Blue Suburban Skies
“John loved his Uncle George, who was a big soft-hearted gentleman. He could speak fluent French and was a wonderful artist who’d won scholarships at school.
“We all liked Uncle George. He was very attentive to John. He bought him his first bicycle and would take him for walks into the Woolton countryside and tell him about nature.
“He was well read and would read entire books out loud to John.”
George’s ambition had been to become an architect, but this dream came to an end when he was expelled from school and entered his father’s dairy business.
He was particularly fond of John and when the boy was four and a half years old, taught him to read by reciting the headlines from the Liverpool Echo to him. He also taught John how to draw and paint and bought him his first mouth organ.
Aunt Mimi said, “My husband George adored John just as though he was his own son. And like all dads he spoiled him. Sometimes when John had done something wrong and I’d sent him up to his room, I’d find George creeping upstairs with the Beano, John’s favourite comic, and a bar of chocolate.
When John was fourteen and away on a holiday at Durness, Scotland with Stan and his parents, George suddenly began to vomit blood and was rushed to hospital where he died of a haemorrhage.
John wasn’t told immediately. When he arrived home a few days later and asked for his Uncle George, Mimi told him the tragic news.
John went upstairs. He recalled, “Then my cousin Liela arrived and she came upstairs as well. We both had hysterics. We just laughed and laughed. I felt very guilty afterwards.”
“John was afraid of Aunt Mimi, as she’d tear into him if he misbehaved in any way, although he refused to toe the line and become a respectable middle-class boy, as Mimi would have liked.
“He had a little dog called Sally, which he adored. One day she got rid of it while he was out of the house. He never forgave her for that,
“He also had a pet rabbit for a spell. Mimi always had at least one or two cats in the home, particularly two Siamese cats. Animals surrounded her, really.”
Stan recalled the Smith Family Farm, which was one of the oldest farms in Lancashire. It had ponies and traps for delivering the milk in Woolton and the surrounding district.
“John, Liela and I would be taken out on the milk rounds on Uncle George’s route.
“There would be a huge milk churn on the back of the cart. The horse, without a word of command, knew every customer’s house at which to stop. It even went past a non-customer’s house or two, to the next known customer! We were fascinated by it.
“We would ladle out the milk to the customers own containers at the front gate of their home. On returning to the farm we had to help Uncle George unhitch the horse and harness and clean out the stables.
“John tolerated Aunt Mimi. She was a bit of a tyrant. She kept a tight rein on his activities, but he would rebel against her. He would go off to his mother’s house as often as he could.
“John’s room was a very, untidy shambles of a room and Mimi was always complaining that she had to tidy up after him.
“John’s bedroom was the little single room at the top left of the house, as seen from the front. It was simply furnished with a single bed, a chest of drawers and a bookshelf, with a scatter carpet rug on the floor.
“The house had a nice floral decorated lead window, a bay window looking out to the front of the house and front garden.
“At one time I slept in his room when I’d visited Aunt Mimi, expecting to see John, but she said, “Oh, he is off gadding about with his group over in Germany. Hamburg, I think. God knows what he’s getting up to!”
Looking back on the days when he John and Liela would be together, he recalled, “We were keen on old Cowboy and Indian films. I always rooted for the Indians as I thought they were more stealthier and cunning fighters than the cowboys.
“It took me a long time, but eventually John began to think along the same lines. So if we picked sides with our young pals to play Cowboys and Indians, John and I would always be the Indians. We would make our own bows and arrows out of wood.
“Games in those days were very hard to come by and we made our own simple wooden toys such as guns, rifles and snow sledges. We did have Ludo and Snakes & Ladders and played records on Aunt Harriet’s wind-up portable gramophone and my mother’s HMV radiogram.
“We made all our own Christmas decorations at Christmas time. We built go-karts out of old pram chassis and built our own very large kites at Fleetwood, where there were exceptionally high winds off the seashore.
“I also had a tent, so we were allowed to camp out overnight in the ‘Mendips’ back garden. It was all very exciting stuff for us.
“John once jumped off the roof of the garden shed into Liela’s dolly pram as she was parading around the back garden lawn with it. It completely demolished it, and he thought it was a great joke, although it didn’t go down too well with Liela, as you can imagine.
“At the time we were rebelling against a strict upbringing. At one time we asked if we could eat out in the garden shed at the back of Mendips.
“It was all laid out neatly with table cloth and utensils by Mimi and our mothers’.
“When they had retired to the house we decided that we wanted to discard the knives and forks and proper behaviour and eat our food with our fingers only – which was not the done thing as far as our family were concerned.
“We hadn’t realized that our parents had been watching us secretly and we ended up with a telling off and were never allowed the freedom of the garden shed again for outdoor meals.
“We would sneak over to the Salvation Army Home grounds through the back of ‘Mendips’ to play with the children of the Home, much to the annoyance of Mimi. She thought we should not mix with ‘those kind of children.’
“The Bad Boys Borstal also intrigued us. That was housed in the former house and Stables that had belonged to Gladstone, the Prime Minister from Liverpool. It was situated just down the road from ‘Mendips.’
“We used to chase after the boys whenever any of them escaped and went jumping all over our neighbours garden fences trying to get away. Mimi nearly had a fit whenever we attempted to chase after them. We were not to associate with such criminals!
“In those days we were cinema daft, of course. I took John and Liela to all the main cinemas in and around Woolton as well as the Rialto and Trocadero in town. Judy worked as an usherette at the Trocadero. We went to the Abbey cinema near Penny Lane, the Gaumont, Allerton and the little cinema in the village of Woolton.
“John and I had our film heroes as I took him on all his early childhood cinema trips. We loved Errol Flynn in his swashbuckling adventure films, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and his horse, Burt Lancaster cowboy films and James Cagney gangster films.
“When John became famous as a Beatle, during an American tour they were invited to meet Burt Lancaster who presented each one of them with a genuine Western six-shooter in a real leather holster with their names inscribed around the back of the holster.