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Reviewing the Reviews

After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy&#...

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Steak Pie Repeateth

Some of you may recall my failure to purchase a steak pie from a local cafe a while back?  I'm quite prepared to believe that this event hasn't exactly burned itself deep into your memory but I'm hoping there's a small chance of a sliver of recognition?

For those for whom this earth-shattering event did not register, you can find the gory details (which include a spot of drain-unblocking) here.

If you can't be bothered to check out the whole story (you really should, it's quite amusing) then the gist of it is contained in this quote:

" I noticed, on the Specials Board, that they had Steak Pie, Chips and Gravy and I decided to plump for this.  "I will have Steak Pie, please" I announced to the young chap taking our order, to the considerably surprise of my wife.  "Ah" He responded "I'm not sure if we have any left, I'll just go and check"  My heart sank.  From experience, whenever a waiter comes out with this phrase, it means 'I know damn well that we haven't got any but I'll pretend to go and check so I can shift the blame onto the invisible denizens of the kitchen'.  Sure enough, after a few minutes, he returned and apologised but there was no Steak Pie to be had.  Predictably, I reverted to the all-day breakfast but somehow felt cheated of my Steak Pie."

Common sense should have told me not to revisit this experience, but since when was common sense any fun?  We went back to the cafe and our conversation went something like this:

Mrs. W: "They've still got that steak pie on the Specials Board, do you think they'll have it this time?"

Me: "They must have, surely?  Even they wouldn't leave it on the Specials all this time if they didn't have any"

Mrs. W: "Ok, we'll go for that then, shall we?"

Enter, stage left, a waitress.

Mrs. W: "Last time we came here we ordered the steak pie from the Specials, but you didn't have any"

Waitress: "Oh yes, I remember" (very much doubt this, we're really not that memorable, but still...)

Mrs. W: "Do you have any steak pies?"

Waitress: "Oh yes, I'm sure we do"

Mrs. W: "Ok, we'll have two steak pies, please"

The waitress vanished and we waited, with some trepidation, for her imminent return, steak-pieless.  Time passed and we began to feel more confident, our conversation turned from the existence, or otherwise, of steak pies and moved on to more pleasant things.  We settled into our seats and relaxed, anticipating our steak pies, when...

Waitress: "Erm..." (you can see where this is going, can't you?) "You're not going to believe this but I'm afraid we don't have any steak pies.  Some sort of problem with the suppliers."

So, this wasn't the outcome of a frenetic morning of steak pie selling, nor a temporary glitch with the daily steak pie order.  No, this was a 'problem with the suppliers' which sounded pretty chronic.  Had it been the case that there had been no steak pies since our last visit?  Was the absence of steak pies a permanent feature?  If it was, why were they still included in the Specials Board?  

What I want to know now is, is the Specials Board just an aspirational list, a review of the dishes they would like to serve one day?  There's Plaice and Chips on there and I'd love to order it to see if that exists, only I'm not that keen on Plaice and, knowing my luck,  it would turn up if I ordered it.  

We finished up with the All-Day Breakfast again.  I have a sneaking suspicion that that's all they actually cook and everything else is just a figment of their imagination.  I'll let you know :-)

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Out of the mouths of babes...

A couple of weeks ago, I went on my annual Walking Weekend with "the Lads".  I've mentioned before that this epithet is becoming more and more of a misnomer with every passing year.  After all, I'm 62 and I'm the youngest!

"The Lads" - author is on the left

Anyway, I was to be dropped off to join the other three but before that, we had to take our six-year-old grandson, Flynn, to school.  I drove there and Hilary and Flynn got out of the car, with Hilary reminding Flynn to say goodbye to Grandad as he was going away for the weekend.  This obviously preyed on his mind because, having said goodbye he set off towards school with Hilary but then stopped, turned back and opened the passenger door:

"Grandad, you won't forget your hat will you?  It's on the back seat."

"No, thank you Flynn, I won't forget my hat."

Apparently satisfied with this response he marched off again, but three paces later he turned around and came back to the car:

"And you won't leave anything there, will you?"

"No, Flynn, I won't leave anything there."

Turns, marches three paces forward, stops and comes back:

"Because you do forget things, you know?"

"Yes, Flynn, I know I do forget things"

Having decided that he had done all that could be humanly done to keep me on the straight and narrow, he set off for school with a cheery wave.

I always knew that there would be a time when the role of parent/child would be somewhat reversed, but I must admit I hadn't quite expected it just yet :-)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Three Days A Week!

This month's Derby Telegraph article explains why I owe Ted Heath a pint :-)

and for those who can't read the text on the picture, here's the unedited version:

There has been a lot of talk recently about Britain returning to the 1970s.  I don’t think it’s very likely, I would never get the flares to fit me now for one thing!

The 1970s were a peculiar decade in many ways and, of course, there aren’t as many of us about today who remember them and lived through them.  At one time, the mention of ‘the three day week’ would have had everyone nodding glumly and bringing up their own particular stories of privations endured.  Now it’s more likely to have people scratching their heads and wondering if you’ve finally lost it and are actually talking about the war.

I told you, last month, about the trashing of the Warehouse Manager’s office which was next to the Works Manager’s office in which I was temporarily installed (much to the chagrin of the Works Manager, but there was a shortage of office space).  What I didn’t mention was that one reason for not noticing who was involved was that the whole office section was, at that time, enclosed in a stygian gloom caused by the myriad effects of the short winter days, the lack of outside light from the few windows and, more importantly, the complete lack of any artificial light because of the three day week.

For those who don’t remember this period, or are desperately trying to forget it, the ‘three day week’ happened in the winter of 1973-1974.  To be honest, the details had escaped me so I’ve had to break the habits of a lifetime and actually do some research for this article!  We were at the end (although we didn’t know it at the time) of the Heath government of 1970 – 1974.  The miners had announced an overtime ban in support of a pay claim and the government of the time tried to eke out the country’s fuel reserves by restricting the use of coal and power. “Commercial consumption of electricity would be limited to three consecutive days each week…Television shut at 10:30 p.m. each night, and most pubs were closed” (

Can you imagine trying to impose something like that now?  The outcome was that for two days each week the factory was plunged into darkness, illuminated by the occasional battery driven lamp.  Work was organised to take place in the few hours of daylight and largely consisted of whatever jobs could be done by hand and which didn’t involve machines.  As I was still producing statistics by dint of laborious manual addition and long-division, the lack of technology wasn’t a problem but the lack of light and the lack of heating, was.  On top of this, rolling power cuts at home meant that you could get home only to find yourself plunged into darkness once more.

In January, 1974, the miners went on strike and the whole situation deteriorated further.  You have to remember that strikes then were all or nothing affairs.  Nowadays we’re used to strikes being one-day annoyances but then they were wars of attrition, in which both sides waited to see who would blink first.  In this case, it was the government, which went to the country in February, 1974 with the question “Who governs Britain?”  Of course, if you ask a silly question…the electorate clearly decided it whoever it was, it wasn’t the Heath government.

Over the years, Ted Heath has come in for a lot of criticism but, apart from plunging me into darkness and trying to freeze me to death, I did have cause to remember him fondly.  You see, Wesley’s were renowned as poor payers and my salary was pitiful in comparison to my mates.  However, in November, 1973 good old Ted brought in a concept called Threshold Payments.  The idea here was to protect the lowest paid from the rampaging inflation of the time.  This basically meant that every time that inflation went up by one per cent above 7%, wages could, and did, rise in tandem.  Over a very short period, my wages basically doubled, albeit from a very low starting point, and, as the only inflation that affected me was the price of a pint, I had never had it so good (to borrow another P.M.’s phrase).

Cheers, Ted!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

War in the Warehouse

This month's Derby Telegraph article hit the newsstands today (31.05.17).  It might be a while before it makes it to the Derby Telegraph website, so I thought I would share it with you here.  On reflection, 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' might have been a better headline ;-)

If you're having trouble reading the print on the image, here's the content:

You may remember, back in March, I said that there was “a sort of low-level guerrilla warfare in place” in the warehouse at Harold Wesley Ltd in Victoria Crescent, Burton?  On reflection, that might have been a bit of an understatement!

Mr. D., the Warehouse Manager, belonged to that school of post-war British managers whose ‘bark was worse than their bite’.  This worked fine in the days of deference but was wearing a bit thin by the early 1970s.  The lads (and it was mostly young men) who were employed to shunt huge reels of paper around the ancient building, were not prepared to be constantly bullied and badgered, particularly as they were earning a pittance and their working conditions left a lot to be desired.  In those days, Wesley’s did not have a trade union or any form of employee representation, which was unusual.  The 1970s recorded the peak of trade union membership.  With no official outlet for their grievances, some of the lads turned to mischief to make their point.

The first time I became properly aware of this, other than noticing the constant grumbling coming from both Mr. D. and the warehouse gang, was when I heard scuffling and suppressed giggling coming from Mr. D’s office.  At the time, I was ensconced in the Works Manager’s office (we were a little short of office space) next door to Mr. D’s office.  I didn’t think much about it until Mr. D. returned and uttered a stream of oaths and obscenities.  Sticking my head into the lion’s den, I discovered that Mr. D’s office had been trashed, with papers strewn everywhere and a bottle of ink liberally sprayed over the walls.  It was pretty obvious who the culprits were, but nobody could be individually identified because, unsurprisingly, no-one had seen anything.  I was quizzed but couldn’t shed any light on the investigation.

As it turned out, this was the least serious skirmish in the battle.  Unbeknown to Wesley’s management, we had our own tame arsonist in the warehouse gang.  This would be a problem in any organisation, but when you’re a paper conversion factory housed in a building with ancient wooden flooring throughout, it represents a particular menace. 

Any fire on the premises occasioned a full station turnout by the fire service and this started to be a regular occurrence.  Firstly it was just minor outbreaks, which could easily be contained, but the severity of the incidents increased, until one occasion when much of the warehouse was alight over more than one floor.  Flames could clearly be seen licking at the windows of the old brewery building as we stood in the street watching the firemen do their work.  The corner of the warehouse that was alight was just a few feet away from the office block, as you can see from the picture.  Only the entrance to the main yard separated the two buildings. 

Later, when the fire had been brought under control, the fire station chief (who was in a particularly bad humour at having been called out to us yet again) stomped around asking everyone what action they had taken on hearing the fire alarm.  He focused his ire on the inhabitants of the office building and, in particular at the office junior and a sort of office junior’s assistant employed in the General Office.  Two very young girls who were rather immature for their age.

“What did you do when the fire alarm sounded?” The fire station chief barked at them.

“We went and stood in the kitchen.”  The office junior offered.  The fire station chief was aghast.  The kitchen was an extension at the back of the office block which was, if anything, nearer the seat of the flames than anywhere else in the building.

“And what did you do in there?” The fire station chief asked, incredulously.

“Well,” the office junior simpered, “we held hands”

I thought he would have apoplexy.

We never did find the arsonist.  The fires did stop, eventually, which probably meant the culprit either got fed up with it, or more likely, left, but the all-pervading lingering smell of smoke in the place was a lasting reminder of his work.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Reviewing the Reviews

After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy' collection of books.  

Firstly, Jane Bryan very kindly gave a 5* rating to 'Steady Past Your Granny's' with the review "Enjoyed this book" (see the review here) which is short and to the point and exactly what any author hopes to hear :-)

Then came the enigmatic 'Kindle Customer' who gave my 'Giving a Bull Strawberries' collection of stories another 5* rating and said:

"A bit of nostalgia is what you need to chase the grouchies away. You may identify with so many scenarios in Mr. Whitelands books. I know I did. Please sir...can we have some more ?" (you can find the review here)

All in all, quite a good few days, in which over 1400 pages of the books were read via Kindle Unlimited.  Don't forget that you too could read all of the 'nostalgedy' collection (apart from Steady Past Your Granny's) this way, free, gratis and for nothing!

In answer to 'Kindle Customer's' burning question, I hadn't planned to release any further collections of stories, but since she asks so this space.

If you're wondering about what you might be missing - try following the links on the right hand side of this blog post, or follow the links below:

Steady Past Your Granny's

Crutches for Ducks

A Kick at the Pantry Door

Giving a Bull Strawberries

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Barging in to the Cinema!

This month's (April, 2017) Bygones column for the Derby Telegraph concerns the chance find of a 'Look at Life' film from the early 1960s.

If you would like to see Uxbridge Juniors in the early 1960s in glorious technicolour, this link will take you there without the faff of wading through 18 mins or so of preceding documentaries: Look at Life

And this is the article content:

I do love the internet!  Having so much information at our finger tips is astounding.  Sometimes it seems that everything you can think of is there, if you know where to look.  For example…

Out of the blue, I received a message from an old school friend, who now lives in Australia (which, again, is pretty amazing.  Years ago, if you had emigrated to the antipodes, you might as well have died for all communication intents and purposes, now you can have a real-time chat by text!)  Some of you may have heard of Kevin Spiers, a very talented professional musician, well known on the Burton music scene?  Well, Kevin retains an interest in Burton and its heritage and occasionally finds something squirreled away on the internet.  This message was about just such a find and I couldn't have been more amazed.

Regular readers may recall a story from my days at Uxbridge Junior School, around 1964, when our class was taken on a canal trip.  This was pretty exciting in itself, but it was made more so by the presence of a film crew from the 'Look at Life' team.  Do you remember 'Look at Life'?  It was a sort of ten minute documentary review of life in Britain which helped to fill the gap between the B movie and the main feature.  The film crew remained with us all day and shot quite a bit of film of what was a glorious and very interesting event.  Like most of my contemporaries, my previous experience of canals would have been walks along the towpath and futile attempts at fishing, resulting in the watery demise of a few maggots.  On this day, we experienced the joys of canal travel and marvelled at the mechanics of ascending a huge flight of locks.

Some months later, further excitement followed when the whole school was invited to an exclusive showing of the relevant 'Look at Life' episode at the Odeon in Guild Street, which was opened especially for us.  I guess we all expected that our canal trip would dominate the episode, given how long they had spent filming us.  Of course, in reality, nothing could have been further from the truth.  I'm not even sure if I actually saw myself on the big screen, I may well have been retrieving a sweet from the floor at the time.  It was definitely a case of "if you blink, you'll miss it".  I think we were all rather underwhelmed, but it was still something to tell our grandchildren.

I never expected to see this footage again (always assuming that I'd seen it the first time) but Kevin's message revealed that he had found it!  There, once again, we can see Mrs. Strong, our teacher, leading a class out onto our school playground to follow the contours of a chalked map of the Midlands, proudly showing the mighty power stations along the banks of the Trent.  Kevin makes the point that it must have been a Monday, as you can see washing lines full of sheets in the gardens of Oak Street, which backed on to our playground.

Then we cut to the canal trip and there, if you look really closely, you can see, at the front of the picture, me sitting between my two friends David Topliss (by the window, looking disgruntled) and Alan Lewsley (looking bemused)  Directly behind Alan is Mr. Adams, our headmaster (which may explain the bemusement) resplendent in overcoat, jacket and waistcoat.  Then the film moves on to another class (not us) timing objects floating down a river. 

I can't begin to describe the sheer pleasure of finally being able to see this well remembered event again after all of these years.  Mrs. Strong and Mr. Adams of course seemed as old as Methuselah to us at the time, but I can see that they were considerably younger than I am now. 

Were you at Uxbridge Juniors in 1964?  Perhaps you're in the film?  You can find out by visiting Look at Life or go to You Tube and find BBC Britain on Film, Series 2 Episode 2 Children - Look at Life FULL, this particular documentary is at 18:25.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Steak Pie

It was our 27th Wedding Anniversary the other week!  Hmm?  No, I quite agree, you don't get that for murder these days and no, I haven't heard that one before.  What did we do?  Well, I guess what any long-time married couple does.  We spent a considerable amount of the day staring down a manhole in our garden.  Well, actually, staring was the easy bit.  Thrusting a high pressure hose down there, with all of the attendant blow-back, was slightly more problematic.  You see, my good lady wife had convinced herself that there was something seriously wrong with our drainage and, as it turned out, she was absolutely right.  That which should have been flowing away, was, instead, hanging around, which I'm sure you'll agree, no-one wants.

Regrettably, repeated thrusts with the high-pressure hose had no effect, other than to stir up the evil brew and we began to contemplate writing the day off whilst we waited for an expensive specialist to come and sort it out for us.  Just then, we noticed that our next-door neighbour was working in his garden and we asked him to check his manhole to see if all was well there, which unfortunately, it was.  However, he is one of these handy chaps with all of the necessary gear and he asked if we would like him to pop over and give it a go with his set of rods, to which we readily agreed.

A number of rods later, it became depressingly apparent to him that any blockage was not, in fact, in our garden, but in his!  Cue intense foraging which threw up a hitherto unknown manhole cunningly buried under the roots of a bush.  After an intense period with a chainsaw, which meant the demise of said bush, the manhole was revealed and so was the blockage.  Much strenuous thrusting with rods eventually led to a satisfying gurgling sound as days' worth of that which you would rather not have hanging around headed off to pastures new, albeit pastures you wouldn't rush to gather lilacs in.

By now, a good chunk of the day had gone, along with any ideas of having a 'posh lunch' (which had been our original plan, before the sewage got in on the act).  It was too late for a lunch of any quality, so we decided to go with what we were comfortable with and headed for a little cafe in a nearby town.  Now, whenever we go to this cafe, I invariably have the all-day breakfast, which is good and great value.  Today, however, I thought I would show that I was not a slave to convention.  I would eschew the all-day breakfast and try something else, something daring!  I noticed, on the Specials Board, that they had Steak Pie, Chips and Gravy and I decided to plump for this.  "I will have Steak Pie, please" I announced to the young chap taking our order, to the considerably surprise of my wife.  "Ah" He responded "I'm not sure if we have any left, I'll just go and check"  My heart sank.  From experience, whenever a waiter comes out with this phrase, it means 'I know damn well that we haven't got any but I'll pretend to go and check so I can shift the blame onto the invisible denizens of the kitchen'.  Sure enough, after a few minutes, he returned and apologised but there was no Steak Pie to be had.  Predictably, I reverted to the all-day breakfast but somehow felt cheated of my Steak Pie.

When we came to pay the bill a little later, we pointed out to the cashier that the Specials Board still sported the offer of Steak Pie, despite the absence of same, and we had heard a number of other putative diners enquiring about the Pie with similar results.  Surely, we suggested, it would be prudent to remove the offending item from the Board?  This caused a look of consternation on her part.  Clearly, she had every hope that there might, indeed, be Steak Pie tomorrow, so would such a radical step as removing it from the Specials Board now, really be warranted?  We paid our bill and left, but musing on it later (because I really don't have anything better to do with my time) it occurred to me that this was a motif for our time.

You see, it seems to me that there's a huge longing in the world for something that, not only isn't there, but probably never was.  A sort of global Steak Pie.  This longing is for a golden past, in which everything was just dandy and which has been ruined by all of this pesky modernity and stuff.  If we could only go back to (pick an era of choice, could be 1950s America or 14th Century Persia, or any other time and geographic location) then everything would be great, again.  Or not.  The Steak Pie might still be there, as a forlorn hope, on the Specials Board of life but, like it or not, we've got the All-Day Breakfast and we need to make the most of it.

You can find a lot more tripe of this calibre in the four books of the 'nostalgedy' series (see right hand column for details and previews)