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Remembering George, and his mum too.

I have lots of brushes with fame.  I have met my fair share of musicians in my concert-going haydays.  I do not have any brushes with Beatle fame aside from meeting Pete Best.  I do want to meet a Beatle, I would kill to meet a Beatle, but it scares me half to death.  I’m too afraid that I would freeze and look extremely stupid.  Maybe it’s better left to dream about meeting one of them.  It’s safer.

I have said many times in the past that I love these personal little stories about real experiences living with the Fab Four.  I truly mean that.  Stories like these humanize the four.  These kind of tales serve as great reminders that our beloved group were real people making really great music that effect us in many ways.  It also shows you who gave George got his wonerful sense of humility, and openess.  It’s in the genes baby.  What a great story.  It makes me wish that more people still wrote letters.

Here’s what we’ve read.

When a young Beatles fan wrote to George Harrison in 1963, she scarcely expected a reply. But a letter did come back – from his mother. It was the start of an extraordinary correspondence, writes Lilie Ferrari.

In 1963, I was 14 and, like almost every girl in Britain, I fell in love with a Beatle. “My” Beatle was George Harrison. From the first photograph I saw of the Fab Four, I was drawn to his dark eyes, serious face and enigmatic demeanour. He rarely smiled, even when he was being funny, and this made him all the more mysterious and enticing. Compared to the uncouth boys I had to deal with at school every day, George was a delicate, idealised vision of what I thought boys ought to be like. If he had pimples, I never saw them. If he swore, I never heard it. I never saw his hair greasy, his armpits damp, his shoes scuffed.

In short, he was perfect.

We had just moved to Norwich, eastern England, and I had missed a Beatles concert by a few weeks; but a girl in my class had somehow obtained all the Beatles’ home addresses (I daren’t think how, looking back) and was selling them at playtime for half a crown each. A bargain, I thought, handing over my cash eagerly. Immediately upon the exchange, 174 Mackets Lane, Liverpool, became the repository of all my fantasies.

That day I hurried home to compose my first letter to George. I had discovered the joy of words, and wasn’t about to be intimidated into single syllables by writing to a Beatle. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but in spite of my best intentions I suspect it was a gauche jumble of repressed adoration, along the lines of “You’re the best Beatle” and “I much prefer From Me to You to Come On by the Stones”. I don’t remember waiting for the postman every morning. By then the Beatles had started their journey into the stratosphere (it was the year the term Beatlemania was coined) and I guess I assumed I was too small a cog in the great Beatle wheel to merit any kind of response.

But one day a letter with a Liverpool postmark did come, addressed to me in careful looped handwriting. I opened it with trembling fingers and, instead of a letter from George, found one from his mum, Louise.

After a few niceties and general bulletins about the boys’ progress, a question leaped off the page: “Are you,” she asked, “by any chance related to a writer called Ivy Ferrari, who writes doctor-and-nurse romances?”

I bellowed a great scream that brought the family running: my mother was Ivy Ferrari, a romantic novelist churning out Mills & Boon paperbacks with titles like Nurse at Ryminster, Doctor at Ryminster, Almoner at Ryminster. I couldn’t believe it – I might be a fan of her son, but Mrs Harrison was evidently a fan of my mother. I felt as if I had been raised from one among millions to a special place in Mrs Harrison’s head.

Of course I wrote back to tell her that I was indeed Ivy Ferrari’s daughter. I was happy to have made the connection – but so, it seemed, was she. I couldn’t quite grasp it. Beatles were glamorous; my mum was a harassed woman with inky fingers, unruly hair and scruffy skirts who sweated over a typewriter all day. How could they compare?

In the past I might have been indifferent to the overwrought love lives of the fictional staff of Ryminster hospital, but now they seemed to take on a glamour of their own. George never wrote to me, and my mother never wrote to Mrs Harrison, but the two of us began a correspondence that lasted for several years – years that took her from the Mackets Lane council house to a smart bungalow in Appleton, George from gangling teenage guitarist to married man, and me from schoolgirl to young woman.

I sent Mrs Harrison signed copies of my mother’s novels. She sent me signed pictures of the Beatles. I asked her intense questions (“Which one is your favourite, besides George?” Answer: “John, because he does the tango with me in the kitchen and makes me laugh”). She interrogated me about the mysteries of my mother’s creations, such as whether my mum knew any real doctors like Dr David Callender. (“He was fairly tall and tough-looking, with tawny-brown hair and a lean, intent face. His eyes were dark and compelling, so full of fire and life they drew me like a magnet . . .”)

On my 15th birthday, Mrs Harrison sent me a small piece of blue fabric, part of a suit George had worn at the Star Club in Hamburg. Once, I got a crumpled newspaper cutting containing a photo of the Beatles with their scribbled signatures on it, and a big lipstick kiss, which, she said, had been planted there by John Lennon.

She sent me notes that George wrote her on used envelopes: “Dear Mum, get me up at 3, love George”. She wrote on the backs of old Christmas cards and odd bits of paper – I never knew why. She told me funny stories about her upbringing in Liverpool, a world of men in caps on bikes and old ladies with jugs of gin.

I told her about my life in Norfolk, about my sisters, my pony, the dog, my mother. I told her things I didn’t tell anyone else – my fear of failure, my terrible, hidden shyness, my longing to have real adventures, lead a different kind of life to the quiet, rural existence I endured. She was my invisible friend, the silent recipient of everything I had to say.

She always answered my questions, and offered up teasing glimpses of life as the mother of a superstar – “I’m sitting by the pool with Pattie. Had a lovely time at the film premiere” – remarks tantalisingly combined with more mundane observations about knitting and cakes. Of course I never mentioned “real” boys who had caught my eye – that would have been somehow unfaithful to George. That was the only omission I can remember – apart from never articulating how I felt about her son, because I wanted her to think of me as a “normal” girl, and not the wide-eyed obsessive I really was.

After several years the gaps between our exchanges grew longer, as real life began to get in the way of teenage fantasies. I can’t remember which of us wrote the last letter, but by the time I was 18 and working in London, the correspondence had petered out.

Soon after we had slipped from each other’s lives, I found myself standing a few feet away from George himself, in the Apple boutique on London’s Baker Street. He looked tired and unapproachable.

The George that I had conjured up in the kitchen of Mackets Lane, propping notes for his mum on the mantelpiece, seemed a kinder, gentler prospect than the gaunt-looking superstar standing before me who might just tell me to get lost. He was close enough to speak to, but I’ve never been sorry that I backed away in silence.

Mrs Harrison died in 1970 when I was 21. I remember reading about it in the papers. I grieved for her on my own, and remembered her small acts of kindness to a girl in Norfolk she had never met. Her son, of course, made an enormous mark on my life without ever knowing it. I even married someone who embodied all the things I thought George represented: quiet strength, spirituality, the same dry humour, the dark good looks.

My husband Colin had been, among other things, a roadie and the owner of punk record shops. Fortunately, he also had a sense of humour and a high level of tolerance. He learned to live with the omnipresence of George, and would sign cards to me “Love from George and The Other One”.

As the years passed, my life came into focus and George receded. He married, had a son, as did I. I went back to live in a Norfolk cottage, while George retired to a Gothic mansion in Henley. In 1994 I went to Liverpool for the first time with Colin, as a football supporter rather than a Beatles pilgrim: Norwich City were playing at Anfield.

I took time out to stand in front of 174 Mackets Lane and tried to imagine Mrs Harrison sitting at the window in the front room, answering my letters. I wanted to weep, but I didn’t. When Norwich scored the winning goal that afternoon and we leapt to our feet, I cheered instead for that kindly Liverpudlian who took the time and trouble to light up my teenage years.

I’ve gradually lost the priceless relics of those years. They would have made me rich if I hadn’t been so careless with my belongings; then again, I would never have sold them. So my side of that eccentric correspondence has all but disappeared, along with my youth.

In September 2001, Colin died of Hodgkin’s disease. A month later, George was dead, too. It felt as if two distinct parts of my life had ended all at once: my dreamlike girlhood, and my real, adult life with a beloved partner and friend.

But every day in my study at home, I look at something that binds these two parts together. It’s a photograph of George taken in 1962 in Hamburg by Astrid Kirchherr (girlfriend of “fifth” Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe).

Colin secretly sought it out, hand-made a frame for it, and gave it to me on my 40th birthday. It is one of my most treasured possessions.

Source: theage.com.au


5 Responses

  1. what a great story! now that’s a wonderful glimpse into a real life that was connected to the Lads….thanks for the story, bittersweet as it is…..

    those Lads- they made their mark on each of us, each in an individual way……

    today at work, one of us was talking about teaching beatles songs to the kids, i was thinking about the huge beatles posters on so many of our schoolroom walls, each of us patiently telling the kids about the posters when they ask…..yes, the Lads have marked us, each one of us…….

    …..”it’s only love, and that is all….” -sue


  2. this woman had a real luck!and i think she’s got above all in her mind a big treasure that it will be never lost.It will belong to her forever,so i hope she won’t be sad remembering these happy memories!NEVER!!!i would like to tell her:”try to be always proud of what you got,and what you lived,and you must know that nobody will leave you even a little piece of your story”we all must know that what is important is everything we have in our heart and our mind,not everything we can touch,we can see,because material things could disappearing,but memories will stay inside us forever!!!!p.s. i think George would agree with me too!!!*Ulla* 😉

  3. hey I love George lets get back to the beatle reunion song and make that happen! we cant change politics global warming,poverty but if we clap our hands and stomp our feet and say please maybe we can get the last beatle song -this is a beatle blog and I say this our last chance pretty soon theyll be too old to do it keep steady lets get that song there might be two songs lets get a petition started today and make sure we send it to them three cheers for now and then–we can make this happen if we think we can we can they will do it if they know its important to us its a nice way to finish the story!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. FOR MR HAPPY:allright boy!!!!i agree with you!ill trust in you,but above all i’ll trust in everyone who believes in love for music is so much important than money and something connected with it!!!! i’m for you and i’m with you!!!!POWER TO THE PEOPLE,RIGHT ON!!!!!!! *Ulla*

  5. by the way, this is the most beautiful story. I read it a few times a week just to experience all of these emotions again. It totally tells us all that the Beatles were human, and we are given a chance to hear of these close accounts with the Beatles themselves, or relatives.

    simply beautiful.

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