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The Poetry and Prose  of Nicholas Hancock
The Poet of Despair

Nicholas Hancock

Published by The British Hancock Society
by arrangement with the author.

Copyright    2008 Nicholas Hancock.  Permission  is granted  to  distribute  in  any  medium, commercial or non-commercial, provided author attribution and copyright notices remain intact.


Physical love between old people has for long been a taboo subject. Now a Liverpool novelist with an extraordinary background has tackled it with fervour, humour and understanding.
David Charters of The Liverpool Daily Post reports

  "I am still quite a lusty chap, you know," says the old poet and adventurer, as a smile ghosts through the blue of his eyes, causing a barely visible stretching of fine lips, which should have some kissing to do before their flame dies. This is the man who has just published an acclaimed novel about the love of a couple in their 70s, described with a tenderness, which recognises that body parts sag and hang loose, while varicose veins swell into view. "I need only look at my own legs to help me with such passages," says Nicholas Hancock, with a knowing shrug. But why should you hide what experience has given you? Yes, he's cool, you think, this fellah, and his slippered feet turn swiftly, so that he can climb the ladder into his loft/study, with an effortless spring, not unlike that of a squirrel scurrying up the bark of a fir-tree.

    There, from the window he can see over the school yard opposite, across the wet roofs of bunched streets, sloping to a slate-grey strip of Mersey, which he likes to see rolling before him. Maybe, water opens possibilities in his dancing imagination. And then his eyes rise up the Wirral docklands to the distant Clwydian hills, topped, of course, by the pimple at the top of Moel Famau. It's a fine view for Hancock, who has reached the literati of Liverpool by strange routes. You wouldn't bet on there being many people around these parts who went to the same school as our future king, although the late comedian Arthur Askey, born a few hundred yards away in Moses Street, in the heart of an area known as the Holy Lane for obvious reasons, brought his own special kudos to the neighbourhood.

   However, like Prince Charles, Nicholas Hancock was sent to Gordonstoun, the outward-bound public school at the bleak end of Scotland. The authorities thought it right that lanky boys in their mid-teens should endure in short trousers the bitter weather, from which even the Vikings shrank. We cannot be sure if Prince Charles benefited from this, but we do know that Hancock has lived one hell of a life. It includes two degrees, a spell as a goucho (cowboy) in Uruguay, a long period as a teacher on a remote Canadian island, a 7,000-mile cycle ride through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and two marriages.

Hancock is making coffee in the kitchen. Then he settles on his chair in the parlour, steam curling from his cup. Nicholas was the son of Dougal and Vivien Hancock, both teachers, who ran a small boys' preparatory boarding school called Greenways in Bognor. It was transferred to the Wiltshire village of Codford St Mary, when German bombers threatened the south coast during World War II. The boy had the unusual experience of going to his parents' school and it was the launch-pad for an unusual life which reached a happy point in December 2003 when his story Daniel and Miriam was chosen as the winner of a competition run by the publisher Acorn. In the slow ways of book production, known to most writers, it has just come out.

    But that has not really dented the sanguine nature of Hancock, who has written 21 novels and received enough rejection slips to make a paper-chain. His only other other published novel was La Beatification, brought out in a French/Canadian edition in 1989. A volume of his poetry was also published in Canada. But with his new book, Hancock could have a success. Life expectancy is increasing all the time and people in their 70s, 80s and even their 90s lead active and fulfilling lives. The men and women in commerce and advertising call it the "grey" market, the great money-spinning opportunity of the future. And in his story, Hancock deals with sex and money, ideas central to the human condition. Daniel is a retired barrister of 77 with oodles of dosh growing nicely for the benefit of a grasping, generally selfish family, who are almost counting away his days. Enter Miriam, a vibrant pensioner, who looks much younger than her years. Sex, extensive overseas travel and lavish spending mark their romance. It will also be scarred by the paedophilia, hostage-taking, muggings and the blackmail of others. But it's a big world out there and they are eager to sample its wares, like teenagers, as they explore the glories of love and freedom, celebrating their minds as well as their bodies in a crazy spree - while there is still time.

    "You have to harness the sympathy of the younger reader," says Hancock, who belongs to the Liverpool writers' club, Inklings, which meets at the Central Library every Wednesday. "I feel that I am still quite a young dog hi many respects. I do workouts in the gym. I don't have any physical problems, so I don't feel particularly old. The mirror can remind me, but when I am not looking at myself, which is most of the time, I don't feel particularly old. "In the book I wanted to explore the unreasoning disgust that many younger people have about sex between older people. You know, the idea of your parents, let alone your grandparents, making love is disgusting to very young people." It's a story which could easily transfer to the small or the big screen and people reading it on the bus or train would be advised not to forget their Kleenex tissues. Hancock smiles at the notion. He has been living in this terraced house in Dingle since 1988, having been introduced to the city in 1952 by a pal when he was doing his National Service in the Army. He likes the honesty of Liverpool and its people. *

   There was, though, the nine months in 1991/92 when he was away on his bike, actually staying in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, when the First Gulf War broke out. "A spectral figure came towards us through the half-light, it was about six o' clock in the morning," he said on an American TV documentary. "I was the only person who was up and I opened the door to him and he had heard on the BBC or the Voice of America of the first strikes. "Suddenly I realised that my little tour had turned into a farce in contrast to the tragedy which was happening around me. We see so often on TV shouting people waving their arms, looking very intense and fanatical. I have seen people who are very concerned, very emotional. I have seen people frightened and excited, then- eyes glistening, and smiling. There is a lot of smiling here." In the style of TE Lawrence and other Europeans before him, Hancock was happy to wear Arab clothing, including a black and white keffiyeh.

 School didn't appeal to Hancock and he made a deal with his mother that he could leave the cold showers, five-mile cross country runs, short trousers and early rises of Gordonstoun as soon as he had passed his School Certificate, which he did at 16. From there Hancock, an accomplished rider, briefly became a cowboy in Uruguay. But in later life, he received a French and Spanish studies BA from London University and a master's degree in Quebecian studies in Canada. For 22 years he taught in the Dominion, being for 10 years headmaster of a school on the island of Harrington Harbor. In Canada he was married to Joan Marland and they had three boys, Paul, Adam and Jason. But, back in Liverpool, this writer leaves the impression that he has plenty of love, and stories, left in him.

DANIEL and MIRIAM, published by Acom Publications, is available at Waterstone's on Bold Street, Liverpool, at 6.99.