Alan Barlow, lifetime cyclist and long-term anarcho-syndicalist died quietly at his home in Liverpool on New Year's Eve. Born into a large West Kirby family, Alan enjoyed his childhood years and developed an early interest in wildlife during long country walks. However, the necessities of life were never available in abundance and one of his childhood memories was of regularly helping his granddad to hawk fresh Hoylake fish from a barrow to the good burghers of Wirral. Alan left school at the age of 14 and did what work he could get until called up for National Service in 1946 when he worked as a store-man in the Army Ordnance Corps. Upon release from the army, Alan took work as a builder's labourer and drain-layer, occupations that he would follow for the rest of his working life.
During the 1950s Alan, in line with good, working-class practice, became auto-didactic. Through his wide reading he developed a keen interest in and a comprehensive knowledge of the history of modern times. He read the biography of many a 19 and 20th century politician and political agitator and soon found his sympathy to lie with, as he later said in a statement to the police, 'the so-called revolutionaries and… the causes which they had fought for,' matters which, so far as Alan could see at the time, remained largely unresolved.
By the early1960s, Alan had embraced anarcho-syndicalism, not in the quasi-fascist misappropriation of the term used by Sorel to encourage irrational acts of violence but as a transfer of the means of production and distribution from the capitalist class to local unions of workers. However, as he later said himself, with the militant materialist consumerism of the 1960s in mind, he was more concerned with 'the organisation of the working person in order to improve their own life and conditions' not only through increased spending power and leisure time but in who benefited from that additional income and how that extra leisure time could be spent.
One of the causes in which Alan was active during the later years of the '60s was the plight of homeless people in cities where many houses stood empty. Thus it was while living in London's Fairfield Gardens that Alan's sympathy with the struggle of the Spanish trades unions against the crushing weight of Franco's fascist regime grew into direct action. In 1969 Alan was sentenced to two years imprisonment for his part in the bombing of Spanish banks in London, actions that were carried out when the banks were closed and the streets empty and for which, ironically, the British government felt it necessary to apologise to the violently, and often terminally, repressive Spanish dictator. He was then and remained very grateful to all those anarchists and left-wing radicals in Manchester, Liverpool, London and elsewhere who supported him with their letters and good wishes during the time he spent as a guest of the queen on remand in Brixton gaol and later in Wormwood Scrubs. Against the ravages of time and his own itinerant nature, Alan managed to keep most of those letters, amongst which is a series of finely illustrated missives from anarchist cartoonist Arthur Moyse - and his dog.
Having 'paid his debt to society,' Alan moved back to live in Liverpool and thence to Manchester as an active member of the SWF and became, as a member of the Construction Allied Trades and Technicians union, shop-steward at Manchester's Direct Works Department. During this period he was also involved in editing and producing 'Direct Action.' After an accident restricted his ability to work, Alan could not range so far a-field and spent much time in the Pennine hills around east Manchester and much money buying large numbers of second hand books, all of which he read and most of which he then redistributed. Later, as his general good health began further to wane, his friends in Liverpool persuaded him to move to that city where he spent his final years buying shirts; picking political or philosophical arguments in pubs; and generally punching above his weight.
Both before and after his penal hiatus, Alan was a keen walker and cyclist travelling all over Britain and in many of the countries of Western Europe. Indeed it is said of him that he knew something of every town in this land and, thanks to his prodigious memory, could tell you a tale about most of the pubs in each of them. In his seventh decade, Alan used his passion for cycling as a means of punishing those who loved him best by forcing them to spend long hours in the baking heat searching the highways and byways of Northern France looking out for the soles of his boots or for a slowly circling cycle-wheel sticking out of whatever ditch he had fallen into: either pissed; or overcome by heat stroke; or both. He also had the annoying habit of cleaning Teflon® pans with metal scourers: still, no-one's perfect.
By a fellow traveller.