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 ...
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...'
Wednesday, 28 March 2018
This month's Derby Telegraph has been published today and this time I'm trying to expand my experience with a brand new recruit to Wesley's:
and here's the original, unedited version:
Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton was always slightly behind the times, which is one of the reasons why I enjoyed working there in the 1970s. You could see this trend in their working practices, their machinery, the rabbit-warren architecture of the old brewery buildings they occupied and, most importantly, in the reluctance to adopt anything remotely new in terms of management techniques. This was never more obvious than in the appointment they made toward the end of my tenure at Wesley's.
Only Wesley's could appoint a Work Study Engineer just at the time when that particular science was beginning to fall out of favour in UK factories. Steve (name changed) was not just an anomaly in terms of his expertise, he was also something different in terms of the managers we usually had, who were somewhat staid and rather serious. Steve had shoulder-length hair, dressed very stylishly indeed and had a wicked sense of humour. He always made a point of carrying his cigarette packet and lighter in his hand so as not to spoil the line of his clothes, which should tell you everything you need to know about him.
To me, he seemed like a breath of fresh air but I know that he rubbed some up the wrong way. He had a very forthright way of expressing himself and cared little about what others thought about him, which I suppose is a useful trait if you're going to be a Work Study Engineer. I wouldn't say boo to a goose and was desperately keen for people to think well of me, so I was in awe.
Philip in 1973
Of course, appointing a Work Study Engineer just after you've recognised a Trade, might be considered to be unfortunate timing. Sure enough, Steve's appointment proved to be controversial and the idea of introducing piecework and bonus schemes across the factory soon fell foul of the Trade Union's obstinance. Steve did manage to conduct numerous studies in various departments, although many of these were wrecked by a degree of imaginative messing-about on the part of the more militant workers.
He did manage to introduce some new work methods, most notably in the Crepe Paper Dept. where he had one girl continuously winding and cutting crepe paper to feed to the girls converting the paper sheets into paper folds, instead of each individual girl winding her own. The downside to this, from the girls' point of view, was that this removed the opportunity to stand in line, take a breather and chat, although it did improve their productivity.
I found the whole business of Work Study fascinating and, as I still didn't have a full week's work even with my production statistics and wages clerk duties, I became Steve's unofficial assistant, helping calculate his Work Studies. I also spent a good deal of time listening in wonder to tales of Steve's social life, which largely revolved around his successful pursuit of young ladies. At the time he was with us, he was conducting a long-distance affair with someone whose marital status was, shall we say, a little opaque and who had decamped to the South-West. This involved him driving straight down there at the end of work on Friday (in his open-topped sports car, naturally) and driving straight back in the early hours of Monday morning to arrive at work at 08.30, usually looking like what happens if you don't eat your greens!
Inevitably, a Work Study Engineer who can't find much work to study was never going to be a long-term appointment and I shouldn't have been surprised (although I was) when he was summoned from his office one day by the MD and came back minutes later to tell me that he no longer had a job.
I'll always remember him fondly as the only member of the management and staff who made the effort to come to my 21st birthday celebrations (at the Transport Club, of course). I'm sure he could have thought of many better and more sophisticated places to be, but he knew it was important to me and he came anyway. Thanks Steve.
The latest collection of Philip's stories 'The Things You See…' is now available in both print and e-book editions from Amazon (http://mybook.to/PrintThingsYouSee) or to order through your local book shop.
Wednesday, 28 February 2018
This month's Derby Telegraph article deals with the trials and tribulations of making up pay packets in the inflation-ridden 1970s. This is the link to the article on the DT website but below is the thing itself, in print, and the unedited version in full:
It seems really odd to consider how dependent we were on cash in the 1970s. I thought of this after ordering some books from a U.S. supplier online. Throughout this process I haven't had to put my hand in my pocket once. One tap of a button was sufficient to order the goods and add a chunk to my burgeoning credit card balance. The folding stuff never entered into it. Yet it wasn't always this way.
I mentioned last month that my cosy office environment at Wesley's in Victoria Crescent was rudely interrupted by a spot of reorganisation in which Gwen, my office companion, was moved to act as secretary to the M.D. Our office was converted into a secure home for the Wages Office and Phyllis, the wages' clerk, came to join me. About the only thing that Phyllis and I had in common was that we both smoked but whilst I was trying to keep a lid on my habit, Phyllis more or less chain-smoked her way through the day.
I was to act as Phyllis's assistant, calculating the gross pay for each employee from their respective timesheets on Monday and helping put up the pay packets on Friday. In the intervening days, I still had to calculate the production statistics (although this was now a doddle with my new calculator). My week wasn't totally filled but I had enough to do to keep me out of trouble.
Phyllis was quite a character and I grew to be very fond of her over the months we worked together. In her style of dress, hairstyle and, to a certain extent, attitudes she seemed as if she had been transplanted direct from the 1940s. She was devoted to her husband and spent a good deal of time thinking about what to get him for his tea. She also had the odd habit of drinking a large slug of sherry with a raw egg in it after every lunch break, an idea which I found revolting but clearly suited her.
Friday was when Phyllis came into her own. The cash was delivered to the office on Friday morning (unbelievably, she used to go and fetch it from the bank herself, accompanied by Mr. T. from the Crepe Dept. but thankfully it was now delivered by a security firm). We then had to make up the pay packets with the cash all folded in with the payslip so that the details were visible without the employee having to open the packet (in case of arguments over discrepancies).
In most cases this was reasonably straightforward, although as rampant inflation and threshold pay increases made their presence felt, it became difficult to prise the sheer quantity of money into the pay packets. However, we had one employee who presented more difficulties than most. Her father had decreed that she was not to be trusted with any notes greater than £1 in value, which was fine in the days when her net pay was just a few pounds but became more and more impossible as the 1970s wore on. Prising a thick wad of one pound notes, plus the payslip, into a pay packet became one of my least favourite activities.
The other aspect of Fridays, at which Phyllis excelled, was dealing with the queue of complainants who inevitably formed by the Wages Office window every Friday afternoon, usually after a lunchtime visit to the pub had bolstered their courage and stoked their sense of grievance. Phyllis dealt with this with incredible patience, her trademark cigarette in one hand as she listened to each tale of woe. Occasionally there was a genuine mistake to be put right but, more often than not, it was simply a refusal to accept that the deductions were correct and Phyllis had to patiently demonstrate how the figures had been calculated and why they couldn't be any different. One particularly obstreperous employee turned up every Friday afternoon, without fail, and she had to go through this process every time. He always went away with a look that said 'you've got away with it this time, but I'll catch you out one of these days'. He didn't!
Philip's latest collection of stories, 'The Things You See…' is now available as a print edition from Amazon at http://mybook.to/PrintThingsYouSee, or order through your local bookstore.
Friday, 16 February 2018
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 knack of pleasantly surprising me.
For example, I've recently been wrestling with turning one of my 'nostalgedy' books into a print edition via Createspace. This started out as an innocent fishing trip to see how much it might cost to do this and sort of escalated out of control.
To be fair, it's been a relatively painless process although it took a bit more editing and formatting that I anticipated. The most tricky bit was the cover, largely because (a) it hadn't occurred to me that a Kindle cover is just fine and dandy but doesn't have a back cover and spine, so you can't just upload your Kindle cover and forget all about it. Well, you can and I did but you just finish up with blanks where the title and the blurb should be on the spine and the rear cover. We're not all locked up yet, you know! Secondly, (b) you need Adobe Photoshop or similar to use Createspace's cover template and I've never had anything remotely like that, nor would I know how to use it if I did. Cue screams of anguish to the chap in my village who does know what he's doing with these things and who managed to sort it all out for me.
When you have the content hammered down into a format that will work and the cover set up correctly, it then just remains to check it all online and order a proof copy for yourself to see what it will look like in reality. I was a bit disappointed at how much this was going to cost if I wanted it delivered in my lifetime. There are three delivery options, you see. In order of increasing cost I could either wait until March 23rd (this was on 8th February) or wait a fortnight or pay a huge amount and get it sent to me in the blink of an eye. I'm a cheapskate but I'm also an impatient cheapskate and I didn't fancy waiting until the end of March. I thought I could probably cope with waiting a couple of weeks but I resented this delay in the process, nevertheless tightness prevailed over urgency.
I could quite understand why it might take a while. After all, it had to be set up and printed in the good ol' U.S.A., packed and then despatched to the U.K. I was therefore surprised to be informed that it had been despatched the day after my order and I was even more astonished when it landed on my doormat just four days after my order (which included a weekend). I've often found, with Amazon et al, that the cheap-rate option can often result in a delivery that is at least as quick as the premium rate, all singing all dancing job.
So it was that I was able to press the 'Go' button and release 'The Things You See...' print edition onto an unsuspecting world on Valentine's Day. This is it:
Now available through all aspects of Amazon and should soon be available to order through your friendly, neighbourhood bookshop. Hope you like it. If it does reasonably well, the plan is to work my way back through the series and produce print editions of each in turn but I need to recover from this one, first ;-)
Wednesday, 31 January 2018
This month's Derby Telegraph 'nostalgedy' article is all about how some very small technological advances can make a big difference to your working life, particularly in the 1970s.
You can find the article (with more photos and links to others in this series) on the DT website here. Or read the unedited full version, below:
And this is the unedited original text:
When we talk about technological advances and their impact on the workplace, I can't help but think how two pieces of technology could easily have made me redundant from my job as a Statistical Clerk at Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton in the 1970s.
Wesley's were not known for their spendthrift nature. Even the machinery on which their manufacturing depended was either ancient beyond belief or second-hand. Therefore, I half expected I would be given an abacus when I enquired about having a desktop calculator. Up to this point, I had been laboriously calculating production statistics via prodigious feats of long division. To my surprise, after some weeks of careful consideration, a brand new calculator appeared. Admittedly, it was about the size of a small laptop computer, weighed about the same and had the sort of display (which my research reliably informs me are called nixie tubes) that tended to fizz and blink out when it felt like it. In terms of functionality, it didn't have much but what it did was to enable me to make, in a matter of minutes, calculations which had taken hours and reams of paper. I could now do, in less than a day, that which had taken up half my week!
The actual make and model of my first calculator
The second technological advance which affected me, related to how I shared my calculations. In the past, I had copied out a sheet of figures, showing the production cost and production rate per unit, for all of the departments so that each Department Head had a copy as well as the Works Manager and Managing Director. This took some time but at least forced me to develop a nice, neat style of writing. Then, wonder of wonders, we invested in a photocopier. Before you get carried away, this wasn't something the size of a small car which could print and staple entire manuscripts in the blink of an eye. No, this was a device about the size of a modern-day inkjet printer, which operated much like a scanner.
It was something of a convoluted process. First you had to place the original face down, covered by a sheet of pink flimsy paper which acted as a sort of film, on the scanner plate. The document was scanned (for how long depended on the degree of exposure you set it to) and then you removed the pink paper, carefully aligned it with a sheet of A4 photocopy paper and allowed both sheets to go through a pair of rollers at the front of the device. If you were lucky and nothing had happened to crease or wrinkle the papers on their transit, a reasonably good copy came out, albeit almost always blackened around the edge and a bit blurred here and there. If you wanted another copy, you had to do the same thing all over again, you couldn't just re-use the pink paper.
Overall, it wasn't remarkably quicker to photocopy than it was to write the thing out in the first place, but it was fascinating to watch and it wasn't long before even the most technophobic managers found the necessity to make copies of everything and you had to join a queue.
The combination of these two technological leaps forward meant that I could now complete my week's work in the space of a day and was struggling to find something to fill my time. However, two things happened to change all of that. Firstly, my cosy and very sociable set-up with Gwen and Paul in our office came to an end when she went to become the secretary to the MD in the main office block and Paul, our youngest manager, was given his own office.
It was decreed that my office would now become the Wages Office and it was altered accordingly, with mesh wiring for all of the windows, the ancient safe moved down and a sort of serving hatch created for dealing with employee queries. I was to be joined by Phyliss, the wages clerk and I was to help her with the payroll, which would be a whole new string to my bow, as I'll tell you next time.
You can find all of Philip's stories collected in the five books of his 'nostalgedy' series atThe Nostalgedy Collection
and, check out the latest 5 star review of the new collection "The Things You See..." here.
Wednesday, 27 December 2017
This month's Derby Telegraph article strays into the territory of romance! If it ever appears on the Derby Telegraph website (which I doubt) I'll post the link here but, until then, here's a scan of the article with the unedited text below:
This is the time of year which hotels and the like, have rather tweely christened 'Twixmas', in an effort to give an identity to that awkward period between the business-end of Christmas proper and the yet-to-begin mania of New Year.
It's as good a time as any to take stock of presents received and desperately try to remember who gave them to you. It was in this frame of mind that I thought back to one Christmas at Wesley's, in Burton upon Trent in the early 1970s, that was rather different from the others.
I think I've mentioned before that I used to suffer from a crippling shyness, which was rather at odds with surging teenage hormones and a factory full of girls. I happened to mention my dilemma to my mate, Colin, the Serviette Department Manager, who was my absolute opposite in that he had self-confidence in the same way that Blackpool has frontage.
I went on to point out one particular girl in his department with whom I had chatted in passing and who was rather attractive. Shortly afterwards he said he had fixed me up with a date and we were to meet at the Wetmore Bus Station. That early winter night, I stood in the Bus Station, muffled in an old car coat of my Dad's (which I thought looked rather sophisticated… I was wrong) and watched bus after bus come and go, as did our appointed hour. After about two hours, I realised that this was going nowhere and headed to my local, rather dejectedly and to the surprise of all of those who were expecting me to be out on a romantic interlude.
The following day, in some dudgeon, I collared Colin. He was full of apologies and went to find out what had happened. It turned out that she thought Colin was joking (he had a well-deserved reputation as a kidder) hence the non-appearance. I went to have a chat with her and she was sorry but it clearly wasn't going to happen. Consequently my self-confidence descended to a new low.
However, shortly after this a rather attractive girl started working right outside my office, on a dilapidated piece of equipment which assembled the cardboard packing for toilet flats (flat sheets of toilet paper, as opposed to rolls). Not an evidently romantic setting but you have to work with what is there. Colin had clearly put a good word in about me and, after a few bits of light-hearted banter as I came and went from the office (which was necessary a surprising amount of times), I finally screwed up the courage to ask her out, and she said yes!
We met at the Midland Hotel, a pub on Guild Street/New Street corner which I fondly imagined was somewhere posh (wrong again!). She looked amazing and we got on like a house on fire. After a couple of drinks, she asked if the Midland was my usual haunt, which I had to admit it wasn't. The problem was that my regular haunt, at that time, was The Alma Inn in Cross Street which was a back street pub to end all back street pubs. Nevertheless, she suggested we should pop in and visit, so we did.
Den (from my boozy Majorcan holiday, if you remember) was looking after the pub for his dad, who had been taken ill, and he and Kev (also from that holiday) were propping up the bar. I must admit that the image I will always regard as my favourite Christmas Present of 1974 were the looks on the faces of the regulars, and my mates, when I wandered in with this stunning girl on my arm. Life doesn't get much better than moments like that!
Of course, the actual Christmas present from my new girlfriend, some weeks later, was not quite the same success, consisting as it did of a figure-hugging woollen top (and I've never had a figure worth hugging) which looked like a knitted migraine. Oh well!
Thanks very much for reading my articles in 2017. I hope you had a pleasant Christmas and I wish you the very best for 2018.
Philip's latest collection of stories "The Things You See…" is still available at the special introductory price of just £1.49, for a few more days, at http://mybook.to/ThingsYouSee