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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&#...

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.