Total Pageviews

Featured post

New Review

Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian!  Carol post...

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Things You See...

Delighted to say this new book in the 'nostalgedy' series is now available for pre-order, prior to the publication date of 31st October, 2017 (what other date could you have for something called 'The Things You See...'?)

The Things You See...

Here's the blurb:

Philip’s back with a fifth collection of stories, both ‘nostalgedy’(a mixture of nostalgia and comedy) and other observational pieces in which he takes a wry look at times past and present. 

Every book has to have a theme and the structure for this one came whilst he was idly munching a chocolate bar. You know that one which used to promise to help you work, rest and play? Well, this book consists of Work, Play and the Rest. 

In ‘Work’ Philip joins the ranks of the employed at the beginning of the 1970s, firstly as an inept packer of plastics before moving to ‘a nice dry job with no heavy lifting’ in a dark, satanic paper mill. We learn about his struggles with punctuality, the difficulties of working in the darkness of the 3-Day-Week and why he had a real reason to be grateful for Ted Heath.

‘Play’ brings tales of a boozy holiday in Franco’s Majorca in the 1970s, a fleeting role in a ‘Look at Life’ documentary, Cilla Black, Soap Operas, an insight into the Cultural Quarter of Stoke-on-Trent and some tales from a trip to Australia.

Finally, ‘the Rest’ shovels up everything that wouldn’t fit into the first two, including a tour around a pub in the 1960s, getting a brace fitted at the dentist’s, difficulties with sanitary arrangements, why grass should be left alone, why shopping with your wife is an overrated pastime, a grumble about grammar and why it is absolutely fine to be a NIMBY. All wrapped up with the Title article, which is not for the faint-hearted.

Come and join Philip in his Slightly Odd World, you won’t regret it!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

New Review

Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian!  Carol posted this yesterday for the 'Crutches for Ducks' collection:

It's Great!

"Such a laugh. It reminded me of my own childhood in The Midlands. It will surely put a smile on anyone's face and Philip has a knack for getting it just right. Well done, it's great.

You can find the original review here

Thanks very much, Carol.  Very much appreciated.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Cover Story

What do we think about this for the cover of the next book?

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Man on the No. 5 Bus

This month's Derby Telegraph article.  You can find it on the Derby Telegraph website here, or read on below:

Here's the text:

Last month, I was recounting how I should, by rights, have been a contender for the Olympics, given my regular morning sprint for the bus to take me to work at Harold Wesley Ltd., in Victoria Crescent, Burton.  Mind you, the early morning Park Drive would probably have ruled out giving Messrs. Ovett or Coe any sleepless nights.

Running for the bus, and cursing breathlessly as it pulled away when I was within yards of it, was a constant feature of employment at Wesley's.  This was made all the more bizarre as I now knew a few of the Burton Corporation bus drivers quite well because I had made the Transport Club in Guild Street my local, which was ridiculous really because it was more than 1½ miles from my house.  Still, if the run for the bus didn't keep me fit, the hike to and from the Club should have done.

Back in the days of the old Routemaster buses with the open platform at the rear, the bus driver was a mysterious figure, only visible from the back as he ploughed his lonely route in the separate cab.  In those days, the person you got to know was the bus conductor, who was more than likely to be female.  Some of these were friendly sorts, willing to chat and joke, others were real martinets who delighted in making you wait for your change or gave you a telling off if you tried to jump off the platform as the bus came to a halt.  I believe this combination of male drivers and female conductors sparked a few romances, some of which should probably not have been happening.

When 'One Man Operation' buses came into being, it obviously spelled the gradual demise of the conductors but also made the drivers into customer-facing workers.  Some were fine with this and were very sociable, others should never have been anywhere near the customer and would have been best kept in the separate cab.

Take Courtney for instance (names have been changed throughout to protect the guilty).  Courtney's whole demeanour told you that he really didn't think he should be driving buses for a living, he was made for better things.  He also viewed the rest of the human race as a sort of sub-species who were to be tolerated at best and berated at worst.  He was not above giving passengers a short lecture if they transgressed in any way and I'll never forget the time when he stopped the bus at the zebra crossing at the junction of Derby Road and Borough Road, to give chapter and verse of the Highway Code to some unfortunate who had mistakenly thought that it was one crossing and vehicles should stop for her.  Courtney made it clear that the island in the centre made it two crossings and he was therefore not obliged to stop.  This went on for quite a while and made for an entertaining debate, if you didn't have anywhere particular to be.

The other driver who lives in my memory, and still has me waking up screaming some nights, was known to all and sundry as Mad Maurice.  Maurice was a red-haired Irish man who clearly would have liked to have been driving a sports car but actually didn't have a car at all.   He drove his bus at a furious speed, accelerating and braking with gusto and throwing double-deckers around corners at a rate that made you wonder how the heck they were going to stay upright, which was a particular concern if you were trying to enjoy a quiet smoke upstairs at the time.  Maurice didn't communicate with his passengers in any way at all, other than the occasional low growl and no-one dared to take issue with him, even when he stopped his bus outside his house in Uxbridge Street and disappeared, for quite some time, to go and pick up his sandwiches.  Well, at least that's what I always assumed he was doing.  Of course, to make up the lost time, he drove even faster for the rest of the route.

You had to be a patient and doughty sort to ride the buses in the 1970s.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Late and Seen!

This month's Derby Telegraph article (published on my birthday, too!) is about my inadvertent training for world-class athletics-ish:

Here's the text, if you can't read the photo:

Last month, I was bemoaning the fact that nobody was really sure whether I was a manager or not when I worked at Harold Wesley Ltd., in Burton in the 1970s.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  The senior management of Wesley’s and I were in no doubt as to where I fitted in the pecking order.

I think my mum had aspirations though.  That became clear when I received, unexpectedly one birthday, a very nice quality small suitcase with incorporated document case.  I think she rather thought this was what the aspiring young executive should have.  However, a document case rather implies that you have work to bring home and I barely had enough to do in my normal hours of work, without traipsing any home with me.  I did try to act the part for a while by transporting my lunchtime sandwiches in the suitcase, but it just made it look as if I was constantly leaving home, so I abandoned that idea.

In truth, any hopes of advancement I might have had would have been kippered by my inability to arrive at work on time.  You may recall that I had the same problem at the Plastics Warehouse?  Well, this was exacerbated by Wesley’s being the first job where it wasn’t practicable to walk or cycle to work, I had to catch the bus.

Catching the bus should not have been a problem, and wouldn’t have been to most people.  The best to catch was the No. 5 at the bus stop diagonally opposite from All Saints’ Church on Branston Road.  This left at about 8.10 and would get me comfortably to Dean and Smedley’s on Horninglow Road, around the corner from Wesley’s, just before 8.30 (which is when I was due to start work).  However, for every time when I caught this bus, there were at least a couple of times when I didn’t.

I should have been a world-class athlete as a consequence of running to try and catch the bus.  Never good at getting out of bed in the morning (I’m still not) I would leave my departure from our house in South Broadway St. until the very last moment.  A fast-ish walk down South Broadway St, whilst lighting a cigarette, usually turned to a steady lope along All Saints’ Road which then became a flat-out sprint as I saw the bus go past the church at the top of the road.  Sometimes there would be other passengers waiting at the bus stop and I would have sufficient time to get to the bus before it pulled away.  On other occasions, dependent on the degree of sadistic pleasure on the part of the driver, it would either wait for me to make it to the bus stop and fall aboard gasping for breath or, more frequently, pull away just as I was within a few yards of victory, leaving me doubled up with exhaustion and frustration.

If I missed the No. 5, I was left with the prospect of catching either a No. 12 or a No. 6.  Neither of these would get me to work on time, or anything like it and would also entail getting off in Waterloo Street to then walk, or more likely run, up Victoria Crescent. 

I would then have to try and insinuate myself into the factory in a way that didn’t call attention to my late arrival.  The best option was to make my way up the loading dock, hoping not to bump into anyone, and then, with a piece of paper gripped in my hand, walk determinedly toward my office as if I had just been somewhere to collect some vital statistics.

 I was now sharing an office with Gwen (who sometimes writes for this paper) and, for this ruse to work, I had to hope she wouldn’t call attention to my late arrival.  In her memoir ‘Wednesday’s Child’ she writes, “I’m sure Philip didn’t take kindly to me joining him as he liked being on his own – I suspect he thought I might grass him up when he sneaked in through the back door – late most days”.  Fortunately, she didn’t!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Steak Pie On Wheels

I’ve written quite a lot, just lately, about my doomed attempts to buy a steak pie from a local cafĂ© (see here, here and here).  The continued absence of this comestible, despite it featuring prominently on the Specials Board, seems to me to be redolent of a societal longing for something that used to exist, but no longer does.  Alternatively, it could just mean that they can’t be *rsed to change the Specials Board.

Anyway, it seems to me that this ‘steak pie’ attitude to customer service can be found in lots of other places, for example…

The other day we had to go into Burton upon Trent to collect a second-hand car we had ordered for my wife.  The reasons why we’ve had to buy a replacement vehicle for my wife (by which I don’t mean that I’m having the car instead of her, although…) are sufficient to drive a relatively sane person barmy, so I won’t go into them here, other than to invoke a specific curse on the person who knowingly sold a particularly lethal car to a young family.  May he (and the person who gave it an MOT) rot in an exclusive circle of Hell.

We decided that it would hardly be environmentally friendly to drive into Burton and bring two cars home so, as we unusually had some time on our hands, we opted to take the bus for a change.  I should point out, at this juncture, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, there has only ever been one bus service running through our village and that goes, about once an hour, to Burton.

The only timetable we had was a few years old but we decided it should be a reasonable guide and so we presented ourselves at the nearest bus stop about ten minutes before the appointed time, and an hour and a half before the appointment made to collect the car.  Burton is only a half-hour ride from our village.

Can I say here, I think it is a shame that in order to make bus-shelters more or less vandal-proof, they’ve also made them decidedly uncomfortable?  The same is true on unmanned railway stations, where (in both instances) those tip-up seats allow you to perch precariously, but not sit properly.  Mind you, I suppose it is an advance on the stainless steel hurdle that constituted  bus-stops in my youth, against which you could lean or, if small enough, hang from like a monkey.

The bus arrived bang on time and we boarded.  My wife has a bus pass but I don’t due to my relative youth (yes, I know it’s hard to believe).  She said to the driver, very clearly, “A single to Burton Town Centre, please”  My wife prides herself on her clear diction, whereas I, apparently, mumble.

“You don’t need to do that, now” the Driver replied, “you just have to touch your card against the scanner” So she did.

I followed and said, “Well, I need the same but I have to pay for mine” and he duly charged m £3.10 and issued me with a ticket.  I thought that this was a bit steep but it’s been years since I last caught a bus.

We settled down in our seats and prepared to enjoy the novelty of a bus ride.  Actually, ‘enjoy’ might be rather over-egging the pudding.  It has to be said that if you were hoping for the smooth and relatively silent glide of a coach, you would be somewhat disappointed.  I think you could have had  a more tranquil journey in the revolving section of a cement mixer.

After a while, my wife said “Shouldn’t we have gone through Sudbury?” (our neighbouring village).  “I thought so” I replied with my usual quick wit and ready repartee.  “Perhaps they don’t go there anymore?” She suggested.  I shrugged my shoulders, my conversational capacity exhausted.

Our bus then joined the A50 and continued on its merry, bone-shaking way to Mickleover.  By now we were looking at each other quizzically.  No bus going to Burton would readily divert through Mickleover.  I hauled my ticket out of my pocket and noted, for the first time, that it said ‘Single to Derby’.  It is, perhaps, worth noting that Derby is in exactly the opposite direction to Burton.

Still unwilling to accept the written evidence, and that of our own eyes as we trundled around various Derbyshire villages, my wife asked another passenger where the bus was going, and she confirmed it was for Derby.  As getting off in any of these villages would not guarantee the possibility of a bus back to Burton, we realised that we were trapped until we reached Derby City Centre.

“We’ll get off at the Bus Station and catch another back to Burton” my wife decided.  “Does this go to the Bus Station?” She asked our helpful fellow passenger, as we weaved around the streets of Derby.  “I’m not sure that it does” came the less than helpful reply.

With the Bus Station in sight, we pressed the bell and the bus pulled up.  The conversation with the Driver then went like this:

Wife:  “Do you go to the Bus Station?”

Driver:  “Oh no, we try to avoid it because it gets so busy” (foolish of us to imagine a bus actually using a Bus Station, obviously)

Wife:  “We’ll have to get off here then.  I asked you for a single to Burton, you know?”

Driver (looking at us blankly)  “Oh!”

As it was clear that this conversation was getting us nowhere, other than Derby City Centre, we got off and headed for the Bus Station with all haste.  The haste was, actually, a little redundant as we had just witnessed the express, non-stop bus to Burton gliding serenely past us as we alighted from our previous instrument of torture.  Sure enough, on entering the Bus Station, we learned that the next bus to Burton would depart in twenty minutes and would call at all of the little villages we had just, unwillingly, visited, plus a few more for good measure.

By the time we caught our new bus, it was well past the hour when we should have been collecting the car.  One apologetic phone call to the garage later, and with me nearly £10 lighter in cumulative bus fares, we set off for another scenic tour of the more obscure villages of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, accompanied by the usual crashes, bangs and bone-shaking bounces that are such a fun feature of public road transport.  Quite why they offer free wi-fi is beyond my comprehension, I should think it would be a minor miracle if you ever managed to get your finger anywhere near your touch screen without doing you, or your companion, a serious and possibly deeply embarrassing, injury.

When we finally dragged ourselves into the garage, weary, deafened and shaken to the core, we had been in almost permanent transit for a total of three hours in order to complete what should have been a fifteen mile journey.

So, if you’re wondering why we need a second car when we have such a wonderful public transport service on our doorstep?  Don’t ask, just don’t ask!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Man in the 'Nearly' Suit

For your delectation and delight, here is this month's article for the Derby Telegraph which appears in today's (Wednesday, 26th July, 2017) edition.  If a link appears for the article on the Derby Telegraph website, I'll post it but in the meantime...

If you find reading the text in the photo a bit of a pain, here it is in all it's glory:

In these enlightened times, when casual dress is often the recommended work attire and offices are more likely to have a table tennis than a boardroom table, it's difficult to remember just how hierarchical the workplace used to be.  This occurred to me, the other day, thinking about my time at Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton in the 1970s. 

You see, there were people in suits, usually male, who were the management and others in overalls who were the workers.  Then there was me.  I'm pretty sure that the people on the 'shop floor' at Wesley's didn't really know what to make of me.  Was I part of the distrusted 'management', or was I one of the workers?

To be fair, I was never too sure myself, largely because I was actually unique.  I was the only male clerical worker in the company.  I didn't wear a suit, because I only had my one 'made to measure' three-piece indulgence from my first job, which was only suitable for high days and holidays and would have looked distinctly OTT in a work context.  However, I did feel as if I ought to wear a suit, so I got as close as I could with a brown sports jacket and some brown trousers which were nearly, but not quite, the same colour.

The confusion about my managerial status was also compounded by the fact that, when all of the Departmental Managers were called to the General Office for morning and afternoon tea, so was I.  However, the really confusing feature, and the only occasion when I came even close to being part of 'the management', was when it came to stocktaking.

Stocktaking took place twice a year, usually on a Saturday when the factory wasn't working.  The system was that the Head of Department for each area counted the various piles of stock in his (and it was always 'his') department.  He then completed a three-part form which showed what the stock was and where it was but only put the quantity on the top sheet, leaving the other two parts with the stock.  Then a second person would come along, count the stock again and put their total on the second part of the form.  Parts one and two would be sent up to the Managing Director's office for him to compare the totals and the third part would remain with the stock to show it had been counted.  Fascinating, eh?  I was never entrusted with the initial count, I was the follow-on. 

The best part of this arrangement, however, was that you were assigned a gopher! You see, it was never expected that members of management would be required to clamber over stacks of paper reels and suchlike.  That would never do.  Instead, each stock-taker had with him one or two lads from the warehouse gang.  It was their job to clamber over the stacks, count and report back. 

The beauty of this was that you stood a better chance of tracking down exactly where stuff had been stacked (especially if you had a friendly 'gopher') because they had, in all probability, been part of the gang who put it there in the first place.  The other benefit was that the warehouse lads knew if the stock had been there since God was a lad, and therefore the total hadn't changed in decades.

I couldn't help feeling more than a little awkward about this arrangement.  It made perfect sense for some of the more venerable managers we had in the company, who really couldn't be expected to indulge in the mountaineering antics required in some parts of the warehouse, but I was about the same age as most of the lads in the warehouse, and considerably younger than some.  I therefore felt rather guilty as they climbed up the stacks, with commendable agility, whilst I stood a discreet distance away from all the dust and cobwebs and inscribed the figure they came up with on the form.  It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it!