It’s a very small word but it feels nice and clean and final when you say it on its own. Try repeating it few times in your head to get the feel of it. Nice and smooth like a Caribbean beach. Now say it out loud in the company of those three other little words that we heard so many times in childhood and used so many times as adults. “I want the truth”. Say it. Out loud. It immediately loses it cleanliness and takes on a threatening nature. And if you try smiling as you say, it becomes even more sinister. In fact try saying it any way that you can. It always comes out the same. The mere fact that you need to ask for the truth suggests that it is not likely to be offered without coaxing. As we grow older, the search for the truth gets more significant and sometimes more painful as we obsess about finding the truth in everything from Brexit to EastEnders. We need to know the ending as well as the story. We want everything. We want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That tiny little word carries the burden of mankind upon its back as it toils through the centuries, the world wars and the TV programmes that seek to bury it as deeply in the earth as it will go. Then a palatable version of that tiny little word will be dragged up by the scruff of its neck and presented to the good, the great and the gullible by whoever has a hand around its throat at the time. It will be happily devoured and fought over until all the tiny little shreds have been used, exploited or discarded until here’s no more money to be made or we are just simply bored of it. But truth is not moved by any of this. It is not struggling under the load and responsibility because truth has two willing accomplices that travel alongside it on this endless journey that is humanity. Two words that will help to dissipate the load and allow the world to recover and move on each time. Belief and motive.
Mike Burrows was a working class lad who grew up in the shadows of the dog racing track that was once situated amongst the Victorian terraces of Target Road in Portsmouth. He started work at fifteen on the building sites of Portsmouth and Gosport in late 1955. He was a good looking lad and was often seen around the track on Fridays after payday. But he wasn’t a drinker, a fighter or a womaniser. He was a grafter. He was always on site first whether it was a Monday morning or a Saturday morning. And he liked bricks. Up and down that ladder with a hod over his shoulder and carrying those bricks for hour after hour as the Brickies laid them with speed and humour. And he laboured for them all, watching them work in different ways but always fascinated to watch the walls grow as if out of the very earth itself. It was the closest he could get to those that built the Pyramids and the Coliseum. And sometimes the Brickies would let him lay a few. And he always listened and asked questions until one day it was time. Time to lay his own bricks while they watched and guided him through his first nervous line. And they were clearly impressed as they encouraged him to keep those bricks going and marvelling at his accuracy and precision for such a novice. And before long he had built a reputation for building walls that never needed reworking or repair. And they looked straighter, neater and better pointed. Because that’s how Mike Burrows liked everything in life. Neat, smart and the best quality that you could produce or afford. And before long he was out on his own and the work poured in through the windows. And he saved and he grafted every day as he always did and had a couple of pints at the track on a Friday night where one evening he met Sylvia who worked in retail. And they became a lovely couple. They dressed well, spoke well and lived well. Costa del Sol, not Butlins. And they saved and they grafted until they got married and were housed by the council in the myriad of properties that were then available in the 1960s. But they didn’t want revolution or free love, they wanted their own home. And finally, with two kids in tow, they moved into a brand new three-bedroom semi-detached house on a new housing estate on the outskirts of Gosport on February 4th 1972 where the roads had names like Woodside, Ambleside and Burnside. You didn’t need a suffix on this estate. And it had two toilets and a breakfast bar. Not only that, it had an integral garage for Mike’s tools and their own drive to park the flat-bed truck on. But the real clincher was the fact that it was the first house to be built on this smart new estate and was at the entrance to the site where you had to drive past the truck with “Mike Burrows” clearly painted on its side. Perfect. Back of the net, Mike.
Dave Miller was also a working class lad who started on the building sites after coming to the end of his National Service in the Army. Originally from the Fenlands of Lincolnshire where the only prospect of work was on the land, he was glad to get out into the world and leave the flat, featureless Fen behind for a posting to the bright lights of late 1950s Hong Kong. In a post-war world full of shortages, he soon learned the value of everything from soap to coal and everything in between. And he was quick to sell everything he could get his hands on. But Dave Miller was not a drinker or a womaniser and he certainly didn’t do drugs. No, that was not for him. He had discovered his vocation in life and he loved it. He was now a salesman. It was the deal itself that held the attraction for him and you did and said whatever you had to in order to get it done. No place for the faint-hearted and the slow-minded. Hong Kong was then a British military outpost and full of transient servicemen from around the globe as well as the ill-disciplined National Servicemen that found themselves there through policy rather than choice. But to Dave Miller, two years in Hong Kong was a godsend. Starting with cigarettes and NAAFI knock-off, he was happy to take orders for anything you needed and then procure it from his growing network across the island. Before long it had progressed to drugs and alcohol if that’s what you wanted. Happy days. And it was with a wry smile that he waved goodbye to Hong Kong on January 10th 1959 as the transport ship left the harbour for the shores of Blighty carrying 20 year old Dave Miller and a holdall full of the purest cocaine money could buy. Rainy-day money that he could take his time over making in the hedonistic mutterings of 1959 and the deluge of drugs that was about to wash over Britain from every port in the country. You had be ahead of the trend-curve if you wanted to be a winner. As he stepped off the boat at Portsmouth harbour he decided that this was far enough and set about finding a room to rent along with a job. Any job. He wasn’t in a hurry and he had a plan. He wanted stability without the endless struggle and a family without complications. He wanted to avoid the mind-numbing hours of boredom from doing a mundane job on the grey landscape of the Fen just as his parents and grandparents had done for generations. And he wanted children that did their homework and studied hard before achieving what had eluded him and his family over the centuries. A university education. A place from which to create a new legacy for the Miller family in an age of growing opportunity and possibility. And he was a patient man. There was no rush. He would wait for the perfect girl so that they could create the perfect life and he was just as likely to find her in Portsmouth as anywhere. And within a couple of years, he did. And her name was Sylvia and she worked in retail.
12 year old Andy Miller was pissed off. The Miller family had finally moved from the council terraces of Portsmouth to a brand new three-bedroom semi in a road called Ambleside in some place called Gosport. He’d had to leave behind old friends and make new ones on the new estate which was built in the middle of fields as the 1970s opened a new era in expansion and homeownership for the masses. No more council housing for us thanks, we’re on our way up. The first true Yuppies. But Andy was over that little trauma. This was a new threat to stability. The stability of the gang. His gang. The others had yet to formally acknowledge this fact but as far as he was concerned, he was the leader. The two other gang members, Charlie and Peter, had birthdays in June and August respectively whereas his birthday was in May. In addition to this, it was him that organised the projects and the trips. Whether it was throwing eggs at the ammunition train that ran on the old railway line at the back of the estate or fishing trips to catch eels in the creek, it was him that made it all happen. That meant that this threat was his responsibility. At the edge of the estate was a natural boundary that separated it from the fields that ran parallel to the railway line. It was the remnants of a small stream that was once called the River Hoe and a tributary of the River Alver that cut through the farmland and went under the railway line via two small tunnels around a metre high. They exited on the other side of the railway embankment into a small catchment area next to the Gosport Road which then flowed under it and out into the creek through a muddy wetland that would eventually become Portsmouth Harbour. On the opposite side of the road is the Hoeford Inn where it sat as a refuge in the days when the Hoe occasionally flowed across the road in a deluge, blocking the path for wayfarers trying to get into 18th & 19th century Gosport.
Andy and his friends used these tunnels as a shortcut for their fishing trips to the creek or to catch sticklebacks in the deeper water next to the road. They had also been having camping nights at weekends on the outskirts of the estate in the fields across the other side of the stream in a tent that Peter’s dad had given them curtesy of the Royal Navy. This was the real deal. A four-man tent with a specially treated fly-sheet to withstand any amount of rain. They had created a small encampment with a fire-pit where they could discuss the breasts of various girls from the estate while experimenting with the concept of smoking, again curtesy of the Royal Navy cigarettes that Peter’s dad never missed. And when they got bored of that, they would put bottles of petrol or aerosols into the fire and take cover until they exploded. All good, clean fun. Except that this fun was under threat on this particular summer evening. Gary Burrows and his half-wit friend Simon Croft had put a tent up in their camp. And not just any old tent. This was a brand new white one from Matlocks Camping store that didn’t need a fly-sheet providing you treated it with the waterproofing fluid that was on offer with the tent. But to Andy Miller, this was a big, white, “fuck off” in huge writing for the whole world to see and he didn’t know how to cope with this affront. This threat to his leadership. As the three of them trudged dejectedly back through the estate, they considered the options. Firstly, they could beat up Gary Burrows and Simon Croft. But that was likely to invoke parental interference and Andy Miller had no intention of being on the receiving end of his father’s wrath. Violence and abuse was strictly out of bounds in the Miller household. Alternatively, they could just turn up and pitch their tent which is probably what Gary Burrows was hoping after trying to get in on their fishing trips with his brand new rod and tackle that shamed their hand-me-downs from Andy’s grandad. And then they would have second spot and have to congregate in the main tent. Which definitely wouldn’t do. No, maybe it was best to just leave it for another day. As they came up the incline towards Andy’s house they could see Dave Miller polishing the new car. It was a red Ford Cortina Mk3 that came with the job. Area Sales Manager for H.E.Davis Ltd. Suppliers to the building trade from gravel to hammers.
‘Hello lads, what’s going on then? I thought you were going to camp out tonight.’
‘Hello Mr Miller. No, got a bit of a problem. Some other kids have put a tent up in our spot’ replied Charlie.
‘Can’t you join in with them?’
‘No, they’re a couple of….’
‘Knobheads?’ and he carried on polishing as the boys laughed amongst themselves. ‘Why don’t you scare ‘em off? Spook ‘em out at night. That’ll probably get rid of them.’ He paused his polishing to inspect a small scratch on the passenger door.
‘What do you mean dad?’
‘Come on lads, use your imagination. Middle of the night will do it. The Witching Hour.’
‘But we can’t go out at midnight. Mum will go nuts.’
There was another pause in both polishing and conversation as Dave Miller carefully lifted each wiper blade and cleaned the previous week’s grime from endless hours on the road. The boys waited in anticipation, watching him carefully checking for any missed residue or grit that might damage the windscreen. Satisfied, he turned his attention to the inside. From the confines of the interior, he wound down each rear window to make sure that they still operated smoothly. He stuck his head out of a window to offer his final blessing.
‘You’re not thinking about it hard enough boys. If you want results, you have to apply yourselves. Why don’t you do a spot of night fishing? In the creek. But you’ll have to ask your mums first.’
And with a clear direction the three boys prepared for ‘Operation Witch’ in a state of nervous excitement that comes with the prospect of power. Of victory. Of reclaiming lost territory and the possibility of achieving greatness as a leader. This was war and there was no place for the faint-hearted or Conchies. And no quarter would be given. Each man must do his duty. Later that evening, Dave Miller smiled to himself as he watched the three boys sauntering back down the incline carrying their fishing tackle with a clear sense of excitement as they giggled and planned the downfall of this insolent usurper, Gary Burrows. On this occasion, their fishing trip was very productive. Not only had they caught the obligatory eels but they’d each caught a nice Flounder and Charlie had managed to land a small Bass which resulted in much backslapping in their state of heightened anticipation. When they emerged from the tunnels around 12:15am, they hid their fishing tackle in the bushes as they planned their assault while sharing mint tic-tacs and the last of the cola as they sat on the bank of the stream. They decided that once across the border there could be no more talk. Nothing that would give them away as inhabitants of this world. They would become witches and spirits and they would bring hell to their sleeping foe. As they got close to the tent, they could hear nothing. Perfect. There’s nothing worse than being woken up by malevolent spirits. They began their assault with an occasional small stone that they took turns in throwing at the tent. It wasn’t long before the occupants began to whisper and the spirits began to growl and grunt which caused one of the occupants, Simon Croft to start crying and plead to go home. But this was not enough. Not yet. When the enemy is on the run, show no mercy. Demonstrate overwhelming force and the futility of further engagement. It was when the guide ropes were simultaneously pulled out and the gleaming, but now collapsed, white tent engulfed the two frightened boys now clinging to each other in their last moments that this was most ably demonstrated by Charlie Adams. He decided to piss on the terrified forms of the two victims and, in a moment of Musketeer-esque unity, was swiftly followed by Andy Miller and Peter Littlemore. If Mike Burrows had bothered to apply the waterproofing, the damage to both tent and occupants may have been lessened. The assault force immediately took off from the battleground to regroup at the stream and left Gary Burrows and Simon Croft to dismantle the sodden tent and drag it back home at 1am.
When Andy Miller woke up on Sunday morning he knew it wouldn’t be the end of things. They had gone too far and even if they weren’t seen running away, it would get out somehow. And most of the kids were scared of Mike Burrows who tended to get involved in most of Gary Burrows constant run-ins with different kids. His own dad would go berserk if he found out they’d pissed on other kids. That was not the sort of reputation that Dave Miller would want for his son. It was around 11am when both Andy Miller and his dad heard an over-enthusiastic knock on the front door. Andy Miller braced for impact.
‘Who the bloody hell is that. I hope it’s not one of your mates’ and Dave Miller opened the door to be confronted by Mike Burrows with Gary Burrows in tow. They both stared at each other in surprise before Mike spoke.
‘Hello Dave I didn’t realise this was your house.’
‘Hello Mike, what brings you to my front door? No trouble I hope?’ Dave Miller looked down at Gary Burrows and then at the bronzed but diminutive and fit form of Mike Burrows. There was something immediately irritating about the man. It wasn’t the fact that he had stolen Sylvia from him all those years back. He was over that. Sort of. It was just the way he oozed an arrogance towards the rest of the world with his new Kevin Keegan perm and droopy moustache. As Andy Miller heard those words from his discreet hiding place at the top of the stairs, he knew what was coming.
‘Fraid so mate. Last night your son pissed on Gary’s tent as well my Gary, excuse my French. It was brand new yesterday and I’ve had to sling it out. I don’t know how you bring your kids up Dave but that’s disgusting behaviour. I couldn’t care less about the tent. I’m not bothered about the money. But I want a bloody apology from your son.’
Dave Miller looked up the stairs and called Andy down. It was at this moment that he decided on a plan. He would deny it until the cows came home. When he reached the bottom, Dave Miller asked him directly in his low tone that always preceded an eruption of anger.
‘Andy. Mr Burrows says that you wee’d on Gary’s tent last. Is that true?’
‘There you go Mike, he didn’t do it.’
‘Yes he bloody well did! Gary saw him do it.’
‘Please don’t swear in front my son Mike, we don’t allow that sort of behaviour. Gary, did you actually see Andy wee on your tent.’ And he stared hard at Gary Burrows.
‘No, but Terry Littlemore told me it was his brother and Andy.’
‘When did it happen Gary?’ But before he could answer, Mike Burrows intervened.
‘What do mean son? You said you saw it happen about midnight last night.’
Andy Miller could feel the tide turning in his favour. He looked at his dad but got no response or inkling about where it was going.
‘Mike, I can see that you’re annoyed but my son was here all night so it couldn’t have been him could it? I suggest you sort it out with your son. Andy, off you go.’
Mike Burrows resigned himself to defeat. He now had to behave with the appropriate level of contrition suited to a false accusation and so held out his hand which Dave Miller happily shook in acceptance. ‘Say hello to Sylvia!’ he called out as he closed the door on Mike Burrows. Andy Miller heaved a sigh of mental relief as he went back upstairs until he heard his father’s angry voice.
‘Andy, get down here now!’ Andy did as he was told and contemplated what the punishment was likely to be for pissing on Gary Burrows and Simon Croft. ‘How many times do I have to tell you?! Clean those bloody boots off. I’m not having you turning up for a game with boots in that state. Now hurry up because we need to leave in about forty minutes.’ Dave Miller watched with pride as his son cleaned the football boots and applied the Dubbin with meticulous care just as he had taught him. Back of the net, Dave. 1-1. Closure. Neither Andy nor Dave Miller ever raised the subject again.
In the eternal search for truth, we only go deep enough to satisfy our own personal motives. Any deeper and we may start to unravel the very fabric that holds everything together. Consider Copernicus, Charles Darwin and Jimmy Savile. At different points in time, they have challenged our understanding of truth, belief and motive on a huge scale. That is also likely to be the first time that they’ve been seen together in the same sentence. “How dare you include that monster?” I hear you scream. That man destroyed trust on a monumental scale. He did so much good work that is now forgotten. And when we were forced to stop and think about his crimes, we were then forced to consider who knew what. And when did they know it? We trusted people in authority like we always do. The Establishment. The famous people of the day. The Prime Mister. Even Royalty. And if they didn’t know what was going on, then who did? Or did they know? If they could’ve stopped him, then maybe we could’ve avoided all the mistrust that continues to this day. But we can’t blame everything on Charles Darwin. He just offered an alternative truth containing less holes. Something that was much easier to digest as a belief system. Was he a hero that put his personal reputation on the line in order to destroy the lies and reputations of others? A heroic self-sacrifice on behalf of the gullible in order to free them from the crushing burden of guilt and the shackles of the collection box? Once he had discovered another truth, why didn’t he just keep it to himself? Because he wanted the world to share in his discovery. To show what a clever bastard he was in the face of a political and legal shitstorm apparently sanctioned by God. To publish with pride and to achieve greatness. Immortality. But most importantly of all, he had discovered “a new truth”. All modernised and updated in hardback and leather if required. But asking us, the gullible, to totally ditch one belief for an all-encompassing and shiny new one was always going to be a struggle. And it was now called Evolution and you could buy it directly from him.
As for Jimmy Savile, well, nobody knew anything did they? When he went on a life-long sponsored rampage in his tiny shorts and string vest, nobody noticed him robbing victims of their dignity, their self-esteem and their childhoods amongst a myriad of other losses. And if they did know, they were far too busy counting the shillings or worrying about what might happen to them. “I was just following orders guv” on a scale not seen since Nuremburg. Now we are being entertained by documentaries demonstrating that it wasn’t anyone’s fault if the whole nation was either looking the other way or wrapped up in disbelief. If ever there was a time to get lost in a crowd, then this was it. And if you couldn’t get into the crowd because there was no room left, then start putting as much distance as you can between you and the truth. But remember this. If you go in search of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then you will soon find yourself struggling to wade through a quagmire of entrenched belief before sliding from view into the dark depths of the stinking cesspit we know as motive. At this point, the truth is no longer possible to grasp and it should be left to sink to the bottom lest it drag you with it.