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Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian!  Carol post...

Monday, 8 December 2014

Decking the Halls




Have you done your Christmas decorations yet?  We’re normally amongst the last in our vicinity to do this, but this year we’re somewhat ahead of the game.  We’ve discovered that leaving it to the last weekend before Christmas is not acceptable when you have a 3 year old (going on 4) grandson making regular visits.  A bit more enthusiasm is, apparently, required.

The outcome of all this was that last Sunday I was attempting to do practical things.  This is never a good idea where I’m concerned.  I’m excused all things practical.  Nevertheless, on a bitterly cold afternoon, with the grey light fading rapidly, I could be found teetering on the top of a three-step stepladder, attempting to fix some lights to our car port in what might be laughingly called, an artistic fashion.  When I had dropped a cable clip for the twelfth time and had climbed down to pick it up again, the air surrounding me had changed to subtle shade of blue.  Little expletives, like ‘oh heck’, had matured and grown into something considerably more robust and Anglo-Saxon.  Essentially, my demeanour was that of someone being placed under considerable strain by some malign force.  I kept asking why, whatever it was, was choosing to do this to me.

In this respect, I realise that I’ve become very like my dad.  Father had little or no patience for any practical activity.  If he was nagged into doing something, we all shrank back and waited for the growing volume of put-upon expletives and the inevitable outburst of temper and frustration.  Dad, like me, had no proper tools of any sort, largely because neither I nor he would have had any clue as to what to do with them and so we’re marginally safer without.  What we did have were a motley collection of screwdrivers , along with a bunch of assorted spanners mostly emanating from bicycles past and present.  Anything that didn’t fit with any of these would be tackled with the nearest equivalent from the cutlery drawer.

Father’s wail of anguish would usually begin with an ‘Oh God!’, often before he had actually attempted anything and was merely in the contemplative stage.  This would then be repeated at regular intervals in a rising crescendo of frustration.  “I’m chokker” (which I imagine had it origins in choc-a-bloc, but basically means ‘I’m fed up’) would be a constant chorus, usually leading to a final outburst of “Oh for….” which usually closely preceded everything being thrown down and dad heading off to the pub in high dudgeon.

I wonder if the origins of all this might be found in an incident that took place before I was born?  Apparently, as they approached their first Christmas as a married couple, mother suggested to father that he might make himself useful by putting up the Christmas decorations.  This was in the days when it was the done thing to have paper streamers draped across the room.  Mum had apparently been delayed at a pre-Christmas drinks thing at the Depot where she worked on Burton Road, Branston and, unusually for her, had perhaps indulged a little too freely.  Therefore, when she got home, full of the joys of Christmas, she encountered my dad teetering on a chair (they never had a set of steps in their married life) attempting to attach a paper streamer to a wall and not in the best of humours.  It was just at this point that the drawing pin he was using must have come into contact with a barely concealed mains electric wire.  Apparently there was a flash and a bang, and dad was dumped on his derriere on the other side of the room.  All of which would have been bad enough but one of mum’s most endearing characteristics, which stayed with her all of her life, was that if she found something funny she would abandon herself to laughter, which she did on this occasion.  So, as father checked his limbs and extremities to ensure he still had the requisite amount, mum could be found dissolved into a heap of hysterical laughter on the sofa.

Whenever this story was recounted over the years (which was many), mum still found the incident hysterically funny and dad usually glowered and muttered darkly about the dangers he had braved without being appreciated.


Apparently (and I’m sorry about this) their first Christmas began with a bang and not with a streamer!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Fabulous Friday!


Had a really great Friday, 28th November, 2014 because the Derby Telegraph published not one, but two of my pieces.  If you missed these, there is my usual monthly Bygones article:




about a family who decided upon an original method of returning to the motorway car park



and a Christmas short story, which you might well enjoy:




about Wayne, the Anti-Santa!

As always, any comments, shares, tweets or screams of delight would be very much appreciated

;-)



Sunday, 23 November 2014

Autumn



I was walking my daughter's chocolate labrador yesterday morning and it occurred to me that this was a perfect autumn day. Water dripping from every branch and twig, wood smoke hanging in the air, the squelch of leaves and long-collected conker cases under your feet and a weak and indifferent sun nuzzling at the clouds. That's all. Normal curmudgeonliness will be resumed as soon as possible 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Abroad Thoughts From Home





When it comes to writing, I'm afraid that I tend toward lethargy.  I have plenty of good ideas, but putting these down on paper is invariably a job for tomorrow.  One way I have found to overcome this procrastination problem is to write something, anything, and see what happens.

Clearing out my office today (I promised my wife that I would do this now I've retired), I came across this example of 'writing and seeing what happens' from 2007.

It is half past two, November 17th, 2007.  We're chasing the sun around the pool next to my aunt and uncle's villa in Marxaquera, Spain.  The blue water of the pool ripples invitingly as the pump mechanism cleans and filters the water, but it is far too cold to risk a swim.  Up in the villa, my aunt and uncle, now old hands at this 'Spanish winter' thing, having been here for over 20 years, sit in front of a roaring log fire and watch English T.V.  Whereas we, grateful for the chance to break free from the eternal greyness of the U.K., resolutely squeeze every drop of sunshine from the day in a way that would never occur to us back in England, even in the height of summer.  Right now we too would be huddled in front of a roaring central heating system, as likely as not watching T.V.

Today we are reading.  This is something that we're always threatening to do at home but never seem to find the time.  In the same way that the sophisticated keyboard, bought for my birthday some years ago, languishes in the wardrobe and will be played (I tell myself)when we have some time (by which point either it, or I, will probably be defunct).

Last night we 'went for a Chinese', which seems a peculiar thing to do in Spain but, on reflection, Chinese cuisine has become an international guarantor of certain standards of quality, reliability and edibility.  I have eaten and enjoyed Chinese(ish) food in New York, Amsterdam and Moscow, so why not Spain?  In any case, I had a good idea of what I was going to get, and I was not disappointed.  Chinese food has the same comforting quality of a well-known international brand, like McDonalds' I suppose, although I wouldn't seek out a Big Mac anywhere unless I was truly desperate. 

The interesting (arguably) thing about the visit to a Chinese was that, although we were there from 9 p.m. to midnight, the restaurant was filled with families and groups of young people just having their evening meal quietly and without fuss.  There was no invasion of drunks from the nearest pub, no atmosphere of intimidation and no yobbish behaviour.  In other words, there were no British, apart from ourselves.

Contrast this with our flight here from Manchester.  All around us were a group of twelve middle-aged men on a long weekend trip to Benidorm.  A few rows forward were a similar group of ladies, presumably bound for a vacation of fairly identical content.  I had seen these groups when I entered the airport, dug in at the nearest bar buying gargantuan rounds of drinks and talking loudly.  By the time of the flight, their volume had increased in direct proportion to their alcoholic intake.  Although they were, by no means, belligerent, they dominated the atmosphere of the 'plane.  In many ways it was like being transported back to school.  Suddenly, farting had become a source of constant amusement as had visits to the toilet and slightly risqué lyrics to popular songs.  Eventually, and not unexpectedly, they had to be 'told off' by the flight attendant for not adhering to the 'Fasten Your Seatbelt' sign.  Somehow, there was a sense of completion to all this, as if boundaries had been tested to the limit and now, having been established, the competition was over.


How the heck we ever ended up with an empire, I'll never know!

You can find a lot more stuff, usually better prepared than this, at Phil Whiteland's Amazon Author Page

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Bring Out Your Dead - a Josiah and Archibald tale





I'm currently drafting a longer story about my two hapless undertakers.  As I draft each section, I'm posting them on Wattpad and inviting comments.  I would be really interested to hear what you think.  If I don't lose heart (or inspiration) this might turn into a novel :-)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Make Love, Not War?


I don't know if it is an outcome of being retired (see Shy of Retiring but I seem to have developed some rather unusual reading habits.  My normal practice is to find an author I like and then read everything they have ever produced (or will produce), which is why I have bookshelves groaning with Wodehouse, Pratchett, Bryson and McCall-Smith, interspersed with little clutches of slightly less prolific authors such as Eric Malpass and Garrison Keillor.  Lately however I have been branching out somewhat, and I'm not sure if its a good thing, or not?

It all started with a visit to a charity book store.  They had an offer of any three books on the table for 50p.  There was one book that I really wanted and I should really just have bought that, but being parsimonious in the extreme, I was determined to get my money's worth and picked up two more, one of which was Clive Ponting's '1940: Myth and Reality'.  I'm not normally one for revisiting the last unpleasantness, I had more than enough of that as a child when every Sunday afternoon had a film in which John Mills, Noel Coward or Jack Hawkins stoically endured appalling hardships whilst saving the Free World.  However, I gave it a try and was surprised to find out how much I didn't know about the origins of the war and how close we came to losing it.  Actually 'we' is a bit of a stretch as I wasn't even born then, so I can neither take credit nor criticism.  This is a well researched book which gives some real insights into the reality of the UK position - which was basically that we were broke and could only hope to hang on grimly and wait for the U.S. to join in the fun.  Obviously it is necessary to be aware of the particular political slant that all historians apply to their research but this is an interesting, if not exactly uplifting, book.

Somewhat depressed, courtesy of Mr. Ponting, I decided that I needed something a little more light-hearted, and I found it in Sue Welfare's 'Just Desserts'.  I'm not sure how I came across this but I think it was on offer.  I read the blurb and the reviews and then read a sample, and was hooked.  In fact, this is the first book in a very long time that I have read twice, back to back, because I enjoyed it so much and didn't want it to end.  The disturbing part is that this is definitely 'chick-lit' writ large.  Men are either handsome and humorous (in a self-deprecating fashion) or child-like adulterers who deserve all they get.  Women are resourceful, hard working and yet to realise their full potential or scheming gold-diggers.  Nevertheless, this was great fun and certainly dispelled the gathering gloom from Mr. Ponting's effort.

The problem is that this has now established a bit of a reading pattern with me.  I find myself (which can be disconcerting if you weren't looking for yourself at the time) alternating between horrors of WWII and 'chick-lit', which can't really be healthy.

Having finished Ms. Welfare's tome for the second time, I decided that it might be useful to take a look at the other end of WWII, the bit where we won it!  Accordingly, as it was on offer, I downloaded Max Hasting's 'Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945'.  Now I know, from the title, that I shouldn't have expected this to be particularly cheery reading, but it plunged new depths for me.  The story is cleverly told from the perspectives of each of the warring nations but the lurch from one atrocity to another is quite demoralising.  The Russian advance was particularly grim - I never thought I would find myself feeling sympathetic toward the Nazi defenders, but I did in these chapters.

Thoroughly depressed, I turned to Ms. Welfare for comfort and found it in 'Cooking Up a Storm', another improbable but hugely enjoyable tale of a wronged wife who finds a new life for her and her children in a cottage on an estate run by the handsome but feckless Lord of the Manor.  Great fun and a huge relief after the fall of Berlin.

Unable to resist the siren call of further atrocities, and eager to know the background to the Soviet psyche with regard to WWII, I downloaded (in my defence, it was on offer again) 'Leningrad: Tragedy of a City under Siege, 1941-1944'.  If you're ever in need of feeling totally depressed and hopeless, this is the book for you.  Caught between the incompetence, brutality and corruption of Soviet-era Communism and the sadistic desire of the Nazis to see what would happen if you starved x million people to death, the people of Leningrad endured unimaginable horrors in order to survive.  This is a story cleverly told from the perspectives and first-hand accounts of the participants, and is clearly very well researched.  It certainly helped me to understand the Russian determination to spare no-one in their fight back.  I particularly liked the way in which officialdom coined a quasi-medical term for 'dying of hunger' without actually saying it - 'dystrophic'.

Inevitably, I ran from these horrors back into the welcoming arms of Ms. Welfare again.  In this case, 'Off the Record' was my book of choice.  This is a cleverly done but frustrating tale in which the two main protagonists are kept apart by a stupid misunderstanding early in the book and their twin stories are cunningly interwoven until fate takes a hand and all is made right.  Another tale of adulterous husbands, handsome would-be heroes and women finally reaching their potential in their careers and life-choices.  Well written as always and deeply satisfying (everything turns out right in the end).

So you can see my dilemma.  I'm stuck in a pattern of reading that can't be healthy for me.  There's much more in this vein, which I'll tell you about next time.  I wonder if there's a helpline I could call?

Despite Philip's rather odd reading tastes, you may well find his writing just what you're looking for.  Take a look at his Amazon Author Page.




Long Train Running - Part 2


In Part 1 of this post, you left me somewhat inebriated (me, not you dear reader) on a beach in Ryde, Isle of Wight, in the summer of 1973.  Those with a good memory may well recall that I was on a pub outing train trip with the Cooper’s Arms in Anglesey Road, Burton.

After a sunny Sunday afternoon sleeping off the excesses consumed during the train trip to Portsmouth, Kev and I made our way back to the ferry and rejoined the rest of our party heading back to the railway station.  I must admit to having only hazy memories of this bit of the day, but that’s hardly surprising given our previous consumption and that generally foggy feeling that persists when you have been ‘sleeping it off’ in the afternoon.  Anyway, we must have found our way back to the station somehow and settled back in our seats for the long journey home.  Naturally, the beer started flowing as soon as the train set off again.

We can’t have been very far out of Portsmouth when someone noticed that the toilet nearest to our carriage wasn’t flushing any more.  This was a bit of a bind, as frequent trips to the toilet were about the only exercise that any of us were getting on this trip, but it wasn’t the end of the world as it was a very long train with many carriages and, therefore, many toilets.  So we transferred our allegiance to a convenience a few carriages along, until that too ceased functioning.  Slowly, one by one, all of the toilets on the train stopped flushing.  The rumour went about, and I don’t know how true it was, that some fool had failed to replenish the water supply on the train whilst it was in Portsmouth and we were now seeing the result.  Whatever the cause, it was clear that the problem was going to be acute before very long, and we still had quite a way to travel.

Logic would dictate that, when travelling on a train without any toilet arrangements, the sensible thing to do would be to stop drinking alcohol.  However, since when did logic play any part in pub outings?  Things carried on just as before, the only difference was the increasingly unpleasant state of the toilets as the input increased exponentially and the output ceased altogether.  After a while, you had to be either very brave or extremely desperate to go anywhere near any of them.  The train had essentially become a very long, mobile cess pit.  As time went by, people seemed to be adopting a tense, determined posture as they willed away the miles and pinned their hopes on Burton station.

We arrived at Burton station in the early hours of the morning.  It was pretty well deserted, but that situation didn’t last for long.  The stampede from the train was something to be seen as everyone sought refuge from the appalling smell which pervaded every carriage and homed in on the nearest functioning toilets.  I must admit that I have never seen such a long queue for the Gents before or since.  I suppose it was a mark of our British reserve that there wasn’t a mad scramble, just an orderly queue that stretched the length of the platform, composed of many people in varying degrees of discomfort and desperation.  Thus ended my last pub outing train trip, not with a bang but with the whimpers of a queue of hunched and very introspective blokes. 


I don’t know if these train trips still happen, although I would very much doubt it.  I think this type of mammoth outing, partaken by most of the pubs in the town, was a bit of a throwback to the great railway excursions of the previous century, when a day out like this was probably the only holiday many people ever had or could hope to have.  However, pub outings didn’t come to an end with that queue on Burton station for me – oh no,  I took to the buses, as I’ll tell you in the next exciting episode.

You can find a lot more of this sort of nonsense in the latest compilation of 'nostalgedy' stories 'A Kick at the Pantry Door'


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Long Train Running - Part 1

In 'A Grand Day Out', I was talking about pub outings, particularly train outings, which were such a feature of pub life in the 1950s and 1960s.  Most of my experience of these came about through my parents' tenancy of The New Talbot Hotel in Anglesey Road, Burton in the 1960s.  However, there's one pub outing which happened a little later than that, in 1973 to be precise, which lives in my memory.

At the time, Kev (my mate from the Majorcan holiday, if you recall) and I were regulars at the Coopers Arms, also in Anglesey Road.  In fact we were pretty much part of the fixtures and fittings.  I can only imagine those in authority at the pub decided that they needed some 'young blood' on the Outing Society Committee as they co-opted us, although I can't remember contributing anything meaningful to the meetings, which seemed to go on for ages. 

The outing which we were supposedly 'organising' was an ambitious day out to Portsmouth and Southsea by train.  Ambitious because most of these outings were usually to the usual suspects, Rhyl, Blackpool or Skegness; places which were relatively close and therefore reduced the amount of time spent travelling.  In comparison, Portsmouth was almost like going abroad.

When the appointed Sunday finally arrived, it was a beautiful summer's day, hot and sunny.  The train was the longest I've ever seen, with a line of carriages that seemed to stretch forever, and certainly the length of Burton station platform.  There were clutches of customers of pubs and clubs from all over Burton , lined up and ready for their grand day out.  Kev and I were not sufficiently high in the committee ranking to be assigned to drink dispensing, or anything important.  I think we probably helped to load the beer, pop and food onto the train, but that was all.  Other than that, we were just another couple of customers, imbibing the beer and enjoying the food.

The beer imbibing bit was particularly successful, as I recall ‘not feeling a lot of pain’ on our arrival at Portsmouth station.  At this point, our party split, with some heading for the high spots of Portsmouth, others for the beaches of Southsea.  For reasons that I cannot remember, Kev, me and a few others decided to catch the ferry to the Isle of Wight.  I do recall travelling on the train from Ryde Pier Head to Ryde Esplanade.  The carriage was full of day-trippers and there was standing room only.  Unfortunately, the lurching of the train, and unsteadiness on my part brought on by a morning's concentrated boozing, led to me taking a step back and stomping heavily onto the foot of a very large and angry man standing behind me.  A good deal of apologising, and our arrival at our station, probably saved me from a degree of, entirely justified, physical retribution.

After that excitement, and given our obvious inebriation, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and headed to the beach.  Kev was a keen sunbather, despite this being an exercise in futility.  Kev was very fair-haired and pale-skinned, and had no chance of ever going anything other than bright red, but he lived in the hope that this absolute truth might one day be miraculously overturned. 


Kevin (nearest to camera) failing to tan!


Ryde beach, at that time, left a great deal to be desired as a holiday venue.  It was mostly covered in evil-smelling seaweed, interspersed with deposits of oil, tar and other detritus.  To sun-bathe, you had to find a rare patch of clean sand and lay claim to this.  We managed to do so and soon found ourselves slumbering under a hot sun, with my radio belting out the Top 40.  In fact it was the memory of the Linda Lewis hit, 'Rock-a-Doodle-Doo', echoing around the beach which meant that I could pinpoint the year as 1973.  They don't write songs like that anymore, do they?


Next time, I'll tell you about the less than successful journey home.  

You can find more from me at My Amazon Author Page

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Bucking the Trend?

I'm really quite chuffed that my first 'undertakers' story 'A Dubious Undertaking' is now 'trending' on ReadWave!  You can find it here:  A Dubious Undertaking


and you might want to take a look at Part 2

Monday, 1 September 2014

Shy of Retiring?






I think it was the sight of this on my calendar this morning that started me pondering.  You see, today is the first day, for a very long time, that I have not been in gainful employment.  I have retired.  So the 'then and now' pictures above a month apparently devoid of appointments were more than somewhat appropriate, although September isn't really as devoid of appointments as the calendar appears to show.

The question, for me anyway, is 'How do I feel about this?' and the answer is 'I don't know'.  Before I left, the recurring question from my colleagues was "What plans have you got?" and I felt that I was being a complete disappointment by admitting that I didn't have any.  However, this isn't simply an outcome of retirement and the consequent loss of marbles - I just have never had any plans, ever.  

In my youth (see picture above) I used to envy those who had their lives all mapped out and ready to go. My only hope was for some nice dry work with no heavy lifting, which I eventually managed.  Office work seemed to be the thing, but what it was, where and why was not so important.  Therefore I moved from Warehouse Packer (dry but involved heavy lifting) to Statistical Clerk (ticked all boxes), Cost Control Clerk (didn't have a clue what I was doing, but it ticked all the boxes and paid well), Production Administration Assistant, HR Manager, Group Personnel and Development Manager, HR Manager (UK) and finally Senior Lecturer.  All without a plan of any sort.

So there's nothing new about my planless condition.  Somehow, though, I feel as if I'm letting everyone down.  It's as if retiring could be forgiven if I had clear ideas about hiking up Kilimanjaro or sailing single-handed across the Atlantic but just stopping work for no good reason seems like the worst sort of back-sliding.

On the other side of the coin, one of the first things to strike me when I woke up this morning was that, for the first time in 42 years, I didn't have a boss.  There was no-one to whom I was accountable.  My wife might take issue with that statement, as would the cat who definitely thinks that my role in life is to stay stock still and seated, not move a muscle, and then she might, just might, deign to fall asleep on me (this is the cat, not my wife).  Nevertheless, it was a heady thought.  I'm not only planless, I'm bossless!

I'm entering uncharted waters today.  Most people tell me that I'll wonder how I ever found time to go to work.  I'm reserving my judgement.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Last day of the 'Slide into Sixty' event!

Just to remind you that today (Sunday, 31st August) is the last day on which you'll be able to get Steady Past Your Granny's for just 79p, Crutches for Ducks at just £1.99 and A Kick at the Pantry Door for just 99p, as I've now slid into sixty with a deafening thump :-)




Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Knowing your Station


I thought the following was vaguely amusing, but it's sunk without trace wherever I've posted it.  So, let's see how it does here:

My early years are something of a mystery! One account has me wandering, as an infant, around Paddington railway station, dressed in an oversized duffel coat and wearing a gigantic hat. I had a marmalade sandwich in one hand and a four pack of lager in the other. Around my neck was a label saying 

'Please look after his beer'. 

:-)

Friday, 22 August 2014

A Grand Day Out!

As the next instalment of this story is due to appear in the Derby Telegraph on 29th August, I thought it was about time I shared the first part with you:


Dropping my 3 year old grandson off for his end of term Pre-School outing to Rugeley (which wouldn’t be my first choice of location, but then I’m not 3) reminded me of outings over the years and, in particular, those outings that have been a feature of the various pubs and clubs I’ve frequented.

I don’t suppose it is anywhere near as common now as it used to be but, in my youth, every pub had an Outing Society, charged with arranging a grand day out for the regulars for one day of the year.  Throughout the long winter months, raffles would be run, blackouts would be bandied about and a whole host of other fund-raising activities would take place, all with the aim of making that year’s trip to the seaside one to remember.  I suppose, at one time, these Outing Societies provided the sole opportunity for many to get a glimpse of the sea and have a great time without breaking the bank.  By the time of my involvement, the significance of the annual outing had lessened but it was still a much loved event on the pub’s calendar.

As my parents kept the New Talbot in Anglesey Road, Burton, for a few years in the 1960s, I was introduced to the peculiarities of the annual outing at quite a young age.  I remember it had all the hallmarks of a military operation. 

The New Talbot in the mid-1960s



On the day of the outing, the platform of Burton Station would be thronged with the denizens of a multitude of pubs and clubs, all waiting for the arrival of the train.  As the landlord, my dad would be leading the team that had the barrel of beer, boxes of glasses and trays of food.  Being part of this team was always the desired location for those who ‘liked a drink’ as it meant that they could help themselves throughout the trip and didn’t have to wait to be served. 


A ''New Talbot' jolly-boys outing in the 1960s - my dad is third from the left, in front of the beer!


Once the train arrived, there would be mad scramble to find the designated carriages for your pub.  The beer etc. would be loaded, often into a guard’s van or similar.  Everyone would claim their seats and a half-pint glass would appear, magically, in front of you.  I was to learn that you had to guard this glass with your life as it was for your sole use throughout the trip. 

Shortly afterwards, and often before the train had even left the station, the first jugs of beer would start to make their way up and down the carriages.  As Outing Societies tended to be a more or less exclusively male preserve, there was little in the way of allowance for any exotic tastes in beverage.  Basically, everyone either had draught beer or orange squash.  You have to be a pretty dedicated drinker to enjoy a glass of flat, warm beer at 08.30 in the morning, on an empty stomach.

Glasses having been charged, the next thing to arrive would be a filled roll of some description.  For the same reason that the choice of beverage was limited, so was the choice of filling (variations on a theme of cheese, usually).  Then there would be various raffles and blackouts and so on to while away the journey.  You usually found that the bonhomie of the trip increased in direct proportion to the frequency of the beer jugs moving up and down the carriages.

On one memorable trip, a couple of enterprising blokes from our pub brought a smaller version of a one-armed bandit slot machine along.  I was never actually sure whether this was to boost the funds of the Society or was just a bit of individual entrepreneurship, but it was warmly greeted by those who liked a flutter.  The thing must have been incredibly heavy, even at the start, as it was of metal and chrome construction, but they certainly earned their money as the trip wore on, as they carted the contraption from table to table and it became ever more filled with sixpences.  I don’t think they repeated the exercise in later years and I imagine most of what they earned would have had to go towards hernia operations!

Have you got any memories of pub outings?  I'd love to hear them.


Monday, 28 July 2014

"The past is a foreign country..."


I've looked it up and, apparently, this is a quote from The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley.  It struck me as particularly appropriate because I've been reading quite a few books recently by people who have moved abroad.  In fact, I'm beginning to wonder whether I should turn off the lights for the U.K. the next time I go on holiday as there's clearly only me still here.

Most of the books are really quite interesting and clearly have a wide appeal for those, like me, who can dream of emigrating but will probably never actually do so.  Of course, the standard varies, and for every one that is well written there are a dozen more that clearly have been prompted by the "You've got so many stories to tell, you should write a book" type of comment.  The best books are usually those written by people who have really integrated with their local people and culture and thus have something to share about living within a different culture.  The worst sort are those written by people who have remained in their own little bubble and view the world around them as an episode of 'Foreigners Do The Funniest Things'.  In fact, I'm just about to give up reading one for this very reason.  If I do, it will give it the honour of being only the second book that I've given up on in my life!

I was beginning to feel that, in comparison, my books were pretty hum-drum, until the quote above came to me, and I realised that I do write about a foreign country, albeit one that most of my readers have passed through in the last 40 or 50 years.  We know the culture and their habits and we can understand the language (even if we might struggle with some of it, these days).  So why not join me in a little holiday in the past?  You won't need a passport, I promise you won't get a tummy bug, and there are no queues at the check-in :-)







Sunday, 27 July 2014

Occasional Showers


As the holiday season commences and we all set off for hotels, guest houses and B&Bs, I thought this set of helpful hints, taken from 'Steady Past Your Granny's,' might be useful:


I like to think that I am something of a connoisseur of the gentle act of showering.  My wife says that given the amount of time that I spend in there, this announcement should surprise no-one, but I like to plan my day, bathed in the tender caress of warm refreshing water, in the absence of any better options.  Whilst I can pretty well guarantee this will happen at home (the warm water I mean, not the better options), the whole plan tends to fall apart whenever I stay overnight somewhere else.  If you’ve ever trusted what remains of your mortal coil to the often less than tender ministrations of a hotel or guesthouse shower, you’ll know what I mean.

Showers in hotels and guest-houses are the hotelier’s revenge on the world.  Once you accept this simple fact, you can get on with trying to make the best of, what is all too often, a diabolical situation.  For the uninitiated, here are some simple rules.

1.         Ignore the Instructions

You might as well.  The instructions, if they exist at all, invariably do not relate to the shower that is there now.  They are more likely to form a sort of nostalgic tribute, to the shower that used to be there but which has long since gone to that Great Plumber’s Skip in the Sky.  That is why the diagram shows that you must adjust two dials to achieve the optimum shower, coupled with dark warnings of what may happen if you do not do this, when you can only find one dial, which won’t move, and a mysterious lever.  Speaking of dials…

2.         Don’t touch the temperature dial

As previously noted, better establishments will have a well-worn notice describing the supposed functions of the piece of plumbing to which you are about to entrust your important little places.  This is a work of fiction but it will give you something to read while you are waiting for the ambulance to come and tend to your first-degree burns.  Lesser establishments will eschew the reading material, knowing that real men (and women) don’t read instructions and will instead present you with a Heath-Robinson collection of pipes, plungers and taps and leave you to work it out for yourself.  In either case, I urge you – do not touch the temperature dial.  This applies no matter what apparently ridiculous rating it appears to be set at.  From past and painful experience, whatever the setting of the temperature dial, it is probably correct, unless the previous occupant was a sadist, or, possibly worse still, a masochist.

3.         Don’t wait until morning to find out how it works

True of so many things but particularly showers.  I remember one infamous occasion when I was staying in a B&B in Dublin.  I should have been forewarned when I found that my sleeping accommodation consisted of a camp bed in what was clearly someone’s Study.  The ‘usual facilities’ had been shoe-horned into what had previously been a broom cupboard, situated across the hall from my makeshift bedroom.  The following morning, crawling unsteadily from my temporary dormitory after a night spent sampling Guinness, red wine and Chinese cuisine, in that order, I stumbled into the shower expecting an invigorating blast of (hopefully) warm water.  It didn’t happen.  I found that, with all dials turned to maximum and expecting at any minute a Scottish Engineer to appear from the basement screaming “If I gi’e her any more Cap’n, she’ll blow”,  I was the less than pleased recipient of a dribble of marginally warm, brown liquid (perhaps it was Guinness?).  All attempts to improve upon this state of affairs failed and I was forced to revolve my hung over corporation under this pathetic stream, resembling, for all intents and purposes, a vision by Salvador Dali of the closing sequence of Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which rather shows my age.

4.         Know Your Shower Type

Not that this will make a blind bit of difference to the quality of your experience, but at least you will be able to bore others with your expertise and complain, with some authority, to the management.

Showers tend to fall into three different types, or, to put it another way, people tend to fall in three different types of shower.  Firstly, there is the type that works by diverting the flow of water from the bath taps to a shower head.  This can range from the relatively cheap but effective system of a rubber hose forced hopefully, and usually very temporarily, over the taps themselves, to the marginally more sophisticated version where the raising or depressing of a plunger of some sort diverts the water up to a shower head.  The theory is that you should be able to run the water from the taps until you have established an adequate rate of flow and temperature and then, with a simple press of the plunger, divert this to the shower.  In reality, either the depression of the plunger will force a stream of ice-cold, or sometimes, unaccountably, scalding-hot water at your unprepared torso or there will be a disturbing sound in the plumbing, reminiscent of a flatulent hippopotamus easing its way out of a fetid swamp, and the hoped for water will vanish from sight. 

The second category of shower is the electric shower.  This has been a boon to landladies everywhere who, in an effort to meet the growing demand for ‘en-suite’ facilities in properties that were never designed to provide them, have forced shower cubicles into the most unlikely places.  My broom cupboard experience in Dublin was an example of being at the mercy of an electric shower.  You might think that the mixture of water and electricity is not necessarily a happy one, and you would be right but not for the obvious reasons.  Electrocution is the least of your worries, and might even be seen as a happy release after 30 minutes or so wrestling with an unrelenting plastic box that has suddenly decided to stop delivering water at all.  Electric showers work by diverting the normal water supply through a heating element.  This presupposes that the normal water supply is delivered at sufficient pressure to provide an adequate shower.  I suspect that these things are usually fitted and tested in the middle of the afternoon when nobody else is in the property and a fine, strong current of well-heated water is confidently delivered.  Unfortunately, as the majority of hotels and guest-houses have set times for breakfast, the likelihood is that most of the residents will be trying to perform their ablutions at the same time, thus reducing the available water supply to a dismal trickle.  Under these circumstances, the electric shower is not the place to be.  It can be guaranteed, in the same way that toast will always fall butter, or low-fat, cholesterol-free, dairy-type spread, side down, that the water will disappear totally at exactly the point that you have shampoo dripping into both eyes and soap congealing in areas where you would rather it was not.  It is precisely at this point that you realise that the controls were never designed to be operated by someone whose hands are covered in lather but that this is unimportant anyway as it is impossible to read the shower instructions whilst a selection of herbal extracts, essential oils and anti-bacterial detergents etch their way remorselessly across your eyeballs.

On the subject of items that were never designed to be operated by someone covered in soap, what lunatic first decided that it was a good idea to provide shampoo in sachets with tear-open slits?  A glance around any fast-food establishment should confirm that opening sachets designed in this way is beyond the ability of most people even when they are dry and reasonably rational.  Attempting the same manoeuvre when wet through, half-awake and fighting off the apparently amorous overtures of a shower curtain that has become irresistibly attracted to your damp body, should really feature as one of Dante’s circles of hell.

Finally we come to the last category, the Power Shower.  This is my personal favourite.  Here you are no longer at the mercy of the vagaries of the domestic water pressure.  The hot and cold water supply is mixed to your desired temperature and then pumped through the shower head.  What could go wrong?  Well, unfortunately, a number of things.  This system relies on there being an adequate supply of both hot and cold water, which is by no means guaranteed in many establishments, and sudden fluctuations of either can be character testing.  Secondly, these types of shower are invariably supplied with the sort of shower head that has delusions of grandeur.  A form of dial system on the shower head usually gives you the option of a fine spray, concentrated jet or a pulsating blast for the really courageous.  I’m sure that these devices work really well when they are first fitted and that early users can probably amuse themselves by staging their own personal version of the Dancing Waters but, from experience, the early promise does not last and the shower head becomes jammed on some entirely inappropriate setting.  The fun of the massage jet, as envisaged by the manufacturer, tends to be completely lost on the poor unfortunate who is running from one end of the bath to the other in a vain attempt to be in the right place at the right time for the next spasm of H2O.

I could go on, and I usually do, about:
  • shower curtains busily cultivating their own strain of antibiotics,
  • remarkably inadequate sections of transparent plastic designed to replace shower curtains that neither protect one’s modesty nor the bathroom from the water being sprayed in all directions,
  • and about shower head holders that either barely hold the shower head at all, thus leaving the user in a constant state of suspense, or which hold the shower head firmly but point it in entirely the wrong direction, so that the full benefit of the shower can only be gained by someone spread-eagled against the bathroom wall.

But I won’t.  Oh, I don’t know though… 

4.         Evacuate the Area

Whether you have been supplied with a shower curtain, shower screen or, luxury of luxuries, an all-encompassing shower cubicle, you should resign yourself to the fact that, no matter how careful you are, your bathroom will be doused with water in every possible nook and cranny within 30 seconds of commencing your shower. 

Given this simple fact, it still perplexes me that a well-known chain of holiday resorts insists on placing the entire stock of toilet rolls issued for your stay, including the one on the toilet roll holder itself, at one end of the bath and in direct line of fire of the shower head.  Clearly soggy toilet paper is this year’s ‘must have’ for the discerning holidaymaker. 

I suppose the only saving grace of these frequently ill-advised en-suite facilities is that at least we are spared the ridiculous situation of hotel or guest-house occupants diving in and out of their bedrooms like characters in a Brian Rix farce, every time that the sound of a bathroom door opening or closing is heard.  Which, of course, is a quintessentially British tradition now lost for future generations (thank heavens!)


Right, hand me my floral shower cap and that sachet of Mango and Jojoba (which, according to Billy Connolly, is the month after September) Lotion.  I’m going in and I may be some time.

There's a lot more of this sort of thing in my first 'nostalgedy' book, Steady Past Your Granny's


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Slide into Sixty Event


At the end of August, I will be slamming straight into the great age of 60 and will, at the same time, be retiring (although not necessarily shy with it ;-)) To celebrate my Slide into Sixty, I'm discounting all of my 'nostalgedy' books as from now. 'Steady Past Your Granny's' has been reduced, for the first time ever, from 99p to 79p. 'A Kick at the Pantry Door' has been slashed by 50p to 99p and the bumper collection of stories 'Crutches for Ducks' is now just £1.99. Dip into my stories from the last 60 years at these greatly reduced prices until the end of August 











Monday, 21 July 2014

Cruising Anyone?

I'm throwing myself on your mercy here, so please be gentle with me ;-)

I'm wondering whether there would be any interest in a collection of my stories about cruising (ocean-going, I mean, not anything untoward).   It would consist of some of the stories already published either here and/or in previous collections, but also some new stories about my experiences to date.

What do you think?

If you want some examples, take a look at these:  Cruisin' - Part 1

I'm in your hands - yes, I know, that explains that unpleasant feeling.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

A Dubious Undertaking - Part 2

Continued from Part 1

“Oh indeed, Archibald.  Then we come to the unfortunate business of Mr. Tomkins.”

“Hur” Archibald chuckled

“This is not a laughing matter, Thurble!”  Josiah shouted but quickly regained his composure.  “I’m sorry, Archibald, please forgive my intemperance.  The past few days have been something of a strain.  Now, Mr. Tomkins” He moved another manila folder to the top of the pile and extracted some papers.  “As I understand it, from the Police report, you took it upon yourself to embalm the late Mr. Tomkins, despite having no training whatsoever in this regard, is that correct?”

“Well, I thought I’d give it a go, Mr. Oakwood.  I’d watched some of the lads at it and it didn’t seem to me that there was much to it”

“I see, I see.  But you encountered a problem when it came to the embalming fluid, is that correct?”

“Couldn’t find none” Archibald confirmed

“You ‘couldn’t find none’.  Indeed.”  Josiah massaged his throbbing temple for a moment.  “Tell me, Archibald, what did you do instead?”

“Went down the garage and got some unleaded”

“You ‘went down the garage and got some unleaded’?”

“Yeah, there was an offer on too.  I got one of them wind-up torches”  He pulled a torch from one of his pockets, “It works a treat down the mortuary.”

“Had it not occurred to you, Archibald, that, given Mr. Tomkins express wish to be cremated, filling his remains full of Unleaded Petrol might not be the wisest choice of actions?”

“Didn’t think, Mr. Oakwood” Archibald muttered

“You didn’t think?  You are aware, are you not, that the resultant explosion permanently removed the hearing of the Crematorium Superintendent, demolished the Balmoral Chapel and deposited Mr. Grimes, the Crematorium Attendant two miles away?”

“There was a bit of a bang” Archibald agreed

“A bit of a bang?  Had it not been for the happy accident of Mr. Grimes landing on a pile of mattresses awaiting disposal at the Municipal Refuse Depot, we could have been facing a murder charge.”

“Bet he bounced quite a bit” Archibald sniggered

“I have no idea whether he bounced or otherwise, and it is immaterial to this conversation” Josiah snapped, 
“As for the late Mr. Tomkins, there was no trace whatsoever”

“But I saw his missus just going out with an urn” Archibald said, perplexed.

“Mrs. Tomkins is about to inter two pounds of Premium Quality Cat Litter along with the detritus from my wood-burning stove, and we can only hope she doesn’t decide to open the urn and examine the contents beforehand.”  Josiah extracted a linen handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his forehead. “That Oakwood and Undershot should be reduced to this” 

“She’ll never know the difference” Archibald said reassuringly

“We can only hope.  Finally, we come to the newspaper advertisement.  Do you know to what I’m referring, Archibald?”

“Think so, Mr. Oakwood”

“For as long as I can remember, Archibald, Oakwood and Undershot have had a box advertisement to the right of the title of the Merkin-Under-Heathwood Advertiser.  The masthead as I believe it is known in the trade.  This has always read ‘Oakwood and Undershot, Understanding and Sympathy at your time of need’.  Do you recall that, Archibald?”

“I’ve noticed it, yes Mr. Oakwood”

“I had no idea, Archibald, that when the Merkin-Under-Heathwood Advertiser sends out its quarterly bills for the cost of this advertisement, that there is an additional section in which one can enter a change of wording for the advertisement, if one should so wish.  But you, Archibald, you spotted this didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I saw it when the bill arrived”

“And you saw fit to change the wording, didn’t you?”

“Yeah”

“Would you like to remind me as to your revised wording, Archibald?”

“Well…it says ‘Oakwood and Undershot…’”

“It does indeed.  But what does it then go on to say?”

We Shift Stiffs.”  Archibald muttered,“ I thought it would be snappier and stuff”

We Shift Stiffs!”  Josiah exclaimed despairingly.  He put his head in his hands and wept bitter tears.

Archibald watched with some concern for a minute and then decided that he should withdraw tactfully.  He could see that Mr. Oakwood was clearly overcome with emotion and there would be time enough for his grateful thanks when he had recovered.  Archibald slipped out of the room, proud of a job well done.

Enjoyed this silliness?  Now try Jambalaya





Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Dubious Undertaking - Part 1




Josiah Oakwood steepled his fingers and sighed as he looked around the familiar, oak-lined, walls of the dimly lit office.  Sunlight, of sorts, struggled through the stained-glass of the narrow windows high above.  He sighed again and re-arranged the papers lying on the desk before him.  The heavy knock on the door made him jump but he quickly recovered his composure and intoned “Come”.

The door cracked open and a tall, lanky figure in an ill-fitting black suit edged into the office.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Oakwood?”  The figure asked, clearly hoping the answer would be in the negative.

“Ah yes, Archibald, please take a seat”

Archibald Thurble arranged himself in the seat in a sort of slightly organised pile.  He seemed, to Josiah, to be a series of ill-fitting joints, badly assembled and poorly tailored.

“Archibald, firstly may I take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the company for the entirely unexpected and very difficult situation that you found yourself in last week?”

Archibald breathed a sigh of relief.  He had been expecting to be hauled over the coals.

“Cor, that’s all right, Mr. Oakwood.  I only did what any other bloke would have done.”

“Well, we’ll come to that shortly, Archibald.  For the moment, I have to say that I take full responsibility for the unfortunate situation.  Had I known that the entire staff of our little firm, excepting yourself of course, would be struck down by gastro-enteritis whilst I was taking my annual holidays I would have returned immediately.  Regrettably, as I was sojourning at a hill-top retreat in the wilds of Tibet, news did not reach me until my arrival at Heathrow.”

“Not to worry, Mr. O, I had the whole thing well in hand” Archibald assured him, cheerily.

“Yes, well that is as may be, Archibald, and I do appreciate your efforts to maintain the running of this complex and difficult business despite having only a few weeks basic training”

“Ta” said Archibald, relaxing visibly

“However, there are a number of issues arising from your stewardship which we need to address.  Shall I begin with the case of the Reverend W. Pemberton?”

“Oh yes, the Rev.” Archibald stated brightly, “what’s the problem?”

“The problem, Archibald,”  Josiah opened a manila folder and extracted a document, “is that when Miss Hermione Pemberton, the niece of the late Reverend, called this office to make arrangements for her uncle’s funeral,  you allegedly said to her, and I quote ‘Strewth, do you mean to say that he’s only just conked it?  I thought he’d shoved off years ago and you just propped him up in the pulpit for the look of the thing’.  Do you recall that conversation, Archibald?”

“Oh yes, course I do” Archibald leaned forward in his seat and looked about him conspiratorially, “I was trying to lighten the mood”

“Lighten the mood?”  Josiah said incredulously

“Yeah, well, you know how in them old Readers Digests in the waiting room, there’s that bit about ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’?  Well, Miss Pemberton sounded a bit upset, so I thought I would try and make her see the funny side.”

“Really?  Well, in that regard you seem to have failed abysmally.  Miss Pemberton, despite her family having done business with this firm for decades, has chosen to make the final arrangements for her uncle with a competitor.”

“Oh”  Archibald said, crestfallen.

Continued in Part 2


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Reduced crutches - might make you stoop a little ;-)


There's a Kindle Countdown Deal now on for CRUTCHES FOR DUCKS until the close of play on Tuesday (8th July, 2014).  Why not grab this bumper collection at the knock down price of just 99p (or equivalent)?


UPDATE

Sorry you've missed this offer, but you can still dip your toe in the 'nostalgedy' pool for just 99p with Steady Past Your Granny's



Saturday, 5 July 2014

And the question is...?


“Can I ask you a question?” He said, as I got up to leave the rooftop bar.  I resisted the temptation to give the response that I habitually give to my students in the same situation, which is “Yes of course…was that it?”  You can see from this why I fail to win friends and influence people.

My putative interrogator was a smartly dressed, elderly man accompanied by his immaculately attired wife.  They were clearly enjoying a pre-dinner drink in the bar, which we had been using as an impromptu reading room until the arrival of a legion of better-dressed aperitif consumers had made us feel scruffy and caused us to retire to our cabin.  Or, at least, try to retire to our cabin.

I was intrigued to see where this conversation was going to lead us.

“Can you see that ship over there?”  He asked, getting to the nub of the thing.

I peered through the encroaching greyness of the North Sea sky and eventually spotted what I imagined he meant on the horizon.

“Yes” I replied (to do otherwise would have been unnecessarily cruel) “and there’s another over there.”  I pointed to a spot further to our right.

“Thank you” he responded, with considerable relief, “she wouldn’t believe me” he nodded toward his wife.

“I couldn’t see them.”  His wife countered in defence.

It’s at times like this that you feel as if you have slipped into a floating Home for the Bewildered.  This, and the sleeping.

I suppose that having spent 9 months sloshing about in amniotic fluid, it is hardly surprising if even the best of us find the gentle rolling of the ship to be somewhat soporific.  Nevertheless, it is a little disconcerting to look about you and realise that everyone in your row of seats is dozing peacefully whilst also holding a book in their hands.  From time to time, inevitably, a book (or e-reader) will crash to the floor, causing a rude awakening.  More often, though, the slumberer will wake, look furtively around to see if anyone’s noticed their unconsciousness, and return to the act of reading as if nothing had happened.  I particularly like those who are clearly under the impression that they have only shut their eyes for a fraction of a second, who pick up their reading as if there has been only the briefest of interruptions, despite the fact that their jaw dropped open about twenty minutes ago and  there has been a succession of snores ever since.


They say that, in Eastbourne, they prop their dead up in bus shelters.  Here, I’m convinced you could hide a corpse for days in a comfy chair with a book, and no-one would ever notice.  Now there’s a thought!