Pete Shotton begins his journey through his friendship with John with a full-hearted introduction in which he explains the reasons that brought him to publish the quite-revealing book about Lennon.
“I hope that most of you will know the great pleasure of having a very special friend – or, as well call it in Liverpool, a ‘best mate’. John Lennon was my best mate. Over a period of almost thirty years – from the time I first met him at the age of six to our last meeting in 1976 at his home in New York – I probably spent more time with him than anyone else.”
With these first words, Pete Shotton points out the importance of his publishing. Not only he was Lennon’s best friend during the first years of Lennon’s childhood in Liverpool, but they maintained a healthy, deep friendship until 1976. This means Shotton is capable of telling many stories about John through the most important years of his life because he was always there with him.
And in fact, the book doesn’t disappoint the high expectations revealed in the intro. A detailed map of Liverpool anticipates the first chapter called “Two of Us”, the first of many song titles he’ll use to separate 25 different chapters that involve John’s whole life with his best friend.
The first chapter begins with the early years of their infancy and childhood. Pete Shotton doesn’t waste much time and he soon comes to the gets down to brass tacks describing how the gang of friends that will include John and figures important for The Beatles, like Ivan Vaughan, the man who will introduce John to Paul, was born.
“By the age of six, I had established myself as the leader – or so I thought – of a rowdy little gang of boys from the neighbourhood; these included a budding bookworm named Ivan Vaughan and a police sergeant’s son, Nigel Whalley, both of whom also lived on Vale Road. My authority, in any case, was never seriously challenged until one of the newest kids on the block made his presence felt. The kid’s name, as you might have guessed, was John Lennon. Every Sunday afternoon, Ive, Nige, and I used to ride our bicycles to St. Peter’s Parish Church (an edifice constructed, like much else in Woolton, from locally quarried red sandstone). When John was enrolled in our class at Sunday School, it seemed logical that he accompany us on this weekly journey. And so, by degrees, he came to infiltrate ‘my’ gang. This sandy-haired kid with the ridiculous round glasses proved, almost from the start, to be what our parents would have labeled a “disruptive influence” not only was he larger, stronger, and more aggressive than the rest of us, he also seemed a lot wiser to the ways of the big bad world. Before leaving for church, we would each be given a few pennies for the collection box. John was astounded to earn that we actually disposed of this money as instructed, instead of spending it on bubble gum. At his instigation, we began to make detours to the nearest sweetshop, and would take our places in our little Sunday school circle loudly popping gum.”
But Pete’s friendship with John wasn’t easy at all, as before cementing their relationship they went through a rough fight Pete confesses a bit later:
“It was at Sunday school that I first detected a chink in John’s armor. At the beginning of class, Mrs. Clark always requested us to recite our full names. John’s mother, it turned out, had ( in an uncharacteristic burst of patriotic fervor) bestowed on him the middle name Winston (in honor of the Mr. Churchill). Though this information was divulged to Mrs. Cark almost inaudibly, and with a great show of reluctance, I managed soon enough to decipher those two mumbled syllables sandwiched between ‘John’ and ‘Lennon’. I, too, thought that Winston was a most peculiar name for a red-blooded seven-year-old boy. Adding insult to injury, I took to addressing John as ‘Winnie’ whenever I felt he required a little cutting down the size. In company, John always pretended to ignore my references to his hated second name. Even at that tender age, he understood that to do otherwise would only help to circulate his terrible secret and cause the rest of the gang to join in my obnoxious choruses of ‘Winnie!’. Instead, he bides his time, waiting for his chance to deal with me in private, man to man. The showdown came one day while I was innocently walking home across the Tip, which spanned Menlove Avenue and Vale Road. At the center of this otherwise barren expanse, there was a bank, overgrown with shrubbery and small trees, from which suddenly sprang John Winston Lennon. without further ado, he placed himself between me and my destination. “Listen you” he said evenly, staring me down through his National Health specs. “If you keep calling me Winnie, I’m going to have to smash you up.” “Well, then, Winnie” I sneered “You’ll have to prove it first. And I’d like to see you try.” John lost little time in either the trying or the proving. The next thing I knew I was flat on my back and John was crouched n top of me with his knees pressed against my biceps. “Right” he gloated, pinning my wrists to the ground for good measure. “You’re not going to call me that name anymore, are you?” “No, no” I murmured “Of course not.” “Are you sure, then, Shotton?” “Look, John” I said “You’ve proved your point. If you’re going to hit me, then just go ahead and get it over with”. Nonetheless, I somehow sensed he wasn’t really the sort to hurt someone he had already rendered helpless. “O.K., then, Shotton. Just promise you won’t call me Winnie any longer, or tell anyone that my name is Winston, and I’ll let you go.” “I promise.” “You’re sure, now?” Already I could feel his grip loosening. “Cross my heart and hope to die.” Whereupon John relinquished his hold, and I made as if to scamper home. At the safe distance of ten yards or so, however, I turned around to deliver my parting show: “Winnie, Winnie, Winnie, Winnie, Winnie!” If looks could kill, I wouldn’t have survived another second. “I’ll get you for that, Shotton!” John blustered, shaking a fist in my direction. “Well, you’re going to have to catch me first, then, won’t you, Lennon?”. Each of us stood as if rooted to his spot in the middle of the dirt field. John stared at me, and I stared, smirking, back, and – very gradually – his face broke into an enormous grin. He knew he had been outwitted, but, beyond that, we both realized, as one, that our long-awaited showdown had, in the end, amounted to no more (or less) than fun and games. And in that flash of mutual understanding, I, at least, knew that John and I were going to be good mates. That encounter at the Tip – my first vivid memory of John Lennon – marked the true beginning of our friendship. Over the next few years, the two of us were to grow virtually inseparable.”
As their relationship came to resemble that of Siamese twins, John renamed their friendship “Shennon and Lotton”, and Shotton cleverly points out how John’s spoonerism of ‘Shotton’ and ‘Lennon’, moreover, foreshadowed his lifelong habit of linking his name with those of the people he felt closest to:
Though I have yet to encounter a personality as strong and individualistic as John’s, he always had to have a partner. He could never abide the thought of getting stuck out on his limb all by himself.”
Shotton also reveals John’s (curiously) excitement in going to church on Sunday, and that was the moment he knew Mimi, John’s dear aunt.
“All things considered, then, you probably wouldn’t have expected me to find Mimi the most congenial of companions. She was, after all, a strict disciplinarian, apt to raise her voice at the slightest provocation (or so it seemed to us); she was also rather outspoken in her distaste for anythinig or anybody ‘common’ – a category that apparently included me. Nonetheless, I grew to like Mimi enormously. It didn’t take me very long to sense that her severe demeanor was, to some extent, a facade – belied, as often as not, by a certain glint of mischief in her eyes. I formed the distinct impression that Mimi was secretly rather fond of me, and more than a bit amused by at least some of the ‘nonsense’ she so vciferously condemned. (On rare occasions, she would even forget herself so far as to burst out laughing at our misadventures.)”
Shotton also underlies that Mimi was, unquestionably, the dominant force in her household, and whenever she punished John by locking him, supperless, in his bedroom, uncle George could usually be counted on to smuggle in a few buns.
Throughout this period of John’s life, Uncle George was his closest adult confidant, and I recall John being especially thrilled when the old man reciprocated by teaching him one of his first ‘dirty poems’. John, in turn, recited it to me so often that I can remember it to this day:
In the shade of the old apple tree,
Two beautiful legs I can see,
And up at the top there’s a little red dot:
It looks like a cherry to me.
I pulled out my private New York,
It fitted just like a cork.
I’ll bet you ten quid they’ll be having a kid,
In the shade of the old apple tree.
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