Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Molly Sayle.

I suppose I ought to write about some of the people I knew in my life - after all I spent most of my time surrounded by thieves and murderers.

No, really I did.

But they weren't the really interesting ones. Actually, with a couple of exceptions (like the serial killer) they weren't so bad as all that. The really bad people I knew were the ones I worked for. The suit-wearing respectable ones who ripped everybody off, including me.

No the really, really interesting people weren't rich or powerful. They were determined, courageous, idealistic people and they don't deserve to be forgotten. So I'll write about a few of them.

Exactly thirty years ago at the end of this August,  I went off for my first ever holiday abroad. I'd reached the grand old age of 28 and I was due to start a new job in the middle of September, although it was only guaranteed for a couple of months.

I spent the last of my money (pretty much down to the last tenner) on a coach holiday to Italy.

I went on the much lamented 'Yorkshire Tours', about which I could write a book in itself. Run by two retired pharmacists from Yorkshire, they started in the 'business' when they bought two minivans to ferry Arthur Scargill's 'Flying Pickets' around the country in the Miners strikes of 1972 and 1974.

They soon branched out into organising very cheap and very adventurous holidays to destinations as bizarre as Beijing and Ulan Batur, Moscow and Libya to raise money for left wing causes. Every trip involving long, long overnight coach travel (to save on hotels) and a degree of chaos and confusion which made it all the more exciting.

Not surprisingly, the people on the holidays had a few things in common; we were all very left wing, adventurous and flat broke.

I caught my first coach abroad from an archway by the side of the British Museum and I had the time of my life in Northern Italy.

This was 1987 and they still remembered the war, vividly.

Everywhere you went the little villages had bullet holes in the buildings around their squares and plaques commemorating the Communist Partizans who died there fighting the Nazis.

We stayed in a little village high above Lake Garda, surrounded by holidaying Germans flashing great wads of Lire and demanding service which never seemed to come.

We would sit at our tables counting out little piles of lire coins (which never added up to much in money terms) trying to eke out enough to get a cappuccino or a grappa.

Strangely, our orders turned up instantly, sometimes they seemed to give us more than we could afford. The proprietor would come out and flamboyantly offer us (and just us) fresh figs from a basket full he'd just picked from his own tree.

They knew who we were and who ran Yorkshire Tours.

Of course nowadays the little villages are all holiday homes owned by Germans and the effect of Thatcher and Berlusconi has been to destroy the little communities of the mountains.

Anyway, back then a number of us became friends and met up for a few years after we came back.

One of the people I met was Molly Sayle, mother of the comedian Alexei Sayle. You couldn't help liking Molly - she was as round as a ball and five foot nothing of feisty Liverpudlian, although by way of being a Jewish refugee from Lithuania.

Molly's husband was a railwayman while she worked as a seamstress and then as a clerk for a football pools company. I never got round to asking her what happened to my winnings, but I can guess.

When I knew her she was working as a Lollypop lady, helping school children to cross the road.

The couple were fighting Communists and well known in the Liverpool Labour movement - anywhere in the country if you met someone from the left in Liverpool and mentioned Molly, their eyes would light up.

Like me, Molly had faced off a few charges by police on horseback in her time but she was of a generation who would spit out the word 'Cossacks', as she did so.

She was also the funniest person I ever knew - I never stopped laughing for the whole ten days. She had a way of being completely deadpan when she said something and we would just crack up. She was a lot funnier than her son.

My best memory is of the coach taking us up and down the long, narrow, winding road from the village down to the lake and beyond each day.

One day, Italian workmen were repainting the white lines on the road but we came down before the paint had dried. Our coach swung dramatically from left to right as it made the perilous and winding journey from our cheap hotel at the top of the mountains down to the lake below.

As it did so it took the white line and turned it into three or four white lines, waving across the full width of the road. Me and Molly were splitting our sides with laughter, which only got worse as we looked out of the back of the coach at the workmen who were actually jumping up and down with rage at what the coach had done.

Molly Sayle had organised support for the striking Miners in 1984, she'd served her time in Anti Apartheid and Solidarity for Palestine. She fought for a united Ireland, she'd hounded more than a few fascists in her time and if there was a dispute in Liverpool, she'd be there on the picket line.

I miss her enormously.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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