I don't know about you (well, obviously I don't, I'm not even sure who you are) but Amazon and their associates have the happy ...
Wednesday, 11 July 2018
I seem to have been going through a phase in which I've been giving up quite a few things that used to occupy my time and now I'm left with quite a bit of spare capacity and no real idea of how I might usefully use it. After quite a bit of mental arm-wrestling, I've come to the conclusion that a lot of the things that I could do, I don't actually want to do, if I'm being honest with myself, so there seems little point in setting myself up to fail (yet again).
I've tried to analyse what I've enjoyed about the various things I've done in my life, and what I haven't and I've come to the conclusion that what I've really enjoyed (and what I miss the most) is the performance aspect. When I was a lecturer, I got a real kick out of talking to the class and trying to come up with entertaining ways of conveying information about a subject (HR) which can be quite tedious at times. I may not have always succeeded, but I did enjoy trying!
I had a sort of 'Damascene' moment regarding this at a 'Poetry and Puddings' evening the other week. Each member of the audience was encouraged to read a poem of some sort before and after the main event of descending on the huge range of delicious puddings on offer. I was chuffed to bits that my choice of 'The Lion and Albert' went down really well and caused quite a few chuckles. I realised that this is what I had missed.
When my first book ('Steady Past Your Granny's' - available as a Kindle edition and soon to be available again in print) came out, I was pleased to be invited to give a talk or two based on the content. The problem was that I hadn't really done any research into what people expected from a 'talk' of this nature and so I just winged it. As such, I must offer my profound apologies to the massed ranks of the Burton Civic Society who were the first to suffer.
It was a very well-attended talk and the front row was largely comprised of my friends and family who had dutifully turned out. I didn't have a script for my contribution, just a list of topics I wanted to cover. This would be fine except for the fact that, when I'm thinking furiously about what I'm trying to say, I have a tendency to pace and I spent the whole session striding up and down the front row so that they began to resemble the crowd at Centre Court during a particularly energetic rally. I had no visual aids, so the audience were reduced to watching my stroboscopic image darting madly from side to side as I droned on. It would be fair to say that I was received politely, if not enthusiastically and I was disappointed to note that one or two of those present had actually dropped off.
After that debut, it was somewhat of a surprise to be invited to do the whole thing again but this time as an after-lunch talk to the Rotary Society in Burton. You would think that I would have learned my lesson from the previous performance but...I still had no visual aids and no script. The only saving grace was that, pinned in by my fellow diners on the top table, I couldn't stride about like a mad thing.
The third and final time I was asked to give a talk was to Burton's Probus Society. This time I decided I would try to learn from my mistakes. Winging it was clearly not my forte. I prepared my talk in advance and rehearsed it night and day. I also took the precaution of preparing a PowerPoint presentation of some appropriate pictures which acted as an aide-memoir to me and gave the audience something else to look at, other than me. This time I managed to resist the temptation to stride about manically, I stuck to the 'script' and managed to get some laughs. Admittedly one person was sound asleep by the end of it but, given my previous record, I deemed that a success.
That marked the end of my appearances on the 'talks' circuit. Pressure of work and other commitments meant that I couldn't really devote any time to it and, to be fair, I wasn't exactly besieged by invitations. I put my PowerPoint projector to one side and that was the end of that. Except that now, five books later, I'm hear with quite a few stories to tell and I think I've got some better ideas about how I might tell them. Obviously, I've still got a lot to learn but the only way to do that is to practice, so I'm putting myself back on the market, as it were.
If you're in Staffordshire or Derbyshire and you think that you might be interested in hearing what I've got to say, perhaps we could give it a go? You may have to nail my feet to the floor, of course ;-)
Thursday, 5 July 2018
Some of you (not many, I'll give you, but some of you) may have been wondering what has happened to the monthly Derby Telegraph column in which I have been rambling about my somewhat chaotic start to my career history? For the record, the last column appeared in April and it was this one 'The End of the Paper Trail'.
The simple answer is that the Derby Telegraph, in their wisdom, have changed the format of their Bygones page so that, as from 1st May, the daily page is no more and has been replaced by a 250 word insert with a photo. The Bygones supplement, published each Monday, carries the longer articles written by contributors like myself but, as it's only five pages long, it's somewhat restricted as to content. As all the former monthly contributors are now funnelled through this supplement, and two pages of it are given over to a local history article by a local historian and one page to a sort of 'On This Day in History' type article, there really isn't a lot of scope for one of my articles to appear, other than once in a blue moon. The end result is that an unbroken series of monthly articles, stretching back more than ten years, appears to have come to a rather unfortunate end.
I can't complain because I've had a really good run and I can clearly recall the joy of getting my first article in print, never expecting to still be churning out memories from my early years ten years later. Still, I'll miss the discipline of producing a monthly article and the memories it evoked.
Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read about my exploits and if you know of anyone who is in need of a columnist - I'm cheap and available ;-)
Sunday, 27 May 2018
For this UK Bank Holiday week only, the newest book in the 'nostalgedy' series has been reduced from £2.49 to just 99p!
What have people said about 'The Things You See...'
"I have read and enjoyed all of Philip Whiteland's books and this book was no exception. But a word of warning. Do not read this book in bed if you don't sleep alone. I got in big trouble because I was laughing so much I woke up my husband. He was not impressed. Especially watch out for the kick towards the end at the Post Office. I shall say no more, other than ENJOY!" Jonty
"Philip has done it again with The Things You See. I love all Philips books and this is particularly special to me as it mentions a place I once worked. It gives so much detail I am almost back at my desk in the late 70s. Philip's books/kindles are just the job to cheer you up.
Keep writing Philip." Quintella
"As usual Philip pushes those memory buttons long switched off. His humour makes it a local book that must be read. Off now to finish the last few pages." Amazon Customer
"...it made me chuckle and successfully took me back in time to wonderful friends and events and a happy life style most of which I had all but forgotten - so well done and thank you..." KLB
"....I'm thoroughly enjoying it! It's amazing how much you forget about the past. Happy times." LW.
Tuesday, 22 May 2018
If you've got children of a certain age around the house, then you'll know about Bing! If not, his work may have passed you by, particularly if you don't happen to be an avid fan of CBeebies.
Bing! (and he always comes with his own exclamation mark) is a charming black rabbit dressed in a colourful set of dungarees (which people my age would have called a romper suit in the dark ages). He has a series of adventures with his friends Sula (an elephant) Pando (a panda) and Coco (another rabbit) which are all little morality tales in which Bing! learns a lesson about behaviour and social rules, which makes him a better rabbit. So far, so good.
Where it gets a bit odd, in my opinion, is when we consider the carers of these animals. None of them are the same species as their charges. In fact, they're not any recognisable species at all. For example, Flop, Bing's! carer, is an indeterminate brown thing that looks like a favourite toy that's been washed too many times. Moreover, he, and all the other carers and 'adults' in these stories, is only half the size of his dependant, if that.
What bothers me is that these creatures, whatever they are, clearly run the world they inhabit. They care for their giant animal offspring and also run the shop, the ice cream van and everything else in between. What you don't see, ever, are the grown-up versions of the animals of which the children are infants, if you see what I mean. Clearly Bing!, Sula and the rest have to grow up, at some point, so what happens to them then? They can't take a position of any responsibility in their world because the small things with funny shapes have got those all sewn up.
Is it me, or does this have all the hallmarks of a classic, if rather surreal, horror film?
Wednesday, 2 May 2018
It's a little after the event, but here's April's column for the Derby Telegraph in which I wonder whether I've made the right decision. Something I spend most of my life wondering ;-)
and this is the unedited version:
There was a lot that I really liked about Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton back in the 1970s. I liked the people and the quirkiness of the building. I loved the ancient machinery and the odd terms associated with paper manufacture (like reams and 'knocking up'). The only thing I really wasn't happy about was the pay, which was abysmal.
You might wonder why I was bothered about how much I earned? After all, I lived at home and paid a modest amount of 'board', had no expenses other than my bus fare, money for cigarettes and a few pints (well, quite a few actually). The answer could be found on a Saturday night at the Transport Club. Here, in the Lounge, gathered all of my mates and some mates of my mates, along with their respective wives/girlfriends. This made for a most convivial evening but I found that buying a round pretty much wiped out all of my disposable income for the rest of the week!
It wasn't just about the money, either. Most of my friends (even Kev) had secured good jobs with the Department of Employment (or whatever title it went by in those days) initially in the Labour Exchange in Cross Street and then in the Job Centre in New Street. Their jobs had clear career paths, promotion to higher levels was on offer as was the opportunity to try other roles at the same grade to expand their knowledge and experience. They were perpetually going on training courses. I barely had enough work to last me through the week and had never been trained to do anything.
On the grounds of 'if you can't beat them, join them', I went to talk to a manager in the Department. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the Civil Service's rules of entry were designed to keep me out. You had to have 5 'O' Levels or their equivalent to join as a Clerical Officer. Unfortunately, my 3 'O' levels and 2 'A' levels were in the same subjects, which meant they didn't count. Therefore, if I was to join, it could only be as a Clerical Assistant, the lowest of the low, at a salary even lower than the miserable amount Wesley's provided me with. On reflection, this would have been a good move but at 22 I was not thinking in the long term, I just needed enough to buy a round on a Saturday night.
My eye was caught by an advertisement for a Cost Clerk at Grants of St. James's in Station Street. A couple of interviews later, I was astonished to be offered the job as a Cost Clerk/Assistant Section Leader. What did this involve? I had no idea and still wasn't sure 2½ years later when I left. The attraction, to me however, was that I would be doubling my salary, would have a generous allowance of wines and spirits and would be closer to home. Taking all of that into account, the fact that I didn't know anything about the job seemed of little importance.
I can still remember the day that I left Wesley's. It was a warm summer evening as I walked out of my office and headed down the loading bank for the last time. I looked back at the familiar bulk of the Victorian former Crescent Brewery and my heart sank. Why, I wondered, was I leaving somewhere that I loved and knew so well, just for a few more pounds in my pocket. I had a sinking feeling that I might be making a very big mistake.
If you're wondering how I got the job at Grants', despite having little relevant experience and no knowledge of what the job entailed? So was I, but I think it became clear on my first morning when the Department Head remarked that he had seen my dad on his way to work that morning. As my dad was 'between engagements' and was still in bed when I left home, I realised he must be talking about my uncle with whom, apparently, he was great friends. You could see his face fall when I told him but he covered it well.
Monday, 9 April 2018
I went to the theatre at the weekend. Yes, yes, I know “Get you, how cultured!” and so on. I didn’t expect to be going, in all honesty, as a consequence of my own stupid actions, or inactions as it turned out. I’ll explain.
There’s very little, these days, which makes me laugh out loud. An awful lot of modern comedy, I find, just leaves a wry smile on the face as you contemplate how clever it was, and that’s about it. Even fewer things leave me giggling helplessly, with tears streaming down my face. Therefore, when I had exactly that reaction to “A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong” on T.V. over the festive season, I was determined to repeat the experience. I was delighted to note that our local theatre was going to be hosting the company’s touring production, “The Play That Goes Wrong”, later in the year and I made a mental note to make sure I got tickets for this.
Making a mental note, when you have a memory like mine, is a pointless exercise, so although it was at the back of my mind that I really should do something about this, that’s as far as it got. When I realised, to my horror, that it was going to be on last week, I went to the theatre’s site to see about tickets, only to find it was sold out for the whole week. Being a mature adult, who recognises that the problem is entirely of his own making… I sulked!
Without a great deal of optimism, I contacted the Box Office to see if they had a waiting list for returned tickets, and they had. I didn’t hold out much hope, but I indicated that I would be happy with just one ticket if necessary, or even two but not sitting together. My name went on the list and I expected to hear no more. Then on Friday, came the phone call that said they had just one ticket returned for Saturday night and would I like it? Which is why, on Saturday evening, I was squeezed in between two couples on Row E anticipating a performance I hadn’t hoped to ever see.
Apparently, with pornography, if you watch enough of it you begin to wonder why everyone isn’t ripping their clothes off at the slightest provocation in real life (or so I’m reliably informed, not that I’ve ever…) and there was something of this effect apparent with “The Play That Goes Wrong”.
Without wishing to spoil the experience, from the moment you enter the auditorium, you’re immersed in the theme of the play because the ‘Director’ and one of the ‘Stage Hands’ are looking for a lost dog and quizzing the arriving audience about it. This puts everyone on notice that things might not be as they seem which means, as a consequence, that everything could potentially be part of the production. At one point, an audience member is dragged up on stage to help the ‘Stage Hands’ with a particularly tricky part of the set, and this is clearly part of the whole thing, but then, when everyone had settled down, two people arrived with a member of the front of house staff and the whole audience turned to watch what was going to happen. There was a conflab between the front of house staff and a couple seated a row or two in front of me and this resulted in them blushingly getting up and moving back a couple of rows to the only remaining empty seats so that the two new arrivals could take theirs. I’m sure this wouldn’t have been noticed in any other production but, because the whole audience was on alert for the next thing to go wrong, the couple who had been in the wrong seats actually got a round of applause! I don’t think it was part of the production, but then, who knows?
The play itself was as good as I’d hoped and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. When I came out I discovered that I’d almost lost my voice because I had been laughing that heartily, and that takes some doing when you’re on your own and not necessarily in your comfort zone.
After the show, you’re left in this frame of mind in which you’re still anticipating the next thing to go wrong and real life seemed to go out of its way to make this happen. I joined a small crowd who were trying to get to the Intu centre’s upper car parking floors. Unfortunately, as we headed time and again for the lifts that would take us there, we found the floor cordoned off by the cleaning staff and we were politely but firmly redirected back on ourselves to find an alternative access. This happened so many times, I think we were all beginning to despair of ever seeing our loved ones again, but there was this overwhelming sense that this somehow fitted perfectly with the theme of the evening.
When I eventually did get to the correct floor, despite having made a careful note of my parking zone, I had a heck of a job to find it (everywhere looks the same, like something out of a dystopian science fiction movie). Then I couldn’t find the right exit. But it was the exit from the car park that finally convinced me that I should be looking out for the hidden cameras which would confirm I was still part of the production.
I pulled up to the ticket machine, wound down my window to insert my ticket and get the barrier to raise, when the machine made a noise like an android being sick and vomited a pile of tickets out and into my car. I sat there in disbelief, confidently awaiting a manic laugh from stage left.
I’m definitely coming to the conclusion that I’m living out one of their scripts. Perhaps they could find a place for me in their next production, I’ve a feeling it would be a home from home!
You can find a lot more about Philip's life going wrong, both yesterday and today, in his 'nostalgedy' series of books. Try "The Things You See...", the latest collection available in print and as a Kindle e-book.
Sunday, 8 April 2018
"Spring is sprung, the grass is riz…" and 'riz' it most certainly is, and will be until the nights start drawing in and the first frosts put a stop to it all. The grass being 'riz' wouldn't be an issue if we could just smile benignly and watch it wave gently in the breeze, but we can't. We feel compelled to hack it to within an inch of its life, on at least a weekly basis, and grass, being of a hardy and sporting nature, just keeps on coming right back for more of the same treatment.
I once read some research which indicated that the reason we feel compelled to reduce grass to verdant stubble, in this manner, is because of our prehistoric forebears. Back on the savannahs in Africa, they relished the closely cropped grassland all around them as it meant that they could spot a predator from miles away, thus making popping down for a swift one at the waterhole less of a fraught exercise. Actually, saying that 'I read some research' makes it sound as if I spend my leisure time poring over academic reports when, in all likelihood, I probably got it from the back of a cereal packet, but it does have the ring of truth to it. Why else would we insist on surrounding ourselves with swathes of the green stuff which have no practical purpose? You might argue that a back lawn gives somewhere for the children and grandchildren to play, in the unlikely event of clement weather, and for dogs to do that which dogs must do, but what about those corner plots on the leafier estates which are cursed with large lawns, to the front and sides, with which nothing can be done at all other than to mow the stuff?
You may have gathered that I am not one of life's gardeners. Lawn mowing is, in fact, about the limit of my horticultural ability. When, years ago, I owned a flat, the lawn that came with it was more of a curse than a blessing. I used to put off the evil day of going to mow until I couldn't see my cat any more when he traversed the patch. With a heavy heart I would then attack it (the lawn, not the cat) with a strimmer (I didn't possess a mower) and reduce the patch to a series of stubbly hillocks for another month or so.
The strimmer, the electric rotary, the hover and all the rest of the motorised mowing paraphernalia are another reason why I dislike grass-cutting. There used to be something soporific and quintessentially British about the sound of a manual cylinder mower whirring along on a Sunday morning. It didn't intrude; in fact it enhanced the stillness of a summer's day. Now, in our neck of the woods, Sundays sound more like an industrial estate on piece-work. I'm sure you would get more tranquillity in a blast furnace.
Of course, it is easy to be hopelessly romantic about the old-fashioned mower. In reality, it had an unpleasant habit of stopping dead in its tracks, for no apparent reason, thus catching the unwary with a rather nasty blow from the handle to the solar plexus. This could have resulted in the shattering of the Sabbath stillness with a string of obscenities, if the breath hadn't been knocked completely out of the operator.
I'm not advocating concreting over our green and pleasant land. Well, not any more that we already seem to be doing. But wouldn't it be good if we could develop a strain of grass that grew to half an inch in height and then packed up? Perhaps we could genetically modify it with whichever gene is responsible for male pattern baldness, so that we could at least see some benefit from that? Alternatively, couldn't we, just for once, let the grass grow under our feet?
You can find this and a whole lot more in the new collection of stories available in both print and Kindle editions - 'The Things You See...'