Tuesday 26 April 2011

Some Are Born Lucky. Dead True.

A 'tongue in cheek' story of a man without the royal privileges so prevalent this week.►

“You will get cold feet if you stand about waiting for dead men’s shoes.” Peter Keary

Deadly Serious

There’s no doubt some are born luckier than others. Take Amos Crampton, for instance.
He was born prematurely on Friday the thirteenth, in a small terraced house next to an undertakers in the dead centre of Bury. I suppose you could say Amos hadn’t a chance of happiness. But you would be wrong, dead wrong.
True, he was a sickly baby whom the midwife declared, “Hadn’t a ghost of a chance of survival,” but survive he did.
At death’s door on numerous occasions, he often lay in his battered old pram, shrouded in blankets lest he catch his death of cold. His mother administered to his every need. She was heard to say on many an occasion, “Amos, you’ll be the death of me,” but he survived infancy due to her exceptional dedication.
“Amos, die, over my dead body,” she frequently uttered, “he’s dead gorgeous.” And survive he did.
Amos’s passage through school was, I suppose, unexceptional. Some teachers thought him somewhat dead from the neck up. Any attempts to install in Amos anything more than the educational basics were deemed to be flogging a dead horse.
He would sit, trance like, gazing out of the window, oblivious to the teacher’s oratory offerings, completely dead to the world.
Attempts at change were resisted. Even the threat, “You’ll finish in a dead end job,” merely elicited the thought so succinctly articulated by the illustrious Robert Louis Stevenson centuries previously. ”It’s better to be a fool than dead.”
Not that Amos had ever heard of Robert Louis Stevenson. Or for that matter George Stephenson, or indeed any other Stevenson with a ‘v’ or Stephenson with a ‘ph’, famous or otherwise who had ever lived.
Amos was far more interested in leisure pursuits outside school. He rode furiously down the hills around the town after school, peddling furiously, on his dilapidated bicycle, brakes defunct, a death trap indeed. He nevertheless happily diced with death itself amidst the early evening traffic. And sometimes at weekends he could be found, at dead of night in Piggin Wood, the eerie solitude enough to scare you to death. Plus discovery by the gamekeeper would have ensured you were a dead duck. But the visits were profitable and he would return home dead-beat with rabbits to supplement the Crampton family pot.
Sick and tired to death of school, Amos was thankful to leave. He obtained a job easily, contrary to school expectations, as an apprentice, cum odd job man at the undertakers next door to his home. His greyish pallor, solemn expression and general demeanour made him particularly suited to work at an undertakers, though he was less than balmy about embalming.
Work amongst bodies and flowers he liked, though his tendency towards hay fever meant him sometimes coughing amidst the coffins, so to speak. But he didn’t mind, remembering that old adage, “It’s not the cough that carries you off, it’s the coffin they carry you off in.” For Amos viewed life with macabre irreverence. It might have seemed a melancholy existence to others, but in a way it was Amos’ idea of ‘living on the edge’, permanently having ‘One foot in the grave’ he used to say whilst adopting his best deadpan expression.
The work was hard at times, a coffin plus body being a dead weight. Amos was dead set on doing well but promotion depended on filling dead men’s shoes. The die was cast, for promotion prospects seemed as dead as a dodo. Nevertheless he enjoyed the work so much that he even volunteered to work Bank Holidays when only a skeleton staff was required. On such an occasion he would turn on the radio for company, singing along to such classics as Jimmy Ruffin’s ‘I’ve Passed This Way Before’, Sammi Smith’s ‘Help Me make It Through The Night’ and of course Billy Fury’s haunting ‘Halfway to Paradise’, though not loud enough to waken the dead of course.
But life for Amos was not all work and no play.
Amos was not adverse to the company of the opposite sex, courting Jessica, who lived opposite the cemetery for many a year. But whereas Amos was thought by some to be dead from the neck up, Jessica was definitely dead from the neck down. Their courting therefore was confined to holding hands in the cemetery, together reading the epitaphs on the tombstones. A dead loss from a romantic point of view. Jessica may well have been a dead ringer for a young Greta Garbo, but her lack of passion signalled the death knell for any truly sexual progress. Of any case, the ties to his mother were too strong, ‘until death us do part’ referring to mother rather than Jessica.
Amos also pursued other leisure interests to varying degrees.
He regularly visited his local public house. A creature of habit, dead set in his ways, he always sat in the same seat, drinking only spirits, with a natural preference for brandy, a stiff drink if there ever was one. And a deadly shot in the darts team, he was always in at the death in any competition offering cash incentives.
He read nature books, becoming somewhat of an expert, particularly on the Death’s Head Hawk Moth and the habitats of the Deadly Nightshade. He also read poetry, being so fond of Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ that he learnt from memory the entire poem. A huge undertaking, starting of course ‘Into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred.’ And he read novels, Hemingway’s ‘Death in the Afternoon’ being a particular favourite.
He carefully studied the obituaries in the local paper, an interest both personal and professional. Amos worked on the principal, “If you weren’t mentioned, you’d no worries.” Plus any local personages listed could well be a bonus in the very near future.
He visited the theatre, never tiring of Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile’, the author being on a long list of people he was dying to meet.
Ever the dutiful son, his weekends included visits, in his Sunday best, to the Methodist Chapel round the corner from where he lived. The sermons were often as dry as dust, asking ‘What do we mean by the quick and the dead?’ Plus debating ‘The wages of sin is death’, but Amos did not really mind. It pleased his mother that he attended, and his grandfather, a Sunday School Superintendent would have turned in his grave had he not done so.
In summer he would visit a cousin in Gravesend, conveniently placed for hop picking. An excellent source of extra income in a hot summer, a dead loss when storms persisted. A wet summer signalled the kiss of death to financial gain, though the farmers seemed unaffected by variations in the weather, proving the country aphorism, “You never see a poor farmer or a dead donkey.”
He never made a fortune, did Amos, no gravy train, the undertaking business. He was a proud man, nevertheless. He wouldn’t be seen dead collecting supplementary benefits others thought of as their divine right. He would rather drop dead than accept charity, as he called it. He was at death’s door on several occasions, but always recovered, quoting Mark Twain’s words, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Inevitably mother passed to the other side and Amos himself grew old. His increasing deafness meant a world as silent as the grave. And the end, when it did come, came peacefully, over seventy years after it was first expected.
A happy life; a contented life; a long life. Neither morbid nor melancholy, though others might disagree.
On cold wintry nights when the wind whistles round the back street of Bury, one can feel a ghostly presence in the air, smiling down at any poor soul braving the elements. The elderly nod knowingly and hurry home. The young huddle together on the streets, sometimes apprehensive as they imagine hearing a hearse passing by from an undertakers long since gone. And are they a little afraid, a little nervous, these brave young things of a new generation.
“Dead true, they are!”

Thursday 21 April 2011

'People Who Need People'.

One of those weeks when nothing comes to mind to make blogging easy. Nothing of world shattering importance happens; at least in my little unimportant world.

I gave three talks last week. (There's Nowt so Strange as Folk.) A dinner club, food plus a speaker. At least the food is always popular! One old lady in the audience was one hundred and one next month. At least she stayed awake. I once asked an organiser if, as they enjoyed it as she suggested, why didn't they participate. 'They can't hear you, they're all deaf' was the reply.

Another group last week was a 'Cancer Self Help' group. a small group, all with the severest problems. Sometimes you don't feel like making an effort of an evening. But this group was one of the nicest groups I have ever met. Not a sign of self pity; lovely, positive people. Sometimes we need reminding that life is not fair, and we need to count our blessings, whatever our beliefs.

On my way to a third group I was lost and stopped on an estate to 'map read'. An elderly Land Rover, with an equally ancient driver hurried past, making noisy contact with my mirror. My destination was a cul-de-sac on the estate, the purpose, a talk to be given at a private house, the audience, all middle class ladies who have been meeting for all of forty years.

I arrived five minutes later and what should be parked in the street, an elderly Land Rover! The driver evidently one of my genteel audience awaiting my offerings on this tranquil night. The talk went well, I never did inform the lady driver of our earlier acquaintance. Go on, what would you have done? I just made sure I went home before the lady in question!

I glanced through my diary entry on this date many years ago. In 1959 I was in hospital with Albert. I thought Albert was remarkable. He happily ate all the 'goodies' people brought me on their visits. I was in no condition to eat anything after a serious motor accident. Albert too had serious injuries after an accident on a demolition site. His eating feat therefore was all the more remarkable as he was bedridden at a peculiar angle due to pelvic injuries. I remember thinking how remarkable were his stomach and bowels.

Twenty six years ago this week I met Bill. Bill was a worldly Geordie individual of dubious skills. These skills included devising a machine that slowed an electricity meter so that the reading bore no true relationship as to the amount of electricity you actually used. I liked Bill and we had something in common. I had an English Bull Terrier, called Buster. Bill too had a bull terrier. Plus we had something else in common. Bill knew Albert, in fact Albert was Bill's brother-in-law. Bill knew Albert very well. In fact so well that Bill went home one Sunday after a drinking session, found Albert asleep on the sofa, took his chance and cut Albert's throat. As you may have realised, Bill didn't like Albert!

A make believe world has its place when we wish to escape the real world for a while. (Went to see Arthur, courtesy of The Times Newspaper. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I suspect people will pre-judge it because of Russell Brand's antics in the past. Oh for an open mind!) But the real world has its characters and its moments. Met a couple who organise marathon running and the like. (Ultrarace) Jen Salter and Rory Coleman. A delightful couple whose dedication to fitness made me feel quite ashamed. (But only for a moment!) Rory has run just short of 1000 marathons, Jen's life involves frequent endurance events, triathlons and the like. Aren't people great, isn't life interesting when you look around you.

Friday 15 April 2011

Rambo by Name, Rambo by Nature
Several years ago, aged eighteen (she is now thirty six) our daughter Alison left home for teacher training. Leaving her beloved hamster Rambo in our safe hands. Only those hands were not so safe. Rambo was an amazing animal whose party trick was to swing from a trapeze and kick the door of his cage. A feat that ceased to be amusing when one night he apparently performed once too often, the cage door was sprung and he vanished into the night. A weekend of mayhem followed.

We searched high and low. The fireplace was dismantled, as was the bath surround. Both were more expensive to carry out than the cost of a new hamster. ( A plan considered but ultimately discarded as an exact match that would fool a bright eighteen year old student could not be obtained.) Just as we were considering moving to a new secret (that is secret from our daughter) address Rambo was discovered on Monday morning, fast asleep in a hole in the kitchen wall where pipes passed to the house exterior. I wrote the following short story as therapy after a traumatic weekend. I strongly suspect this incident was the beginning of my blood pressure problems!

Rambo, a Rather Superior Hamster

Once upon a time there lived a hamster. A golden hamster, the goldiest golden hamster of them all. He was a Syrian hamster, although he didn’t know that. And his proper name was Mesocricetus auratus, which means ‘middle sized golden mouse’, and he didn’t know that either. Something else he didn’t know was that the German word for hamster is ‘hamstern’ meaning to hoard, which is what hamsters do with their food. Come to think of it, this hamster didn’t know very much, did he.

He lived in a cage with Pricilla, Pricilla Amelia Henrietta Creighton-Smythe. “Cost, thirty five pounds from the best pet shop in town,” said Pricilla’s mummy. The cage, that is, cost thirty five pounds not Pricilla; and the hamster lived in the cage on his own that is, no room in the cage for the hamster and Pricilla. All on his own, for hamsters love humans, but are not so keen on other hamsters, definitely a case of “One’s company, two’s a crowd.”

He didn’t say much, for, as Pricilla’s mummy used to say, “Silence is Golden.” But he was a happy hamster, “A quean, fwendly hamster,” Pricilla used to say proudly, “an inquistive, an inquitive, an inquistitive, a nosey little hamster.” For Pricilla was only six and had noticeable difficulties concerning pronunciation. It was a happy life He was well looked after and fed on peanuts, sunflower seeds and maize. In return he would perform little tricks, like juggling the peanuts and hiding the maize. “Amaizing, I’m sure he’s nuts,” said Pricilla gleefully, for six year olds are well into little jokes. Mummy was not so certain. She had been strictly brought up not to play with food and thought it might teach Pricilla bad habits.

Being big and strong, and by hamster standards, handsome, he was called Rambo. Daddy thought it was a macho name; mother thought it vulgar and common. Everyday Rambo exercised to keep in shape. Fifty runs around his hamster wheel; fifty runs up the stairs to the second floor of his house; fifty more to the top floor. Water bottle throwing to keep his muscles strong. Nut hiding to keep the mind in shape. But favourite was the trapeze. Wheeeee, Rambo swung through the air with the greatest of ease, an awesome hamster on a flying trapeze. Wheeeee, backwards and forwards.

One weekend evening, when Pricilla was staying overnight at her friend Tara’s house in Wisteria Grove, the house was quiet and mummy and daddy were asleep. At least I think they were asleep. Rambo practised and practised. Wheeeee, backwards and forwards, faster and faster. Suddenly Rambo lost his grip. He flew through the air with the greatest of ease, what a pity, minus trapeze. Rambo hit the door of his cage with a bang, the door flew open and Rambo, eyes closed, was launched into space. Rambo landed on Pricilla’s bedroom floor with a thud, his fall broken by the sheepskin carpet. “One hundred and twenty five pounds from Mr al-Fayed’s Harrods.” said Pricilla’s mummy

He opened his eyes and surveyed the scene, Rambo that is, not Mr al-Fayed. “The night is young,” thought Rambo. A leisurely breakfast in the Creighton-Smythe household, caviar on toast washed down with champagne, Cristal of course, was interrupted by shrieks and wails. An empty cage had been discovered.

The next few hours were hectic. Everything and everywhere was examined minutely. Boots, shoes, slippers, boxes, bags and bins, all were emptied or upturned. Every room was subject to scrutiny: the bedrooms and the bathroom, en-suite of course; the kitchen, the lounge, the study, the drawing room, the library, the utility room and the conservatory; the linen cupboard, the toy cupboard and the broom cupboard; top shelves, middle shelves and bottom shelves; the loft and the wine cellar. Nothing, neither sight nor sound of the rascal rodent. Mother reached for her antidepressants and daddy for his whisky.

A plumber was sent for, “Double time on a Sunday, call out charge extra,” said mummy. The bath surround, marble of course was duly dismantled, to no avail. The fireplace was removed, the chimney behind examined. Mother ‘popped’ her pills, daddy made short work of the whisky. Rambo was determined to enjoy his newfound freedom. He tiptoed into the master bedroom. Yes, Mummy and daddy were asleep. At least they were now.

Rambo examined the books on the bedside cabinet. “My! What funny positions human beings get into when they are together,” thought Rambo. He peeped into the wardrobe. “And what a busy lady mummy is,” he thought to himself as he viewed the policewoman’s uniform and the nurses’ outfit. “And fancy keeping her school uniform after all these years.”

Rambo wandered into the playroom. The room was full of familiar faces: Barbie and Ken; Tinkerbell and Buzz Lightyear; Bratz, Jessie and Woody. He visited the bathroom, climbed onto the sink and surveyed the first aid cabinet. Such an array of medicinal wonders. Ointments, capsules, tablets, drops, oils. To keep you awake and send you to sleep. For constipation and diarrhoea. To steady you down and lift you up. Oshadhi Oils and Armani Cosmetics, and lots and lots of pills. White pills, red pills, pink pills, brown pills; and little blue pills in a box marked ‘Daddies, Keep Out.’

Rambo tiptoed through the rooms, wide-eyed, at least as wide-eyed as hamsters can be. With hamsterish stealth, he viewed the wealth. Rambo invented a game, ‘Spot the Name’: Bang and Olufsen and Jimmy Choo, plus Linley furniture, all on view.

Dawn came and with it daylight. His adventure became less exciting, more frightening. It was cold and draughty. Everyone knows, or ought to, that hamsters hate draughts most of all. Shrieks and wails broke the silence. Large feet, very large feet, at least to a hamster were suddenly everywhere.

Almost terrified out of his wits, Rambo ran behind the Miele washing machine and climbed up the pipes. He espied a hole in the wall where the pipes went through. “A small hole for mankind but a large hole to a hamster.” Heart pounding, Rambo squeezed into the dusty, dark hole. And there he stayed.

The commotion seemed to go on all around him forever, at least it seemed like forever to a hamster. Rambo wished he had never escaped. But eventually the noise subsided. Rambo thought for a moment. “What was he to do?” But in his hamster heart of hearts he knew exactly what he had to do. He made his way quickly back to Pricilla’s room and eyed his cage. Up the table leg he nimbly climbed. He deftly opened the cage door and, before you could say, “Happy hamster” he was in. He closed the door behind him, as any bright hamster would and settled down in his safe, warm bed in his safe, warm cage.

Time began to run out for mummy and daddy. The alternatives were not encouraging. Buy a Rambo ‘double,’ too late; leave the country, again too late; suicide, too drastic. The doorbell rang. Mummy staggered to the door. Tara’s mummy stood at the door with Pricilla. “Good morning, Mrs Creighton-Smythe, my word you do look ill.” Mummy leant on daddy for support. He too looked decidedly the worse for wear. “Hello mummy, hello daddy, how’s Rambo?” Pricilla was past mummy and daddy before you could say ‘Mesocricetus auratus.’

She vanished into her room. “Hello Rambo, have you missed me. Have you enjoyed your weekend?” Her words drifted through the open door. Pricilla reappeared holding Rambo carefully in her hands. “Thank you, mummy and daddy for looking after Rambo,” she said. “It was nothing,” said mummy as she slid non-too gracefully to the floor.

(Apologies for repeating a post. Taken from 'There's Nowt So Strange As Folk' by Ken Stevens.)

Monday 11 April 2011

One Week in the Life of a Nobody.

Continuing the theme of 'diaries', one week of my life. (I won't do it regularly, honest!)


Harry went home. Harry is a scruffy, very adorable dog, a terrier definitely, whose parents could be Jack Russell, Yorkshire Terrier, Cairn, or similar, take your pick. My wife is a 'dog minder' through a franchise. This entails having dog 'visitors' whilst their owners are on holiday. Great fun in the main and you have the joy of experiencing the idiosyncrasies of various breeds. The last five including Harry have been a Cockapoo (Don't ask), a Staffordshire Terrier, a Miniture Manchester Terrier and a Lhasa Apso. Next weeks visitors are a Whippet and a Bedlingon Terrier.


I've started doing reviews for a free paper. It keeps me busy, my wife loves dressing up and 'hob-nobbing! Plus the free tickets are more than welcome. Went to see 'Annie' at the Assembly Rooms. Very impressed, it has a real 'feel good' factor. Su Pollard of Hi-De Hi fame was good but the star was a mere child playing Annie whose singing made an old man almost emotional. 'Almost' as we British men have been taught to keep a stiff upper lip!

A young man squatted in a street, obviously begging but without intimidation as we went on our way to the venue. On our return he was still there. I gave him a little money and we had a brief chat. Jay is twenty six, lives in a squat, his family have disowned him and he obviously has problems. Was I wrong to give him my loose change? I know, I know, he may be telling me 'porkies' but nearly three hours squatting in the same place! That indicates problems are there. 'There but for the grace of God' and all that.

Tuesday, wife dressed up again, another theatre visit in Derby to see Verdict, an Agatha Christie play written in 1958. Not so sure about this one. Full of elderly Agatha Christie fans who hung on every word and nodded knowingly. I too nearly nodded, nodded off I mean. But it livened up second half. It must be me, I'm too young for that sort of stuff. (Peter Byrne of Dixon of Dock Green fame was in the cast and he's eighty three!)


Went to the pub for a change. (not really!) Extraordinarily ordinary except that one thing caught my eye. A family sat nearby, not exactly the creme de la creme. Then again, it's not exactly a posh pub, my local and anyway, who am I to judge, it is the diary of a nobody after all. Although it wasn't that hot 'Father' in the group took off his tee-shirt to reveal only a singlet on top. Why, because he had one hell of a tattoo on his arms and torso. (The funny thing was, exactly what it represented I was not sure. Some descriptive writing would have helped.) But if you're into tattoos, what's the point if you cover them up. The interesting thing was, 'Father' put his tee-shirt back on when they left. I wonder if the family don't have a television at home and watch dad's tattoo instead?


The weeks going well. Far too well. The grandchildren, ages nine, seven and two are here for an hour or two. Super children, no angels, all well looked after; well adjusted; well loved. I notice one seems troubled by his hair so I examine it closely. It is shiny and clean, a fact appreciated by all, including the head lice and eggs I encounter. Quick examination reveals the other children have similar visitors. When I was a child after the war it was normal to share everything with your friend at the next desk in school, including both his sandwiches and his nits. In 2011, in a modern, far from bottom end school nothing changes. Our discoveries are commonplace, not the slightest bit unusual, we appear to be going backwards in Britain in the 21st century.


A 'nothing' day. I spend almost the entire day pottering in the garden. I say 'garden', its really a patio with pots plus a bit of soil round the edges. Not a blade of grass in sight! (My ancient knees are a problem. They're getting on a bit, I've had them since I was a child!) So strenuous gardening is difficult; lots of pots instead. I love it, very English I reckon but I'm far from an expert. Mind you, I'm learning. I buy any bulb that catches my eye (only one eye cos' only one eye works properly, honest!) I plant them, lose the labels or just forget which is which and wait and see what develops. It make gardening much more interesting! At present included are; astilby, nerine, hedichiums and gingers, brugmansia, lycoris, daffodils, tulips and of course musa (banana plants, still indoors which even I can remember).

Not an 'exciting' day but we all need days like that. the sun shone, Spring seems to have arrived. It was a day that suggested it was good to be alive.


Football day, Derby County versus Coventry City. My wife and I are season ticket holders and join 25,000 plus people in Pride Park Stadium. My wife, normally very mild and polite shouts continuously at the players and referee throughout the match. It is expensive, we are a poor team, having a poor season but manage to draw 2-2. It wouldn't do for us all, but as the sayings go, 'Whatever turns you on', 'Live and let live' and all that. So endeth the week. My idea of 21st century living. How did your week go? What did you do with your time?

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Another 'Diaries of the Famous and a Nobody.'

6th April 1661

Up among my workmen, then to Whitehall, and there at Privy Seal and elsewhere did business, and among other things met with Mr Townsend, who told of his mistake the other day, to put both his legs through one of his knees of his breeches, and went so all day. Then with Mr. Creed and Moore to the Leg in the Palace to dinner which I gave them, and after dinner I saw the girl of the house, being very pretty, go into a chamber, and I went in after her and kissed her. Then by water Creed and I, to Salisbury Court and there saw 'Love's Quarrell' acted the first time, but I do not like the design or words. So calling at my father's, where they and my wife well, ( I wonder if this is a misprint and he meant 'were') and so home and to bed.

Ken Stevens (later known as Grumpy Old Ken!)

6th April 1985

Death of Arthur Negus, television personality, aged eighty-two. Interesting how TV personalities are better known and more revered than many politicians. There must be a moral here somewhere!

I spend time catching up with the marking of exercise books in preparation for the new term. A first year (eleven/twelve year old) classes work is interesting. Asked to list 'These I have loved' as an imitation of a famous Rupert Brooke poem, the following suggestions give food for thought: friends or 'mates', mum, dad, brother, sister and a variety of pets. School holidays, birthdays, Christmas; hot dogs, the smell of bacon and the smell of petrol. Fizzy pop, catching frogs; my first bike, first haircut, my own bedroom. Going to sleep, going in arcades; fashion, cheerful happy people. A quiet moment with a good book and last, rather touchingly, being loved.