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Another Brilliant Review for the Christmas Compendium!

I'm really pleased that people seem to like the new collection of seasonal stories 'A Christmas Cracker ' .  This latest 5 sta...

Friday, 27 January 2017

Caught Wrapping!

This month's Derby Telegraph article features some quirky old machinery and the sudden disappearance of a manager!

You can find it here on the Derby Telegraph website, but the content is below:

I absolutely love quirky old industrial buildings that have loads of nooks and crannies (or crooks and nannies, as the old joke goes), with stairways that sometimes lead nowhere and others that take you to places you had no idea even existed.  Old brewery buildings seem particularly prone to this.  Whether this is because they grew organically over the years, or whether brewery architects just had a weakness for maze-like interiors, I don't know.  Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton, where I worked in the early 1970s, was exactly like this.  Hardly surprising given that it housed the Crescent Brewery up until the 1920s (a fact which passed me by, at the time, despite the legend 'CRESCENT BREWERY' being emblazoned across the top of the office building). Such were the twists and turns of the place that, in my first few months, I frequently got lost, wandering hopelessly on silent, dusty floors stacked with rolls of paper and not a soul in sight.

The part that impressed me most about Wesley's was the Printing Department, largely because it was such a wonderful mixture of ancient and modern technology.  At the time, Wesley's printed three types of wrapping paper (mostly Christmas).  These were surface print, flexographic and gravure. 
Surface print was the type of wrapping paper you probably remember if you grew up in the post-war era.  It was crinkly, slightly embossed, quite thin and felt cheap (a bit like me!)  I suppose that, at one time, it was the only wrapping paper that was available.  The printing machines for this had to be seen to be believed.  As the paper passed between the rollers to be printed and embossed, it was then taken up by things like huge coat-hangers which produced folds that must have been about twenty feet high.  Each fold was then carried slowly around a large U-shaped track in the ceiling (as if a giant was about to embark on some paper hanging) until the paper was dry and could be wound back on a reel.  There was a row of these machines, all generating these huge paper trails winding majestically around the room.  It was quite a sight.

Flexographic printing generated a smooth, high quality print, like the wrapping paper we use today and gravure was the very best quality.  Wesley's had just taken delivery of a new gravure printer, which was the department's pride and joy.  Not new, of course.  Wesley's was renowned for being 'careful' with its money and this machine had previously printed newspapers in Fleet Street.  It was by this legendary machine that I saw something that I found both hilarious and unbelievable, at the same time.

Mr. P., the Printing Department manager, was a small grey-haired gentleman of enormous energy.  He ran everywhere and seemed to be constantly in motion, even when standing still.  Arriving at the Department to collect the weekly production figures, I found him supervising the stacking of some printing paper by the gravure printer.  Rolls of paper, about 3 feet high, covered the floor as far as the eye could see.  Mr P. passed me a slip of paper with the figures on, but I noticed that something had been missed.  He said he would go and get it and, to my surprise, bounded onto the first of the reel and raced across the array, toward his office.  What he didn't know was that, for whatever reason, there was a roll missing in the middle of the formation.  I watched with horror as the rapidly diminishing figure of Mr. P. suddenly vanished altogether with a thud, then, after a few moments, bounced back on top and continued his race to the office.  Minutes later, he returned by the same route, carefully avoiding the gap this time, and solemnly handed me the missing figure.  Neither he nor I mentioned his fall, and no-one would have been any the wiser, other than a certain dustiness about his jacket and a slight disarray of his hair.

Mr. P's active life style must have suited him as, the last I heard, he was well over 100 and still enjoying a daily walk.  For me, however, he will always be a diminutive figure suddenly vanishing amidst a sea of paper.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Unwrapping of the Anti-Present

A year or two ago, I wrote a Christmas story which featured an Anti-Santa (or, at least someone who pretended that was what they were).  You can find it here, if you're interested.  Writing about an Anti-Santa made me wonder if there was anything else of a negative nature tucked away in the festive season, which made me consider the role of the Anti-Present.

Just to clarify, this doesn't mean being against the here and now.  Nor is it a poorly spelled version of 'Anti-President' (I'm certainly not getting into all of that, here).  What I'm getting at are those presents which are not fit for purpose.  Not just things you don't like or, for that matter, didn't want.  Those are just Non-Presents, like socks or allegedly humorous mugs.  No, what I'm talking about are gifts that you not only didn't want but which, because you're forced to use them out of a feeling of guilt and shame, actually make your life just that little bit worse than before.

For example (and you just knew there was going to be a 'for example', didn't you?) a few years ago, someone gave me a very nice, leather key holder.  This was a very kind thought.  It wasn't something I particularly needed, but it's the thought that counts and I decided to move my keys over from the perfectly serviceable key fob on which they had resided for years.  However, I then found that the act of actually using any of the keys, now that they are in the key case, is made difficult, if not impossible, by the presence of the key case.

This isn't the key case in question - I'm sure this one works perfectly well :-)

Logic would state that I ought to do the sensible thing and revert to the key fob, but I can't bring myself to do this.  It was a nice thought and it is a beautiful thing.  It just doesn't work!

So, it is an Anti-Present.  It's not that it is unwanted, it's the fact that, far from improving my world, it has made it ever so slightly worse (as opposed to what an Anti-President might do, as we may be about to find out).

Have you had an Anti-Present?

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Oh, Budgie!

Do you remember the 1960s TV Series, 'Budgie' starring Adam Faith and Iain Cuthbertson?  Probably not, I would guess, unless you (like me) are 'a certain age'.

My favourite character was definitely the Glaswegian uber-villain, Charlie Endell (Iain Cuthbertson) who had a wealth of sayings, the first being one of exasperation which is the title of this piece and another being "There are two things I don't like in this world, Budgie...and you're both of them"  One of my more pointless claims to fame is that I can do a passable Charlie Endell impression.  As you can imagine, there isn't really a great deal of call for this.

This phrase ('There are two things...") made a welcome return from my long-term memory when I was considering what to write today, because there are two things I dislike on television at the moment, and, in time-honoured 'grumpy old man' style, I'm going to tell you about them.

The first is the fashion for countdowns of the Top Ten (Twenty, Fifty or Hundred - delete as applicable) something or others, usually comedy sketches.  Miranda Hart did one over Christmas involving Morecambe & Wise.  This wouldn't be so bad, if that was all that it was, but they can't leave it at that.  Instead, a procession of industry legends, present-day stars and people you've never heard of, are wheeled on to give their opinion on the sketches, as the sketches are being shown!  This means that you are in the ridiculous position of being told why something is funny, at one and the same time as the person(s) doing the telling are destroying every possible vestige of humour that the sketch may once have held for you.  It would defy Chaplin to get a laugh from the excerpts once this lot have finished!

This is just barely acceptable from the industry legends, who presumably know something about it, is presumptuous of the 'current stars' who are rarely fit to lick the boots of the comedy legends playing in the background and is a downright travesty from the 'who the hell are these people?' who are only there because they employ a slick agent with an eye for getting them T.V. exposure.

The second is a series called, something like, 'It Was Alright In The 19xx's', which I mistakenly watched in the first instance because I thought it was going to be 'It'll Be Alright On The Night'.  In this format, the same bunch of industry legends, current stars and wanabees are dragged into the studio again (presumably you can hire a job lot) but this time, instead of excerpts from classic comedy, they're watching a selection of T.V. excerpts purporting to show how T.V. was in the decade in question.  Cue shock, horror and appalled wonder as they stare, wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the apparently racist, misogynistic and homophobic utterances that we are alleged to have taken for granted 'back in the day' (which is another pet hate of mine).  Presumably, we who used to watch such things, should be taking this opportunity to scourge ourselves and repent deeply of our sins.  What no-one points out (but should) is that anyone looking back at the forms of entertainment of 30 or 40 years ago, at any point in history, would doubtless be horrified by what counted as funny, then.  Imagine those living in the 'swinging sixties' viewing the music hall and variety entertainment of the 1920s.  You cannot apply the moral codes of today to things of the past, it's as bad as retrospective justice.

That's it, moan over.  I'll go and lie down in a darkened room now, if you can get the nurse to bring me my tea?

Friday, 23 December 2016

Doing The Christmas 'Do'

This month's Derby Telegraph article is all about a Christmas Social in the early 1970s.  Here's the Derby Telegraph link, but here's the article in the meantime:

I'm focusing this month's article on the accompanying photo as this is a prime example of the 'Christmas Do' at its best (or possibly worst).  The year must be 1973 or 1974 and we are at The Newton Park Hotel for Harold Wesley's Christmas Dinner and Dance.  This is a surprisingly 'posh' venue for a company that was not known for its generosity when it came to its employees.  For the avoidance of doubt (as all good solicitors say) the person on the far left, who looks rather like a Cocker Spaniel sniffing a woolly caterpillar, is me.

Having seen the photo, you may wonder how I managed to inveigle myself onto a table where the ratio of attractive women to men is 2:1?  In all honesty, it had nothing to do with my dazzling good looks and everything to do with being friends with Colin, at the other end of the table. 

I'm actually squirming with embarrassment, in the photo, on two counts.  Firstly, I have been encouraged to put my arm around the lady sitting next to me, which is fine but we're not actually together in any sense.  In fact, she is heavily pregnant (a condition which has been cunningly disguised by judicious arrangement of the tablecloth) so I'm feeling more than a little bit awkward.  She is, in fact, the elder sister of Colin's girlfriend, sitting on his right.  Secondly, you may note the half-bottle of spirits on the right hand side of the table, near to a voluminous handbag.  The size of the handbag is important because this was used to smuggle it in. The girls had all taken this precaution, as they clearly had a good idea of the likely cost of drinks at a hotel in the run-up to Christmas ,and had ordered an orange juice each at the start of the evening and then proceeded to dilute same with vodka thereafter.  As a fully paid up 'goody two shoes' I found this excruciatingly embarrassing and was constantly waiting for the Management's hand to fall on our shoulders and escort us from the building.

You may also notice the three-piece suit I'm wearing.   The suit was one of my first investments as a wage-earner and I rather think that this was its first official outing.  I had never owned a suit until I went to Burton's Menswear one Saturday and allowed myself to be talked into this made-to-measure, flared trousered, creation, for a small deposit and regular weekly payments.  I was even sold the accompanying shirt and tie on the same easy terms.  Unfortunately, it didn't have the most auspicious of beginnings.

Having taken pre-Christmas delivery, I was keen to christen it.  It was Saturday night, which was traditionally a night for getting dressed up and going out on the town, but the suit might have been seen as a little OTT, as I was only going down to The Coopers' Arms with my mate, Kevin.  For reasons that escape me, Kevin was getting ready at our house and was having a shave using our kitchen sink (bathrooms being an unimaginable luxury at that point).  I had already changed into the ensemble you see in the photo and was standing chatting to Kev, with me leaning against the draining board.  What I didn't realise was that Kev had the curious habit of lighting a cigarette and leaving it burning, whilst shaving, propped up in the corner of the draining board with the lit end uppermost.  The first I knew about this was when my arm became uncomfortably hot and I realised that smoke was billowing from my sleeve.  Kev's cigarette had burned a neat semi-circle into the sleeve of my brand new suit and shirt!  To say that I was a bit miffed would be understating it somewhat.  That we're still friends some 40+ years on, says something about the healing spirit of Christmas.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my witterings throughout the year.  May I take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful and pleasant Christmas and a wonderful 2017.

Fancy treating yourself to a last-minute stocking filler? Philip's collection of Christmas stories can be yours for just 99p on Amazon Kindle:

Monday, 19 December 2016

Another Brilliant Review for the Christmas Compendium!

I'm really pleased that people seem to like the new collection of seasonal stories 'A Christmas Cracker'.  This latest 5 star review, for example:

"I'm ITCS now, due to the author's comedic touch and nice line in self-deprecating humour. A mixture of Christmas comment, short stories and true tales, I recommend it for winding down after the deccies are up, the cards are done and no more forays into large towns are needed. Goes really well with a nice cup of tea and a warm mince pie."

Link to the review on Amazon

Why not find out just what is getting people ITCS (In The Christmas Spirit)?

Monday, 5 December 2016

Cracking Reviews!

Really pleased that my new collection of seasonal stories has already received two excellent reviews. Firstly, this one on

Witty Holiday Fun!

"Ah, the musings of Christmas Past. The best way to spark up one's own memories is to hear another tell his, and Whiteland's whimsical exploits can do just that for the more mature among us who can easily relate to the nostalgic draw. I got such a kick out of the Smith's Christmas Letter it nearly makes me want to write one of my own! And my dark sense of humor left me delighted by the antics of Archibald.

A pleasant kick off to the holiday season!"  Link to review

and this one on

A Christmas Cracker can't fail to entertain!

"What a brilliant read, especially during the 'run up' to Christmas - although there's much to be said for reading this at any time of year to get that lovely warm nostalgic Christmassy feeling!
If you are one of the 'baby-boomers' this book will especially have appeal. So much reminded me of my own childhood, that I laughed out loud with recognition.
A mix of whimsical, amusing stories, along with true events and tales from the author's childhood, A Christmas Cracker can't fail to entertain. Philip has great way with words, and I love his sense of humour.
Beware though: it's difficult to put down!
Recommended reading for curling up on the sofa with a nice glass of something warming..."

Thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment and I'm really pleased that you have enjoyed the book.

Why don't you see what all the fuss is about?  A Christmas Cracker

Monday, 28 November 2016

On the second day of Christmas...

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.

Whereupon, I said to my true love:

"Shouldn't this have been yesterday?"  and she said,

"That's unexpectedly philosophical!  Should I reply with something equally gnomic like, 'Should now be tomorrow?' ?"

I summoned all of my wit and ready repartee and said:

"What?"  Whereupon, she said,

"Stop moaning, I gave you that nice book yesterday, you know, that 'A Christmas Cracker' containing 21 hilarious seasonal stories for just 99p?"

"Yes, I remember, and you're sounding like a bad T.V. advert.  What's with the feathered friend and the nascent arboretum?"

"Oh, it's traditional and I thought you might like it.  If all else fails, you can always E..A..T it"

"Eat it?"  I queried, whereupon the bird flew straight out through the open window.

"Now look!  It took me hours to catch it and tie it to that bloody tree.  You've know wossname, you!"


"Sense of gratitude is what I was trying to say.  I go to all of this trouble to make things nice and traditional and all you do is moan about the price of things and frighten the wildfowl"

"Well, 99p is a bit cheapskate and what am I supposed to do with a partridge?"

"You can stuff it, as far as I'm concerned"

"I'd have to be pretty fast off the mark.  It's over in next door's garden now."

"Oh, just read your book!"

"Well, it is guaranteed to get you Into The Christmas Spirit"

"Now who's sounding like a bad T.V. advert?"