Wednesday 30 September 2009

Creepy Creatures and Sleepy Teachers

We experience thousands, nay millions of events over a lifetime. We can only recall a fraction. though I am convinced all our 'happenings' in life are ever present in the brain. The keeping of a diary therefore becomes useful. Unimportant to the world, but evidence that we once existed. An event from October 1985, completely forgotten, might amuse.
October 7th 1985
We have, for several days been mystified by the appearance on the front windowsill and surrounding areas only, of small 'animal' droppings. Even Richard, more expert than the Stevens family is puzzled. A mouse, or mice is the obvious suspect, though Richard is unsure. A cockroach is possible, though unlikely. Richard suggests the presence of a bat is possible but again unlikely. Sarah in particular warms to this possibility.
For a second and third night the droppings have appeared. The strange thing is that the 'creature' ignores the kitchen area where the likelihood of food would be most forthcoming. I tentatively search behind curtains, amongst books. Skirting boards are minutely examined. Close to the window is a radiator. A view behind the radiator is difficult. What view is afforded suggests murk and mystery. Sarah, after tentative, furtive forays with a short stick behind the radiator is adamant there is a moving, living being resident there! The search becomes amusingly hysterical, with Sarah shrieking, Paulette dancing agitatedly on a chair whilst I poke apprehensively behind the radiator with a long stick. My stick encounters a soft dark 'body'. Sarah becomes even more hysterical. I ease the stick beneath the offending object and carefully, even more apprehensively ease it upwards. It suddenly appears dark and foreboding. 'It' is apparently a pair of child's knickers, left to air at some unknown date and slipping unseen behind the radiator, waiting for discovery. We, Sarah, Paulette and myself collapse, Sarah in particular borders on the insane. Our animal, beast, alien, is, for the time being, still a mystery.
Are the Stevens clan alone in apparently being mystified by all that life throws at us. Surely not!
And in view of recent blogs on losing it, the entry for the day after I find interesting.
Oct 8th 1985
I rush into Derby town centre during my dinner hour to renew my car insurance, but with a different company. Unfortunately I have omitted to fill in the relevant form, fail to take one relevant document and cannot relate either my car registration number or Paulettes age or date of birth! I make no comment!
'So what's new, pussy cat.'

Monday 28 September 2009

And There Goes September. Grumpy's Alternative News.

Another daft month. So what's new! Where do we start.
Animals are always interesting.
I read that you are more likely to see a fox in an urban garden than in the country.(Almost 40 per cent as against 23.)I'm not really surprised, we have no guns in the town.Well, not many!
I see the villagers in Carhampton, Somerset are fed up because pigs keep digging up the graveyard.Lucky pigs, certainly luckier than Ben, a labrador from Beaumaris who weighed seventy kilos. Rescued by the RSPCA, he has already lost four and a half kilos. Equally fortunate Clyde the cat that travelled 2000 miles from his home in Tasmania to Cloncurry in the Outback.(Including 185 miles across the Bass Strait.)
I often think animals are preferable to humans. Certainly not as stupid. I can forgive the lady in Wythenshawe who took a hand grenade she found in her loft to the police station, causing it to be evacuated. For the ladies are often not as cowardly as we men. But the fugitive in Kansas who took two hostages was not the brightest. He dozed off after they gave him a pillow and blankets. And did the man growing cannabis on the central reservation of the Athens-Salonika motorway really expect to get away with it? They were nearly six feet tall prior to harvesting. Plus Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, the freed Lockerbie bomber had his first visitors in hospital. a delegation of 150 African MP's. It is said he looked very ill. No wonder, I know how I felt when three came at once to see me in The Derby Royal Infirmary.
I see The Prince of Wale's organic biscuits are to be marketed by Waitrose as 'Duchy Originals from Waitrose'. (General opinion, expensive and rather naff.) The Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell announced to the nation that if Jesus were alive today he would shop at Asda or Aldi. Though Neil Stanfield, the boss of Onefood-the One, also called Swaddles Organic, suppliers of so called organic food to the likes of Fortnum and Mason might not agree. He bought his produce, non organic from Waitrose and Tesco and repackaged it. Simple when you know how!
I have, like many of you no doubt a complete mistrust of those in power at all levels. Not surprising when a government decides that people who walk other people's children to school need police checks.(The government will no doubt drop such nannying interference in the light of public disbelief and mirth.)
Is it any wonder when the Scout Association in its infinite wisdom decrees that Boy Scouts must no longer take a penknife to their scout camp. Give people power, put them on a committee and sense seems to vanish.
McDonalds spend millions fighting a Malayan restaurant because they dared to call their establishment McCurry. Despite their size and mighty lawyers, McDonald's lost.Power seems for some to suggest importance and immunity from good sense.
The Forest of Dean Council falsifies photographs as evidence in a parking dispute. They are caught out but no one loses their job. Rochdale Council in its wisdom allows five minutes 'lift time' as a 'perk', amounting to twenty hours a year for some in high rise offices.
Now to confess a personal interest in the 'power and authority' stakes. In the summer we, my wife and I received a parking ticket on a car park in Wales. My appeals have been, in my opinion, dealt with in an arrogant, dismissive manner. (More later, I am now in the hands of the Welsh Ombudsman.)
One final comment on stupid misuse of power, funny but pathetic. A certain authority, concerned that children's reaction in their canteens to that evergreen favourite 'Spotted Dick' was not acceptable (they're children for goodness sake) has solemnly declared that hence forth the dish will now be known as, wait for it, 'Spotted Richard'. You couldn't make it up! It was, of course a Welsh authority. (Lest anyone think I have it in for the Welsh, the people not in authority were kindness personified.)
One last titbit from the month of September that I couldn't resist. Please excuse the bad taste.
A Turkish woman accused of cutting off her lover's penis must wait eighteen months for verdict and sentence until a court determines whether the reattached organ still functions.
The mind boggles. They're lucky not to be at the mercy of petty British officials.
Comments welcome, please keep them clean!

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Will the Real You Please Stand Up

There are millions of people in the world. Sixty in The UK alone. They are divided into male and female and also split into young and old. There are many colours and shades, shapes and sizes,
though within limits. There are, for instance, not too many green or blue people to my knowledge. Room for variation, many hundreds, nay thousands of possible combinations, but NOT surely millions of possibilities. Whoever, whatever designed the human race had a propensity for variation, but NO chance of unlimited variation. There are only so many variations of an object that has a nose down the middle and two eyes each side of it. So there is a good chance of repeating oneself, however hard you try not to. (Perhaps concerning identical twins he or she is not even trying too hard for variation. Or perhaps he or she is pulling our leg.) Are you with me so far. Some time ago I was walking round a posh antique dealers in Lincolnshire. I gradually became aware I was being followed. Now I am actually a model so I'm used to adulation. Ok, ok, so I'm only a model for garden gnomes, but it's still modeling! But no matter where I went and what I viewed, my admirer, a lady of some proportions was never far away. It was disconcerting, to say the least for you never know. Psychiatric patient bent on destruction, knife concealed in her ample bosom? Or lovesick, middle aged maiden spurned by a lover and eager for love? (I should be so lucky.) Either way I was becoming more and more uneasy. Finally I could hide no more. And the lady in question uttered those immortal words. 'Excuse me, are you Lord Bath?'

Alexander George Thynn. 7th Marquess of Bath. 359th in the Sunday Times Rich List 2009. estimated worth, £157 million.
Kenneth Allan Stevens. 23rd richest, Gurney Avenue. (estimated) worth £3,459. (again estimated)
Close, lady, close. Strangely enough not my first encounter with so strange an idea. Even stranger, my ancestry is shrouded in mystery to this day. More perhaps at a later date. Do you ever have the same problem. Do you have someone lurking out there who is you in disguise. Or perhaps you only wish you were someone else!

Friday 18 September 2009

Losing It

I had a strange experience in the week, totally of my own making. I visited a large new shopping centre in Derby called Westfield with my wife, mother-in law and sister-in-law; my daughter Alison joined the group a few minutes later.
On arrival I needed to look for something in the old market adjoining the centre so off I went, arranging to meet up on the ground floor (there are two levels) a few minutes later. A typically loose arrangement on my part. Mistake number one, no actual place mentioned. Mistake number two, on return I immediately realised I had spectacularly underestimated how big the place was. There are hundreds of shops and eating establishments spread over the two floors. Mistake number three, guess who is the only adult in the whole of the western world who doesn't possess a mobile phone. I spent at least fifteen minutes walking up and down the concourses. It soon became obvious if the group were in a shop, as was likely, I would pass on by oblivious. I spent at least another fifteen minutes sitting on seats provided studying passersby to no avail. I have never seen so many grey haired geriatrics in my life. Plus there seemed to be a cross section of every shape and size individuals on the planet passing by, put there presumably for my delectation. All very well but no-one remotely related.
I had briefly spoken to a security man at the beginning of my search. As I sat bemused pondering a life to be now spent in the Westfield Centre (have you ever seen the film of the man who lived at an airport for a year or two) the guard passed by again.
"No luck" he said.
"Dead right" I said.
And bingo, my problems were solved. He had a phone in his hand and he enquired as to whether anyone had lost a five feet four, bemused, confused, hopelessly inept, aged male who obviously should not have been out on his own, (my description, not his, he was kindly and helpful). And the answer cometh back, four adults plus a five month old (very bright, my grandchildren) had reported missing someone wearing distinctive corduroy trousers fitting that description. The concerned gentleman escorted me, somewhat like a lost child only a short distance and I was reunited with my amused family. (Evidently there is a loud speaker system but only used for lost children, not lost sixty nine year olds. Though the question had been asked when I was reported missing, was I on medication.)
I felt a a total prat, pillock and a few other things besides. I was also annoyed with myself and not a little embarrassed. Inherent in all this are more serious questions. Am I losing it and nobody dare tell me. Are we the last to know in these circumstances. Presumably I'm just a silly old fogey or are there more serious implications. Do people with Alzheimer's know they have it or are they again the last to know. Any comments gratefully received.
A year or two ago I wrote a short story and guess what was it was about. You've got it, an old man who loses his wife whilst out shopping. Perhaps it's right, art mirrors real life or whatever.
The short, or not so short story follows for anyone who wishes to read it.

Wherefore Art Thou

“Old men are twice children.”
Greek Proverb

Wherefore Art Thou

In a way it’s a funny thing to have someone go missing on you in broad daylight.
Only funny is the wrong word to use.
It began so innocuously. “I’m just going into Marks to get some paste.” The old ladies’ message was simple, unexceptional. So unexcitingly familiar that the old man’s attention, honed by over fifty years of somewhat uneventful marriage, was non-existent. So routinely ordinary that he as usual made no comment. Not even enquiring as to the type of paste to be purchased.
“You sit on the seat there and I’ll be back in no time.”
Probably the hundred thousandth request, order, instruction, command in a marriage approaching twenty thousand days!
Not one to argue, of any case glad of the rest from the humdrum tasks required of 21st century man, Edward, the old man did as he was told. “She who must be obeyed,” he thought to himself wistfully.
Edward surveyed all around him with interest, anything was preferable to queuing in boring old M and S.
People of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds passed by; some hurried, others sauntering, seemingly with all the time in the world. Men in turbans, women in chadors. People in uniforms: nurses, care workers, shop assistants, but not a police uniform in sight. Blonds with black roots, shaven headed men and dark men sporting afros. Mobile phones in constant use, conveying messages seldom of importance, in Chinese, Urdu, Russian, Tamil and even English! Drinks were consumed and the cans or bottles discarded; sometimes in the bins provided, more often not: Pepsi, Coca Cola, Lucosade, Carling Black Label and supermarket cider.
Adolescent, pretty black girls greeted each other, like long lost friends meeting after years apart. Young lovers caressed, oblivious to those around them! A proud father pushed his offspring in an expensive, state of the art buggy. The wife issued instructions before vanishing for equally expensive hair and beauty treatment.
“Make sure he keeps his hat on, don’t feed him chips and watch out for him chucking his dummy!”
Grey suited businessmen passed by, attaché cases to hand, their earnest talk concerning high finance and credit.
A balloon seller plied his trade, his brightly coloured offerings attracting children’s pennies, or rather parent’s pounds.
Young men handed out fliers advertising ‘Monday Madness, Funky House Dance, RnB, with student DJ Tom Ralston.’
Chinese musicians played haunting oriental music on obscure instruments, inviting passers-bys to purchase CD’s, ‘one hour long, price £10.’
An abundance of T-shirts and leisure tops on show, their messages often obscure: International Karate Open and Weekly Warrior, both worn by extremely slightly built individuals. A football shirt announced Sandu no 10, probably self-explanatory. But what, Edward wondered, was the significance of the number 54 top of a rather large middle aged lady; or for that matter, number 93 on the back of a lady of similar proportions? Racing Extreme, Hey Ho Let’s Go, Guns and Roses other adult choices, plus a very pink Glitter Princess, a child’s choice.
An overweight, obviously unfit, ill individual walked slowly, with difficulty up to the bench housing Edward and another elderly gentleman. Reluctantly he flopped down, produced a crumpled cigarette from his pockets and lit up. Coughing loudly he inhaled, to the distaste and dismay of his fellow travellers.
Edward left the bench and. walked slowly up the street, unhurried, taking in the street’s offerings.
Nationwide, Nat West, Lush, Top Shop; Miss Selfridge, BHS and Shoe Zone; Manor Pharmacy, Reveal Records, Optical Express and Bradford and Bingley.
Ann Summers, their customers, usually confident young women, striding in without a moments hesitation. But occasionally middle-aged ladies, ill at ease, heads down, hoping that no one had witnessed their entering an obvious den of iniquity!
Sales and offers designed to seduce, reminding of the adage, ‘Let the buyer beware.’ The NTL sales van suggested in large letters on its side ‘Save money now.’ Ilkeston-Co-op Travel exhorted, ‘Seven nights on Malta, £149, pay nothing until next year.’ BHS offered ‘30% off some items, 75% off others.’ A large street sign reminded that ‘insurance is free on a Kia car.’ Going Places told of ‘Commission Free Foreign Currency.’ ‘GNT’s gold card discount, 40%.’ The Works, ‘the place for half price artist’s materials.’ The Carphone Warehouse informed, ‘Free calls for life for BT customers.’ One hour film processing and instant food. Live now, pay later, a world beyond Edward’s comprehension!
His wandering had tired him and he was grateful to find another seat, this time empty and a fair distance from his original resting place.
The ornamental clock at the end of the street struck the hour, interrupting Edward’s deliberations. He had become so preoccupied with his observational perambulations that he had clean forgotten why he was in the town in the first place! No mean feat where Doris was concerned. He was unsure how long she had been gone, for he wore no watch. Doris always said he would only lose it, of any case she decided who did what, when, and where so as to make a watch, certainly from Edward’s viewpoint, redundant.
What if she didn’t come back! The possibility, never before contemplated, amused. him greatly. No more nagging. No more, “Wipe your feet! Take your shoes off! You’re spilling that! Why can’t you be more careful?”
No more, “You’ve had two pints, why do you want any more? Slow down, you’re going too fast! Mind that cyclist! Don’t talk with your mouth full! Don’t slurp! Don’t slouch! Stand up straight! Don’t mumble! Stop scratching your head! Where’s your hanky? Don’t interrupt, in fact don’t breathe!”
Time continued to pass, and almost imperceptibly Edward’s mood began to change. Unsure as to how long his wife had been away, he felt the first pangs of uncertainty and anxiety. The sun beat down, increasing his discomfort. His choice of clothing betrayed a septuagenarian tendency to expect inclement weather, whatever the season, and dress accordingly. “We don’t want to be bedridden with a chill, and thus a nuisance to others do we?” his other half was wont to impress upon him, if even so much as an open necked shirt was suggested as summer apparel! The old man sat uncomfortably in his woollen vest, woollen socks, and woollen shirt, his unbuttoned topcoat his only concession to summer days. He began to sweat, in part due to the weather, but also induced by feelings of panic.
A thousand thoughts raced through his mind.” Where was she? Surely a pot of paste didn’t take this long? How long was it? The Lord only knows. Perhaps she’s been kidnapped? But who would kidnap a seventy year old? Why would they do that? For ransom, surely not! How would he raise money if it were so? Murdered because the ransom was not forthcoming, fed to the pigs like Mrs Muriel MacKay, the kidnapped wife of a newspaper magnate!”
His imagination knew no bounds. ”Perhaps she’s run away, left me for another man? Surely I’d have noticed the tell tale signs? Mind you, she had seemed happier recently. Perhaps it wasn’t just the new wallpaper. Has she had an accident? Is she stuck in a lift? Has she lost her memory?” The questions hurtled round the old man’s mind, increasing his discomfort.
He realised, with not a little embarrassment, that he could not remember what his wife was wearing. Fifty years of complacency, fifty years of taking his wife for granted. Never ever apart, yet never really together!
He thought of telephoning but to whom he had no idea. Plus he didn’t own a mobile phone, didn’t carry a mobile phone and, equally important, he’d no idea how to use a mobile phone.
He thought too of the police but it was not a serious possibility.
“You’ve lost your wife, sir, now when was that, sir? You’re not sure when, sir. She’s gone for some paste and not come back. Oh dear, it’s not exactly crime of the century, is it sir! Give us a ring if she doesn’t turn up in, say, six months, sir. Good day, sir!”
As his discomfort increased, Edward imagined those around him were becoming less acceptable, more threatening. He noticed an abundance of tattoos and body piercing; tattoos on ears and necks, chests, breasts and legs. Piercings through lips, noses, eyebrows, tongues and torsos.
An old man, the worse for drink leered at a minimally dressed pubescent child. Cyclists weaved through the pedestrians, causing women with children and pensioners alike to scatter. Four teenagers, one noticeably pregnant, mouthed obscenities at passers-by, their actions creating both fear and consternation.
A teenage beggar rose from his position in a shop doorway, collected up his blanket, lit his umpteenth cigarette and went on his way, his flea ridden dog in tow. No doubt to his home in the suburbs, and probably his plasma television with its ultra sound system.
Harassed mothers harangued misbehaving offspring, increasingly tired as the day wore on. A very disabled young man struggled to manoeuvre an ancient wheelchair over the block paving, a surface unhelpful to his endeavours, onlookers indifferent and uncaring. The Big Issue seller stood, tattooed and silent, arm held out but his wares disregarded, his plight ignored.
People at the cash dispensers clutched purses and wallets tightly, eyeing up all and sundry as they withdrew their fortunes, seeing danger where it probably didn’t exist. Even a single, grey, ladies boot lying on the pavement became an ominous object, its owner unknown, the reason for its solitary existence suspicious.
Edward noticed the St Peter’s Church banner extolled, “Cling only to what is necessary.” The banner for the local newspaper informed, depressingly, “Petrol breaks the £1 barrier,” and “Archdeacon pleads for return of grave body.”
Edward tried to remain calm, in control, but numbness overwhelmed him. His heartbeat increased and he fumbled for his tablets, his hands visibly shaking. He took two tablets, though his prescription forbad it.
He became aware of a warm feeling and he realised with horror that he had wet himself. His anxiety increased, He felt lost, lonely, dependent, helpless and not a little fearful. His heart pounded, and, as if in sympathy, the sky darkened and the sun vanished behind the gathering clouds. A light breeze signalled an oncoming storm.
Tears welled up in his eyes and he began to sob. Those around him became blurs and he felt himself fading. He tried to fight, but to no avail. He tried to call out, but no sound came. He saw the outline of a female apparition, surely an angel, coming towards him. He held open his arms and the apparition called his name. “Edward, where on earth have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

Sunday 13 September 2009

If Music be the Food of Love

One might think my interest in jukeboxes would suggest a musical bent in this old codger. Nothing could be further from the truth. True, I once owned a mouth organ, but I never did learn to play it. The same goes went for the ukulele, or was it a banjo I also once possessed. (I wonder what happened to it.) At secondary school the old music teacher made us say 'aahh' whilst he listened intently on our first music lesson. Why I'm unsure, but obviously unimpressed, he relegated me to the back on the singing group in all future lessons.
I remember as teenagers we camped down the fields, complete with an old wind up gramophone. We seemed to have only one 78 record which I played incessantly until I was banished to the outer regions of the field. Mind you, the record was by Josef Locke, and 'I'll join the Legion, that's what I'll do' played ad nauseam can disorientate the strongest of individuals.
I suppose the nearest I ever came to musical appreciation was discussing the merits of Marvin Rainwater whilst puffing Woodbines under the village street lamps on damp November evenings. Plus I did develop an almighty crush on Ruby Murray long before the joys of female pubescent flesh became a reality rather than an adolescents wistful dream.
So we fast forward to 2009 and the joys of jukebox ownership. It is still rather a dreamlike existence. I rediscover boxes of vinyl that I had forgotten I ever owned. (More on this later.)
I now have eighty spaces to fill on my new 'toy'. Someone asked what exactly my choice of music is. A good point; what exactly am I to include or discard. So a question for all my blogging friends and acquaintances out there. What three cd's would you HAVE to put on your jukebox; and for what reason? (Anyone for more than three, feel free!)

Tuesday 8 September 2009

All is Revealed

So here it is in all its glory. Supremely technological, awesomely expensive, bloody terrific.
An old man in his doteage. Come on, what is your last last material requirement before you literally 'give up the ghost'. Aren't old men easily satisfied!

Monday 7 September 2009

It's magnificent, 'innit

You still need me to tell you what my new toy is? Surely not!

Friday 4 September 2009


Like most of us I like possessions. I assume it is a natural human trait. 'Possess - to have as property, own; wealth.' To own something implies having something that is ours, personal belongings exclusive to us. And again like many of my generation, I was poor in the extreme in childhood. (Note I said poor, not unhappy.) One Christmas I asked for something to wear and something to play with. And the family bought me a pair of trousers and cut the pockets out. Not true of course but you get the message.
Something happened this week that made me examine a lifetime of possessions.
I remember one Christmas receiving a small replica of an army field gun. Totally mesmerising and highly prized it fired matchsticks. (All of thirty or so inches but no matter, it repelled the dreaded Boche in a six year old's imagination.)
In a later year a cardboard Subbutteo set gave hours of pleasure. Make no mistake, Derby County lost few games in hard fought matches played by the light of the gas mantle.
I once had a pocket stop watch, complete with chain which I proudly produced one every necessary or contrived occasion. The strange thing is I don't remember where it came from (I probably swapped it; I hope I didn't steal it) Plus I don't know where it went though I vaguely remember dropping it and stop watches don't bounce.
I also once had a large leather football, courtesy of an uncle who lived near the famous Baseball Ground. That ball was my ticket to the 'big boy's club', for ownership of a real football was prestige indeed. No matter that I seldom got a kick of my own ball.
I remember well the Raleigh, three geared bike with drop handle bars, cost around seventeen pounds, bought with my paper round wages, seven and sixpence a week. And the superior Dawes bike that I wrapped round an oncoming motorbike; a sad end to a prized possession. And the similar demise of second hand Francis Barnett number TNU 137. Cost fifty two pounds and a lifetime of aching bones. (see blog dated 14th March 2009)
The green minivan is remembered as my first ownership of a four wheeled vehicle, less so for my attempts at brush painting. (Racing Green I think the paint was optimistically described.) GDT 703C was definitely a pride and joy, a Mini Cooper that signalled my arrival in the swinging sixties; what joy, what memories!
Marriage brought an end to selfish frivolity and the introduction of semi poverty for many a year. The bonus has been a loving wife and two tremendous children; plus a lifetime of work, the lot required of the working man.
I have had much in life. I have lived in many different circumstances, some homes rented and some owned outright in later years. Whilst not rich I consider I am blessed and want for little. For what does a man close to his seventieth year need or want. Therein lies the reason for this blog. What prized possessions do you remember from your past. And are there any things you are going to 'treat' yourself to before you go.
As I write I gaze in wonderment at my latest 'toy'. If I die tomorrow, I die happy. For there it is. I reach out and touch it, amazed at my purchase. It's sensational, impressive, exciting, mind -blowingly awesome, and expensive with it. Lord, please excuse my extravagance, but almost septuagenarian males never truly grow up nor ever really grow old. (Sorry kids, bang goes some more of your inheritance, but hopefully the house is yours when we go!)
By the way, a vow of poverty does not suggest being for ever poor but the sharing of any thing you have, (the idea of not claiming private ownership of any possessions.)
Anyone who knows me will guess what I now possess. If not watch this space in five days time.
And you are very welcome to come and share it with me.