Before you all start leaping to unwarranted conclusions, I'd better explain.
Last year (2018) seemed to be a year in which either I gave things up, or things gave me up! As a consequence, I had to re-evaluate what I wanted to do in my retirement (if anything). I considered various volunteering options quite seriously but I kept coming back to the unhappy conclusion that, although all of these were very laudable, they weren't really something I wanted to do if I was going to be honest. From experience, volunteering is a fantastic way to make new friends and acquaintances and to gain experience in areas that you might not have usually explored, but it can also become another full-time occupation, almost by stealth.
As I used to be an Outplacement Counsellor in another existence, I thought I should really take a dose of my own medicine and evaluate what it was I enjoyed about my previous occupations. There were many aspects but the thing that I kept coming back to was that I enjoyed performing, whether I wanted to admit it to myself, or not (and I didn't).
I like an audience.
Admittedly, it also terrifies the life out of me but I also have to accept that that is part of the fun! Having accepted, bedgrudgingly, my apparent superficiality and need for approbation, I then considered how to satisfy that part of my character. I came to the conclusion that the simplest way, which would also neatly link to my writing, would be to resume the Talks that I started to give years ago but which I had to abandon due to pressure of work.
The upshot of all this was that I found myself, last Monday, appearing in front of an audience of about 13 people (you've got to start somewhere) at the United Reformed Church in Derby. This was after weeks of rehearsals and revisions (you've no idea how stupid you can feel until you've spent time giving a talk your spare bedroom over and over again) and some cursing and oathing whilst wrestling with the technology inherent in giving a presentation.
My grateful thanks to everyone at the Derby Friendship Group for being so kind and, well, friendly. Now I have to gird my loins for my next date in March which will be at Highbury Hospital, Nottingham for a meeting of the NHS Retirement Fellowship. Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye!
Yes, I know exactly how you feel. The book sounds good but, then again, it's the author telling you about it so it would, wouldn't it? How can you be sure that you won't be wasting your time and hard-earned money? Well, the simple answer is that you can't, but solicitors have a phrase 'for the avoidance of doubt' which they often use when they're about to reiterate something that should be well known to everyone but they just want to make sure. I thought I might do the same, so here's a run-down of what you can find in 'A Christmas Cracker', available as a Kindle e-book for just 99p or as a paperback that you can give as a gift for 4.99 GBP. 'A Christmas Cracker' is a compendium of seasonal nostalgedy (nostalgia mixed with comedy) observational humour and fiction all designed to make you chuckle and get you In The Christmas Spirit, a condition that gets more elusive with each passing year, if you're anything like me! 1. Coming to town for Santa Claus (nostalgedy) - recalling a trip to Derby in the early 1960s to see Santa. 2. The Fag-End of the Year (nostalgedy) - remember how much easier it was to give Christmas presents when tobacco products and related items were still acceptable 3. It's a Gift! (nostalgedy) - recounting some of the more memorable gifts from my childhood and, I'll bet, yours. 4. Gift Wrapping (nostalgedy) - more about Christmas gifts now and then. 5. By the authority vested in me (observational humour) - what to buy the man in your life (you might be surprised, but trust me, he'll thank you for it) 6. You'd Better Watch Out! (fiction) - Peregrine and Prudence apprehend Wayne, the Anti-Santa. 7. You'd better not pout, you'd better not cry (nostalgedy) - on believing in Santa Claus, or not. 8. The Night Watch (fiction - The Alternativity) - The first episode in the Alternativity series of stories. The Shepherds debate the meaning of the star and moan about the effect on their sheep. 9. Lessons from Carols (nostalgedy) - about reading the lesson at the Christmas School service and misinterpreting the words of the carols. 10. Sing a Song of Christmas (nostalgedy) - the sheer embarrassment of touring the local pubs as part of the church choir, in full regalia. 11. Yuletide Greetings from the Smith's! (fiction) - you know those annoying 'round robin' letters that sometimes come with your Christmas cards? Well, I've taken one to its logical conclusion. 12. Crackers at Christmas (nostalgedy) - the Christmas my dad promised to get the Turkey...and the ensuing unpleasantness. 13. The King Thing (fiction - The Alternativity) - the second part of the Alternativity in which the Shepherds meet the Wise Men and neither group are impressed. 14. Time, Ye Merry Gentlemen, Please! (nostalgedy) - remembering pub culture at Christmas 15. The Spirit of Christmas (fiction) - a white-bearded old gentleman finds himself joining the throng on Christmas Day lunchtime in a typical pub in the 1960s. 16. A Room at the Inn (fiction - The Alternativity) - in the eponymously named "House of David' inn, Old Jim has some thoughts on Herod, the Census and paternity whilst hot water and swaddling clothes are needed in the stable. 17. My Christmas Presence (nostalgedy) - how I disgraced myself at a Christmas Day family lunch. 18. Luncheon for One (observational humour) - on the difficulty of dining alone on Christmas Day, even if you want to! 19. A Stable Upbringing (fiction - The Alternativity) - when the Kings met the baby and everything didn't go quite to plan. 20. Get Away, In A Manger (fiction - The Alternativity) - we hear a lot about the human contingent in the stable, but what about the Ox and the Ass, what did they have to say? 21. Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Mourning? (fiction) - Josiah and Archibald, of Oakshott & Underwood Funeral Directors, discuss Archibald's seasonal marketing strategy. Will that do for you? Do you think you might find something in there worth reading? I do hope so 😁
From time to time I have the urge to write a short story about my two hapless undertakers, Josiah and Archibald. The other day someone recounted a true story to me which I thought sounded exactly like something they might be involved in, so with a few further fictional embellishment, I finished up with this...
Josiah Oakshott, sole proprietor
of Oakshott and Underwood Funeral Directors, sat back contentedly in his
comfortable office chair. Happily he
cast his eyes around the dimly-lit, oak-panelled room that acted as his
workplace. He loved it here,
particularly at this time of day when everyone had gone home at the close of a
busy working day and there was only him and his clients in the mortuary, none
of whom were likely to disturb his repose.
He stretched a little, settled himself back further into his seat and
returned to his study of the accounts. The peace was, however, rudely shattered by
his office door crashing open to admit the dishevelled spectre of Archibald
"I've just about had enough
and that's straight!" Archibald
announced with the hint of a sob in his voice.
"Archibald! I thought you had completed your tasks for
the day and returned home. What brings
you here, now? Surely that business with
Mrs. Papodopoulous was concluded a good while ago?"
"Erm, not quite" Archibald shuffled his feet and fidgeted with
his black bowler hat.
Josiah was perplexed. He had tasked Archibald with the simple remit
to accompany Mrs. Papodopoulous as she went to scatter her husband's
ashes. Strictly speaking, there was no requirement
for the presence of an undertaker at this event, but Mrs. Papodopoulous was a
member of a large and rapidly ageing family and Josiah had high hopes of future
"I take it that you have
experienced some difficulties?"
Josiah asked with a grim foreboding.
"Did we ever!"
Archibald said with feeling and crashed down into the chair opposite Josiah's
desk, "first she wouldn't go in our car, she insisted that we use Mr.
Papodopoulous' 'cause she wanted him to be able 'to take one last spin in
it'" Archibald did a passable impression of Mrs. Papodopoulous' heavily
"That does not seem
unreasonable, given the circumstances, Archibald. I trust you were suitably sympathetic to her
"Oh yeah, I said it wasn't a
problem but I wasn't really happy 'cause it's a big car and I've never driven
anything like that before. It was a bit
weird having him next to me an' all"
"Mr. Papodopoulous. She insisted on having the urn strapped in
the passenger seat, so he could see out, like.
Mrs. Papodopoulous was in the back."
"Well, again, not entirely
unreasonable" Josiah pointed out, "we do have to make certain
allowances for the feelings of the recently bereaved, as I have made clear to
you on numerous occasions, Archibald"
"Yeah, well, any road, we're
travelling down the dual carriageway and we get pulled over by the Police for a
"Not speeding?" Josiah asked with trepidation. He still shuddered whenever he remembered the
occasion when Archibald, in an excess of zeal and concern for punctuality, had
hurtled past the hearse carrying the coffin, with the ashen-faced family of the
deceased clutching each other in fright as he reached speeds in excess of 100
mph in his attempt to reach the crematorium on time.
"Nah, nothing like
that. They were stopping people at
random, checking car tax, tyres and stuff. So, they pulled us up and the first
thing they asked was, was I the owner of the car?"
procedure" Josiah nodded.
"Yeah, but they got a bit
shirty when I said I wasn't but he was and pointed to the urn." Archibald
crossed his arms and looked suitably put-upon, " I think they thought I
was trying to be funny."
"I can imagine" Josiah
sighed and reached for his notepad. From
past experience he found that any foray by Archibald into the outside world
nearly always required a series of apologies, so he commenced what he expected
to be his list of Apologies To Make with 'Local Police' at the top.
"Mrs. Papodopoulous had to
get out and explain it all to them. They
were alright after that but they kept looking at me a bit funny, I thought"
"I can't imagine why"
Josiah commented, sarcastically, knowing full well the nuance would be lost on
"Anyhow, eventually we get
back on the road and head for the cliffs where Mrs. P. wanted to scatter Mr.
P's ashes. Only, when we get up there,
it's blowing like bugg… nobody's business.
I said maybe we should try somewhere else but she wouldn't hear of
it. So, she gets this bag of rose petals
and stands on the edge of the cliff and chucks them over, 'cause she wanted to
do that first before we sent the ashes down"
"Seems a nice, romantic
touch" Josiah remarked.
"Yeah, well, it's just as
well she did, 'cause the wind blew all the petals back and she was covered from
head to foot. She just stood there
looking like a giant pimple!"
"I hope you were
demonstrated a degree of compassion, Archibald?" Josiah asked with the
definite feeling that he shouldn't have entrusted Archibald with this task,
"Of course!" Archibald
responded, indignantly, "mind you, you've got to laugh haven't you? I think even she saw the funny side after
we'd cleaned her up a bit. We got most
of the petals back in the bag, so it was alright, really. I said to her, with it blowing like bugg…erm,
blowing quite a bit up there I thought we'd better knock that idea on the
head. Anyhow, she started getting upset
and said how as she'd promised Mr. P. that she'd 'commit his body to the waves'
like he wanted, so I said why don't we hire a boat and do it that way"
Archibald. I'm pleased you sought a solution"
"Yeah, well, I thought it
was a good idea and she got all enthusiastic and said that her brother had a
fishing boat, so we drove down to the harbour but her brother had already gone
out fishing and there was no-one else about."
"That was unfortunate,
Archibald. What action did you
"Well, the foot passenger
ferry was just about to set off, so we piled on that. I thought we could just dump Mr. P. off the
back when we got about half-way across the channel"
Josiah nodded. The ferry carried foot passengers from the
harbour to a headland a small distance away so that they could access the next
town without having to drive the much greater distance along the coast. "A sound enough plan, provided the
Ferryman had no objections" He agreed.
"Yeah, well, I told him
about it and he took it ever so seriously.
When we got about halfway across, he stopped the engine, came to the
back of the boat and lowered the little flag to half-mast. Then he got all of the other passengers to
stand up and made them sing "For Those In Peril On The Sea" while
Mrs. P. chucked the rose petals out and I ditched Mr. P. into the drink"
Josiah had a mental image of the
assembled passengers standing precariously and singing and had to stifle a
smile. "Were the other passengers
alright about it?" He asked,
"Well, there was a party of
Chinese folk and they didn't seem to know what was going on. They didn't look at all happy. I was surprised that the Ferry bloke did all
that 'cause Mrs. P. said that Mr. P. couldn't stand him. Apparently, he always said 'he was a cheating
bastard who abused his monopolistic position'" Archibald mimicked Mrs.
"I hope she didn't say that
"Well, no, not right
then. That came later."
"Later? In what way, later?" Josiah asked with a
good deal of trepidation.
"It was when we got back
after we'd dropped the Chinese folk off. The Ferryman wanted Mrs. P. to pay for
three round-trip tickets and she went off at him, a bit. In the end he settled on two return tickets
and one single on the grounds that Mr. P. didn't come back, which seemed
"I suppose so" Josiah
shook his head, he was definitely entering that state of total disorientation
which always seemed to come from being in conversation with Archibald. "All in all, from the sound of things, I
suppose it could have been worse" He reached for his notepad and added
'Ferryman' to his list.
"Yeah, if that had been the
end of it. But, as we were driving back,
we got stopped again but this time by a different lot of copp…policemen, 'cause
we were on the other carriageway" Archibald explained, "going in the
opposite direction. They wanted to know
the same stuff, like 'is this your vehicle,sir' and all that"
"And what did you tell them,
"Well, I said that by rights
I supposed it was Mrs. P. who owned it now, and she nodded like, because it
used to belong to her husband, Mr. Papodopoulous, but we'd just chucked him in
the ocean. You wouldn't credit how
excited they got! Next thing we know,
we're both being dragged out of the car, bent over the bonnet and frisked"
"Oh no! Poor Mrs. Papodopoulous!"
"Oh, I don't know. I think she quite enjoyed it. She certainly had a gleam in her eye when
they loaded us on to the van"
"Loaded you on to the
"They took us to the Cop
Sh…Police Station, didn't they? 'Cause they thought we'd done away with Mr.
Papodopoulous, you see."
Josiah added Mrs. Papodopoulous
to his ever increasing list.
"I presume, given your
presence here, Archibald, that this distressing interlude was concluded
"You what?" Archibald
"I guess everything's
alright as you're here now!" Josiah all but shouted.
"Yeah, 'cause that Inspector
turned up, you know, that one who interviewed me after all that business with
Mrs. Anderby and the compost (see Last Rights) and he took one look at me and said he wasn't going through all
that again, not for a big clock, and they chucked us out."
Josiah added the Detective
Inspector to the list and reflected that this was probably going to cost him at
least one bottle of Malt.
"I think, on reflection,
Archibald" Josiah said, faintly, as he buried his face in his hands,
"that I was ill-advised to entrust you with this particular mission. It clearly involved a good deal more
complexity than I ever imagined"
"Oh, don't fret Mr. O. It wasn't all bad news." Archibald said, stoutly, "The Ferry
bloke said, for the right money, you can chuck anyone you like off the back of
"I will bear that in mind,
Archibald" Josiah said, resignedly. "I will bear that in mind"
He was pretty sure he had a strong candidate on the tip of his tongue.
If you enjoyed this, you should check out the special Christmas story featuring this pair in my collection of seasonal stories 'A Christmas Cracker'
I'm delighted to announce the launch of the paperback version of my Christmas collection of stories 'A Christmas Cracker'. Now available through Amazon and to order through your local bookshop, this great little book makes the perfect stocking filler at just £4.99 (or equivalent). What's it all about? Well, let me tell you...
"Are you ITCS yet? For those who don't know, we're talking about being In The Christmas Spirit here. Before you throw this book out of the window, just remember that this is a state of mind that advertisers and manufacturers try very hard to induce in you, and yet the answer is right here, in this little book. Being ‘In The Christmas Spirit’ is impossible to define. It’s a bit like love, you know it when you’re in it. Philip has gathered together a whole bunch of stories he's written about Christmases past and present, some factual, some fictional, over the years. Some of these, if you’re a regular reader of his ramblings (and we know there are some of you out there...we can hear you breathing) you may recognise from previous collections, although updates have been made where it was sensible to do so. Interspersed with these familiar stories are others that have never previously seen the light of day, including a story featuring Josiah and Archibald, the two fictitious undertakers, written specifically for this collection. We really hope that you get as much enjoyment from reading these stories as we've had gathering them, and that you're ITCS before you can say "Ho, ho, ho!"
Previously only available as a Kindle edition, this is the perfect gift for the baby-boomer in your life, or for anyone who enjoys a good chuckle at Christmas (or any other time for that matter).
Alright, I agree, as World Tours go it's rather limited. In fact, it only works if you view the world as starting and ending with the East Midlands, which I know some people do. Also, it depends on you stretching the concept of a 'Tour' to include dates that are months apart from each other (January - Derby, March - Nottingham, October - Walton-on-Trent, November - Ashbourne) Nevertheless, it's the nearest to a World Tour that I'm likely to get, so... I've dusted off my 'Pictures of an Exhibition' talk and updated it and now I'm taking it on the road again. My thanks to the four societies that have taken the plunge and I'm very much looking forward to talking to you next year. What's the 'Pictures of an Exhibition' talk all about? Well, here's the blurb "Philip spent a lot of his younger days being urged not to make an exhibition of himself by his parents and yet, somehow, succeeded in doing so. With a series of pictures and stories, Philip explains how he grew up (allegedly) in Burton upon Trent and lived to tell the tale" You'll hear a lot of the stories that have featured in the popular 'nostalgedy' collection of books, many of which have previously appeared in the Derby Telegraph. You can find out all about my speaking offer at Derbyshire Speakers Directory - Philip WhitelandI've got just two more slots available at the 'expenses only' rate (actual petrol costs plus any parking fees) in 2019, after those have gone there will be a modest fee for any other dates in 2019. Perhaps I should get some T-Shirts printed ☺
Do you do anything that you know,
in your heart, is absolutely futile?
I don't mean such things as
reading this blog, although I accept that there's a good case to be made for
it. No, I'm talking about doing
something habitually which you know, full well, is absolutely pointless. I'll give you a 'for instance':
In my wardrobe, underneath where
my shirts and tops hang, there is a shelf on which has accumulated a variety of
objects that I can't find a home for anywhere else. This includes two watches, a portable Sat-Nav
of considerable age, a variety of mobile phone chargers (most long since
redundant) some cuff-links in cases and various other odds and ends, including
a small pouch which did contain cuff-links at one time but which is empty
There is a purpose to this rather
tedious insight into my clothing storage arrangements. Just about every time I get a shirt or top
out of the wardrobe to wear, you can guarantee that it will sweep the small
pouch, referred to above, from the shelf and onto the floor. Each time, without fail, I bend down and
retrieve this pouch and return it to its rightful position, even though I know full well that it has no
purpose and will, in all probability, never have a purpose again. I call this fixation a nasty case of
You may recall the classic Ronnie
Barker series 'Open All Hours' in which he played the misanthropic shopkeeper,
Arkwright? A wonderful piece of
'business' in the programme was the vicious action of the cash register, which
intimidated Granville, his assistant.
The particular bit of genius associated with this was that, every time
the cash register sprang open, a tin on top of the register invariably fell
down, was adroitly caught by Arkwright and was reverently placed back on top of
the register, despite the tin
apparently being empty and having no purpose whatsoever.
There are other examples. I've mentioned before about a saw that we
inherited from a favourite aunt. When it
came to us, it was still contained in the cardboard sleeve in which it was,
presumably, purchased. Over the years,
this cardboard sleeve became more and more dilapidated by wear and tear, until
it evolved into no more than a folded piece of cardboard, which only partly
covered the saw, but we still diligently replaced it each time we used the
saw. Only recently has it deteriorated
to such an extent that we've finally been forced to admit defeat and put it in
the recycling bin (the cover, not the saw).
I've also mentioned before about
my mum's vacuum cleaner. Purchased by my
dad, at considerable expense from a very effective door-to-door salesman, it
weighed a ton and my mum hated it from Day 1.
It came with a wide range of tools that could, allegedly, achieve a
whole range of unlikely tasks, including washing the car. I don't think we ever used more than a couple
of these, and then only for the most mundane of purposes. Nevertheless, the vacuum cleaner came, when
new, in a box with all of these tools arranged around it in various cardboard
tubes. We kept the cleaner and tools in
their original box and it lived under the stairs.
Getting it out of the box was a
tricky operation, given the lack of ceiling height, caused by the slope of the
stairs above, and the considerable weight of the cleaner. Every time that you finally succeeded in
extricating the cleaner from its lair, the tools arranged around it, now
deprived of its support, would fall down into the box, so that each time we
returned the cleaner we had the tricky operation of putting the tools upright
to create the space for the cleaner and then gingerly replacing the cleaner without knocking any of the tools back down
again (which was near enough impossible).
At no time did it ever occur to us to abandon the box and original
packaging and just keep the cleaner and tools somewhere else.
I can't believe that we're the
only family to have these 'Arkwright's Tin' moments. Do you do anything like this? Please let me know, otherwise I'm going to
have to apply for one of those specially fitting jackets and have done with it!
Just a reminder that all of the books in the 'nostalgedy' collection (which includes the sort of tripe you've just read) are at their LOWEST POSSIBLE PRICE for the month of August. Like this:
If you want to augment your holiday reading, grab a bargain for the long winter nights to come or even buy an early Christmas present at a price that won't be repeated this year, just follow the links. They will never be cheaper
There are many good reasons to buy a 'nostalgedy' book, I would humbly suggest. Chief amongst these is that, for those of us of a certain age, there's none of that bother of having to remember which character is which or the intricate twists and turns of the plot, for the astonishingly simple reason that there are no characters and there isn't any plot! I would submit that this is a boon and a blessing. If you're like me (in which case, you have my deepest sympathy) you probably find that you rarely have the time and/or inclination to read a book from cover to cover, which is fine if you're reading something that lends itself to dipping in and out but a bother if it's something that requires you to remember a host of characters and their recent shenanigans. This is particularly true when you're on holiday when you can easily be distracted by all of the other things on offer or by simply surrendering to the arms of morpheus in the warmth of the sun. What you need, in these circumstances, is a series of short, self-contained tales which will amuse but not tax the memory cells. As luck would have it, I have the very thing for you and, wonder of wonders, for the month of August it will never be cheaper. For this month only, all of the books in the 'nostalgedy' collection are at their lowest possible price, and this includes the paperback option. Here's the deal: Steady Past Your Granny's 99p Crutches for Ducks 99p (usually £2.49) A Kick at the Pantry Door 99p (usually £1.49) Giving a Bull Strawberries 99p (usuallly £1.49) The Things You See £1.49 (usually £2.49) The Nostalgedy Collection (all of the five books above) £5.45 (usually £8.95) The Things You See paperback edition £5.99 (usually £7.99) In each case, these are the lowest possible prices that Amazon will let me set. If you want to augment your holiday reading, grab a bargain for the long winter nights to come or even buy an early Christmas present at a price that won't be repeated this year, just follow the links. They will never be cheaper!