gone fishing

The pair of us aged about 11 or 12 would go fishing in the lakes at Rickmansworth, sometimes accompanied by our mums. It was on one of these little forays that I discovered Michael had disastrously poor eyesight.

Sitting next to him in classes we jointly attended at school, I had noticed his writing was minute, and executed with his nose almost touching the page. While witnessing this odd activity it never dawned on me his eyes were bad. You will understand that having to scribe boring notes and essays at school was such a chore in those days there was not headroom for extra-curricular analysis.

But fishing was a different matter all together. We watched each other like hawks. Of course I did not know Michael had a problem. We were tiddler-snatching, and that requires fast responses and dexterity. Our mothers, in the tiny row boat with us, were no doubt bored to tears. Maybe an hour had past during which time I had caught between 20 and 30 tiny little roach and rudd. Michael had only landed two or three.

My mum suggested we swap sides in the boat as it appeared all the fish were on my beat. Reluctantly – but ‘OK then’ following a glare from mum – we changed over.

Time flew by, and more fish came my way, but none from my earlier prime spot went to Michael's lure. After a bit I docked my rod and asked Michael if I could help.

First I checked his hook and bait, and, satisfied it was appropriate, let him get on with things as I watched. He ignored bite after bite, and eventually raised his rod from the water to say: ‘I think my bait has come off ...’

The truth was the bites were very fast and delicate, and sadly Michael could not see what was happening. It was never mentioned on that trip that he should have gone to Specsavers!!!

He struggled for a long time afterwards at school, maybe because he felt wearing glasses detracted from his natural good looks.

Kensington Post

In 1961, at the time of his mother’s re-marriage, he was working as a trainee reporter on a local paper in Kensington, the Kensington Post. I know this to be the case because I had occasion to talk to him there. He did not work on the paper for long as it was obviously not his metier.

National Service

The paper was part of a large group, abiding by all the employment regulations. One of these would be to question young men if they had been called-up to serve in the forces, to establish there would be no career breaks if the answer were ‘yes.’ Michael was close to my age, and I was called-up, with thousands following me before the draft was ended.

The call-up in those days required draftees to have – if not 20-20 vision – good eyesight, that may have to be aided by glasses under certain circumstances: reading and sighting firearms. It is my firm belief Michael did not go to Paris to dodge the draft. I suggest he failed the medical through poor eyesight.

Government officers kept a very close eye on employment details and absentees from military service. Very few slipped through the net. The Head Office of the group Michael was employed by was in Loughton, East London now (Essex, then), and the Parliamentary constituency of one Winston Churchill. I doubt any Civil Servant would wish to embarrass Churchill with a draft dodger under his nose.

I trust this may satisfy you that Michael was not a draft dodger - just a little vain about the glasses. Funny really, how a pair of goggles later became quite iconic on Michael."

Many thanks to Baz for these insights.

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