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New Review

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...

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Things You See...

Delighted to say this new book in the 'nostalgedy' series is now available for pre-order, prior to the publication date of 31st October, 2017 (what other date could you have for something called 'The Things You See...'?)

The Things You See...

Here's the blurb:

Philip’s back with a fifth collection of stories, both ‘nostalgedy’(a mixture of nostalgia and comedy) and other observational pieces in which he takes a wry look at times past and present. 

Every book has to have a theme and the structure for this one came whilst he was idly munching a chocolate bar. You know that one which used to promise to help you work, rest and play? Well, this book consists of Work, Play and the Rest. 

In ‘Work’ Philip joins the ranks of the employed at the beginning of the 1970s, firstly as an inept packer of plastics before moving to ‘a nice dry job with no heavy lifting’ in a dark, satanic paper mill. We learn about his struggles with punctuality, the difficulties of working in the darkness of the 3-Day-Week and why he had a real reason to be grateful for Ted Heath.

‘Play’ brings tales of a boozy holiday in Franco’s Majorca in the 1970s, a fleeting role in a ‘Look at Life’ documentary, Cilla Black, Soap Operas, an insight into the Cultural Quarter of Stoke-on-Trent and some tales from a trip to Australia.

Finally, ‘the Rest’ shovels up everything that wouldn’t fit into the first two, including a tour around a pub in the 1960s, getting a brace fitted at the dentist’s, difficulties with sanitary arrangements, why grass should be left alone, why shopping with your wife is an overrated pastime, a grumble about grammar and why it is absolutely fine to be a NIMBY. All wrapped up with the Title article, which is not for the faint-hearted.

Come and join Philip in his Slightly Odd World, you won’t regret it!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

New Review

Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian!  Carol posted this yesterday for the 'Crutches for Ducks' collection:

It's Great!

"Such a laugh. It reminded me of my own childhood in The Midlands. It will surely put a smile on anyone's face and Philip has a knack for getting it just right. Well done, it's great.

You can find the original review here

Thanks very much, Carol.  Very much appreciated.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Cover Story

What do we think about this for the cover of the next book?

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Man on the No. 5 Bus

This month's Derby Telegraph article.  You can find it on the Derby Telegraph website here, or read on below:

Here's the text:

Last month, I was recounting how I should, by rights, have been a contender for the Olympics, given my regular morning sprint for the bus to take me to work at Harold Wesley Ltd., in Victoria Crescent, Burton.  Mind you, the early morning Park Drive would probably have ruled out giving Messrs. Ovett or Coe any sleepless nights.

Running for the bus, and cursing breathlessly as it pulled away when I was within yards of it, was a constant feature of employment at Wesley's.  This was made all the more bizarre as I now knew a few of the Burton Corporation bus drivers quite well because I had made the Transport Club in Guild Street my local, which was ridiculous really because it was more than 1½ miles from my house.  Still, if the run for the bus didn't keep me fit, the hike to and from the Club should have done.

Back in the days of the old Routemaster buses with the open platform at the rear, the bus driver was a mysterious figure, only visible from the back as he ploughed his lonely route in the separate cab.  In those days, the person you got to know was the bus conductor, who was more than likely to be female.  Some of these were friendly sorts, willing to chat and joke, others were real martinets who delighted in making you wait for your change or gave you a telling off if you tried to jump off the platform as the bus came to a halt.  I believe this combination of male drivers and female conductors sparked a few romances, some of which should probably not have been happening.

When 'One Man Operation' buses came into being, it obviously spelled the gradual demise of the conductors but also made the drivers into customer-facing workers.  Some were fine with this and were very sociable, others should never have been anywhere near the customer and would have been best kept in the separate cab.

Take Courtney for instance (names have been changed throughout to protect the guilty).  Courtney's whole demeanour told you that he really didn't think he should be driving buses for a living, he was made for better things.  He also viewed the rest of the human race as a sort of sub-species who were to be tolerated at best and berated at worst.  He was not above giving passengers a short lecture if they transgressed in any way and I'll never forget the time when he stopped the bus at the zebra crossing at the junction of Derby Road and Borough Road, to give chapter and verse of the Highway Code to some unfortunate who had mistakenly thought that it was one crossing and vehicles should stop for her.  Courtney made it clear that the island in the centre made it two crossings and he was therefore not obliged to stop.  This went on for quite a while and made for an entertaining debate, if you didn't have anywhere particular to be.

The other driver who lives in my memory, and still has me waking up screaming some nights, was known to all and sundry as Mad Maurice.  Maurice was a red-haired Irish man who clearly would have liked to have been driving a sports car but actually didn't have a car at all.   He drove his bus at a furious speed, accelerating and braking with gusto and throwing double-deckers around corners at a rate that made you wonder how the heck they were going to stay upright, which was a particular concern if you were trying to enjoy a quiet smoke upstairs at the time.  Maurice didn't communicate with his passengers in any way at all, other than the occasional low growl and no-one dared to take issue with him, even when he stopped his bus outside his house in Uxbridge Street and disappeared, for quite some time, to go and pick up his sandwiches.  Well, at least that's what I always assumed he was doing.  Of course, to make up the lost time, he drove even faster for the rest of the route.

You had to be a patient and doughty sort to ride the buses in the 1970s.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Late and Seen!

This month's Derby Telegraph article (published on my birthday, too!) is about my inadvertent training for world-class athletics-ish:

Here's the text, if you can't read the photo:

Last month, I was bemoaning the fact that nobody was really sure whether I was a manager or not when I worked at Harold Wesley Ltd., in Burton in the 1970s.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  The senior management of Wesley’s and I were in no doubt as to where I fitted in the pecking order.

I think my mum had aspirations though.  That became clear when I received, unexpectedly one birthday, a very nice quality small suitcase with incorporated document case.  I think she rather thought this was what the aspiring young executive should have.  However, a document case rather implies that you have work to bring home and I barely had enough to do in my normal hours of work, without traipsing any home with me.  I did try to act the part for a while by transporting my lunchtime sandwiches in the suitcase, but it just made it look as if I was constantly leaving home, so I abandoned that idea.

In truth, any hopes of advancement I might have had would have been kippered by my inability to arrive at work on time.  You may recall that I had the same problem at the Plastics Warehouse?  Well, this was exacerbated by Wesley’s being the first job where it wasn’t practicable to walk or cycle to work, I had to catch the bus.

Catching the bus should not have been a problem, and wouldn’t have been to most people.  The best to catch was the No. 5 at the bus stop diagonally opposite from All Saints’ Church on Branston Road.  This left at about 8.10 and would get me comfortably to Dean and Smedley’s on Horninglow Road, around the corner from Wesley’s, just before 8.30 (which is when I was due to start work).  However, for every time when I caught this bus, there were at least a couple of times when I didn’t.

I should have been a world-class athlete as a consequence of running to try and catch the bus.  Never good at getting out of bed in the morning (I’m still not) I would leave my departure from our house in South Broadway St. until the very last moment.  A fast-ish walk down South Broadway St, whilst lighting a cigarette, usually turned to a steady lope along All Saints’ Road which then became a flat-out sprint as I saw the bus go past the church at the top of the road.  Sometimes there would be other passengers waiting at the bus stop and I would have sufficient time to get to the bus before it pulled away.  On other occasions, dependent on the degree of sadistic pleasure on the part of the driver, it would either wait for me to make it to the bus stop and fall aboard gasping for breath or, more frequently, pull away just as I was within a few yards of victory, leaving me doubled up with exhaustion and frustration.

If I missed the No. 5, I was left with the prospect of catching either a No. 12 or a No. 6.  Neither of these would get me to work on time, or anything like it and would also entail getting off in Waterloo Street to then walk, or more likely run, up Victoria Crescent. 

I would then have to try and insinuate myself into the factory in a way that didn’t call attention to my late arrival.  The best option was to make my way up the loading dock, hoping not to bump into anyone, and then, with a piece of paper gripped in my hand, walk determinedly toward my office as if I had just been somewhere to collect some vital statistics.

 I was now sharing an office with Gwen (who sometimes writes for this paper) and, for this ruse to work, I had to hope she wouldn’t call attention to my late arrival.  In her memoir ‘Wednesday’s Child’ she writes, “I’m sure Philip didn’t take kindly to me joining him as he liked being on his own – I suspect he thought I might grass him up when he sneaked in through the back door – late most days”.  Fortunately, she didn’t!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Steak Pie On Wheels

I’ve written quite a lot, just lately, about my doomed attempts to buy a steak pie from a local cafĂ© (see here, here and here).  The continued absence of this comestible, despite it featuring prominently on the Specials Board, seems to me to be redolent of a societal longing for something that used to exist, but no longer does.  Alternatively, it could just mean that they can’t be *rsed to change the Specials Board.

Anyway, it seems to me that this ‘steak pie’ attitude to customer service can be found in lots of other places, for example…

The other day we had to go into Burton upon Trent to collect a second-hand car we had ordered for my wife.  The reasons why we’ve had to buy a replacement vehicle for my wife (by which I don’t mean that I’m having the car instead of her, although…) are sufficient to drive a relatively sane person barmy, so I won’t go into them here, other than to invoke a specific curse on the person who knowingly sold a particularly lethal car to a young family.  May he (and the person who gave it an MOT) rot in an exclusive circle of Hell.

We decided that it would hardly be environmentally friendly to drive into Burton and bring two cars home so, as we unusually had some time on our hands, we opted to take the bus for a change.  I should point out, at this juncture, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, there has only ever been one bus service running through our village and that goes, about once an hour, to Burton.

The only timetable we had was a few years old but we decided it should be a reasonable guide and so we presented ourselves at the nearest bus stop about ten minutes before the appointed time, and an hour and a half before the appointment made to collect the car.  Burton is only a half-hour ride from our village.

Can I say here, I think it is a shame that in order to make bus-shelters more or less vandal-proof, they’ve also made them decidedly uncomfortable?  The same is true on unmanned railway stations, where (in both instances) those tip-up seats allow you to perch precariously, but not sit properly.  Mind you, I suppose it is an advance on the stainless steel hurdle that constituted  bus-stops in my youth, against which you could lean or, if small enough, hang from like a monkey.

The bus arrived bang on time and we boarded.  My wife has a bus pass but I don’t due to my relative youth (yes, I know it’s hard to believe).  She said to the driver, very clearly, “A single to Burton Town Centre, please”  My wife prides herself on her clear diction, whereas I, apparently, mumble.

“You don’t need to do that, now” the Driver replied, “you just have to touch your card against the scanner” So she did.

I followed and said, “Well, I need the same but I have to pay for mine” and he duly charged m £3.10 and issued me with a ticket.  I thought that this was a bit steep but it’s been years since I last caught a bus.

We settled down in our seats and prepared to enjoy the novelty of a bus ride.  Actually, ‘enjoy’ might be rather over-egging the pudding.  It has to be said that if you were hoping for the smooth and relatively silent glide of a coach, you would be somewhat disappointed.  I think you could have had  a more tranquil journey in the revolving section of a cement mixer.

After a while, my wife said “Shouldn’t we have gone through Sudbury?” (our neighbouring village).  “I thought so” I replied with my usual quick wit and ready repartee.  “Perhaps they don’t go there anymore?” She suggested.  I shrugged my shoulders, my conversational capacity exhausted.

Our bus then joined the A50 and continued on its merry, bone-shaking way to Mickleover.  By now we were looking at each other quizzically.  No bus going to Burton would readily divert through Mickleover.  I hauled my ticket out of my pocket and noted, for the first time, that it said ‘Single to Derby’.  It is, perhaps, worth noting that Derby is in exactly the opposite direction to Burton.

Still unwilling to accept the written evidence, and that of our own eyes as we trundled around various Derbyshire villages, my wife asked another passenger where the bus was going, and she confirmed it was for Derby.  As getting off in any of these villages would not guarantee the possibility of a bus back to Burton, we realised that we were trapped until we reached Derby City Centre.

“We’ll get off at the Bus Station and catch another back to Burton” my wife decided.  “Does this go to the Bus Station?” She asked our helpful fellow passenger, as we weaved around the streets of Derby.  “I’m not sure that it does” came the less than helpful reply.

With the Bus Station in sight, we pressed the bell and the bus pulled up.  The conversation with the Driver then went like this:

Wife:  “Do you go to the Bus Station?”

Driver:  “Oh no, we try to avoid it because it gets so busy” (foolish of us to imagine a bus actually using a Bus Station, obviously)

Wife:  “We’ll have to get off here then.  I asked you for a single to Burton, you know?”

Driver (looking at us blankly)  “Oh!”

As it was clear that this conversation was getting us nowhere, other than Derby City Centre, we got off and headed for the Bus Station with all haste.  The haste was, actually, a little redundant as we had just witnessed the express, non-stop bus to Burton gliding serenely past us as we alighted from our previous instrument of torture.  Sure enough, on entering the Bus Station, we learned that the next bus to Burton would depart in twenty minutes and would call at all of the little villages we had just, unwillingly, visited, plus a few more for good measure.

By the time we caught our new bus, it was well past the hour when we should have been collecting the car.  One apologetic phone call to the garage later, and with me nearly £10 lighter in cumulative bus fares, we set off for another scenic tour of the more obscure villages of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, accompanied by the usual crashes, bangs and bone-shaking bounces that are such a fun feature of public road transport.  Quite why they offer free wi-fi is beyond my comprehension, I should think it would be a minor miracle if you ever managed to get your finger anywhere near your touch screen without doing you, or your companion, a serious and possibly deeply embarrassing, injury.

When we finally dragged ourselves into the garage, weary, deafened and shaken to the core, we had been in almost permanent transit for a total of three hours in order to complete what should have been a fifteen mile journey.

So, if you’re wondering why we need a second car when we have such a wonderful public transport service on our doorstep?  Don’t ask, just don’t ask!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Man in the 'Nearly' Suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C:  "So?"

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

C:  "What!!  Why did you do that?"

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

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

W:  "With chips."

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

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

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

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

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

W:  "Do you think that'll work?

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

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Steak Pie Repeateth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter, stage left, a waitress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Out of the mouths of babes...

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

"The Lads" - author is on the left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Because you do forget things, you know?"

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Three Days A Week!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, Ted!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

War in the Warehouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought he would have apoplexy.

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

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Reviewing the Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steady Past Your Granny's

Crutches for Ducks

A Kick at the Pantry Door

Giving a Bull Strawberries

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Barging in to the Cinema!

This month's (April, 2017) Bygones column for the Derby Telegraph concerns the chance find of a 'Look at Life' film from the early 1960s.

If you would like to see Uxbridge Juniors in the early 1960s in glorious technicolour, this link will take you there without the faff of wading through 18 mins or so of preceding documentaries: Look at Life

And this is the article content:

I do love the internet!  Having so much information at our finger tips is astounding.  Sometimes it seems that everything you can think of is there, if you know where to look.  For example…

Out of the blue, I received a message from an old school friend, who now lives in Australia (which, again, is pretty amazing.  Years ago, if you had emigrated to the antipodes, you might as well have died for all communication intents and purposes, now you can have a real-time chat by text!)  Some of you may have heard of Kevin Spiers, a very talented professional musician, well known on the Burton music scene?  Well, Kevin retains an interest in Burton and its heritage and occasionally finds something squirreled away on the internet.  This message was about just such a find and I couldn't have been more amazed.

Regular readers may recall a story from my days at Uxbridge Junior School, around 1964, when our class was taken on a canal trip.  This was pretty exciting in itself, but it was made more so by the presence of a film crew from the 'Look at Life' team.  Do you remember 'Look at Life'?  It was a sort of ten minute documentary review of life in Britain which helped to fill the gap between the B movie and the main feature.  The film crew remained with us all day and shot quite a bit of film of what was a glorious and very interesting event.  Like most of my contemporaries, my previous experience of canals would have been walks along the towpath and futile attempts at fishing, resulting in the watery demise of a few maggots.  On this day, we experienced the joys of canal travel and marvelled at the mechanics of ascending a huge flight of locks.

Some months later, further excitement followed when the whole school was invited to an exclusive showing of the relevant 'Look at Life' episode at the Odeon in Guild Street, which was opened especially for us.  I guess we all expected that our canal trip would dominate the episode, given how long they had spent filming us.  Of course, in reality, nothing could have been further from the truth.  I'm not even sure if I actually saw myself on the big screen, I may well have been retrieving a sweet from the floor at the time.  It was definitely a case of "if you blink, you'll miss it".  I think we were all rather underwhelmed, but it was still something to tell our grandchildren.

I never expected to see this footage again (always assuming that I'd seen it the first time) but Kevin's message revealed that he had found it!  There, once again, we can see Mrs. Strong, our teacher, leading a class out onto our school playground to follow the contours of a chalked map of the Midlands, proudly showing the mighty power stations along the banks of the Trent.  Kevin makes the point that it must have been a Monday, as you can see washing lines full of sheets in the gardens of Oak Street, which backed on to our playground.

Then we cut to the canal trip and there, if you look really closely, you can see, at the front of the picture, me sitting between my two friends David Topliss (by the window, looking disgruntled) and Alan Lewsley (looking bemused)  Directly behind Alan is Mr. Adams, our headmaster (which may explain the bemusement) resplendent in overcoat, jacket and waistcoat.  Then the film moves on to another class (not us) timing objects floating down a river. 

I can't begin to describe the sheer pleasure of finally being able to see this well remembered event again after all of these years.  Mrs. Strong and Mr. Adams of course seemed as old as Methuselah to us at the time, but I can see that they were considerably younger than I am now. 

Were you at Uxbridge Juniors in 1964?  Perhaps you're in the film?  You can find out by visiting Look at Life or go to You Tube and find BBC Britain on Film, Series 2 Episode 2 Children - Look at Life FULL, this particular documentary is at 18:25.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Steak Pie

It was our 27th Wedding Anniversary the other week!  Hmm?  No, I quite agree, you don't get that for murder these days and no, I haven't heard that one before.  What did we do?  Well, I guess what any long-time married couple does.  We spent a considerable amount of the day staring down a manhole in our garden.  Well, actually, staring was the easy bit.  Thrusting a high pressure hose down there, with all of the attendant blow-back, was slightly more problematic.  You see, my good lady wife had convinced herself that there was something seriously wrong with our drainage and, as it turned out, she was absolutely right.  That which should have been flowing away, was, instead, hanging around, which I'm sure you'll agree, no-one wants.

Regrettably, repeated thrusts with the high-pressure hose had no effect, other than to stir up the evil brew and we began to contemplate writing the day off whilst we waited for an expensive specialist to come and sort it out for us.  Just then, we noticed that our next-door neighbour was working in his garden and we asked him to check his manhole to see if all was well there, which unfortunately, it was.  However, he is one of these handy chaps with all of the necessary gear and he asked if we would like him to pop over and give it a go with his set of rods, to which we readily agreed.

A number of rods later, it became depressingly apparent to him that any blockage was not, in fact, in our garden, but in his!  Cue intense foraging which threw up a hitherto unknown manhole cunningly buried under the roots of a bush.  After an intense period with a chainsaw, which meant the demise of said bush, the manhole was revealed and so was the blockage.  Much strenuous thrusting with rods eventually led to a satisfying gurgling sound as days' worth of that which you would rather not have hanging around headed off to pastures new, albeit pastures you wouldn't rush to gather lilacs in.

By now, a good chunk of the day had gone, along with any ideas of having a 'posh lunch' (which had been our original plan, before the sewage got in on the act).  It was too late for a lunch of any quality, so we decided to go with what we were comfortable with and headed for a little cafe in a nearby town.  Now, whenever we go to this cafe, I invariably have the all-day breakfast, which is good and great value.  Today, however, I thought I would show that I was not a slave to convention.  I would eschew the all-day breakfast and try something else, something daring!  I noticed, on the Specials Board, that they had Steak Pie, Chips and Gravy and I decided to plump for this.  "I will have Steak Pie, please" I announced to the young chap taking our order, to the considerably surprise of my wife.  "Ah" He responded "I'm not sure if we have any left, I'll just go and check"  My heart sank.  From experience, whenever a waiter comes out with this phrase, it means 'I know damn well that we haven't got any but I'll pretend to go and check so I can shift the blame onto the invisible denizens of the kitchen'.  Sure enough, after a few minutes, he returned and apologised but there was no Steak Pie to be had.  Predictably, I reverted to the all-day breakfast but somehow felt cheated of my Steak Pie.

When we came to pay the bill a little later, we pointed out to the cashier that the Specials Board still sported the offer of Steak Pie, despite the absence of same, and we had heard a number of other putative diners enquiring about the Pie with similar results.  Surely, we suggested, it would be prudent to remove the offending item from the Board?  This caused a look of consternation on her part.  Clearly, she had every hope that there might, indeed, be Steak Pie tomorrow, so would such a radical step as removing it from the Specials Board now, really be warranted?  We paid our bill and left, but musing on it later (because I really don't have anything better to do with my time) it occurred to me that this was a motif for our time.

You see, it seems to me that there's a huge longing in the world for something that, not only isn't there, but probably never was.  A sort of global Steak Pie.  This longing is for a golden past, in which everything was just dandy and which has been ruined by all of this pesky modernity and stuff.  If we could only go back to (pick an era of choice, could be 1950s America or 14th Century Persia, or any other time and geographic location) then everything would be great, again.  Or not.  The Steak Pie might still be there, as a forlorn hope, on the Specials Board of life but, like it or not, we've got the All-Day Breakfast and we need to make the most of it.

You can find a lot more tripe of this calibre in the four books of the 'nostalgedy' series (see right hand column for details and previews)

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Automatically, Sunshine?

February's column never made it to their website (it can be a bit sporadic) so here it is in its scanned glory.  I've put the full text below as well.

There's been a lot in the papers recently about the rise of the robots in the workplace and how these might displace jobs in the future.  Yet, as I recall, from the predictions on things like 'Tomorrow's World', we should all be sunning ourselves on the beach by now whilst the machines do all the work.  It seems to me that most of the things that are supposed to result in fewer people and more leisure time (remember the 'paperless office'?) actually seem to achieve the reverse, but I suppose only time will tell.  However, I do think there are some jobs that really don't make the best use of the people employed to do them, and there was no better illustration of this than in Harold Wesley Ltd., in the 1970s.

You see, Wesley's was notoriously tight-fisted when it came to capital investment.  Most of their machinery must have pre-dated the last unpleasantness in 1939-1945, with just a few exceptions to the rule, such as the second-hand printing press I mentioned last month.  Old machinery tended to come from an era when people were cheap and machines were expensive, so fiddly labour-saving extras were few and far between.

For example, if we walk along the corridor from the Printing Dept., where we were last month, we come to a room where the wrapping paper is converted from rolls into sheets.  There are three chaps here who are the mainstay of the department, Frank, Albert (who is in charge) and one other whose name escapes me.  All three must be nearing retirement age and seem to have been at Wesley's man and boy.  Their role here is to diligently count the sheets coming off the machine and place a cardboard tab in the pile for every 480 sheets (this being the quantity of a ream, in those pre-metric days).  I'm sure there was more to it, but that activity seemed to sum up the bulk of their work.  I know it must have paid the bills but can you imagine how boring it must have been?  There really ought to be a better use of people than that!

Mind you, Frank and Albert's work would have seemed positively enriching compared to what Greta had to put up with, downstairs.  From time to time, an ancient piece of machinery, which folded wrapping paper into neat squares, was dusted off and put to use.  This machine worked perfectly well, but it had one vital element missing.  It had no means of feeding the sheets into the machine, automatically.  Greta seemed to be either the only one who knew how the machine worked, or was possibly the only one who was prepared to use it.  Her role was to push each sheet into the machine, with her forefinger, time after time.  The constant procession of a brightly coloured design making its way across her line of sight, along with the mind-crushing boredom, had a tendency to send her into something of a trance allegedly.  I think it would have sent me into a padded room.

Managers  have a tendency not to understand that workplaces are as much a social hub as a place of business, and that you mess around with that at your peril.  You may recall the Crepe Paper Dept., where the girls wound the crepe onto a drum of a certain diameter, then cut across the swatch to give them a pile of sheets which they folded by means of something akin to a fast spinning wooden rolling pin?  Waiting for your turn to wind your particular colour paper was a chance for the girls to have a natter and a break from monotonously folding sheet after sheet.  At least, it was until Wesley's employed a Work Study Engineer (I was his assistant, I seem to have specialised in finding unpopular jobs for myself over the years) who redesigned the process so that one girl did all of the winding for the entire department, ensuring the others were not distracted from their task of folding the sheets.  I'm sure it was more efficient, but I'll bet it wasn't anywhere near as interesting, and that would be saying something!

You can find Philip's most recent collection of stories, 'Crutches for Ducks' at