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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...

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Hitting the Wrong Note


Continuing my painful memories of crime and punishment at Anglesey Secondary Modern in Clarence Street, Burton, a couple of tuneful (ish) stories come to mind.  Both concern the Music Teacher at our school. 

I don't know whether it is a condition of service that Music Teachers should be temperamental and larger than life, but this was certainly true of our postholder.  He was one of a number of teachers we had, who would really have been happier teaching in a minor public school somewhere.  Instead, he got us.

Teaching Music at Anglesey was always going to be an uphill struggle.  Apart from the recalcitrant pupils, I very much doubt that there was much of a budget for the subject.  The only instruments that most of us were allowed anywhere near were the old standard treble recorder, for which the only thing that can be said in its favour is that at least it's not the violin. 

For much of the rest of the time, we sang.  Actually, I use the term 'sang' rather loosely.  We made a noise which, on the whole, might be charitably regarded as singing.  Even this was not without its pitfalls.
You may remember my story about my old friend, Archie, who attempted to subvert the natural order of things in the school assembly by saying The Lord's Prayer exactly one word behind everyone else?  Well we had a similar subversive influence in our Music lessons.

I can well remember our first Music lesson in the old Nissen Huts on the edge of the Sports Ground in Clarence Street.  For some unaccountable reason, Music was one of the lessons in which the genders were separated, probably to spare the finer feelings of the girls.  As we lads launched into our first song, with the teacher giving it his all at the piano, we became gradually aware of a noise like a cow in labour from somewhere at the back of the room.  It soon became apparent that Jock was the culprit.  Loudly and confidently, he sang a particular monotone that bore no resemblance to the tune at all.  The Music Teacher urged us to continue singing as he worked his way around the classroom in search of this painful noise.  Eventually, he tracked down the culprit and we waited for the inevitable chastisement.  However, to our surprise, the teacher proclaimed that Jock was clearly tone deaf, in the proper sense of the term, and was more to be pitied than blamed.  From then on, Jock was excused singing.  I don't think I was the only one who suspected that this was more a case of a musical 'Archie' than a true impediment, particularly given the favourable outcome, but I may be doing him a disservice.  Certainly he looked rather smug about the whole affair.

The second musical incident had me at the epicentre.  We were attempting to render some tune or other, as a class, on the treble recorder.  The resulting noise bore some resemblance to an infinite number of cats with their tails trapped in a mangle.  The teacher stood this for as long as he could bear, but eventually gave up and yelled for us all to stop.  Trembling with emotion, he pronounced "Stop it!  Stop this dreadful noise.  There's only one of you that has the slightest idea of what you're doing"  We all looked around to see who this might be, "and that is Philip there, he's been playing quietly but carefully whilst you lot have just been making a row"  He pointed at me, and my heart sank in my chest.  You see, for some months I had been getting away with murder in Music by simply fingering the recorder in what I fondly hoped was the right sequence, but not actually blowing. "Stand up, Philip, and show the others how it's done."   I stood up and hoped for a miracle.  It didn't come.  I can still recall, with a sense of despair, the spluttering wailing that emanated from my instrument and the howls of laughter from my classmates.  Needless to say, I was not called upon to deliver a solo again.

This article appeared in the Derby Telegraph's Bygones column in February, 2013 and will be part of the forthcoming book, "A Kick at the Pantry Door".  You can read more of the same in Steady Past Your Granny's and Crutches for Ducks

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Wreck


This is an excerpt from "The Wreck" - a chapter in Steady Past Your Granny's available as an e-book




I always knew it as “the wreck”.

It never occurred to me that it could ever be called anything else, or even that “the wreck” was actually a shortened form.  It was only many years later that it dawned on me that “the wreck” was short for “Recreation” and that “the wreck” was properly called “Anglesey Road Recreation Grounds”.  Somehow “the wreck” seemed more appropriate.

As I was growing up in the 1950s, “the wreck” was the place to gather, to play, to walk dogs and to train spot (if you belonged to that earnest brotherhood whose greatest excitement was to enter numbers in a well-thumbed notebook, as one of the steam-wreathed monsters flashed past). 

The railways were an integral part of “the wreck”.  The Leicester Line ran over the bridge that formed the entrance to “the wreck” and the main Birmingham Line formed the southern boundary.  To the east were the Wagon Works and the western border was formed by some allotments.  Train spotters traditionally gathered by a sort of stile in the far corner by the allotments, an excellent place to view the trains as they pulled out of Burton station, or were shunted to the Loco sheds a little further down the line toward Oxford Street.  Each train that passed would set off knowledgeable discussions in the pseudo-scientific jargon beloved of small boys about bogeys and wheel formations, along with frantic scribbling of the all-important engine number.  None of it made any sense to me.  I just stood there in a mixture of fear and wonder as we were engulfed in a cloud of steam, smoke, noise and earth-trembling vibration.

To enter “the wreck” you first had to work your way down Cambridge Street, past a quiet row of houses (for whom the endless procession of boys kicking footballs or larking about on bikes must have been a constant trial), past Scrappy Moore’s scrap heap to the left and some toilets on the right, then under the Leicester Line bridge into “the wreck” itself.  The toilets must have been built in a moment of Council inspired optimism, only ever to be used in extremis, and only then if you could hold your breath for up to two minutes.  I don’t ever recall there being a supply of running water, except for the occasional steady stream issuing from burst pipes. 

Under the Leicester Line Bridge were a series of hazards for the unwary.  Frequently flooded (and not just by the toilets) and then only passable by a precarious tightrope walk along a narrow shelf of raised bricks, puddles filled the potholes even on the driest of days and the whole area was strewn with half-bricks and broken glass.  One of my earliest memories is of falling down under the bridge whilst walking the dog with my Mum, and cutting my forehead open on a jagged piece of glass.  The unexpected benefit of this trauma was a cross-shaped scar on my forehead, which left me with messianic tendencies that took a while to shake off (the lack of disciples was a bit of a giveaway).

Having made your way under the bridge, you could either go straight on and join the train-spotting tendency or climb the side of the ramp leading from the Leicester Line and survey the whole of “the wreck”.  This was a good vantage point.  From here you could spot friends, enemies, games in progress, dogs to avoid and the current usage of the recreational facilities.  These consisted of a set of swings, a roundabout of the sort that resembled an upside down shuttlecock balanced on a pole and a further roundabout which was a solid wooden structure about four feet high with metal handles.  All of these were potential death traps in the hands of the psychotically exuberant (of which there were more than a few).  To the right of this feast of amusement was a large, brick built, shed-like structure with a tarmac covered forecourt.  The shed was open along the side facing “the wreck”.  I could never understand its intended purpose.  Presumably the Council saw it as a rather Spartan changing room. At one time wooden benches had run along the walls, but these had long since fallen victim to the vandals who inhabited “the wreck” in the darkness of the night. In reality, it formed an uncomfortable shelter in the driving rain for the disparate groups that shared “the wreck”.  It was often a home of passion and covert drinking as night fell and a place for those with even less wholesome interests, to lurk.

Now read the rest at Steady Past Your Granny's (Kindle edition) 

Friday, 8 February 2013

A Sampler Sample

Yet another extract  from Jambalaya - possibly the silliest book on the planet!

For reasons too complex to describe here, but which involve a goat and a spot of mistaken identity, Miss Celany Garden and her maid, Ulolulo, have swapped places, unbeknownst to her father, Judge Garden:




Judge Garden stood outside the closed door of Celany’s room. He felt ridiculously self-conscious as he shuffled around, like a schoolboy waiting for the Headmaster’s call.  ‘This is ludicrous’ he told himself, ‘I must take charge of this situation.’ He rapped smartly on the door, flung it open and marched into the room.  The effect was somewhat spoiled by one of the hinges coming away from the door frame and the door, instead of crashing back with maximum drama, lurching drunkenly into the room and hanging there reproachfully.  The Judge cleared his throat, loudly.  There was no response from the figure sitting with her back to him in the dim candlelight by the window.  Judge Garden made a mental note that Celany seemed to be putting on weight.  He coughed, more loudly this time. “Celany” raised the sampler that she was working on above her shoulder and Judge Garden could see the text which read:-
 “Miz Celany has dun lost her voice.  Doant come near coz what she has is real infct…infsh…catching.”
            “Oh, I see.  Well, wrap up well and keep warm.”  The Judge was always uneasy with ladies’ ailments, “drink plenty of Gin.”  He dimly remembered his late wife advocating that remedy.
            Another sampler appeared.
 “Sho thing.”
            It read.
            The Judge retired, feeling somewhat cheated of his argument and worried about Celany.  Whatever it was she was suffering from had not only taken her speech away, it had also bloated her greatly and affected her use of language.  If she was no better in a week or so he would have to call the Doctor and hang the cost.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Back by popular demand!

Well, because of one bloke really.  Jambalaya, which is possibly the silliest book in the world, bar none, is FREE again for one day only - 3rd February.  Go on, fill your boots!