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1 Posted 20/04/2020 at 19:12:37
2 Posted 20/04/2020 at 19:26:20
Well done, mate.
3 Posted 20/04/2020 at 19:44:49
4 Posted 20/04/2020 at 21:32:27
5 Posted 21/04/2020 at 03:01:41
Candidate 1: Widnes Central; If, as you say, the song was written when he was 22. Widnes Central closed on 5 October 1964. Paul Simon turned 23 on the 13 October 1964, so it's right in the frame. This was on a loop line but did for some reason have a non-express 'stopping train' (aka, took hours to get there) to London Marylebone on a Sunday.
Candidate 2: Widnes or Widnes North (nee Farnworth) as it was from 1959-68. This is on the Liverpool Central / old Cheshire Lines route to Manchester, so as such has no direct train to London.
I spent some time around there in 1970-71 and with Simon and Garfunkel being mega big at the time... and before any of the others even thought of jumping on the 'claim it' bandwagon, there was no other candidate. To be honest, it was their only claim to fame and was 'common local knowledge' back then that this was the station.
Candidate 3: Ditton Junction; nah, not having it. It was named for the junction, you pass through there, usually at speed on the express to London Euston.
Back then, the place was industrial wasteland with acres of light blue / green chemical spoil heaped 12, 15, 20 feet high. You could tell you were in Widnes: as soon as you drove over the chicane-esque railway bridge, the smell would hit you.
The only thing in its favour... apart from the road out... was as the location of a late-night drinker called 'The Castaway Club' aka, The Cazzie, up a little potholed track to the side of the station. Which contained loud music, clean beer and dirty women... I was all too easily led astray back then.
6 Posted 21/04/2020 at 03:55:34
I instantly recognised this as being the basis for my having previously heard of them, but I'm now wondering what the source of that information may have been – life's just full of mystery!
7 Posted 21/04/2020 at 06:23:24
I don't recall the London train stopping at Widnes but, in latter years, I often got off at Runcorn and cabbed it from there.
As a lad, I often went potato picking around the Finch Farm area, 12s/6d a day. Fond memories of a distant land.
8 Posted 21/04/2020 at 13:21:47
9 Posted 22/04/2020 at 10:21:59
10 Posted 22/04/2020 at 15:08:52
A super article; I loved every thing about it.
Like yourself, I am a Paul Simon fan and have been from 1964 onwards. Not impressed by his most recent stuff though; Wristband etc. All good songwriters can tell a tale or paint a picture and he could do just that. I did not know about Kathy from Essex but it explains who Kathy was in "America" on Bookends. She was the girl who boarded the Greyhound in Pittsburg?
Good songs are also a reference point for events in our lives and the Championship of 1970 coincided with the release of "Bridge over Troubled Water". Our "time had come to shine"...
A visit to Ellis Island last summer brought the words of American Tune flooding into my mind. Not surprising as I suspect that much of it was about the first experiences of the European immigrants.
I think I will go off and read your post again!
11 Posted 28/04/2020 at 19:51:13
Like your father and mine, I am ex-military myself. All Royal Signals as well, so there's a link straight away!! I spent time in Germany as a child but the family roots are Speke & Garston, which is the area we returned to.
I went to school in Widnes and later lived in Woolton with my own family before the Army took over and we moved on again. I know the area well and remember Finch Farm as the place we took my son to pick strawberries. Back in the late 90s, who'd have thought we were walking on what would become hallowed turf!!
As someone who has more than a passing interest in war history, I can't believe I never knew about Blackie the War Horse or the memorial at the RSPCA. We regularly visit Ypres, partly to take in the Christmas Market but also spend a day exploring the battlefields. Sadly, due to the scale of the events that took place there, you always find something new and undiscovered outside of the more well-known memorials or cemeteries such as Passchendaele.
I find the German cemeteries particularly sombre and humbling, given that as the defeated, they had to mark their graves with black headstones, whereas ours as victors are white. Different times I suppose, but they were all young men and soldiers who died doing their duty. I will definitely visit the Lijssenthoek cemetery on my next visit.
I was familiar with the Widnes claim to the Simon & Garfunkel song; one that became a bit of an anthem to us Squaddies stationed overseas after a few too many German beers!! But Ditton? The poor man; no wonder it inspired him to think of home!!
Great article. Thanks again, Pete.
12 Posted 30/04/2020 at 11:01:23
13 Posted 06/05/2020 at 20:07:07
Just a couple of additional points if I may - Alasdair, I'd not heard 'Wristband' before, it's quirky and I can see what you mean. Yet another unique title however.
Danny - If you go to Lijssenthoek there is a Kiwi Lt called Thomas Brewer in there; I regard him as one of ours because he played for the Auckland Everton. I say hello to him when I visit.
I know what you mean about the German cemeteries, the atmosphere is different. Langemark is particularly moving because of the mass graves and the old WW1 blockhouses.
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