After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy...
Tuesday, 1 August 2017
I’ve written quite a lot, just lately, about my doomed attempts to buy a steak pie from a local café (see here, here and here). The continued absence of this comestible, despite it featuring prominently on the Specials Board, seems to me to be redolent of a societal longing for something that used to exist, but no longer does. Alternatively, it could just mean that they can’t be *rsed to change the Specials Board.
Anyway, it seems to me that this ‘steak pie’ attitude to customer service can be found in lots of other places, for example…
The other day we had to go into Burton upon Trent to collect a second-hand car we had ordered for my wife. The reasons why we’ve had to buy a replacement vehicle for my wife (by which I don’t mean that I’m having the car instead of her, although…) are sufficient to drive a relatively sane person barmy, so I won’t go into them here, other than to invoke a specific curse on the person who knowingly sold a particularly lethal car to a young family. May he (and the person who gave it an MOT) rot in an exclusive circle of Hell.
We decided that it would hardly be environmentally friendly to drive into Burton and bring two cars home so, as we unusually had some time on our hands, we opted to take the bus for a change. I should point out, at this juncture, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, there has only ever been one bus service running through our village and that goes, about once an hour, to Burton.
The only timetable we had was a few years old but we decided it should be a reasonable guide and so we presented ourselves at the nearest bus stop about ten minutes before the appointed time, and an hour and a half before the appointment made to collect the car. Burton is only a half-hour ride from our village.
Can I say here, I think it is a shame that in order to make bus-shelters more or less vandal-proof, they’ve also made them decidedly uncomfortable? The same is true on unmanned railway stations, where (in both instances) those tip-up seats allow you to perch precariously, but not sit properly. Mind you, I suppose it is an advance on the stainless steel hurdle that constituted bus-stops in my youth, against which you could lean or, if small enough, hang from like a monkey.
The bus arrived bang on time and we boarded. My wife has a bus pass but I don’t due to my relative youth (yes, I know it’s hard to believe). She said to the driver, very clearly, “A single to Burton Town Centre, please” My wife prides herself on her clear diction, whereas I, apparently, mumble.
“You don’t need to do that, now” the Driver replied, “you just have to touch your card against the scanner” So she did.
I followed and said, “Well, I need the same but I have to pay for mine” and he duly charged m £3.10 and issued me with a ticket. I thought that this was a bit steep but it’s been years since I last caught a bus.
We settled down in our seats and prepared to enjoy the novelty of a bus ride. Actually, ‘enjoy’ might be rather over-egging the pudding. It has to be said that if you were hoping for the smooth and relatively silent glide of a coach, you would be somewhat disappointed. I think you could have had a more tranquil journey in the revolving section of a cement mixer.
After a while, my wife said “Shouldn’t we have gone through Sudbury?” (our neighbouring village). “I thought so” I replied with my usual quick wit and ready repartee. “Perhaps they don’t go there anymore?” She suggested. I shrugged my shoulders, my conversational capacity exhausted.
Our bus then joined the A50 and continued on its merry, bone-shaking way to Mickleover. By now we were looking at each other quizzically. No bus going to Burton would readily divert through Mickleover. I hauled my ticket out of my pocket and noted, for the first time, that it said ‘Single to Derby’. It is, perhaps, worth noting that Derby is in exactly the opposite direction to Burton.
Still unwilling to accept the written evidence, and that of our own eyes as we trundled around various Derbyshire villages, my wife asked another passenger where the bus was going, and she confirmed it was for Derby. As getting off in any of these villages would not guarantee the possibility of a bus back to Burton, we realised that we were trapped until we reached Derby City Centre.
“We’ll get off at the Bus Station and catch another back to Burton” my wife decided. “Does this go to the Bus Station?” She asked our helpful fellow passenger, as we weaved around the streets of Derby. “I’m not sure that it does” came the less than helpful reply.
With the Bus Station in sight, we pressed the bell and the bus pulled up. The conversation with the Driver then went like this:
Wife: “Do you go to the Bus Station?”
Driver: “Oh no, we try to avoid it because it gets so busy” (foolish of us to imagine a bus actually using a Bus Station, obviously)
Wife: “We’ll have to get off here then. I asked you for a single to Burton, you know?”
Driver (looking at us blankly) “Oh!”
As it was clear that this conversation was getting us nowhere, other than Derby City Centre, we got off and headed for the Bus Station with all haste. The haste was, actually, a little redundant as we had just witnessed the express, non-stop bus to Burton gliding serenely past us as we alighted from our previous instrument of torture. Sure enough, on entering the Bus Station, we learned that the next bus to Burton would depart in twenty minutes and would call at all of the little villages we had just, unwillingly, visited, plus a few more for good measure.
By the time we caught our new bus, it was well past the hour when we should have been collecting the car. One apologetic phone call to the garage later, and with me nearly £10 lighter in cumulative bus fares, we set off for another scenic tour of the more obscure villages of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, accompanied by the usual crashes, bangs and bone-shaking bounces that are such a fun feature of public road transport. Quite why they offer free wi-fi is beyond my comprehension, I should think it would be a minor miracle if you ever managed to get your finger anywhere near your touch screen without doing you, or your companion, a serious and possibly deeply embarrassing, injury.
When we finally dragged ourselves into the garage, weary, deafened and shaken to the core, we had been in almost permanent transit for a total of three hours in order to complete what should have been a fifteen mile journey.
So, if you’re wondering why we need a second car when we have such a wonderful public transport service on our doorstep? Don’t ask, just don’t ask!
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
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."
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
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
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|
"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
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” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Day_Week)
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).
Wednesday, 31 May 2017
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.