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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 ...

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Night Watch

This is very much a 'work in progress' at the moment - a companion piece to A Stable Upbringing

It was a clear night.  In fact it was a very clear night.  Bright points of light peppered the sky, but these paled in comparison with the gigantic 'star' currently appearing to hang over the small village in the valley.

In a field on the hillside, two shepherds sat on a rocky outcrop and regarded the 'star' glumly.  Eventually, one turned to the other and said, conversationally,

"I'm sore afraid"

There was a pause, during which his companion digested this news.

"Well, which?" he asked, eventually.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, what I mean is, are you sore?  Or are you afraid? Can't be both, don't make any sense that."

"I mean what I say, and I say what I mean." the first shepherd said, glaring at his companion, "I'm sore from sitting on this ruddy rock and I'm afraid that damn great star up there is going to put us out of business."  Somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled. "Look," the shepherd continued, warming to his theme, "what's the point in us being here, watching our flocks by night, as it says in the job description…"

"As it says in the job description, agreed." His companion nodded.

"Well, what's the point if it's going to be like daylight all the time?  What creature is going to be daft enough to try something in broad daylight?"  He eased a weary buttock from the rock beneath and shuffled a little.

"Take your point, comrade, take your point."  The second shepherd chewed the idea, along with a length of straw he had been saving for just such an occasion.  "So, you are of the view that the aforesaid and alleged 'star' hanging above us, is, in point of fact and notwithstanding, a celestial conspiracy to deprive us of our rightful livelihood, to wit, being a shepherd watching his, or as it may indeed be, her, flock by night?"

The first shepherd squirmed on his rocky repository a little, thought this statement over, gave it due consideration  and said, "You what?"

"I said," the second shepherd sighed deeply, "that if this bright light goes on, we'll all be out on our ears.  Remember when it turned up?"

"How could I forget?" The first shepherd muttered glumly, "what with that coming out of nowhere and ruddy choral singing belting out in every direction…the effect it had on my sheep"

"Not good?"

"Not good!  You know what sheep are like.  Scared stiff is how they are when things are fine.  Add a blinding bright light, and all that singing, and you've got some seriously terrified sheep.  And you know what happens if you frighten a sheep?"

"Yeah." said his companion with feeling.

"It was like a skating rink round here.  Took me all my time to stand up without falling over.  And, of course, the last thing you wanted to do was fall over.  Bloody star!" He said with feeling, "we don't even know what it is."

"Ah now, I may be able to furnish you with a little inside knowledge there," the second shepherd looked around conspiratorially, "You see Earl over there?" he nodded toward the lone silhouette of a shepherd on the horizon.  The first shepherd nodded his agreement.  "Well, he's been giving it some thought, and he reckons it's a supernova." 

The second shepherd folded his arms and attempted to look wise, which unfortunately left him with the appearance of someone experiencing a severe bilious attack.

"A supernova?"  The first shepherd thought about this for a while, and eventually caved in, "what's one of them when it's at home?"

"I thought you might ask that, brother," said the second shepherd, looking somewhat smug, "you know those Brit slaves the Romans brought here?" The first shepherd nodded.  "Well, they've got this game, right, where they all stand round in a circle and one chucks a ball at the other, you know what I mean?"

"I've seen 'em at it," the first shepherd confirmed, "it's called Rickets." He said with some pride.

"Rickets?  Is it? Well, If you say so."  The second shepherd gave his companion a hard stare."Any road, at some point the one chucking the ball gets fed up with it and lets the other one have a go, and that," he said smugly" is called a Nova."

"Says who?"

"Says Earl."

"Oh, right.  Well, he would know," the first shepherd conceded, "Earl's a thinker.  So, a Nova is a point in the game where they change ends, right?"

"Yeah, that's it."  The second shepherd congratulated himself on working his way through a tricky conversation.

"Right." The first shepherd decided to quite while he was ahead.  "Here, there's a kid bawling his eyes out down there.  We're doing no good here.  Let's grab a lamb, go down, see if we can cadge a cup of tea.  Kids like lambs.  We might even get a few bob off the father if we can get him to shut up."

With a lamb under his arm, the second shepherd helped his friend up off the rock and they set off, cautiously, because the sheep were still somewhat anxious, in the direction of the village and the 'star'.

"What's a supernova then?" The first shepherd asked, and immediately regretted it, as they picked their way down the hillside.

"Well, it stands to reason dunnit"

"Does it?"

"Yeah, course it does.  If a Nova is the time where the game changes a bit, then a Supernova must be…must be…"

"Oh, I'm with you." The first shepherd stopped to catch his breath and looked up at the 'star'.  "It must be where the game changes completely!"

"That's it" said the second shepherd with some relief, "it's a game-changing event, that's what it is."


The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format for just £0.99 at Amazon UK and Amazon USA and now read the new bumper collection of stories, Crutches For Ducks  also at and

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Chuffed to Bits!

My reader in Australia has now expanded her review (see Crutches For Ducks - we've got you covered), and I'm absolutely over the moon.  Isn't it nice that someone takes the time and trouble to leave a thoughtful review like this?

"OK, I've finished the book. Phil delivers yet again with his quirky combination of memoirs of his misspent youth (with photographic evidence no less) and his modern day curmudgeonliousness (it's a word now). If you are familiar with British culture then this book gives you many "OMG, I remember that, I haven't thought of that in years" moments. One of the strengths of this book is that you feel like you're sitting around the pub talking chite with an old friend as Phil reminds you of how absurd much of your babyboomer childhood and adolescence was. However I admit that I laughed hardest at his later chapters. I believe that Phil has a great future ahead of him as a professional curmudgeon.

If you have to have advanced dental work then you'll need this book as well as Steady Past Your Granny's to keep your spirits up. "

You can find the whole review at

And from now until the end of January, you can buy this book at the specially reduced price of £3.99

Character Building

As all of the easy options had now been ruled out for the remainder of my summer holiday stint with Bovril/Marmite, I was now (reluctantly) part of the warehouse labouring gang.  This could be pretty arduous, but also had its moments of entertainment.

I particularly liked some of the characters that I met, people who had worked in industry for years and who knew the ropes backwards.  I found one little old bloke very amusing.  He had the knack of being able to vanish for ages and then suddenly appear when we were all tasked with doing something, so that his presence (or lack of it) wasn't noted.  When he did appear, he would work frenetically, but I suspect that there were long periods of 'resting' between these sessions.  What particularly amused me were the little stock phrases that he had obviously developed over many years of working in warehouses.  Most of them were unrepeatable, but the one that sticks in my mind was when we reached the last item on a pallet, or something that we were unloading, when he would always say "that's the one we've been looking for", as if that had been the sole purpose of the exercise.

Another character was a chap who couldn't have been much older than myself, or my fellow students, but who had clearly decided that a career in warehouse work was his goal in life.  He was blonde, sturdily built and, I would imagine, quite handsome.  I was therefore surprised that the girls in the packing department were not all over him.  The answer became apparent the first time I shared a lunch break with him.  He apparently had a weakness for onion sandwiches, every day, and nothing else, just onion.  The smell from his lunch box was sufficient to take everyone's breath away in a one mile radius and should probably have been banned under the U.N. Treaty on the use of Chemical Weapons.

Getting to and from Bovril/Marmite was a bit of a trial, as there wasn't a convenient bus service.  Walking from South Broadway Street to the end of Wellington Street Extension (as it was then) was perfectly possible but took some time.  Given my inability to get up in the morning, I often found myself running the distance in order to make my clocking-in time, leaving me exhausted before I had even started work.  There was, therefore, a compelling case for getting the moped back out and trying to make it do a decent job.  Unfortunately, as I've said before, I have no mechanical aptitude and neither had my dad.  Therefore, putting it back on the road really meant hoping against hope that something magical might have occurred during the months that it had lain under an old overcoat in the yard.  It had not.  If anything, it was worse.  This fact was brought home to me when I realised, as I puttered along, that there were people on the pavement who were walking faster than I was riding.  Pedal cyclists were hurtling past me and cursing me for holding them up.  I was a figure of fun and I wasn't even getting to work any faster than before.

In despair, I gave the moped to a bloke who worked in my dad's department for more or less scrap value.  In his lunch break, he, apparently decoked it and generally gave it the fundamental mechanical sorting-out that it should have had years before.  Pushing it back to his home, he got fed up with the effort and decided to see if he could ride it for the remainder of the journey.  He was on the Trent Bridge at the time.  Apparently, he climbed aboard, started it up, opened the throttle and the thing took off like a Harley-Davidson, dumping him unceremoniously on his backside on the Trent Bridge.  He was delighted with his purchase and I went back to my pedal cycle with the dawning realisation that I would never be a Hells Angel.

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA and now read the new bumper collection of stories, Crutches For Ducks at and

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

On the Gravy Train

My last stint of casual labour, before being pitched into permanent work, was the summer holiday job at Bovril/Marmite that provided the funds for my first foreign holiday - a week in Arenal, Majorca, courtesy of Clarkson's. 

 I had been granted something of a non-job in my first holiday job at Bovril/Marmite, supplying the cap hoppers on the filling lines, which neatly avoided having to do too much in the way of offloading lorries or humping goods about the warehouse.  This was largely in deference to my emaciated appearance (see below), very young age (I was only 15 at the time) and the fact that my dad was a departmental manager there.  I did not expect to get such favourable treatment in my second visitation and, as I anticipated, I was assigned to the group of university students etc. destined to labour in the warehouse.  Thankfully, they clearly decided that I was "too light for heavy work" (as did I) and found me a job working on a new bit of plant that looked to be nearly as good a job as the cap filling from the previous year.

Bovril/Marmite were in the process of launching an exciting new product, a Bovril-based gravy powder.  I was to be assigned to a team of three who were packing this powder.  This involved rolling tubs of powder into the filling room, using a vacuum system to suck it out into a hopper from where it was funnelled into cartons, which were then sealed and stacked ready for despatch.  My bit was the rolling tubs and vacuuming bit.  This was great, as all I had to do was keep the hopper full, and the vacuuming bit was quite fun.  The rest of the time I could sit and listen to the radio.  All went well for the first few days and I was congratulating myself on my life choice of being a complete wimp in appearance and actuality, when, out of nowhere I suffered the worst nose bleed of my life.  I was carted off to the Nurse's Station and had to lie down for half an hour or so before it would stop.  Two days later, it happened again only more so.  Cue more time in the Nurse's Station.  The next day, I was horizontal with the Nurse again, but not in an exciting way.  In the absence of any underlying medical reason for these sudden nasal exsanguinations, she came to the conclusion that the salt in the gravy powder, which filled the room in which I worked, was attacking my nasal linings.  The cure for this?  Stop working in the powder room.

Consigned back to the warehouse, my nose might have been fine again but the rest of me was falling to bits.  The idea of weeks of stacking heavy boxes and shifting sacks was somewhat unappealing and I doubted that I would survive to see Majorca.  Fortunately, another less exacting role appeared just in time.

The gravy powder, that had been my undoing in the powder room, happened to be the subject of a massive national promotion in which a sample jar of powder, a coupon to purchase more of the product and a promotional leaflet were to be sent to every household in the country.  A gang of students, including me, were assigned to the job of assembling this lot, slipping them into a jiffy bag, stapling same and repeating the exercise ad infinitum.  Nice dry work with no heavy lifting involved.  Unfortunately, putting a bunch of teenagers together on a boring job is bound to lead to joking and timewasting and this was no exception.  We had great fun but the work rate was not quite what Bovril/Marmite had hoped for.  Before too long, we were replaced with a team of girls from the filling lines who could multi-task sufficiently to laugh, joke and pack jiffy bags and it was back to the loading bank for me.

See Part 3 - Character Building

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA and now read the new bumper collection of stories, Crutches For Ducks at and

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Moped Moping

I suppose it was only a matter of time before my juvenile reluctance to get up in the morning collided with my continued employment as a paper boy. 

For the first year or two, I had been a relatively keen employee.  Not particularly punctual, I'll admit, but usually amongst those present.  However, in the latter part of my final year at school, it was no longer necessary to attend class all day, every day, as we were deemed to be determinedly revising.  Without the incentive of having to be up anyway for school, the daily tussle between dozing or delivering papers became an ever more unequal contest.  Therefore, after a number of weeks in which my morning presence had been, at best, sporadic, it should have been no surprise that when I turned up at Mr. Kidger's shop one evening, armed with my latest excuse for my non-appearance, he sombrely relieved me of my paper bag, handed me the meagre amount that I had earned that week and said that he thought we should call it a day.  It was like the newsagent's version of being cashiered.  I felt as if I had had my stripes ripped off and my epaulettes sliced away by a sabre. I could hardly protest, as he had been more than patient with me, and so I trudged back home to reveal that, once again, paid employment and I had parted company.

For the next few months, I was reliant on my pocket money (about 50p per week, I think) and whatever I could drum up by collecting empty bottles to return for their deposit value, until the local off-licence got wise to the fact that we never actually bought anything from there, and discouraged the practice.

That I should move from this state of impecunity to one of fabulous wealth (by my standards anyway) seemed unlikely, but it happened.

I have mentioned before that I worked for a few weeks at Bovril/Marmite during the intervening period between my leaving secondary school and starting at Burton Technical College.  I cannot remember how much money per week I was earning then, but I do know it was far more than I had ever had in my life.  Even with my dissolute habits, it was impossible to fritter it all away, and so I started to think about how I could usefully spend all of this cash.  I decided that I would really need some form of transport to get me to and from South Broadway Street and Burton Tech. and started to look longingly in the window of Jacksons' Motorcycles in Borough Road.  My dad, however, diverted me to the adverts in the local paper.  One short visit to a rather nice lady in Stapenhill later, I became the owner of a Mobylette moped that she had, apparently, never really taken to.

Complete with 'L' plates, provisional licence and a tank of two-stroke mixture, I was ready to roll.  This may have been an accident waiting to happen, given that I was not all that competent even on a pedal cycle.  However, any misgivings my parents might have had about a motorised me, were quickly dispelled when it became apparent that I was never going to be challenging the local chapter of the Hells Angels on this contraption.  In fact, I would have been hard put to out-run a group of schoolchildren on a Cycling Proficiency Test.

Obviously never designed for tremendous speed, even though it had a speedometer that optimistically finished at 80mph, it was clearly less nippy than it should really have been.  As I had no mechanical aptitude, and neither did my father, there was really nothing much I could do about it other than to fill it occasionally with petrol and hope that it would miraculously sort itself out.  Nevertheless, it was pretty embarrassing to be overtaken by people on push-bikes. 

I persevered with the moped during my first year at college but, eventually, consigned it to a temporary retirement in our back yard.  I couldn't afford the petrol, but, more importantly, I couldn't stand the embarrassment of parking it by the sleek, shiny motor scooters of my contemporaries.  

See Part 2 - On The Gravy Train

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA and now read the new bumper collection of stories, Crutches For Ducks at and

Monday, 17 October 2011

Crutches for Ducks - we've got you covered!

The cover for the bumper collection of 49 stories, all sure to raise a smile (possibly from a young woman, see below!) now published on Kindle -  Crutches For Ducks

For an excerpt from the new book, click here

First review on, for the rest of the review, visit here.:

"Having enjoyed Phil's previous effort Steady Past Your Granny's I eagerly snapped up his second book. So far I've only read the first 3-4 chapters however I was reading it on the train and experienced an involuntary fit of giggles and then noticed a 20-something woman looking over at me and smiling, obviously enjoying the fact that I was laughing so hard at something. Our eyes met and we smiled at each other. So reading Phil's new book causes beautiful young women to regard you benignly. This is not much use to me as a middle-aged woman but it was a nice little moment of shared humanity nevertheless. I'll add more when I actually finish reading the book."

Monday, 3 October 2011

Grate Expectations

A question for you.  What is the connection between ‘Bonanza’, the hit cowboy series of the 1960s, and your old coal fire at home?  For the answer, read on…

What brought this subject to mind was the sudden failure of our boiler on one of the coldest days of the year so far.  Bereft of central heating, we resorted to our electric fire, which normally fulfils a decorative function.  Briar, our dog, trotted forlornly over to the fireside and spread herself in front of the limited heat.  This scene instantly took me back to my childhood living rooms.

Most of our houses were essentially arctic wastelands in the winter, except for the semi-circle in front of the (usually) coal fire.  There was a strict pecking order for pride of place.  The cat was usually first on the scene, and woe betide anyone who tried to displace him or her.  Directly behind the cat, as close as possible without actually making physical contact, would be the dog.  Behind these would often be the clothes horse with the washing of the day or, alternatively, the bed linen ‘being aired’ (my Nanna Whiteland insisted that all bed linen should be ‘aired’ for at least three days before it went on the bed).  Finally, grouped around the fire like a squad of crack fielders at a Test Match, would be our family, dimly aware that somewhere behind the washing, the dog and the cat, was a source of heat.

The fireplace could be a place of great activity.  The hearth would contain a gleaming Companion Set comprising poker, dustpan and brush (often slightly singed).  There might also be a coal scuttle and possibly a toasting fork.  One of the fireside rituals at Nanna Whiteland’s was toasting the bread.  Grandad was always delegated to this task because, as a retired railwayman, fire held no fears for him.  He would sit there, with the brass toasting fork getting ever hotter in his hand, whilst lesser mortals (like me) would shriek with pain at the transferred heat and drop fork and bread into the fire.  Grandad had asbestos hands from years of working on steam locomotives.  He thought nothing of picking up an errant live coal from the hearth and tossing it casually back onto the fire.  There’s something about toast made on an open fire that is infinitely better than a toaster or grill, likewise pikelets (as we called them, or crumpets).

So, where does the reference to ‘Bonanza’ come in?  Well, if you remember the opening credits, these used to show a map of Nevada and ‘The Ponderosa’ being devoured by a flame that would start at the centre.  Igniting a coal fire at home could lead to something very similar.

The process would usually start with a few sticks of wood wrapped in paper or, if funds ran to it, a commercial firelighter (a cardboard tube full of wood shavings coated in some flammable substance).  Setting light to this (or these) was usually quite easy but the whole process could fall apart if, like me, you were over-enthusiastic and then buried these nascent flames in half a ton of slack and coal dust.  All might not be lost if you could ‘draw the fire’ by blocking off the mouth of the fireplace and causing air to rush through the grate and up the chimney.  The blocking mechanism of choice was a sheet from a broadsheet paper (tabloid was useless), and the only broadsheet in our household was usually the local newspaper.  I quite enjoyed this job, watching the paper being partially sucked into the hearth and seeing the flames begin to work their way up through the dust and slack.  However, if I lost concentration (usually because I was reading the paper that I was using) I might miss the telltale charring in the middle of the sheet and would suddenly find myself clutching the headlines, as the rest of the paper vanished in flames.  Perhaps this was where the expression “a headline grabbing moment” came from?  No?  Oh well, please yourselves!

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA.  This story features in the new bumper collection now released as a Kindle edition - "Crutches for Ducks"

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Win a signed hard copy - 3rd edition of the quiz

In celebration of Steady Past Your Granny's selling its 2000th Kindle edition, I'm offering a signed hard copy of the book to the first correct answer, received by 23.59 BST on 9th September, 2011, to the following simple question, the answer to which can be found in this blog.:
Which Balearic island did I visit in the 'Forty Years On' series of posts (which start at 'Forty Years On - Putting A Lid On It')?
In the event of more than one correct entry, the first one drawn out of my rather disreputable hat will win the prize.  The author's decision is entirely arbitrary, often wayward and decidedly final! Post your entry as a Comment, which will only be published after the deadline. Good luck!

And the answer was...Majorca (or Mallorca if you prefer).  As this quiz once again failed to trouble the scorers, I now seem to be in the classic situation of being unable to give the book away ;-)  Clearly a different marketing strategy is required...would it help if I burst into tears?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Cider and Stupidity

I was giving my daughter and son-in-law a lift to a party the other Saturday night.  As we were driving along, I remarked that I rather liked early Saturday evening, as the streets are full of young people in their best outfits, all full of hope and expectation for their night out before… “that’s dashed by cider and stupidity” my son-in-law chipped in.  I thought this was such a good phrase, and so accurate, that I just had to steal it for this article.  You see, if anyone’s hopes and aspirations were frequently dashed by cider and stupidity, then it was me. 

August is a trying month for most students.  By now, everyone should have had their ‘A’ Level and GCSE results and I really admire the bravery, but question the wisdom, of those students who were bold enough to open their results letter on live national television.  It was just as well that I was not placed in that situation when I received my GCE and CSE results back in August, 1970.

There were not many subjects at which I excelled at school, but English was definitely one subject in which I consistently did well, mostly because I enjoyed it.  English Literature was a favourite of mine and I was generally expected to achieve a good Pass in my exam, so much so, that I had been accepted to study the subject at ‘A’ Level at Burton Technical College.  Anglesey, my school in Clarence Street, did not have a Sixth Form.  In fact, the Fifth Form that I was in was a relatively recent addition, and it was still the case that the majority of students left Anglesey, with no formal qualifications, at the end of the Fourth Year.

The exam was scheduled to take place on the afternoon of a hot, early summer, Thursday.  Thursdays were my dad’s pay day and I had fallen into the habit of meeting him at The Union in Union Street to get some pocket money, scrounge a cigarette or two and, I regret to say, have a pint of cider.  This had not been a problem in the latter weeks of the school year, as we did not have to attend school, although we were expected to be at home, revising.  Whether it was wise to call in at the pub immediately before an important exam, I’ll leave you to judge.

The main problem with English Literature is that you need to be able to quote extensively from the works that you have been studying, to demonstrate your understanding of the texts.  I have always had a poor memory but I had tried to memorise a few relevant quotes for the exam.  Unfortunately, a pint of cider, on a relatively empty stomach, and on a hot day, is not a wonderful means of improving one’s mental capacity.  Sitting in the oppressive heat of the examination room, it was all I could do to stay awake, let alone recall choice quotes from Macbeth. 

To add to my distraction, there was a bee mooching around on the window next to my desk.  I have always had a horror of being stung and now, in my alcohol-induced haze, I was transfixed by this insect.  Try as I might to concentrate on the question, my mind wandered and my eyes remained glued to the bee and its meanderings.  I could only recall two of the batch of useful quotes that I had tried to commit to memory and was reduced to using these over and over again to support a wide range of points in an ever more tenuous fashion.   

Needless to say, my work did not achieve the standard expected and, in that August, I learned to my horror that I had actually managed to fail an exam that I was supposed to go on to study at ‘A’ Level.  It was only thanks to the understanding nature of Burton Technical College, and some relatively reasonable results in my other exams, that I was able to carry on with my studies.

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA

Monday, 8 August 2011

Win a signed hard copy - 2nd Edition of the quiz

Heard about Steady Past Your Granny's?  The little book that's been a surprise hit on Kindle? I'm offering a signed hard copy of the book to the first correct answer, received by 23.59 BST on 14th August, 2011, to the following cryptic-ish question, the answers to which can be found in this blog.  To make it a little easier, I have put links to the posts, and the dates of the relevant blog posts, in brackets:
What is the connection between a recent venue for a walk (The Hills Are Alive-ish, August, 2011), a little-heard film in Belper (Three for the Flea-Pit Part 2, March, 2011) and a device that perplexed my grandmother (At The Setting of the Television
November, 2010)?
In the event of more than one correct entry, the first one drawn out of my rather disreputable hat will win the prize.  If no absolutely correct entries are submitted, the nearest entry to the correct answer will win the competition.  The author's decision is entirely arbitrary, often wayward and decidedly final!  Post your entry as a Comment, which will only be published after the deadline. Good luck!

And the answer was:  Eric Idle

To explain, the recent venue for a walk was Rutland, a little-heard film in Belper was "A Hard Day's Night" starring The Beatles, and the device that perplexed my grandmother was the television.  The connection was Rutland Weekend Television was a sequel to Monty Python's Flying Circus devised, starring and written by Eric Idle.  From that show came the spoof group, 'The Rutles' (oddly similar to The Beatles) with Eric Idle and Neil Innes.

No winners I'm afraid, clearly I'm making these things too complex!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Hills Are Alive-ish Part 1

Do you think we could bring an action against the OS Map people under the Trade Description Act?

The reason for this question is my last Walking Weekend.  I could have put that better, as I sincerely hope it's not my last Walking Weekend.  I mean the Walking Weekend myself and three like-minded mates pottered through a few weeks ago.  I think I've mentioned these before.  They basically consist of a couple of days of healthy exercise and country air, punctuated by bouts of over-indulgence with food and drink (but not necessarily in that order, as per Eric Morecambe).  This year we invaded Rutland.

My issue with the OS is that their maps lead you (well, me anyway) to believe that little treasures are to be found scattered hither and thither across the landscape, only to dash your hopes when reality and the map description don't quite match up.  For example, on our main walk, one of my friends (who is a published historian, and knows what he's talking about) encouraged us up a particular hill with the promise that we would soon be passing a 'medieval village' according to the map.  We toiled over stiles and sheep droppings, until he told us, excitedly, that it was 'just over there'.  Now, I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this:

"So, where's the village then?"  I asked.  "That's it" our Historian said, with some exasperation.  "But, there's nothing (expletive deleted) there!" I pointed out.  "Ah well, if you know what you're looking for..." He said, with an air of authority, "I suppose you were expecting people in costume or something?" he chuckled.  To which the answer is, no, but I would have expected some evidence of ruins over and above a gently undulating landscape!  I'm afraid I'm a little cynical, having been caught like this before many years ago, as I will explain next time.

The first collection of stories "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available as a Kindle e-book at or

Friday, 22 July 2011

Win a signed hard copy!

Heard about Steady Past Your Granny's?  The little book that's been a surprise hit on Kindle? I'm offering a signed hard copy of the book to the first correct answer, received by 31st July, 2011, to the following cryptic-ish question, the answers to which can be found in the book:

Take the name of the window cleaner's son, add it to mum's place of work to get a High Street name that sounds like it might be a good home for a psychopath, I sink? 

In the event of more than one correct entry, the first one drawn out of my rather disreputable hat will win the prize.  Post your entry as a Comment, which will only be published after the deadline. Good luck!

Well, this didn't exactly engender a stampede of contestants!  In fact, no entries were submitted so the signed copy lives to fight another day.  If you were remotely interested in the answer, it is as follws:

"Walter Smiths Family Butchers"

This is derived from Walter (window cleaner's son) Smiths (Smiths Refrigeration was the workplace of my mum) and I talked about the psychopathic overtones of being a Family Butcher in the chapter "I Sink Therefore I Swam".  Another competition to follow which will this time be based on the blog so that no-one has to purchase anything.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Cruisin' - Part 3: Piped Aboard?

Continuing the story from Cruisin' Part 2 - Buffet the Waistline Slayer (I know, I know, I'm sorry)

Still on the subject of my recent cruise, there is just one more incident I should share with you that clearly demonstrates how preconceptions can colour your judgement.

When we first booked the cruise, we were a little miffed to be told that the offer price only allowed us to determine the minimum standard of the cabin, not the location.  Therefore, when the details of our booking finally arrived, we hurried to the deck plan to see where our fortnight would be spent.  We were somewhat surprised to find were on Deck 2.  To put this into perspective, if we had been one floor lower we would have been sharing the staff quarters.  In an effort to look on the bright side, I reasoned that the lower you were on the ship, the less movement you would experience in rough seas.  I accept that I can be quite irritating when I have these ‘Rebecca from Sunnybrook Farm’ moments.  My wife viewed the idea with deep suspicion and was convinced that a good storm would have us consorting with the marine life rather than enjoying a view of the Mediterranean.

In addition to our trepidation re the cabin, we were also less than confident about the dining arrangements.  We had clearly requested, right from the start, a table for two at the second sitting.  This was based on the fact that I am deeply anti-social and prefer to share my dining experience with as few people as possible.  In a perfect world, nobody would be there at all, including me.  When we checked our booking we discovered that we had been allocated the first sitting and, despite lengthy email correspondence between ourselves and the travel agent in which we were assured that the mistake had been corrected, the fact that the cruise line’s website showed otherwise gave us little confidence.  All of this background is important if you are to fully understand what follows.

Came the day, and we checked in at Southampton.  Sure enough, we discovered that our restaurant booking was for the first sitting and, apparently, nothing could be done about this until we boarded the ship and threw ourselves on the mercy of the Maitre D’.  Not a good start.  Then, arriving at our cabin, we opened the door only to be met with the sight below through our porthole.

You will understand that this immediately confirmed our worst suspicions about being located so far down in the ship’s pecking order.  Clearly, we had been assigned to the bilges.  Armed now with not one, but two legitimate complaints, we stomped up two floors and joined an orderly queue of aggrieved passengers at the Customer Relations desk.  A very helpful young man (they all are to me these days, young that is) listened sympathetically to our tale of woe but explained that we would need to speak to the Dining Room staff about our meal arrangements and also told us that the cruise was fully booked, so there was no opportunity to change our cabin to something less submarine.  He passed us on to another of his colleagues, who repeated the same information but made the observation, in a confident French accent, that “as there is so much to do on the ship, you will spend very little time in your cabin” which I thought rather made a nonsense of paying a supplement for an Outside Cabin.  However, I did notice that both of the crew members seemed somewhat perplexed by our description of the pipework visible from our cabin window.  Having placed us on a lengthy list of fellow deluded optimists who hoped to change cabins should some awful disaster occur that precluded the rest of the passengers from turning up, we set out to beard the Dining Room staff in their den.

Another lengthy queue greeted us at the Dining Room.  However, as the cruise line obviously had considerable experience of this situation, they had stationed on of their staff at one side of the queue to chat to the supplicants and see if any of their problems could be addressed without the need for the Maitre D’ and her complex computer screen.  To this end, he was calling people out from the queue in turn.  When our turn came, my wife went to talk to him, but two men behind us beat us to it and were already heading over.  As any Briton will know, jumping a queue is a heinous offence, up there in the lexicon of crimes with coughing in someone’s face and belching in front of the Queen (I don’t mean because it's her turn, you understand).  I’m sure that if capital punishment was ever brought back and the range of crimes that would attract such punishment were to be voted on by the general public (and wouldn’t the tabloids have a field day with that?), queue-jumping would be up there in the Top 10.  Anyway, my wife, who does not take such things lightly, and whose patience had already been stretched to the limit, announced loudly “Have I just become Scotch Mist?” at which the offending parties guiltily returned to their former places in the queue, but not without informing us that they had fought in WW2, and one had been injured in Korea.  I must admit that it was a surprise to learn that the previous unpleasantnesses, involving the Third Reich and the Red Menace, were primarily to allow us the freedom to jump queues.

As you may imagine, the devil-may-care holiday spirit was certainly not in evidence by the time we had compromised on a shared table in the second sitting, and we headed gloomily back to our pipe-festooned berth.  Opening the cabin door, we were astonished to find a clear view of Southampton harbour and the sight of a boat, adorned with pipe-work and evidently some sort of supply vessel, heading away from the ship.

We both collapsed laughing, realising that common sense should have told us that we could not possibly be looking out at the assortment of pipes that had greeted us.  We also appreciated, looking down at the sea below us, that the waves would have to reach tsunami proportions before our view became submarine in nature.  Apart from having to share a table for dinner, God was in his Heaven and all was right with the World – well, at least our little bit of it.

You can find a version of this story in the new compilation A Kick at the Pantry Door and more stories from The Slightly Odd World of Phil Whiteland in e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's  and Crutches for Ducks

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Cruisin’ Part 2 - Buffet, The Waistline Splayer

Continuing the story that commenced in Cruisin' Part 1

I have a weakness for buffets.  They call to me.  I have mentioned before that I don’t seem to be equipped with a ‘STOP’ button like everyone else, which can be a fairly serious problem when it comes to buffets (see Enough is as Good as a Feast).

For new readers, I am on a cruise.  More accurately, for anyone thinking that this article is an open invitation to lay waste to Whiteland Towers, I was on a cruise at the time of writing.  Broadly speaking, breakfast on cruise ships is mostly served in a buffet style, likewise lunch, but dinner can be formal dining or a buffet again.  I did say broadly speaking (and you can get pretty broad however the food is served).  I’m sure that many of you are shaking your heads sadly, reflecting on the sad decline in standards and recalling the good old days when your personal manservant would serve you elegant morsels on exquisite china as you climbed into your First Class lifeboat and he returned, with a winsome smile, to play ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ with the Ship’s Orchestra, the waves lapping around his ankles.  They don’t make cruises like that anymore.

My problem with buffets is that I want everything, and large portions of it.  If I’m served my meal, I’m usually reasonably content with the choice and quantity.  I might look askance at the quantity of vegetables hiding under the principal item (having usually been drizzled, tossed or embraced by something else) but I’m usually perfectly satisfied at the end.  But a buffet invites, no, positively encourages you to excess.  You know full well that one scoop of anything is probably sufficient, but then you decide to have another, just for luck.  Ideally, having selected the focus of the meal (roast meat, fish, curry or whatever), plus a form of carbohydrate (potato, rice, pasta and so on) and some vegetables, that should be the end of it.  It never is. 

If you’re like me, you can’t resist having a look at what else is on offer, and then you see something you really would have liked instead of your first choice.  Of course, you can’t put it back now and to abandon it would be wasteful, so instead you add the alternative choice to your existing meal, which then requires another form of carbohydrate and perhaps those vegetables and some sauce?  You know you’ve overdone it if you’re struggling to carry your plate back to the table.  After all, in 30 minutes or so, all of that weight is going to be inside you.

I’m even worse with finger buffets.  The problem here is that each of the items on offer does not, in itself, represent anything very substantial.  After all, one sausage roll is not going to weigh anyone down.  So there is a temptation to have just one of these, oh and perhaps another one as they’re very small, and, of course, one or two of those and a bit of that, and so on.  The end result is a mound of pastried, battered and breadcrumbed morsels that would provide enough calories to keep a typical family well fed for a week.

I’m just glad that I packed the trousers with expandable waistlines.

Find out how the cruise nearly didn't happen at all (complete with pictures) at Cruisin' Part 3 - Piped Aboard?

You can find this, and many other stories, in the third collection of 'nostalgedy' tales 'A Kick at the Pantry Door' available now at Amazon UK and

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Cruisin' - Part 1

 At the time of writing, I am on a cruise.  By the time that you read this, however, I will be back at home, sulking fit to bust.  You may say, with some truth, that this hardly makes for a contemporary account and I would have to agree.  However, I do take the view that advertising my absence from home via the internet would, perhaps, be a little unwise and a boon to the criminal fraternity.

This is my fourth cruise to date.  The notion of cruising seems to divide people quite markedly.  There are those who would happily spend the rest of their lives on a cruise ship (and, indeed, if you have the necessary funds you can now do so) and there are those who regard cruising as a sort of perversion.  I once mentioned, in an unguarded moment, that I quite liked cruising to a client of mine and he treated me as if I had gone over to the dark side.  Cruising used to be the preserve of the idle rich, now it’s more the preserve of the idle retired, although there is quite a range of ages present these days.

The principal focus of cruising is food.  Lots of it.  The single-minded devotion to this cause came as quite a shock to me on my first cruise.  I like a bite to eat with the next man, but I felt positively anorexic in comparison with my fellow travellers.  On a cruise, you can eat 24 hours a day, and many regard this not so much as an opportunity, as a challenge.  The other day, I heard a passenger recount how, when her husband refused to get up at 4.00 am to get her a slice of pizza, she ate everything in the mini-bar as an act of revenge.
Gordon Gecko’s observation that “Greed is Good”, could usefully be adopted as a motto by a cruise line.  Unfortunately, this tendency toward self-indulgence can manifest itself in other ways that can be less than socially desirable, always assuming that you believe that eating enough to keep a small impoverished nation going for a month or so is socially acceptable in the first place. 

An army of very polite and attentive people, of all nationalities, are permanently on hand to attend to your every whim.  The outcome of this is a ship-load of people who have become used to being treated as adored children by over-indulgent parents, and who therefore react petulantly when their wishes are thwarted in any way.  This can be a rather unattractive trait.  Moreover, being waited on hand and foot by people who have a tendency to call you “Mister Philip” (in my case) can bring on a touch of the ‘Old Colonials’, particularly in those who suspect that this should always have been the natural order of things.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I quite accept that not all cruise passengers are like this (before the complaining comments start arriving thick and fast).  I have, on my travels, met many charming, interesting people and have been happy to share a drink or a meal with them.  Unfortunately, I have also had more than my share of the other sort, including one pernicious old git, on my first cruise, who delighted in reducing the waiting staff to tears.  He was accompanied by an equally rude young lady who was his paid travelling companion (presumably because no-one else in their right mind would willingly have spent time in the same hemisphere as him, let alone the same ship).  One evening even she had clearly had enough of him and gave him a higher dose than normal of his tranquilisers so that she could go out dancing whilst he slumbered.  Regrettably, the dose was not sufficient to do humanity a great favour and he was back at his arrogant best the following day.

In addition to those who find getting into a lift, side by side, something of a challenge, there are those who are sleek and purposeful.  Not the fitness fanatics (although anyone prepared to climb two flights of stairs could reasonably be described as a fitness fanatic in this company) but the smokers.  On either side of one open deck, a game band of sad-eyed individuals brave the prevailing wind and flecks of foam to consume their duty-free nicotine.  I’ve come to think of this area as ‘Death’s Waiting Room’.

In some ways, I have a certain admiration for this group.  You really do need to be made of sterling stuff to be a smoker these days.  No more the cushioned comfort of the ‘smoking room’ with brandy and fine cigars.  Today, you’re lucky to have a half-constructed shed in which to enjoy your roll-up.  In answer to those who say “well, if the conditions are that bad, why do they do it?”, I can only say, as an ex-smoker with a long history of tobacco-related products behind me, because they enjoy it.  This is something that the anti-smoking brigade refuses to acknowledge, often seeing smokers as obdurate fools bent on self-destruction, which may well be partially true.  Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I enjoyed most, if not all, of the thousands upon thousands of cigarettes I consumed and the habit is, of course, tremendously addictive.

I can, however, clearly remember one cigarette that I did not enjoy.  Way back in the early 1970s, when Spanish tourism was just beginning to flower and General Franco was still in charge, it was theoretically impossible to buy tobacco products from anywhere other than a state-licensed tobacconist.  In reality, there was a thriving black market in UK and US cigarettes and most bars could provide you with a limited range from underneath the counter.  However, if the police had been showing an interest, or if the bar-tender just didn’t like the look of you, then this source could dry up and, with the duty-frees long since consigned to the ashtray, you were forced to the State Tobacconist.  I seem to remember that these kept very restricted opening hours and imported cigarettes were quite expensive.  However, the native Spanish brands could be had for a song (presumably in an effort to protect Spanish businesses).  I had bought a couple of packets of these domestic brands as a sort of emergency buffer if all else failed.  Sure enough, the morning came when the Benson & Hedges had run out and the only thing available to provide that first rush of nicotine was the Spanish brand.  I ripped open the packet and placed the odd-smelling tube in my mouth.  Not ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers, I thought.  I lit up and took the deep drag of the truly addicted.

I honestly thought that my chest was going to implode.  My lungs seemed to go into shock and my chest walls tried to gang up with my spine to make a break for it via my throat.  I clutched at my chest and had to sit down.  I began to wonder if I would ever breathe again and, for a while, that did not look like a safe bet.  Eventually, the evil effects of Franco’s Revenge subsided and I was able to crawl out on the balcony and whimper a little.  Of course, anyone other than a dyed in the wool smoker, such as myself, would have stubbed the offending article out and thrown the rest of the packet into the nearest waste bin.  I, on the other hand, regarded this as a minor setback and a major challenge.  The Spanish Gaspers came back with me to the UK as a sort of bulwark against ever being fag-less and, in due course, were consumed on those occasions when there was more week than wage.  So you see, if you’re prepared to tolerate that sort of discomfort in order to satisfy your addiction, a little hypothermia is nothing.

There's more about the cruise and cruising at Cruisin' Part 2 - Buffet, The Waistline Splayer

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at all Amazon sites, and you can find a version of this post in the new collection, 'A Kick at the Pantry Door' also available on all Amazon sites.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

There but for the...

Two weeks ago today we were docked in Gibraltar on the Independence of the Seas at the beginning of a 2 week Mediterranean Cruise.  I was going to post some observations about our holiday, and will do so soon, but the news from Gib today re the explosion alongside the Independence has made me decide to leave a decent interval.  I really hope that this turns out to be just a tragic accident and not something more sinister and I sincerely hope that those injured make a full recovery.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Slim Pickings

This is the continuing story of how Steady Past Your Granny's found its way into print, and eventually an e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (UK) or Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (USA) - that commenced in Booked Up!

Before I could get my 'expanded booklets' printed there was one further river to cross - the ISBN number needed to be converted into a bar code format.  This proved tricky unless I was willing to part with a considerable amount of money.  As my foray into self-publishing had already cost quite a bit more than I anticipated and showed no signs of generating any income in the foreseeable future, I was not inclined to sink any more funds into what was rapidly becoming something of a money pit.

However, diligent searching of the internet finally threw up an altruistic computer buff who offered conversion of ISBNs into bar codes for a limited period under licence for a modest sum.  Regrettably, because I am a dyed in the wool idiot, I only converted the one ISBN number I needed there and then into a bar code in the paid-for period, instead of taking the opportunity to convert the whole set of ten for future use.  It's at times like that, that I wonder how I manage to breathe without the aid of instructions.

So, with the cover sorted and the bar code obtained, my friend set to with a will and supplied me with my initial (and probably hopelessly optimistic) order of 50 copies.  In conjunction with the local Ottaker's a book-signing event was arranged and a friend of mine who was then the Deputy Editor of a local newspaper kindly ran a story plugging this.  Looking at the picture they ran with the article (see below) you may be amazed that anyone dared to turn up!  I always  think it looks like someone who is attempting to breed chins for a living.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Slim Chance

This is the continuing story of how Steady Past Your Granny's found its way into print, and eventually an e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (UK) or Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (USA) - that commenced in Booked Up!

There is nothing quite so frustrating as waiting for something that you have eagerly anticipated, to arrive through the post.  Each day I irrationally expected my parcel to appear, and each day I was disappointed.  Days turned into weeks and then months.  Christmas (which was when I hoped to have them) came and went.  I chased the marketing company responsible for the promotion and was fobbed off with vague promises of the books arriving shortly.  I even found a discussion forum in which hordes of other prospective authors were venting their spleen about their missing books.  Eventually, in April, 2006, the books finally arrived.

I have to admit that the books were impressive.  They looked the business (see Booked Up!) and were reassuringly weighty.  Even the pictures had transferred successfully.  The only downside was that I had been forced to choose between single or double spaced lines and had opted for double spacing in a desperate attempt to make the book look better value than it actually was.  The end result was something like those Janet and John books of my childhood.  Nevertheless, I now had a book of my own in my hot little hands.  After foisting a number onto my friends and relatives, I naturally began to think about selling the remainder.  However, I soon came up against a snag in that the major bookshop in our town (whilst quite supportive of my attempts) could not stock the book without an ISBN.

I seemed to be back to square one again, until a friend of ours in the same village said that he could help me to self-publish the book.  The only problem would be that it could not be in a conventional book format, with a spine.  As a home published effort, it would be more like an expanded booklet.  To keep the number of pages down to a level that could be realistically stapled, it was no longer possible for each chapter to start on a new page.  Nevertheless, the book could be published and printed (after a fashion) and I hurriedly applied for my set of ISBN numbers.

Casting around for a suitable photo for the cover, I remembered that the urinal that featured in the final title story had just been rescued, refurbished and granted pride of place in what was then the Bass Museum of Brewing.  It was too good a chance to miss.  Armed with a camera and a ticket to the museum, my long-suffering wife captured a picture of me striding purposefully toward the Convenience, thus creating a picture that would baffle and perplex potential readers for years to come!

More in the same vein in the next instalment - Slim Pickings

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Completely Booked

This is the continuing story of how Steady Past Your Granny's found its way into print, and eventually an e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (UK) or Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (USA) - that commenced in Booked Up!

In a desperate search for material to fill the book, I started to cast around for anything else that I had written.  I became increasingly aware that, despite the fact that I had always thought of myself as a writer, I hadn't actually written much at all for years.  It was quite a sobering realisation.  Apart from something of a flurry in my teenage years,  most of my writing since that time had been limited to funny doggerel in birthday cards (see Occasional Showers), and the occasional attempt at a novel that had never survived longer than half a dozen pages.

The only reason that there was anything to put in the book at all was as a consequence of a competition run by a local bookshop for stories about growing up in Burton upon Trent.  My effort, "The Wreck", didn't trouble the judges much but did make it into the compilation book.  Inspired by this limited success, I submitted an article to a nostalgia magazine published by the local newspaper which was favourably received and I was given the opportunity to have an article included in the bi-monthly publication on a regular basis.  So, with a handful of articles published and one or two more in preparation I had the basis of a book but by no means enough to fill it.  

I found one or two pieces that I had written whilst on holiday, contemporary observational humour which I thought might amuse people.  I also had a story written to amuse my friends the previous Christmas (A Stable Upbringing).  It was a bit of a mish-mash but it got me above the required word count.  I was aware that the book might work better if it was focused solely on nostalgia but  I was concerned that I might just be seen as a 'one trick pony' and never again get the chance to show what else I could do.  

I sent the lot to the Daily Mail, with my batch of clipped out vouchers, and awaited my books anxiously.

More in the same vein in the next instalment - Slim Chance

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Booked Up - Part 2

This is the story of how Steady Past Your Granny's found its way into print, and eventually an e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (UK) or Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (USA)

I thought this customer review on beautifully summarised the content of the book and I'll explain how it came about in the next post:

"Side effects of reading this book may include frequent chuckling and occasional guffawing - at least that's the effect it had on me. I do like a book that actually makes me physically laugh.

The book is a collection of reminiscences of English boyhood during the fifties/sixties, one or two amusing short stories and some curmudgeonly reflections on growing older and modern life. The book doesn't really have a point, mainly it's an enjoyable meandering memoir of a different time and place with some sharp observations thrown in. The stories have an English sensibility (that gentle British humour I alluded to) but I think that the stories will have universal appeal to anyone of the baby boomer generation.

If you are waiting to see the dentist this would be the ideal book to cheer you up

Find out more about how the book came about at Completely Booked

Monday, 28 March 2011

Booked Up!

This is the story of how Steady Past Your Granny's found its way into print, and eventually an e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (UK) or Steady Past Your Granny's - Kindle Edition (USA)

I don't know if you remember the ill-fated offer by a certain daily newspaper to "Print Your Own Book" way back in the Autumn of 2005? The idea was that the readers could submit a manuscript of 20,000 words + and would get any number of copies printed up in a standard book format in return for a set of coupons from the newspaper and £5 per copy requested. I think they expected to get about 5,000 orders, they finished up with more than 10x that amount and a backlog of angry punters who had hoped to have their seminal novels in their hands in time for Christmas and were still asking where they were by the following Easter.

Anyone remember that? Did you take part?

It was a daily paper that spends most of its time annoying the British Middle Classes - any ideas ;-)

I had always wanted to publish a book but had never had the time or money to self-publish and had never sufficiently excited the attention of real publishers. Therefore, this newspaper offer seemed a good way to get some copies printed at a modest price. The best of it was that there was no minimum print run, you could have 1 or 100 if you so wished. The only stipulation was that your manuscript had to be 20,000 words or longer.  At that time, although I had been lucky enough to have a few articles printed by a local newspaper, I simply didn't have enough to fill a book and certainly not 20,000 words worth (perhaps I should have been a Lake poet?)

Continue the story at Booked Up Part 2