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Someday My Prints Will Come

I don't know about you (well, obviously I don't, I'm not even sure who you are) but Amazon and their associates have the happy ...

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Thing With Bing!




If you've got children of a certain age around the house, then you'll know about Bing!  If not, his work may have passed you by, particularly if you don't happen to be an avid fan of CBeebies.



Bing! (and he always comes with his own exclamation mark) is a charming black rabbit dressed in a colourful set of dungarees (which people my age would have called a romper suit in the dark ages).  He has a series of adventures with his friends Sula (an elephant) Pando (a panda) and Coco (another rabbit) which are all little morality tales in which Bing! learns a lesson about behaviour and social rules, which makes him a better rabbit.  So far, so good.

Where it gets a bit odd, in my opinion, is when we consider the carers of these animals.  None of them are the same species as their charges.  In fact, they're not any recognisable species at all.  For example, Flop, Bing's! carer, is an indeterminate brown thing that looks like a favourite toy that's been washed too many times.  Moreover, he, and all the other carers and 'adults' in these stories, is only half the size of his dependant, if that.

What bothers me is that these creatures, whatever they are, clearly run the world they inhabit.  They care for their giant animal offspring and also run the shop, the ice cream van and everything else in between.  What you don't see, ever, are the grown-up versions of the animals of which the children are infants, if you see what I mean.  Clearly Bing!, Sula and the rest have to grow up, at some point, so what happens to them then?  They can't take a position of any responsibility in their world because the small things with funny shapes have got those all sewn up. 


Is it me, or does this have all the hallmarks of a classic, if rather surreal, horror film?

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The End of the Paper Trail


It's a little after the event, but here's April's column for the Derby Telegraph in which I wonder whether I've made the right decision.  Something I spend most of my life wondering ;-)

and this is the unedited version:


There was a lot that I really liked about Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton back in the 1970s.  I liked the people and the quirkiness of the building.  I loved the ancient machinery and the odd terms associated with paper manufacture (like reams and 'knocking up').  The only thing I really wasn't happy about was the pay, which was abysmal.

You might wonder why I was bothered about how much I earned?  After all, I lived at home and paid a modest amount of 'board', had no expenses other than my bus fare, money for cigarettes and a few pints (well, quite a few actually).  The answer could be found on a Saturday night at the Transport Club.  Here, in the Lounge, gathered all of my mates and some mates of my mates, along with their respective wives/girlfriends.  This made for a most convivial evening but I found that buying a round pretty much wiped out all of my disposable income for the rest of the week!

It wasn't just about the money, either.  Most of my friends (even Kev) had secured good jobs with the Department of Employment (or whatever title it went by in those days) initially in the Labour Exchange in Cross Street and then in the Job Centre in New Street.  Their jobs had clear career paths, promotion to higher levels was on offer as was the opportunity to try other roles at the same grade to expand their knowledge and experience.  They were perpetually going on training courses.  I barely had enough work to last me through the week and had never been trained to do anything.

On the grounds of 'if you can't beat them, join them', I went to talk to a manager in the Department.  Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the Civil Service's rules of entry were designed to keep me out.  You had to have 5 'O' Levels or their equivalent to join as a Clerical Officer.  Unfortunately, my 3 'O' levels and 2 'A' levels were in the same subjects, which meant they didn't count.  Therefore, if I was to join, it could only be as a Clerical Assistant, the lowest of the low, at a salary even lower than the miserable amount Wesley's provided me with.  On reflection, this would have been a good move but at 22 I was not thinking in the long term, I just needed enough to buy a round on a Saturday night.
My eye was caught by an advertisement for a Cost Clerk at Grants of St. James's in Station Street.  A couple of interviews later, I was astonished to be offered the job as a Cost Clerk/Assistant Section Leader.  What did this involve?  I had no idea and still wasn't sure 2½ years later when I left.  The attraction, to me however, was that I would be doubling my salary, would have a generous allowance of wines and spirits and would be closer to home.  Taking all of that into account, the fact that I didn't know anything about the job seemed of little importance.

I can still remember the day that I left Wesley's.  It was a warm summer evening as I walked out of my office and headed down the loading bank for the last time.  I looked back at the familiar bulk of the Victorian former Crescent Brewery and my heart sank.  Why, I wondered, was I leaving somewhere that I loved and knew so well, just for a few more pounds in my pocket.  I had a sinking feeling that I might be making a very big mistake.

If you're wondering how I got the job at Grants', despite having little relevant experience and no knowledge of what the job entailed?  So was I, but I think it became clear on my first morning when the Department Head remarked that he had seen my dad on his way to work that morning.  As my dad was 'between engagements' and was still in bed when I left home, I realised he must be talking about my uncle with whom, apparently, he was great friends.  You could see his face fall when I told him but he covered it well.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Life Imitating Art?



I went to the theatre at the weekend.  Yes, yes, I know “Get you, how cultured!” and so on.  I didn’t expect to be going, in all honesty, as a consequence of my own stupid actions, or inactions as it turned out.  I’ll explain.

There’s very little, these days, which makes me laugh out loud.  An awful lot of modern comedy, I find,  just leaves a wry smile on the face as you contemplate how clever it was, and that’s about it.  Even fewer things leave me giggling helplessly, with tears streaming down my face.  Therefore, when I had exactly that reaction to “A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong” on T.V. over the festive season, I was determined to repeat the experience.  I was delighted to note that our local theatre was going to be hosting the company’s touring production, “The Play That Goes Wrong”, later in the year and I made a mental note to make sure I got tickets for this. 

Making a mental note, when you have a memory like mine, is a pointless exercise, so although it was at the back of my mind that I really should do something about this, that’s as far as it got.  When I realised, to my horror, that it was going to be on last week, I went to the theatre’s site to see about tickets, only to find it was sold out for the whole week.  Being a mature adult, who recognises that the problem is entirely of his own making… I sulked! 

Without a great deal of optimism, I contacted the Box Office to see if they had a waiting list for returned tickets, and they had.  I didn’t hold out much hope, but I indicated that I would be happy with just one ticket if necessary, or even two but not sitting together.  My name went on the list and I expected to hear no more.  Then on Friday, came the phone call that said they had just one ticket returned for Saturday night and would I like it?  Which is why, on Saturday evening, I was squeezed in between two couples on Row E anticipating a performance I hadn’t hoped to ever see.

Apparently, with pornography, if you watch enough of it you begin to wonder why everyone isn’t ripping their clothes off at the slightest provocation in real life (or so I’m reliably informed, not that I’ve ever…) and there was something of this effect apparent with “The Play That Goes Wrong”.  

Without wishing to spoil the experience, from the moment you enter the auditorium, you’re immersed in the theme of the play because the ‘Director’ and one of the ‘Stage Hands’ are looking for a lost dog and quizzing the arriving audience about it.  This puts everyone on notice that things might not be as they seem which means, as a consequence, that everything could potentially be part of the production.  At one point, an audience member is dragged up on stage to help the ‘Stage Hands’ with a particularly tricky part of the set, and this is clearly part of the whole thing, but then, when everyone had settled down, two people arrived with a member of the front of house staff and the whole audience turned to watch what was going to happen.  There was a conflab between the front of house staff and a couple seated a row or two in front of me and this resulted in them blushingly getting up and moving back a couple of rows to the only remaining empty seats so that the two new arrivals could take theirs.  I’m sure this wouldn’t have been noticed in any other production but, because the whole audience was  on alert for the next thing to go wrong, the couple who had been in the wrong seats actually got a round of applause!  I don’t think it was part of the production, but then, who knows?

The play itself was as good as I’d hoped and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.  When I came out I discovered that I’d almost lost my voice because I had been laughing that heartily, and that takes some doing when you’re on your own and not necessarily in your comfort zone.

After the show, you’re left in this frame of mind in which you’re still anticipating the next thing to go wrong and real life seemed to go out of its way to make this happen.  I joined a small crowd who were trying to get to the Intu centre’s upper car parking floors.  Unfortunately, as we headed time and again for the lifts that would take us there, we found the floor cordoned off by the cleaning staff and we were politely but firmly redirected back on ourselves to find an alternative access.  This happened so many times, I think we were all beginning to despair of ever seeing our loved ones again, but there was this overwhelming sense that this somehow fitted perfectly with the theme of the evening.

When I eventually did get to the correct floor, despite having made a careful note of my parking zone, I had a heck of a job to find it (everywhere looks the same, like something out of a dystopian science fiction movie).  Then I couldn’t find the right exit.  But it was the exit from the car park that finally convinced me that I should be looking out for the hidden cameras which would confirm I was still part of the production.

I pulled up to the ticket machine, wound down my window to insert my ticket and get the barrier to raise, when the machine made a noise like an android being sick and vomited a pile of tickets out and into my car.  I sat there in disbelief, confidently awaiting a manic laugh from stage left.

I’m definitely coming to the conclusion that I’m living out one of their scripts.  Perhaps they could find a place for me in their next production, I’ve a feeling it would be a home from home!

You can find a lot more about Philip's life going wrong, both yesterday and today, in his 'nostalgedy' series of books.  Try "The Things You See...", the latest collection available in print and as a Kindle e-book.



Sunday, 8 April 2018

The Green, Green Grass of Home




"Spring is sprung, the grass is riz…" and 'riz' it most certainly is, and will be until the nights start drawing in and the first frosts put a stop to it all.  The grass being 'riz' wouldn't be an issue if we could just smile benignly and watch it wave gently in the breeze, but we can't.  We feel compelled to hack it to within an inch of its life, on at least a weekly basis, and grass, being of a hardy and sporting nature, just keeps on coming right back for more of the same treatment.

I once read some research which indicated that the reason we feel compelled to reduce grass to verdant stubble, in this manner, is because of our prehistoric forebears.  Back on the savannahs in Africa, they relished the closely cropped grassland all around them as it meant that they could spot a predator from miles away, thus making popping down for a swift one at the waterhole less of a fraught exercise.  Actually, saying that 'I read some research' makes it sound as if I spend my leisure time poring over academic reports when, in all likelihood, I probably got it from the back of a cereal packet, but it does have the ring of truth to it.  Why else would we insist on surrounding ourselves with swathes of the green stuff which have no practical purpose?  You might argue that a back lawn gives somewhere for the children and grandchildren to play, in the unlikely event of clement weather, and for dogs to do that which dogs must do, but what about those corner plots on the leafier estates which are cursed with large lawns, to the front and sides, with which nothing can be done at all other than to mow the stuff?

You may have gathered that I am not one of life's gardeners.  Lawn mowing is, in fact, about the limit of my horticultural ability.  When, years ago, I owned a flat, the lawn that came with it was more of a curse than a blessing.  I used to put off the evil day of going to mow until I couldn't see my cat any more when he traversed the patch.  With a heavy heart I would then attack it (the lawn, not the cat) with a strimmer (I didn't possess a mower) and reduce the patch to a series of stubbly hillocks for another month or so.

The strimmer, the electric rotary, the hover and all the rest of the motorised mowing paraphernalia are another reason why I dislike grass-cutting.  There used to be something soporific and quintessentially British about the sound of a manual cylinder mower whirring along on a Sunday morning.  It didn't intrude; in fact it enhanced the stillness of a summer's day.  Now, in our neck of the woods, Sundays sound more like an industrial estate on piece-work.  I'm sure you would get more tranquillity in a blast furnace. 

Of course, it is easy to be hopelessly romantic about the old-fashioned mower.  In reality, it had an unpleasant habit of stopping dead in its tracks, for no apparent reason, thus catching the unwary with a rather nasty blow from the handle to the solar plexus.  This could have resulted in the shattering of the Sabbath stillness with a string of obscenities, if the breath hadn't been knocked completely out of the operator.

I'm not advocating concreting over our green and pleasant land.  Well, not any more that we already seem to be doing.  But wouldn't it be good if we could develop a strain of grass that grew to half an inch in height and then packed up?  Perhaps we could genetically modify it with whichever gene is responsible for male pattern baldness, so that we could at least see some benefit from that?  Alternatively, couldn't we, just for once, let the grass grow under our feet?

You can find this and a whole lot more in the new collection of stories available in both print and Kindle editions - 'The Things You See...'




Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Ain't Gonna Study Work No More!


This month's Derby Telegraph has been published today and this time I'm trying to expand my experience with a brand new recruit to Wesley's:


and here's the original, unedited version:



Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton was always slightly behind the times, which is one of the reasons why I enjoyed working there in the 1970s.  You could see this trend in their working practices, their machinery, the rabbit-warren architecture of the old brewery buildings they occupied and, most importantly, in the reluctance to adopt anything remotely new in terms of management techniques.  This was never more obvious than in the appointment they made toward the end of my tenure at Wesley's.

Only Wesley's could appoint a Work Study Engineer just at the time when that particular science was beginning to fall out of favour in UK factories.  Steve (name changed) was not just an anomaly in terms of his expertise, he was also something different in terms of the managers we usually had, who were somewhat staid and rather serious.  Steve had shoulder-length hair, dressed very stylishly indeed and had a wicked sense of humour.  He always made a point of carrying his cigarette packet and lighter in his hand so as not to spoil the line of his clothes, which should tell you everything you need to know about him. 

To me, he seemed like a breath of fresh air but I know that he rubbed some up the wrong way.  He had a very forthright way of expressing himself and cared little about what others thought about him, which I suppose is a useful trait if you're going to be a Work Study Engineer.  I wouldn't say boo to a goose and was desperately keen for people to think well of me, so I was in awe.


Philip in 1973

Of course, appointing a Work Study Engineer just after you've recognised a Trade, might be considered to be unfortunate timing.  Sure enough, Steve's appointment proved to be controversial and the idea of introducing piecework and bonus schemes across the factory soon fell foul of the Trade Union's obstinance.  Steve did manage to conduct numerous studies in various departments, although many of these were wrecked by a degree of imaginative messing-about on the part of the more militant workers.
 
He did manage to introduce some new work methods, most notably in the Crepe Paper Dept. where he had one girl continuously winding and cutting crepe paper to feed to the girls converting the paper sheets into paper folds, instead of each individual girl winding her own.  The downside to this, from the girls' point of view, was that this removed the opportunity to stand in line, take a breather and chat, although it did improve their productivity.

I found the whole business of Work Study fascinating and, as I still didn't have a full week's work even with my production statistics and wages clerk duties, I became Steve's unofficial assistant, helping calculate his Work Studies.  I also spent a good deal of time listening in wonder to tales of Steve's social life, which largely revolved around his successful pursuit of young ladies.  At the time he was with us, he was conducting a long-distance affair with someone whose marital status was, shall we say, a little opaque and who had decamped to the South-West.  This involved him driving straight down there at the end of work on Friday (in his open-topped sports car, naturally) and driving straight back in the early hours of Monday morning to arrive at work at 08.30, usually looking like what happens if you don't eat your greens!

Inevitably, a Work Study Engineer who can't find much work to study was never going to be a long-term appointment and I shouldn't have been surprised (although I was) when he was summoned from his office one day by the MD and came back minutes later to tell me that he no longer had a job. 
I'll always remember him fondly as the only member of the management and staff who made the effort to come to my 21st birthday celebrations (at the Transport Club, of course).  I'm sure he could have thought of many better and more sophisticated places to be, but he knew it was important to me and he came anyway.  Thanks Steve.

The latest collection of Philip's stories 'The Things You See…' is now available in both print and e-book editions from Amazon (http://mybook.to/PrintThingsYouSee) or to order through your local book shop.



Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Making a Packet in the Wages Office


This month's Derby Telegraph article deals with the trials and tribulations of making up pay packets in the inflation-ridden 1970s.  This is the link to the article on the DT website but below is the thing itself, in print, and the unedited version in full:



It seems really odd to consider how dependent we were on cash in the 1970s.  I thought of this after ordering some books from a U.S. supplier online.  Throughout this process I haven't had to put my hand in my pocket once.  One tap of a button was sufficient to order the goods and add a chunk to my burgeoning credit card balance.  The folding stuff never entered into it.  Yet it wasn't always this way.
I mentioned last month that my cosy office environment at Wesley's in Victoria Crescent was rudely interrupted by a spot of reorganisation in which Gwen, my office companion, was moved to act as secretary to the M.D.  Our office was converted into a secure home for the Wages Office and Phyllis, the wages' clerk, came to join me.  About the only thing that Phyllis and I had in common was that we both smoked but whilst I was trying to keep a lid on my habit, Phyllis more or less chain-smoked her way through the day. 

I was to act as Phyllis's assistant, calculating the gross pay for each employee from their respective timesheets on Monday and helping put up the pay packets on Friday.  In the intervening days, I still had to calculate the production statistics (although this was now a doddle with my new calculator).  My week wasn't totally filled but I had enough to do to keep me out of trouble.

Phyllis was quite a character and I grew to be very fond of her over the months we worked together.  In her style of dress, hairstyle and, to a certain extent, attitudes she seemed as if she had been transplanted direct from the 1940s.  She was devoted to her husband and spent a good deal of time thinking about what to get him for his tea.  She also had the odd habit of drinking a large slug of sherry with a raw egg in it after every lunch break, an idea which I found revolting but clearly suited her.

Friday was when Phyllis came into her own.  The cash was delivered to the office on Friday morning (unbelievably, she used to go and fetch it from the bank herself, accompanied by Mr. T. from the Crepe Dept. but thankfully it was now delivered by a security firm).  We then had to make up the pay packets with the cash all folded in with the payslip so that the details were visible without the employee having to open the packet (in case of arguments over discrepancies).
 
In most cases this was reasonably straightforward, although as rampant inflation and threshold pay increases made their presence felt, it became difficult to prise the sheer quantity of money into the pay packets.  However, we had one employee who presented more difficulties than most.  Her father had decreed that she was not to be trusted with any notes greater than £1 in value, which was fine in the days when her net pay was just a few pounds but became more and more impossible as the 1970s wore on.  Prising a thick wad of one pound notes, plus the payslip, into a pay packet became one of my least favourite activities.

The other aspect of Fridays, at which Phyllis excelled, was dealing with the queue of complainants who inevitably formed by the Wages Office window every Friday afternoon, usually after a lunchtime visit to the pub had bolstered their courage and stoked their sense of grievance.  Phyllis dealt with this with incredible patience, her trademark cigarette in one hand as she listened to each tale of woe.  Occasionally there was a genuine mistake to be put right but, more often than not, it was simply a refusal to accept that the deductions were correct and Phyllis had to patiently demonstrate how the figures had been calculated and why they couldn't be any different.  One particularly obstreperous employee turned up every Friday afternoon, without fail, and she had to go through this process every time.  He always went away with a look that said 'you've got away with it this time, but I'll catch you out one of these days'.  He didn't!

Philip's latest collection of stories, 'The Things You See…' is now available as a print edition from Amazon at http://mybook.to/PrintThingsYouSee, or order through your local bookstore.



Friday, 16 February 2018

Someday My Prints Will Come


I don't know about you (well, obviously I don't, I'm not even sure who you are) but Amazon and their associates have the happy knack of pleasantly surprising me.

For example, I've recently been wrestling with turning one of my 'nostalgedy' books into a print edition via Createspace.  This started out as an innocent fishing trip to see how much it might cost to do this and sort of escalated out of control.

To be fair, it's been a relatively painless process although it took a bit more editing and formatting that I anticipated.  The most tricky bit was the cover, largely because (a) it hadn't occurred to me that a Kindle cover is just fine and dandy but doesn't have a back cover and spine, so you can't just upload your Kindle cover and forget all about it.  Well, you can and I did but you just finish up with blanks where the title and the blurb should be on the spine and the rear cover.  We're not all locked up yet, you know!  Secondly, (b) you need Adobe Photoshop or similar to use Createspace's cover template and I've never had anything remotely like that, nor would I know how to use it if I did.  Cue screams of anguish to the chap in my village who does know what he's doing with these things and who managed to sort it all out for me.

When you have the content hammered down into a format that will work and the cover set up correctly, it then just remains to check it all online and order a proof copy for yourself to see what it will look like in reality.  I was a bit disappointed at how much this was going to cost if I wanted it delivered in my lifetime.  There are three delivery options, you see.  In order of increasing cost I could either wait until March 23rd (this was on 8th February) or wait a fortnight or pay a huge amount and get it sent to me in the blink of an eye.  I'm a cheapskate but I'm also an impatient cheapskate and I didn't fancy waiting until the end of March.  I thought I could probably cope with waiting a couple of weeks but I resented this delay in the process, nevertheless tightness prevailed over urgency.

I could quite understand why it might take a while.  After all, it had to be set up and printed in the good ol' U.S.A., packed and then despatched to the U.K.  I was therefore surprised to be informed that it had been despatched the day after my order and I was even more astonished when it landed on my doormat just four days after my order (which included a weekend).  I've often found, with Amazon et al, that the cheap-rate option can often result in a delivery that is at least as quick as the premium rate, all singing all dancing job.

So it was that I was able to press the 'Go' button and release 'The Things You See...' print edition onto an unsuspecting world on Valentine's Day.  This is it:







Now available through all aspects of Amazon and should soon be available to order through your friendly, neighbourhood bookshop.  Hope you like it.  If it does reasonably well, the plan is to work my way back through the series and produce print editions of each in turn but I need to recover from this one, first ;-)