So this is the darker second part of the fictional Lennon memoir. Thanks to Gibson for some interesting insights!
WARNING: THIS IS FICTION. There may be some facts that are tied to reality, but the whole thing is FICTIONAL. There is some disturbing and controversial content in this chapter. While there has been rumors about it percolating on the Internet, I have no inside knowledge and as far as I'm concerned I made it all up. Any resemblance to true facts - I assure you - are entirely accidental! I just want to tell a compelling fictional AU story.
Preface, Part II
The Return of Julia
Aunt Mimi had to break down and put me in a government-funded primary school for school number three, and I was enrolled with my age group, even though I had been held back in the privately funded grammar school. Not to worry, though; because the government primary was such a bad school I did just fine academically there. In fact, the one bright light that year was that I even got a first – in art – and didn’t fail any of my other classes. Mimi was relieved, but not proud. She reminded me on every available occasion that of course I should do well in a government primary school. “In fact,” she would lecture, “you should be at the top of your class at a government school. It’s a disgrace that you’re not.” The way she said “government” made it clear that she felt that this new school was well beneath the dignity of a Stanley. Actually, I made friends at this school. Pete Shotton was there and we became the ex officio “leaders” of our form. We were a terror. It seemed the authority figures in government schools were either much busier, or less starchy than their privately funded opposite numbers. I rarely was punished that first year, and got away with all sorts of fun stuff. My reputation as the coolest kid in school had started, and it continued for the remainder of my school years.
In the spring of 1951, Julia came back in to my life. I later learned that she had been hospitalized again when I was 7 or so, and that she was now with a stable man who looked after her and was very protective. They already had one daughter - also named Julia - by the time I was 10 in 1950. (Julia was pregnant with her second daughter, Jackie, in 1951.) Because she had managed to put two stable years together, Mimi decided that Julia could occasionally visit me, although under the fiction that she was my Aunt, not my mother. By this time I still knew she was my mother on some level, but I was beginning to doubt it. Everyone said she was my Aunt, and had said so for years, so maybe my memory was wrong? Maybe I just made it all up?
My cousin Stan believed she was my Aunt, too, because that was the fiction all my cousins were told. Only our parents knew the truth at this time. It seemed peculiar and disorienting to me, but I had gotten used to living on several different levels at this point, so I just shrugged and carried on.
I did have some observations about Julia. I thought she was beautiful and charming. She had beautiful red hair, a perfect ivory complexion, and the liveliest and most mischievous eyes I’d ever seen. She had a musical, evil laugh that appealed to me instantly, and she was bouncy and youthful. I thought she was by far the most fun adult I’d ever met. Of course, I only saw her when she was at her best, and for an hour at a time, weeks apart. When I was 12, she had another breakdown, and this one was extremely serious, resulting in what I believe was a six-month hospitalization. Her common law husband never got over it, and felt that I was a contributing factor to her emotional breakdowns. This is why he discouraged my relationship with her. Of course, as a child and then a teenager, I did not know any of this, and even if I had known it, I wouldn’t have understood it.
Having redeemed myself in the lowly government school and having passed my 11 plus - (I was now the magic age of 11) - Mimi went out and found school number four for me: a third tier grammar school that would accept me into my age group’s form. I was again separated from Pete and all the great friends I had made at the primary. Mimi didn’t tell me what she had done until a week before school was to start, and I was overcome with rage and threw a huge tantrum when I found out. I threw things on the floor (nothing that would actually break; I had some semblance of a survival instinct, after all) and cried and yelled. Mimi was furious with me and sent me to my room without dinner, and I was grounded for the remainder of the week. Having expressed my strong displeasure and getting nowhere with it, I did what I always did when faced with the implacable Mimi Smith: I put on a fake smile, and went along with the new regime. I had never had a tantrum before – I’d never had the courage. Now that I had had one, and survived it, and realized I could deal with the aftermath, I decided that I would no longer hide my temper when someone upset me. This was certainly not the lesson Mimi meant to teach me, but I had learned from her that the way to get what you want is to bully and insult people until they gave you what you wanted. If you were good enough at it, you wouldn’t have to do it twice with the same person, because they would want to avoid the confrontation so much in the future that they would just give up without a fight.
The trip to and from school was by bus, and it was a longer journey than I was accustomed to taking. I was very leery of going to a grammar school, and was uncharacteristically quiet, obedient and shy for the first few weeks until I learned the lay of the land. After about a month, I began to note the various teachers’ idiosyncrasies, and of course I could not just let such things pass unacknowledged. I just couldn’t. So sometime in the second month I was sent to the headmaster’s office for imitating the maths teacher behind his back. He had called me to the blackboard, and was giving me numbers to add and subtract, and whenever he turned his back to face the class, I would imitate his gestures and body language. The class would laugh hysterically, but by the time he turned around I was only one of three boys innocently chalking out his sums. He did figure it out pretty quickly, however, when I received the 1951 equivalent of high-fives from the other boys as I went back to my seat. This of course sealed my reputation as the coolest boy in the class, but it didn’t do much for my reputation with the teachers or Aunt Mimi. This first offense I was given a warning, but a letter was sent to Mimi informing her of this fact. I didn’t know that they were going to send her a letter. I thought I’d gotten through it scot-free. So I didn’t tell her what had happened, and she found out about it when she got the letter. She was waiting for me when I came home from school. She got up and moved purposefully to the vestibule and stood there with her arms crossed. Behind her in the front room I could see Uncle George giving me a pitying look. Mimi had a letter in her hand. She played with me like a cat with a mouse for a few moments, making me wonder what I had done wrong now. Then she started shouting abuses at me again, and sent me upstairs to do my homework, and then to bed without supper. I was grounded until the half-semester grades came out, and if I did poorly in either performance or deportment, I would be grounded all year. I still remember the last thing she said as she ended her harangue: “I will break this obstinacy of yours if it is the last thing I do!” (Note: she never did.)
I did pass my classes, and was taken off punishment at mid-year, but not long after that I was in trouble again. There was a fight on the schoolyard, and the other boy blamed me. I don’t know if it was my fault or not, but I am the one who got punished for it. After the headmaster bared my bottom and smacked me with a paddle, in protest, I urinated on the headmaster’s carpet. I was suspended for two weeks. I was thrilled. All I had to do was withstand Hurricane Mimi, and then I’d have two whole weeks off school! Of course, Mimi made me put on my school uniform and brought me to work with her, and sat me at an empty desk and gave me work to do. I vaguely remember collating and stapling things, stuffing envelopes, and sweeping the floors. It was horrible and boring, and I decided being suspended wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
In the next few years, as I matriculated through grammar school, I developed some great friendships, and even managed to barely pass my classes each year. I had also toughened up to the point where Mimi’s howling assaults no longer bothered me. I was accustomed to them, and they no longer worked on me. As I got taller and bigger, I outstripped her, because she was a tiny woman. When she would shout at me I adopted a sardonic “so what are you gonna do about it?” expression that infuriated her even more. One time she was about to slap me in my face, and I said to her in a menacing voice, “go ahead and see what happens.” Her arm froze in midair, and her mouth opened in shock, and you could actually see the moment when she realized her bullying days were over, at least with respect to me. After that, she was careful to mind her temper when the inevitable letters from the headmaster would arrive. She would still be sharp and resentful (“After all I’ve done for you!”), but she seemed to change her weapon from verbal abuse to guilt-inducing sulks. I never let the guilt get to me (or at least I thought I didn’t at the time), so this worked out fine for me.
Things bubbled along in this status – me, resentful and a bit out of control, with no one able to curb my behavior; Mimi, resentful and bitter, making sharp hurtful comments to try to make me feel guilty; passing but not good marks at school; and a leading role as the “coolest kid in class” at school. It was a mixed bag, but it was bound to end in 1955. At age 15 in England at that time, a decision was made with respect to each child whether the child would leave school, or continue on in a grammar or secondary school. Mimi’s decision, in concert with the headmaster, was to move me to a second tier grammar school: Quarrybanks. The headmaster had told Mimi I wasn’t stupid - I was really quite bright. In his opinion I was just easily distracted and lazy, and thus he recommended I continue on with my education. I was actually thrilled by this selection, because it meant that I would be going to school with a good number of my friends, including Pete Shotton.
An Uncomfortable Truth
Now I must bring up a very uncomfortable truth about my childhood. I have told only four people about this in my entire life, and one of them was my therapist, so writing about it for just anyone to read has been a very hard thing for me to do. I thought about leaving it out altogether, but ultimately decided that I could not do that, as it impacted my life in very dramatic ways and much of the conflict I have suffered related to sex and how I identify with it was directly caused by this secret.
I’ll just say it: beginning when I was about 8 years old, I was regularly sexually molested by a male relative. I am not going to name that relative. I do not write about this to call him out or have hell descend on him. The abuse went on for several years, until I was about 14. At first, I did not think of it as ‘abuse.’ I didn’t understand that what we would do in the privacy of our bedrooms or in the woods and copses around our neighborhood was bad or wrong. Although older than me by several years, this relative was not an adult when the molestation began. I saw him as someone to look up to, like an older brother. In many ways he was kind and supportive of me, and I suspect in his own mind he justified what happened as two boys experimenting. That is how I thought of it when I was younger, too, until I was about 11.
By the age of eleven I had learned enough about sex from my friends to know that two blokes weren’t supposed to touch each other the way I did with this male relative. It was at that point when I sought to withdraw from the sexual part of the relationship, but it was impossible at first. He was by then an adult, he was a part of my family and we saw him regularly, and he had enormous influence over me. He also subtly implied that if I told anyone about it, I would be blamed too, because I had participated in it freely and even enjoyed it at times. Just the thought of Mimi finding out made my stomach clench. I remained silent and complicit. But by age eleven, I was deeply ashamed of it, and lived in constant fear of being unmasked.
The details of how I was groomed and how the relationship developed will be depressingly familiar to those of you who have read about child molestation. It started (I think) when I was about eight years old. I cannot be 100% sure, because obviously I didn’t take notes on the subject. This relative often babysat me, and one day when he was babysitting me he offered me some sweets if I would let him fondle me. He made it sound like no big deal, and since Mimi never gave me sweets, I felt it was a fair trade. So it started like that, with him fondling me while simultaneously masturbating. It felt good, and I had no guilt associated with it. However, it wasn’t long before he wanted me to fondle him while he fondled me. This was a bit awkward at first, but I eventually got used to it. After another little while he explained oral sex to me, and performed this on me. Then, some months later, he wanted me to do it to him. I balked. I was much smaller, and doing that was very difficult and it tasted bad. He would then become angry with me, even forcing my head down until I cooperated. He would swear at me and call me obscene names while he did this. It was humiliating. He next wanted to take photographs of me in compromising positions. I did not want that to happen, but he coaxed, threatened and ordered me until I complied. He had a little dark room in his garden, so I assume he developed the photographs there. Thankfully, none of these have ever come to light. I always suspected that when I became famous, my relative destroyed them in fear of them becoming evidence in the event the information should become public.
By the time I was eleven, my relative was not satisfied with mere hand jobs and blowjobs. He started trying to insert his finger into my anus. I really hated this, and would slap him away. He would get angry and withdraw and lay a guilt trip down on me. I objected because it hurt, not because I understood that it was wrong. However, one day I was hanging out with a group of my friends, and one of the older boys mentioned men “buggering” each other, and described what homosexuality was. All the other boys cried foul, not believing such things could happen. I, however, was struck into a horrified and guilty silence. I was a homosexual! And all the boys were making fun of homosexuals and calling them bad names. I did too. In fact, I became the most virulent queer baiter, as a kind of denial of my own fear of exposure. Now I knew for sure that what was happening between me and my relative was a bad thing. I was ascribing as much blame to myself as I did to my relative, not understanding that as a child I could not be held responsible for what had happened to me.
The next time I saw this relative, I told him what I had found out, and that what he was doing to me was wrong. That is when the blackmail started. I would either do as he said, or he would tell everyone, including my friends, what I had participated in. Using these techniques, he managed to rope me in to his illicit activities for another 2 or 3 years. When I was about 14, I was almost as tall and strong as he was, and I told him I would beat him up if he touched me again. It stopped completely at that point, after I promised him I would tell no one about what he had done. Lord knows I didn’t want anyone to know, either. By this time, of course, the damage was done.
I believe Mimi suspected something was going on between this relative and me, because she found it odd that he should want to spend so much time with a kid who was so much younger than him. But I’d always lied to protect him. I think now she should have taken steps to separate us as soon as she suspected. But it was tricky, because it was a family member, and it would have caused a huge division in the family. And it would have been my word against his. Everyone knew what a wild imagination I had, and what a troublemaker I was. I guess it had never occurred to them that maybe I was a troublemaker for a reason - maybe I was emotionally distressed. We know so much more about these things now than anyone did back then, so I can’t find it in my heart to hold this against the adults in my life at the time. No one knew what the signs were, or the patterns to look for. It’s an insidious crime because the victim is smothered by both loyalty to the offender, and horrendous guilt because of their own participation.
How did this impact me? The main way it impacted me was to utterly confuse me about sex. I had no concept of what healthy sex was. I was initiated into the mysteries much too young. It’s confusing when you feel pleasure when someone who shouldn’t is touching you. Your body betrays you and reacts to it, and so, does this mean you wanted it? And if you remember the physical pleasure it gave you, does this mean you want it to happen again? And when you are jaundiced and cynical about sex by the age of fourteen, the joy and sensuality of sex is something you will always and evermore find difficult to experience unless you are lucky enough to stumble upon a lover who understands and accepts.
Another way it impacted me was that I trusted no one. He was just another older person in my life who betrayed me, let me down, and bullied me... My ego and sense of self-worth were seriously damaged, and this damage remains with me today. I have surveyed that damage, and I have mitigated it where I could, and I have had years of therapy and can talk myself through situations where the fear and distrust is rising in me, but I still feel the fear and distrust, even though I no longer always react to it. In other words: this kind of damage is permanent. As I continue to tell my story in the following chapters, you will no doubt repeatedly see the effects of this damage.
So, when I think too hard about my first 15 years of life I get lost in a morass of loss, fear, rage and humiliation. I fully expected to be abandoned or taken advantage of at any moment by everyone I depended upon every day of those entire 15 years. I never took a single thing for granted. There were no verities for me – nothing I could rely on or trust. I knew that I was a boy who did not know how to behave; and that I was messy, noisy, and dirty. I knew that I had naughty habits and thoughts. I didn’t learn anything good about myself from any of the adults I interacted with. Strangely, though, I did believe in myself at some level. Doubts, certainly, but at some level even when I was very young I understood that the people who abandoned me and those who tormented me were wrong, and that all I had to do was stick it out and I would grow up and all this misery would be in my rearview mirror. I had a world of my own in my head, and no one could touch that.
PAUL (1949 – 1955)
Here’s where it really gets interesting. Paul’s first six years had to be told mainly through family members, because Paul either doesn’t remember much about those years, or he doesn’t want to talk about them. I suspect that he has forgotten, because he isn’t one to live in the past. He is one of those relentlessly forward-looking people that the rest of us find so annoying. His memory from the age of 7 on is much better, although still suffused in a not-quite-believable golden haze. I have attempted to penetrate that haze by talking to family members and friends who have never spoken on the subject before.
To hear Paul tell it, his parents were about as perfect as parents can be. He had a happy and uneventful childhood, with no real traumas and upsets, with the exception of the mysterious illness he was hospitalized for when he was 12, and then his mother’s death when he was 14. He was good at school, went to church, sang in a choir, and had after school chores, participated in Boy Scouts, and none of this bothered or fazed him in the least. His extended family, while a little nutty around the edges, was loving, loyal and fun. No boy ever had a better start in life, or was more grateful for it
I am prepared to believe no more than 70% of this version, after having done my research. I do 100% believe the part where he is extremely grateful for his childhood. He most definitely is. But Paul as a child, a teen and a young man led “the unexamined life”. He was king of the compartments, and anything unpleasant could be placed in its own locked compartment, never to be opened again. I stumbled over this phenomenon over and over as I did my interviews with the people closest to him during those years.
Let’s start with Mother Mary:
Michael (Paul’s brother):
“Mum was always there, and was no nonsense and you always knew where you stood with her. She was loving, lots of hugs and kisses – especially with me – but she had very high standards, and apparently only Paul was really required to meet them. At some point she figured out that I was kind of hopeless – like a big shaggy dog. I was fun loving and easy-going, and so good-natured that I rarely cried or argued. For whatever reason, she had a huge soft spot for me, and figured out early on that I wasn’t going to set the world on fire, and she was okay with that. I was my father’s son.
“I think she was okay with that because she had Paul to pin her hopes and dreams on. I think she saw herself in Paul. She saw that he was brilliant, at the very least proficient at everything he put his hand or his mind to, focused – in short, he was going places. She had big plans for him – she decided he was going to be a doctor. I don’t know when she decided this, but I can remember hearing about it when I was around 6 or 7, so he was quite young when she came up with this ambition. She told everyone in the family. Paul must have heard this hundreds of times by the time she died. I don’t recall Paul ever saying anything about it. I have no idea if he wanted to be a doctor, or thought he would be a good doctor, or had other hopes and dreams. He never said, and, I’m sad to say, I never asked. I don’t think anyone ever asked him, come to think of it. It was just assumed.
“It’s not unusual for parents to have preconceived ambitions for their children, and that by itself wasn’t too bad. I’m glad she didn’t do it to me, but Paul claims it didn’t bother him, and he turned out all right in the end, didn’t he? So no serious damage was done, I guess. The unusual part, the part that I don’t think was healthy, was the constant micromanagement of his life. What he wore, how his hair looked, his speech and pronunciations, his handwriting and grammar, his clothes, what school he went to – it had to be the best of course, which meant he had to get a scholarship every year, which meant he had to keep perfect grades and conduct marks. She polished and polished him like a perfect little gem.
“In photos you can see my hair is every which way, and my clothes are all over the place, and I’m acting up and being silly. In those same photos you will see Paul is as neat as a pin, usually behaving properly, and smiling nicely for the camera. You never saw a child so clean, so bright and shiny, his clothes, hair, everything perfect all the time. He didn’t dare get dirty or messy unless we were in our own yard, and had our old play clothes on, and Mum had said it was okay to play in the mud. On occasions like that, when Mum would tell us playtime was over, we knew to stand on the back porch while she stripped off our dirty clothes and she or my father hosed us down. We would then, after drying ourselves with towels, be permitted to step into the back porch area, where we had to put on clean clothes.
“By the time he was 8 years old, Paul had learned never to come home from school or from playing dirty or mussed. On at least four or five occasions I remember her dragging him by his arm through the house to the sink, and scrubbing his hands fiercely at the sink. She would be admonishing him – she never yelled, but it was this firm kind of quiet admonishment – ‘you are a representative of your family, James. You must always reflect well on your family.’ She said that to him so frequently, I took it for granted that this was perhaps his official role. She never said or did those things to or about me, so I figured that Paul was our ‘representative’ – you know, like it was a job. Neither one of us ever questioned it. And Paul took these ministrations very stoically, and sometimes apparently cheerfully. He would either nod solemnly in agreement while she was talking to him, or he would say, ‘Yes, Mum, I’ll do better next time.’ She would always hug and kiss him when he was cleaned up again, and reassured him that she knew he would do better next time. So he would try even harder not to get dirty or mussed.
“Paul wasn’t perfect, however. He was full of mischief. He just learned how to handle getting caught gracefully, so he rarely paid for his rebellions in any serious way. In school he was a regular tear-away, but the teachers all loved him. They just thought he was cute when he was acting up. My favorite photograph of him during this period was a school photo of his entire class, and he is in the back row ostentatiously reading a comic and making a face. So nothing Mum did to him broke his spirit, obviously. I honestly don’t think it is possible to break his spirit.
“I once ran into one of his primary school teachers (she had been my teacher too) at a grocery store in Liverpool – this would be years later, when I was in my forties, and she was at least in her seventies – and I asked her jokingly why she never punished Paul when he was goofing off in class, whereas she always punished me. She laughed and said words to the effect of, ‘your brother was a little charmer; and there was never any malice in him. He was usually making fun of himself, or a situation, but never anyone else.’”
So, now let’s talk about his dad, James (Jim) McCartney.
He was my nemesis from 1957 through 1963, and for that reason I never was able to see him in an objective light. Never having had a father myself, I did not understand the complicated dance that goes on between a devoted father and his loyal son. I simply saw Jim McCartney as a dangerous rival, and acted accordingly. Looking at it decades later, I tried to be objective. These are my findings:
“My Dad was my hero,” Paul is quick to say. “I never wanted to cause him a moment’s pain. Unfortunately, I did so quite frequently, without even trying.”
Michael: “Dad only wanted to follow through with Mum’s dreams about Paul. Even when Paul was clearly not interested in going into medicine, Dad kept pushing him because that is what Mum wanted. He felt it was his responsibility to see that Paul reached his potential, and at the time the idea of reaching potential in the music world was a ridiculous thought. It seems weird that my Dad – the jazz musician – couldn’t understand his son’s desire to follow in his footsteps and become a musician. Had Mum not died, he may have stuck up for Paul if it came to it. But with her dead, he felt he had to make sure her hopes and dreams for her beloved son were fully met. That it was hard on Paul – I’m sure – never occurred to him.”
Paul: “Dad wanted me to finish school, pass my A levels, and go to medical school. I had no real objection to this future until I met you, actually. You made me believe that there was hope for a music career. Don’t ask me why. It was seven years before we actually made money at making music, but somehow you gave me the courage to think that my dream about doing music for my job was not totally out of the question. But I was always coming up against me Dad. I think it was actually harder for him since he had done it himself. He had been unsuccessful; he had had heartbreak. He wanted to spare me that if he possibly could. He tried to convey to me the miniscule odds I had for having a successful career as a musician.”
Michael: “Dad had the highest hopes for Paul. He used to call him ‘Our Kid’, and the whole family called him that. He would get these special letters and reports from Paul’s school. Paul could just peruse the schoolbooks, and then ace the tests! He would work with me to study for my finals, and then I would barely pass. If he hadn’t have worked with me, I would have failed. But I did not understand how he could grasp this stuff so easily – without even breaking a sweat.”
Paul: “I did okay in school, but I didn’t think I was so all-fired wonderful as everyone seemed to think. I was always worried they’d all suddenly find out the truth about me: that somehow, in some way, I was a fraud. I didn’t understand the good marks, the approval I got from teachers and adults, or the popularity I had with kids. I felt like I was just a giant fraud, and that somehow, someway, I would be unmasked and it would be humiliating and disastrous for me.”
Michael: “He never put a foot wrong. Girls used to come to our house, giggling, and leave love letters in our mailbox. Our mother thought it was cute, and our father was indulgent about it, but Paul was totally embarrassed. He would protest that he had done nothing to encourage them, as if he was afraid that somehow their inappropriate girlish behavior was his fault! That he would be blamed!”
Paul: “Me mum had this thing about attracting attention to yourself. It was bad form. No decent person sought to be the center of attention. It was unseemly to be popular and the subject of anyone else’s attention. I believed this too. It took me years and years to get over the feeling that not only did I not deserve the attention I received, but that somehow it was my fault – that I was doing something to make others think I was more worthy than I was. That is why I always understated my accomplishments and abilities. I felt as though I should not shine to the exclusion of others. I had a hard time doing solo work in the Beatles – I was the last one to do it – because I felt it was unseemly to push myself forward in front of others.”
I asked Paul to tell me the least pleasant thing about his mother, and he couldn’t think of a single thing. I asked him the same question about his father, and he objected – “Me Dad was everything to me! Everything!” It was clear I was going to get no critical analysis of his parents from him. So, again, I went to Mike.
Mike: “I loved my parents truly, deeply, and unconditionally too. I loved them, but I’m not blind to their faults. I’ve raised six children, and I know there is no such thing as perfect parents. You do your best, and then you flop on your flippin’ face! My wife had a big jar for each kid into which we inserted a one-pound bill every time we fucked up with respect to that kid. When each kid hit age 18, we’d say, ‘Here’s for your therapy. We did the best we could.’
“Well, my parents tried their best, they did their best, and they had all the best motives. They loved us both intensely, and there was nothing we needed that they didn’t sacrifice to give us. Me mum worked the angles for years to get Paul into the Liverpool Institute. They only wanted the best for us. But having said that, I also have to say that sometimes, in their zeal to do everything for us, they failed to stop and ask each of us what we wanted, what we needed, what we thought was necessary for us. I know this is a difficult thing to do, because I have six children of my own, and I have made many of the same mistakes, but one thing I will never do is to presume for any of them what they want the rest of their life to be. As tempting as that is, a parent just has to stop short of doing that. And, well, in Paul’s case, neither of my parents was able to do that.”
I made the attempt to get some info out of Our Kid himself from this period in time. This is what I got:
“Eight to thirteen. Hmmm. That’s five years, isn’t it? My word. Hmmm. I was in primary until I was, let me see, was it 11? I can’t remember now. Hmmm. I was in Boy Scouts. I was an acolyte too.”
“You were a fucking Boy Scout AND a fucking acolyte? Blimey!” I interrupted.
“Ha ha, very funny. To make it worse, I was also in the church choir.”
“Now you’re killing me.”
[Laughing delightedly] “I did it just because I knew I would eventually meet you, and it would make you crazy. That was the only reason I did it all.”
“You really did it for Mum, didn’t you.”
He looked a little startled by my comment. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“I’m suggesting that you wanted to please her, so you did these things.”
“Is that some kind of crime?”
“No, it is just a fact I am attempting to establish. Am I right?”
(Thinking about it seriously.) “If she wanted me to do something, and it was no skin off my back, I would do it. I don’t see why you see anything nefarious in it.”
I moved on to more fertile grounds.
One of Paul’s cousins told me, “We spent every Sunday evening together, at Grandda’s and Gran’s, and sometimes on the Saturdays and definitely a lot in the summers. He was called Jamie then. And Jamie was hilarious. Jamie was always up for whatever was going on. I don’t remember anyone who didn’t love him. He would come and work with my brothers and me for my Dad’s plumbing company in the summers. He was full of good humor and funny off-hand remarks. One particular memory is that my siblings and I had a small dog named ‘Speedy’. And we used to gauge things that way – well, the box was two Speedies big, the bicycle was as fast as four Speedies. After a bit of this, Jamie said, ‘what is this Speedy thing? Is this a new international unit of measurement?’ We were at my grandparents’ dinner table, and all the family was there, and everyone fell out laughing for a good five minutes. It was hilarious.”
There were girls in his classes at his primary school. One of them remembers James Paul McCartney very well. Her name is Lily McNeil.
“All the girls had a crush on Paul. We called him Jamie in those days. The bus would go by, and he would give us a wave, and we would all giggle – you know how girls are – and say ‘There goes Jamie!’ It wasn’t just me - there were at least six of my girlfriends, too. We all used to talk about him. We were all six of us convinced we were going to marry him one day. We used to giggle about the possibility of kissing him. He had the most kissable face! We all decided to invent a playground game where we chased the boys around, forced them up against a wall, and kissed them. We did this for the sole purpose of getting to kiss Jamie! When we did the game for the first time, no fewer than ten of us girls nailed Jamie on the kisser up against the wall in the schoolyard!”
Of course, I asked Paul if he remembered this. He drew a blank. He had no idea what I was talking about. Somehow, I found that worse than if he did remember it! I am sure if ten girls in my class conspired to kiss me “up against the wall” I would remember it! I mean, how often did this sort of thing happen to him back then that he should have such a hard time remembering it?
The summer of 1953, when Paul turned 11 and had been admitted into the Liverpool Institute on scholarship (Mary was victorious in her schemes), Jamie decided to lead with his middle name ‘Paul.’ I asked him why he did this. He told me his mother felt that “Jamie McCartney” sounded “too Irish”, and now that he was going to the Liverpool Institute he should use his middle name, which sounded “more English.” Paul has some good memories from that summer. Also, he pointed out, “James was my Catholic name, but Paul was my civil name.” (Whatever that means. Mike told me the same thing: “Peter was my Catholic name...” None of this computes for me, but maybe some of you out there no what this all means. It has something to do with taking the name of a saint, apparently.)
“We used to walk to the local public swimming pool, and also down to Mersey River beach. My best friend before I went to the Inny was a bloke named Robert, or ‘Robbie’ is what we called him. Rusty-haired, freckles, very athletic. I’m thinking we liked each other because we both were the kind that liked to do stuff, go places, poke around, have little adventures. Neither one of us wanted to run in a pack. I quite liked being alone, and I liked having fun with just one or two good friends. My brother would tag along, but he never was a burdensome presence. He was like my other half.”
In September 1953, the 11-year old Paul entered the famed halls of the Liverpool Institute for Boys, familiarly known as “the Inny.” This was a very prestigious grammar school in Liverpool, and each year the school would accept a class full of boys on full scholarships. As you can well imagine, those scholarships were highly competitive, and boys would be vetted by their previous school records, 11 plus results, some other specialized testing, and by interviews. Paul was one of the boys selected for this honor in his year, having a perfect primary school record, and also having no doubt aced all the tests and charmed the bejesus out of the interview panel.
The Inny was very competitive and Paul remembers it as a rude awakening to suddenly find himself surrounded by the brightest most accomplished boys in all of Liverpool.
“Truthfully, primary school was a breeze. But suddenly I’m sitting in classes learning Latin; I’m studying algebra in maths, and physics. The history books were turgid – slow going. Homework took three hours every night! My eyes would be swimming in their sockets by the time I went to bed.”
Three fucking hours a night? I would have killed myself first!
Notwithstanding this competitive atmosphere, Paul, of course, excelled and raised straight to the top. “They had this weird seating system at the Inny. You were seated in the classroom based on your rank in the class. The first day everyone would sit at a desk in alphabetical order, and then as the test results came in week after week, you’d get a new seat. I was a very competitive kid, and I didn’t want to sit anywhere but row 1, and preferably seat 1. Each school year it would usually take me a month or two to get to that first row. I think I ended up in that first row in all of my classes by the end of that first year.”
It is a notable aspect of Paul’s personality that – although he was among the best students in his class – he was also one of the most popular. Neil Aspinall, who would later become the Beatles’ road manager and finally the President of Apple Corp., was one of the students in Paul’s class, and the two were friends. Neil was another first-row inhabitant. Neil spoke with me for this book, although he has never cooperated with any other biography, interviewer or reporter.
“Paul was usually, each year, one of the two or three most popular boys in our class, and he even ended up being popular with the boys in the next form up. He was very good-looking, and the girls loved him, so this had a certain cachet at a boy’s school. I guess in today’s parlance you would say he was a ‘chick magnet’. Other guys like the chick magnets, because there are always girls left over, you know? [Yes, Neil, I do know. And I agree whole-heartedly with you on this.] But it was more than that. Paul was irreverent, but he totally got away with it. I think it was because he usually put himself in the dunce seat, and his humor wasn’t hurtful. He had awesome people skills, and knew how to smooth over ruffled feathers so when he was around there was never any macho posturing or pushing and shoving. Maybe the most compelling thing about Paul was he was such a great listener. He was wonderful company. You could sit with him on a porch for hours, just quietly shooting the breeze, but if you ran out of talk, well that was okay too. He could entertain himself with his thoughts, and allow you to do the same. No stress.”
When Paul was 12, during his second year at the Inny, he developed a painful and mysterious rash. He spent a week in a hospital. His memory of this event is, naturally, light and funny.
“No one told me what was wrong with me, and I wanted to know. So one afternoon I snuck down to the foot of my bed and picked up the chart that was hanging there and read it. There was just a big red question mark!”
Paul’s Aunt Jin solved the mystery for me (Paul had - of course - never bothered to ask anyone what had been wrong with him, and hadn’t a clue what it was). She told me, “He had this horrible crusty rash, and it was diagnosed as shingles.”
Shingles! We both had fucking shingles when we were kids! What are the odds?
As I am sure you all know, shingles is a nervous disorder brought on by stress. I suspect Paul’s first year and a half at the Inny must have been a lot more stressful for him than he remembers, even though he was making perfect marks. Actually, probably the stress was because he made perfect marks. The pressure he put on himself in order to meet his parents’ expectations must have been horrendous.
So I asked Paul how much he hated the iodine they put on his rash, remembering my own horror of the stuff. He looked a bit confused and then said, “You mean the orange stuff? Yeah, that was a pisser, wasn’t it?” Naturally, he didn’t run around crying and screaming and hiding. No doubt he sat very still and made clever little brave remarks throughout the whole process, to put everyone at ease. Sometimes I have to fight off the urge to smack him, you know?
I also asked Paul if he ever got in trouble at school. Was he ever punished or sent home?
“Twice I got in trouble. Once, at primary school –I was about 10 I think – my teacher sent a note home for my mother, because she had caught me making naughty drawings of what my teacher delicately called ‘girl parts’.”
“They sent the note home with you? They didn’t send it in a letter?”
“No, it was honor system. You had to self-report unless there was disciplinary action.”
“So did you give the note to your mother?”
(Looking at me with an indignant expression) “Of course I did! It would be dishonest not to!”
Oh, yeah. There is that.
“What did your mother do?”
“It was awful,” he said, looking sad. I was looking forward to hearing an Aunt Mimi kind of story, but not so much. “She cried. I had never seen my mother cry before, and I was so upset that I cried too. She wanted to know why I was drawing ‘girl parts’ and I told her the truth – ‘I like the way they look.’” (At this point, we’re both laughing.)
“So how did you know what girl parts looked like at the age of 10? Where did you learn these mysteries?”
“Only a few months before, we had a teenage girl babysitter. She was about 16 or 17 I guess. One night when she was watching us, I was in my bath, and she came in and got in it with me! She was naked.”
“No! You never told me this! Really?”
“Yes, really. She acted so naturally, that I guessed there was nothing wrong with it. She explained to me about the birds and the bees; actually, she demonstrated it to me.’
“You had sex with her?”
“Well, she wanked me off.”
“Whoa! Why didn’t these things ever happen to me?” (I thought to myself that this was the exact polar opposite of what happened to me. I was blackmailed into degrading sexual activities with an older male, whereas Paul was gently tutored by a young female.)
Paul continued, “Afterwards, she told me not to tell my parents or we’d both get in trouble. That was the first I realized that what we had done was naughty.”
“You know, nowadays they’d call that child abuse because she was so much older than you.” I said this with full knowledge of what had happened to me.
“No it wasn’t! It was fun!”
Why Paul and I had exact opposite experiences in this regard just reflects how weird it is that our lives were running on parallel tracks.
Paul’s first real sexual experience was when he was 13. The babysitter had primed his curiosity on the topic three years earlier, so it seems natural that he would have acted on that curiosity sooner than most boys would.
“She was 16, I think. She was the older sister of a mate of mine. It was the summertime, and when me and my mate left to take a walk over to Mersey River Beach, she invited herself along, and brought a friend of hers who was a year or so younger than her. Anyway, the girls were far more mature than us in addition to being a few years older. We were lambs to the slaughter, really. They started stripping down, and I announced as how I’d already seen a girl naked. My mate was very impressed with me, and the girls giggled. I then pointed out that a girl had already pulled my wanker, and this really blew their minds. So the older girl, me mate’s sister, suggested that we go off in the bushes and ‘play around’, and I was not at all put out by the idea, so we left her friend with my mate and went off to explore and experiment together. She had had sex with an older boyfriend, so she explained how it all worked, and I was ready, able and willing to give it a shot. We both liked it quite a bit, and we repeated our experiments numerous times over the summer. It wasn’t about love at all, not even puppy love. I think she saw me as a safe boy to practice on, and I was only too happy to oblige. We parted friends when school started, and it never happened between us again.”
The second time he got in trouble in school?
“At the Inny. I think I was 13 – my second year there. We had this teacher who taught us Latin, and he was brutal on the kids who weren’t good at it. There was this one boy who was kind of hopeless, he was shy, and awkward looking, had thick glasses, pimples, and he was teased and even bullied quite a lot by some of the older boys in the school. He sucked at Latin. Probably now he is a famous nuclear physicist or something. But anyway, this teacher tormented this boy, and it culminated one day in the boy being made to stand in the corner for half a day because he could not properly conjugate the phrase ‘I see, therefore I am’ in all six Latin tenses. The story went round that he wet his pants because the teacher wouldn’t let him leave the corner to use the loo. Some of the boys thought this was funny, but most of us thought it was outrageous. So Neil and I decided to take a stand. We snuck into the classroom during the lunch hour, just before class, and Neil stood guard in the hallway. And, with chalk on the blackboard, I made a cartoon drawing of the teacher with his pecker out, peeing, and underneath it, perfectly conjugated in all six tenses that Neil and I had figured out, were the phrases: ‘I pee therefore I am’, ‘I peed therefore I was’, ‘I have peed, and therefore once was’, ‘I will pee, and therefore will be’…you get the idea.” [I’m laughing now.] “I drew a dunce cap on the teacher’s head with the word ‘Tyrant’ in Latin on it – ‘Tyrano’.
‘Then Neil and I snuck back out to the schoolyard. So of course when the class filed in and saw it, there was a great deal of laughter and applause. Neil had delayed the teacher in the hallway, asking a bunch of questions about his homework, so that the teacher would be the last one in the room. He was quite peeved when he saw the drawing, and immediately started erasing it and the boys were all booing while he was erasing it. He turned bright red. He demanded to know who had done it, and began to blame it on the poor boy who had been bullied by him. I looked at Neil, and our expressions said it all – ‘there’s nothing for it’. We couldn’t let the boy be tortured again for stuff we did. So I raised my hand, and the teacher said, ‘Yes, McCartney, do you know who did it?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir, I did it sir.’ Then Neil raised his hand, and said, ‘I, too, am responsible sir.’ And the whole class started hooting and howling. The teacher didn’t believe us because we were among the top students in his class. ‘I know you two are covering for someone else. Go to the headmaster’s office!’ As we left the room, I turned to the teacher and said, very quietly, ‘It was us, sir. Who else could have conjugated that sentence?’ And he stared at us as if he was wounded. ‘Why?’ he asked. I said, ‘It wasn’t right, what you did.’ And then Neil and I went to the headmaster’s office.”
I asked Neil about this and he laughed his head off. “That was a good one, that was our best one. It was too good, actually, and that’s why we got caught. Paul and I were always doing stuff like that, but we never got caught. I put it down to our good marks in class, and Paul’s choirboy looks. None of the profs would believe we had anything to do with those pranks. One time we managed to insert dirty magazines inside of notebook covers in chemistry class. The prof would hand out these little notebooks as we filed in to class, which had all the scales, graphs and formulas, and then we’d open them up to start our assignments. Well, that particular day a group of 13- year-old boys opened up notebooks to find pictures from really dirty magazines. What an uproar! No one ever got caught for that one. Paul and I had learned never to tell anyone else what we had done, and we were both silent as the tomb about our terrorist activities.”
“So, Neil, what happened in the Headmaster’s Office after the cartoon episode?”
Neil slapped his forehead and laughed. “He asked us why we were there, and Paul said in a very firm but polite voice, ‘we retaliated against the unfair treatment of one of our classmates, sir.’ Then the Headmaster asked us to explain this, and we walked him through what happened. He couldn’t very well condone our behavior, but we could tell he was shocked by what had happened to that boy. We were each given 10 after-school hours of detention, which was a very minor punishment for such an audacious crime, especially since Paul and I both were study hounds, and would have spent those hours studying at home, anyway, so why not at school – together? More fun! It was no sweat off our brows. It didn’t go so well for the teacher. He was asked to leave the school shortly thereafter.”
Oh, Paul. My Paul. He is a rebel too, but he needs to have a cause.