Main Body

Chapter 2. Cleveland, 1970 (cont.)

Memory Flash: Ardendale Rd, South Euclid June 23, 1970

I’m at the home of Rosie and Nettie Lippa, two eccentric and retired Cleveland school teachers, 91 and 87, who are in ill health and have had to be moved to a nursing home. The house is in as bad a shape as they are, and they know they will probably never be able to return to it: a fairly routine story for the elderly of Cleveland in 1970.

But what the police have found inside is amazing: A shut-in life of pauperism, isolation and reluctant acceptance of food from neighbours. No gas or central heating. Poor insulation. Poor clothing….

And $150,000 in cash, bank books and securities stuffed into every nook and cranny, most of it in small bills, rotting away in mouldy envelopes in cupboards, walls, ceilings – and yes, under mattresses. A further $350,000 is in various safe deposit boxes.   

Nettie says she thought she had got in enough coal for the winter, but found she hadn’t. A local nurse found Rosie with ‘bad feet’ and called the police to get her to hospital. Their neighbours include the Mayor of South Euclid, George Urban, who tells me they got what they needed from white elephant sales (unwanted private home possessions) but did not want for money. “They sold their old Ford for $2000 a year ago,” he says. Their lawyer says: “They were just thrifty. They spent virtually nothing and kept everything. We’ve taken 19 van loads of stuff out of here.”

Word has got around, however, and thieves and vandals have broken into the house, ripping up floorboards and wrenching out pipe fittings in their search for money. The house is now boarded up and Mayor Urban says it will probably be torn down.

 The sisters were born in Cleveland in the 1880s and educated at Case Western Reserve University, but they learned their thrift from their father, who came from Bohemia (Czchoslovakia) and told them they must always be VERY careful with their money, and spend as little as possible 

So they did – or rather, didn’t. 

Back to the Italians – the ones we came to love. To begin with it was just one individual: Dorothy Martony, who began her nursing career late in life at Euclid General at about the same time as Anna. She did not see much of her family, and lived alone in a trailer park off Euclid Ave. Dorothy loved everything about the English, especially the Queen, and over the years she became Anna’s surrogate Mother and godmother to our first child, Nick. My friend Jim Dudas was of Hungarian heritage, but his wife Marcy’s maiden name was Pirello – another bubbly Italian.

I haven’t mentioned the Germans, whose ethnic stamp across America was almost as strong as the British. Anna’s first job in Cleveland was as a carer at The Altenheim (Old People’s Home) on Detroit Ave, founded in 1886 by the Westseite Deutscher Frauen Verein (Westside German Ladies Society). But I don’t think it’s worth detailing their achievements here, except to say I got the impression, from the day of my arrival, that the German language of their forebears had a strong bearing on the way Americans talked and thought: the flat sounds of their speech (compared to the almost sing-song speech of the British), the flat delivery of American jokes etc. I don’t mean to say every American with a German surname sounded like Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s Secretary of State, but there’s something steely in that accent that I felt at the time produced a characteristic of the American nation that says: “This is the way it’s going to be” and a drive to succeed.

Memory Flash: Border of Virginia and North Carolina. Summer 1971

We’ve just driven over the border into rural North Carolina, on our way to the ocean at Cape Hatteras for our first brief American holiday. I’m sure my Mustang is only going at the then-speed limit of 50mph. Suddenly, from behind a huge roadside billboard comes a police car, its siren wailing for us to stop.

“You know how fast you were driving, boy?” the officer asks me in a thrilling (for us) southern drawl.

“Fifty?” I said.

“Fifty two. You’ve got a ticket boy. Follow me.”

Fifty-two miles per hour. At most that would get us a police warning back in England. I try to protest, but the officer is having none of it. I drive behind him back to the small, quiet town and stop outside a hardware store.

“Wait here,” he says. “I’ll get the judge.”

Some minutes later the “Judge” appears. He is a short, balding, older man, and this is his store. He has been taking a lunch break back at his home and appears to have a stain on his shirt. He opens the door, cheerily bids us enter and takes us to another room with chairs and desk, from which he pulls out papers and tells us we were speeding and this will be a $25 fine (actually a $5 fine, $20 “court costs”). The “Judge” hears our accents and asks where we are from.

I don’t think he accepts ”Cleveland” as much of an answer. Perhaps I should have said: “Little Snodbury, Worcestershire.” (I already knew Americans couldn’t get their tongues around that). The ‘Judge’ follows us out, muttering something about finishing his lunch.

 Two miles an hour over the speed limit? How does that “fine” work out financially for the judge and the cop? About the same as an average sale in his sleepy store, I’d guess. Easy money.

On the way to our car I look more closely at the speeding ticket. I can’t see the Judge’s name, but do see the officer’s.  It isn’t ‘Schickelgruber’  but looks decidedly German.

‘Aha!’ I think to myself. 

One of my early Community Page stories was about what some would call “hillbillies,” white immigrants in the Tremont area of the near West Side whose families had moved from Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana and other Southern places looking for work, just as the Blacks had done in the 1920s. They, like the East Siders a year earlier, were afraid that a spate of attacks by “hooligans” would end up with their homes being set alight or someone being killed. They didn’t like the press, I noted, but this time they wanted us to spread the word that they were prepared to fight.

“Threats of Violence Stir West Side Area” reads the headline on my story on May 1, 1970.  “Residents in the West 19th Street/ Abbey Ave. Area of the near West Side are today nervously keeping their guns close at hand in response to teenage threats of violence and fire bombings for this weekend.”

For the first time in my life I called the police myself to come out and reassure citizens who were as afraid as anybody I had seen up to then. And, for the first time, I even asked some of them to pose for pictures – with rifles, shotguns, and handguns – as a police officer talked to them. The resulting published photo, showing a husband leaning out of a window holding a handgun, his wife outside brandishing a rifle, and grandma inside nursing a shotgun, would be impossible in Britain. (1970 total homicides in England and Wales, pop. 42 million, was about 400. Total 1970 homicides for Cleveland alone, pop. 751,000, was 301. Go figure, as I learned Americans like to say).

I’m sorry, but I have no memory or record if the ‘hooligans’ came back that night – or the next. Hopefully they got the message. But it gave me my first hint of just how available guns were in Cleveland, and how acceptable it was to use them.

And the English in Cleveland?  I guess their ethnic centres were the golf clubs that were dotted around the city; the theatres, restaurants and their places of work. They were the businessmen and women, the doctors, editors (our editor was Tom Boardman) ,  research specialists, accountants and lawyers. I only once saw inside the boardroom of the Press’ lawyers, Jones, Day, Cockley and Reavis (in 1974 dropping the Cockley and adding Pogue), and although it was in a modern office building in downtown Cleveland it was wood panelled and could have been taken straight from an 1890’s legal office in London.

Many years later I discovered a plaque on a wall in the main dining area of the Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street, London (rebuilt 1667 (!) where Daily Telegraph newsmen (not so many women) used to hang out. The plaque announced its greetings and affection from The Cheshire Cheese Club of Cleveland, 3443 Euclid Ave, to the place made famous by those great men of English letters James Boswell and Dr Samuel Johnson (1737), under whose painting I have often eaten my beef and Yorkshire pud. The club describes itself as “an invitational club of men, meets weekly to hear guest speakers, review books, and discuss ‘the topics of the day’. The club began in 1917, when a group of businessmen who were meeting informally at Chandler and Rudd (next to May Co. On Public Square) were invited by the manager, Harry Sims, to use a specially-reserved table for their daily book review meetings.”

I may have been English, but I wasn’t a businessman, so was never invited.

Should Anglo Saxon even BE an ethnic group, in America or anywhere else?  Technically, the Anglo Saxons are descendants of tribes of Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians from Denmark, NW Germany and northern Holland who settled in eastern England after collapse of the Roman empire in the 4th century, and who then mixed in with the native Celts. Over the next several hundred years – including the invasions of Vikings and Normans – these ‘Anglo Saxons became ‘the English people’ (different from the ‘British people)’ who set out to build the world’s largest empire.

I don’t think they asked the question in 1970 when I arrived (demographics were more racially-based then), but the US census in 1980 identified 50 million Americans saying they were English, or partly English. That was 26 per cent of the total population, making them the largest ethnic group at that time. By 2016, however, this had dropped to 7.4% of the population. But according to demographers this was a serious undercount as, starting in the year 2000, Americans had a new word to use in the national census: the word “American,” – a better identification for those millions whose Anglo Saxon heritage had long been fudged by intermarriage with other cultures.

In the third decade of the 21st Century Anglo Saxon finds itself further under attack as being insufficiently diverse, somehow politically incorrect and associated with right-wing ideologies or ‘White Power’ groups. Who wants to study Anglo Saxons today? I think my ethnic group has thus now probably lost its niche as George Washington’s blood family.

At least there was fish and chips. What would I do without that? Arthur Treacher’s fish and chip shop, founded in Columbus, Ohio in late 1969, started one of its first stores just beyond Lakeshore Blvd and I-271 in Wickliffe, an eastern suburb of Cleveland. By the middle of the 70s there were 800 Treachers around the country. But by 2019 the Anglo Saxon fad had almost gone. Only seven (four in the Cleveland area) remained.

We didn’t know many Brits in Cleveland. But one couple, the Roberts, who arrived when we did, we got to know quite well. He was a ceramics specialist working on catalytic converters for autos, and his wife became director of the Cleveland office of the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, which played a major role in school desegregation.

There were, of course, very many Americans with English names and characteristics, so it didn’t really matter. Among the first of our dearest friends was Dick Wootten, art editor for the Press, and his wife Judith ‘Jay’, who had Polish heritage but you’d never know it. Both possessed the same Anglo sensibilities and humour as ourselves – except Dick played a mean jazz piano!

And so to Theodore Andrica, (1900 -1990), Nationalities Writer for the Cleveland Press for 46 years.  Immigrating from Romania in 1920 he was hired by Editor Louis B. Seltzer to write about the area’s ethnic communities, and in 1927 had literally invented the field of ‘ethnic journalism.’ For months every summer he would travel to Europe carrying messages and news of Clevelanders to their families and friends across the European continent – and vice versa. Affectionately known by his colleagues as ‘the Broken-English Editor’  Andrica wrote a regular column, attended some 14,000 banquets over his career and promoted a series of all-nations exhibitions. He once hired an airliner to take tons of clothing from Clevelanders – and his city editor, Louis Clifford – to refugee camps in Austria following the 1956 Hungarian uprising. He also filmed and photographed them. Three of his color films, from 1938, 1947 and later, describe conditions on the continent before and after WWII, narrated by him and alongside music provided by another veteran Press journalist, Milton Widder.

Andrica was also a 1943 Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University, the first for the Cleveland Press. (I was the second, in 1980/81, more later). I knew him only for a short while, as he didn’t come into the office very often, and retired in 1973 to edit a Romanian quarterly magazine.

For me, almost every story I wrote in my early days at The Press was an eye-opener. I wrote about Cleveland’s Afro-American Cultural and Historical Society, whose museum was on the verge of collapse because there were TOO MANY new black history groups and black societies seeking funding. The society and museum were run by a man with the wonderful name of Icobod Flewellen, who had worked tirelessly to keep the museum going for 17 years, but whose bank account was now down to just $123.  His dream of a magnificent plan for a $300,000 museum dedicated to the Negro never got further than an old schoolroom.

I had asked Ralph Pruitt, director of black studies at Cleveland State University, about Flewellen and his plans and he said: “It is a sad commentary that this has developed. I think it is primarily due to the lack of understanding of just what Flewellen and people like him have done for the black movement. It stems in large measure from the activist thinking on the part of many blacks in our society who would rather move away from the gradual reforms his work implies. It is all ‘action’ and ‘action now.’

In other words, young blacks in the 1970s won’t wait for ‘Uncle Toms’ to get white respect for blacks. Some would rather protest on the streets first.

Memory Flash: E86th St. and Hough Ave, Cleveland, Apr 16, 1970

I’m at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Hough Center, the first million-dollar multiservice center for local residents in Cleveland, funded mostly by the federal government with some from the city. It is controversial, in that plans for this center – providing day care, counselling, health, leisure, employment and group activities – had to be cut back from the $1.25 million prepared for it, losing some expected services.

Mayor Carl Stokes is not happy, and he thinks the white-owned news media is not backing his black community. He tells the crowd it’s the news media that’s to blame for the cuts in the planned services. They shout back their support for him. 

“We’ve all come here to see something very important for this community,” he tells the crowd of about 30 people. “But where’s the news media?”

I’m standing at the back of the crowd and wave my arms. I’m the only media person there. Stokes has met me, he knows who I am, but all he can say is: “Well, where’s your equipment (camera?)”  Basically, he wants his picture in the paper holding a hammer in one hand, a spike in the other, performing the ground-breaking ceremony.

I shout that the photographer is unable to come until an hour later. There are shouts of derision from the crowd and silence from the mayor.

“If something wrong is going on here in Hough they (photographers) would be here quickly enough,” he says. “It’s a sad commentary that newsmen are just not interested in the things this community does to help itself.”

After the ground-breaking ceremony I write: “Stokes went off to ‘an important meeting’ and didn’t wait for the photographer”.

I forget how much of this was edited, but the next day his anti-media blast shares sidebar space with my main story about the center, over six columns at the top of Community News and with a photo by Van Dillard of Dr E. Frank Ellis, city health and welfare director, addressing the crowd.

“What Mayor Stokes had to say was strong: an outright condemnation of the news media,” I write. 

The Cleveland Press actually supported Mayor Stokes for his second term (though not the first). Editor Tom Boardman knew Stokes was struggling with forces greater than local politics, and had built strong black representation through the 21st District Caucus in the Democratic Party. But the paper would not put up with cheap attacks like this and wanted him to know it.

Demographics, for a start. The white population of the city had been migrating south, west and east to the suburbs for the previous ten years, dropping the population from 878,000 in 1960 to 751,000  in 1970. It had been helped by the building of the Willow Freeway – Interstate 77 – opening an avenue to the southern suburbs that made commuting much easier. Parma alone grew to 100,000 people, many of them ethnic Poles. The other was I-271, which enabled commuters in the eastern and south eastern suburbs to reach the Lakeshore freeway to the city center.

The major result was that the city’s white population had dropped from 90 per cent in 1940 to 61 per cent in 1970, with the black population rising from 9.6 per cent to 38 per cent. From relative wealth to relative poverty, and occupied by a black population which needed vastly more civic money than any city administration could provide. Stokes was helped by his brother Louis being a Cleveland Congressman pressing for ever-more federal funds. But the federal government of Presidents Ford and Richard Milhous Nixon had more to worry about than black pressure, even with the murder of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, and the national black riots that followed.

And pressure was growing from both black and white youths about Vietnam, not least the four students killed by Ohio National Guard soldiers at nearby Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

‘Ohio’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Four Dead in Ohio.

I don’t know why, but I well up every time I watch this video.

The tragedy is that the National Guardsmen doing the shooting were about the same age and from the same area as Kent State students protesting Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. Among those who were Kent State students at the time were our friends Jim and Marcy, who witnessed much of the incident. A journalism student, Jim sent some of the first reports to the Cleveland Press, after which the paper hired him. He later interviewed one of the Guardsmen who did the shooting, providing a historic and national first for the Press (and an exclusive report for the Press that was done literally off the cuff: he didn’t have a notebook so wrote his notes on his hands, arms, and legs while sitting in his car, then agonized over Journalistic ethics whether to write it at all!)

Memory Flash:  The US military draft board office, E9th St. Cleveland, summer 1970.

“You here again?” asked the young woman behind the reception desk of the draft board office. “I thought you said you were British?”

“I still am,” I replied. 

“So what are you doing here?” she said.  “We’re not drafting non-Americans.”

I showed her my letter, instructing me to report for a medical exam to be fit for service in the US military. It was my third letter from the draft board, apparently because of my  immigration status which was not temporary. I knew it RISKED me being drafted, but didn’t think they‘d actually do it.  I had studied the War of 1812, one of whose causes was the Royal Navy’s desperate need for sailors to fight Napoleon’s ever-expanding domination of Europe by impressing former British sailors who were now in the US Navy. The ‘Press Gang’ was a long-established feature of British naval life, and would have been in the US Navy (modelled on the RN) if the native Indians were any good at ocean sailing.

And anyway, I thought, wasn’t the US War of Independence supposed to be about ‘No taxation without representation”?. I was obviously paying federal, state and local taxes, but was not an American citizen, could not vote, or be represented.

Would this ‘mistake’ not be identified by the feds, and let me get back to my life?

I discussed this with the Reception Lady, and she made it clear she was opposed to the Vietnam War.  She said she was horrified by the Kent State killings.

“Look” she said. “You see these letters here? This is the Out tray. Letters to draftees go out every day. Every time I see your name here” – and she pulled out a small writing tablet from under her desk top, where I could see a list of names on a sheet of paper – “I’ll take your letter from the top of the pile – here – and put it at the bottom – there.

“I can’t stop it, but it will buy you some time.”

And it did. A few extra months anyway. My next letter from the draft board came, I think, in November or December of ’70. It gave me until the end of February to launch any appeal, otherwise I was to report for induction in mid May ’71 (no final date stated). I immediately sent off my appeal, but, of course, I should have waited until the last minute, and perhaps extended my time ‘in the world’ longer. That way I might not have heard back so blasted fast from the Appeal Board: “No, Sunny Jim, you’re coming with US. The sooner the better. Get it over and done with. Its only 18 months. We’ll make a MAN out of you!”

Or words to that effect.

In tribute to my fairytale receptionist (well, somehow it makes me think of her) here’s Stairway to Heaven, 1971 by Led Zeppelin; Tribute Kennedy Center 2016, with the band in the seats, President Obama and the late John Bonham’s son on drums.

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold

Why I had a full immigration visa anyway is not clear. Dick Campbell, the managing editor, had been asked by a State Department official why he was hiring a foreigner instead of an American when he offered me the job in 1968. “Have you SEEN the quality of applications I get from students in this country?” he asked the official. No comment. Official stamp of approval.

It was becoming increasingly apparent that I would not only need a decent car to enjoy Ohio recreationally but also to do my job – or at least sit in one for hours alongside a photographer. A week earlier photographer Freddie Bottomer(who could talk for America ) had driven me down to the village of Chardon for its annual Maple Festival.

“Reporter Finds Sirup Time is a sweet assignment” ran the headline of my story (and yes, they spell syrup as ‘sirup’ on the west side of the pond). My first-person piece, complete with picture of me standing in snow, wearing my London-bought black fake coat and scribbling in my notebook next to “spritely 72-year-old Roy Grant  chomping on a stogie” (cigar) – to a 24-year old anybody over 60 was “spritely” –  revealed my naiveite in learning  that maple sirup does not ONLY come from Canada but is collected in buckets halfway up a tree trunk into which three-inch plugs are struck to collect the rising sap. The stuff is mostly water, which has to be boiled off and sweetened before it can be sold.

By mid August I was a suburbs reporter, where I REALLY needed a car. Of the 60 suburbs around Cleveland I was responsible for 16:  Aurora, Beachwood, Chagrin Falls, Chagrin Falls Township, Cleveland Heights, Lyndhurst, Moreland Hills, Hunting Valley, Orange, Shaker heights, Lyndhurst, South Euclid, Streetsboro, University Heights, Warrensville Heights, Woodmere. A few had their own city or town hall, a school board, and a library: a lot of duplication and expense which I later blasted in a commentary piece. But, for the sake of history and local identity that’s the way the public wanted it. And they certainly didn’t want to join with the City of Cleveland and all its problems, which is why people moved to the suburbs in the first place.

I inherited three ‘stringers’ – local people who may or may not have had journalism training – to help with updates and background of news in their areas. Two other reporters – Fred Buchstein and John Randt – covered the suburbs of the other third of the East Side of Cleveland, and an equal number for the West side. (I think it was Randt who I sat next to briefly before he went off to the army and Vietnam, returning 18 months later in such a state he had to leave again. Our families became friends and we met again in North Carolina, where John became a local radio reporter, and then back into the regular army, where he became a senior public affairs officer before dying much too young).

Memory flash: Pepper Pike police station, Dec 10. 1970

I’ve come to this very wealthy exurban Cleveland area of 7.5 square miles 12 miles southeast of downtown (pop.5,000 and this year officially a city), to interview its police chief, Frank McGuire. Frank has been a naughty boy and has just had to resign. I’m one of the main reasons he has had to go.

He has taken a year-old $25 traffic violation check paid by the mother of a young Pepper Pike resident into his own account instead of putting it into a court account. McGuire says he thought it was a gift for the police department’s Christmas fund and doesn’t know why it is not recorded there.  I have a copy of the check, however, and the back of it is endorsed by him. 

The copy was handed to me through a couple of Pepper Pike police officers who don’t like him siphoning off Christmas fund cash donated by local residents. The check says ‘to pay: Pepper Pike Police Department’ but the mayor who has fired him, Edgar Parks, says he has warned his policemen for years about the dangers of accepting gifts – cash or otherwise – and McGuire, as police chief, would pay the price if it came out.

Parks and law director Robert Musser told him that if he resigned there would not be any bad publicity because Parks had the check in his briefcase. So, without any legal advice, McGuire resigned. Once I had the check published in the Press, however, he tried to withdraw it, but Parks refused, publicly citing only McGuire’s  questionable part time activities  with a real estate company while he was on police duty.

McGuire has asked me to come and see him in an effort to implicate the mayor. His lawyer, Lewis Zipkin, told a meeting of residents angry about the firing: “We believe this check incident caused embarrassment to the mayor. We believe Frank McGuire is a scapegoat for someone else we don’t know.”

This is my first ‘involved’ Cleveland Press investigation, but not my last. We will hear more about Mr Zipkin and his questionable real estate connections 11 years later.

Looking back at my Cleveland Press newspaper clippings for 1970 I see a far wider-ranging set of words and pictures than I had in York, England. Local news was much more accessible here. From plans for a new Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Cleveland Heights (a California-based hospital company that had the lower-cost, prevention and management-based philosophy for all that reminded me of the UK’s National Health Service) to a white Chagrin Falls merchant who agreed to employ a black youth only after an angry crowd of blacks had demonstrated outside his store: the first racial demonstration in the history of the small suburban town.

In August the Lyndhurst police department bought a number of special shotgun shells to scare away noisy, bird-dropping starlings from Edenhurst Rd. On their first deployment a police officer fired a shot above a tree. “The result,” I wrote, “was one starling fell down dead, presumably from a heart attack, and two neighbours complained about the noise. The birds later returned.”

Another heart attack struck Ben Skall, the vice mayor of University Heights, another Cleveland suburb, whose heart specialist encouraged him to get out of his car and ride a bike. This being car-mad America, he persuaded his council to start designing bike routes, with other suburbs joining in by adding hard surfaces to paths through parts of the park system.

One of my own “only in America” experiences came when I received in the mail an introduction to Consumer Guide Inc, “an outfit on the blacklist of the Cleveland Consumer Protection Assn that offered five gifts with a “total retail cost of $1,050. But we can’t hold them long.” The address to pick them up was on Lorain Ave. Anna and I went to see these gifts, but we weren’t sure. The price dropped to $599  “And all you have to do is agree to write a letter saying how much you like them.” I took his price list to several reputable Cleveland companies who said we could buy them all for much cheaper. I called the salesman, who put me on to his boss. He used “strong words” when I said I was a Cleveland Press reporter.

In gentler words, he said: “I make a nice lot of money – more than you do sitting at that typewriter, you can bet. I can still sell things at any price I like.”

You betcha.   A few months later Anna and I would be attracted to a store whose windows shouted “SALE! SALE!”  We walked in and didn’t see anything that had the word “sale” on them. I told the salesman I couldn’t find anything that looked like a sale price. “What do you mean?“ he asked. “Sale?  We’re selling everything. That’s what a store does.”

Almost last for 1970 was a story about a public exhibition of the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings in the world that was likely to be stopped because of a local Beachwood legal ruling about zoning laws. The owner, J. Reynolds Morse, was an industrialist and philosopher who had met Dali in 1943 and, with his wife Reece, became a permanent friend and supporter. He had set aside 5000 sq ft of one of his industry-zoned buildings at Commerce Park for the museum, which Dali was scheduled to open in March 1971. When I spoke to Morse he was incandescent with rage. “The Spanish government is building its own Dali museum,” Morse told me. “But I have a large collection (400 paintings). How can I repay the hospitality Dali and the government has shown me by telling him some local officials here are bureaucratic?”

The museum was opened as planned, but moved to St Petersburg, Florida, in 1980 when a better deal was arranged. Dali died in 1989. Morse died in 2000.

The suburbs reporters at the Press all sat at a couple of large desks in easy mumbling distance from the suburbs editor, Fred McGunagle, commonly known as McGoo. He did, in fact, look a lot like the stubborn, extremely short-sighted cartoon retiree with the Jim Backus voice, though his voice was pitched a little higher. Fred was also mostly bald and wore bottletop eyeglasses. But he was also an extremely good sub-editor and editor. I remember him pulling me up one day for using a gerund in a certain way (can’t remember what). A gerund?  Is that an American word, one they don’t use in England? I had never heard of it, and I had passed Advanced Level English at school. I knew about verbs being used as nouns – fly-ing, danc-ing, sing-ing etc – but I guess none of my teachers told me they were called gerunds and exactly where they fit in the structure of English grammar. I just seemed to know how to use a gerund without knowing what it was called.

Over time I learned that English language structure was as important to U.S. immigrants as the words themselves (a German/European thing about formal structure in language?), whereas I had just absorbed it as a child in England. There was a LOT I didn’t know. By late summer I realized I was almost certainly the only reporter on the staff who didn’t have a four-year college degree. There was no sign it was holding me back, and no suggestion I might be fired for not knowing what a gerund was. But there it was: ALMOND DOESN’T HAVE ANY COLLEGE QUALIFICATIONS. No-one in America had the faintest idea what three A-levels meant, and no appreciation of the National Council for the Training of Journalists certificate (with 100wpm Pitman’s shorthand).

What Almond needed was a degree, perhaps like the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz.

They have one thing you haven’t got: a DIPLOMA,” says the Wizard. “Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committiartum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of ThD – Doctor of Thinkology!”

I would have to find out what my education was worth in terms of points towards a degree.  Mother! Father! send me all my old school books from my old school!

And they did. Boxfulls of English essays about poets and writers, playwrights and actors and dramatists; handwritten descriptions of global meteorological statistics and climatology and why the northwest of land masses in the northern hemisphere have similar  weather systems to Britain; history essays about medieval Britain and Europe, delving deep into the lives and deaths of King Cnut and Harold Hardrada in the late tenth century, of Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms 1521, and of the First and Second Crusades in the 11th and 12th Centuries.

I dumped the whole lot on Tom Campbell, a professor of history at Cleveland State University and Ohio State, who had come from Northern Ireland in 1963 and was educated in the British education system. If anyone was able to explain to Americans the value of Advanced Level General Certificates of Education in the UK it was him.

It took quite a long time, if I remember – well into late 1971 or early 72 – but after being routed to some national education equivalency organisation in North Carolina, I got an answer. My two years of 11th and 12th grade English, Geography and Medieval History in England were worth three years and six months of a four-year US college degree. I learned that American students don’t usually study medieval history until at least post-graduate level.

So… almost but not quite. I would have to find the time to do math and American history full time to actually get a college degree.

Ummm……..  Maybe next year.

More importantly for fitting into American life, of course, was my lack of an American education, and particularly a college LIFE: the fraternities, the parties, the sports – especially the sports, as big and brassy as professional teams. (College sports do not exist in England the way they do in America, where half of all the 50 states do not have professional football and only one or two don’t have NCAA (National College Athletic Association) stadiums which regularly attract 40,000 or so).   College sports is BIG, and unlike England gets the very best of young players because they offer valuable sponsorships and scholarships).

So, what was I going to talk about with my colleagues in the office, at Barristers bar for lunch, in the car with photographers, at evening functions, at morning phone calls with sources?

I’d better learn a Ribbi (runs batted in) and a Steerike! (strike!) in baseball; a ‘Blitz’ and a ‘bomb’ in football; a ‘lay-up’ and a ‘jump shot’ in basketball, a ‘bar down’ a ‘barnburner’ and a ‘bender’ in ice hockey.

Otherwise,  I might have to look down at my shoes, talk politics or religion, or even – heavens above –  NEWS! Nobody wants to talk about the weather in America.

Anna, meanwhile, was working as a nurse at Euclid General Hospital: a full-time job in the emergency room. I’ll let her tell her story about all that, but we were, perhaps, a typical young couple who led different work lives, came together at nights and weekends, and learned to introduce friends to each other. We could not plan annual vacations because neither of us were due any for months. I know I had to work for a year before I could take any vacation, and as that started in January we decided to wait for a further six months to take it in the summer of 1971, when the weather, hopefully, would be better.

Meantime there was this new American holiday (new to us) called Thanksgiving to explore, the last Thursday of November. I really can’t remember if we went to anyone’s home for it that year, or indeed for Christmas. We must have done – one or the other, but what struck me most about it was the brilliant timing for families:  For Thanksgiving one year American couples visit one side of the family, and for Christmas they can visit the other side; and alternate year after year.

Why don’t the British do that?  Halloween on Oct 31, and Guy Fawkes Night on Nov 5 are both too early – and who wants to visit families for events that mark scariness and hanging, drawing and quartering a man who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament anyway.

I do remember we drove around the Cleveland suburbs on Christmas Eve staring amazed at the vast number of Xmas lights and gigantic Santa Clauses almost as high as the tops of houses. We took dozens of photos to send home, and then determined we must get a movie camera.

Just IMAGINE what next Christmas is going to be like, showing all those MOVIES we’re going to take! Maybe we’ll need a HOME CINEMA!


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From Across the Pond by Peter Almond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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