THE HAND OF PEACE
Christine and Ernest have unique courage and our dear friends. They played a very special part in Stanton v Jones but, until they publish their traumatic episode when our lives crossed, I shall not write about them; however, their story would fit most appropriately in this chapter. Maureen invited them to a meal, at very short notice on the 4th of January. Very unusually but it marked stressful times, she had not transferred a memo on the old years calendar; Peter Pan theatre bookings for her and the boys were not discovered till the day.
Christine is a brilliant musician and talented pianist and Ernest a member of Maureens choir; what would have been the main conversation topic could not be sustained by me. However, similar political, diverse other interests and drink found our threesome wonderfully happy. Maureen left prepared food on the table and our startled guests were given abject apologies and then bade goodbye as they arrived. We had plentiful wine and whiskey which would not have interested Maureen and we were drinking till 10 pm at the dining table. The curtains were open, there was a street light and we could be seen by any of the very few passers by the security light did not come on. Thieves were breaking in at the back of next door. We all pricked up our ears with a sound and I dismissed it, thinking it a contraction from the stove, kettle or thermostat switching off central heating. I joked,
Take no notice of that, it is our resident poltergeist.
Next morning I spotted next doors smashed, downstairs loo window; if the thieves had tried the door it was unlocked and that would have saved the cost of replacement glass.
Nothing much if anything was taken although drawers were emptied out on the bed. There was no cash in the house apart from worthwhile commemorative coins and intriguing trinkets acquired from years of missionary work. Our neighbours had no interest in the electronic goods required by these particular sorts of burglars for easy selling on in pubs. It gave an insight into the profiles of the intruders that was necessary to pass on to the neighbourhood. The police came but it is doubtful if they did or could anything to identify the culprits even if they knew who was temporarily out of an offenders institution.
I was a stand in for John Clay, our Croft Neighbourhood Watch representative and mentioned the incident at the district meeting at the local police headquarters. Martin, our younger son was a local Policeman assigned to this particular gathering, introduced the subject of Post Code marking, giving away some freebie pen samples provided by the manufacturer. The idea was to identify articles with a mark apparent only under ultra violet light. I was very proud of his genial, articulate delivery, particularly when dealing with the inevitable smart alec amongst the audience.
Strange to say we met again at Oxford later in the week when Albion was playing United in an evening match. Quite out of the ordinary Martin brought Anthony, now ten years old; I had not seen him since he was five. He was as affectionate as ever and he asked about his grandma. When he looked at me out of his beautiful brown eyes and offered me one of his sweets my heart sank.
Another thirteen years were to pass before I saw him again, quite recently, at the funeral of Steven Francis, a family friend, Maureen was with me. Time had not passed, we hugged many times and, at the following wake he had clear memory of the time we met at Oxford. He had driven past the end of our croft on his way to and from university and remembered our house number. We asked him to come and see us sometime. He didnt say he wouldnt and didnt say he would but, five months have passed by. Martin was verbally unresponsive, distant and did not touch his mother. This sad part of our family relationships is dealt with in previous and subsequent chapters.
Lord Justice Woolf, Master of the Rolls was holding seminars at Regional Centres and coming to Birmingham University. He was appointed by the government to sound opinion, advise and report. Access to Justice was John Majors attempt at tort reform which never became part of party political policy as it has in the US. I informed the local media that I would be attending, reminding them of my legal mess they had already reported upon. The news-hounds, as usual got it wrong by not comprehending that you cant be at home to answer the phone or open the door to a journalist if you are at the event providing the news. It was quite obvious that they regarded me as the news item, not the Master of the Rolls. Reform of civil justice was not the sort of stuff to inspire viewers, readers and listeners; cracking neighbour disputes certainly were and, if you can add a Lord Justice to it so much the better. The news gathering chiefs for press and radio had allocated a young reporter to cover at the University; then a camera man came to find me after finding I wasnt at home but taking a further picture of the hedge; the fuss finding me, and then giving interviews marked me out.
If the media did not regard the seminar as very newsworthy without me, the legal establishment regarded it like jubilee day. All the leading, City Centre, law firms were represented and some would know by now that one of them had dropped a clanger taking a high profile case that had gone pear shaped. They would be jealous; it would mean a lot of lolly even if they did look ridiculous. On show were young, brilliant, aspiring young men in new suits. Would any mourn for me when forced to sell up home you bet your life they wouldnt in fact they would like to get their greedy paws on my life times equity themselves.
Would they support me if I got up and asked for reform of laws, procedures and review of professional etiquette that enforced resolution of silly disputes before reaching court? You are joking. After all the profession had an obligation to do that before starting divorce proceeding on behalf of a client well I know they used to once upon a time. My question would make the assembled sages squirm with embarrassment - anyhow they would know a lot more about Stanton v Jones from now on without me spouting forth.
I met Patrick Dalton, the learned law doctor at the Legal Representation Unit at the University of Central England. He was in the centre of an attentive group and he was very pleased to see me. I had been keeping him up to date but, since engaging a solicitor and counsel he was unable to mention anything about my case to me. He had brought some women - students and staff. I was so pleased to hear him speak about me,
That man has a brilliant brain.
The Lord Justice was most impressive now, he really has a brilliant brain. When he spoke you could hear a pin drop. He had integrity, cold logic but also common humility. They treated him like God; sort of fella you want for PM.
The aspiring young men in new suits were lining up to speak; no women. Where were all the studious young women in the Law Library in term time? However the young men impressed the MoR, shortly to become LCJ. (Lord Chief Justice). They certainly had brilliant brains. Their senior partners, twice the age were casting an approving but nostalgic eye.
I missed Ian; he would have loved it but couldnt get the time off from work. No one in that hall could do his job; no one could match his diversity of practical skills. He was forty-one, ten years older than the blokes aiming for the rostrum; I was sixty-six, about the same age as the judge.
The Master of the Rolls was performing a wonderful public service which he would not relinquish for another for ten years. All those young blokes were bursting into the earning stratosphere of the civil justice system - I had already contributed my derisory (not to me) whack into their earning coffers.
How would I reform the Civil Justice system, you may ask? Litigants in person (lip) were invited to attend the seminar and it was made clear to any in the room that their contributions to the debate would be welcome. I had been a lip last year but, of course, was now paying for my own legal team if I stood up and I had no such intention, I could not say truthfully I was a litigant in person. No one, not wearing a new suit (who would obviously be a lip) declared an interest to speak. So thankfully no clodhopping amateur would spoil the articulate flow of erudite but, restrained condemnation of a creaking part of the present system; and God forbid, suggest a pub lawyer idea to replace it.
Every grown up knows the two outstanding iniquities of both the civil and criminal justice system is delay and expense, though the state pays the bill for criminals it is a cliché though very true, that justice delayed is justice denied and as hire of lawyers operates on the market system if a guy is too expensive only the very rich can afford him that means no cases, no money for lawyers hence need for economies.
My case was suspended a year ago a classic delay - there was absolutely no indication of when the appeal will be. The Lord Justices of Appeal get out of their beds at night if an emergency injunction is required to stop a child taken out of the country but no one in the Royal Courts of Justice was bothered about a hedge for a couple of years. It was two an a half years since Stanton had taken me to court and I was still waiting lifting of the injunction. He had procrastinated for a year, against the advice of his lawyers. Generally speaking lawyers are procrastinators except when it suits them then they move at lightning speed as when Abe Lincoln whipped me in to court there was no real need for haste he just thought it was a way to make a quick bob or two out of me. The trees were now so high they needed a cut. Come to think of it he was winning, wasnt he? No he wasnt, I had won the judgement, unless it was reversed on appeal and the trees (unless they were a hedge) had recovered far beyond the damage the old man had gone to court for. And oh boy, how they were still growing what a mess
Now there was the expense. Not a soul suggested that fees should be drastically reduced nor, perishes the mere thought, controlled everyone would have politely giggled if a clod like me had suggested it. Everyone, including the judge was searching for an economy measure, one that would make a real difference - so the subject of expert witnesses arose. Experts (and those that pretended to be) are very expensive. The learned MoR indicated that one expert would do for both sides. The subject seamed to be approached with considerable naivety. My experience proved the exact opposite. I would have lost on the testimony of my opponents so called expert. The best piece of advice given to me (and it was free) was that the Stanton Tree expert was incontestable in local courts and that it would be necessary to go outside the West Mids area my knowledgeable friend who this should be. John Wetherell had charged me, to date a couple of thousand and it was on this sort of thing that the legal professionals thought economies might be made. But Stantons man had scarcely made his point in court - he was yet to be cross examined and as my mans view was different to his, there were some pertinent questions to answer. After that John had to put my case and he was genuinely independent if that was possible.
What the MoR and the professionals had in mind were the regulations which put expert witnesses into a different category, professionally obligated to give a dispassionate view. It maybe the judicial thinking that, if both sides agree to accept the evidence from the single witness then that would be acceptable to the court. It comes down to he that pays the piper calls the tune.
Anyone was entitled to submit a point of view to the enquiry in writing. This I did later in the year and was acknowledged amongst hundreds of others in the final report. Lord Woolf had the back up of a substantial, clever team with him and it was their job to process the results of all seminars and the hundreds of written submissions. I rang the team up and considerately they rang me back to save my call costs and we had a numbers of long conversations. They knew about Stanton v Jones and which, by then, was national news; the team was talking about it, keen to know if it had any relevance to the enquiry.
Of even more importance was my passionate opinion that the actions of solicitors should be governed by ethical considerations over and above those required by regulation and law i.e. a professional code in simple terms a gut instinct as to what is right and what is wrong. SvJ (Stanton v Jones) was to cost more than £100,000. I objected many times on TV that such an amount should have gone to Oxfam not to lawyers. Massive public opinion regards such litigation as a self imposed indulgence by lawyers. After the final judgement, a similar opinion was expressed by Dr Lynne Jones MP in a letter to the Law Society. It was not answered; that amorphous, pretentious, legaloid splodge was in the process of its occasional, sordid, self-destructive, internal brawls, this time about groping. Would someone ever have answered that letter in normal regular times? Yes, they would but it would have been meaningless and unsatisfactory.
I could not have put my point to that august legal gathering it was the ideal place, if ever there will ever be to put it. My case was only half way through the MoR would have to rule it out of order as sub-judice; in any case professionals were hired and would have to withdraw from representing me if I stuck my butt in but, after the appeal I was able to put it, confidentially to the MoRs team in this manner-
Every effort to solve differences and suggest solutions, even at this mid point in the court proceedings had been adamantly turned down. Abe Lincoln was instructed by his client, there is to be no compromise with that man. There was an issue of right or wrong to be decided by the still small voice of conscience of any solicitor let alone this member of the inner city law establishment; at the very start the issue could have been helped by a knock on my door and a request to see his clients trees from my property. It was the ruthless pursuit of money that stopped him.
All the young men in new suits would have done the same as him and so would the Master of the Rolls. They are all concerned with property.
Paul Terry Stanton had smashed me down on the floor of my own garage.
This concerned the person. It took the criminal justice system a year to convict. True he never has and never will believe he did it but, that little troublesome voice from his mother tells him she knows. He was ordered to pay me £150 compensation. The voice says,
Worth every penny, I warned him what he would get if he mucked about with us. PTS was ordered to pay the £180 costs of the prosecution. Of course he had to pay the expensive legal team he engaged for the day in a first failed attempt to do me over, in the witness box.
The legal estimation of actual bodily harm to my person comes cheap, very cheap. True Philip Kremen urged again and again to prosecute in the civil court far more lolly slopping about there.
Dear reader, that is not the point, I wasnt out to punish PTS I have never hated the guy and it worries me not that he loathes me, in fact I like it he should ignores the voice but that makes me laugh. What I am shrieking to high heaven is the attitude of the crown, state or justice system, or what have you between Michael Jones person (£150 + zero costs) and Stanton property (£32,000 + astronomical costs).
It took eighteen months for the MoR to produce an Interim Report two volumes each more than ½ inch thick. A year later the full report came out. I did see my name amongst the huge lists of acknowledgements but beyond that it was too much for me to give much if any time to studying it. There must have been summaries and discussion in the media, if so they passed me by. These paper covered tomes gathered dust for ten years before I deposited them in the re-cycling box. The info is all on the net now. Was it the massive upheaval in the justice system it was billed to be? There was supposed to be simplification. The word Plaintiff, which I shall always associate with Stanton, was replaced by Claimant. It was my neighbour who introduced me to the term. Yes, I was pig ignorant of the law until he took me to court. Then there is a Quick Claims Track. Both parties can sit at a table with a judge and without paying for legal representatives. I dont know how it has worked out but have advised people to get the appropriate leaflets from the County Court Office. On expert witnesses, we have seen the highest medically and academically qualified struck of the register after they have given testimony that they thought and still convinced is true but was not and resulted in the innocent accused (yes, and one of them a solicitor as well) being in prison for three years.
Public memories of the Birmingham Woolf Seminar will remember me sixty-six bald and fat described as a most handsome man - never heard that one before but that man has a brilliant brain. It was the quality of the people who said it that matters. Did these remarks affect me? The timing did because they marked my media incursion that lasted eight years. Little money was made, though Granada gave me two ex-gratia payments of £100 and £80 and Maureen and I got put up in four or five modest hotels but other wise we were on daily expense sheets. The media used and exploited me and I was only too pleased to use it in return. I said many times to producers,
It is a quid pro quo I will give you myself if you help me change the law. It was an arrangement that worked successfully for 98% of the time more than enough to achieve my aim. There was an odd occasion when a nasty little squirt of a popularist, half brained tabloidist extrapolated a remark, not necessarily a careless one, to my disadvantage, after gaining my confidence. I learnt to smell out these nasty little rodents but, some are so sly I would sometimes let my guard slip that tiny, tiny amount.
Esther Ranzten, Queen of TV campaigners had finished her long series of Thats Life. Perhaps it had come to a natural end and now she had a new show simply named Esther. She had a neighbour (who was a judge) difficulty and, a weekly column in the Daily Express. Here was an opportunity to entice the Queen into heading a campaign for law change. I wrote in to the programme giving a resume of what had happened between Stanton and Jones so far. The production unit submitted it to their legal department and I was rigorously quizzed and the lawyers presumed, as there was no jury that the single judge was beyond influence; with appropriate safeguards, particularly on presenting a balance of both sides, the programme could go ahead. The Stantons, not knowing I had instigated it, could not resist the invitation to appear and, that saved the programme. It was that nagging tiny voice that implored Paul Terry,
Go take your old father, show everyone what Jones has done to him, and tell them what he did to me. Esther knows about bad people; she exposes them to the world, let her tell the nation. Both father and son really believed that whatever they had done was right, justified and within the law and whatever I had done was evil and they would make it public. They exonerated Maureen; till the show that they believed was forced along by my will. But over and above that, the programme offered them another opportunity to dig a bit more out of that hole they were digging.
We were phoned every day by members of the team as were the Stantons. My opponents put the fear of God into the security staff who was alerted to stand by. They were served up their standard family fantasy about me; i.e. I had raped and murdered Freda Stanton; was a burglar; a danger to women in the neighbourhood; never kept a regular job and vandalised and mutilated their trees. I just sent them a copy of Paul Terrys libellous letter and a record of his conviction and photographic evidence of the tree nuisance.
Forgive me for digressing but the following co-incidence must be recorded. We arrived at New Street Station far too soon having left plenty of time and then an unusually quick car journey getting there and putting our car in the first twenty-four hour park; our return arrangements were then secured. There was a train cancellation so we now had ages to kill; we separated and Maureen indulged in some shopping centre gazing. I went down on the platform checked and re-checked; we would still have time to get to the studio as long as departure and actual journey went smoothly. I returned to the main concourse to meet up with Maureen only to find a little crowd around a celebrity. He detached himself, obviously to make his way to the platform. I beamed my recognition holding out my hand at the same time he did. It was Arthur Scargill and it was as though we had been life long friends. He always was a terrific public relations bloke and still was, was ten years after the miners strike. As he detached himself to make his way to his train people asked me,
You know this man, dont you? others were saying,
That man was absolutely right.
Maureen and I caught sight of one another and I commented,
Just shaken hands with Arthur Scargill, she answered,
Yes, I saw you, I did twenty minutes ago.
Our BBC travel ticket was of course third class, Arthur was still leader of the NUM and Union leaders normally take up the privileges of their position; travelling first is one of them. Not so Arthur, and he sat facing the incoming passengers and I said,
Mind if we join you?
We sat opposite him and chatted for the next couple of hours. Maureens father was born and his family lived in Blanaevon but Arthur grew up by and worked in the Yorkshire pits and at one point he said,
I didnt know that, Ive learnt something I didnt know about the South Wales pits.
Have you ever wondered what you would ask some famous person if you had faced them eyeball to eyeball with plenty of time to spare? Have you ever made a mistake that was so fundamental it changed everything and you would if you had your time all over again? Everyone who followed the miners strike knows what Arthurs was. He did not call a ballot. He did not have to; the NUM rules under the circumstances did not demand one; he had overwhelming backing of his executive, although there must have been one or two who declined to voice their qualms for fear of breaking unanimity under stress; all were guided by the stricture keep to the rule book; keep united. The Nottingham miners felt they were being taken for granted and there were articulate local leaders, with grudges to work out, who exploited the feeling that their area big earning jobs were at stake in the countrys wealthiest pits. They were so wrong and when the strike collapsed they found out that despite firm promises, they were sold down the river, along with everyone else.
I have explained in my last little bit about a solicitors absence of inner voice of conscience that tells you what is intrinsically right or wrong in rules, regulations, laws and everything. Is it innate compassion?
Arthurs choice was wrong and he made the fatal wrong decision leading not only to the end of the strike but a turning point in British working class history. When the people on the platform said, That man was right, they were not talking about that crucial decision; they were talking about Arthurs warning about Thatchers intention to close the pits.
So you say to me,
You had to ask Scargill about the ballot?
I did not. These issues had been debated so consistently and severely and always Arthur said he was right, because he always knew he was right and, that was why Maureen didnt like him plus one or two other things. He would say that again and again to me and anyone else. I could not probe but at any other time would have like to push a little deeper. I was shortly to face six million viewers and the closer the occasion came the more my mind concentrated on the awesome moment. It was to be a crucial performance. I have written about the strike in an earlier chapter but I must say a vivid recollection of how I took Martin and his luggage to the transport that would take him to Nottingham on his way to police the strike. We did not tell Arthur that. That piece of history had a deep effect on our family relationships as I have previously explained. We all know if Scargill had called for ballot to back the strike he would have won massively and the dereliction and devastation of the mining communities would not have happened. We would have a different energy policy twenty years later and the division of the industry and splitting of families would not have happened. Scargill is a monumental figure in British working class industry absolutely straight and incorruptible. He was slandered and impugned by journalists unfit to lick his boots. The gutter press taunted him to sue them but he would not stoop to lower himself to their level; one accusation after another, year by year those libels proved to be false.
Arthur was fond of saying,
If the miners had the same subsidy as the farmers we could give the coal away free. (They got far more than the in the end but the money was spent on the social and economic cost of the collapsed communities).
The one sided conversation did not pause but I was determined to ask my question,
Do you regret supporting Soviet tanks putting down the Nagy government?
Arthur did not blink nor stall, as I referred historical moment, very critical in the cold war but particularly poignant to left wingers in the nineteen fifties.
Not at all, they stopped the hanging of trade unionists from lampposts.
In 1956, Arthur was eighteen and working down the pits. To the politically ignorant communist is a derogatory, dismissive term right wingers use to denounce anyone left of centre on the political spectrum; if they failed because you have never been a party member they then hit you with fellow traveller. I have been so accused until very recently when even the word socialist, is now old fashioned. I have never defended myself because, even with highly educated people if they do not have political nouse it is not conducive to friendly relationships to stray into those realms; the same can be said about religion. The similarity about both is the absurdity of the lengths of passion to which many believers can go; friendship is associated with the degree of tolerance.
When the Soviet tanks swept into Hungary they ruthlessly slaughtered, according to one report, 30,000 demonstrators for the free socialist government and bodies were dragged in the streets. Nagy was executed. The British Labour movement was appalled except for the communists yet another alternative name until three years before was the dismissive stalinists usually used by the trotskyists my spell checker corrects this to Trotskyites, with capitals. I know one or two things the compiler doesnt know but suffice to say what label someone uses for another is not the one he uses for himself. Generally speaking an ite is worse than ist, the former following the person the latter the actions but they all interpret their own holy texts in the way they want to justify quarrelling, killing and making war.
When Jo Stalin, the old tyrant died, there was no decrease in the numbers of his admirers even after his successor, Kruschev, shot the chief of police, banished his only other rival to Outer Mongolia then denounced predecessor as the betrayer of the revolution and the repository of all evil. Then, Nikita ruthlessly suppressed the Hungarians, as enemy of the centuries who only fairly recently ruthlessly slaughtered, raped and plundered 27 million Soviet citizens. The Soviet soldiers had no difficulty in doing his bidding and did not need the excuse given to the rest of the world that the Magyar fascists were back. Kruschev (who ever heard of a Kruschevist still less a Kruschcvite?) was now a stalinist and instructions were passed to Communist Parties abroad, particularly their British comrades. Imre Nagy was a democratic socialist. Half the British communists refused the Moscow line and the party suffered a disastrous split equal to that following the 1940 Nazi / Soviet Pact. My readers not conversant with these times must accept the passion held by the party faithful it was as if a fervent Christian had proof that Jesus Christ had bought the services of a prostitute in exchange for eternal salvation. We had a communist friend who went into deep depression followed by a reluctant acceptance of the Moscow line then committed suicide because he could not live with it; many of his friends were not supportive of his loyalty. Communists without conscience exercised power entirely beyond their numbers and were deeply unpopular. They controlled some unions or held high positions as they did in the National Union of Mineworkers. Tactically, as they were affiliated to the Labour Party, power was transferred via the block vote and massive paymasters. Arthur Scargill was too young then but being clever and articulate he rose quickly through the ranks maintaining both his membership of the Labour Party and his stalinism. As Kruschev held the Soviet nuclear codes he was the second most powerful man in the world and would be unlikely to take much notice of western communist parties who he expected to follow his line as they had always meekly done. He had great respect for his superior, President Eisenhower and would not risk global conflict for bunch Hungarian peasants, who were lefties in any case; Ike led the Wests most savage military assault in European history and was respected by the Soviets.
But Kruschev was not sure and placed his tanks, on red alert around the outskirts of Budapest in the hope that the Nagy socialist demonstrators would go back home in the face of his threat. They didnt. Nagy faced a dilemma should he stop his supporters and wait for another day? He didnt.
Who was biding his time, waiting in the wings but Colonel Nasser deciding now was his opportunity to nationalise the Suez Canal. Churchill at eighty-one, too ill and sozzled just missed his last grand historic gesture for a tête-à-tête with his old war chum Eisenhower. The expired war dogs waiting heir, Eden was left to carry the burden; he was Britains longest apprentice; the most experienced politician ever born and educated to grapple with these trying times; he blew it and it ended his long career in sordid circumstances largely brought on by him as he was forever associated with the word collusion. At secret meetings between Britain, France and Israel it was arranged that the latter make a mock invasion of Suez and the former invade the zone under the crude pretext of stopping it with a buffer force between Israel and Egypt. Nasser carried out his threat, sank shipping and blocked the canal for years thus carrying out the very act the invasion was precisely made to avoid. The US President was furious at being excluded, there was a run on Sterling and he refused to help. The UN ordered the withdrawal of Britain, France and Israel. The Labour opposition, backed by the communists, refused to back Eden although its leader Gaitskell initially did, until he was drawn quietly aside and told he was on his own. There were massive anti-war demonstrations and Aneurin Bevan, the shadow foreign secretary spoke in Trafalgar Square,
If Anthony Eden is sincere, and he maybe, he maybe; then, he is too stupid to be a Prime Minister
Kruschev, now safe gave the order to the Soviet Tank commander to mow down the Hungarian socialists.
Would Arthur Scargill know all this? Never be too sure, he would never know a lot about what was inconvenient.
The London Train rattled on and as we were nearing the end of the journey and this very privileged association with this very remarkable man; he was, probably still is self centred, arrogant but he had been on the knife edge of bringing down the Thatcher government. Perhaps I was sub-consciously learning a touch of these obvious faults was a very good thing but you could take them too far. Consciously my mind was engrossed on the evening butterflies in the stomach? No, no Arthur has taught you something. Then as if to confirm it the great man said,
So what are you about this evening? We told him about Leylandii, legals and changing the law. He answered as he stood up,
Would you mind telling me when the show will be broadcast?
We followed his example as the train was slowing down,
N U M Barnsley.
It was obvious that the Post Office was used to delivering by the van load. Inevitable that notorious address would be preceded by the name, The President National Union of Mineworkers.
The breaks screamed and we jolted forward as the train came to a sudden halt. It was the first taste of the many journeys to the capital when just as you thought you had arrived there was that annoying wait.
When Neil Kinnock reneged on his unilateral nuclear disarmament I left the Labour Party it hurt me very much, I felt betrayed. Arthur looked me straight in the eyes, and I imagined the trace of a tear.
I know, I know. It was the one topic we could both agree on, one hundred per cent.
We paid for the taxi, obtained a receipt and asked for the tip to be included. We should have done the same for the journey to News Street. We were on a learning curve. Reception phoned and the girl making all arrangements who I had been chatting to over the week and was anxiously waiting our arrival took us to a large room with plenty of people who we were to learn later were the studio audience. Having seen the broadcast shows we recognised people. They were regulars selected for their telegenic characteristics, gender and ethnic balance. They were used to making appropriate noises at appropriate times and asking questions or stating opinions wittily, briefly and without bad words. Refreshments were available and we were supplied with our needs and whilst partaking we were given instructions about reaching our hotel and claiming expenses. There was no appearance fee; you did it for the privilege of going on telly with a top presenter. A woman came up to our table and said she had seen us talking to Arthur Scargill and wished she had had the opportunity. Then we saw a sight for sore eyes. First we riveted on the poor old man bent nearly double but for his stick, obviously in great pain and distress. He was well looked after by a younger man. They had a carer such as we had and he guided them to a table on the opposite side of the room. Old man Stanton was eighty-five and remarkable for his age as those who saw him daily walking his dog could testify. What you see now is a double act with a man of great age tortured and bullied by that evil devil Jones who had mutilated his trees; but here you have the noble knight in shining armour come to rescue his dad and expose to the world those who would persecute him. They kept up this charade for the next couple of hours when the show started.
The producer sat at the table with us to explain the format. Usually the contesting participants sat on the platform with the tiered audience at the sides and in front. With gangways for Esther to carry her mike and the swinging boom microphones to record members of the audience taking part. I was then told for the first time that the Stantons had refused to share the platform with me. This was in the traditional line of libertarians refusing the company of fascists. If you remember I have mentioned in a previous chapter that when first meeting the old man in the garden, just after moving in, he idolised Stalin and rudely put me down when trying to acquaint him with a few correct historical facts. To Stanton pair they were making a stand against evil and refusing to sup with the devil.
I was to sit alone and Maureen was to sit a couple of rows back from the Stantons in the centre front facing me. Paul Terrys idea was that I receive the abuse of the shocked audience as they viewed the old man, showed some nasty photographs of what I had done to his trees and listened to his diatribe against me. As I have explained to you he really believed all of this. I was parted from Maureen led into the studio put into my chair and wired up. In the twelve years since there is greater sophistication in microphone technology and wires fed from the rear and up behind the shirt by someone apologising for the familiarity in the location thereof, I also had an earpiece and warned I must not move. The followed a series of tests and when found satisfactory the producer came, followed by Esther who offered a limp soggy handshake; a few facts were verified, the equipment tested, the technicians shouting demands, approving, demanding and insisting. Eventually the audience arrived and seeing Maureen led to her seat relaxed me. Last of all came the finale of the Stanton double act. Then the skilled professional arrived to warm up the audience though I was getting tired and just wanted to get on with it. Finally as the theme tune music died away Esther arrived to the forced, rapturous, rehearsed applause and whistles; then absolute silence as she introduced the old man and me with the idea of what the show was about as a few photographs, that made me wince, were beamed on a screen. Then she explained that Mr Stanton senior was deaf and that his son would speak for him and put Paul Terry a question which started him on his long practised diatribe against me that I allowed for thirty seconds. Then standing up despite my wiring pulling me back and warning, pointed at him and said,
He hit me. Esther replied,
What, this young man hit you?
Yes, and he was convicted and fined.
This was the outstanding weakness in the PTS position and whatever he was about to say about me was completely undermined. Esther knew about him because I had sent in the conviction certificate but I was delighted at her brilliance in using the congratulatory term young because he wasnt but then emphasised his willingness to hit an older man. I am surprised he agreed to come on the show but having done so he was so stupid not to have prepared his ground thoroughly. He might have been taken aback at being in denial after just thirty seconds but whatever way out he chose, the agenda would be about him and the programme had achieved its aim sharp, bitter controversy with the audience, trained and volubly involved vying for more. Confused and flustered PTS reverted to his fall back mode his hole, then he started digging again he attacked Esther, the worst possible thing he could do as it turned everyone against him and of course she lapped it up.
You have reneged on the conditions on which we agreed to come on this show now the show stop and the recording started again. He showed the most objectionable side of his nature, body language and rudeness the only side I had experienced. The audience had someone to hate, was hooting and they were not going to have their dear heroine attacked but they loved it all the same. Esther said,
I shall have to be careful or youll hit me. She is a brilliant professional and knew how to play the situation. Interest had been sparked and the last thing she wanted was a walk out and she sensed she could return to this again if she provoked a Stantons to go it would be an anti-climax and I would front the quarrel alone not the type of thing that made her famous. She was experienced and knew what happened when the show went flat people switched off and I had done that a number of times. The most resourceful in her box of tricks was her audience always different, always unpredictable, but there were regular characters to call upon to change tack or defuse. Her relationship with her brilliant team was essential and she knew that the cameras had close ups on the Stanton pair. It was only when it was broadcast that we saw their grim faces and body language. Members of the audience always want to talk about themselves and cant resist talking to millions. She would switch to me, then to them and then back to PTS. When he referred to my unprovoked attack on his fathers trees Maureen stood up and Esther introduced her. She was best in show, highly supportive of me, clear, precise and articulate; none equalled her in those qualities. With a trace of emotion she complained,
You invited me to your house and I pleaded with you to cut those trees and you solemnly promised but it was years before you did anything then it was only a bit off the top and only the because you had a solicitors letter. The audience went silent and Esther went into stirring mood and had her lines prepared to attack both of us and addressed me,
How long has this dispute been going on/
Since 1979. Wince from audience.
Fifteen years. Howls of derision.
How much has it cost? I helped matters along because the appeal had not come up and it was my quick estimate, wildly under as it happened.
Fifty thousand pounds. There were phews, sharp intakes of breath, more howls of derision merged into a conglomerate demonstration of protest at the waste and futility directed at both parties Esther the pro sensed it and took her microphone to the Stantons.
What would it take just to say finish it now? The audience howled support. The broadcast showed close ups the surly look of obduracy, the shaking of heads and lips mouthing never. Then she turned in disgust and disappointment and walked to me, I did not need her mike as I was wired up with one of my own.
What do you say to shaking hands and ending it now? I spluttered but hardly got the words out,
It is too late, the appeal is . I saw the look of absolute futility in her eyes after asking such a preposterous question and it was her cue to end the show. I thought how the bloody hell can I get out of my seat until they have released my wiring the audience was shrieking in a millisecond my moment of destiny would be gone for ever I thought of the technicians command that I must not move until disconnected but Esther would know that so she would not be serious.
Sod that, I said to myself and shot up and ran towards the Stantons with my hand outstretched to roars of approval and offered it first to the old man cast in stone. To the roars of take it, take it, shake his hand the statues lips curled in utter contempt. I withdrew my hand, showed it empty to the crowd then offered it to the son who just shook his head to the demands to shake I turned with both hands upturned, turning my head in consternation, acted of course because no one more than me knew it simply was not a remote possibility. The audience left their seats to mob me and a huge lady of Caribbean descent with ample bosoms and as large as I was completely enveloped me in her arms, kissed me and said,
I knew you were a man of peace. Everyone shook my hand and patted me on the back; all of this was not recorded. We started to move en bloc out of the studio until a couple of technicians came to remove their tackle. I found Maureen and we hugged and laughed sat down and were offered drinks. What a difference from the beginning when we were left in the cold except for our minder and a visit from the producer. Now we were engaged with all the members of the team and I glanced to the other end of the room which was empty but for the Stantons at a table with one gentleman. I was told,
They are issuing a writ tomorrow. I have never heard to this day how that panned out
It was some weeks before the broadcast and the local papers gave plenty of publicity with shots of Esther and the saga of the hedge.
There was a repeat but the show was shown and repeated many times on subsidiary channels. Ian came back home one day in the very early hours, switched on the telly and saw his Mom and Dad. I had calls from the Irish Republic saying it was shown there. As expected there was a great deal of interest in our own patch, we had loads of congratulatory calls and the beginning of public recognition because we were well known having lived in the area for forty years and I had been on the telly after the Lord Justice Woolf seminar. I was also grabbed and embraced by a similar woman to that in the studio whilst coming out of the opticians. My school issued the usual annual invited all the retirees usually to see another ex-colleague off. In twelve years fresh pupils had gone through twice from start to finish, so had many changes of staff and the new ones looked like pupils but, the oldies all met up and surprisingly the old parents association seemed intact and there were other ex-parents I knew. What surprised me was the loving welcome literally everyone had seen the show. But all this was nothing compared to what was to come.