Total Pageviews

Featured post

Reviewing the Reviews

After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy&#...

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Man in the 'Nearly' Suit

For your delectation and delight, here is this month's article for the Derby Telegraph which appears in today's (Wednesday, 26th July, 2017) edition.  If a link appears for the article on the Derby Telegraph website, I'll post it but in the meantime...

If you find reading the text in the photo a bit of a pain, here it is in all it's glory:

In these enlightened times, when casual dress is often the recommended work attire and offices are more likely to have a table tennis than a boardroom table, it's difficult to remember just how hierarchical the workplace used to be.  This occurred to me, the other day, thinking about my time at Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton in the 1970s. 

You see, there were people in suits, usually male, who were the management and others in overalls who were the workers.  Then there was me.  I'm pretty sure that the people on the 'shop floor' at Wesley's didn't really know what to make of me.  Was I part of the distrusted 'management', or was I one of the workers?

To be fair, I was never too sure myself, largely because I was actually unique.  I was the only male clerical worker in the company.  I didn't wear a suit, because I only had my one 'made to measure' three-piece indulgence from my first job, which was only suitable for high days and holidays and would have looked distinctly OTT in a work context.  However, I did feel as if I ought to wear a suit, so I got as close as I could with a brown sports jacket and some brown trousers which were nearly, but not quite, the same colour.

The confusion about my managerial status was also compounded by the fact that, when all of the Departmental Managers were called to the General Office for morning and afternoon tea, so was I.  However, the really confusing feature, and the only occasion when I came even close to being part of 'the management', was when it came to stocktaking.

Stocktaking took place twice a year, usually on a Saturday when the factory wasn't working.  The system was that the Head of Department for each area counted the various piles of stock in his (and it was always 'his') department.  He then completed a three-part form which showed what the stock was and where it was but only put the quantity on the top sheet, leaving the other two parts with the stock.  Then a second person would come along, count the stock again and put their total on the second part of the form.  Parts one and two would be sent up to the Managing Director's office for him to compare the totals and the third part would remain with the stock to show it had been counted.  Fascinating, eh?  I was never entrusted with the initial count, I was the follow-on. 

The best part of this arrangement, however, was that you were assigned a gopher! You see, it was never expected that members of management would be required to clamber over stacks of paper reels and suchlike.  That would never do.  Instead, each stock-taker had with him one or two lads from the warehouse gang.  It was their job to clamber over the stacks, count and report back. 

The beauty of this was that you stood a better chance of tracking down exactly where stuff had been stacked (especially if you had a friendly 'gopher') because they had, in all probability, been part of the gang who put it there in the first place.  The other benefit was that the warehouse lads knew if the stock had been there since God was a lad, and therefore the total hadn't changed in decades.

I couldn't help feeling more than a little awkward about this arrangement.  It made perfect sense for some of the more venerable managers we had in the company, who really couldn't be expected to indulge in the mountaineering antics required in some parts of the warehouse, but I was about the same age as most of the lads in the warehouse, and considerably younger than some.  I therefore felt rather guilty as they climbed up the stacks, with commendable agility, whilst I stood a discreet distance away from all the dust and cobwebs and inscribed the figure they came up with on the form.  It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

If you have been following my Steak Pie saga (which can be found here and here) it may have occurred to you, as it has just to me, 'What the dickens was the waitress doing in the kitchen all that time after we ordered our mythical steak pies?'  In the absence of any facts, I've done what anyone else would do in the circumstances, and made something up:

Waitress: "Oh my God, Oh my God, you've got to help me!"

Chef:  "Calm down, whatever's the matter?"

W:  "It's the couple who've just come in downstairs"

C (calmly stirring a pan of beans):  "What about them?"

W:  "They've only just been and gone and ordered the steak pie!"

C:  "Not a problem, tell them we've sold out, that always does the trick"

W:  "But, you don't understand.  They came in a couple of weeks ago and that's what we told them then."

C:  "So?"

W:  "So!  When they asked again this time, I told them we had them!"

C:  "What!!  Why did you do that?"

W:  "I don't know.  I guess I panicked.  It's on the Specials Board after all"

C:  "I know it's on the Specials Board, but that's just because we don't want to be seen as somewhere that just does breakfasts.  We want to be seen as a smart, sophisticated, small restaurant, offering a range of attractive options."

W:  "With chips."

C:  "Well, yes, alright, with chips.  But you know what our clientele's like"

W (rummaging through the cupboards):  "Surely we must have a steak pie somewhere"

C:  "We've never had a steak pie and you know it."

W (wailing): "What am I going to do?"

C (grabs her by the arms and looks deep into her eyes):  "There's nothing for it, you're going to have to take a deep breath, calm down, and go back down there and tell them...tell them...we're having problems with our suppliers!  Yes, that'll do."

W:  "Do you think that'll work?

C:  "'Course it will.  They're British, they won't make a fuss.  You go and tell them that, I'll start cooking their breakfasts."

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Steak Pie Repeateth

Some of you may recall my failure to purchase a steak pie from a local cafe a while back?  I'm quite prepared to believe that this event hasn't exactly burned itself deep into your memory but I'm hoping there's a small chance of a sliver of recognition?

For those for whom this earth-shattering event did not register, you can find the gory details (which include a spot of drain-unblocking) here.

If you can't be bothered to check out the whole story (you really should, it's quite amusing) then the gist of it is contained in this quote:

" I noticed, on the Specials Board, that they had Steak Pie, Chips and Gravy and I decided to plump for this.  "I will have Steak Pie, please" I announced to the young chap taking our order, to the considerably surprise of my wife.  "Ah" He responded "I'm not sure if we have any left, I'll just go and check"  My heart sank.  From experience, whenever a waiter comes out with this phrase, it means 'I know damn well that we haven't got any but I'll pretend to go and check so I can shift the blame onto the invisible denizens of the kitchen'.  Sure enough, after a few minutes, he returned and apologised but there was no Steak Pie to be had.  Predictably, I reverted to the all-day breakfast but somehow felt cheated of my Steak Pie."

Common sense should have told me not to revisit this experience, but since when was common sense any fun?  We went back to the cafe and our conversation went something like this:

Mrs. W: "They've still got that steak pie on the Specials Board, do you think they'll have it this time?"

Me: "They must have, surely?  Even they wouldn't leave it on the Specials all this time if they didn't have any"

Mrs. W: "Ok, we'll go for that then, shall we?"

Enter, stage left, a waitress.

Mrs. W: "Last time we came here we ordered the steak pie from the Specials, but you didn't have any"

Waitress: "Oh yes, I remember" (very much doubt this, we're really not that memorable, but still...)

Mrs. W: "Do you have any steak pies?"

Waitress: "Oh yes, I'm sure we do"

Mrs. W: "Ok, we'll have two steak pies, please"

The waitress vanished and we waited, with some trepidation, for her imminent return, steak-pieless.  Time passed and we began to feel more confident, our conversation turned from the existence, or otherwise, of steak pies and moved on to more pleasant things.  We settled into our seats and relaxed, anticipating our steak pies, when...

Waitress: "Erm..." (you can see where this is going, can't you?) "You're not going to believe this but I'm afraid we don't have any steak pies.  Some sort of problem with the suppliers."

So, this wasn't the outcome of a frenetic morning of steak pie selling, nor a temporary glitch with the daily steak pie order.  No, this was a 'problem with the suppliers' which sounded pretty chronic.  Had it been the case that there had been no steak pies since our last visit?  Was the absence of steak pies a permanent feature?  If it was, why were they still included in the Specials Board?  

What I want to know now is, is the Specials Board just an aspirational list, a review of the dishes they would like to serve one day?  There's Plaice and Chips on there and I'd love to order it to see if that exists, only I'm not that keen on Plaice and, knowing my luck,  it would turn up if I ordered it.  

We finished up with the All-Day Breakfast again.  I have a sneaking suspicion that that's all they actually cook and everything else is just a figment of their imagination.  I'll let you know :-)

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Out of the mouths of babes...

A couple of weeks ago, I went on my annual Walking Weekend with "the Lads".  I've mentioned before that this epithet is becoming more and more of a misnomer with every passing year.  After all, I'm 62 and I'm the youngest!

"The Lads" - author is on the left

Anyway, I was to be dropped off to join the other three but before that, we had to take our six-year-old grandson, Flynn, to school.  I drove there and Hilary and Flynn got out of the car, with Hilary reminding Flynn to say goodbye to Grandad as he was going away for the weekend.  This obviously preyed on his mind because, having said goodbye he set off towards school with Hilary but then stopped, turned back and opened the passenger door:

"Grandad, you won't forget your hat will you?  It's on the back seat."

"No, thank you Flynn, I won't forget my hat."

Apparently satisfied with this response he marched off again, but three paces later he turned around and came back to the car:

"And you won't leave anything there, will you?"

"No, Flynn, I won't leave anything there."

Turns, marches three paces forward, stops and comes back:

"Because you do forget things, you know?"

"Yes, Flynn, I know I do forget things"

Having decided that he had done all that could be humanly done to keep me on the straight and narrow, he set off for school with a cheery wave.

I always knew that there would be a time when the role of parent/child would be somewhat reversed, but I must admit I hadn't quite expected it just yet :-)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Three Days A Week!

This month's Derby Telegraph article explains why I owe Ted Heath a pint :-)

and for those who can't read the text on the picture, here's the unedited version:

There has been a lot of talk recently about Britain returning to the 1970s.  I don’t think it’s very likely, I would never get the flares to fit me now for one thing!

The 1970s were a peculiar decade in many ways and, of course, there aren’t as many of us about today who remember them and lived through them.  At one time, the mention of ‘the three day week’ would have had everyone nodding glumly and bringing up their own particular stories of privations endured.  Now it’s more likely to have people scratching their heads and wondering if you’ve finally lost it and are actually talking about the war.

I told you, last month, about the trashing of the Warehouse Manager’s office which was next to the Works Manager’s office in which I was temporarily installed (much to the chagrin of the Works Manager, but there was a shortage of office space).  What I didn’t mention was that one reason for not noticing who was involved was that the whole office section was, at that time, enclosed in a stygian gloom caused by the myriad effects of the short winter days, the lack of outside light from the few windows and, more importantly, the complete lack of any artificial light because of the three day week.

For those who don’t remember this period, or are desperately trying to forget it, the ‘three day week’ happened in the winter of 1973-1974.  To be honest, the details had escaped me so I’ve had to break the habits of a lifetime and actually do some research for this article!  We were at the end (although we didn’t know it at the time) of the Heath government of 1970 – 1974.  The miners had announced an overtime ban in support of a pay claim and the government of the time tried to eke out the country’s fuel reserves by restricting the use of coal and power. “Commercial consumption of electricity would be limited to three consecutive days each week…Television shut at 10:30 p.m. each night, and most pubs were closed” (

Can you imagine trying to impose something like that now?  The outcome was that for two days each week the factory was plunged into darkness, illuminated by the occasional battery driven lamp.  Work was organised to take place in the few hours of daylight and largely consisted of whatever jobs could be done by hand and which didn’t involve machines.  As I was still producing statistics by dint of laborious manual addition and long-division, the lack of technology wasn’t a problem but the lack of light and the lack of heating, was.  On top of this, rolling power cuts at home meant that you could get home only to find yourself plunged into darkness once more.

In January, 1974, the miners went on strike and the whole situation deteriorated further.  You have to remember that strikes then were all or nothing affairs.  Nowadays we’re used to strikes being one-day annoyances but then they were wars of attrition, in which both sides waited to see who would blink first.  In this case, it was the government, which went to the country in February, 1974 with the question “Who governs Britain?”  Of course, if you ask a silly question…the electorate clearly decided it whoever it was, it wasn’t the Heath government.

Over the years, Ted Heath has come in for a lot of criticism but, apart from plunging me into darkness and trying to freeze me to death, I did have cause to remember him fondly.  You see, Wesley’s were renowned as poor payers and my salary was pitiful in comparison to my mates.  However, in November, 1973 good old Ted brought in a concept called Threshold Payments.  The idea here was to protect the lowest paid from the rampaging inflation of the time.  This basically meant that every time that inflation went up by one per cent above 7%, wages could, and did, rise in tandem.  Over a very short period, my wages basically doubled, albeit from a very low starting point, and, as the only inflation that affected me was the price of a pint, I had never had it so good (to borrow another P.M.’s phrase).

Cheers, Ted!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

War in the Warehouse

This month's Derby Telegraph article hit the newsstands today (31.05.17).  It might be a while before it makes it to the Derby Telegraph website, so I thought I would share it with you here.  On reflection, 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' might have been a better headline ;-)

If you're having trouble reading the print on the image, here's the content:

You may remember, back in March, I said that there was “a sort of low-level guerrilla warfare in place” in the warehouse at Harold Wesley Ltd in Victoria Crescent, Burton?  On reflection, that might have been a bit of an understatement!

Mr. D., the Warehouse Manager, belonged to that school of post-war British managers whose ‘bark was worse than their bite’.  This worked fine in the days of deference but was wearing a bit thin by the early 1970s.  The lads (and it was mostly young men) who were employed to shunt huge reels of paper around the ancient building, were not prepared to be constantly bullied and badgered, particularly as they were earning a pittance and their working conditions left a lot to be desired.  In those days, Wesley’s did not have a trade union or any form of employee representation, which was unusual.  The 1970s recorded the peak of trade union membership.  With no official outlet for their grievances, some of the lads turned to mischief to make their point.

The first time I became properly aware of this, other than noticing the constant grumbling coming from both Mr. D. and the warehouse gang, was when I heard scuffling and suppressed giggling coming from Mr. D’s office.  At the time, I was ensconced in the Works Manager’s office (we were a little short of office space) next door to Mr. D’s office.  I didn’t think much about it until Mr. D. returned and uttered a stream of oaths and obscenities.  Sticking my head into the lion’s den, I discovered that Mr. D’s office had been trashed, with papers strewn everywhere and a bottle of ink liberally sprayed over the walls.  It was pretty obvious who the culprits were, but nobody could be individually identified because, unsurprisingly, no-one had seen anything.  I was quizzed but couldn’t shed any light on the investigation.

As it turned out, this was the least serious skirmish in the battle.  Unbeknown to Wesley’s management, we had our own tame arsonist in the warehouse gang.  This would be a problem in any organisation, but when you’re a paper conversion factory housed in a building with ancient wooden flooring throughout, it represents a particular menace. 

Any fire on the premises occasioned a full station turnout by the fire service and this started to be a regular occurrence.  Firstly it was just minor outbreaks, which could easily be contained, but the severity of the incidents increased, until one occasion when much of the warehouse was alight over more than one floor.  Flames could clearly be seen licking at the windows of the old brewery building as we stood in the street watching the firemen do their work.  The corner of the warehouse that was alight was just a few feet away from the office block, as you can see from the picture.  Only the entrance to the main yard separated the two buildings. 

Later, when the fire had been brought under control, the fire station chief (who was in a particularly bad humour at having been called out to us yet again) stomped around asking everyone what action they had taken on hearing the fire alarm.  He focused his ire on the inhabitants of the office building and, in particular at the office junior and a sort of office junior’s assistant employed in the General Office.  Two very young girls who were rather immature for their age.

“What did you do when the fire alarm sounded?” The fire station chief barked at them.

“We went and stood in the kitchen.”  The office junior offered.  The fire station chief was aghast.  The kitchen was an extension at the back of the office block which was, if anything, nearer the seat of the flames than anywhere else in the building.

“And what did you do in there?” The fire station chief asked, incredulously.

“Well,” the office junior simpered, “we held hands”

I thought he would have apoplexy.

We never did find the arsonist.  The fires did stop, eventually, which probably meant the culprit either got fed up with it, or more likely, left, but the all-pervading lingering smell of smoke in the place was a lasting reminder of his work.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Reviewing the Reviews

After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy' collection of books.  

Firstly, Jane Bryan very kindly gave a 5* rating to 'Steady Past Your Granny's' with the review "Enjoyed this book" (see the review here) which is short and to the point and exactly what any author hopes to hear :-)

Then came the enigmatic 'Kindle Customer' who gave my 'Giving a Bull Strawberries' collection of stories another 5* rating and said:

"A bit of nostalgia is what you need to chase the grouchies away. You may identify with so many scenarios in Mr. Whitelands books. I know I did. Please sir...can we have some more ?" (you can find the review here)

All in all, quite a good few days, in which over 1400 pages of the books were read via Kindle Unlimited.  Don't forget that you too could read all of the 'nostalgedy' collection (apart from Steady Past Your Granny's) this way, free, gratis and for nothing!

In answer to 'Kindle Customer's' burning question, I hadn't planned to release any further collections of stories, but since she asks so this space.

If you're wondering about what you might be missing - try following the links on the right hand side of this blog post, or follow the links below:

Steady Past Your Granny's

Crutches for Ducks

A Kick at the Pantry Door

Giving a Bull Strawberries