Make your own free website on




I have a happy childhood but at 17 my beloved dad's death devastates me. My mum encourages me to fulfil me art college dreams. There I meet and instantly dislike a student named John Lennon

Here we are at London airport before the Beatles left for the US       The lecture theatre was in chaos. The lecturer hadn't arrived yet, the students were retless and the boy in front of me was taking full advantage of the situation. Slouched arrogantly in his seat he cracked jokes, pulled faces and made loud wisecracks until the whole place was in uproar.
      The more the audience laughed at his biting Liverpool wit the more outrageous he became, until I couldn't help smiling in spite of myself.
      I'd seen this boy before, this John Lennon, and I didn't like him. He was always in a hurry, striding round the college like he owned the place, a guitar slung over one shoulder, tatty rucksack over the other. He was scruffy, dangerous-looking and totally disruptive. He frightened the life out of me.
      Yet, somehow, he fascinated me too. I'd never come across anyone like John Lennon before. This was the first time I'd seen him at such close quarters and I examined him discreetly. he was very skinny and his dark hair, worn in a DA, was sticking up at the back as if he hadn't bothered to comb it properly.
      As I noticed this, Helen, the girl beside me, noticed it too. Laughing, she reached forward and stroked the stray locks into place. And as her fingers touched John's hair a pang of pure jealousy shot through me. I was astonished. It was instantaneous, completely out of my control and weird. I didn't even like him. Why should I be jealous?
      It never occured to me that John and I could end up together. We were complete opposites. I was quiet, hard-working and conscientious while John was a wild, attention-seeking rebel. Yet the chemistry between us was so strong that eventually we couldn't ignore it.
      Even so, had my father not died when I was 17 I think that's exactly what I would have done - ignored it. I could never have taken John home to meet my beloved Dad. My gentle, unassuming father just wouldn't have understood John and I knew it. With Dad there to guide me I think I'd have steered well clear of "dangerous" John Lennon. But there you are, he wasn't, and I plunged joyfully into the deep end. That's fate. John and I were obviously meant to be together. One of the first things I noticed about John at college was his hair, which he wore in a DA before his Beatle days.
      What neither of us could ever have guessed in those innocent student days was that we were about to ride a rollercoaster, the like of which had never been seen before. John was to be swept along on the tide of Beatlemania and I was sucked in right behind him. Our lives would never be the same again.
      I was born Cynthia Powell on September 10, 1939 - the week war broke out - on an iron bedstead in a boarding house in Blackpool. It was cold and wet that day, but Mum sent Dad out to pace the rainy streets because it was a difficult birth and she had enough to cope with without worrying about him too.
      They were both away from home and miserable but had no choice in the matter. The Liverpool area was in danger of being bombed and all the pregnant women were moved to Blackpool which was reckoned to be safe while my two elder brothers, Charles and Tony, were sent off with their bottles of pop and sandwiches to North Wales for the duration.
      In fact, Hoylake, where we lived, across the Mersy from Liverpool, turned out to be pretty safe. The worst scare came when a bomb that missed Liverpool landed nearby. Mum, who was holding me on her knee in the little cubby-hole under the stairs during the air-raid, was lifted three feet off the ground by the force of the explosion.
      Apart from that, we saw little of the rigours of war in our semi in Waverley Road. We had cod liver oil supplements which were disgusting, and Viral, which was lovely. It was some sort of vitamin that came in a jar and was fed to you in sticky spoonfuls that tasted of malt and toffee.
      You were supposed to dig for victory in those days and supply your own food, so Dad grew vegetables in an allotment nearby and gave me rides on the crossbar of his boke when he went to tend the cabbages. Our back garden had been turned over to a hen-pen much to my delight. I loved to watch those little brown hens strutting about. There was one particular bird called Wingy which had a malformed claw. She was my favourite. But one dreadful day she turned up on the kitchen table as dinner. It was the claw that gave it away. I cried for weeks over this pet that suddenly became a meal.
      My mum, Lillian, was artistic and musical. She and Dad used to give little concert parties and sing Rose Of Picardy. together in the front room. She wasn't that wonderful at housework but she had an eye for beautiful things and she couldn't resist auctions. Every Monday there would be a sale in West Kirby and Dad, who was anxiously counting the pennies, would say: "Please, love, dn't go to the saleroom this week. Please. We've got all these bills to pay." My mum Lillian was artistic and musical and she and Dad used to give little concert parties.
      And she'd promise: "No, Charles. I won't go."
      But come Monday she always weakened. She'd wait for dad to disappear round the corner to work and then she'd be off to the saleroom. We'd come home to find a different three-piece suite in the front room, different curtains and a different carpet in the bedroom.
      Dad would stand there, looking at the re-arranged room in disbelief. "Oh, Lil - you've done it again!" he'd groan. "You've done it again."
      Being such a regular customer Mum got quite friendly with the men who delivered the furniture and she often invited them in for a cup of tea. One day she bought a great many pictures and prints.
      "Please bring them round before Charles gets home," she begged, realising she might have overdone it a bit this time.
      But before they arrived, she was unexpectedly called away and the delivery men turned up to find no one home. So they lined up all the pictures along the wall outside the house and chalked on the pavement in front of them: "All her own work."
      Dad came home to find the outdoor gallery in all its extensive splendour and Mum's wings were clipped for quite a while.
      Despite all this, Dad never got angry with Mum. He didn't have an angry bone in his body. He only ever smacked me once in my life when I was about 12 and I swore.
      He must have been feeling unusually bad-tempered and fraught that particular night. He was a salesman for the electrical company GEC and he was working on those endless books that salesmen have to fill in. Anyway, I suppose I was annoyed that he wasn't taking any notice of me and I came out with the worst word I could think of. The next thing I knew there was a stinging slap on my leg.
      I couldn't believe it. I was speechless. The fact that Dad had actually smacked me was much worse than the fleeting pain. I never said the offending word again - not in Dad's presence anyway!
'Dad was honourable and kind. He never said a bad word about anybody and he always had a bag of sweets in his pocket. He was my best friend.'
      I adored my father. He was secretary of the bowls club and I used to go along every Saturday with him to watch him play and mark his cards.
      Then, when I was 12, I won a place at the Junior Art School in Liverpool and since Dad worked in the city we used to travel in together on the train every morning and come home together every night. Dad was honourable and kind. He never said a bad word about anybody and he always had a bag of sweets in his pocket. I loved to be with him. he was my best friend. Waverley Road was a great place to grow up.  This is me aged three.
      I had a very happy childhood, Waverley Road was a great place to grow up. It was a safe, traffic-free cul-de-sac and a good crowd of kids lived there. Every year we held the Waverley Road Olympic Games. The mums would make sandwiches, the dads would man the startlines and the children would take part in everything from egg and spoon and wheelbarrow races to the hundred-yards dash.
      We were all ages, shapes and sizes. There were no qualifying heats. We'd all just muck in and try. Looking back I suppose it was ridiculous but it was great fun.
      My first boyfriend was called Alan Price. He was in my class at Primary School. I was 11 years old and besotted with him and it looked as if he felt the same about me.
      He wrote me a letter in which he'd placed a half crown piece. "Raped in this letter," he scrawled in painstaking print, "is half a crown for you."
      True love.
      Unfortunately the next day he was out with someone else and I was heartbroken. My first experience of the fickleness of men.
      Despite the flirtation with Alan, my main interest was art. Ever since I can remember all I wanted to do was paint and draw. I was a quiet, shy little girl, never happier than when scribbling away with pencil and paper.
      My brother Charles had left home by this time. he lost his Liverpool accent and became terribly southern and used to bring these glamorous foreign girlfriends home. Whenever this happened the house would be cleaned from top to bottom, the best china brought out and we all had to be on our best behaviour. I was expected to sit on all sorts of people's knees and be polite. With brother Charles around 1950
      One weekend the effort turned out to be well worthwhile, because Charles' latest girlfriend was a fasion designer. She gave me an exquisite watercolour she'd painted of a fashion model dressed in the lean, elegant style of the period. It was a revelation to me. I was so impressed. To think that she earned her living doing this. Art needed not be a hobby but could be a way of life.
      I stuck the picture on my bedroom wall and tried to copy it. One day, I promised myself, as I attempted my umpteenth version of those long, economical brush strokes, one day I was going to be just like Charles' girlfriend.
      By 12 it seemed as if I was right in course. I'd failed my 11-plus but I was allowed to sit a special exam for Liverpool's Junior Art School which accepted children from 12 to 17. To my delight I won a plce there and settled down to five perfect years.
      The whole situation could have been tailor-made for me. I travelled the trains with my dad, spent my days in the small, red-brick school opposite the cathedral doing the things I loved bst - drawing and painting - and I met up with the girl who was to become a lifelong friend, Phyllis.
      Physically, Phyl and I were quite different. I was small and skinny with light brown hair, otherwise known as mouse, whereas Phyllis was plump and bubbly with dark blonde curls and a figure that was starting to become voluptuous. We shared a silly, schoolgirl sense of humour and spent hours giggling together over nothing, the way schoolgirls do.
      I loved to visit Phyl's busy little house on a council estate in Liverpool. They had a gas cooker in the kitchen and Phyl, her younger brother and sister and I would gather round the gas-ring with a large crusty loaf and this little mesh bread holder you could buy in Woolworths. Phyl hacked chunky slices off the loaf, inserted them between the mesh covers and then inserted the device over the naked lame. It made the best toast I've ever tasted in my life and the four of us would go through a whole loaf in one sitting, greedily devouring slice after delicious slice, all dripping with butter. When I won a place at Junio Art School at the age of 12 I had five perfect years there.  That was where I met Phyllis who became a friend for life.  This is a picture of us at 14.
      It was a happy time and as the years passed and the end of schooldays approached, Phyl and I knew exactly what we were going to do. We would move on to the adult art college to study for those hazy artistic careers that would surely materialise at some point in the future.
      Then one afternoon in May, on the way home in the train, Dad told me he wouldn't be travelling with me next day. He was going into Broad Green hospital for tests on his chest. You don't understand much about illness when you're very young but I looked at Dad and suddenly I saw that he was a lot thinner than he used to be. Weaker somehow. He didn't look well. Yet I had no idea how serious it was. If you went to hospital they made you better surely? That's what hospitals were for.
      So Dad went into hospital and came home the next day, but he wasn't better. He never went back to work again. Mum was told he had six weeks to live but she kept the news to herself. She did it out of love for Dad, of course, but it resulted in this dreadful subterfuge. At one point, all his bosses arrived with a pile of forms for him to sign. The papers related to the pension Mum would recieve on Dad's death, but since he hadn't been told he was dying, no one could explain the documents to him. He was hevily drugged and couldn't understand what was going on, but at least, eventually, he signed.
      Dad went downhill very rapidly after those tests. At first he came downstairs to be on the sofa every day but gradually, as the weight fell off him, the effort became too much and he stayed in bed or sat in the basket-chair beside it. And despite the fact that Mum tried so bravely to keep the news from him - Dad knew. Instinctively, he knew.
      "Something's going to happen to me, love," he used to tell me over and over, "and you'll not be able to go to college. We can't afford it. You'll have to get a proper job and look after your Mum." A picture of Mum, Dad and me on a coach trip to London in 1954.  My dad died just before I started at art college.
      I was upset and frightened. I couldn't bear the thought of all my dreams coming to nothing. And I couldn't bear to contemplate an even worse loss.
      "Nothing's going to happen to you, Dad," I insisted.
      But the weeks passed and I'd run home from school, pound upstairs to find him sitting there in the chair, perspiring heavily, hardly able to speak, hardly able to breathe. It hurt so much to see him like this. I'd wipe his brow and talk to him but he wasn't my father any more.
      He was going and I could see it but I didn't believe it. I couldn't believe my best friend was on his way out.
      Dad died in June 1957 and I was devastated. So was Mum. At his funeral the church was bursting at the seams, so many people turned out to say goodbye. He was so well loved. Mum and I went home to an empty house that mysteriously wasn't home any more. Everything looked just the same as it always did but somehow it wasn't real any more.
      In the early evening, Mum kept looking out of the window, half expecting to see Dad walking up the road from the station. As for me, the excitement of those rail trips into Liverpool had faded away. It wasn't fun without Dad.
      My whole life seemed to be over. I thought, "I've lost my Dad. I'm not going to college, my dreams will never come true. Everything's finished."
      It was Mum who came to my rescue. Though she was terribly lonely and full of her own grief, she was tremendous. "You mustn't worry," she told me. "We've got dad's insurance money. We'll manage. You must go to college and do what you want to do."
      She could so easily have been selfish and kept me at home for company, but she didn't. She sent me to college and supported me as best she could.
      For my part I was so grateful to get this second chance that I made up my mind to work really hard and make her proud of me. In the autumn of 1957 I swapped my white ankle socks for stockings and set off for college.  I thought I was the bee's knees.
'When I opened my mouth and they heard my Hoylake accent they fell about laughing. I soon learned to perfect the gutteral twang of Liverpool'

      In the autumn of 1957 I swapped my white ankle socks for stockings, put on my smartest twinset, combed my home perm into shape and set off for college. I thought I was the bee's knees but when I pushed my way through the glass doors into the mass of students I was in for a shock. They all looked so scruffy. And when I opened my mouth and they heard my Hoylake accent they fell about laughing. They thought I was posh. I soon learned to perfect the gutteral twang of Liverpool.
      By day, Phyl and I were model students but in the evenings, like all teenage girls, we liked to dance and flirt. It was very innocent in those days. We visited village halls were young people danced all evening with only coffee or soft drinks and their own high spirits to intoxicate them.
      Phyl and I experimented with pale lipstick and black eyeliner and attempted to turn ourselves into blonde bombshells with the aid of Hiltone hair dye. Quite often we ended up an odd shade of orange but we didn't care, we were having fun.
      All this time at college I'd been vaguely aware of a disruptive student who wandered about the place with a gang of cronies, being outrageous. Strange how, even then, John was surrounded by sycophants.
      You couldn't really miss John Lennon. Wherever he was he had to be the centre of attention. He didn't seem to care about his work, he didn't seem to care about anything but playing his guitar and making people laugh. In fact, unlike the rest of us, he hadn't even passed any exams to get to college. His Auntie Mimi had sent him along with his portfolio. "You'll have to go and show them your work because that's the only way you'll ever get in," she'd told him. And she was right.
      John was accepted on sheer talent alone but he didn't seem to realise how lucky he was. He didn't do his homework, he was rebelious and sarcastic and he spent much of his time clowning around.
      To me, John seemed a very rough sort of character. What I didn't realise then was that he came from a smarter home than I did, he'd worked on his Liverpool accent and he'd gone to some trouble to make his clothes sufficiently scruffy. Unlike the rest of us, John hadn't passed any exams to get into the College of Art in Liverpool.  His Auntie Mimi (pictured with John) had sent him along with his portfolio.
      By the time John went to college there wasn't much money to spare and his Auntie Mimi had kitted him out in her late husband's good quality clothes. John was forced to turn up in Uncle George's elegant coat and tweed jackets, but instead of wearing them neatly buttoned as his Uncle had done, John rumpled them up and slung them over his shoulder until they were as disreputable as his well worn cords.
      John was interesting, no doubt about that, but he frightened me and, despite that odly disturbing moment in the lecture theatre, I had no desire to get to know him better. We were in different classes, our paths seldom crossed and that was fine by me.
      But then, in our second year, I was horrifed to discover that John Lennon had been put in my lettering group. Worse still, he was sitting behind me.
      There I was in my twinset, working away, all my equipment lined up neatly infront of me, everything to hand, every little pencil sharpened, every little paintbrush the right size, the ruler arranged just so and in walks John, late as usual, guitar, rucksack and tatty old clothes, not a brush or ruler on him, and plonks himself down by me. He then spent the whole lesson borrowing all my things and whizzing half of them. This didn't endear him to me at all.
      It was clear that John and lettering just didn't go together. It was a skill that required patience and discipline. You have to learn how to draw each letter perfectly, which meand getting the correct balance and shape. It involves lots of measuring and minute corrections and unless it's what you want to do in life, it's soul destroying. For John, whose style was clever but grotesque cartoons executed at speed, it was impossible. During our college days we girls (that's me on the left) experimented with pale lipstick and black eyeliner and attempted to turn ourselvs into blonde bombshells with the aid of Hiltone.
      He sat there making dirty smudges across his paper, coming up with funny remarks, or taking the mickey out of someone, until the class was in stitches. he also took to calling me "Miss Powell" because, with my tidy ways and neat dress, he thought I looked like a secretary.
      Then one afternoon when the lecturer was out of the room, the class, ever ready for a diversion, played "eye tests" with the letters on the board. It soon became obvious that John and I were both desperately short-sighted and we both hated wearing our glasses. I did wear mine for the blackboard but most of the time John, who actually posessed a pair of hornrims, walked round with his head back, unable to see.
      It was only a small thing but that afternoon we discovered we had something in common, we shared a problem. We could feel sympathy for each other. Suddenly the atmospherebetween us warmed up a few degrees.
      As the weeks passed, a vague friendship began to develop. I lost my irritation over John's careless attitude to his syudies and John, though he still called me "Miss Powell", turned it into an effectionate nickname rather than a send-up.
      Whenever he got the chance, between classes and at lunch time, John strummed on his guitar and I began to notice that when I appeared he started singing Aint She Sweet... or Sweet Little Sixteen - as if he was singing it for me.
      For my part I began to study him more closely. He had rather a sharo face, a cruel face really. When he was being rebelious his face would tighten but when he was unaware of being observed or when he was lost in his music his face softened and he was handsome. There was vulnerability beneath that tough exterior. The College of Art in Liverpool
      Looking back now it was obvious the chemistry was there but so far neither of us had acknowledged it. Then, at the end of term, a gang of us planned to hold a party on the last afternoon before the holidays. We all went to the pub at lunchtime for celebration sandwiches and Black Velvets - Guiness mixed with cider - then we dawdled merrily back to college and set up a record player in one of the classfooms.
      Soon everyone was smooching to the music and John asked me to dance. We swayed together for a couple of records and then John stood still.
      "Can I take you out?" he asked.
      I was caught completely off guard. Part of me would have liked to say yes, but I was much too frightened.
      "I'm terribly sorry," I lied, "I'm engaged."
      John's face tightened and the sharp, dangerous look came back. "I only asked you out. I didn't ask you to bloody marry me, did I?"
      I'd offended him but I couldn't take it back now. I'd blown my chances with John Lennon.
NEXT WEEK: We fall in love. The Beatles are created and take
Hamburg by storm. And I discover I'm pregnant.

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****
back to CYNTHIA back to IT'S ONLY LOVE