Billy The Kid’s Magnificent Seventh


In the summer of 2008 Bill Keeth and author Billy Hopkins were in e-mail contact concerning the latter’s stated intention of writing a seventh (and final) book in his Manchester-based saga (a roman fleuve, running from the 1880s to the present-day, no less), Billy Hopkins himself he being nobbut a lad of 80 years of age at that time.


Dear Billy,

Something you said to me recently came to mind overnight:‘I don’t remember getting old, and old age seems to have surreptitiously crept up on me when I wasn’t looking.’

It reminds me of John Lennon’s incisive aside: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’

I love the implication about time’s being spent as it should be spent, like good coin of the realm, rather than being frittered away like a thing of no account – or, worse still, treated as something to be “got through”. For instance, the worst opinion I ever heard about a game of Cribbage is that ‘it passes an hour or two’. I mean to say, does the European Cup Final merely pass an hour or two?

As it happens, She Who Holds the Casting Vote at My Present Address and I had exchanged opinions earlier in the day about an acquaintance of ours who seems to be quite determindedly old. Because it occurred to us, too, that this same acquaintance has been playing the “old” card since we were all 31 years younger than we are today. At times, too, we have been similarly treated to her reminiscences about the way in which she, personally, ‘never had a chance in life’: ‘And never got around to making one for herself either’, Milady threw in for good measure).

By way of contrast, attending a Ruby Wedding celebration recently, we met up with a clutch of close neighbours of ours from when we were first married and moved (as a job lot, so to speak) on to a new housing estate in Royton, Oldham, in the late 1960s. As it turned out, every one of the four “breadwinners” present, notwithstanding his enjoyment of secure, pensionable employment in his chosen trade or profession, revealed that at some stage in his later working life he had recognised the need to stand back, take stock, and either step up, or personally re-direct his savings regimen for a few years, having become concerned at the impending prospect of a comparatively impoverished retirement.

Inspiring stuff, I remember thinking at the time, particularly with each (very different) investment decision having been arrived at independently, without any consultation with any so-called expert, and in the face of perennial government hostility to saving schemes which actually reward the saver within a financial system that can itself be trusted to deliver the goods.

But something that strikes me in retrospect is that each of us present at that Ruby Wedding celebration did at least have options. That is to say, we had options which the generation(s) that went before us did not necessarily have access to. Because, once upon a time (and not too long ago at that), you worked (or you didn’t work), but if you worked, then you worked, full stop. Far too often no financial side-step was possible, neither was retirement from work in many cases.

How well I recall its being adjudged in no way peculiar for my dear Auntie Sue to be still be employed as a hospital cleaner at the time of her death, aged 72! How well I remember, too, her occasional lingering reference to the threat of the workhouse for those impecunious as she, though the disgrace she feared (thanks to Stafford Cripps and others of his like) had long been consigned to the dustbin of history.

When I kicked off with this message it was my intention simply to concur with your observation that  Tempus fugit* – indeed, Sic aetas labitur **(as the twin quotations on the clock tower of Royton’s Carnegie library put it). But I find myself concluding with a plea for Tommy’s World*** – that is to say, for Tome Number 7 in the Hopkins canon, which you tell me you are now thinking of writing.

Tommy deserves to be heard from again. Certainly, to my mind. (Something tantamount, I suppose, to pushing Fitz****, possibly bug-eyed and hyper-nervously, centre stage in James Plunkett’s Dublin-based Strumpet City*****.) Because Tommy Hopkins and his family, like so many other local families, pulled through in an age when there was little chance or expectancy that they would do so.

There’s no hurry: it’ll come – and very enjoyably, too, once you’ve got a full head of steam up. A project to be begun in the autumn, next spring perhaps.

Take absolutely no notice of me. I am, of course, getting carried away with myself as I set foot in Kate’s Story****** for a re-read . . .

Best wishes and regards,

Bill Keeth


Billy Hopkins

Billy Hopkins – Photograph courtesy of Paul J Hopkins:

Dear Bill,

Thank you for your e-mail and all those kind observations. Talking of age, I have found that once you come to the age of 80 there is an exponential slowing down and sometimes the bones refuse to move. I have taken to quoting old Gonzalo from The Tempest as I climb the stairs:

By’r lakin, I can go no further, sir.

My old bones ache . . . By your patience, I needs must rest me.

(Act III, Scene III)

Talk about getting through time! My next door neighbour, who spent his life painting the outside of his house (like the Forth Bridge) was always saying “Well, it helps to kill the time!” Which is a bit worse than your quote. He died last year incidentally. So he was right. It DID kill the time. (No doubt he is till painting up there).

You talk of a Ruby Wedding anniversary. Kid’s stuff! We have already celebrated our Golden and in 2 years’ time, we reach our Diamond. I never thought I’d last this long.

This week-end, Clare and I are guests of honour at an 80th Birthday party being organised by our immediate family. At some posh restaurant (Tree Tops) in Formby, near Southport.

As for a seventh book (Tommy’s World), it is very much on the back burner. Maybe when autumn sets in, I shall turn my attention to it. I need a fresh burst of energy and inspiration. In the sunny weather, my great joy is sitting in the garden reading, communing with nature and the birds (feathered). Embarking on another book, I can well see the work involved. I believe like Freddie Forsyth in his maxim that the 3 most important things in writing a book are: structure, structure, structure. Once that is established, it’s all downhill! (Some hopes.)

Kind regards,

Billy Hopkins

Tommy’s World by Billy Hopkins was published in November 2009.

*         Times flies
**       In like manner does our generation pass away
***     Tommy is Billy Hopkins’ father; Kate being Tommy’s wife and Billy’s mother
****    Husband of the main female character in Strumpet City.
*****  Set in the period of Labour unrest prior to the Easter Rising, 1916.
******Kate’s Story the 3rd book in the Hopkins’ canon – a prequel to Our Kid is, the author’s abiding masterpiece.

Photograph courtesy of Paul J Hopkins:

June 2012

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website,

Click here to return to the index of stories for W I S P

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Help logo