Lest We Forget… my Dad’s first AND ONLY visit to London – aged 86!

I thought I’d share this from November 2009 when British and Allied troops were in Afghanistan. Dad lived another 7 years after this. But it remains the only time he ever visited London. And one of very few times he talked about his war-time experience.

My Dad, above, on the Thames embankment for the first time, aged 86. Note cap in hand.

It’s been an unusually domestic week for me. And with remembrance day, British troops in Afghanistan and the Sun newspaper giving Gordon Brown a bad time over his handwriting, one that has given me pause for thought too.

It was a big week on the domestic front because my Dad, at 86, had never been to London before. He apparently drove near it in the 1940’s, but that was in the back of an army truck. So he and my lovely sister came down for a few days. I don’t think I ever spend enough time with my family. Is it just me or do we all feel like that? I am so focused on trying to create art and avoid arts oft nearby regular bedfellow – grinding poverty! So it was nice when they came down, and as ever Bex was the perfect hostess, fussing over every detail.

Dad actually passed near London in the 1940’s to jump on a plane for Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. Dad was a paratrooper, a ‘Red Devil’ and was part of the cock up that marked a bridge too far. He was wounded and spent a long time as a P.O.W. However, it’s just as well he was captured when he was. I checked his company details on the ‘tinterweb and the very day of the morning of his capture most of his comrades were wiped out by a machine gun nest. Incredible, but true.

So in London, we did the usual thing, showing Dad and Sis around darkest Chiswick and taking them to our favourite haunts. I’d met them both at Euston Mainline station and we took the Northern and District Underground Lines to get home. Now Dad is sharp and full of humour and although his hearing isn’t too good (and he stubbornly refuses to wear his hearing aid) and he’s not as lithe as he used to be, he’s nobodies fool. So it was strange to see how strange the everyday of London was to him. He was fascinated by the electronic signs inside the tube carriages. He thought they were a great idea and seemed transfixed by them all the way back to Stamford Brook. He couldn’t understand the need for all the different tube lines until I explained the distances involved and that the map was a condensed representation of the network.

“And what if you’re colour blind with all those colours on that tube map?” he commented. He was also shocked by how violently the turnstile doors slapped open and shut. I think he may have a point there.

But what really made me think was us walking from Westminster to Embankment pier past the RAF war memorial. I was slightly ahead of Dad looking for my camera. When I looked back he was looking up at the memorial and had his cap in his hand.

“You all right Dad?” I asked.

“Just thought I’d say hello to the boys,” he said and nodded at the memorial. “They looked after us as much as they could.” I’d never heard Dad talk like that.

I took the pic, then he doffed his cap to the memorial, put it on his head and off we went.

I asked him about it later. Dad was born into extreme poverty, the youngest of eleven kids. His mom, my Grandmother, died when Dad was seven. My Grandfather, Paddy, was an Irish labourer from Co Mayo in the west of Ireland. He was a big drinker (so THAT’S where I get it from… not my fault then!) who would often use his belt on the kids when he’d had a bit too much, which was apparently most nights. I have some sympathy.  Not with beating the kids, of course, but the pressures on him must have been immense. There were 12 of them, pre welfare-state in the 1930’s depression, in two rooms in an up and down house in Leeds and often they went hungry too. When Paddy sobered up later in life he would often tell Dad the army was a good way out. Three square meals a day was a lot better than the everyday life they enjoyed. So aged 16 Dad and a mate from Leeds lied about their ages and signed up. Not the best of times to join the army. As Paddy said, 

“Join the army, yes, but not when there’s a bloody war on!”

So Dad was grateful to the airman who took care to give them a safe landing at Arnhem. But it transpired later that there were other people looking out for him too. Dad’s C.O. never acknowledged Dad’s age. But the day they got captured, the day Dad’s platoon was massacred, the C.O. got his company up in the early morning, and moved off quietly, leaving my wounded Dad and his young chum asleep. When they woke up, the older guys had gone. The German officer who first captured them looked set to turn violent until he saw their age. In perfect English he said to Dad, “You are too young to die in this war.”

I attended a wedding in Scotland a few years ago. Behind the bar was a young man… maybe 19 years old. He was wearing a Parachute Regiment Tie. I asked him about it and he said he was in the Territorial Army. I happened to mention that my Dad was in 2 Para and dropped at Nijmegen Bridge in 1944. His reaction took me completely by surprise. He shook my hand. “Woah! Your Dad! What heroes those guys were.” And in spite of protestations, I was unable to pay for a drink all night!

Dad’s reaction to the memorial and the young guy in Scotland got me to thinking about the current engagements. The loss of life is hugely regrettable in Afganastan at the moment and indeed many of my cousins in Leeds were in the forces,. But was WW2 the last TRULY justifiable war? Can the 9/11 tragedy be compared to the invasion of Poland by Hitler? Is it right the Sun newspaper seems to be making an attempt to discredit the P.M. by using and directing the anger of a grieving mother?  Isn’t that just a bit too much 21st century?

Something don’t smell right, kids. I feel uncomfortable. I suppose it’s always us, the great unwashed, the working class who get stuffed by other peoples principles; it’s always us that ends up galloping into the cannons or marching into the hail of shot. But is it right, nowadays? I dunno. This time last year, during a performance of Henry V – Lion of England, in Brighton I had actor Ed Morris place a poppy in his coat at the end of the show which caused a palpable gasp from the audience. (I won’t give too much away about that. I want you to see the show!) But what do you think? 

I’m just very grateful to Dad’s C.O. and that unnamed German officer in Holland. Or I almost certainly wouldn’t be here to ask these questions.

How early failure can lead to success later in creative careers.

A Bohemian lifestyle guide..!

brown wooden letter letter letter blocks

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Failing early in our careers can make us question whether we are on the right path. We may look at people who have succeeded from the outset and wonder why it doesn’t come so easily to us. Classical violinist Nigel Kennedy, actor Natalie Portman and painter Pablo Picasso are examples of young geniuses who were successful early on.

But for some of us, failure at the beginning of our careers is important to later success. For many creatives, how we deal with those moments when things aren’t going right or you’ve received yet another rejection letter can make or break us.

The author and self-improvement lecturer Dale Carnegie maintained that inaction breeds doubt and fear; action creates confidence and courage, which inevitably ends up helping a person to succeed. This chimes with what American psychologist Carol Dweck outlines in her 2006 book Mindset.

Dweck discusses the concept of people with a “fixed mindset” versus a “growth mindset”. The former is a way of thinking where there is a lack of self-belief and a negative persona while the latter is where no challenge or task is too large to take on board. Which mindset you have dictates how you will interpret failure and success and how well you approach everyday life.

A passion for learning and a desire to improve upon failure creates opportunities to learn and challenge yourself. This mentality is a boon to creatives. While yes, there are the Picassos and Portmans of the world, there are also a few famous creatives who had to overcome failure early on in their careers. These individuals demonstrate the “growth mindset”.

Rejection doesn’t have to kill dreams

A young schoolteacher from Maine, US, was a passionate part-time writer who worked tirelessly trying to get his novels published (unsuccessfully) in the late 1960s. He continued to believe in himself and chase the dream of becoming a successful author. But sometimes the reality of failure gets the better of a person and after 30 rejections he famously threw his fourth attempt at a novel away.

Fortunately, the manuscript was saved by his wife who, having confidence in his work, persuaded him to continue trying. Eventually, the novel was sold for an advance of £2000, a nice bonus for a schoolteacher. The publishing rights were ultimately purchased for an additional £200,000 and the novel Carrie turned Stephen King into a household name.

A young Stephen King failed to get his first three books published and nearly gave up on the fourth. Archivo/Alamy

Dreams can propel us forward but they can also be crushed by rejection. The composer Johnathon Larson spent years working on his 1991 musical Superbia only for it to be turned down by theatre producers. He was told by his agent to “go away and write something you know about”.

This was a crushing moment for Larson. Eight years of work rejected. However, he listened to the advice and his next musical Rent premiered on Broadway in 1996, becoming a box office sensation. The semi-autobiographical Tick, Tick Boom, which Larson began performing as a one-man show in 1990, went on to also be a hit when it premiered in 2001. It has recently been turned into a major motion picture directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of Hamilton).

Larson’s secret was to learn from failure and take on the advice given to him. He used that experience to propel himself forward. Sadly, Larson never witnessed his triumph, he died on the eve of Rent’s Broadway premier in 1996 from an aortic dissection. But his life, including his failures, made him successful. His roadblocks became his inspiration. Both of his successful productions tell the stories of larger-than-life characters struggling with their failings while trying to achieve a degree of success.

Overcoming difficult circumstances

There are situations in life that conspire to make us fail. However, adversity can often act as a springboard of determination to succeed. My turning point as a youngster was failing my grade five music theory exam. That one singular event, although heartbreaking, made me determined to succeed in music and become a composer and producer of Scottish Musicals.

Others deal with much more difficult circumstances. Imagine being homeless, penniless with partial facial paralysis, yet dreaming of an acting career. Never-ending rejection from talent scouts and agents, hours of waiting for appointments that never materialise, such a life would be demoralising. However, the realisation of personal failure can become the catalyst for success.

This real-life scenario eventually earned Sylvester Stallone over £178 million and catapulted his writing and acting career to stardom. He didn’t let these circumstances, which led to failure, stop him. The key here is that he believed in his ability and that drove him onward. Continual failure reinforced his resolve to succeed.

Steven Spielberg had poor high school grades and was rejected three times from film school. He battled through his early career failures before eventually directing 51 films and winning three Oscars. Again, it was his perseverance and self-belief that drove his determination to succeed.

We might never become the next Spielberg, King, or Larson but the lesson learned from their experiences is a sharp reminder of the mantra of playwright Samuel Beckett:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Failure is not damaging, it is part of a proactive progression and once we learn to accept that we might be unstoppable. I eventually passed my grade five theory exam and went on to get two degrees and a Ph.D. in musical theatre, the rest is history … my personal history began with a failure for which I am very proud.

Stephen Langston

Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for Performance, University of the West of Scotland writing for The Conversation.

Slater’s Big Bohemian Bike Ride! Part Four!

He makes a start from his chosen charity hub. It doesn’t go well..!


In today’s other news… I survived the first day of the journey. Barely.

I was going to post a fetching picture of the bike under trees, hiding from one of today’s many rain showers, but it transpires the multi-way adapter I brought is USB-C and this tablet is only USB-3 so I can’t get any photos off the camera SD card until I get an adapter for the adapter.

Alzheimer’s Research UK turned out en masse to mark the start in Cambridge. They gave me a mug of tea and a hat, asked lots of questions, then assembled to cheer me on my way and were lovely.

Officially, my departure was at 1pm – the moment captured on video. Four times 🙂 Almost as soon as I was round the corner, it started to rain so I hid in an entrance until it passed so the real departure was totally unobserved, from a multi-storey carpark at 1:23pm

Somehow it took me 52 miles to ride a 40-mile journey. And I took 7 hours to do it, which is appallingly slow. At 30 miles my legs started to object, at 35 miles it hurt and I couldn’t ride up hills. Not even shallow ones. Serves me right for being cocky about the whole thing. Oddly, at 40 miles I got some of my mojo back and it got better. A bit. Still hurt. Back, shoulders and hands, too.

Honestly, I could write a whole book about just today but although I have only 17 miles to ride tomorrow, to the ferry, I MUST check-in before 8:15am so I’m going to have to get up at stupid o’clock in case I find I can only do slow.


Day 1. No photo and no long bedtime story. But special mention for Tom and Helen who provided parking within 5 miles of AR UK when other plans fell through. We haven’t seen each other for decades and tonight I’m staying at Essex Uni, in Colchester, where Tom and I met, back in 1365.

Oh, and donations rose substantially today. £1,643 now. Momentum continues!

Oh look, I’ve made a picture. Me under me new titfer.

You can donate to John’s Charity Fund here…

Mad Man Cycling… Part Three!

John Slater’s newsletter on his crazy, bohemian cycle-ride… from Birmingham Uk to Asia!

I’ve given the bike new Schwalbe tyres, Shimano pedals (one of the old ones was broken) and a good washing. It’s likely to have its photo taken on Thursday. It’s never going to look its best again, much like myself, but it’s not too embarrassing now.
I just realised I’ve had it for 10 years. I bought it on 30th July 2012 and three days later set off from Birmingham to Edinburgh. My first multi-day bike ride. Took me a week.
It had a new Brookes B17 saddle a couple of years ago so I reckon the new parts and accessories have now cost more than the new bike.

A quick update 2/11/22

Photo by Lobna Mahmoud on Pexels.com


I had an email asking me to do some of the quick updates I used to do a while ago. So they return here with touring news – and I’m blown away by The London Library. VIDEO TO FOLLOW!

— Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/bohemianbritain/message

‘Trouble in the House’: Virginia Woolf and Ellen Wilkinson write the House of Commons

The Senate House Library is worth a trip in itself!

Literary London Reading Group

Dr Clara Jones (KCL) will be leading conversation in our upcoming reading group. It will be taking place in person at Senate House, London – Room 35, Ground Floor on the 8th November 2022 6:00pm – 7:15pm. All are welcome to join.


This talk considers two pieces of writing about the House of Commons published in 1932 – Virginia Woolf’s article forGood Housekeepingmagazine, ‘This is the House of Commons’ and Ellen Wilkinson’s, thriller,The Division Bell Mystery. One fiction and the other a piece of creative non-fiction, both have much to tell us about this tumultuous moment in parliamentary politics. The proximity of these pieces to the 1928 Equal Representation Act and the fact both are written by women mean it is tempting to focus on the gender politics of their representations of Westminster. This certainly comes into it but what I want to do…

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Nick Hennegan presents unique music from some of the new musicals he attended at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022 – including a new folk musical – Prejudice and Pride – the new classic The Choir Of Man – and the new ballet, Hamlet, starring Sir Ian McKellen.

— Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/bohemianbritain/message

Mad Man Cycling… Episode Two!

The second episode of John Slater’s slightly mad charity odyssey from Birmingham, England to Istanbul… on a cheap, no-lycra, bike!

Well, the start of my journey is planned now. The Grand Depart will be around midday on Thursday, from the HQ of Alzheimer’s Research UK, a few miles outside Cambridge.

From there, I’ll be riding about 40 miles to the campus of my old uni, in Colchester. They let student rooms cheap(ish) and it’s for the sake of nostalgia as much as anything. I’ll have to get up early on Friday because I’ll be boarding a Stena Line ferry at Harwich. It’s a 9am sailing which means I have to check in by 8am and there’s 17 miles to cycle before I can do that. Cycling from 6am. This really isn’t a holiday!

I’ve just realised I don’t know if the arrival time of 5:15pm in Hook of Holland (Near Rotterdam) is UK or Central European time; European I hope. Whatever, by the end of Friday afternoon, I should have tyres on mainland European tarmac. Fingers crossed.

My First time on the radio, I think, in about 30 years, being interviewed on Midlothian’s Black Diamond FM about my forthcoming solo bike ride to Asia. The mid-morning presenter is Geoff Ruderham whom I’ve not seen for over 40 years when we both worked at Edinburgh Playhouse. Also in the conversation was Bernie Carranza. She’s the Scottish fundraising manager for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Geoff does like his studio dark. So did I, but not that dark, and I never worked in a studio with computer monitors. Mine had turntables and tape machines.

Can you support John? https://justgiving.com/fundraising/TheRideOfOurLives