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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&#...

Friday, 25 December 2015

AlterNativity - A Stable Upbringing



This is the fifth and, at the moment, final instalment of my alternative nativity. Typically for me, this is the first story that I wrote some ten years ago (although it has been through a number of revisions since then). As you will see, having painted myself into something of a corner, there really wasn't any scope for sequels, so I've had to content myself with 'prequels' ever since. I do hope you enjoy it, but if you're easily offended you might want to give this one a miss! Thanks for reading the series (you can find all of the stories in The AlterNativity Collection ) and may I wish everyone here a peaceful and pleasant Christmas and a happy and successful New Year. 

This story was originally published as part of the ' Steady Past Your Granny's ' collection of stories.





Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Crackers at Christmas



Our Christmas Tree


As I write this, I’m on what is alliteratively known as a ‘Turkey and Tinsel’ break.  This was not intentional.  We booked this weekend as a base for visiting some friends, only to find that Christmas had broken out all around us.  Apparently, this type of break starts at the beginning of November and continues up to, and including, the real thing.  This format can be a bit disconcerting.  Friday, for instance, was designated as Christmas Eve, Saturday was Christmas Day and, in a fit of time compression that would delight British Industry, Sunday is New Year’s Eve.  This rather conveniently disposes of the seasonal festivities in one fell swoop but I should think the staff will be about at screaming pitch come the festive season proper.

All of this made me think of Christmas Past, when things were nowhere near as well organised.  An example of this was when we kept The New Talbot Hotel in Anglesey Road in the mid-1960s.  We had been invited to Christmas Dinner at my aunt and uncle’s.  Dad insisted on providing the turkey for this feast, which was something of a concern because Dad disliked doing anything in a conventional manner.  If he bought anything, it was always through ‘someone who knows someone’ who could allegedly get it cheaper, bigger or faster, or all three.  This sort of arrangement tended to lead to considerable uncertainty, which was not conducive to the peace of mind of my aunt and uncle, who were great ones for doing things properly.  Thus the scene was set for potential disaster.
As the days before Christmas gradually diminished, my aunt made repeated requests to know what size of bird to expect, but was always fobbed off by Dad, who probably didn’t know the answer himself.  Christmas Eve arrived and, as good as his word, Dad delivered a fresh turkey, albeit rather late in the day.  However, in a fit of generosity, probably brought on by the fact that Christmas Eve was Dad’s birthday, which he did like to celebrate, he had bought something that resembled a young ostrich.  My aunt had a relatively small kitchen and there really wasn’t enough room in there for her and this bird.  The problem was compounded on Christmas Morning, when, having prepared this avian monster for the oven (a not inconsiderable feat) it became apparent that it would not fit into the oven.  Only savage butchery reduced the beast to portions that could realistically be prised in.  Even then, the sheer size of the fowl led to the generation of so much fat that the kitchen looked like the morning after a riot in a chip shop.  The whole thing took much longer to cook than normal and the eventual result, despite my aunt’s acknowledged culinary skills, was not up to her high standards.  She was left quivering on the edge of either murdering my Dad or having a nervous breakdown, whichever was the easier.  Typically, Dad couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and was somewhat miffed not to be the hero of the hour.

Another occasion when things didn’t go particularly well was Christmas, 1973.  This was my first Christmas with a girlfriend in evidence (I was something of a late starter).  We were not spending Christmas Day together, so she had given me a present to open on the day.  I was a bit wary of opening this at home as Mum didn’t exactly approve of my girlfriend.  Come the day and, after diplomatically opening the presents from my parents and my sister, I eagerly set about unwrapping my girlfriend’s gift. 

It was a jumper.  It was a very colourful jumper.  In fact, it looked how I imagine a migraine might feel.  Better still, it was figure hugging.  This would have been fine, had I possessed a figure worth hugging.  Unfortunately, my physique over the years has transformed from painfully emaciated to borderline obese without ever passing through any of the more appealing stages in between.  At this time, I was in the former category.  To complete the effect, the sleeves were too short for my arms, leaving 6 inches or so of thin wrist and forearm fetchingly peeping out.  Mum and my sister fell about laughing when I tried it on, leaving me cringing with embarrassment but absolutely adamant that I loved it.


On Boxing Day, sporting my new jumper under my favourite PVC imitation leather jacket (the 1970s were not a good time for fashion) I met my girlfriend.  When I took my jacket off, she too fell about laughing.  It wasn’t a long-lasting relationship.

Originally published in Crutches for Ducks

Sunday, 20 December 2015

AlterNativity - Get Away! In A Manger


We hear a lot, in the Nativity, about the human characters, like the shepherds and the kings, but what about the 'dumb' animals?

This is the fourth and latest instalment of the popular 'AlterNativity' series of stories.


Friday, 18 December 2015

AlterNativity - A Room at the Inn


In every nativity we hear about the Innkeeper, but what about the Inn?  Find out in this latest story from my alternative nativity:




A Room at the Inn - on ABCtales

You can find the whole 'AlterNativity' series of stories, plus a whole lot more seasonal goodies, in the new collection 'A Christmas Cracker' out now on Kindle 

Friday, 11 December 2015

AlterNativity - The King Thing


You can now read the second part of my alternative nativity, in which the shepherds encounter a surprise on their way to the stable:






and this has been cherry-picked, too!

You can find the whole 'AlterNativity' series of stories, plus a whole lot more seasonal goodies, in the new collection 'A Christmas Cracker' out now on Kindle 

Monday, 7 December 2015

AlterNativity


Every Christmas, I drag out my 'AlterNativity' series of stories (and usually try to add a new episode whilst I'm at it).  This Christmas is no exception, so here's the first of the stories, concerning the shepherds:





The Night Watch

And, it's been cherry-picked!

You can find the whole 'AlterNativity' series of stories, plus a whole lot more seasonal goodies, in the new collection 'A Christmas Cracker' out now on Kindle 

Friday, 4 December 2015

It does what it says on the tin!


Really pleased with this new review for 'Steady Past Your Granny's'.

"Exactly what it promised to be: nostalgia and humour. I liked the graphic reminder of how basic things were, back then, and the self-effacing account of how the narrator bumbled through it all. England at its "Don't let the family down" best."

You can see the original review here Link


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Hold Very Tight Please - A Bridge Too Far?


This is another excerpt from 'Giving A Bull Strawberries', the brand new 2015 compilation of 'nostalgedy' stories:

There's a reason why I tend to avoid coach trips these days, and it's not because I'm deeply anti-social (although I am).  Every time I consider one, I'm reminded of past experiences and I drop the idea quite quickly.  Jean-Paul Sartre is alleged to have said that "hell is other people", so he might have experienced the odd coach trip himself.

In evidence, I submit a coach holiday we had some years ago touring the West Coast of America.  We were accompanied on this endeavour by a large group of 'ladies of a certain age' from Birmingham and Coventry.  As we ploughed our way through the baking heat of the Mojave Desert, we were surprised to find a trail of orange paper by the windows of our seat and all along the coach.  The reason for this, it transpired, was that the ladies had nicked acres of toilet paper from our overnight stop, so that they could stuff up the air-conditioning vents by the windows because they thought they created a draught!

I have many abiding memories of pub outings, but one in particular has me waking up screaming.  This relates to a trip to a theme park at Preston called Camelot.  In order to get there, we had to let the Transport Club's double-decker loose on the M6, which was probably above and beyond the call of duty and certainly must have been the source of a great deal of frustration for the rest of the traffic. 

We stopped for a rest break at one of those service stations where the actual restaurant and shops were on one side of the motorway, joined to the parking on the other side by an overhead bridge.  We were told to be back at the bus by a certain time and to remember that we needed to cross the bridge to get back to the right parking area.  A little while later, replete with over-priced sausage rolls and extortionate coffee, we were all back on the bus and eager to be off.  However, three of our number were missing. 

Keele Services, M6
https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-WgW46yF96to/VlDX5IetJrI/AAAAAAAABa8/hg84bc-G8qs/s320/M6_Keele_Services_-_geograph.org.uk_-_857142.jpg


Just then, we spotted them.  As I recall, they were a family consisting of elderly father and mother (with mother in a wheelchair) and an adult son.  All nice people but they would never be Mastermind contenders.
They were standing on the hard shoulder of the motorway, on the opposite carriageway, so they were six lanes away from the bus.  It was apparent that they were preparing to try and cross the motorway, even though they were within yards of the road bridge.  Quite how they had managed to get all three of them down the grass verge to the hard shoulder in the first place was something of a mystery, as none of them were physically able, but there they were. 

A good number of us gathered on our side of the road and shouted and waved, in a doomed attempt to get them to turn around and go across the bridge.  With the noise of the traffic on the road, they were oblivious.  Paralysed with the potential horror of it all, we watched transfixed as they made their laborious way across the first three lanes.  Remarkably, they made it to the central reservation without injury, and without causing the pile-up we expected. 

They then, of course, had the Labours of Hercules to get the wheelchair over the central barrier, let alone get the other two over there as well.  Again, we waited with bated breath as they prepared for a final lunge across the last three carriageways.  I think many of us had our hands over our eyes as we felt certain that this could only end in tragedy, but it was one of those scenes that you somehow felt compelled to watch.  I don't know how they did it, but they did and, to the best of my knowledge, without causing havoc and carnage, although what the drivers on the motorway thought about it doesn't bear considering.

The author and a 30' stainless steel shovel



Monday, 9 November 2015

Hold Very Tight, Please!

This is an excerpt from 'Giving A Bull Strawberries', the brand new 2015 compilation of 'nostalgedy' stories:

Although pubs were always very important to me, from my mid-teens to my late 30s my drinking den of choice was the Transport Club in Guild Street (now an Indian restaurant).  I'm not quite sure why I gravitated there, it was hardly local to South Broadway Street and I had no connection whatsoever with the Burton Corporation Transport Department, but there's a line in the theme tune of 'Cheers' that says "you want to be where everybody knows your name", and that was certainly the case at the Transport Club.

Inevitably, when it came to outings from the Transport Club, they were never going to be by train.  The strong connections between the Transport Department and the Club meant that we were able to hire a double-decker either for free, or at a notional cost.  All we had to do was provide a volunteer driver for the day.  Oddly enough, the driver who volunteered most went on to run his own, very successful, local coach company. 



The problem with using a double-decker…well, actually there were quite a few problems with using a double-decker, but these were largely outweighed by the fact that the whole thing was free! 

The principal problem was the lack of speed.  Local authority buses were fitted with a speed limiter, which made very good sense in the confines of Burton upon Trent but tended to be a bit frustrating when you were trying to get to Skegness within the hours of daylight.  Moreover, a fully laden double-decker is not really equipped for long journeys or for dealing with everything that the geography of Britain can throw at it.  There was a particular hill, leading out of Lincoln, which tested the bus to its limit and I always half expected that we would have to get out and push.  Pedestrians used to stroll past us and wonder what was going on, as we chugged laboriously up the hill.  Another factor, of course, is that the seats of double-deckers are only really designed for relative comfort over short journeys, so a degree of numbness in the posterior was a given for a trip to the seaside.

No matter how much fun we managed to have in Skegness, Mablethorpe or Rhyl (these three being pretty much the limit of a day trip on a double-decker), we still had the lengthy trip home at the end of the day, with the certain knowledge that it would be pretty late when we arrived home.
For some reason, a standard feature of British coach trips always used to be 'the sing-song on the way home'.  The degree to which you enjoyed these was usually in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed both during the day, and on the trip home (you could still drink on the coach in those days).  If this was to be a success, then you needed someone amongst the company who could carry a tune and knew the lyrics.  This was not always guaranteed.


I well remember one particular trip home where all of the passengers were absolutely exhausted and just wanted to be left to drift off to sleep as best they could.  However, one of our number had brought his mouth organ with him and was determined to try to start a sing-song.  What he nearly succeeded in starting was an armed insurrection, with even the mildest mannered earnestly entreating him to "put a sock in it".  He was eventually persuaded, by his nearest and dearest, that his chances of returning to Burton would be considerably enhanced if he put the mouth organ away. Another vivid memory is of a quiet, unassuming family man leading a spirited and obscene version of 'Old McDonald's Farm' on the top deck as we drove through Lincoln.  Up until that point I didn't even know that there was an obscene version of 'Old McDonald'.  You live and learn!

You can read the rest of this chapter, and find a lot more like this, in 'Giving A Bull Strawberries'

The cover of Giving a Bull Strawberries, featuring a 30' Stainless Steel shovel

Monday, 2 November 2015

Born To Be Riled?



I wonder if, as a nation, we are becoming more belligerent?  Before you ask, I absolutely include myself in this query.  In particular, I wonder if those of us who, by reason of age and maturity,  really should know better, including myself, are spending far more time than is healthy being hopping mad about something…anything!

You may recall that I gave an example of this phenomenon some time ago.  I’ve spent many years following a particular group (The Enid, if you’re interested) around the country.  In that time, in some of their less popular incarnations, they have played some very dubious rooms in back-street boozers which have been attended by a varied mix of the populace, many in leather and/or punk type fashions.  In all of that time, I have never witnessed any violence or threat of violence.  However, the one time that I attended a Ken Dodd entertainment at Derby’s (now cremated) Assembly Rooms, a fight broke out between two elderly blokes because one accused the other of pushing in front of him at the bar.  They had to be separated by the Security staff.



I was reminded of that incident when I went to a local supermarket this weekend to return a faulty item.  This was one of the ‘cheaper end of the market’ type supermarkets, which are, typically, leanly staffed and therefore don’t have the luxury of a Customer Service Desk.  We enquired about what we needed to do with this item of ours and were told to go to one of the check-outs, and an Assistant Manager would be called to deal with it, which we did.   We knew this would be bound to cause delays to those using the check-out but there wasn’t any alternative.  One kind lady customer actually offered to let us go first, but we pointed out that it might take a little while and it was better if she completed her transaction.

The item was accepted back at the check-out without any difficulty and a Manager was called to advise on the correct procedure to be adopted with regard to reimbursement.  None of this took very long at all, but inevitably a queue was beginning to build up behind us.  As I had completed my part in the proceedings, by handing the bulky item over, I left my wife to complete the financial transaction and went to wait by the packing shelf.  As she was collecting her receipt, I noticed that she seemed to be in animated conversation with a little bloke who was next in the queue.  He was one of those grizzled sorts who could be anywhere between 40 (with a lot of worry) and 70.  I decided to go over and asked “Is there a problem?”  My wife explained that she had apologised to this bloke for the delay, but this didn’t seem to be enough for him.  He seemed to be of the impression that we had pushed in ahead of him in the queue and came up with some very complex explanation of how he had placed his items on the conveyor belt after my wife had arrived but before I had appeared with the item.  I tried to explain the sequence of events as I saw them, but this clearly wasn’t going to mollify him.  I pointed out that my wife had apologised for his delay and that should be the end of the matter.  We then set off to leave the shop.

Now, I know that common sense would say that we really should have kept on walking and drawn a line under an unfortunate experience.  However, as we were walking away, he said, loudly for the benefit of the queue behind him “What a pathetic person!”  This rather irked me.  I should have thought that ‘sticks and stones etc’ but I felt this was hugely unfair and very unnecessary.  Therefore, I walked back to where he was standing at the check-out, and said, quietly but firmly in his right ear “Don’t”

Well, that did it as far as he was concerned.  He was going to take me outside and visit violence upon me.  I now did what I should have done in the first place and walked calmly away.  Talking to my wife on the way out, it appeared that this chap had been humphing and muttering in the queue and she had made the mistake of apologising to him.  This is always an error with the internally aggrieved as it gives them an excuse to enter into a conversation about whatever perceived injustice is aggravating them.  Left to humph and mutter they will, in a perfect world, explode at some point and leave the world a happier place (once the bits have been swept away).

The rationale for this blog post is then to confess my sins (I should have kept on walking) and to ask your forgiveness.  It’s also cathartic to get this off my chest because it has been bugging me ever since.  I’m not a violent person by nature and tend to avoid confrontation wherever possible,  I would certainly not expect to be put in such a situation on a Sunday morning visit to the supermarket, but I don’t suppose those old blokes at the Ken Dodd concert went there for a punch-up either.  Which brings me back to my initial question, are we becoming more belligerent?  Please answer, using one side of the paper only.


Thursday, 29 October 2015

Audacious Auditions

I have no idea where this came from - it's just been running around in my head all day.  So, at least it's been getting some exercise!



Scene:  A grubby and untidy back-street office.  Behind a desk overflowing with newspaper cuttings, final demands, playbills and hopeful letters sits a balding, chubby man in an ill-fitting suit.  On the wall behind him there is a sign bedecked with little stars and bearing the rather optimistic legend 'Wishaw's Theatrical Agency - wishes come true with Wishaw!'  A middle-aged woman, dressed rather younger than her years in a figure-hugging  sweater and jeans, pokes her head around the door:

Veronica:             "You wanted to see me, Mr. Wishaw?"
Wishaw:               "Veronica!  Come on in"
V:                         "Thanks, Mr. Wishaw" 

She wiggles toward a chair and clears a few papers off it in order to sit down.

V:                            "BTW, Mr. Wishaw, it's 'Veronique' now, I've changed it"
W:                          "Veronique eh?  Very pretty, I'm sure.  Now then, Veronica…"
V:                            "Veronique!"
W:                          "Yes, of course.  Well, look V, it's like this.  You know I sent you up for that gas boiler ad?"
V:                            "Yes, Mr. Wishaw.  Thank you, Mr. Wishaw"
W:                          "Thanks are unnecessary, Veron…V.   I've had a note back from the producer and I thought I ought to share it with you."
V: (squeals excitedly)     "Oh, some notes!  I'm always willing to learn, Mr. W."
W:                          "Well, not notes as such, V.  You see, I sent you for that audition because I thought it was something you could do standing on your head.  However, from what it says here, it seems that's exactly what you did do"
V:                            "That's right, Mr. Wishaw.  You see, the shot was just my from my feet up to my knees, and this animated corgi was going to be added in later.  I couldn't see how I could convey the important emotions with just my feet and knees"
W:                          "So you stood on your head?"
V:                            "Yes, that's right.  I wanted the viewer to understand the depth of my feelings"
W:                          "Let me get this straight, V.   As I understand it, the nub and the gist of the ad is that a cartoon corgi brings a newspaper to you with a headline that shows that 1 in 11 boilers are potentially dangerous.  Is that right?"
V:                            "That's it, Mr. W.  It's an emotional subject.  People could get hurt!"
W:                          "I don't doubt it, V.  But don't you think the sight of you hanging upside down might just distract the viewers a tiny bit from the content of the ad?"
V:  (sulkily)          "I don't see why, Mr. Wishaw"
W:                          "Well, be that as it may, V.  Leaving the 'standing on your head' approach to one side, for the moment, the other thing the producer was somewhat concerned about was your modification of your lines"
V: (very sulkily) "I don't think he properly understood my motivation"
W:                          "V.  All he wanted you to say was 'Oh dear, corgi, that's not good is it?' and then the voiceover would explain the rest.  But you didn't say that, did you V?"
V: (moodlily)      "No, Mr. W."
W:                          "What you actually said was, and I quote, 'Good grief, my dog can read, I'm going to be rich beyond my wildest dreams!'"
V:                            "Well, that's what I would have said, Mr. W.  I have to be true to my character, to my inner self." 

Veronica slams her right hand to her chest for dramatic effect.

W: (sympathetically)      "V, no-one doubts that your heart is in the right place.  It's just that…"

Wishaw stares fixedly at Veronica's sagging embonpoint

W: (distractedly)              "…your charley's aren't"
V:                            "I beg your pardon!"
W: (hastily)         "Charlie's Aunt!  There's talk of doing a run, thought you might fancy it?"
V: (suspiciously)                               "Where?"

Wishaw is still distracted and continues to stare at Veronica's chest

W:                          "God kn…Godalming!"
V:                            "I don't think so, Mr. W.  It's not where I see myself right now. "
W:                          "What?  Godalming?"
V:                            "No, silly!  I mean my creative journey.  Light comedy is so… yesterday.  Today, I see myself as more…Ibsen, possibly Chekhov, Beckett perhaps?"
W:                          "Oh V!  No, love.  You mustn't run before you can walk."  Picks up a piece of paper from the desk  "What about a nice soap powder commercial, eh?  All you've got to do is stick your hands in a bowl of suds.  No dialogue, no nothing.  Just your hands and a bowl of suds.  What do you say?"
V:                            "But what's my motivation?"
W:                          "They're paying £300"
V:                            "I'll do it."

Wishaw gets up and escorts Veronica to the door

V:                            "If I bent down a little, perhaps I could…"
W: (firmly)          "No V."
V:                            "I could scream a little?  The water could be very hot…"
W:                          "Don't talk to me about hot water!   Just the hands, V. and think of the money"

THE END




Friday, 16 October 2015

Nifty Shades of Grey - A competition

The scene is set in the Menswear section of a department store.  A very nondescript gentleman is wandering bemusedly around the various stands.  A salesman approaches, optimistically:

Salesman:  "Good morning sir, how are we today?"

Nondescript Gent: "I'm fine; I can't speak for you of course"

S:            "I meant, can I help sir out at all"

NG:        "I've only just come in!"

S:            "Very droll, sir.  Is sir looking for anything in particular today?"

NG:        "I was thinking about clothes"

S:            "I think of little else, sir.  Any particular garment at all?  I have a rather nice houndstooth jacket that might take your fancy?" [He plucks a sleeve from a rack]

NG:        "Oh no, that would be far too…definite.  I'm hoping for something irredeemably tedious"

S:            "Irredeemably tedious, really?  I do have a beige pair of trousers that many have said are quite dull, would that be what sir had in mind?"

NG:        "Beige?  it's a bit…colourful, isn't it?"

S:            "Oh, not these, sir."  [Flourishes a pair of very boring beige trousers from a nearby rack] "No-one could ever accuse these of anything approaching colour."

NG:        "They're a little…dramatic for my taste.  If I was thinking of anything, I suppose I was thinking of grey."

S:            "Grey?  Yes, I suppose sir would be.  How about this?" [He produces a pair of smart, charcoal grey trousers]

NG:        [shrinking back in horror] "They're very…very grey, aren't they?  Very definitely grey"

S:            [reproachfully] "Sir did say he was thinking of grey"

NG:        "Well, yes, but thinking of it and it coming at you like that, out of the…out of the…"

S:            "Out of the grey, sir?"

NG         "Yes, yes, I suppose so.  Well, it gave me a start, that's all"

S:            "These are not to sir's taste?"

NG:        "Have you anything that's not quite so definitely grey?"

S:            [dubiously] "Not so definitely grey? Could sir perhaps give me some illustration of what he had in mind?"

NG:        "Well, you know if you've washed a pair of white trousers with something black, by mistake, and the colour's run?  That sort of thing."

S:            "White trousers washed with black?" [he muses for a moment] "One moment, sir"

The salesman retires to a storeroom and there is the sound of packets being hurled about.  Eventually he appears, with dishevelled hair but clutching a cellophane packet of trousers.

S:            "These are from our Insipid collection.  As you might imagine, it never really caught the imagination of the clothes-buying public and we now keep just a few items in stock for the, erm…discerning customer." [He produces a pair of trousers of indeterminate greyness from the packet] "Would these be the sort of thing that sir had in mind?"

NG:        "Gosh, they really are rather dull, aren't they?"

S:            "I think sir's term 'irredeemably tedious' rather sums it up"

NG:        "Yes, yes, I think you're right.  I almost forgot they were there, even while I was staring at them"

S:            "I had much the same experience in the stock cupboard, sir.  Shall I wrap them, or will sir wear them right now?"

NG:        "Can you wrap them, please?" [conspiratorially]  I rather want to delay the pleasure of wearing them until I get home."

S:            [moving swiftly to the cash register, with some relief] "I quite understand.  Will there be anything else, sir?"

NG:        "I could do with a shirt to go with them.  Do you have anything in off-white?"

S:            [placing his hands over both eyes and sighing dramatically] "Off-white?  Would sir mind if I enquired as to sir's occupation?"

NG:        "I'm.......

This is where you come in.  I can't think of a pay-off for this sketch, so the first person to come up with an answer that I like, not only gets to finish the sketch but also wins a free copy of any of the four books on the right.  Put your suggestions in the comments below, please.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Don't Give Me That Old Soap!

Have you ever found yourself thinking "Oh, please don't say that, it'll only make the worst possible thing happen!"  If so, you may well be suffering from Soap Syndrome.

You see, I have this theory that we have become so conditioned by Soaps that we have come to believe that the way they work is actually how real life works.  You know how it is in Soaps, if there's a major celebration under way, somewhere, then you can guarantee that some appalling tragedy is taking place at exactly the same time only yards away thus handily countermanding any possible feelings of joy and optimism you might have been harbouring.

The same is true of any expressions of hope and optimism by one of the characters.  We all know if someone says "You know, I think things are really starting to go our way", that's the cue for despair, death and despondency to come winging their way in, almost as soon as the words are out of their mouths.

I was reminded of this when listening to The Archers, yesterday.  For those not of a U.K. persuasion, The Archers is a long-running radio series which is alleged to be "an everyday story of country folk" although I have to say that I live in the country these days and if it was like this I think I'd move to the Bronx.

Anyway, the aged mother of one of the character's (Heather) was travelling down in the car of her daughter (Ruth) from the North-East of England to her daughter's farm in the Midlands.  You knew the way things were going when she said "I've got so much to look forward to...", which is the soap actor's equivalent of saying 'can I have my P45 please?'.  Apparently she was delighted to finally be leaving the care home she had been staying in, and issued the fateful words "Eeh pet, I'm really looking forward to waking up, in me own bed, at Brookfield".  Well, she might as well have put a gun to her head there and then and saved five minutes of programme time.  I said to my long-suffering wife, " Well, that's it, she's going to snuff it" (I have a way with words).  Sure enough, Ruth was on the phone to David (her equally long-suffering husband) "Daaaavid*, it's me mum, I can't wake her up".  Two minutes later, David had rushed to the hospital but it was too late...Heather had gone.

I'll bet the actors set off for the Job Centre as soon as they see anything remotely optimistic in their scripts, knowing it will only be a matter of time.

* Regular 'Archers' fans know that Ruth's pronunciation of her beloved's name gets more elongated as the years go by.

This blog post has since added a bit of weight and become a fully-fledged column in the Derby Telegraph

Monday, 28 September 2015

Just Dandy!

We were invited to a Black Country Night Out last weekend, and I must admit we approached it with a degree of trepidation.  In my mind, I had a picture of a Dudley-based Colin Crompton type, all flat cap and whippet with added faggots and peas.  The show was in aid of SPEAR, the Sue Pike Equine Animal Rescue charity which does such good work rescuing neglected and abandoned horses and ponies but also other livestock from goats to pheasants.  A friend of ours was organising the show, so we thought we should show our support.  There was a fish and chip supper too, so we were hooked.

Dandy 
(picture purloined from their website)


I have to say that I have never been so pleasantly surprised in all my life.  Dandy, the husband and wife comedy  duo who provided the entertainment, were absolutely amazing.  You know that couple that you like to meet because they are always entertaining and have such good stories to tell?  Well, Dandy were that couple x 100, but with better stories and much funnier gags.

It was just like being able to listen in to a pleasant chat, with plenty of back and forth banter from Glyn and Allan, without ever feeling that you were at a performance.  There was no question of being performed to, you were included as part of the conversation.  As well as the chat, there were some great songs and poems and the whole audience in Mappleborough Green Village Hall were convulsed with laughter from start to finish.  Allan even managed to make the raffle funny!

If you ever have chance to see these two, I really would recommend it.  It takes a lot to have me laughing until the tears run down my cheeks these days, but Dandy managed it.

Dandy's Website

SPEAR website

Saturday, 26 September 2015

First days at school...and work

Some memories from the 1950s and 1970s in this month's Derby Telegraph article (plus a photo - don't have nightmares!)


Now see the article online at the Derby Telegraph website:  Link to article

If you enjoyed this, you might want to try the 'nostalgedy' series of books -

details on the right of this page

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Brilliant!


Crutches for Ducks has just won itself a superb five star review from Carole:

"I really enjoyed this book, in fact I thought it was fantastic.  Anyone who enjoys nostalgia and comes from this era should read this. I will be getting the other ones in the series."

Thank you, Carole and I hope you enjoy the rest just as much.  

You can find the original review here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/RVWM3PGGQ3NQT/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0060OJU38




Monday, 7 September 2015

The Beat Goes On

This is the second of my two 'holiday cover' columns for the Derby Telegraph.  Unfortunately, it hasn't made it to their website yet, so I can't give a link.

Can you remember your first music purchase?


Monday, 31 August 2015

The Column Returns!

It's only temporary, whilst the Derby Telegraph's editor is on holiday, but I've got my column back!


Monday, 10 August 2015

Stoked!






I found myself in the cultural quarter of Stoke-on-Trent a few weeks ago.  This may surprise you in, at least, two ways.  Firstly, that I was in a cultural quarter at all, and secondly, that Stoke has a cultural quarter.

I was here for the theatre.  A dramatisation of 'Room on the Broom' if you must know.  Not that I was going to enjoy this thespian endeavour, my role for the day was to chauffeur my grandson and wife to join the rest of his playgroup for their end of term treat.  Therefore, whilst they settled themselves into the Regent Theatre, I was left to potter around the pavements in the determined drizzle of a weekday morning.

I may have missed something, but the only cultural aspects of the 'cultural quarter' that I could discern were the theatre and BBC Radio Stoke, but I suppose you've got to start somewhere.  

I may not be viewing the 'cultural quarter' with entirely neutral eyes, as I'm a little biased against BBC Radio Stoke.  Many years ago, when I was a presenter for our local Hospital Radio station, I sent a demo tape to Radio Stoke in the hope that they might take pity on me and let me loose on their public.  I heard nothing from them, so I wrote to the Station Manager complaining bitterly about being ignored by the local radio station.  This seemed to have the desired effect, as I was invited to come in to the station for a chat.  They kindly gave me a tour of the station and an explanation of the station's output.  The highlight of all of this was when one of their celebrity presenters suddenly dived out of his studio, mid-programme, to come and shake my hand.  I was hugely impressed at this welcome from a brother broadcaster, until it turned out that he had mistaken me for the local MEP and his interest in me waned spectacularly when he found out who I was.  At the end of the tour, a callow youth was dragged in to meet me and he explained to the Station Manager that he had reviewed my demo tape and had found me to be nothing special, whereupon my visit ended and I was returned to the pavements of Stoke, somewhat deflated.  If you want to find out how I might have sounded, had I been let loose on the airwaves, have a listen to this BBC Radio Derby interview: My Granny at BBC Radio Derby 2006

I'm not actually sure that Stoke's cultural quarter is, in fact, in Stoke.  Those of you who know Stoke, or who are fans of the work of Arnold Bennett, will know that Stoke consists of six towns, Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton in addition to Stoke itself.  This makes it a nightmare if you're looking for the city centre, as there are six of them.  I rather suspect that the cultural quarter is in Hanley, but I'm sure you'll tell me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, sitting in a car park didn't seem to be a very entertaining occupation for an hour or more, so I set out to discover the cultural quarter.  Having exhausted its offerings in about ten minutes flat, I fell back on the traditional English solution, and went for a cup of tea.  Parked in a cafe, poring over the internet on my mobile phone to give the impression of my having some purpose, I was able to indulge in a little people-watching.  The opportunities for this were quite limited, as the only other people in the cafe were three men sitting at the table by the window.  It was evident, from their conversation, that a job interview was in progress.

I'm always fascinated by job interviews because they're almost invariably awful.  Most of my career has been spent in HR in one form or another, so I have some inkling of the theory and practice of selection interviews, which is more than can be said for most managers.  Did you know, for example, that the predictive validity (how likely it is that you can predict success in the job) of most unstructured selection interviews (those that are, by and large, a chat) is about the same as tossing a coin?  On that basis, you can guess the likely success of those managers who "can tell what they're like as soon as they walk through the door" - and there are a lot of them still about!

This interview was being conducted by a grey-haired bloke in his shirt sleeves, with his back to me, who seemed to be leading things, along with a slightly younger, balding bloke with glasses and the expression of one who  has never seen a spreadsheet he didn't like.  The candidate was a young man, apparently a school-leaver, who appeared to be applying for an apprenticeship in website development.  By and large, the interview seemed to be reasonably effective, and the young chap gave a good account of himself.  However, my respect for him increased immeasurably when the lead bloke asked him:

"How would you make sure that our website was relevant to young people...people like myself, for instance?"

Given that this chap wouldn't see 40 again without the aid of a radio-telescope, if I were the interviewee I think I would have burst out laughing.  That this young bloke didn't, shows that they're made of sterner stuff in Stoke (or Hanley).  I hope he got the job!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Dogging my footsteps!



I've recently been tasked with walking my daughter's dog, a lanky chocolate labrador, so that he can do those things which a dog must do, without rendering the kitchen into a no-go zone.  I'm only required if my daughter and husband's respective shifts mean that the dog is going to be incarcerated for the full day, but that's been happening a bit just lately, so the dog and I have been getting to know each other quite well.

Our route normally takes us past the Stately Home that dominates their village. Between the road and the pavement, there is a grass verge (as in the picture above) and this seems to be his favoured spot for defecation.  The other day, he had just completed his morning movement and I was poised to clear the mess up.  Not, I must admit, my favourite occupation of all time but, in the immortal words of Arthur Guiterman:

"No matter what we are and who, Some duties everyone must do:"

The dog has an unfortunate habit of wandering as he dumps, despite my best efforts to stop this practice, so I'm poised with plastic bag in one hand, a supply of kitchen towel in the other and I'm steeling myself to deal with about a yard's worth of "ooh nasty" as Kenneth Williams used to say, when I notice a white car with a young couple in it drawing up to the pavement about 10 yards away.  

My initial reaction was, 'I don't blame you for keeping as far away as possible' as it must have been fairly evident what I was up to.  I was therefore more than a bit surprised when the car crawled along the road and came to a halt directly opposite where the dog and I were standing.  There were no other cars parked in the vicinity, so there was no need for them to be close to my area of operation at all, and yet they had deliberately moved from a perfectly good spot to one that I wouldn't have been anywhere near, given the choice.

It was a hot day, and they sat chatting, with the window down, apparently oblivious of me, the dog, and the dog's recent evacuations just a couple of feet away from where they were sitting.  I set about my allotted task as best I could, but the presence of an audience at such an intimate distance rather put me off my stride.  Even the dog had the good grace to look embarrassed.

I couldn't, for the life of me, understand what would possess anyone to deliberately move closer to the scene of such devastation?  Presumably, they were proposing to get out of the car at some point and this would, inevitably, involve the passenger stepping out onto the grass, exactly where the dog had just done his thing.  

It is not possible, no matter how diligent the clearing, to remove every trace of defecation from a grass verge without digging up a cubic metre of grass and soil, which would soon lead to the whole area looking like the Somme after a particularly bad barrage.  Therefore, it seemed to me, that the passenger could not hope to avoid a rather close encounter of the dog kind, that could have been easily averted!

To crib from Terry Wogan, "Is it me?"

Friday, 17 July 2015

A Decade of Grannys!





It only occurred to me the other day that this year constitutes the tenth year since my granny was let loose on an unsuspecting public!

To clarify, it was back in 2005 that I put together a collection of articles and musings, mostly about growing up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, collectively titled 'Steady Past Your Granny's', which I then published via a Daily Mail offer (see image on left above).  Actually, published might be too strong a word, as I could only afford to have 20 (or it might have been 30, I'm not too clear on this) copies printed at £5 per copy.  Having foisted most of these on my patient and supportive relatives and friends, I then went berserk in 2006 and had a new edition desktop-published and printed (200 + copies) which could be sold in bookshops.  The image on the right (above) shows me at my first and only book signing at Ottakar's in Burton upon Trent (now Waterstone's).  The paperback version is still available and can be ordered through your friendly local book shop (there are some useful links on iAuthor) or through Amazon (follow this link, but you may have to pester them for it)

You can now find the Radio Derby interview that I did just prior to the book signing on You Tube

Having sold most of those, and with my usual speedy decision-making, in 2011 I uploaded the book to Amazon Kindle (Find it here) and Smashwords (here).  Now available (23.07.15) on Google Play Books

I wish I knew then what I know now!  At that time, I was pretty naive about e-books and therefore assumed that my average initial sales of over 40 copies per day, were par for the course.  I wasn't even over-excited when it reached 228 in the overall Amazon UK chart (I would be now).

There's a more in-depth account of my self-publishing journey in my blog post 'Booked Up

So, here we are, me and my granny ten years later, and we would both like to thank the more than 6,000 readers who have been kind enough to purchase the book (it's never been free, and never will be).  Thanks also to all of those who have taken the time to leave reviews.  Over the ten years, my granny has been joined by a motley collection of ducks


pantry doors


and bulls


but it's my granny that continues to outsell all of them, and long may that continue.

Thanks to everyone, from me, and my granny :-)

Monday, 8 June 2015

Not quite a gardening column!


My little fluffy white cloud has just achieved a new altitude record!




This is the second (and probably last) of my columns for the Derby Telegraph. Check out the byline and the photo - I feel like a professional (a professional what is, of course, another question)

See the article on the Derby Telegraph website here


Monday, 1 June 2015

Watch out, Nelson, I've got my own column!



Ok, ok, it's only for a couple of weeks (at the most) whilst the Editor's on holiday but, when your all-time heroes are Alan Coren, Keith Waterhouse, Miles Kington and Jeffrey Bernard, then this is the culmination of a long-held ambition.

Low-flying aircraft are warned to take diversionary action as the author is currently sitting on a little cloud with a broad smile on his face :-)

See the article on the Derby Telegraph website here