Monday 29 November 2010


I attended the Speed Awareness Course recently. (see post dated 23rd October.) Eighteen of us, eleven male, seven female.) Three failed to turn up so they have three points on their licences that could have been avoided. It was held in a large conference centre. We waited in the foyer before the start. Others in various meetings drifted amongst us. I assume some of them knew why we were there. I don't know whether we looked like 'criminals' but we certainly felt so!
Eighteen people, mainly middle aged though the youngest was twenty five. (I think I was the eldest.) All guilty of speeding, not massively so as 'boy racers' seem to attend a different course; but all guilty of breaking the law nevertheless. (Was the psychology of it all the possibility that we at least were 'saveable?) Some, particularly the ladies were quite overawed by it all, showing symptoms of embarrassment, even shame. A show of hands suggested our main reason for attending was to avoid penalty points, note, not necessarily to learn new skills. The course was run by one individual, an ex-policeman, ex-teacher. The course was very intensive, illustrated with visual aids, delivered not without humour and lasted a massive four hours; not an easy proposition for anyone, least of all those whose classroom experience has been non existent for many years.
I think it is fair to say most of us harboured feelings of being hard done by in various degrees. I have received three speeding tickets in ten or so years. The term serial offender springs to mind! I would have previously argued: once on a deserted road at midnight, plus thought it was a forty, not a thirty limit; once outside a deserted school on a Saturday; once on a remote road in the country, never saw a sign. All present, to a greater or lesser degree committed similar offences. In other words, NOBODY DELIBERATELY broke the speed limit.
The value or otherwise of this course can only be measured by two things. What we retain in our minds after the initial 'lectures' are long gone. Plus whether our future driving behaviour, attitude and experience changes. At my age particularly long term retention is not easy. So what is likely to be remembered longest?
One, no road is dangerous in itself, it depends on the behaviour of the people on it.
Two, the speed limit is 30mph unless stated otherwise. (Often the reason for a 30mph limit is a history of accidents etc.)
Three, where speed limits are signed, this is a MAXIMUM speed, not an obligatory speed.
Four, there is no such thing as a 'quiet' road or time, only a 'quieter' time or road.
Five, the main source of serious accidents, often resulting in death is not the motorways as you might have thought. (On motorways no-one might be turning right or overtaking as on urban roads.)
Much of the course concerning types of signs etc I have forgotten only days after the course. And several points are also worth mentioning. Our collective knowledge of the modern highway code was appalling. There is much to be said for everyone attending this course periodically, say every five years; no one could fail to benefit. A hand out of the points covered would have been useful and after all, we did pay seventy pounds each for our 'sins'. Enjoy is the wrong word for this type of experience. I still think authorities don't always get it right concerning limits. (See video of Swarkstone Bridge, a local landmark, limit, maximum 40mph, in my view ridiculously high. Co-incidentally this week there is an ongoing inquest concerning a death on this bridge earlier this year. But remember, and I reiterate, it is a MAXIMUM speed limit, not an obligatory speed we must maintain. ) But the thing that I personally will remember most from the course is this. The damage to a person or person at speeds over 35mph, rather than at 30mph to 35mph was horrifically memorable. I hope no policeman has to knock on a door to tell a mother her child is not coming home due to my driving. The main message from our afternoon together was 'Yes, speed does kill.'

Tuesday 23 November 2010

The Times They are A-Changing.

Bob Dylan, 1964. It seems like yesterday. I must confess, for a moment I had to think twice, mixing this song with Mary Hopkin's offering in 1968 (Those Were the Days, my Friend.) So what brought on this nostalgic post, this urge to reminisce. It was indirectly the result of our recent Blackpool extravaganza, the rush of blood and my subsequent dizziness as the wife spent my hard earned kudos. Now my wife is a fairly 'with it' modern lady, well versed in the main concerning today's fashions; the result of having daughters rather than sons. Daughters, expensive family attachments at times, but useful advisers as to what is and is not 'in', so to speak. Consequently my wife is usually more 'wag lady' than 'bag lady'. (Though Charity Shop coat bargains are seldom passed by, consequently she has more coats than Marks and Spencer's.) All of which brought to mind life in my younger days, and particularly what my grandmother and many people like her wore at roughly the same age as my wife is today.
I have fond memories of my grandmother. Born in the 1870's, widowed in the 1930's, a mere four feet ten inches tall, she nevertheless dominated our family with her very presence. Wise beyond words, God fearing, chapel going, she raised eight children, a hard working class existence typical of many. I remember her well in the late forties, fifties, sixties and seventies, a frugal, uncomplicated individual, dispensing home made sweets and kind words in equal measure. There is much I have written elsewhere concerning Granny Hudston. (See post dated 23rd April 2008 Anyone Out There.) Although the photograph in the picture shows Granny Hudston in her 'Sunday best' it is typical of an era not over impressed or influenced by the fashion industry. (For many reasons, including financial restraints, the unavailability of 'fashionable' clothes and no pressure from media advertising.) Fast forward to the photograph of my wife, November 2010. God bless her! Any comments concerning your own or families 'fashion statements' of your past youth welcome. And just to prove the point, 'My how time flies,' 'Those Were the Days, My friend' and 'The Time's they are A-Changing', my wedding photo and the dress worn by my grandmother on her wedding day. The whole thing is surreal. My grandmother is part of my almost recent past. At least in my eyes, not someone from times long, long gone. Except that to my children, and my children's children, I am probably reminiscent of a far distant era, perish the thought. So we all get old together. But, as Maurice Chevalier said, 'Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative.' And Red Skelton can have the last word. 'I don't let old age bother me. There are three signs of old age. Loss of memory...I forget the other two...'

Thursday 18 November 2010

Deja vu, Deja vu, Deja vu.

I hadn't reckoned on writing this post. I have, through other commitments, got in the habit of writing only every five or six days. Then granddaughter Angelina forgot to take her coat to school and who gets a phone call, granddad of course! She regularly forgets things, Angelina, mother calls it her Stevens gene. So off we, my wife and I drive, plus coat to the school three miles away. What, after all are granddads for!
We took the opportunity to call in the local Tesco in Mickleover. It was a bitterly cold morning, dark, gloomy and raining. At the roadside outside, near the entrance stood a 'Big Issue' seller; a middle aged lady, perhaps younger due to life's stresses. I approached her and explained, somewhat apologetically, I had bought one near Blackpool very recently from a Romanian gentleman. The ladies English was very limited, but she recognised the name Blackpool. 'Ah,' she said, quite excited, 'he my brother.' Evidently she had travelled from Birmingham to stand in Derby's rain.
I suggested she stand under cover. 'No, she replied, 'it private.'
We communicated as best we could, I shook her hand and went in the shop.
I sought out a staff member and asked was it necessary for the lady outside to stand in the rain. If not allowed in the shop, a covered area nearby would have been a drier, if not warmer alternative. The young staff member was sympathetic and directed me to Customer Services. I found the required counter and asked if it was possible to speak to a duty manager concerning the lady outside. And boy, did 'officialdom' kick in. No, I couldn't, and no the person outside shouldn't be there. Evidently Tesco issue some sort of permit, she hadn't got one and that was that.
I felt ashamed to be British. You missed the point completely. Rules, regulations, so what. People matter more, all people.That the store is full of Christmas merchandise, tough. That the person was cold and wet, 'hard cheese', presumably Romanian street sellers have neither rights nor feelings.
I was amazed at the response in someone comparatively young. The lack of concern for others who, though low in the pecking order of British life, are still human beings; what have we become.
Are such people so enveloped in the Tesco culture of profit and dominance that they have lost sight of basic decencies. Tesco, please don't shout from the rooftops all you do for communities. There's always an ultimate motive. If you want to be loved, instill in all, not just some of your staff GENUINE compassion, not a superficial 'Be polite to customers and that will do' syndrome.
I was angry, shocked, saddened, you name it. And whilst I was having my 'difference of opinion' with 'officialdom' an interesting thing happened. A well dressed lady customer heard my vehement protest and decided to add her 'halfpennyworth'.
'They shouldn't be here' she stated emphatically. 'You should fetch the police and move her on.'
Ignorance personified.
'There you are,' said Customers Services' triumphantly, not all OUR customers agree with you.'
Have they no idea as to how the Big Issue system works. Happy Christmas, ladies. Mind you, I reckon Mickleover, mainly affluent Mickleover always was a 'fur coat and no knickers' sort of place. I asked for Tesco's head office number and walked off, definitely not amused.
I left the place fifteen minutes later. The rain continued to howl down. Outside my Romanian friend was still there. And lo and behold, the Lord had partly answered my prayer. No, the place was still standing and no-one had been struck dead. But the Romanian lady now sported a brightly coloured umbrella. I smiled and pointed to the umbrella.
'From inside' she said, 'I have to take back.'
We talked again briefly, I gave her a pound coin, she gave me her blessing and I went on my way.
Someone had had second thoughts after my little 'discussion'. I trust it was for compassionate reasons and not to 'cover their back' in case I rang head office. I shan't do so, I cannot see it achieving anything, sadly. I am sorry for returning to the subject of this post in a way. But the incident caused me great anxiety during the night. All you people out there, what do you think?

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Diaries, of the Famous and a Nobody.

'Time flies'. Trite but true. I am struck as to how much we forget of the past, yet can recall even the tiniest of 'happenings' with a little help. I honestly believe it all still there, in the mind, awaiting recall. I am not clever enough to know what happens to our memories when we die. What I do know is that keeping a diary, on paper or whatever means it is there for all to see and read. If you are famous or important your words will be there almost for ever. And if you are a nobody, as most of us are, who knows.
15th November 1661
At home all the morning, and at noon with my wife to the Wardrobe to dinner, and there did shew herself to my Lady in the handkercher that she bought the lace for the other day, and indeed it is very handsome. Here I left my wife and went to my Lord Privy Seal to Whitehall, and there did give him a copy of the Fees of the office as I have received them, and he was well pleased with it.
So to the Opera, where I met my wife and Captain Ferrers and Madamoiselle Le Blanc, and there did see the second part of 'The Seige of Rhodes' very well done; and so by coach set her home, and the coach driving down the hill through Thames Street, which I think never any coach did before from that place to the bridge-foot, but going up Fish Street Hill his horses were so tired, that they could not be got to go up the hill, though all the street boys and men did whip and beat them. At last I was fain to send my boy for a link, and so 'light out of the coach till we got to another at the corner of Fenchurch Street, and so to home, and to bed.
November 16th 1661
At the office all the morning. Dined at home, and so about my business in the afternoon to the Temple, where I found my Chancery bill drawn against T. Trice, which I read and like it, and so home.
Ken Stevens
November 15th 1985
It is suddenly realised that a mouse is in residence at the back of the gas fire. Alison, Sarah and Angela spend much time setting elaborate traps of empty boxes and cheese which he skillfully avoids. He (or she) appears during the evening on at least half a dozen occasions, seemingly unconcerned by our presence. At one stage he licked a sweet paper within one foot of a handheld torch. He is obviously very young and has become 'tame' to a degree, presumably having yet to be aware of the dangers the world holds.
November 16th 1985
Garford visits with his new bride, Tahira. Buster insists on making his presence felt by sitting almost on top of her on the settee. Tahiri is Malawi born, very shy and far from at ease with dogs. (Buster was a large English bull terrier) She has also never seen any dog even similar to Buster previously. add to her apprehension and discomfort the fact that our mouse 'lodger' appears several times during her stay and I suspect she probably thinks she has entered the proverbial 'madhouse'.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Helping the North West's Economy and a bit of Deja Vu.

My wife and I (Now doesn't that sound regal!) have recently spent a delightful three nights on the streets of St Annes. (In our motorhome, not literally on the streets!) The weather was horrific; it rained, the wind blew and it wasn't exactly hot but who cares. We visited my daughter, son in law and grand-daughter, we shopped, people watched and a good time was had by all.
We, motorhomers are none too popular in this corner of the north west. Parking on the streets mean we have no hotel costs, which no doubt galls the hotel trade. Possibly the reason there is a profusion of signs in Blackpool in particular reading simply 'cars only'. And it's getting noticeably worse. A pity as my wife tried to boost the local economy on our visit, and I wasn't too far behind. So what did we spend.
For a start there were pubs meals in Wetherspoons: my two sausages, two bacon, four slices of toast, two eggs, a slice of black pudding and a tomato, £3.99; brilliant. Plus numerous cups of coffee and tea. Then there's the gluten free food (my wife's a Coeliac.) Biscuits, cakes, even gluten free liquorish sticks. A petticoat from Fleetwood Market (my wife's purchase, honest!) and posh leggings plus a bright red handbag bought in Blackpool. (My wife again, silly!) Chocolate bargains and other sweets from Freeport. A red coat (no other colour considered) from a charity shop and some serious spending in between; a seven piece bed set, not cheap but well worth the price. Oh, and a fur hat each, very fashionable for 'geriatrics' and worn at Derby County versus Portsmouth FC!
My wife's the main spender in our house, but I didn't do so bad either. An Elvis musical figurine purchased will take pride of place in my 'bar'. (Plays a non too musical version of Love Me Tender') and I couldn't resist the cruets imprinted with pictures of Cliff, Elvis and the Beatles. To complete the 'spending spree, books from my favourite charity shop, Barnado's in Lytham, price five for £1.99. (A Spread of Over 40's Jokes; A Handbook for All Word Puzzling; a book on Crime and Detection; The A-Z of Behaving Badly and Britain Land of Contrasts. Add fuel before returning home and I reckon there's £2oo plus gone into the north west economy; recession, what recession! Please think twice, north west councils, there's a lot of us and plenty of places that would welcome our 'dosh'.
And so to the deja vu. (See post dated 23rd April 2008). We spent the last hour of our short visit in St Annes. Hurrying back to our rather expensive motorhome we espied outside B and M a somewhat forlorn seller of 'The Big Issue'. I did the usual, avoided eye contact and hurried past. The wind was blowing, it was cold, my pockets were nearly empty and I needed the warmth of my 'motor'. And so to home, back to my comfort zone, a smashing break, but its home where we're happiest. Except that I retraced my steps before I left St Annes, had a chat with the young man outside B and M and bought a Big Issue. Evidently he was Romanian, selling the Big Issue with quiet dignity to keep body and soul together in a foreign, not always hospitable country. I am not interested in the arguments concerning immigration issues and the rights and wrongs of 'our country'. All I know he was a pleasant, dignified young man. I was glad, for whatever reasons I had returned and purchased one of his papers.

Thursday 4 November 2010

To Make the News, try Food or Rude!

Looking for items for my 'Grumpy's Alternative News', I was struck by how many stories were either 'rude' or all about food.
Bears all over the world are apparently foraging for food prior to their forthcoming hibernation. I know the feeling. And a Christmas flavoured Pot Noodle's gone on sale, having been tried out on British troops overseas. Called 'Pot Noeldle' its 'a festive fusion of turkey and stuffing with all the trimmings'. Looking even further ahead The Church of England has produced the first ever Christian Easter egg, priced £.3.99 in order to fight commercialism. Look out for it next year. I notice Greggs the bakers are going all posh, offering pain au chocolat and croissants. In the south-east, OK, I'm not so sure 'up north'. We don't mess about north of Watford. That's probably why two tram drivers in Blackpool have been suspended for being overweight. The council have given them a month to lose half a stone. Not sure about the food properties of gugas (young gannets) but they're serving them free at the Musa Restaurant in Aberdeen. Animal welfare groups aren't too amused. Wonder if they would go with Naga Hari, the worlds hottest chilli pepper, grown on a chilli farm in Devon. (If you want to impress at the next cocktail party you go to, mention the Scoville scale, evidently the way to measure a chilli's heat.) It certainly won't go with the seventy year old Mortlach whisky, (price for a full bottle £10,000) on exhibition at a trade fair in Stockholm. Somebody pinched it! Have a cigarette instead, preferably not made from tobacco, Almaty style. Its mildly narcotic and made from chicken droppings! And talking of smoking, though its not really food, did you notice Charlie the chimp has died at Bloemfontein Zoo in South Africa. Well known as 'a smoker', visitors thought it funny to give him cigarettes, Charle lived to fifty two years of age in spite of the publics stupidity. Good old Charlie.
'And now for something completely different', as they used to say in 'Monty Python'. Those of a sensitive nature, please go for a cup of tea!
I see Keith Richard's autobiography makes great reference to Mick Jaggers 'manhood'. Made even more interesting by Jerry Hall's comments that Keith was only jealous. She reckons that's just about the size of it! Whose telling the truth I suppose we'll never know. But don't these stories make you look small. Sorry!
Mind you, Martin Amis doesn't help. He suggests writing well about sex is impossible. He reckons sex lurked in the background of the works of Richardson, Fielding, Austen and Dickens. Then along came D. H. Lawrence and it was no longer in the background. Except that Amis suggests even Lawrence had no success 'describing the actual act'; strange man, Martin Amis.
If all this becomes too serious, Cliff's seventieth birthday 'bash' at the Albert Hall added an air of frivolity to the whole picture. A sex symbol at seventy indeed; The Daily Mirror suggested he was indeed a sexy boy fifty years ago. Well, the elderly lady who 'sashayed' up the isle to the rendering of 'Devil Woman' still thinks he fits the picture. Plus the hundreds of senior citizens who flocked to the front in his finale can't all be wrong.
I read the El Paradise, recently opened in Madrid, is Europe's first mega-brothel. Eighty bedrooms, an events centre for six hundred people and two other halls to host shows. I daren't make other comments. The mind boggles, and we'll leave it there!
It's difficult to decide what is merely funny and what is definitely in bad taste. I suppose it depends on many things. Frank Skinner wrote an article entitled 'Is this joke too rude.' He talked of regretting having no nude photographs of himself as a young man as 'It would be nice to have proof that my genitals didn't always look like 'Parky', (Michael Parkinson.') He actually said this on television. Funny or otherwise, there is a suggestion that some things are OK discussed privately but not publicly. I find that sort of thing almost hypercritical but I do concede our sensibilities vary. The first rule of blogging is never put into a post anything you do not wish to be read, an obvious point. Having said that, I would not wish to offend anyone. A young women teacher was recently sentenced for having sex with her pupils. The attitude to this varies, one small point, is the attitude the same where a male teacher is involved; I wonder.
Getting a mite serious, this post so lets lighten the mood. I notice staid, inoffensive, not really with it Marks and Spencer are moving with these less than delicate times. Have you seen their latest men's underwear. Called 'Bodymax Frontal Enhancement Pants' they have an in-built fuzzy codpiece protruding from the front of the boxer shorts. (You can also buy vests that enhance and padded socks.) What do the initials M and S now stand for, any suggestions.
The pants are definitely me, I can't wait to go to town. Mind you, it does seem a shame to wear trousers as well; might try them without, where I live it's fairy quiet! Mind you, sex and sexiness is a great attribute when you're young. But at my age, in my condition, what's the modern parlance, 'You're having a laugh!'