A new book published today chronicles the astonishing life of Herbert Billingsworth, 88. It is a story of good decisions, fortuitous coincidences and blind luck that has enabled Herbert to consistently cheat death and catastrophe. Reproduced here, exclusively, are a few extracts from Herbert's amazing tale of near misses in his memoir entitled “Only 3673 miles from death.”:-
11th September 1921
I was born in Preston in Lancashire on this day. The son of a Scottish merchant seaman and the Eskimo girl he won in a poker tournament in Newfoundland, I was brought up to understand the hard life of the inter-war mill towns. Fortunately this meant I was not born in the USA as the son of a man who went on to be the anti-semetic US ambassador to wartime Britain. Whilst it was a shame I never had the chance to go to an Ivy League college in the USA, it also meant that I was never able to run for US President. Thus it was by sheer chance that I was not sitting in my open-top limousine waving at the crowds in Dealey Plaza, in the heart of Dallas, on the 22nd November 1963. You can imagine my relief that it was not me assassinated that day, but it could have been very different.
6th June 1944
As a 22 year old apprentice working on the London Midland Scottish Railway I was in one of the reserved professions. We worked hard, I tell you, running the steam trains longer and faster, working on them day and night as a key part of Britain's war effort that had spent years under constant bombardment by the Luftwaffe until the RAF gained air supremacy. But for that choice 6 years earlier this glorious summer's morning when I was cooking us a well earned fry-up with our combined egg ration on the boiler plate of “Old Gerty”, could so easily have been different for me. What with me maybe having my limbs blown off on the beaches of Normandy.
On this day it would not even have been three years since I narrowly avoided being shot in Dallas. It shocked me to realise that but for having no interest in football a mere three decades earlier and having taken up boxing (I was pre-war LMS under 16 champion) it could so easily have been me dancing with the Jules Rimet trophy on that marvellous day in Wembley. And not Nobby Styles. And I would have had no teeth.
9th May 1976
I have never been into all that queer sex malarky. A quick doing with the missus, with the lights out, after Match Of The Day is as kinky as I ever liked it, thank-you-very-much. But it makes me think on that it is only my red-blooded heterosexuality, never having been to London and with a keen lack of interest in politics that meant that it was Jeremy Thorpe who suffered the male model bum-sex scandal. I admit I did shag his dog on Exmoor though.
11th September 2001
My granddaughter had talked about doing something special for my 80th birthday. She suggested maybe a holiday in America and a trip on the transcontinental railway. Whilst it is one of the great train journeys of the world, I really do hate Americans and I hate heights and flying, so I never entertained the idea of going there or to somewhere so full of tall buildings as New York. I don't even have a valid passport. So you can imagine my horror when I discovered that New York's World Trade Center towers had been the victim of a terrorist outrage and brought crashing down. They contained the “Windows of the World” restaurant I had absolutely no intention or chance of ever being in. It just brought home to me how that simply could never have been me,
“Hecker's like, and that's swearing, I never miss a domino's night in the Dog and Spade now,” said Mr Billingsworth, speaking at book signing. “It shakes me to the bone to realise that sometimes I have cheated death by just a matter of months or a scant several thousand miles, but then I guess I am just lucky.”
Realising he was in some way charmed, having escaped misfortune so often in his 88 years, had emboldened Herbert to embark on a new travel book entitled “A Wintry Descent Of The Alps By Toyota Prius.”
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