Old (And New) Friends Shine Like Diamonds

Comfortable friendship is not a commodity I´ve ever looked for really. I prefer, instead, the challenging, spiky friendships that clarify my blurred perceptions, by making me look again at myself and the world. I need friends who ask me the difficult questions and who tolerate my frequently feeble answers. Most of my best friends are books, or poems or songs or silences. There are people, too, though, who inspire me to inspire, so come follow your art down sidetracks & detours to a shore-line table under an umbrella shading the sun where friends are speaking from the heart about how nothing and everything happens as one.

I recently received an e mail from a gentleman called Tony Brady, a man I had the pleasure to interview when he was over here on Lanzarote for a holiday in February this year and about whom I published an article called From Pigs To Poetry And Literature on my daily blog, still available in the easy to negotiate  archives dated 25th February.

The e mail was an invitation to meet up for lunch, but it had, attached, a little story called The Prince Comes To Plumstead, that with only a day or two then left then until before  the UK Monarch´s funeral, seemed very apposite. The e-mail said I write a regular feature called Something For the Weekend: I place it on Blaisdon Hall former school Page, and recently included the following attachment.

SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND – 

THE PRINCE COMES TO PLUMSTEAD

Serve first those who suffer most. AbbéPierre

Thanks to huge help from a wide variety of supporters – including most of the churches in the area – Benny Hazlehurst, a Minister at St. John’s Church aided by a group of planners, thinkers, movers and shakers, resolved to buy a former Greenwich Council children’s home on the “sharp end inner city” Glyndon Estate, Plumstead and convert it to accommodation for 23 homeless single people – Companions – who formed the first EMMAUS Community in London. Other EMMAUS Communities already existed in Cambridge and Coventry.

EMMAUS communities work on 5 basic principles:- they are open to anyone irrespective of background or belief; each member works to their ability for equal reward, food, clothing, shelter and a modest cash allowance for personal needs; the community helps others in need; there is no commitment as to length of stay; once functioning, each community is self-supporting by selling re-cycled or re-circulated household goods.

Benny was different from those like me who have worked for many years in homelessness and dream of finding an overall solution to its problems that so dismay and continually challenge. He had transformed his dream to almost reality. I readily agreed to be involved in an idea “Whose time had come”. Presently, in September 1994 I was elected the foundation Chairman of the EMMAUS Greenwich Council of Management. Apart from raising the seeding money of £250.00. – one of my first public duties was to be the welcoming of HRH The Prince of Wales to EMMAUS Greenwich official opening on Tuesday 29th November 1994.

Everything connected to the visit was planned and timed to the millisecond. For the sake of HRH’s protection and safety I was made aware of possible dangers to the Prince and underwent deep security vetting. My only “recorded crime” was a penalty payment for going through a red traffic light in Shepherd’s Bush, 1980.

The day came and an early morning telephone call from Benny resolved all doubts that the Abbé might be too ill and weak to travel from France. Everything was not quite ready. The crude reality of a project still being developed would be evident. The Abbé Pierre had arrived from Paris during the early hours and after a couple of hours sleep was up at 5.30 am. As all vehicles were banned from the vicinity of EMMAUS I walked about a mile from my home, imagining the meeting of HRH with the Abbé as the English Dauphin meets the French Prince of Paupers.

I let myself into EMMAUS at 6.30 in the morning, wearing a boiler suit and learned that the Abbé was meditating. I eagerly awaited meeting someone – in his eighties – who I regarded as the greatest living Frenchman and though it was mooted the Abbé did not stand on ceremony, I was not to be disappointed. I was busy pushing a broom when I was introduced to the black cloaked, bent over and almost blind Abbé Pierre by a French-speaking Companion:

“Monsieur l’Abbé- Voici Le Chairman!” “C’est bien. Nettoyez les fenêtres!” the Abbé ordered.

So straightaway helped by several Companions I got down to cleaning the plate glass windows. It was the usual chaos: we were never going to be quite ready in the way we wanted to be. It didn’t matter as HRH wished everything to be normal without any veneer or cosmetic touches. Above all he was keen to talk with the EMMAUS Companions. Later and now in my best suit, I waited by the Community front door with Joe Lee, EMMAUS Greenwich Administrator and Benny Hazlehurst.

photo hrh Meanwhile the couple of hundred guests including Archbishop Runcie, Cardinal Hume, The Abbé Pierre, Terry Waite and Vicky Morse, the first black Lady Mayoress of Greenwich, came in through the shop side doors and waited in the workshops area. Hundreds of people had gathered. Two-way radios crackled. Cell phones pipped. Cameras zoomed, flashed and clicked. The French TV News film unit took testing shots. The bobby by the door “I’ve seen it all before, sir!” cleared his throat – his white gloves stifling a sneeze.

Deafening cheers as the motorcade glided to a halt. Prince Charles steps out smiling, his hand outstretched. I grip it. A very warm welcome to EMMAUS Greenwich I say, adding, the people await you.

Abbé Pierre, (born Henri Marie Joseph Grouès 5 August 1912 – 22 January 2007) was a French Catholic priest. A member of the Resistance during World War II, and a deputy of the Popular Republican Movement.

In 1949, he founded the EMMAUS movement, with the goal of helping poor and homeless people and refugees. He was one of the most popular figures in France – but had his name removed from such polls after some time.

postscript January 2022 A search on the World Wide Web reveals that currently there are 13 EMMAUS Residential Projects now up and running in England – including EMMAUS GREENWICH – and 11 active EMMAUS Support Groups.

It was the late Texan songwriter, Guy Clark, who said, in one of his typically insightful lyrics, that ´old friends, they shine like diamonds´ and although I have loved that song for decades, it was only over a long lunch the other day that I acknowledged its truth. 

When you’re making conversation
And you’re trying not to scream
And you’re trying not to tell ’em
You don’t care what they mean
And you’re really feeling fragile
And you really can’t get home
And you really feel abandoned
But you want to be alone

Old Friends they shine like diamonds
Old Friends you can always call
Old Friends Lord you can’t buy ’em
You know it’s Old Friends after all

And when the house is empty
And the lights begin to fade
And there’s nothing to protect you
Except the window shade
And it’s hard to put your finger
On the thing that scares you most
And you can’t tell the difference
Between an angel and a ghost

Old Friends they shine like diamonds
Old Friends you can always call
Old Friends Lord you can’t buy ’em
You know it’s Old Friends after all

Talk flowed we three new, soon to become old, friends as easily as the wines and the beers and names fell out in conversation. We travelled backwards and forwards through time, confessing our sins, correcting our mistakes and adorning the cake of our achievements. In the rock and roll of the chatter we danced to the rhythm of literary theories of Roland Barthes to the Bare Naked Ladies (not of the Canadian rock band of that name, but to the subjects found in The Secret Places Of Lanzarote, a current photographic exhibition by Adriyana Hodge  at Julio´s Tap Room Bar in Costa Teguise until the end of November). We discussed Thoughts And Feelings, Sidetracks And Detours and Pigs And Poetry. We told jokes, remembered songs, and spoke of theatres and arts venues we have visited.

We are all polymaths in some way; Mindful that polymath is a quantative judgement, not qualitative, I shall say only that I still flirt with poetry, make sweet music with my lyrics, facilitate creative writing groups and post my daily blog from here on Lanzarote where I have already lived, (how time flies and stands still) for seven years, for five of which I have been writing these weekly pages for Lanzarote Information. 

Harper Collins first considered publishing a book by Anthony J M Brady – Of What is Past – a memoir genre about the horrors of St. Joseph’s Home, Enfield (1940-1952) only if he convert the work into fiction. They did however post it in their global open assessment site – Authonomy – a sort of literary beauty contest – (now defunct) where it was critiqued and adjudged by thousands of other aspiring writers around the world.  It made it to Number 1 and therefore warranted a commissioning edit and offer to publish. Tony chose to keep it in true-to-life Memoire format.

A German book producer saw it – the rest is history. The memoire Quartet  – Scenes from an Examined Life – is available (print on demand) from tredition.com Tony, though  doesn´t tout his books. Instead enquirers are referred to the public borrowing library, for reasons that might become apparent during the course of this article.

To live is to leave behind

To be free as a man alone

Who has lost everything. 

Bearing scars that never heal,

The pain he will always feel,

The loss he cannot repeal,

And when I am for real; 

The silence in my little talks,

The stillness in my moonlit walks,

The thought of separate ways,

And all my numbered days

Now aged 82 the writer, under his pen name of Anthony JM Brady, lives on Stud Farm where he worked in his first job aged 15: in Blaisdon Gloucestershire, a voluntary exile from Northern Ireland.

At the Blaisdon village Red Hart pub, Tony picked up a take-away lunch.  Local people are supporting Sharron and her husband Kushak by patronising their kitchen during this very constricted Covid-time  use of their business. They mentioned  that to Tony that he has lived an interesting life. He launched a book about it in 2020 – it is in production in Germany where he lived for the previous three years and is titled: Limelight and Shadows. It features people Tony has met and kept company with in a variety of circumstances: Actors: Albert Finney – Alec Guinness –  John Geilgude. Ralph Richardson. Brigitte Bardot… John Profumo and his wife Valerie Hobson. Maghdi Jacoub – Heart Surgeon. Hospice Care pioneer Doctor Cecily Saunders. Charity donor John Paul Getty Jnr.. Lord Longford. Cliff Richard. Mrs Mary Whitehouse. Eamon Andrewes.  The gangster Kray twins.

In this week of all weeks, that of the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, I have just learned from the his article The Prince Comes To Plumstead that he even met our new King, then The Prince Of Wales.

In contrast, but not by comparison, he has also written Shadows,  a series of cameos of homeless people:  men and women he knew and worked alongside. The lead Chapter is entitled  Going Under Cover about a fortnight in 1965 when, sponsored by his East End Parish priest, Augustinian Prior Hilary Carter, he lived rough – and stayed in Doss Houses and Night Refuges a la authors George Orwell and Jack London. There was chronic begging at the Priory door in Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green and the community were trying to work out an effective way of helping homeless callers with emergency housing assistance.

Tony was on statins about 10 years. Several times he asked his GP to stop prescribing them. On the side effects information with every prescription  “muscular wastage” was mentioned. Tony noticed he was finding it difficult to walk. He also found out that GPs in Northern Island received a £50.00. bonus for every patient they put on statins. Once, while his regular GP was away the locum took Tony´s mobility concern seriously, examined his spine and physical movement and  noted his records.

In Feb.2016, Tony required in emergency admission to hospital, two cardiac stents, although he had no history of heart trouble. Later in 2016 the Cardiac Consultant point blank refused to take his patient off statins,

When Tony insisted he should be examined he was told he has a degenerating disease of the spinal cord When told there was not treatment and that he should ´put it down to old age,  he asked his GP to refer him to a spinal specialist Osteo Neurologist. He was informed that Northern Ireland health services priorities placed him in the category of lowest need, so it would take at least two years to obtain an appointment. 

His friends in Germany, aware of this barrier, invited Tony to come and live there and they would arrange contact with free relevant health service professional clinicians. 

For a couple of years from 2015, Tony had corresponded with a German unpublished writer. She visited a bookshop that he, one day a week, managed in a National Trust Enniskillen property. She needed some information to assist her research so he sent her relevant data on a regular basis. In November 2017 he took up her invitation to be a paying guest in her Ravensburg apartment. Before leaving Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland where he had lived since 1998, he told his doctor why he was moving away and he provided Tony with a digested clinical history. Tony arranged to continue as a temporary patient when visiting N.I. 

Tony´s wife  (78) is now permanently living in a Nursing Home in County Fermanagh. She was disastrously mis-diagnosed as mentally disturbed but after over two years of sufferance  a pituary gland tumour was eventually discovered. The surgery restored her capacity to communicate normally, although two post operation strokes disabled her physically.

Their second son Christian is in life-long residential care due to permanent afflictions caused by meningeal reaction to Whooping Cough vaccination encephalitis in infancy.

Tony was recently diagnosed with a vertebral complication and urgent surgery proposed. Nevertheless, he smiled and chatted and hid his discomfort as, like mad fools and Englishmen, he and I and his friend Rita Schmid strolled out in the Lanzarote mid-day sun as I led them in search of a bar, on Tuesday 20th September, as I was then unaware then of his health issues. It was hard to think of this man with his twinkling eyes and Maurice Chevalier style walk using his walking stick as a cane to twirl as being in ill-health. 

Anthony, (sometimes Tony) J M Brady is a what might be called fictive writer of a sort of autobiography and of a combination of biographies of others who appear in that autobiography. He is a writer who is also blessed with a social conscience that has seen him work in education and with charities for the homeless. He first met our fellow diner, Rita Schmid through a linear narrative that involves more sidetracks and detours than does my daily blog. Although he only makes occasional forays on to Lanzarote, where he finally found her, Rita has lived here for more than thirty years. 

The two now consider themselves as old friends and I hope Rita and I might follow that example eventually, having only met for the first time at this lunch, convened by Tony to bring together like-minded, arts loving friends. 

Rita is a published poet and her work is apparently in UK libraries, or at least in some UK phone boxes !

Thoughts And Feelings is a precious and exquisitely written and presented collection of poems, each printed in Spanish and also in English. That was one of the reasons that our lunch time conversation centred around what we lose (and sometimes perhaps gain) in translation. There are poems about Liebe (Love) and Kliene Freuden (Little Pleasure) as well as Gemmeinsamkeit (Community), all subjects dear to Rita´s heart.

She speaks of ´hours that run away, uninterruptable and of reach´, but there is an ever-present optimism and a sense of forgiveness of others and self in all her poetry, She speaks of the wind that tenderly strokes her hair, and she tells how much she loves a ´twinkling, shiny star in the deep dark night´. She tells of her love of colours and she holds tight to what she has and thinks fondly of what she has had and sometimes lost. 

I also think, that between the lines of her poetry she reminds usthat anything lost can be retrieved.  

For example, as what we thought of as our history and our heritage in the UK were slowly stripped away at the turn of the twentieth century, Tony proved that what seems to be lost can always be found. After telephone poles and wires and The Witchita Lineman disappeared from the UK landscapes having been gobbled up by mobile media, the ubiquitous coin-in-the-slot, red telephone boxes throughout the UK were simply left to stand idle and rot. 

Only a decade or so later rural libraries were killed off by Kindle and their kin, albeit because of government policy rather than social edict. People, usually the elderly who couldn’t connect a  Kindle skills set, or who simply preferred the printed page, began to use those abandoned red telephone boxes as tiny libraries, and soon phone boxes all over the country were filled with books for exchange. 

It was whilst browsing through one such telephone box library that the English speaking Mr. Brady pulled out a book by Swiss-German speaking but Spanish based Rita Schmid. He somehow managed to discover that she lives here on Lanzarote, and he wrote to her to express how much he loved her poetry and the serendipity surrounding his discovery of it in a phone box out in the  UK fields.

Earlier this year after a flurry of correspondence about his books and her poems he came over here to meet  her. And that is when I met him and came to learn that he is perhaps a man who sets all the fireworks off at once, rather than light a Roman Candle and sit back to watch it fall over. He contacted a ´local radio station´ (Monster Radio 99-9 fm) and appeared on The Perfect Storm, AJ (The DJ) Hendry´s afternoon magazine show. She in turn told him about a guy in Playa Blanca who writes a daily blog about the arts (that´s me folks) and he duly e mailed me and introduced himself.

We agreed to meet at his hotel for an interview about his work which I subsequently published on my daily blog. 

The real treat of my second meeting with Tony in September was, for me, being shown by Rita Schmid what she calls her ´notebook´, that is in fact a Super-Duper Scrapbook of an artist´s life. 

As we all shook hands and went our separate ways, (Tony back to his hotel before heading back to England the following week), Rita (to her home in Arrecife) and I (back down south to Playa Blanca) we did all manage to make arrangements for other imminent events. I offered to pick Tony up on the following Friday evening to visita  photographic exhibition of The Secret Places of Lanzarote by Adriyana Hodge and I subsequently included some reference points to that fact in an article about Adriyana called Body Poetry on these Lanzarote Information pages.

Rita also agreed she and I  should try to arrange an interview to talk about her book and her relationship with arts and the community, so watch this space.

 I met my wife back in the underground car park of The Gran Hotel (we´re romantic like that), and on the drive back home I told her that Tony had kindly treated three of us to a fantastic tapas lunch at the outdoor Parador Restaurant on the Arrecife sea walk round to San Gines. Dee told me about each and every item of shopping she had bought,…shoes mostly !

We arrived home about forty minutes later and although I was absolutely exhausted after a good meal and a couple of n/a beers, and after a longish drive in the hot sun I was ready for counting shoes, sorry, I mean sheep, and falling to sleep, I decided to just check my e mail inbox first.

That is usually a fatal, time-consuming job but today, immediately after a lunch with two new friends I actually had two e mails, each from a really old time friend of decades standing, and each bearing good and interesting news. 

The first was a facebook message from music photographer Roger Liptrot, just reminding everyone how long he´s been such a music fan and of one of the first concerts he ever saw.

My first ever concert was Creedence Clearwater Revival at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in the early 70’s, along with my mates Graham and John, it was the catalyst for the hundreds of ‘live’ shows that I’ve enjoyed since. I remember turning into Peter Street and hearing that distinctive voice of John Fogerty singing “Keep On Chooglin’” the final song of their ‘first house’ then, shortly after, seeing a bank of monitors in a van which were obviously filming the show. We found out later that the tour was being recorded for an LP and video that sadly never appeared.

It’s great to see that a recording of their legendary 1970 show at London’s Royal Albert Hall has now finally been released on cd, etc along with a documentary / concert film, “Travelin’ Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall”, which is also now streaming on Netflix and includes footage of the show.

Both come highly recommended! They can now be found on You Tube.

There was an e mail, too, from Pete Benbow, from whom I learned, four decades and more ago, about the music of John Stewart, Townes Van Zandt and Jackson Brown. Pete, too, had a nice little tale to tell me.

Hello Norman….

Do you remember your poem, Roll Slowly ?

I once asked you could I put a melody to it and you said of course so long as every time I do it , I mention your name .

Well you can believe me or not, but I have kept to that , and each time I have played it (always to great admiration, I might add’) I have 

That is up until  to last night …, I did it at a pub called the ‘White Horse’ at Walshaw near Bury, and as I got through introducing the song, mentioning you as author of the lyrics, a guy put his hand up at the back and said ..I know Norman Warwick.. he used to teach poetry classes at our school.. so I was vindicated in the eyes of the audience ,, i was not just making it up to pad it out …result !

I talked to him later. He is an Irish lad, and a teacher now ..I think his name was Liam..I should have asked his school etc but the night was buzzing and we all moved on fairly fast.. He is a singer of Irish folk songs .. nice guy. The next time I bump into him I will get details 

So there you go ..Abroad but not forgotten…. lol,..Pete.

And if you´re reading this Pete,  I remember those days when I and Colin Lever and Steve Roberts in Lendanear and you and Graham Price, in Double Trouble thought we were all those young  Dreamers On The Rise that John Stewart used to sing about. 

Now we have become the old friends that Guy Clark said ´shine like diamonds.’