Jack Webster talks to John Lennon's cousin about

boyhood memories and happy Highland connections

AT HIS villa tucked away in a secluded corner of Largs, Stanley Parkes

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lives quietly with his memories of the boy who used to idolise him as

the older cousin. The fact that that boy himself became an idol of the

world, once identifying himself, infamously, with greater popularity

than Jesus Christ, gives Stanley some difficulty in recognising the lad

who was just another member of his family.

For John Lennon was the young cousin who would follow him around as a

boy. He would take him to the park or the pictures or down the road for

a haircut.

But most of all they would enjoy holidays at the family croft at

Durness, in the far north-west of Scotland, a connection of the famous

Beatle which is surprisingly little known.

Among Stanley's mementoes is correspondence from Lennon, waxing

nostalgic from the distance of New York and concluding: ''I miss

Scotland more than England.''

It is weird to see his handwriting dealing with the simple

relationships we all know, about this aunt or that cousin or some veiled

family problem. For all his intelligence, the grammar, spelling, and

punctuation are mediocre. But then you don't need to spell or punctuate

to become a legend.

Stanley Parkes, who eventually took over the running of that croft at

Durness and has only more recently moved to Largs, remembers John as the

lively, artistic boy who would roam across the hills of north-west

Scotland, comb the beaches, build dykes, sketch a little, and get to

know the local crofters.

The Scots connection takes a little explaining since the family base

was, of course, in Liverpool, where commonplace names like Penny Lane

and Strawberry Fields would take on new significance.

It was there that John Lennon and Stanley Parkes grew up, the sons of

two sisters from a formidable family where the women were decidedly

dominant. The image of Lennon coming from a working-class background

irritates his older cousin, because it's false.

''On our side, you would find businessmen, a civil servant, and an

army major in what was really a professional, middle-class family,'' he

says.

Lennon's father was not without his background either, though he

turned out an irresponsible rake, generally frowned upon in the Stanley

family as ''that Alf Lennon''. He was a steward on the Queen Mary who

jumped ship in New York during the war, afraid they might be torpedoed,

reappeared briefly when he wanted custody of John but didn't show up

again until 1965 when his son was famous.

John's mother Julia had gone off to live with another man and one of

her sisters, the famous Aunt Mimi, matriarch of the family, took on the

mother role for John. Stanley Parkes, however, disputes the notion that

Lennon's mother deserted him and tells of their regular contact. Indeed,

John was clearing up the tea dishes in her house on the tragic night in

1958 when she went off across Liverpool to visit Aunt Mimi. Leaving to

catch her bus back home, she was killed by a car outside Mimi's house.

''I remember Julia as a happy-go-lucky woman who was very musical,''

says Stanley. ''She had my grandfather's banjo and taught John to play

the basic chords when he was 12.

''When he started to form the group with Paul McCartney, John was

playing banjo chords on the guitar and Paul told him 'You can't do

that'. He taught him to play guitar chords.

''John and his mother were great fans of Elvis. He was also very keen

on the Goons and Frankie Howerd, as well as Buddy Holly. I remember he

and Paul went to see Buddy Holly at the Liverpool Empire and noticed

that he was playing just three basic chords. 'We could do that!' they

said.''

And they did. The rest is the history of The Beatles, with some

preliminaries as The Silver Beatles.

But what about Scotland? Stanley Parkes's father died early and the

boy was sent to a boarding-school in Peebles. Meanwhile his mother met a

friend of her husband, Bertie Sutherland, a dentist from Edinburgh, and

when they were married in 1949, Stanley's home became 15 Ormidale

Terrace, overlooking Murrayfield Stadium.

''That was when I started going down to Liverpool and bringing John up

by bus to Edinburgh. He and our cousin Leila and I were very close. From

Edinburgh, we would bundle into the car and head up to the family croft

at Durness, which Bertie had inherited. That went on from about the time

John was nine until he was 16 and he loved his holidays up there.''

They were still in close contact when fame overtook The Beatles.

Stanley had married Jan, daughter of John Caldwell, a Third Lanark

footballer who went to play professionally in America.

They settled at 45 Bryce Crescent, Currie, near Edinburgh, where John

Lennon used to visit. ''I remember one time he came to the house in

great excitement,'' says Stanley. ''He had just made a record, he said.

It was Love Me Do.''

He would stay overnight when the group was appearing in Scotland and

Stanley would drive him to the next venue to catch up with George, Paul,

and Ringo, risking the scratches and lipstick daubs on his car.

Stanley retains a Beatles schedule from those early days. I wonder who

remembers that they appeared at the Longmore Hall, Keith, on January 2,

1963, and followed up with engagements at the Two Red Shoes Ballroom,

Elgin, the Town Hall, Dingwall, the Museum Hall, Bridge of Allan, and

the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen?

Stanley was privileged to turn up at the famous Abbey Road studios

when The Beatles were recording, sometimes playing his part with

effects. He was with John when he was composing Imagine.

Meanwhile, those Highland visits continued right up to his association

with Yoko Ono, when he wanted to bring her north to meet Stanley's

mother.

''He was very shortsighted and he wasn't a good driver,'' Stanley

recalls. ''He got from London to Edinburgh but I warned him to be very

careful on the single-track roads up north.''

Well, John Lennon was travelling from Durness to Tongue when he faced

an on-coming vehicle, panicked, and landed in the ditch. He and Yoko and

son Julian were rushed to Lawson Memorial Hospital, Golspie, with severe

facial injuries and detained for five days.

That association with Yoko took Lennon off to New York and away from

close relationships at home. Stanley didn't like what he was hearing

about the lifestyle and told John to get a grip of himself.

There is an interesting note in Lennon's handwriting, light-hearted

and conciliatory, on the lines of ''Come on, man, send me a postcard!

Life is short . . . Love and Happy New Year . . . John.''

Life would indeed be short. Stanley fell heir to the Durness croft and

went back to reinstate it as a working unit. Here John Lennon had spent

some of his happiest days.

Jan Parkes, a quietly observant woman, was very fond of his first

wife, Cynthia. As for John, she felt he was slightly afraid of women,

almost too shy to get into conversation. She remembered his sarcasm but

put it down to a defence mechanism.

Stanley switched on the radio that December morning of 1980 and heard

that his beloved cousin had been shot by a maniacal fan on the steps of

his Manhattan home. The world took on a different hue.

Stanley's diabetes required a move nearer a hospital and that took him

to Largs. A quiet and gentle man, he is the antithesis of Beatlemania,

custodian of a story which has more to do with a family circle than an

international legend.