Thursday 27 November 2008

The Wonder of Woolies

I was shocked to hear of the demise of F W Woolworth's. I cannot imagine this country without them. It really brings home the state the world is in. But that isn't the reason I feel so sad, Woolworths paid an important part in my formative years. I worked for them for two years as a trainee, another word for dogsbody from 1957 to 1959. I was a naive village boy when I joined them. Two years later I was still a boy but one with far more idea of the real world, warts and all. I have written at some length concerning my earlier life for a future project. The following might interest someone in view of Woolworths administration. I trust its not a case of' 'Woolworths, my part in their downfall.'
Happy Days
All trainees at Woolworth’s started in the stockrooms and clawed their way to the top, a company policy based on the survival of the fittest. The work was hard but I approached it with the enthusiasm of youth.
Work at F W Woolworth’s was at times tiring, but perversely interesting. Marks and Spencer’s and Woolworth’s dominated British high streets for many decades, but in their own special ways. Mark’s was always thought to be that little bit special, appealing to those discerning customers who chose the best, be it food or clothes. Their staff and customers reflected this truism. F W Woolworth’s had no delusions of grandeur. Thus began my real education in life.
The majority of the staff was female, mainly working class individuals, often of limited education but mirroring the cliché ‘salt of the earth’. Their language was often coarsely sexual and my village ignorance and innocence were rapidly destroyed. The previous nights shenanigans were a favourite topic of conversation to brighten many a dull morning. ‘E ‘ad me on the kitchen table last night” one would gleefully relate, “An’ ‘e ‘adn’t even ‘ad ‘is tea!” Coupled with the fact that some wore little or nothing under their overalls in the hot stuffy stockrooms, and made no secret of such eccentricities meant I often saw work as place of boyish entertainment rather than a boring chore.
Added bonuses were the Saturday girls, schoolgirls employed to boost staff numbers on the busiest day of the week. All shapes and sizes, to be ordered about by the worldlier, or so we thought, full time young males eager to make an impression and hopefully a conquest. Some impressed by ownership of a motorbike, to be taken out on Sundays for walks up the fields and hopefully more.
The staff were diverse, the customers different. Consequently no two days were ever the same. Dishonesty was rife, especially amongst casual staff, something that challenged my strict chapel upbringing. Some fellow workers would shop, no payment offered for their food requirements before leaving the premises, risking discovery and instant dismissal. Others would place a shirt of their fancy beneath everyday clothes and brazenly leave the building with a cheery, “Goodnight everyone.” I remember well a till girl’s shoe coming off as she ran up the stairs. The cascade of coins tumbling down the stairs was embarrassing yet secretly amusing.
If some of the staff were dishonest, customers easily matched their guileful behaviour. Summer meant holidays and displays of summer items, including suitcases for those trips abroad in vogue in the late fifties. Twelve suitcases would be on display at the beginning, to shrink to nine or ten at the end; a large item to steal, especially in full public view. Not so difficult it would seem, as we eventually discovered. First obtain airline travel labels or similar. Stick or tie them on to the suitcase of your choice and, ‘Hey Presto’, holiday suitcase requirements solved.
The ingenuity of customers knew no bounds. Woolworth jewellery left much to be desired, yet to some its glitter beckoned. An old lady’s visits to the jewellery counter often coincided with items missing after her departure. It was obvious she was responsible but her modus operandi was almost to be admired. She always bought one item on her visits and placed her handbag on the counter whilst she paid. The clever part was the zip sewed into the base of her bag. The bag was conveniently placed on the items of her choice, and surreptitiously pulled into her bag on pretext of producing her purse. One item paid for and one for free, clever in the extreme. Amazing lengths to go to when one considers the small value of even Woolworth’s best jewellery.
Neither could the Woolworth’s clientele be accused of being boring, never mind normal. Seemingly every down and out in Derby frequented the Tea Bar, a motley collection of sad individuals whose highlight of the day was a tepid cup of tea and a bacon cob. Though the old man who at one stage wandered the shop floor had other than food on his mind. Wandering close, too close to any woman innocent of his intentions, his feet would be almost under the woman customer of his choice. Strange and perverse but deliberate all the same. For fixed to the top of his shoe was a piece of mirror, its purpose sinisterly simple. It was an aid the old pervert used to look up women’s skirts, which resulted in his non-too gentle ejection from the store, Woolworth’s loss and probably Mark’s and Spencer’s gain. Though we trainees could not appear to be too ‘holier than thou.’ Certain areas of the ground floor directly above the basement stockroom consisted of glass squares to increase the light below. Not all of the squares were intact or complete. Which unfortunately meant that the view from the stockroom included the underwear at best of any female unfortunate to pass over the area. A fact known to every stockroom worker, indeed, probably every male in the store. ‘Viewing the floorshow’ an unsavoury pastime that nevertheless amused the younger trainees, all of whom were male in those politically incorrect times.
We were supposed to be management trainees in one of the biggest retail companies in the country but our tasks and antics suggested otherwise.
Waste paper and cardboard was placed in a baling machine and removed at intervals. Only no one told me about the periodic emptying. And we certainly did not have baling machines at grammar school. (I honestly thought the paper etc was going into a furnace or similar I knew not where) The eventually extraction of the largest, heaviest bale in the history of waste baling after almost dismantling the machine said much for the capabilities of British engineering. Though I did think at the time the noise the machine was making plus the smoke as it strived to cope was somewhat perplexing and not a little alarming.
Promotion could be rapid as the turnover of staff was frequent.. I found myself at one stage, aged seventeen and a bit in charge of every plant and bush that entered the premises. The fact I had never even been previously in charge of a window box, no matter. My watering of hundreds of bedding plants with a powerful hosepipe resulting in a yard full of soil less plants.

A Day in the Life of a Nobody

Idly wandering the internet, for no apparent reason I fed into Google 'A Day in the life of''. You have one or two choices, 74,000,000 to be precise! As I couldn't think of anything else on which to blog I thought, as a one off only, I'd make it 74,000,001.
Got out of bed, as usual reluctantly, just before eight o'clock, an early start for me. Found the bottle and gave a urine sample. Too much information, I know, I know, but a diabetic check was due. Even grumpier than usual, hungry due to the obligatory fast, I watched my wife having tea and toast. Cruelty comes in many forms.
Wandered up to the doctors surgery, obtained a ticket, number forty three and waited my turn. Question, if I was number forty three, I got there at one minute past nine and the clinic opens at nine, how come I was number forty three on the list. I'm new to this surgery and there's obviously something I don't know. Eventually called in and gave a right armful of blood. Tony Hancock would have been proud. The nurse reckons it was nothing, I don't call three bottles full, however small, nothing!
Travelled to a local garden centre, now in liquidation to collect my purchases from their internet sale on Monday morning. (The modern way, years ago you would have attended a proper sale and bid along with dozens of other addicted bargain hunters.) Not so much of a bargain, VAT plus other premiums puts over thirty per cent on the purchase price. Collected one pub type, humorous 'no smoking sign' which evidently attracted ten potential bidders and cost me a fortune. No matter, we are easily amused , it will be my most prized possession, at least for a few days. Come on, surely everyone has somethings they especially value.
Collected also my second purchase, four plastic garden tables and one chair, faded, used, price, £2; I could not resist them at that price. Again, hand on heart, have you never bought a bargain on impulse?
Home again, fed and watered, a little less light headed. A young man arrived by arrangement and tested the camera I had put in the previous nights paper. One of the cameras we had unwittingly bought in a previous on line auction. (We don't do these auctions regularly, honest. In fact we have only just discovered them, hence our bungling.) My visitor, a young Muslim obviously knows far more about cameras than I do. He tells me he owns a kebab shop and is only nineteen years of age. Hard working and technically proficient he puts us old 'uns to shame. He buys the camera, I am happy if he is happy.
I spend time on the phone contacting Citizens Advice and a solicitor on behalf of a relation. A son has been involved in a serious accident, the landlords response is to threaten eviction if the rent is withheld for whatever reason. Some people have more than their fair share of trial and tribulation.
We, my wife and I go into my 'pretend' bar and proceed to put my new sign on the wall. I am concerned that my wife might fall off the stepladder, it never looks over safe! She follows my instructions quite well as the place I choose is rather high on the wall. Too high, in fact and I decide to place it elsewhere. My wife says nothing. I reposition my sign in a place that does not necessitate the use of ladders. I admire my handiwork and feel right proud!
I fetch an old school colleague, Kenneth for the afternoon. He is unusual, somewhat eccentric, a lifelong bachelor and ninety two years of age. Ken too has his problems. He lives on his own in a poor neighbourhood. This year he has been targeted three times, almost certainly by children and has windows smashed on each occasion. Locals would like to buy his house and pester him to sell. He tells me one shouts after him in the street, "Please, please, you tell me when you die." In other circumstances it would be funny.
We have a convivial afternoon. We, my wife that is feeds him chocolate biscuits, beans on toast and cups of tea. He tells me the beans on toast remind him of his childhood. He claims he eats well at home but I do wonder, he has no help whatsoever. He bemoans the fact that due to lung problems he can no longer ride his bicycle. I am secretly not sorry as he used to fall off it frequently all of twenty years ago. He tells me he will not go on the roof of his house anymore as his crawling board is not safe and he is unwilling to spend on another. He is, though, he tells me, quite happy to use a ladder where necessary. (I have known him to use carpet squares on his roof instead of slates.) His lifestyle is his choice and he is sadly a dinosaur in a not always nice age; but the least he deserves is respect and safety. I take him home after dark. I do not enter his home; if he wished me to do so he would ask no doubt. He returns to his dimly lit solitude I to a brightly lit home and a loving wife.
Sister in law has rung in the meantime. Roger her husband is holidaying in Thailand. On the television comes the news that the main airport, Bangkok has been taken over by militants. A volatile country at best, Christine is naturally concerned. There is nothing you can do but I confess it goes through my mind that we never get problems holidaying in Skegness!
I spend the rest of the evening enjoying my 'bar' with sixties CD's playing in the background. Enjoy a bottle of Thwaites Lancaster Bomber. 4.4%. Elvis booms out, to my delight. Its the first time in my entire life my home is not physically attached to another. Someone sings 'You don't love me no more.' The teaching bit never goes away and I wince at such ungrammatical sloppiness but for once it doesn't really matter. Enjoy a bottle of Bavaria Holland Beer. 5.o%. I hear 'Sheila said she loves me, said she'd never leave me.' Didn't catch who was singing but does it matter. (any answers, 1960's music.) Enjoy an 'Extra Cold Carling' 4.1%. Note the warning on the tin 'UK Chief Medical Officers recommend men do not regularly exceed 3-4 units daily.' Sorry, chaps, but it's been a long day!
And eventually, reluctantly to bed. This blog was not meant to be educational but I've learnt something. The old TGA has not finished me off quite yet; I like my life and who needs to go to work when you don't have to.

Monday 24 November 2008

Rip Van Stevens has spoken.

I decided when I first came into the blogging world to generally avoid being overtly topical. So many seem to do it, invariably better than me. I have realised in my short blogging career that it is difficult to find something to blog about unless you do 'topical' hence one reason why twice a week seems to suit me. Another point has arisen that suggests I'm an an out of touch old fart. One reason that I'm not a really topical blogger is that I haven't a clue when it comes to topicality. What's more, I don't even care.
John Sergeant, evidently 'the dancing pig' has been in the news all week. I know of him of course but I cringe at the ignorance and sheer insensitivity of those who have nicknamed such an apparently likable man with such a derisory nickname. But I personally have never seen him dance, nor the programme on which he appeared. Not even once, never, ever. (Which seems to put me in a minority, again I don't really care.) Don't fancy it, the only ballroom dancers I ever met seemed narcissistic, preening individuals devoid of anything outside of their glittery, boring sequined existences.
Now it might be me, but it got me thinking as to how I fit in, so to speak. Am I, for instance, the only person who has never seen a Big Brother programme, ever. These celebrity people in a jungle, am I the only person never to have seen a single second of such unadulterated tripe. (Is it a real jungle, I do not know, honest.) I confess I have to be careful here. I was told off strongly by my daughter for suggesting such programmes are for boring individuals of limited intellect leading humdrum lives. She has a point of course, she is an avid fan of some of the puerile programmes imaginable. (oops!) She is also a respected teacher and by no means of limited intelligence. (She takes after her mother of course and not her father!)
The obvious answer to my dismissive rejection of much of the most popular people and programmes in the world is, 'How do you know if you've never watched? But I've never watched Jonathan Ross perform, if perform is the right word. But do I really have to watch such a self satisfied, smirking, obnoxious individual to see what ought to be obvious. (His lack of respect for Andrew Sachs was on a par with the irreverence afforded John Sergeant.) Is it not startlingly apparent that without his doting followers he, Ross is nothing, just another millionaire cretin living off my licence fee.
Don't get me wrong. I would not wish for a form of censorship delivered by myself and my ilk. I just wonder if I am any the worse for having missed some of the nation's most popular viewing. I've no doubt the X Factor is compelling viewing only please don't make it compulsory. Having never seen a single episode of 'Sex in the City' is no doubt my loss. (I did watch The Sopranos, every single episode and found it riveting.) There must be many more programmes I missed over the years. I could look them up but to do so would be a form of cheating and my generation doesn't cheat. But if Tom Cruise walked in here as I type I would honestly not know who he was. Britney Spears, I know of her but I'm not sure why.
And there you have it. Another boring Monday morning. Rant over, you should know by now, they don't call me Grumpy Old Ken for nothing!

Saturday 22 November 2008

Colloarders of the World, Unite

I don't throw much away, hence the length of time it's taking to sort out our possessions lovingly carted from our previous abode. I don't know whether you'd call me a genuine collector or merely a hoarder, hence I think I'll settle for 'colloarder'. This week its the turn of my mug collection to be examined, some displayed and some returned to the loft for another twenty years! (I've just done a complete reverse turn and had a loft ladder fitted, having sworn blind eight weeks ago I was filling no more lofts in my ever decreasing lifetime.)
I was given a pewter mug as a leaving present many years ago; I can't even remember the occasion. But it kindled an interest that means I now own many, many assorted mugs and jugs, heaven forbid, made of pot, pewter, EPNS, leather, wood or copper. (I would have many more but my DIY skills are both infamous and legendary. Hence shelves fall with regular monotony, taking their contents to a noisy, earsplitting end.)
Many of these prizes were bought at car boots, value, not much but some having a sentimental value beyond mere monetary considerations. Thus you remember a large car boot at Ripon Racecourse on a hot day and the bitterly cold wind at a similar, much smaller event at Beadnell.. An indoor cattle market at Hexham; a market stall in Nuneaton, a craft fair in Bakewell and so on ad infinitum. From twenty pence to twenty pounds, treasures carted home and lovingly displayed. Often an education in themselves if only you take the time to examine them closely.
Commemorative offerings are commonplace but always of interest. 'Burton Albion, FA Challenge Finalists at Wembley, May 9th, 1987.' a pot reminder of coming second; who was it whose song included the words, 'nearly there'.
A large pewter mug with the inscription 'T G Grawstorne, 2nd in the Junior Steeplechase, Eton, 1895. One hell of a prize, I wonder what you got for coming first!
Mugs commemorating the Silver Jubilee of the Derbyshire Fire Service in 1973 and the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. (Plus sad reminders of Charles and Diana's wedding, 29th July, 1981.)
I'm not surprised I have a mug issued by 'The Beer Swillers Union', less sure why a mug with the inscription 'Temperance Union' is in my possession.'
Some jugs and mugs bring back memories of companies lost but not forgotten: Bass, Flowers, 'E', Ind Coope, Stones. Plus items made by firms whose products have stood the test of time. Elaborate Irish Wade, made for display only and plain but far more functional Pearson Pottery stoneware; Gibsons and Arthur Wood. Empire Porcelain and Lord Nelson Pottery. Pewter made by James Yates and Gaskill and Chambers, plus much to my surprise, two ancient mug with the simple inscription 'Made in China'. So what's new. Super mugs, though you would be ill advised to drink from them. The pewter has a high percentage of lead and the bases are one hundred per cent lead. What was the life span of the average Chinese person a hundred years ago!
Many Edwardian mugs commemorate our British heritage. Pictures of famous hostelries adorn many a mug; The Old Coach House, Stratford and The Great White Horse, Ipswich are two in point. Scenes from Charles Dickens are frequently shown, 'Master Bates Explains a Point' for example.
In the main Edwardians were fairly serious as to what they chose to display on their sideboards. Some mugs are humorous but lighthearted and very inoffensive. I am unsure as to the exact date of the mugs that depict 'The Motorists Prayer' and 'The Gamblers Prayer' are likely to be later. A mug very reminiscent of saucy seaside postcards depicts a working class couple outside the Law Courts looking embarrassed by the sign pointing to 'Queen Anne's Chamber'. Very risque but not as rude as the mug showing a young lady with a movable chest with the inscription 'Let Them Swing'. Perhaps funny, perhaps not but quality wise not in the same league as earlier examples I have on display. Which suggests that sadly quality is often though not always a thing of the past.
Then there are the puzzling items that test your research skills. For instance, the pewter mug with the inscription, EGW 1918-1939. To what does it refer? Ancient copper mugs with the stamped 'The Wheatsheaf'. Which Wheatsheaf, there must be thousands. The mug with the flag and the name 'Orsova' is obviously concerning a ship, but why, were they given away or bought as souvenirs. And the mug inscribed 'The Viner Cup, 1966, who why and where I wonder. Plus what happened to poor old Bill. I have his pint pot inscribed simply 'To Bill from the Lads.'
We all have our foibles, I'll bet I'm not the only hoarder come collector in the blogging community. What do you collect, in fact what's your 'bestest', favourite possession?

Friday 21 November 2008

Nostalgia Ain't What it Used to Be

Never stopped 'faffin' about this week but getting there I feel. Our move to our present address in July is, I hope our last without the aid of a pine box. Still unpacking and frequently stopping as items that have never seen the light of day for years come to light; more later. Time wasting maybe but far more interesting than digesting dull depressing daily diatribes, both written and spoken concerning the world's ominous traumas, over which I have often little real interest and certainly no control.
I remember few worries as a child. Instead life was a ball, so to speak, one long pleasure from dawn to dusk. Talking of balls, I had a bloody great leather football, purloined I believe by a streetwise relation from the town football team. ( The balls at the Baseball Ground often landed in the streets behind the ground; they were not always returned.) It meant I was thus ensured of a game on the local field, often with the older boys, no mean feat for a left footed, mediocre midget. Mind you, I don't remember getting too many kicks. What was it the British used to say, "It's the taking part that counts." What a load of old rubbish!
In winter it really seemed to snow for months on end, and we seemed to go sledging nightly. Often returning home wet through from finishing in the brook, crying with pain and the inevitable chilblains. The next night repeating the process, again and again and again.
Long hot summer days spent up the fields, digging for pignuts, chewing vinegar leaves, fishing for bullyheads and learning to smoke. Our first attempts dried walnut leaved smoked in a pipe made from a straw and an acorn cup. We progressed on to the pith of elderberry bushes, one hell of a smoke; occasional flames would literally scorch your tonsils. And finally the ultimate smoke, dog ends collected from the streets and smoked in pipes purloined from home or bought at local jumble sales. Today's kids, eat your heart out. Come to think of it, how did most of us reach adulthood reasonably intact.
On of my favourite lessons as a teacher involved Rupert Brooke's poem 'The Great Lover'. I used to read it to pupils and then we'd encourage each other to list, initially the greatest joys in their often humdrum lives and then hopefully to transfer their memories into a more poetic form. Many of the kids I taught had limited experiences and some lived soulless existences. But I never ceased to be amazed at the enthusiasm for life they showed when pushed. I am even moved when I think about it even after all these years.

An extract from The Great Lover by Rupert Brooke

These I have loved:

White plates and cups, clean-gleaming, Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust; Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food; Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood; And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers; And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours, Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon; Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen Unpassioned beauty of a great machine; The benison of hot water; furs to touch; The good smell of old clothes; and other such -- The comfortable smell of friendly fingers, Hair's fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers About dead leaves and last year's ferns. . . .

We may not have the skill and sensitivity of the great man himself but we all have our memories from childhood. I have never forgotten the best, most sought after delicacy in the world, namely condensed milk sandwiches. And who could forget Little Miss Muffet Junkets; where on earth did they go. But enough of my choices, what are your favourite childhood memories?

Saturday 15 November 2008

Good old Bob and Dean

I wrote some of this post for Motorhome Monthly a while ago. On cold and miserable autuminal days such as today I reread it and, hey presto, I am transported back in time.

Memories are made of This

Those of us who can only be described of as ‘of mature years’ will undoubtedly remember a song recorded, by amongst others, Dean Martin in 1956. Called ‘Memories are Made of This’ it began with the lines
Sweet, sweet memories you gave-a me
You can’t beat the memories you gave-a me
Admittedly now considered rather twee, a remnant of a perhaps more gentle, innocent era, it nevertheless prompted me, mere months after purchase, to recall some of the delights our present motorhome has provided to date. Ordinary, unexceptional occurrences, yet experiences that bring a smile to lighten dark nights.
I suppose literally the first memory was the sight of a gleaming motorhome on a bright summer’s day, and the realisation that we were, at last the proud owners. Incidentally, it is the first new mode of transport I have ever purchased in nearly fifty years of driving, but well worth the wait. Plus the smell of a new vehicle is unique, an indescribable almost sensual heady mix that, bottled, would I’m sure rival Chanel, Dior or Nina Ricci for sales. (Raleigh bikes smelling of chain oil had the same effect when I was fifteen.) And finally my wife’s Cheshire Cat smile as she re-examined the washroom for the umpteenth time, surely the actions of a deprived child. Definitely a Royal Flush, if you like! All this and we hadn’t even left the dealers!
That first night, trying to comprehend the direction of the toilet in the early hours. (I’ve never used silver screens overnight before and found the blackness created by their presence disorienting in the extreme.) And the joy of lying in bed that first time, like children Christmas morning, excited beyond belief, the dawn, at least for us, of a new era.
Single nights, week-ends, weeks and longer, each and every occasion experiences, if not always to savour, at least to remember.
Excitement in Lancashire, tempered with not a little trepidation when, arriving back home, so to speak near Blackpool front we found our motorhome surrounded by numerous policeman. Evidently the result of an earlier ‘incident’ that we were relieved to discover, had nothing to do with us. Plus going to sleep only minutes later, the sound of clanking trams surprisingly soporific. Norfolk, unhurried and in the main unchanged. Walsingham, a meaningful haven for all, irrespective of creed or belief. A place of pilgrimage for centuries in an often disorderly world. To tread where pilgrims have trod for almost a thousand years, an awesome thought that surely cannot fail to impress. Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, one of the best days out for under ten pounds I have ever experienced. Workhouse incarceration an austere, uncompromising existence, a sombre reminder of the cruelty of the not too distant past. Plus time spent in the company of a delightful individual who had exchanged the turmoil of modern day South Africa for the simple pleasures associated with hardware shop keeping in sleepy Mundersley.
The looks of astonished amazement from the gathered fishermen as we arrived in the tiniest of coves in Clovelly, Devon having misread the signs on approach. (The wife’s fault, of cause, as of always!) Extraditing ourselves with great difficulty and I maintain not a little skill. The fact that we should not have been there in the first place surely of no consequence!
An enchanting evening spent at the public house in The Lake District where we honeymooned all those years ago. (thirty seven years ago to be precise.) Overnight spent in the van on the road outside the pub. (The Mason’s Arms, Strawberry Bank near Windemere.) Who says romance is dead!
Hadrian’s Wall, County Durham where history and mystery combine. Well worth the visit, though much of the wall has since been spirited away by the enterprising hordes the Romans were so keen to repel. The sheer scale of the enterprise is mind bending. Originally over seventy miles long, mainly completed in ten years, I found the statistics too complex to take in, finding a fact from fiction more intriguing. A replica wall one kilometre in length was built in County Clare, Ireland for the film King Arthur. It took three hundred construction workers four months to build. (The largest movie set ever built in Ireland.) Remember, this replica was only one kilometre long!
Glorious sunsets at Blackpool, Fleetwood and Crackington Cove plus equally
splendid rainbows in the Yorkshire Dales. Surely the cheapest beer in the country in a pub near York, courtesy of Sam Smith, and some of the dearest campsites nationwide in the Lakes. The memories are endless.
High winds near Castleton, enough to rock the van, an eerie overnight stay both haunting and daunting. Non-stop rain at Eden Camp, near Maltby, the visit a fascinating reminder of the trials and tribulations of Britain at war.
Regular sojourns at Derby County Football Club home games. After the match we sit munching bacon butties or beef burgers, mug of steaming tea to hand and watch gridlocked supporters impatiently fume, blood pressures rising, their frustration perversely making our meal all the more enjoyable. Local radio echoing to the howls and growls of those stuck fast.
Fed and watered, nerves intact, we leave when the last car has disappeared over the railway bridge, forty-five minutes after the final whistle. (We arrive home fifteen minutes later than had we left immediately after the match ended.) A ritual repeated at fortnightly intervals.
The Christmas Market weekend at Lincoln early in December. The lights, the street entertainment, the market itself and the crowds. An enchanting countdown to Christmas attracting 160,000 visitors over four days: tiring but well worth the effort.
Plus the magic of Christmas itself. Parked outside the grandchildren’s house Christmas Eve so as to be ‘in situ’, so to speak when presents are opened Christmas morning.
Dressing up as Father Christmas, right down to full-length beard. Elaborate preparations including a scattering of ‘Reindeer Dust’ and walking up the street complete with sack. “Who’s this coming up the road?” Angelina aged five is asked by mother.
“Father Christmas” she replies on cue, eyes wide with amazement. “Who is it?” is enquired of brother Tommy, not yet three. “Santa Granddad” is the instant dismissive reply. Out of the mouth of babes and all that! ( I have been asked to be Father Christmas at the junior school where my daughter teaches. Only Tommy and Angelina now attend that school so I've no chance. I wonder if I'll get away as being 'Santa's brother.)
The illustrious Bob Hope adopted as his theme tune ‘Thanks for the Memory’ (Written in 1937 by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin.) Included are the lines
Many’s the time that we feasted
And many’s the time that we fasted.
Oh well, it was swell while it lasted.
I don’t remember the fasting, Mr Hope, but it was certainly swell. If 2009 compares I for one won’t be disappointed. Memorable experiences to take into extreme old age, though not yet! Expensive cruises, who needs them!
Afterthoughts. 2008 became, out of the blue, the year of the 'great move'. Thus our travels were in the main 'on hold.' Roll on 2009!

What's it All About, Alfie, cont...

Memory or lack of it is disturbing and often mentioned by bloggers. Many bloggers are 'long in the tooth' and somewhat frightened of 'losing it'. I am certainly no exception to the rule. Plus the condition seems to go back to childhood. Why on earth did I go into Derby on my bike, for instance, and come home on the bus. (The bike was still there when I recovered it a couple of days later, propped up against the kerb by a pedal, nonchalantly, if bikes do nonchalance, waiting to be recovered.) Plus recovering football boots left on Barton buses was a regular occurence during my less than exceptional school career. But why do our memory lapses so often seem selective rather than a permanent reminder that our brains are declining at a rapid rate of brain cells per day.
I can remember my first motor cycle, a 197cc Francis-Barnett. I can even remember the number plate, TNU 137. The year, either 1957 or 58. Similarly fond memories of my beloved Mini Cooper S, number GDT 703C, bought around 1967. My Vespa Scooter, minivan, Moscavich, A35, even the motorhome I parted with only early this year, nothing. My guess is that we have more fond memories in some circumstances than in others. In other words we remember what we judged as important. Our daily routines are almost set on 'automatic pilot', we merely go through the motions. Yet number plates are obscure, abstract details of of no importance whatsoever. How strange that such minutia can stay seemingly forever in the mind. What do you remember in life that will always stay with you?
I honestly believe that everything we ever experience is stored in the mind forever. The human brain is far superior to any computer. Extracting it is a different problem. I have been involved for a long time in cataloging my life as a child growing up after the war. Some of it I have recorded in great detail. In at the deep end of the old tin bath aged five; learning to smoke at the age of eleven. Sexual exploration aged fifteen. All minutely catalogued. Yet what did I have for breakfast yesterday? If my theory is right even that will be forever recorded. I assume the mind is unfillable, so to speak. (Would the religious amongst us explain what happens to all these memories when we are dead and gone.)
What a serious, perplexing blog for a Saturday morning in November. Far too complex for football day. Another match beckons, Derby County versus Sheffield Wednesday. I must have seen hundreds of matches since first being taken as a child around 1948. Saw the Preston North End goalkeeper named Gooch slip on his backside trying to save a shot from Norman Neilson in the 1950's. Whoops, here we go again!

Tuesday 11 November 2008

In Headaches and in Worry.

In the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations there is only one mention of stress.
'Sturm and Drang.'
Storm and Stress, suggested as a better title for Christopher Kaufmann's play published in 1777. There is also only one reference to worry.
'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away.'
From 'As I Walked Out One Evening.' by W H Auden. 1907-1973.
Presumably stress is a modern phenomenon, previously simply known as worry, often self inflicted. Yet is it any surprise when one considers our lifestyle.
I changed doctors recently. The parking is abysmal, not helped by my choice of vehicle being a twenty foot plus motorhome.The waiting room is full of badly behaved children, clueless parents and wheezing adults who periodically pop outside for a cigarette, the adults that is. Though a couple of snivelling teenagers look and sound as if they are on something stronger than tobacco. I see the nurse, only she's not a nurse but some sort of health assistant. She takes my blood pressure, non too gently; not surprisingly it is sky high. I have to make an appointment to see a nurse; that is, a proper nurse. My tablets are running out and I also have to see the doctor before he will issue a repeat prescription. Not on the same day as I see the nurse, that would be too simple.
I see an advertisement in the newspaper for digital cameras. I never learn. Yesterday we trek to Long Eaton, via sat nav, in itself stressful, find the place and view in a freezing cold warehouse.
I take my wife for a relaxing evening at her oil painting class. Only there were road works and diversions last week but not this so I get lost again; that makes three out of four.
This morning is spent by and on the internet. The payment details sorted with great difficulty, my wife bids for a camera from a list of hundreds, in competition with other bidders. Note my wife bids, I honestly wouldn't have a clue and the stress of the situation has already got to us both. (My wife also suffers from high blood pressure.) Last minute bidders, professionals at this game confuse us. Not helped by the order of the cameras changing, a fact not noticed by us. The result, we are now apparently the proud owners of not one but three new cameras. E Bay here we come. Plus it's only Tuesday; roll on the weekend. They don't call me Grumpy Old Ken for nothing.

Sunday 9 November 2008

The Numbers Game

I have been waiting to do this post for the past seventeen years, I know, I know that's way before blogging came about. I did think of doing it a couple of days ago but decided I did not wish to push my luck, so to speak. Let me tell you about it.
Eighteen years ago I suffered a TGA. (see blog dated 18th May.) Earlier this year I had another. After diagnosis, looking on the internet as you do, I read that you can suffer a second attack as long as eighteen years after the first. (How ironic the blog concerning the attack is dated the 18th May.) If I don't suffer another attack for the next eighteen years I shall be well pleased. Another eighteen years will do, I suppose, mustn't be greedy.
Now I'm not one for number patterns or coincidences but they take some avoiding. I left school at the age of seventeen. For the next few years I did a mixture of jobs, married, had two children and generally enjoyed life. Before I knew it, another seventeen years had passed.
At the age of thirty four I entered the noble profession of teaching. I enjoyed it, stayed in one school, and time passed by. At the age of fifty one, yes, another seventeen years, I decided to do other things. Early retirement was offered so I took it, a little apprehensively.
The years have passed and it dawned on me that the old seventeen syndrome would take me only to sixty eight. In the early days I took it non too seriously but as the years rolled by it became a less than funny feeling. Not helped by the health scares most of us suffer in our later years, and, without moaning, I have had my share of threatening situations.
What do you do in such circumstances. Confide in others. Of course not, that would only worry others and your fears are both irrational and illogical. How mortal and frail we all are when push comes to shove. So I've got on with life and tried not to look over my shoulder too often. Especially this week; especially last night. I confess, I was pleased to see midnight and you know why. You've guessed and guessed right. Today is my sixty ninth birthday and I'm a might bit relieved. By the way, I shall be eighty five in seventeen years time. In 2025 I believe!

Friday 7 November 2008

Nobody Told Me.

Old Grumpy said I could do a guest blog but I'm not best pleased. Evidently America has got a new president and nobody told me. I'm told he's a good bloke but why all the secrecy for goodness sake, I've only just found out by chance. No discussion beforehand, nothing in the papers, no television coverage; publicity of the event, zilch. How are we to know of such events if no-one ever mentions such things. I feel very put out. Don't ever do it again, I need to know these things.
Yours in ignorance Rosamond, also known as Briary Rose.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Sir, do you like teaching, Sir?'

In 1974 I left Kesteven College of Education. Enthusiastic and, fortuitously naive I then served a seventeen year sentence as an English teacher at Noel Baker Comprehensive School. Had I committed murder and served a life sentence in Leicester Prison I would, after release for good behaviour have served at most a mere thirteen years. By coincidence a pupil I taught at the school did in fact serve time for murder, in Leicester I believe, and was in fact released after a sentence considerably shorter than mine. I bet there's not that much difference in the pensions either.
I am reminded of all this when I come across, in my garage a box of home made lessons in a small wooden box. They consist of well over a hundred six inch square clear plastic envelopes, each one containing a subject, questions, project suggestions, and newspaper and magazine cutouts. By today's standards amateurish in the extreme, I study each and everyone, marvelling at my dedication in producing such works of art. Hours and hours spent, each one lovingly crafted, often until the early hours. Is it any wonder both my children were conceived whilst I was a carefree student at Kesteven College; the chance of an additional brother or sister never remotely probable or possible.
The subject matter of the cards gives food for thought. 'When under Sixteens get Smokers Cough.' 'No fun Amongst the Fat of the Land.' 'Boy Who quit School to join the Legion.' 'Slow readers Degree of Success.' Obesity, Smoking, School phobics, Dyslexia, still problems today; seemingly nothing changes. Perhaps I was ahead of my time, a visionary even! In which case why did I never make headmaster! I was more likely to be found driving the minibus than driving the nation.
Home made cards, part suited to an era long since gone. One card entitled 'Me Big Chief of Paddington Green' deals with the I-Spy books of Arnold Cawthrow so beloved by children of the fifties and sixties. What would modern schoolchildren brought up on a diet of video nasties and MP3 players make of it all.
I did try to keep up with the times, honest! One card was entitled, 'A New Kind of Time on Your Hands.' Question, 'Explain the difference between LED and LCD.' Question 'What are the advantages and disadvantages of digital watches.' All this round about the mid seventies! I used to be somewhat typecast as being good with 'the bottom end'. Called remedials in those days, definitely a non PC word now. A new kind of watch was definitely 'in' at the time. Its main function seemed to be to make a tremendous noise, some sort of alarm periodically in lessons.
Presumably they told the time, of lesser interest to 'Remedial Ronnie.' Distracting, disconcerting, irritating, take your pick but easily dealt with nevertheless. I took one bright red fire bucket full of water into the classroom and nonchalantly informed the class the first watch to 'go off' so to speak was going in the bucket. End of problem proving their prized possession did have an on/off switch after all!
It all seems a long time a go. Some of those pupils are now fifty years of age, perish the thought. Some have done well, others less so, though the proportion that have seen the inside of a prison are thankfully in the minority. All remembered, though not necessarily with equal affection. But remembered nevertheless; happy days.

Monday 3 November 2008

Where Were You When it Happened?

The Armistices of Two World Wars are in the news this time of year and rightly so. There are people who will remember exactly where they were as they were announced, in 1918 and again in 1945. Even the second is not within my memory although I do remember VE Day celebrations quite vividly. Which set me thinking, how many events in life do we remember for whatever reason. Not the everyday events thrown at us on life's long journey, but those unique, special one offs never to be repeated. It would be easy to browse through an almanac of world events but that would be cheating. For if we have to look it up, so to speak, has it really been implanted forever on our hearts.
I remember as a child a teacher coming into a classroom (I can remember which particular classroom and the teacher's name, Mr Jones.) and announcing that a man called Gandhi had been killed. We did not know of a man called Gandhi, or for that matter where India was but the word assassinated intrigued.
How many remember where they were when John F Kennedy's assassination was announced. I was outside my grandmothers in Ockbrook, Derbyshire, tinkering with a vehicle when someone came outside to announce the news. Yet I am unsure as to which vehicle was involved. Surely I haven't imagined so important a moment in history? I certainly didn't imagine being told of Elvis's death whilst on holiday with the children in Chapel St Leonards, Lincolnshire. The whole campsite was full of the news for hours if not days; nothing much ever happens in Chapel. In fact this is one of the few memories of the place retained more than twenty four hours. (Though childhood memories of Chapel are positive if unexciting, at least in adult eyes.)
Being a retired person with nothing better to do I was idly watching the news at home when the events of 9/11 unfolded on the TV screen. Transfixed I watched for hours as the sheer horror and importance of the event became apparent. History in the making, who wouldn't remember for ever such an awesome event.
My wife and I sat in a garage on Harvey Road in Derby when the sensational, sad news was announced on the radio that Princess Diana had been killed in a road accident. I even remember where we were going, to Wirksworth to buy a dog grate for the fireplace and then on to Chesterfield. I am not a Royalist so why should this event be so firmly imprinted in my mind?
It is a fact now that almost any event in the world can now be reported at very short notice indeed. Tsunamis, plane crashes, wars, disasters in general blur into each other; we are so bombarded with the worlds terrors and tribulations. Is it that we are fascinated by the dramatic or the morbid, for many of our memories involve death and destruction.
When I was a schoolboy capital punishment was still the norm in this country. Some murderers were hanged. At eight in the morning in London, nine o'clock elsewhere I seem to remember. I, and some other schoolmates were undoubtedly morbidly fascinated, to the extent that we would knowingly glance at the clock if it were a nine o'clock 'happening'.
It is virtually impossible to escape world events almost as they happen. But why do some events burn into our psyche more than others. I don't remember where I was for instance, when it was announced that John Lennon had been shot. What do you remember? Put it another way, to paraphrase Hal David and Burt Bacharach's 1960's song, 'What's it all about, Alfie.'