Celtic Illumination, part 256, Over before it started.
Thanks to numerous writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, P D James and Agatha Christie, Scotland Yard has an almost mythical standing throughout the United Kingdom as do the infamous Flying Squad. The reality is somewhat different especially from an Irishman’s perspective. There were an awful lot of rumblings going on at that time that the British police were locking up innocent Irish people almost willy nilly. The Birmingham Six, Guilford Four, Maguire Seven were just three groups who were bubbling under the surface and about to erupt and show the whole system to be corrupt. At least the ones in England had been though a sham of a trial, whereas back home in Ireland, people were just scooped off the streets and locked up.
I hadn’t done anything wrong, the only thing I knew about Knightsbridge is that is where Harrods, a shop for really stupid people, existed. I had never been to Harrods, I had never even been to Knightsbridge, but I was Irish and I knew that if the police wanted to show the public that they were in charge, then a scapegoat would be found and who better than an Irishman. Luckily my still being in the air force saved me, it added a little credence to that fact that I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. I was eventually allowed to go, with the usual “We’ll be keeping an eye on you sunshine.” I went back to the office to be told that Scotland Yard had seized everything in the office so I couldn’t actually do any work so had to take a week off.
I drove back up to Ipswich and had a good hard think about what I needed to do. Graham kept telephoning me suggesting that I come down to Wallingford and spend a few days with him; he had a few ideas on the boil. I wasn’t in the mood for Graham and his shenanigans so stayed well away from him explaining that I would meet up with him the following week when we could return to the office. I had made my mind up that I was going to put an ultimatum to Abbey Life that either I kept and controlled the Forces Master project or I would leave. I then discover that Abbey Life have paid no money into my bank account so I telephoned my immediate manager Peter, in London, and asked him to sort it out. I had issued a good deal of cheques on the strength of the money I had earned with Abbey Life who, as we had agreed when I started with them, had been keeping it safe for me. The last thing I needed was an avalanche of bounced cheques as my last day in the air force might be spent on a disciplinary.
We arrived back bright and early on the Monday morning of the following week. Most of the office content had been returned except for everything belonging to Stephen and Jim. The Scotland Yard detectives had gone through all our accounts and diaries discovering that Jim had stolen fifty thousand pounds from an elderly investor. Not a bit of wonder he had been so generous with our business lunches in Soho. Stephen, full name Stephen Mann, had been a part of the Knightsbridge Safety Deposit Robbery which was masterminded by an Italian fellow Valerio Viccei. The more the police discovered about the robbery and who was actually involved the further I could move away from the incident, although I have to say, if I had masterminded the job, I would never have been caught.
The whole incident had caused a frisson of excitement around the office and my day began to get worse as a letter from my bank showed that they had started to bounce cheques. I went to see my manager Peter and complained that, especially with everything else going on, Abbey Life should be supporting me and not messing me about. Peter Rang Ipswich to find out what was happening with my money. Jack, the Ipswich branch manager, had decided that as I had effectively resigned from his office, which I had to do to join London, I had abandoned my clients in the Ipswich area so he had given them to members of his existing sales team so that the clients would be looked after.
Good for him, but as the new sales people would have to spend time getting to know my old clients and reassessing their financial needs, they would be given any commission I had earned. This is about the point where you wish for the ground to open up and swallow you. I was a wizard with numbers and careful with money, I had calculated everything out and had covered everything involved, not just the purchase of a new house, but day to day living expenses as I was living in digs and Irene and the three children had to eat too. It was all a bit too much for a good ol boy like myself, there were not enough dark corners for me to sit in, or enough time for me to think my way through what had happened. My head had gone into tumble drier mode again and I was entering a dive I didn’t think I would be able to pull out of.
Strangest thing of all was that I was still in the air force; if they had caught a whiff of what I was going through I’m sure they would have made a song and dance of it all. Graham suggested that I go to his house that evening and have a few drinks; he had one or two ideas to run past me. I went to my digs and emptied my room into my car, put the key through the letterbox and drove to Wallingford and Graham’s house. All this time I wasn’t really able to think as I knew I had to leave Abbey Life but what next? Suddenly you realise that a cloistered life in boarding school and then the armed forces does not prepare you very well for Civvie Street. I suppose the shock for me was that I hadn’t even left the air force yet but my fantastic career in Civvie Street was already over.
It was nice to be a guest in Graham’s house. It was comfortable and clean and warm. He shared it with his wife Ginny and their two infant children. Graham drank whiskey like water and, no slouch myself in the drinking department, I often found it difficult to keep up with him. Ginny used to ski for the British Olympic team and was a bit of a laugh when she wasn’t screaming at Graham. Graham only had the one persona and would thunder his way along wherever he was, he began to explain that they had only recently returned from South Africa where he had been a diamond mine inspector. I know, the bullshit detector is off the scale especially when Graham says that if we ever get stuck for some cash the pair of us can undertake a diamond smuggling run from South Africa to Amsterdam. Cash paid and plenty of it. Graham would be the courier and I would be the bodyguard.
I was still smiling at Graham’s suggestion that I wouldn’t be able to carry a gun on the airplane, so I would have to dump a gun in South Africa and then get another one in Amsterdam. Graham spoke as if guns were available on street corners and I refused to go along with his story till he offered me a book. It was a standard book; at least I thought it was until I opened it to find the pages hollowed out and a neat little revolver sitting inside. Graham pulled the weapon out and spun the cylinder, checking that all the bullets were there and explained that I needed to know where all the guns were in the house in case anyone broke in. It was mad enough to encourage me to start to believe some of Graham’s claims. We were sitting enjoying a drink when he began to tell me that he had been great drinking partners with Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Richard Burton, who he had met when they were filming The Wild Geese.
This time the bullshit detector did go of the scale, that is until Graham pulled out a series of eight by ten, black and white, photographs that showed him sitting drinking with the three actors. I still wasn’t convinced that he spoke the truth about a great many things but he certainly did blur the lines a lot. I realised that it was quite late and I was quite drunk. “I’m off to bed,” I said, stating that I had a long drive the following day to Liverpool. Graham wouldn’t hear of it. “No,” he said. “You’re staying here with me.” I explained that I had a huge financial mess to sort out, I had a wife and children to see to but Graham wasn’t having any of it. “I’ve been speaking to Canon Life,” explained Graham. “Not only are they going to open an office for me in Wallingford, but they are interested in your forces thingy.” I sat myself back down and let Graham fill my glass with whisky, things were still going to be pretty bad but at least I had a sort of future beginning to form.